Sunday, August 14, 2005

The ethics of berry picking

About a week ago I went for an evening bike-ride down behind our house, among the cranberry and cornfields--just scouting the blackberry patches and checking out old haunts. When I was there then, I concluded they needed just a little bit more time before the first harvest, considering the abundance of lingering blossoms. This afternoon, though, Anna and I took a ride down there with clippers and buckets and I was surprised at the pick’ns... I don't think we've ever hit it at such an ideal time--even the bottom stuff was big, and more importantly, it was still there, uneaten by the various greedy berrivores that lurk among the trees and canals beyond Wiser Ridge.

Nevertheless, it was still the same trial and character-building exercise to gather them in with patience and methodical endurance.

Would it be too cliché to start naming off all the lessons to be learned from picking blackberries? Perhaps...I mean, they certainly abound:

First there are obviously the thorns, which seem to make it a matter of pride among them to see who gets first blood! Yes, I'm assigning to them a metaphorical will of their own because, since they exist because of the curse, I think I might as well give them their rightful due. The lesson? Nothing other then a reminder of our cursed state I'm sure...

Preparation... Well, I knew I would probably pay for it but I went in shorts, sandals and a cut-off shirt. Hey, it was hot. I thought I would make up for it by bringing the clippers. I did, sort of but there are some things that just won't work no matter how much you try to clip away. Without a nice layer of clothing to take the brunt of the laceration, you are in trouble. Preparation? Well, maybe I'll just bring clippers next time.

What of patience--another obvious one perhaps? When it seems like everything is working against your goal of snagging one berry that's way out of reach--the sun baking your face and neck, the thorns just about everywhere sticking in your arms, legs and toes, your arms beginning to feel like lead from the continual horizontal position--yeah, there's a lot to be said for keeping your cool when the one berry you sweated, bled and ached for slips from your fingers and drops down into the thicket.

What about the ethics of method? Oh, I've got you stumped on this one.

As you stand there alternately picking and clipping, it's noteworthy that there are several kinds of branches in the bushes. One has plenty of little clusters of the coveted berries dangling from the ends. The others seem to be there for one purpose and one purpose alone (not scientifically proven mind you): to block both your view and your arms from reaching the first type of branch. These are free game. One snip and you are that much closer to the target. But what happens when you face only branches of the first kind, albeit loaded with only blossoms and unripe clusters, arching into your path, immovable except by cutting.

Suddenly you have an ethical decision to make: do you pass over them, limiting your ability to reach fully ripened clusters, but letting these undeveloped clusters in your way live and reach their full potential, OR, do you take them down along with the other useless guardian branches blocking your way to tomorrow's blackberry pie and next week's blackberry jam--cutting them down for the sake of what you can enjoy now?

I must confess I didn't take too much time thinking about it and I think I only snipped one such branch in a moment of desperation. I did mention it to Anna but she was already of the opinion that I was suffering from some heat-related delusion based on all the muttering and sighing coming from where I was picking. It was a little late for me to expect a serious answer to my random questions.

But, what do you think? I'll tell you what I think after I get a couple opinions.
<< Home 12 Comments:
Blogger Patty-Jo said...

Ah yes, tis blackberry season all right. It is my opinion that the guardian branches wait until we are not looking and then wrap themselves around various parts of our bodies and hang on while we try to free ourselves before we bleed to death. It makes sense to remove the guardian branches to get to the ripe berries because if you don't, by the time they're ripe we'll probably get rain and they'll all mold. When I was a kid, we used boards to flatten the branches and to stand on while we picked. I don't remember getting as scratched up back then. "sigh" I have loads of blackberries in my back yard just waiting to be picked and turned into pie and jam, and maybe some blackberry scones.

12:24 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Rebekah said...

Personally, I would probabely avoid clipping the unripe nuisances, but no doubt somewhere along the line, I would lose patience with at least one such exasperating of obstacles, and (dare I say it), execute it. I applaude your couragious deeds--but I must ask this one question: Who is making the jam, or the pie for that matter?

7:40 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Gloria said...

Ah Yes! The joys of blackberry picking. You want my opinion. Don't clip any berries. Of course with people with big hands it may be harder to get at the ones behind. But I just seem to queeze my little things called hands behind there and get what I want. I'm not saying I don't get pricked. I do. I find the hardest thing about blackberry picking is. When April and I are hard at work. Tina is talking and eating the berries we pick. Yes she is very entertaining. (To say the least)
One more thing. How do reach the berries that are way to high for you reach? That is what I have a problem with.

8:02 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Gloria said...

By the way I like your new profile picture.

8:02 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger tasha said...

ack! this is too deep to be thinking about at this hour. i think i'll come back later next week.

12:18 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Chris said...

Very interesting. I wanna go black-berry picking today if I can convince Sara B. Ahhh....yes, how we are all reminded of that sad curse by even the simplest of organisms. But we have hope...

11:53 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Joshua said...

Wow Mark, that was deep.
Perhaps too deep. How hot was the sun?
I highly detest cutting off or wasting berries any, as of yet, unripe berries.
So in general practice, no, I will not cut off a branch to get at currently ripe berries.
Though, like Rebekah, I may eventually lose all control of myself and momentarily cast away my higher ideals to grab that most elusive berry.

1:23 PM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Mark R said...

Patty-jo…Scones! Hey that's a good idea. I love those things.

Beka...Anna just started on the Jam. We have way more material than we need for one batch though--I'll be helping out if we end up straining the seeds out with cheese cloth--an idea I support.

Gloria…How do you reach berries that are too high? ...reach higher. :D

Tasha...you must have posted that when you got home from the fair--I don't blame you when I think about how tired I was. I don't remember turning the light out.

Christian... Do you need me to talk to her or is it looking like she will give in soon? You probably don't have many down where you live so you'll have to pick them before you leave!

Ok...

So you want to know what I think? (this should answer Joshua too)

After much thought and reminisce, I remembered, first, that blackberry bushes are about as abundant as flies around here, therefore it would be highly arrogant of me to think I could make a dent in this years crop by clipping a few boughs out of a million; second, there is no larger moral problem with cutting down blackberry bushes in the first place; third, the fruit of the earth, although restrained by the curse is nevertheless given to man for his sustenance and enjoyment. Considering then that no harm will come of it, and that I will enjoy the fruit of the earth that much more with the added convenience of a streamlined picking, I think I can safely declare all who cut productive blackberry branches absolved of guilt--both ethical and moral.

Cheers and happy picking!

6:42 PM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Chris said...

No we have very little of them down in Cali, and I didn't manage to persuade Sara enough to go, but I'm we'll get there some day, lol.

12:03 PM, August 17, 2005  
Blogger Gloria said...

MARK! That is not what I ment! And somehow I think you know that. For someone who is only 5,5 reaching higher is not a option.

8:25 PM, August 18, 2005  
Anonymous Jackie said...

um...I like Blueberrys. no hurt. ;)

10:55 PM, August 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post, Mark! "ellie" in a.

1:29 PM, August 19, 2005  

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