If childhood summer memories held a scent, mine would be old-school Coppertone lotion and wild black raspberries.
Each year after school let out, my family loaded the station wagon for a lake cottage the next state over. Summer meant climbing trees, racing bikes, splashing in the lake and exploring the woods.
Like most children of that era, I was free range. Plans rarely clogged the calendar. Few ‘activities’ ruled our days and schedules were loose. As long as chores were finished and mom knew (generally) my whereabouts, I was free to roam ‘til it was time to help with dinner.
On hazy July mornings, I’d grab a plastic bowl, my trusty fat-tire Schwinn bicycle and pedal along the edge of the woods searching for my favorite: the wild black raspberry.
Known for their short growing season, prickly stems and terrific ability to stain clothes and bodies, these raspberries are wild, unpredictable and worth the work. I learned young how to prevent a plastic margarine tub from spilling while performing a balancing ballet of picking, eating and slapping mosquitoes simultaneously. Juice-stained and happy, I’d return home with a belly full and enough leftover to sprinkle over cornflakes.
My mother—to her credit—never complained. She knew those little adventures shaped me. She also knew despite scratched legs, stained clothes and swelling insect bites, I’d return the next day anyway.
And she was right.
For decades now, I’ve picked wild berries. It’s a magical process: anticipating the same event each year, watching the progress and timing, returning to favorite places, aligning with the rhythm of nature.
It keeps me looking both forward and back. Over the years, that’s created a lot of reflection. Some scraps and bits apply as much to life as they do to picking berries.
- Wild things don’t wait. Berries don’t stick around long. If I want ‘em, I can’t hesitate…even if it’s raining or 102 degrees. Act when opportunity appears.
- Enjoy the process. Always eat while picking. Savor the moment. It’s not about how quickly the bucket fills. It’s about enjoying a sun-drenched, rain-washed, unadorned moment.
- Share the bounty. Leave some for others, whether they have feet or wings or hooves. Take only what I need so that others can enjoy.
- It’s not always easy. Thorns, briars, bugs and burrs leave marks. Clothes get caught, legs get scratched, bugs can bite. Sweat and dirt are part of the process. That’s a badge of honor. Oftentimes earning a reward is as important as the reward.
- Not all movement is forward. Sometimes berries hide. Look behind. Beside. Below. Even squat down and look up. Perspectives can change depending on where you are, so be open to looking from different angles.
- Share the fun. Berry picking lends itself to companionable silence, light conversation and outbursts of laughter. Introduce others to spontaneous experiences of shared joy.
- Have patience. If a berry doesn’t release easily from the stem, it’s not ready to be picked. It will taste sour. Respect that everything ripens in its own time, whether that fits my schedule or not.
- Disappointments happen. Some seasons are better than others. Sometimes I’ll arrive too late, or not enough rain fell, or deer cleared a favorite patch. It happens. It’s not always going to be what I expect.
All these years later, I still pick many of the same places. Those free-for-the-taking purple beauties continue to provide lasting joy. First, when plucked from the scratchy vine. Then, months later when I twist open a jar of raspberry jam on a cold winter’s night. The smell alone transports me to the warmth and joy of summer.
And for just a second, I’m that skinned-knee kid on her big, blue bike. I’m savoring sun-warmed berries for the simple, delicious joy of the moment. Because they are there and so am I.
And my heart remembers: seize today. Wild things don’t wait.