The end of the blackberry season is here, sadly. With the last pickings of the few round stragglers in my garden, my mind wandered a few years back when life was a bit more difficult than now…but I had my faithful, fruiting friends to keep me company. Feel free to comment if you wish
Blackberry as Metaphor
I trod out from the kitchen back door and drag my feet, one after the other, with the singular goal of hiding myself in the garden. Tired and feeling more crushed than usual by my load of small business owner stress, I am trying to find the quiet place in my head as I traverse the unmown grass. Ah, the “back forty,” I think to myself. There is no phone there, no unpaid bills, no uninspired students, and no cranky employees. There is naught, save my faithful, beautiful, silent blackberries.
They sit in a small, stoic group, observing the rest of the garden. When I planted them years ago, I had no idea they would become almost five feet tall with canes as thick as my thumb. I joked with friends that these bushes were my environmentally friendly IRA; with blackberries being one of the richest sources of anti-oxidants in the blue-black fruit family (and the most expensive), these consistently multiplying plants would ensure a comfortable retirement paid for by fancy restaurant menus and health food stores… hopefully before I’m dead and buried. They are green, lush, vibrant, and loaded with hundreds of berries.
Offshoots from the main canes droop heavy with fruit, all in various stages of ripeness. Small and hard green newcomers hide among their plump purplish siblings, waiting their turn to mature and become luscious. Fruition can happen in days or sometimes even hours; that time lapse makes quite a difference in how responsive those berries are when you “go a pickin’.” Blackberries have minds of their own. They won’t budge until they’re ready. Try to force them and they will resist, leaving you with crushed, wet leftovers in your fingers. Like the rest of Mother Nature, they have their own schedule and don’t care what you want. No matter how badly you want them.
I walk around the bushes, seeking only the berries that wish to rest in my hand. I caress them lightly with fingertips, as if inviting them to join me for a nap in my palm. Some protest and request an extra few hours, maybe another day of basking in the sun, before accepting my invitation. I can hear whispered promises from their half-green brethren hiding beneath the leaves.
Any time you invest yourself, your time, money, blood, sweat and tears in a venture, you begin to expect the fruit from those labors. I think it’s a vestige of the Protestant work ethic instilled in us by America’s founding fathers, and it’s an expectation that dies hard with me personally. Having spent every day for the last seven years living, eating, breathing and sleeping my business (just like I had plowed, fertilized, weeded and watered these berries), I expected to reap the benefits of my hard work. But where I had a bowl overflowing with berries in my hand right now, I had nothing to show for it all in my bank account.
I sit down on the cool earth and pop a few blackberries in my mouth. The flavor is sweet but tangy. I let the small seeds bounce between the back of my front teeth and the tip of my tongue, and I realize how lucky we were to have any berries at all. The winter before last had been a hard one; the snow was so deep that the wildlife couldn’t forage. Rabbits had decimated the canes, chewing them down to the ground. Since Doyle blackberries bear on second year canes (the ones that became rabbit food), we went berryless that year.
Pruning, however, encourages new flushes of growth. This bit of trivia flashes through my memory as I roll another berry around in my mouth and check the base of the plants. The number of canes resulting from that winter’s cunicular feasting was triple what we normally had after a standard pruning at the end of the season, and the yields were exponential in comparison to previous years.
The irony of a massive bounty after an exceptionally lean time was not lost on me; in fact, I was counting on it. After all, what else had I been doing to Absolute Haven from the very beginning of the recession but pruning? We cut back on our spending, trimmed our excesses, found more fertile advertising grounds and pruned out the unproductive services. In essence, we prepared the spa for a bumper crop of new clients and profits; now all we had to do was be patient and wait for that new growth to flourish.
It’s amazing what a small, unsubstantiated hope can do for one’s attitude. All of a sudden, the reality of my future appeared far less bleak. I ate another berry with the corners of my mouth upturned in a slight smile. The cycles of civilized life really do pattern those of nature more often than not; aside from the unconditional love of my husband, there is nothing I find to be more consistent than the laws of Mother Nature. If those tenets held true, it meant Absolute Haven would emerge from this recessional setback as a more vibrant and profitable business.
I began to walk back to the house with my bowl full of blue-black profits, considering the potential outcomes of the aforementioned notion. With most of the local salons or spas out of business or in decline, Absolute Haven already had less competition. Maybe the spa would make enough money to pay back, at last tally, the $18,000 it owed me. Hell, we might even be able to move out of the in-laws’ into our own home before we qualify for a retirement community, I mused to myself.
As I stepped into the kitchen, the most amazing thing occurred to me… my mind was clear. No endless business monkey-prattle that plagued me day and night, disturbed my sleep, and left me restless. No noise that makes my husband sigh sadly when he sees my eyebrows furrowed. No racket, only silence.
And when I looked deep inside that empty, quiet space, there was only one thing left I could see; my recipe for blackberry cobbler.