Sue Bruns: Picking raspberries: A contemplation on life
Shadow, the big black lab, dances at the promise of an overdue walk while Rusty, the little white dog, lags behind, not even feigning enthusiasm. At 17, Rusty is pretty deaf, doesn’t see well and shows signs of doggy dementia. Gary and I wait at the mailbox for her before crossing the road.
We stroll through the poplar growth in the evening light of a perfect summer’s day. Just past the second bend, we find them: raspberries — lush, red, juicy — their bulbous forms drooping from thin branches — sumptuous, inviting orbs of lusciousness.
I carry a paper bag with a twine handle lined with a plastic shopping bag. Last year at this time, we walked the trail without a container. A person can only swallow or carry so many handfuls of oozing berries for a mile and a half. Today I am prepared.
The two of us work silently, plucking the berries and tossing them into the bag. Shadow eagerly accepts her job as clean up for any we drop. Rusty catches up with us, her elderly pace glad for our stopping. She goes on ahead, but when we don’t follow, she retraces and heads toward home. Gary dumps two handfuls of berries into the bag and voluntarily follows the old dog home, but Shadow and I need a longer walk.
Remembering I don’t have my phone with me, I call, “If I’m not back before dark, come look for me.” Gary nods.
At first Shadow loves the raspberry distraction. I reach for the perfectly ripe berries — bright hued, firm, full, willing to be plied from the branch. Too ripe berries fall to the ground before I can catch them to toss into the bag. They pad softly, leaf to leaf on their way down. If they were more solid, there would be a sound, I think, like a Plinko game. I imagine a muffled “plink, plink, plink” as a berry tumbles to the ground. I call Shadow to do her job.
I zig-zag back and forth across the trail, both sides lined with raspberry bushes. I pluck the berries that dangle over the path, but I’m tempted by those just a little farther back — just out of reach — and I step carefully toward the prize berries, but there are always more — a little farther back. A person can be lured into a raspberry patch so easily.
The best berries always seem to be out of reach, but when I step toward them and look back, I see equally plump, ripe berries where I just stood. That is the way of life, is it not?
My fingertips are red with juice. The farther into the brush I go, the more interested are the mosquitoes. They dart between my sunglasses and my eyes; they buzz my ears. I raise a hand to swat at them and leave a juicy streak on my cheek and ear — my raspberry-picking battle scar.
Across the trail, Shadow scouts her own raspberry bushes. She looks back at me like a child who knows he’s up to something he shouldn’t be. I can read her mind: “I don’t need to wait for your Plinkos! Look at this raspberry bush I’ve found — nose level!” To punctuate the thought, she chomps a full berry from its branch.
The sun is low in the sky. I wonder if bears have found this spot. It’s probably best to head back, but I’ve not yet reached the mother-lode of raspberry bushes.
Shadow is restless. I read her mind again: “This is supposed to be a walk we’re on!”
Yes, yes. I promise to keep moving and pick berries only from the path.
But there are always those just a step off the trail — bigger, redder, juicier.
I think about bears again. What would my big black dog do to protect me? She would bark, but probably run for home. I wish I’d watched Lassie reruns with her so that I could be sure that she would run directly home, scratch on the door to be let in, and tap her paws: dot-dot-dot/dot-dot-dash/dot so that Gary would say, “S-u-e. Yes, what about Sue?”
At that Shadow would drop to the ground and roll over onto her back.
“She’s fallen and she can’t get up?” he would guess.
Shadow would give him a dog smile and spring up. “Close enough.”
Then she would lead him to me on the trail where I’d be pretending to be dead while a black bear eats the two pints of raspberries out of my shredded shopping bag.