By Sue Mangan
“I open at the close.”
(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by J.K. Rowling)
The last heat of summer settles atop blackberries bursting with barely contained juice. Hungry for one last taste of summer, bees swarm the fruit.
Birds and beasts instinctively note the shift from summer to autumn. Moving ever closer to the earth, the hawk circles the sky looking for its prey. Food will not be as prevalent when fall turns cold.
For now, the air is still heavy with humidity. My spaniel raises her head briefly to note squirrels burying acorns in the lawn. Even Lucy can smell the change in the air. Resolute for now, she drops her head between her paws, long ears sprawled on the cool grass.
Most people refer to the month when summer bows to autumn as September, but for me this bittersweet time will always be blackberry season. It is a time of transition.
Students of all ages embark on a new year. Whether it is primary school or law school, there will always be that pang of anxiety for both students and parents at the close of summer. Feelings of hopeful anticipation mix with fear.
This year my oldest will be entering her last year of law school. It is hard to believe that she was only seven when I first began writing this column.
In this seemingly infinite space, I have chased rainbows with my children and looked toward new tomorrows. I have watched turtles bask on the shores of Crooked Lake and sand hill cranes nest among the lily pads. I have perused the shops in Notting Hill and viewed Degas’ ballerinas forever frozen en pointe.
The Poetry of Seamus Heaney
I have taken an unexpected trip to Dublin and was gifted with the poetry of Seamus Heaney. I have watched the western light direct shadows upon Irish mountainsides and have heard the spring-call of the cuckoo at dawn; but I have never walked along an Irish lane during blackberry season. That is, until now.
My daughter has traveled to Ireland during autumn. She was too busy, however, climbing mountains and exploring Atlantic caverns by kayak to stop and look at the blackberry vines that line every lane; so, she could not report back whether the blackberries were full to bursting. Perhaps when I arrive in Ireland at the start of fall, the berries will already have been spent. Still, I hold onto the hope, like that of a September student, that my dreams will be actualized, and the fruited brambles will indeed blaze violet.
It has been five years this autumn since my mother has died. Her last words to me were of blackberries and her home in southern Missouri. So much has passed during this time.
Both my mother and grandmother were world travelers and life-long learners. When on holiday, they were up at dawn, ready to explore museums and historic sites, to enjoy local foods and view fine art. Mom and Mim were both open to chance encounters and the possibility of meeting new friends from across the globe.
My daughter, like her grandmother and great-grandmother before her, lives for her next travel adventure. During the fall of 2019, my daughter traveled to London for a semester study abroad program.
In the space of four months, she visited seven European cities. Before my daughter left for London, she requested that I sketch a blackberry tattoo to grace her delicate wrist. I had to promise that I would bear an identical mark. In this way, my daughter kept my mother’s spirit with her as she traveled abroad.
New transitions can be unsettling, and so my daughter dealt with a bit of homesickness that lasted all of forty-eight hours when she first arrived in London. She took a chance at friendship and met her twin flame Julia at brunch one rainy morning in Notting Hill. Together, the girls navigated the grand boulevards of Paris and the discos of London’s Shoreditch. To this day, the girls have remained close friends.
Recently, Julia came to visit. Over lunch one day, the girls reminisced about their time spent at the University of Westminster. We talked about Marylebone and the iconic BBC radio tower.
The girls smiled at their memory of sharing earbuds and listening to the newest Harry Styles release while walking along the colorful streets of Notting Hill. Serendipity or fate, you decide, but I sense that my mother’s spirit walked in step with the girls along their London adventure.
And so, another blackberry season is upon us, and it is my time to travel abroad. I cannot help but think of the circle of time. Beginnings and endings. Much like a circle, an ending always has a beginning, and the beginning, an ending. Circulus orbis.
Five years have passed since my mother’s death. Twenty years have passed since my father-in-law celebrated the twinning of his birth home on Achill Island and his forever home in Cleveland, Ohio before his death the following year. My husband and I will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Cleveland-Achill Twinning this September.
It is for this reason that I will be given the opportunity to travel to Ireland during blackberry season. My hope is for moments of joy, of harmony. I do not expect closure as that implies a definitive ending; nor do I truly expect that the blackberry brambles will weigh heavy with fruit, as that is most likely a metaphor of my own creation. I do not believe in endings, but rather live in hope of new beginnings that open at the close.