Notes on leaving the fruit on the vine.
“What is happening to me happens to all fruits that grow ripe. It is the honey in my veins that makes my blood thicker, and my soul quieter.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Confession: I’ve never been much of a baker, I’ve never picked berries off a vine, and I’ve certainly never baked with berries I myself picked.
That all changed on Vashon this week.
It was my friend Erin who brought me to this little island in the Puget Sound, and from the moment I stepped off the ferry from Seattle, I knew I had serendipitously stumbled into my second writing retreat of the year: me, a wonderfully inspiring fellow writer, an empty house, gorgeous surroundings, and nothing to do but be with our work.
We’ve spent our mornings hashing out the elevator pitches for our books, afternoons creating the most beautiful sandwich known to man (cheddar, avocado, and a fried egg – SO GOOD), and nights hunching over our computers, fingers tap-tapping away.
But it’s the evenings, when we face every writer’s greatest challenge – actually getting out of the house – that I have come to love the most. We go for a walk down Vashon’s tree-lined back streets and pick blackberries.
They grow everywhere here, on big rambling bushes, and are never more than an arm’s length away from the street. Erin carries a red plastic bowl and the first berries we drop into it each night hit the bottom with a gentle thud. The ones we don’t eat first, that is.
At the start of our inaugural picking session, Erin taught me the secret to knowing how a blackberry is ripe: You shouldn’t have to tug too hard to pull it off the vine. Instead, it should feel less like pulling and more like simply guiding it towards the bowl, so ripe and ready is it.
I remember this sometimes, but then other times I find myself trying too hard. I keep tugging at a berry and sure enough, when it finally releases it’s much too sour for the blackberry pies we’re now experts at making.
As writers often do, I look for meaning in everything, especially in everyday moments, and the lesson I’ll be carrying away from Vashon with me today is this: Leave the fruit on the vine ’til it’s ripe.
Be patient. Don’t force it. Give it the time it needs to grow.
For me, what I’ve been learning not to force is my book – a travel memoir I’ve now been writing for over two years. It’s crazy how desperate I am to finish it, and yet I also have this feeling that the story isn’t done yet. That it needs more time on the vine.
There’s Life Stuff as well, those lovely answers I’m always looking for, and Vashon’s sprawling blackberry bushes have helped quiet my search for them, too.
On Wednesday, we stopped at a bush we’d passed the night before, one with scarcely a ripe berry on it. Overnight, it seemed, the berries had become ready for that day’s pie.
“Look at how many came into bloom, or ripened, or whatever you call it,” Erin said. “This is the bush of awesomeness.”
And as we stood there at dusk on an island, filling the bowl to its glorious brim with berries, all I could think was: Be patient. Don’t force them. Give them the time they need to grow.
Because when they’re ripe, baby are they good – and I’m talking plate-lickin’ good.