There is character to be found among the dewberries.
April 19, 2017 at 7:59 a.m.
There is character to be found among the dewberries.
It’s that time of year again. The flowering trees are putting on bright green tender leaves, the humidity is rising so that even the breeze feels warm, and the dewberries are ripening along the fence lines and neglected corners of farm outbuildings.
It didn’t come too soon! My children have been asking all winter when the berries would be ready. We had a long talk about never eating any berries without checking with Momma. Dewberries (or blackberries as some call them, though they are technically not the same) are certainly rather unmistakable, but perhaps not to children, at least not young ones.
The children noticed the flowers this spring--the little white ones among the thorny reddish brambles. Then the tiny green berries appeared. They slowly enlarged into firm, reddish berries, and after a nice rain and some sunny days, finally the berries plumped up and turned dark, enticing us to come pick.
We took a leisurely Sunday evening stroll up the driveway to pick, and I gave my kids the usual warning--look before you pick (for snakes!), watch for fire ants, and don’t get into each other’s berry patch.
Sometime during the evening excursion, I realized something.
There are some major character lessons to be learned among the dewberries.
The first and most obvious is tremendous patience, waiting days or even weeks and months for the berries to ripen. It’s rather easy to practice this one because no matter how impatient you feel, you can’t make the berries ripen faster. And if you neglect this virtue and eat an unripe berry, you have only yourself to blame for the way your impatient lips pucker!
But there are more subtle virtues that are learned in layers over the years.
The 2-year-old will instantly eat every black berry that encounters her palm.
The 5-year-old will think about Mom’s promise to make
cobbler if everyone works hard collecting enough berries to fill the bucket,
but then his hunger will overcome his resolve and he’ll eat every last berry
before he makes it back into the house.
But the 7-year-old… He’s got a few years of berry-picking under his belt, and he knows how good cobbler is with a glass of cold milk or even some homemade ice-cream. So he will eat sparingly, maybe only the juiciest berries, and save most of his haul for home use. He’ll learn caution and delicacy in carrying home his basket full, with mom trailing behind, silently holding her breath, hoping he won’t trip and spill the literal fruits of his labor so he can be fully rewarded for his diligence. A mother’s heart sings when her child conquers delayed gratification and perseverance. All definite virtues, hard-won but well-rewarded.
Another virtue learned is putting others before oneself. It only frustrates pickers when they crowd in on a single patch, pushing and knocking the fragile berries out of each other’s hands. But bring a cute and hungry 1-year-old along in a wagon, and it gives a whole new dimension to selflessness. There will be reward in giving the baby berries from time to time. He’ll smile and coo and instantly stuff the berry into his mouth. But he would express extreme displeasure if you gave him a sour berry that you wouldn’t eat yourself, and nobody wants that!
There is courage--learning about the bugs and critters and other obstacles one might encounter out there. Knowing that if you hear more than one wasp buzzing around, it means you’re getting close to a nest, so keep a lookout and don’t get too close! Overcoming the pain of the occasional thorn in order to enjoy the delicious purple juice of early summer berries. (I am always amazed at how LITTLE my kids complain out there, when here I am always muttering, “Ouch!”) And on the farm, we encounter things like barbed wire fences, electric fence, bulls, and even the occasional snake! Learning how to react with the real environment is critical to health and success. And happiness. Because berries make people happy!
There is also a lot of physical virtue to be gained. The skill of spotting the berries among the leaves, deciding if it’s worth picking--if it’s under ripe or has a bug’s nest on it or is among too many large thorns. Then the skill of reaching in with finger and thumb and grasp the berry gently enough not to squash it, but keeping ahold of it so it doesn’t fall down among the thicker thorns. And of course then your aim for the bucket (or your mouth, if you’re 2!).
But perhaps my favorite virtue is learning to invest. What I mean is, it would be easy for children to go along, grabbing every berry and tossing all the rejects on the ground for being too green or red to be eaten and enjoyed. We reiterate to the littlest ones that if you pick the under-ripe berries, they can’t get ripe, and the bush will not have as many delicious berries to offer to us. Better to pick only the ripest berries and leave any others to finish ripening, even if we don’t get out to pick them in time. The birds, bunnies, goats, and pigs will enjoy them if we don’t.
There are countless other lessons there, but the point is this. Allowing children to have real-life experiences, in spite of a little danger, can teach them so many things that no author or game or calculated lesson could do. So grab a bucket, and go out to an old fence row this spring to pick some berries and instill some character. Virtue never tasted so delicious!
(The photo of the berries would have gone here... but we ate them too fast!)