I used to watch my Labrador curl back her lips and snip each berry with front teeth. She had the delicacy of a barber with a bald man.
Flighty-girl was her name, and she never missed the snip. She used to look at me then as if to say: ‘see how it’s done?’ This year the black and luscious harvest has stained my fingers purple. With some sorrow I watched youngsters this year ignoring the harvest, fingering their phones instead as they wandered like zombies past the black and glistening sugar trove, not even knowing it was there.
I was reminded of the sublimely happy tribes of youngsters in their brief gardens of youth which H.G.Wells portrayed in his Time Machine story, as warlocks awaited their grim and sinister harvest underground.
Today’s youth must be aware of the diminishing countryside if the planet is to survive for them. As children we would be sent out by wise mothers to glean blackberries, rose-hips (for vitamin C juice to be used for city children), for hazel nuts and even acorns to feed the pigs. We competed with one another, we laughed in the sunlit air, we learned. We knew there were good blackberry bushes and there were useless ones where the fruit looked good but collapsed into a rotten pulp.
We knew there were bushes on the chalky hills which held tough little berries till early November and came off the stem as clean as apples. We had no idea then that England had 340 different species of blackberry with almost 100 in our own county, but at least we knew that not all were the same. We even surmised that different soils and micro-climates were something to do with diversity.
We were a gang, and we discussed, and opinions were as wild as the birds we competed with for that autumn high spot of the year.
Do I malign the youth of today? Every generation does as it begins to realise how much there is to learn. So this hot summer has set seed a-plenty, as the old saying goes.
Apple trees hang their branches to the ground. Rose hips are red and ready for blackbirds and redwings, when these arrive from The Baltic and beyond. Pheasants and wood pigeons will flutter awkwardly to pick these as well. At the moment, badgers are about beneath the yew trees gobbling those little Chinese lanterns which the female trees develop and which are as soft and sweet and syrupy as jelly babies. You can eat those too if you know that the central pip is deadly poisonous and must not be crushed in the teeth.
I have eaten thousands in my life and so did children of old but they enjoyed the apprenticeship the open air offers everyone if only they would take it.