Blackberries and grace

I went blackberry picking today, celebrating the first day of the year that everyone else seems to wake up to the fact that it’s autumn, even though I’ve known it since that first day back in august when the light changed, the morning felt fresh, the trees began turning colours, and the birds shifted their behaviour. Autumn is the most lovely time of year.

I hear you’re technically not supposed to forage on nature reserves; but then I can’t imagine anyone being concerned about blackberries. The bramble is, as far as I know, in no danger of extinction, and every year, the plants produce fruit at a rate that even the most voracious birds are unable to keep pace with. Most of the fruit goes over and drops well before it is eaten, no matter how hard we and the wild creatures try to gorge ourselves. So I picked a box full, now in my freezer to liven up our winter pancakes, the hedges still so weighed down with fruit after I’d left that it was as if I hadn’t touched them!

Blackberries to me are a powerful demonstration of grace. For the rest of the year, brambles are neglected and persecuted plants. As well as romping through the woods and hedgerows, they easily colonise the most neglected, abandoned and abused plots of land; overgrown gardens, derelict buildings, dubious alleyways, railway lines, back yards behind rows of shops, random scraps of wasteland where people dump rubbish and scrawl graffiti. We hack them back, dig them up, curse them for encroaching on ‘our’ spaces. I certainly count myself in this – my own sorry excuse for a garden produces little else, and I’ve spent rather a lot of time this summer repeatedly cutting back thorny tendrils threatening to take root in unwanted places, not to mention the great masses of them that I spend the winter pulling out of hedges on the very same nature reserve as part of their annual maintenance. The bramble is unwanted, unloved, and even many times unnoticed.

But then… blackberries!

The neglect, the weedkiller, the hedge trimmers, the rubbish and the cursing we’ve laid on the bramble the rest of the year are repaid with an outrageous generosity; simply too much fruit! No matter what our part has been previously in the bramble’s treatment, and whether or not we are interested in tasting it, it rewards us by overproducing, wastefully showering us with fruity goodness. My garden has already produced enough berries for two large cakes, a lot of snacking, food for the birds and ever-present snails, and still has fruit ripening and dropping. I find it humbling that a simple thorn bush can be so incredibly gracious, and every year it reminds me to take seriously the even greater grace of its maker. Truly worth celebrating!

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