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Life lessons from a raspberry bush [Commentary]

One of my favorite things about living in the Wyman Park neighborhood is that, although we're smack in the middle of the city and all it offers, the park is close by. And one of my favorite things about the park is that, for the first two weeks of July, the wild raspberries are ripe for picking.

I've looked forward to this activity every summer since my now-grown sons were wee. Back then, when the children helped pick, we would take the berries (the ones they didn't eat on the spot) home to make raspberry ice cream — delicious beyond words. All these years later, it still tickles me to know that I can find food right outside my urban back door.

So one recent morning, off to the park I went, quart container in hand. I spent an hour contentedly plucking berries from their prickly stalks at the edge of the woods. Unexpectedly, this simple activity provides several life lessons.

The first is that the low-hanging fruit disappears most quickly, so if you want to go beyond that, you must expend some effort.

The casual dog-walker in the park can easily take the berries that face away from the thickets; but to get the tempting ones that are beyond arm's reach, it is necessary to wade in among the plants — to bushwhack, in effect. The casual walker is unlikely to do this because it requires proper attire (apparently, even the birds aren't willing to get into the thick of things, so plentiful are the ripe berries in the interior of the thicket). This means long sleeves and pants to avoid getting scratched up by the raspberry canes; a hat, because, as my dermatologist is forever reminding me, "the sun is not your friend"; and closed shoes with high socks, because poison ivy just happens to grow in the same conditions as raspberries.

And therein lies lesson number two: You often have to tolerate things you don't like in order to have the things you do like.

Having pushed fearlessly into the bushes, I looked for the ripest berries. The orangy ones are the zingiest because they have not fully ripened; the bluish ones are much sweeter. All are more flavorful than the cultivated varieties available at the store or even at the farmers' market. Having seemingly exhausted the supply of ripe berries in the immediate area, I turned around, and — surprise! — I discovered countless others that I hadn't seen before because I had been looking at the bushes from a different perspective.

And there is the third life lesson: If you want to understand a different point of view, you cannot just stand in the same place and look in the same direction. You must try new experiences and talk to different people. Only then can you begin to see things as others do.

Finally, the most important lesson of all: The beauty of nature is all around us and, like the berries, free for the taking.

Living in the city is not a reason to be detached from nature. You may have to look a bit harder than you would in the country or at the seashore, but the subtleties of the natural world are everywhere, available for all to appreciate. All you have to do is pay attention to your surroundings.

My container filled, I headed home. In the noonday sun the berries sparkled like tiny jewels in every shade of red. They made their way into lovely desserts for my annual Bastille Day party: a terrine of fruit, a galette, a Pavlova, and a surprise in the chocolate ganache filling of a wickedly good chocolate cake. As the tyrants got their just desserts in revolutionary France, so we had ours. Thanks, in part, to the raspberries

Lissa Rotundo is a recently retired city biology teacher. Her email is lissa.rotundo@gmail.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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