Life is like picking thimbleberries. Or maybe, my life has felt like a bowl of thimbleberries lately. Until about a month ago, I had no idea what thimbleberries were, and now I think I can find in them some sort of metaphor for what life feels like right now.
This spring, in the vast expanse (for urban living, we consider it vast) of our yard, out perched on the cliff-like edges of our little private hilltop, are seemingly hundreds of bushes that cling on for dear life. With leaves that look like maple, and berries that could pass for raspberries to some girl who doesn’t know the difference, they reach up and up the hillside, climbing and growing, toeing their way onto the lawn. Every few days I have to pull thimbleberry starts that spring up in random places, green, happy and defiant in the middle of patches of brown prickly grass. Plants thrive where they’re meant to, they grow best where they’re supposed to. The grass is obviously misplaced, but the thimbleberry, well, they know where they belong. Somehow I’ve managed this past month to plant a tiny patch of vegetables right next to those monster knots of thimbleberry. In the sandy soil, I put down a few heirloom tomato plants, a few basil and six dinosaur kale. I couldn’t tell right away if they too, were going to feel misplaced… because the sagebushes next door are smiling, the oregano is a wild little beast, but what seems to grow best in my sandy little patch are thimbleberries. I pull a few thimbleberry babies each day, reaching up from beneath the soil to take up residence in this benevolent place.
I go out to pick the thimbleberry’s little red dome-shaped fruit. Each one I pick yields easily to my fingers. They are perfectly round, and hollow inside, like thimbles. Their soft structure collapses as soon as you drop it into your picking bowl. So small, a half hour’s work is about two cups. Now I know how the saffron gatherers must feel. Slow progress, and your fingertips stain fuschia red. Leaning in to pick the biggest ones, they easily rub their redness into your shirt, your forearms, the color of fake Halloween blood. Coming back into the house after picking, Mark takes one look at me with wide eyes and begins laughing hysterically. “I know” I say with a sly smile, “I look as though I’ve come out of a thimbleberry horror movie.”
The berries were a mound of mush in my bowl, and I had absolutely no idea what to do with them, so I plopped them into the blender with some vanilla ice cream and milk, and made a thimbleberry shake. It was so sweet and a bit tart, with thousands of tiny seeds, crunching like poppy seeds, and the color was bright party pink (Mark said it looked like I was drinking Pepto-Bismol, but I ignored him.)
This past month, I have found myself fighting pretty hard. I’m the kind of person who, when faced with certain circumstances, either thinks her way out of them with creative problem-solving, or else fights her way out with sheer pavement-pounding hard work. So when I find myself these days with circumstances that require both creative problem-solving and sheer hard work, I put myself to the task – and it is all-consuming. For weeks I was running on overdrive, juggling assignments and job hunting and working and with help from some divine force, keeping us both well fed. I felt overwhelmed as I ended one part of my life as a dietetic intern and entered another as a job hunter. I worried, and fretted, and worried some more, because I think sometimes that worrying is what I do best. I began fighting against what was put on my plate, feeling pressure to find a job and pressure to find a job to hold me over until I find a real job. I wasn’t doing much berry picking, and downtime never felt like anything other than time when ‘I should be doing something productive.’ But now, after my fight has fought itself into exhaustion, and I’m finally beginning to accept what life is giving me, I’m picking thimbleberries.
They grow best where the soil feels right to them. Their presence on our hillside is neither good nor bad, it just is. They are there because they grow best there. Unlike my little patch of struggling vegetables, the thimbleberries aren’t fighting very hard against their circumstances. I’ve been given what I’ve been given, and I can either smile and work it out, or make life hard, resisting and struggling against it. Being upset about this part of my journey is like being upset with the berries as they stain my fingers with their juice. To get what you want, you have to get your hands a little dirty.
We all somehow feel as though it’s necessary to judge things and people and situations as either good or bad, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s all just berry juice.