3 weeks ago

Harvesting Happiness with Blackberry Picking

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I have one favourite day in the calendar year. One day that, though I never know exactly when it will hit, always makes my breath catch, heart expand, pupils dilate, palms sweat with impatient excitement. It is a day – perpetually clear-skied, impossibly bright – when the sun is fat but only lazily warm. When there is always a cow somewhere in a field and there is always a breeze that pricks my still-bare skin that refuses to cower to the goosebumps, the chill and inevitable cold. It is the advent of autumn and the auspicious dawn when latent heat turns red to deep purple and green to burnished gold. It is the day the blackberries arrive.

It is not just the prospect of bubbling crumbles and splendiferous jams that have me salivating, joyful and clutching my chest in embarrassing euphoria. Rather it is the prospect of the picking – the delicious knowledge that I’ve been gifted weekend mornings and weekday evenings to wander among the hedgerows and lose myself completely in brambles and thoughts – which are often one and the same – replenishing my stores like a forager of old.

After the kaleidoscopic chaos of summer – the shunning of routine and responsibility in favour of sun-worshipping, wine-sipping, sea-swimming, and jet-setting – autumn is like a wellness retreat as life quietens, heat fades, and dark nights draw us back in to a soothing cocoon of contemplative hibernation. As much as I adore the heady summer months, for me they are characterised by an ironic frenzy as body and mind sizzle in consistent overstimulation. There is no time for pause between weddings and birthday barbecues, obligatory debs and christenings, and the festivals and holidays that all get smashed like guacamole into three months of probable blue skies. The result is that, by the time September hits, we are all – both literally and metaphorically – fried. Picking blackberries is my simple antioxidant to this holiday-induced hangover.

After work, on long lazy afternoons or an early morning walk, harvesting these bulbous collections of voluptuous cells is a kind of therapy. Keeping us outdoors, active and profiting from the serotonin-soaked harvesting high, blackberry-picking is a soulful and mindful exercise that allows us to reconnect with nature and with ourselves.

Not only does it lend meaning and occupation to the early autumnal days of floundering somewhere between summer lethargy and winter burrowing, it is an odyssey of personal excavation and self-exploration. There is something about the ebullient search for the fattest fruit, the dip and dive of a hand through thorns as it stretches for the largest jewel, that catalyses an internal searching.

Picking blackberries is my simple antioxidant to this holiday-induced hangover.

Distracting our conscious mind with the subterfuge of physical busyness allows our subconscious the rare gift of unfettered wandering – a meandering pivotal to our mental wellbeing. In lives that are defined by how busy we are, how crazy work is, ‘doing nothing’ is a cruel and risible joke for many of us. Every second is precious, and not one can be wasted on sitting alone with our thoughts. Yet being alone with our thoughts – granting them time to process, work through, resolve, is fundamental to not just our happiness but our very understanding of who we are. This is why we need the blackberries.

Figuring out how to wrest a purple jewel from the uppermost thicket is a problem-solving exercise that invariably finds us working through the issue at work that has been bothering us, the unsettling argument we had a with a friend last week, or the uncomfortable emotion we’ve been unable to pinpoint and that has yet been overwhelming us lately. It isn’t just the gift of fruit we are seeking, it is an inner harmony – a fortification of who we are, how we feel, what we want, and what we need. I recently learned the expression ‘hands-on, minds-on.’ Engaging our hands in a superficial task is like putting our minds into a creative incubator. It warms our brains to think without limits, roam without purpose. It is liberation by default. A liberation supplemented with hearty desserts and sweet condiments.

Blackberry-foraging also fosters another kind of reconnection as it forces us to do what we don’t do often enough: look around us. It demands that we stop. Observe. Notice and appreciate the changing colours of a leaf, the veined glory of every individual petal. It is a return to a world we are forgoing too often for smartphones and indoors: the natural world. The benefits of being outdoors on our mental health have been so well-documented I will not bore you by extolling them here. However, sometimes it can be difficult to incentivise ourselves to do what we know will ultimately make us feel better after a bad, long, or lazy day.

Blackberries are a constructive pretext that give us the courage to get out the door and into the air. ‘Going for a walk’ can seem too vague to be prioritised but picking blackberries is a tangible act that quite literally reaps rewards. It graces us not only with the joy of reconnecting with ourselves but in rooting us once again in the world to which we owe our very existence. This connection is what grounds us in times of fretfulness and sustains us in difficulty. Look. Touch. Feel. The blackberries demand and reward all three.

Before this piece veers too much off the garden path (can you tell it was written under the influence of my latest expedition to unbridled thickets?) allow me to discard the pretension and return to the concrete. To come down to earth and come back to basics.

Because, at its heart, blackberry-picking brings joy for the simple pleasure of the fruit itself. For the satisfaction of heavy buckets that promise endless creations of sweet satisfaction. For the delight to be found in a tart or crumble, smoothie or compote. For the glee of an apron stained purple with new ideas and ‘innovative’ pairings; for the laughter in a bustling kitchen preparing Sunday dinners and the appreciative silence of friends and family brought together by the bubble of fruit emerging pastry-clad from the oven. Blackberry-picking is the harvesting of happiness and the preserving of inner peace, saving it in labelled jam jars for the dark mornings of winter. Conserving it until needed, to be spread like nostalgia over hot toast on cold mornings as you recall with fondness golden afternoons spent trudging down laneways and falling into fields in search of the berries that bring wisdom, peace, and time.

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