Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gather Ye Raspberries While Ye May

Raspberries are one of the sweet and fleeting pleasures of summer, and never more so than when they are wild, picked from a patch out back. Here in Little Compton, the fruit lady cultivates very good raspberries, as close to wild as you can get, full of flavor, red, yellow, and black. But I have a patch, and it is with a little thrill of hopeful anticipation tinged with dread that I approach the patch on my return to LC each year to see what the season will, or will not, bring.

It is not a good year for raspberries, at least for the early run. The fruit lady told me on my first day here, before I’d checked my own more native crop, that the raspberries were sparse this year, and small. The early warmth followed by a cool and wet June were good for some things—everything is coming in early, much to the farmers’, and to some of our, chagrin—but not for the raspberries.

Walking out to my own little raspberry bushes, I find the same situation: small fruit, sparsely scattered across the briar.  Expecting as much, I have brought a little bowl, and proceed to try to fill it. Picking raspberries is always a challenge. Raspberries like to hide beneath leaves, and the ripest ones delight in hiding deep inside the patch. You have to really get into it—literally—and plunge into the thorny  mass, lifting the tangled branches, pricking your fingers and catching your clothes with each step. Vigilance, and a swiveling gaze are essential.  And you must circle the patch multiple times, as that section you are sure you have stripped of every berry invariably has yet another or two; I feel sure, sometimes, that these berries have ripened red in the few minutes that I was on the other side.

All this work produced perhaps a large cupful of berries and many scratches around the ankles and on the forearms. I pick them over for the occasional bug or tiny hairlike white worm. There are not enough to do anything other than eat them (the raspberries, not the worms), which is, perhaps, their highest calling. So I do—harking these words, with apologies to Robert Herrick for paraphrasing “To the Virgins, to make much of Time.”

Gather ye raspberries while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

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