blackberry solstice

blackberry blossom 1

What was I doing at 2:43 when the sun reached its northern-most point in the sky? When summer officially began? I was making pound cakes in the kitchen, flecked with zest from our Meyer lemons and lemon thyme from the pot on the deck. I was thinking about how cool and grey it had been in the morning when we went for a swim anyway, reasoning that the lake would be the same temperature as yesterday and we could warm up quickly afterwards, and I was thinking about the winter and spring, uninterrupted by visits to Edmonton and Ottawa, and how lucky I was to at least have space, a garden, some writing in progress, and a house full of books to read because otherwise? I didn’t want to think about otherwise.

So I can’t say I noticed the moment of the solstice. But as the pizza was baking, I remembered that the blackberry was blooming, the little bit of Rubus laciniatus we let sprawl under some forsythia near the woodshed. It blooms and then in August I have a small harvest of its fruit. It’s not a native berry. It’s an Eurasian interloper, this evergreen or cutleaf bramble, not as invasive as its relative, Rubus armeniacus, the Himalayan or Armenian blackberry, and the berries taste distinctly different. They hold their shape in a galette, which is what I use them for. The flowers are brief and lovely.

Can you tell me what happened to the blossom
Blackberry blossom when the summertime came?
The blackberry blossom, oh the last time I saw one
Was down in the bramble where I rambled in the spring.

I don’t think I’m ready for summer. I usually have so many things to plan and prepare for. We are hopeful about visits from our children but that all depends on the progress (or not) of COVID-19. The chamber music festival here in our community was about to be downscaled a little after 15 seasons of hugely successful concerts but now it’s been cancelled altogether.

So much has and hasn’t happened this winter and spring. It feels like the planet has shifted slightly, its orbital speed (averaged at 29.78 km/s) altered. Even if and when there’s a vaccine for this virus, I don’t think we can or should return to what we thought was normal. We’ve learned things about work, about time, about our own natures in relation to others. We’ve learned what we will and won’t accept from our leaders and those who are entrusted to keep us safe. Faults have opened wide in the geography of our civic relationships and with enough diligence and hard work, we might be able to heal the damage of centuries of inequalities.

On a personal level, I’ve grown even more appreciative of my life partner, the man I’ve lived with for more than 40 years. His love and patience are unsurpassed. Every morning he brings me coffee in bed, we read books together in the evening, he is so encouraging when I need that faith and encouragement the most. I can’t imagine a better person to be quarantined with.

The bramble was wild I was torn by the briars
My love he wooed me as I lie there
With a flower in my hair and my cheeks all flashy
Was the blackberry blossom from the blackberry bush?

The cutleaf blackberries are interlopers but there is everything in the brief moment of their blossoming, everything in the moment between spring and summer, while I stood at the counter and mixed lemon pound cake and thought about time, years passing, how I used to wait the entire winter for summer, for long swims in the green water, the sound of my children around me. Sometimes we’d pick berries on the way home, our hands and mouths stained purple with the juice.

blackberry blossom

(The lines of song are from Michelle Shocked’s “Blackberry Blossom”, on the Arkansas Traveler album, recorded in 1992.)

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