Berried Treasure


I love saskatoons. I completely and irrationally adore saskatoons. They are the prairies’ little-known treasure; an undiscovered super-food, I’m sure, rivaling the better-known blueberry. I relish a saskatoon bran muffin every morning. (I mean, seriously, if the bears can live off them, they’ve got to be exceptional).

Every year, Mom and I go picking at my brother’s place. We went yesterday, and conditions were perfect. The smoke from BC fires provided a nice canopy, refracting the direct sunlight. It was pleasant, but not hot, wind calm, and even the mosquitoes and flies were taking a siesta. You may not think it, but there’s actually a science to this. Timing is critical; you’ve got to pay attention. Go too early, and three-quarters of the berry cluster will be hard and underdeveloped (much too tricky to pick through). Go too late, and the cluster will be overripe, insect-riddled, hail-pocked or heat-shriveled. I personally believe there is an ideal three-day window; miss that, and of course you can still pick, but it’s way more difficult. Yesterday, conditions were optimal. The purple-red clusters were hanging heavy in plump splendor of perfection, just waiting for us.

Amazingly, I decided to adopt a new picking policy this year. My usual smash-and-grab method of gleefully unrestrained enthusiasm had me crashing through the bushes, leaping rapidly, grabbing wildly at the best clusters, (stuffing half of them in my mouth), and just letting my eyes order the mad feast. This year, I modified my strategy. A more sedate, curated approach was called for, so I restrained myself. I cased the picking area strategically. I even worked my way through the branches methodically from bottom, to top. The high ones are always a challenge, but hold the choicest, least molested berries. I did not neglect them. Rather than stripping whole clusters, I gleaned through them for grade A quality. Sure, it takes longer to fill your tub, but then you spend half the time cleaning (a far more tedious job). There’s an art to grasping the clusters and rolling them gently in your hands, so only the ripe ones loosen free. Only perfectly mature, deep, aubergine berries that practically begged me ended up in my grasp. I slowed everything way, way down, and indulged deliberately on the entire sensual experience: the gorgeous symphony of colors, the scent of the leaves, the gentle hum of insects; all wrapped in the still quiet of the country.

It occurred to me, as I was absorbing it all in a philosophical way, that the art of saskatoon picking has many parallels with the life-skill of forging excellent relationships. Bear with me. When we’re young and impetuous, eager for popularity and approval, crowds are the thing. The bigger the better. We’re prepared to whip off the whole cluster, thinking it will all be good. Stomping around wildly on social territories, enthusiastic and undiscerning, there’s lots of snap, surface judgments happening. We’re led too much by our eyes, by our desire. We place too much value on surface glitter, and not enough on plain, solid virtues. We find out quickly, as appealing as they may seem, not everyone is ripe and ready for serious connections. Later, as we grow older and long for significant connections, we can even accept ‘wormy’ offerings, because it’s the only thing going, or because we don’t believe we’re worth more.

In the minefield of relational interaction, there are any number of potential pitfalls. Most of us have deep back histories, experimenting with failure, loss, rejection and betrayal. Sometimes, it takes years sorting through the interpersonal rabble to make sense of it all. You can bite down into situations so bitter, they leave a bad taste in your mouth for a long time. The grave danger is for us to become so jaded, soured or stale, that our crushed hearts simply give up.

There’s a traditional proverb that most people know as: A man that has friends must show himself friendly, and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24). Interestingly, most modern translators now render it far more accurately to the Hebrew, with this: A man of too many friends (or unreliable friends) may come to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Makes much more sense, doesn’t it?

The art of recognizing worthwhile relationships and culling inferior ones is a difficult skill, but utterly necessary. What we give our hearts to can be the ruin of us. If you are one of the walking wounded, here’s the good news. No matter how rocky your love-road has been, there’s someone who can, and will save you, even from yourself. He’s the only true lover of the soul. He’s in-it-for-the-long-haul. It’s Jesus, the friend who stays closer than a brother. All the deep scarring of the past melts away when we grasp how loved we really are; how precious our lives are before Him. We desperately need protection, tenderness, and acceptance; He’s always ready with an unlimited amount. Nothing is hopeless under His gaze. We don’t need to be bitter about others, or our own stupid crash-and-burns; we simply step into the river of grace and forgiveness, and release them all to the Lord.

In maturity, we grasp the concept that people and relationships, like berries, ripen in their own time. Cultivating the ones that nurture and nourish us is slow picking, but well worth waiting for. There is nothing so sweet, and so gratifying as perfectly ripe fruit, grasped in its season.

You know, I think It’s time to go and make myself a freshly-picked saskatoon pie. It’s the taste of heaven…simply ambrosia! You didn’t really think all of this was about bran muffins, did you?

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