Thursday, July 5, 2012

Forgotten Harvest

My berrying bucket with wild berries

Well, once again I owe all my loyal readers an apology for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere. I know it has been a terrible trial for you all to live without me! We have had an eventful month, to say the least! As you may recall, in my last post I was working on my mother's old dolls in a hurry to finish them before we moved in with my parents. I was only able to finish the one, the Betsy McCall. She was well-received, luckily.

After we got the offer on our home, the buyers initially asked to close in 6 weeks. Then they changed their minds and asked to move it forward, meaning we had only about 4 weeks to get packed and moved over to my parents. We fit a 4-day trip to the mountains in there during that time as well. As glad as we are to sell the house, this has been a difficult and bittersweet time for us, or at least for me.

I don't really get along with my parents all that well. They like Jerry a lot better than they like me, and he goes to work all day, so he is happier here than I. Living upstairs with all the children is a cramped and uncomfortable venture. I know we are lucky that my parents have enough room for us and are willing to let us stay, but I get the feeling we aren't really welcome here. My parents have been using their giant house as a means of never throwing anything away for the last 20 years, and when we got here not one bit of space had been cleared to make room for us. Every drawer and closet, the space under every bed, every tiny nook, is packed full. So my time since we moved in two weeks ago has largely been taken up with cleaning and reorganizing, trying to carve out a little room for ourselves.

I was able to get over to our old neighborhood a couple times to revisit my secret berry field.

Festive wild blackberries decked in red, white, and blue
I only got over there twice before my teenager, who is my helper, went off to Scout camp, but we froze two gallon bags of berries and made a "sonker", Western North Carolina's own version of cobbler. I may try to go some more before the berries are done, but the heat is so oppressive and I have two festering thorns stuck in my finger, so I don't know. It is good for me to clear my head, though.

I should be really excited about the new house and our impending move. But, when I walk through the model home and look at the house plan it all just seems too good to be true. I have never been good at celebrating good fortune; I am always too worried it will slip away from me. And now the company my husband works for is going through a big merger. This week it suddenly hit some unexpected changes, causing all the employees to fear for their jobs.

So, I need a way to remind myself that we are lucky. If Jerry loses his job, we will have the great luck of already selling our house, so we won't have a mortgage to pay. We aren't tied to a house right now, so he could look for work anywhere he chose. And if we have to cut back on expenses I know we can be happy with less because we have done with much less before. I was so thrilled every year to find this forgotten garden with its unexpected bounty. Except for the price of scratches and thorns, the berries are free. I have also read that wild plants, besides being the ultimate local organic produce, have far more nutrients than those in the store.


Berries as far as you can see.

I found this field one day when I noticed blackberry bushes flowering at the edge of the road as I drove past. I wondered if there would be more in the field so I went back on foot to visit and found berries beyond my wildest expectations. Besides their abundance, these berries are much larger and sweeter than wild blackberries usually, so I began to suspect this had once been someone's garden. Sure enough, a further inspection of the field turned up a falling-down mailbox and a pile of burnt debris tangled in the weeds. A lonely set of stairs climb into nowhere in the woods across the street. I concluded that some long-ago farmer's wife planted the berry bushes in her garden and they just ran wild as the farm was abandoned. This year my son and I climbed farther into the weeds than we've done before and discovered even more.

Passionflower vine produces lovely flowers and fruit.
First, I nearly tread on a passionflower. Closer inspection revealed passion fruits already swelling on the vine. I am watching these for ripeness. I don't think this tropical fruit is native to North Carolina, though I could be wrong. I have never seen it growing wild before, but I know you can buy it from seed catalogues. One of the days I was picking berries while I sent the children to piano lessons in the neighborhood. Hearing a little commotion, I looked up to see three hummingbirds flying in a sort of swirling dance through the air. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to take a photo but missed them. Following them, however, I stumbled upon a tree heavy with fruit.


I think this might be a quince tree, as the fruits look a bit like those on my flowering quince bushes.

Possible quince fruits on a wild tree.
I was so enthralled with the lovely synchronicity of the hummingbirds' flight and the glorious future fruit harvest from this wild tree, I failed to notice my keys fall out of my pocket when I pulled out my phone! I discovered the keys missing when I arrived back at my car, my bucket heavy with berries, five minutes before my children were due to be picked up from their lessons. I had to run about five blocks with my berries and walk back with them so we could search the field. Luckily, my oldest found them right away!

Every time I come to this berry field I think of the woman (I always imagine a housewife like myself) who tended this garden and harvested these fruits and flowers. I wonder how many children she had, and what sort of things she dreamed of. I wonder if she was happy on her farm, or if she longed for a different life. I can see she must have had a rich life, though. There would have been days of canning berries and quince jelly. The unusual passion fruit, sold as a houseplant for this area, hints at a rebellious soul with a streak of originality. Did she plant it wishing she could travel to a tropical clime? Did she imagine herself picking fruit on the shore of a Caribbean sea? I noticed blue allium like pom-poms this year. There is no function to those, save beauty. Did she plant her garden with sensible fruits but add the flowers, craving beauty?

If there is any lesson to be learned from a berry field, I guess it is that we are provided not always with what we want, but almost always with what we need. The trick is to adjust our minds to wanting what is given. I have sown a wonderful harvest. Two years ago today I first held my youngest baby all the way on the other side of the world in China. Seven years ago next week I held my beautiful daughter in another Chinese province. Thirteen years ago I gave birth to my first son. Fifteen years ago this month I was married. Through it all we have had worry and strife, but more often we have felt great happiness. It is a beautiful life, and my bucket is full. No matter what happens, I can find us enough to sustain us, and I can be happy with that.

My bucket is full.

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