Tonight, as the sky was bending its dark blues down to its pink horizon, I tried to pick ripe raspberries for another round of jam. We have fifteen feet of raspberry canes and they make for us each year 10 quarts of berries and sometimes a pie. It was getting dark for picking but the berries were starting to over-ripen. First I squeezed between the fence and the monster limbed vines, where it was already 20 minutes darker. Stepping over the scratchy boughs and pushing some up and over me, I stooped to see the silhouette of the berries against the sky. Color drains to gray and black at night so I went for the shape of a full, but still firm, berry.
My hands are looking for the hairy berries—hanging down like innocent testicles. It’s getting darker and I’m reaching and touching. Not knowing if I’ll find a leaf, a shadow, or a berry between my fingers. Not knowing if it will be rotten and smear wet and moldy in my hand. Or if it will be a hard and (although I don’t see it) light pink fruit. I’m looking for the ripe ones that fall off their pulpy conical umbilicus into my blind hand with just the lightest pull. If they are not perfectly ripe the plant won’t give them up, hanging on, fighting me, wanting to feed the berries whatever it is they ooze through their dimpled connection to each seed and juice orb. When the berries are ripe, the pointy light-green bracts, many-nippled breasts, give up their fruit with a token tug and hang alone, pale and done. Tonight one launched its fruit before I could reach it, dropping it, as it turned out, onto my toe. I bent down in that dark tight prickly place and found it on my big toe, ripe and ready to become jam, unwasted.
It is still dark but I can see a little easier as I round the edge of the row of raspberries and emerge from between the scratchy vines and the fence. Now I navigate between the raspberry vine tentacles and the beehive, easier at night when the bees have all come home and are packing their pollen into the wax cells, regurgitating their nectar. In the darkening light I smell honey and when I am perfectly still, I can hear the bees inside the hive. I round the corner that during the day is an airstrip for landing bees. A few hundred workers are sitting out on what would be their porch, fanning their wings, cooling off the hive and perhaps enjoying the evening.
I have two quarts picked and need just a cup or so more for the low-sugar recipe. In the dark I pick a berry with a big green triangular bug sitting on it. As I pick it off and drop it, I smell a buggy odor in the night air, a smell that I remember tasting every once in a while on my berries.
This is getting too lush. Each time my hand reaches out into the thicket of vine and finds a ripe berry I think I’ve got to write about this. It’s all so graphic I wonder if it is not only berries I’m reaching my fingers out for, but words, ripe and red and falling into my hand.