I’ve been spending a good deal of this summer underneath the blueberry bushes. After adding a bird net this season our bushes have been prolific with berries. We’ve received so many blueberries our kids have even, unbelievably, almost eaten their quota! I usually find myself out in the backyard picking in the heat of the afternoon because that’s when I have the time. In the rhythm of picking on these hot Tennessee afternoons, I’m beginning to see this as a spiritual practice. A place where I can just come and receive what nature is ready to give. Although I quickly have realized how much work is involved. We only have two bushes here in our backyard, but by myself, I can easily spend almost 40 minutes out there grabbing one berry at a time.
The thing about picking blueberries is that you have to use your fingers. It’s fairly precise work. That is if you don’t want to pick the other pre-mature berries with the good ones or make sure you’re not knocking a bunch on the ground in the process. It forces to you move with steadiness and intentionality. You have to move the berry from the tips of your fingers to storage in the palm of your hand. But you can only hold so many! In fact, the lesson one quickly learns, if you try to pick too many berries in one swoop, you just begin dropping as many as you’re picking. Lessons for life. The practice forces you to spend a patient moment in nature.
A moment to feel the heat on your neck.
A moment to taste a sweet juicy blueberry on your tongue.
A moment where you are literally on your knees to fill up your cup.
Crawled under the berry bushes this summer I’ve spent time listening. Thinking. Snacking. Praying. Songwriting. Podcast streaming. And especially thinking about some group of workers somewhere else in the world that does this for a living. Wondering…
Do they get paid well? Is this work generally fair-trade?
Do they get to keep a percentage of their pick?
I bet they’re a lot faster at this than me.
What’s the blueberry industry like?
I think about what it would be like to live off the land. To be in such a special relationship with the land that it feeds you all year round from your yard. (Obviously, much work is required here!) But there is certainly something ancient about the relationship between a human’s hand and the ground… and the loving reciprocity and fruit that can be produced from that care.
Earlier this summer we discovered we also have a mulberry tree in our yard. After clearing a lot of brush last winter, this tree apparently found room enough to fruit! It was there the whole time, all these years.
Along with the mulberries, for the first time this summer, we’ve eaten wild raspberries growing at the bottom of our yard. Bright and delicious! And after transplanting a few canes of tamed raspberries and blackberries back in the fall, we enjoyed quite a hefty first-year harvest – which I’m still quite surprised by!
But the berry adventure doesn’t just stay in the backyard! The past few seasons I’ve been allowing this vine to creep up the old steel front porch supports on my house. Recently, I found myself looking out my window only to see what looked like a small cluster of grapes forming. I couldn’t believe it! Could these really be grapes appearing on my front porch now? The jury is still out on this one as the birds seemed to have eaten everything that was growing there!
Perhaps if there is something I’m learning in this season of “berrydise” it's that creation today mostly seems to exist as a brief glimpse of what it could be. If the jungles, marshes, and rainforests teach us anything, it's how this world has been created with the capacity to fruit, produce, and multiply! If stewarded well, the earth is more prolific than we imagine.
How might we be a people who foster this growth? Who is more interested in serving and keeping the land rather than our greedy version of subduing it? Could we become more interested in planting than mowing? Could we measure success in the number of bees and berries rather than “yard of the month” aesthetics? What would it look like for us to be faithful in the soil first, knowing that without that gift all other gifts cease to exist? How might we find ourselves loving the whole world, because that’s what we're created to do?
The Lord God took the human and put the human in the garden of Eden to serve it and keep it.