Summer comes, and with it, blackberry season. We had a wet winter – or rather, a normal one that seemed wet after so many years of drought – and, though the summer has been dry, the fruit hangs heavy on the vine there at the bottom of our property, at the spot where the tiny creek runs under the road. In late July and early August it beckons to me, tantalizing, black, luscious, and I want to gather it, to feel the satisfying heft of a full bucket. It seems a waste to leave it there, unpicked, when I can taste the jams, the pies, the cobblers just waiting to be made.
The fruit hangs heavy on the vine, beckoning, but I myself am heavy, full of the weight of a growing new life. The third trimester drains me, uses me right up, and I cannot muster the energy to drag myself down the hill as often as I might like. In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I manage to go berry-picking twice, both half-hearted attempts. The harvest is meager, nothing compared to the amount of fruit I’ve gathered in years past.
Summer comes, and with it, exhaustion. As the temperature rises, as my belly expands and my energy wanes, I find myself spread prone on the couch, dead to the world, during Katie’s naps. I’ll rest for only for a moment, I think, and then I’ll write (though I’m not fooling myself, not really). I wake two hours later, groggy, to a two-year-old’s need for a snack. My blog and my journal lie neglected, yet again.
I want to write. Moments and conversations and ideas hang ready, ripe for the exploring, but I cannot muster the energy to do the hard work of words. It is blackberry season, and I want to continue my tradition, to weave stories of our berry gathering into a snapshot of our life here in summer of 2016. There’s much I could say, despite our scant harvest: Katie is two, active and excited. Her enthusiasm is contagious; her disappointment upon discovering a thorn or a sour berry, palpable. I want to record it all, but even the thought of writing makes me tired, and so I sleep instead.
On a day in early August, when blackberry season is at its peak, Jonathan and I speed to the hospital before the sun rises. Later, we hold our new baby girl – Abigail – for the first time. In the weeks to follow, weeks filled with newborn cries and middle-of-the-night feedings and nonstop requests of “Hold Abby?” from a certain doting big sister, picking berries is the farthest thing from my mind.
On a day in early August, in the wee hours of the morning, I pack my suitcase. Between contractions, I gather my hairbrush and deodorant and toothpaste, a nightgown and an exercise ball and a change of clothes. I think of the time I will spend in the hospital, of the toddler-free hours I will have to think, to pray, to write, and I throw in my journal, a notebook, and a pen, too.
I should have remembered the bliss of holding a newborn baby, the way you can spend hours watching a little one sleep. I should have remembered the way the body craves rest, the way you seem to slide in and out of consciousness. I should have remembered the mental and physical exhaustion that come after giving birth. My journal and notebook sat on the table near my bed, untouched. I didn’t write a word.
One day near the end of August, after a summer of neglecting berries, Katie is delighted when her Grandma comes to visit with everything we need to pick blackberries together. The four of us venture down the hill, Abby snuggled against me in the baby carrier, Grandma and Katie and I with buckets for the filling.
I work slowly and methodically, careful not to brush tender baby skin against the sharp thorns. I try not to notice all the fruit that’s withered and dried on the vine in the three weeks since I was out here last. Katie, who hasn’t yet learned how to tell which berries are good for picking and which are better left alone, picks one such specimen and then spits it out, a look of disgust on her face. “No taste good, Mama,” she says, and I explain that those are old, past their prime. They’re good only for the future, for the seeds they contain. Seeds that will drop to the ground and be buried and will perhaps, someday, grow to bear fruit of their own.
One day near the end of August, after a summer of neglecting my writing, I am delighted when nap time comes and I have the energy – and the desire – to write. I open my computer, eager to explore some of the ideas that have been percolating for the past several months. I want to record it all: all my memories and hopes and dreams, everything Katie’s done and said, the ways we’ve learned and grown as a family this summer.
I stare at the screen, at the blinking cursor, willing the writing to happen. But of course, it doesn’t work like that. After so many months without practice, the work is slow. The words are dead on the vine like so much fruit past its prime and I cannot find a way to tease them out, to put in the discipline required to bring them back to life. I can only hope that they are good for the future, for the seeds they contain.
As we work, Grandma tells Katie about Blueberries for Sal, about the sound the berries make as they meet the plastic – ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk – but Katie’s bucket stays silent. Her pickings go straight to her mouth. Grandma teases her – “Well, your berries must make a ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk in your tummy!” – and is rewarded with a grin, with the happy, jumping little dance move Katie performs when all is right in her world.
Eventually, we reach the end of a two-year-old’s patience. Before we head home, Katie and Grandma compare their purple tongues, laughing with delight in each other, in the day, in the sweet things of life.
And these, these are the sweet things in life, the things that filled our berry-less and wordless summer: the soft, irregular breathing of a sleeping newborn against my chest. The joy and pride of a newly minted big sister. Afternoon naps and morning snuggles and evening gigglefests. A knowing look with Jonathan, shared over our daughters’ heads. Grandmas. Sunshine. Love.