I woke scratching. I’d managed to get through the whole night without waking up with my arms feeling afire with the maddening itch of my latest battle with poison ivy, but that didn’t stop me from waking up with my alarm only to begin attacking the rash. I silently cursed climate change and the overabundant crop of poison ivy that came with it and made my way to the loo and as I blearily went about my business I noticed new spots on my fingers. And forearms. And elbows? What was this curse that had descended upon me?!
Taking up the bar of poison ivy soap, I began scrubbing at the itchy, welted patches and examined the new spots that appeared overnight. And then it hit me: I was sporting the Mark of the Berry. Black Raspberries.
The afternoon before, in one of my pull-up-my-saggy-jeans-and-get-to-work (they only get saggy like that when I’m working for some reason) moods, I spotted the raspberries looking ragged, as old canes were shriveled up and spiky while the new canes, like wicked, toothy tentacles of an octopus, sprawled every which way. The hedge needed cleaning up: the dead canes needed removing and the new canes needed wrangling. Unwisely, I chose not to change out the thin, knit work gloves for my more substantial pigskin pair.
Playing a botanical game of Jenga, I gingerly worked a section of cane out here, another there. Unraveling the weave of this year’s berry patch, I was attacked by the thorny tentacles that seemed to reached for me at every turn. They grabbed my work shirt, bit through my jeans and nipped my fingers. Each cane that I picked up and gently eased into place between the guide wires didn’t go gently, but I fought the good fight and my hedge of berries was soon looking well-kept and tidy.
The pile of spent canes, exhausted from producing a bumper crop and at the end of their natural lifespan, they were piled high. I squinted my eyes in anticipation of getting my fingers poked as I reached down to tentatively pluck pieces and move them to the campfire. I felt prickles sink into my fingertips. Another left a large scratch on my elbow. The fronts of my fingers looked like I’d taken part in a teeny-tiny knife-fight, scratched and bleeding. Only for a brief moment did I ponder if this much pain was worth the effort for the berries – and it was. The sixteen feet of black raspberries turned into two and a half gallons of wine in the secondary fermentors and a lot of bowls of berries with whipped cream. It was our best crop so far and we enjoyed all we got, the local birds took the rest.
There is a pleasure that one gets when doing something for themselves, a satisfaction far superior to what is felt when a project is completed when working for someone else. I hear time and again from people how much they’d like to have a garden or orchard but how they are plagued with little time with which they can attend to the plantings. They tell me they admire how I make jams and jellies, and now wine, wishing they had the time and knowledge to do those things, too. I continually tell people that the time is available, it’s just a matter of prioritizing what they want to do. As for learning how to preserve the harvest – I’ve offered to teach people and not a single one has taken me up on the offer.
A little pain now equals gain later. Hopefully by next spring we’ll be enjoying the raspberry wine in anticipation of spring and another season of showing off the mark of the berry.