This week’s post marks the start of a brand new category for my blog: special guest posts. This one is by a very dear, very talented, and very contemplative friend. Thanks for reading!
Two women were coming down Prince George Street as I was walking up. They were laughing, hurrying to be somewhere, but not quite running, as their 3 or 4 inch heels only allowed for a tripping sort of trot. The formal dresses they were wearing were particularly short and low cut. In my mind, I shook my head at their joie de vivreand risque clothes, and looked away from them. As I looked up towards Randall Street instead, I saw running towards me a frighteningly dirty Bob Ross-looking man wearing running shorts and a handmade tee-shirt that read, “9/11 truth is inside us,” or something similar. I scoffed at him too and took out my phone so that I didn’t have to talk to the crazy.
He stopped running directly in front of me and said, “Word of wisdom for the day: Learn not to be disgusted with women.” I was stunned. I had only looked at those women for maybe one half of a second, but he had laid me bare. I had been disgusted – with what? Their happiness? Their clothes? How petty! How unjust! How unwise. I stopped short, laughed awkwardly, and looked down at the ground, unable to walk forward or think of anything to say. “With that idea, we’ll turn this world over,” he said, and ran on, down toward the city docks.
As I crossed East Street, I knew I had just met the Holy Prophet of this town in the form of a disheveled Bob Ross, covered in weeks of dirt.
Pick a blackberry
But don’t expect it to be
A painless affair.
* * *
As this is my second post about berries, I feel I owe my readers some explanation. I have come to the conclusion that berries must somehow run in my family. My great-grandfather Pépé tended a huge blueberry patch in his back yard; a few years back, my dad planted several blueberry bushes of his own to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. And you’ve already heard about Nana’s wild strawberries. But “berrying” is an activity in which I would regularly participate with my own grandmother, and she is, I feel, the source of this ritual in me, which of course in reality traces back to the roots of human survival and diet. But she gave it a systematic feel: Wear an old long-sleeved, button-down shirt. There are always WAY more berries than you think there will be, so bring plenty of buckets. The shirt and the buckets – those are the berrying accoutrements. Finally, pretend for just a few hours that you don’t mind crawling with – or inevitably eating – invisible spiders or getting mauled by millions of tiny barbs. That’s the berrying mentality. Equipped with shirts, buckets, and fearlessness, you will be ready to forage the wilderness for raspberries, blueberries (no thorns there, but for some reason invisible spiders), or blackberries.
I have many summer memories of berrying with my mom and grandmother. The memories are pleasant, but thinking back on it, it’s hard to distinguish where the berry juice ends and where the blood begins. I had the advantage of having small child’s hands that could, for the most part, slip easily between branches to avoid getting pricked. But even in her berrying shirt, my poor, brave grandmother would get so scratched up, that for a lesser being it would certainly have been far from worth it. Now, I too have clunky adult hands.
Two summers back, the berry in my blood (presumably) revealed to me a secret blackberry patch on my college’s campus. It’s only a secret because the berries ripen long after the students have left for the summer and long before they arrive again for the fall semester. I had the good fortune of being in town and of happening upon the right part of campus during late July, and so I discovered the patch.
This year – the third season I’ve harvested there – I learned that not only the branches (which I already knew about), but the leaves too are lined with horrible barbed thorns. I tried to be sneaky by gingerly snaking my hand under the leaves to get at a ripe blackberry, only to be snagged in my pride by one of these bad boys:
I might add that I accidentally left my berrying shirt in the car and so found myself trying to berry in short-shorts and a tank top. If you were wondering about my paltry harvest in the top image, this outfit is exactly the reason why I came out with only about fifty blackberries.
All this to say that you can pick blackberries however you damn well please, but you’d better want those berries (or at least the idea of those berries) enough, because otherwise it’s not going to be worth it. You will get stung, berrying shirt notwithstanding.
You open the door to your house. A full day of work or play is firmly settled on your shoulders: the stresses of the job that you either overcame or didn’t in the past eight to twelve hours, the necessary plans for the next four to six pushing into the forefront of your mind. You have at last arrived to a place of rest – or at least of return –
But there is no place to take off your shoes.
Why should you have to track those wears and worries all the way to a dining room chair or a couch or a bed before untying weary laces and relieving aching feet? When I open the door to my home, I find myself firmly inside the kitchen, a jarring transition from out to in that leaves me standing somewhat baffled for several slow blinks at my status of being in the world. At what point have I transformed from bread-winner into home-maker? Where does the world end and the home begin?
The home begins where you take off your shoes.
I grew up in New England, where there are only three seasons: Winter, Mud Season, and Construction. If you tracked in that whole muddy mess from outside all the time, your floors would be ruined faster than you could possibly imagine. That’s why, with very few exceptions that I can recall, New England houses have a mudroom: a pre-entry way, either in the form of an enclosed porch or a small, unfinished room exclusively used for stamping your feet and removing soiled boots. I took this setup for granted until I moved to the Mid Atlantic, where I’ve found that houses begin abruptly and force you to traipse around in shoes, bestowing little pieces of God-knows-what from the outside world upon your floors. As someone who works in the food industry, this means unwittingly attracting hundreds of hungry ants into my apartment. Now, my transformation must occur while cramped in the car, as I have resorted to removing my shoes there and leaving them in the passenger seat overnight, which feels to me like madness. I have yet to determine how this will be managed come winter.
The other beauty of the mudroom is in its connection to weather-watching. Having the perfect balance between ‘in’ and ‘out’, it becomes the safest dangerous place to watch a raging thunderstorm, hailstorm, blizzard. Usually equipped with a screen door leading outside, the mudroom allows you to hear the storm, unobscured by glass and insulation, even feel the wind and occasional spits of rain. Saved by the thin walls around you, you are able to experience the outside world from inside.
Observe a beautiful storm in all its terror, but keep your head dry. Walk in mud to the end of the earth, but by God keep it off your floors.