Friday, 1 August 2014

What the Raspberry Knows

 I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of what it means to let nature be our teacher, and musing on the slogan of what “Grow to Learn” signifies. There are some obvious overarching benefits to being out of doors and getting your hands dirty in a garden, such as stress reduction, physical activity, connection to the food system and bodily health, a greater likelihood of connecting to nature and therefore wanting to protect it and be good to it in your day to day life, etc. These are all valuable qualities and benefits to foster in our youth and in our communities. But as we become more intimate with nature, the lessons she provides become deeper and more profound. Let me enlist the help of the raspberry plant to demonstrate.

I was picking raspberries the other day and I thought to myself, “what exactly can we learn from even just this one plant? What does it have to say to us about how to live well in this world?” Here are some things I felt the raspberry had to say:

Be patient
 If you try your best to eat with the seasons, then you know how exciting it is to see the first raspberries (or strawberries or blueberries or any seasonal goodie you’ve been dreaming about all winter!) begin to appear on the bush. It is very tempting to start to gobble up the first berries as soon as they turn the slightest bit pink, but those berries never taste as good as the ones you let ripen their full dark magenta glory!  It’s good to be patient, to watch and wait until just the right time to go after something you want, even if you’re hungry for it, even if you’ve been waiting for it a long time.

Don’t be greedy!
The thing I love about berries is that the force you to not be greedy. They do this by continuously producing only a select number of ripe berries at a time, so no one person, bird or animal can just come gobble all of them up all at once and stumble off into a raspberry hangover/tummy ache/perma-magenta teeth situation. You may lament as you walk away from the bush that you couldn’t harvest all those soon-to-be-ripe raspberries (you greedy bugger!) but that might just be the raspberries way of challenging you to only take what you need, just your share of the harvest, and allow                                                     other fellow creatures to also benefit from her abundance.

Rewards don’t always come easy/aka 
    There’s no such thing as a free lunch!
 If you’ve ever hung out with a raspberry, you know that she’s covered with spikey stems and itchy rough leaves, so if you want to take some of her berries for yourself, you’ve gotta work for it!  To get to the fruit you’ve got to be ok with getting a little scratched up in the process. But once you have those berries in your hand and/or your mouth, you soon forget about the scratches it took to get there...(see the metaphor here?)

Be Gentle

Despite being covered in thorns, the raspberry itself is quite a delicate fruit (a beauty and the beast metaphor is here somewhere…). Piggybacking on the previous lesson, the best way to harvest a berry that will avoid hurt for both you and for the berry is to be gentle. Ripping the fruit hard off the bush will result in a mushy mess, useless to you; and flailing around in a patch of raspberry bushes like a wild puppy will result in some pretty ouchy moments for you, so the best thing to do is to be gentle in your movements, gentle as you hold and pull at the raspberries. It can be a slow process, but again, your rewards are so sweet!

These are just some of the deep and lovely lessons that I reflected on as I stood (gently) in that raspberry patch the other day.  And so while broad overviews of why gardening is important and beneficial can be stated quickly, the subtle messages that each different plant, animal and insect can give to us is nearly impossible to measure.  Each day that our youth spend in the garden is a day spent learning not just from our garden leaders, but from each plant and creature they interact with. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nature always has the best and truest lessons to pass on to us, if only we know how to listen.

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