Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Blackberry Picking as a Martial Art

I do tend to like old-fashioned activities, and on occasion, you get people asking why. Why do you spin/knit/make jam etc. when you don’t have to? What good is it? Some of us had a discussion on the transferable skills from knitting, such as dexterity, memory, math, creativity, and problem-solving, following a comment I heard that putting knitting down as a hobby on your resume was pointless.
It’s summer, and the blackberries are ripe. I spent a few hours picking them this weekend at the parents’. It’s a very meditative process, and one I’ve been doing for years – it was our job as kids, and I suspect one that was very good for us. Because thinking about it as I picked, I am declaring that maybe blackberry picking is worth more than it seems like also, in terms of skills and processes – and you get berries as a bonus! For example:

Dexterity, memory, spatial orientation: Blackberries have thorns. Lots of them. And the bushes frequently have layers, with some hidden underneath, or that you can only see from a particular angle. You need dexterity to get them out without ripping yourself to shreds, (and flexibility to duck and dodge the canes in the process), a good memory to keep track of where that cluster was you saw while you’re finishing the current section, and good spatial orientation and hand-eye coordination to get some of the berries underneath when your hand and eye are starting from different places and the action of aiming for them moves leaves and blocks your view of your target.

Planning, control of impulses and multitasking: Berry bushes have three things in quantity. Berries, thorns – and mosquitoes. We think they set the bushes as traps for humans. Be that as it may, you learn very quickly that it is necessary to pick in long sleeves and pants. Hands and face are still exposed, but your hands are usually occupied in holding canes back and picking berries. This means that automatically smacking a mosquito landing on your hands or face, or trying to flap away the ones buzzing in your ears, will usually lose you berries and/or get you caught in the thorns. You must, instead, carefully transfer your current berries to the bucket or detangle from the canes to free a hand, and then gently, deliberately, squash the mosquito(es) biting you. This will occur many times over the daily picking time, and you just have to allow for it, and pick as fast as you can while being thorough, to minimize the time you spend being bit and scratched. 

Patience: This is not a fast process. We have several berry patches you need to make the rounds of daily. These are wild blackberries, so the productivity and location of the patches can change from year to year. Picking takes about an hour per litre of berries, maybe a bit less. Last summer at peak it was 4 litres in 3 hours (raspberries and blackberries), and picking season lasted over two weeks. Some years there are less berries – but you still have to check all the bushes daily until they’re slowing down noticeably. Then you can pick less often – but by then it’s blueberry season too. And the work doesn’t end with picking. Berries have to be picked over every day to remove bits of leaves, bugs, etc that have snuck in, then either frozen or made into jam if they’re not to be eaten fresh.

Given all that, I say forget about all these toys and games designed to teach your kid whatever. Get thee a blackberry patch, a set of knitting needles, and all the rest of that old-fashioned stuff. It’s probably cheaper, and you get jam and socks as a bonus!

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