Blowin’ In: Blackberry Season Begins
By Susan Mangan
Sunlight dips like foam atop an undulating tide across the rocky hills and heathered pastures of County Mayo. Stone appears textured like fawn colored velvet. Deep greens lighten to mint beneath the dappled gloaming of late summer.
Changing light mystifies the beholder into believing that that which is unyielding is supple, that which is hard is soft. Mist falls over a tumble of blackberry brambles that line every lane and barbed wire fence. The last rays of summer soften the blackberry thorns turning the tight green balls a new shade of dark crimson.
Soon the berries will ripen. Crimson fruit will swell into a rich purple, until the juice falls in lamentation of the inevitable change in seasons.
The irony of this vision does not escape me. Change arrives like the rise and fall of the tide. Children grow and leave the nest much like fledgling birds. Except, humans tend to hold fast to their young rather than nudging them out of their snug homes before they learn to fly.
Metaphor aside, autumn smacks of reality. Children go to school, teenagers leave for college, and young adults seek post graduate degrees. The unsuspecting mother holds her baby through endless nights, blinks, and soon the child is no longer a child. As the leaves change from green to autumnal gold, a new narrative unfolds during this brief time that I have named the Blackberry Season.
Autumn has always been my favorite season. I enjoy the riot of colors and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. As a girl, my mother would bring me to September harvest festivals; there we would indulge in candy apples, freshly pressed cider, and pumpkin fritters, while yellow jackets vied for the last taste of our treats.
At home, we hung cardboard black cats and jack o’ lanterns on every window even though summer had barely relinquished to autumn. Ironically, my mother lived her best life during this beautiful season and died as the September leaves gave sway to October bronze. Poet Archibald MacLeish once wrote, “I praise the fall: it is the human season.”
As we are entering our third autumn since my mother’s death, I often think about this quote. Autumn is filled with unexplained mystery. How can something that is as beautiful as a maple blazing red against a crisp blue sky indicate the death of a season filled with light?
Darkness and light are conjoined. Leaves may fall, but they will sprout anew and gloriously gold in the spring, like the phoenix rising from ash. This is the paradox of autumn.
The night my mother died, she texted me about her recollection of the “blackberry column” I had written the year prior: “Remind me to tell you about the blackberries that grew in the red clay of southern Missouri.” That night my mother thought of the native soil from which she grew and the brambles that reached out across time mingling with my memories, my writings, my love for her. This recollection proved to be her final words to me.
I have always wanted to travel to Ireland and see the ripened blackberries that tangle unabashedly amid the country hedgerows. My mother and I visited Ireland together once before I was married and yet again when my children were small. She spent time picking wildflowers with her grandchildren as they walked amid the lanes chirping like meadowlarks.
Funny that she never noticed the blackberries that choked the wild fuchsia, until I wrote about this country image many years later. I imagine she was enjoying her best life, hand in hand with each of her three grandchildren and had more time for flowers than unripe blackberries.
And so it is that the years have passed, and the children have grown. Blackberry Season again falls upon my heart and mind.
This year is more than bittersweet as my youngest child is beginning college, while my oldest is leaving home for law school. I know my mother would be proud, because next to health and happiness, she valued education. Though my mother never saw the Irish blackberries blush purple, she surely marveled at the perseverance that the Missouri blackberries must have possessed to grow strong and sweet amid the challenge of hard, red clay.
As death approached, my mother continued to write her narrative of the human season and gifted me with a metaphor that gives me pause and comfort, sadness and clarity. Perhaps this lesson is the truth of Blackberry Season.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org