A Case for Thorns: Beauty in Imperfections and Challenges
I awoke to my cell phone nearly vibrating off my night-table. Earplugs in, deep in slumber, I shot to a seated position, answered the call with what must have been a weirdly vague monotone and heard a cheerful voice asking if the boys were planning to attend camp today.
“Of course!” Quick glance at my phone’s clock and a stunned realization that Tom and I had overslept by hours. “I am SO sorry we are late for the bus. Please leave without the boys, and I’ll drive them out to camp myself.”
I called downstairs to the boys who were completely immersed in a Pokémon movie on the iPad, told them to hurry upstairs to get dressed, thanked them profusely for staying inside (y’all might recall their getaway and subsequent return by the FBI round about this time last summer; yes, it ishilarious now.) and raced to pack lunches/get dressed/make coffee/etc. Tom said he was sorry I had to make the drive. I, myself, just figured it’d lead to a new adventure and really, what else did I need to be doing?
We were out of the house in fifteen minutes and another forty minutes later pulled happily into camp, just as their bus did.
It was such an utterly fortuitous occurrence really. It was the boys’ last day at this amazing camp, and I got to see just a bit of why they’re so happy there. Then, since I was already out in the agricultural part of Maryland, I decided to go to a pick-your-own farm.
My first attempt led to a road to nowhere and then my gas light went on and I needed to relieve myself something fierce. To a field, to a Sunoco, through the car wash into which I spontaneously opted and back onto the road. This time to Larriland Farm, a spot I’ve long wanted to visit but which always seems just too far away for most days. It’s out in Woodbine, MD, and though it’s not completely organic, they spray very minimally.
I started in the peach orchard and felt happiness and zen just coursing through my veins. Butterflies fluttered all around, and the to-be-lush peaches nearly glowed on their perches. Peaches are an awfully lusty fruit when you consider them. This butterfly would surely concur.
My instructions were to pick the ones that were firm with a yellow blush under the red cheek because those had developed the best flavor and would ripen perfectly at room temp in one to three days. I found twenty-two pounds of divine before cutting myself off, realizing that blackberry and raspberry patches still awaited.
In the mess of blackberry vines, I thought of Nanny. I thought back to all the days my sister and I spent picking berries at her house, and I rued the loss of thorns on the fancy bushes from which I plucked today. Those thorns added challenge and work to a process which inevitably yielded such a delicious outcome; the caution we took, the thought behind each pick made our success that much better. That much sweeter.
Too often today, the drive towards efficiency also means movement away from hardship. Things become easier and more sterile, requiring less thought and patience. But where does that get us? Does that make us appreciate things more? No. On the contrary, it becomes all too easy to take for granted things that once were time-consuming and arduous but which gave accomplishment a deeper since of reward and fulfillment. Today’s thornless blackberry bushes are yesterday’s calculators; thorns and longhand division took longer, but didn’t picking carefully and learning the how behind the answer mean something?!
Nevertheless, I loved every minute I spent picking my sixteen pounds of blackberries. I envisioned pies and the jam Jack loves like crazy. I thought about blackberry-buttermilk muffins, and smoothies, and cobblers, and on and on. The guys at the register said, “Wow, that is a LOT of blackberries!” and with delight I said, “I know!! It’s amazing!”
Tired but energized, I paid up and then headed back to the raspberries for a new box and a new go. I am glad that I had no idea how hard raspberry picking is. Peaches and blackberries would be easy tasks for blind dogs, but raspberries are just not for the faint of heart. Good god!
Japanese beetles and honeybees were a’swarm and raspberries usually do not want to let go of the core to which they desperately cling. It was nearing 1:00p when I starting picking; I hadn’t eaten since 8, hadn’t brushed my teeth or had much water. I didn’t have a hat or bug spray, not that I’d have worn either. The guys at the blackberry patch said the raspberry picking was “good, not great.” And when I reached the raspberries, they looked peaked, and that’s putting it kindly, and tired moms and a strangely high number of babies in Bjorns were a’whine.
But give me a thorny challenge, and I will rise. I am telling y’all, I was hell bent on becoming a master raspberry plucker. And soon enough, most everyone else had left, and I’d realized the bees really didn’t want to sting me and the beetles are stupid bugs that are easily flicked away and if you look up and to the ground and under the leaves (same as with the blackberries), you’ll find the gems that others didn’t notice. And I got four beautiful pounds of the most scrumptious raspberries I’ve ever tasted. And every bit of getting there was an itchy, dirty, sweaty joy.
Also, no one should ever complain about how much raspberries that someone else has picked cost. Just pay for them and be thankful and get on with yourself, because raspberry picking is NOT an easy job.
At this point, I considered going to the tomato fields but opted against it. I was so hungry and hot and tired and an hour from home and the boys were coming back. So I went into the farm about bought a few tomatoes and an ice-cold, all-natural root beer and briefly spoke to a delightful old woman, the sort of which makes me think a bit of Ouiser in Steel Magnolias. If Ouiser moved further north and went liberal. I am a complete sucker for this type of woman.
Picture her: practical, tie-under-the-chin floppy sun bonnet; white shirt tucked into a mid-calf denim skirt; reasonable shoes; drives a Prius. This gal bought a fair amount of produce but what really took me back was the 15 dozen ears of corn she tacked on at the end. I couldn’t stop myself. I said, “I am so impressed. What are you going to do with that much corn?”
“Well, I’m gonna stay up all night cookin’ it and freezin’ it.” And she beamed me the warmest smile ever, and I felt a tad lame for feeling all awesome about my one billion pounds of fruit. Fruit is one thing. Corn, while easy to cook, is still something to deal with. I mean, what kind of a pot can accommodate more than six ears at the most? Do the math, and that’s a frickload of times you’re cooking corn.
“Hats off to you! I’m going home to can my berries. Good luck with the corn.” And then I twisted off my root beer cap, took a big swig and slowly walked out to my car as she started loading the Prius.
That root beer tasted so good, and I headed home to take a shower and realize that I have no where in the fridge to store my berries. Alas. A friend texts -she of the ‘her parents have a farm in DE and I am the lucky recipient of excess’- and asks if she can drop off some tomatoes. “Sure, sure!”
15 minutes later I get “some tomatoes” and feel inordinately grateful not only for her generosity but also that I did NOT go to the tomato patch earlier. Ya think?
“I have two more of these at home. You’re one of the only people I could think of who might take them.” And I’m like, “Are you kidding? You’ve brought me tomato Mecca in a tub!” One person’s thorn is another’s diamond.
Imperfections are human. Challenges make life harder but more rewarding. Thorns are both perfectly imperfect and totally challenging, and I wouldn’t have them any other way.