One of the last outdoor happinesses of any summer for me is brambling/blackberrying (depending on which side of the border you are). Ever since I was a very small girl I have loved going out into the last of the summer sunshine, its darker gold a hint of coming autumn, and picking blackberries, first with my parents, then on my own, and now with my wife.
When I walk down the road on which I lived as a child, I still glance at what were once prime blackberry spots but now – thanks to the pressure for development in Kent – are the site of expensive modern homes. Other prime brambling locations have fallen victim to council tidying – regeneration apparently meaning soulless and plantless grassy areas – so I am thankful that I now live in the Ayrshire countryside. Our hilltop smallholding is not a good place for brambles but just a couple of miles away the hedgerows are dense with berries – and thorns. On Monday, Rosemary picked in the lane while I climbed the fence and picked on the far side of the hedge, my only audience a flock of unconcerned sheep. As I picked, my mind swung between past and present and I remembered…
Blackberrying with my father
Picking brambles in summer’s last warmth,
I watch my hands –
Your hands but brown –
Hear your teaching voice
“Stroke them off. If you must pull, they aren’t ripe”
“Dull blackberries aren’t ready”.
Watching myself, I sense eyes, brain, hands
Making choices faster than words, than thought,
A touch here, a glance there,
Your lessons deep ingrained.
Time arches back
And I am again the tiny, sturdy girl
Clutching her orange-handled bucket,
Eyebrows straight with focus,
Toddling back with each berry picked:
“Look, look, is this one right?”
You pause, consider each berry
With due seriousness,
Pass judgement on its merits
Until those small empurpled fingers,
Ceased to doubt, seek praise,
And a bigger girl,
Her hands like yours, but brown,
Picked swiftly, serenely
Along the hedge from you.
CC by Sophie Agrell 22 ix 2021