poetry and prose about place

growing and gathering – picking berries with friends

with 18 comments

As I am deciding how to organise my poetry manuscript on ‘growing and gathering’ local foods, I am considering the themes of the various poems.  I think these themes will become the sections in my manuscript.

One of the first themes to emerge, perhaps the easiest to examine, is about ‘relationships’.

Although I have often picked berries alone, my best memories are of picking berries with members of my family.  Both my Mom and Dad loved to pick berries.  My Dad was a fast picker and I was always in silent competition with him to pick the most berries… I never won.  My Mom picked berries quickly, but took the time to enjoy the fresh air, the blue sky and the expanse of the berry field.  When I think of picking berries with her, I feel calm and a little lazy.  My relationship with my mother-in-law was also shaped by our many berry-picking experiences; when I pick raspberries, I hear her quiet laughter in the breeze.

As I write poetry for my ‘growing and gathering’ manuscript, I have explored my relationships with the various people in my life.

Some of these are based on real experiences I have had picking berries or gathering greens.   Examples include poems about trying to find an old berry field, now grown over, or how changes in a relationship can be observed over the years in the annual picking of berries.  Although most of the poems are about plants, I have included production of other local foods – so a poem about beekeeping, for example, explores how two people interact during a small emergency.

In other cases, the gathering of local foods is a metaphor for some aspect of a relationship, whether good and bad.  At least some of these metaphors are related to the characteristics of plants or animals – for example, the serrated edges of leaves, the slipperiness of a trout, the gentle feel and fragrance of Bedstraw, or the bitterness of taste common to so many ‘salad’ greens.

Some of the metaphor is based on the place where plants grow.  Examples include the seclusion of many berry-picking spots, or the physical spaces created by rows of corn plants.

As I look over the Table of Contents for my manuscript, I realise some poems will be stronger if placed within another theme.  So I have moved, for example, a poem about picking berries over a three-week period from the theme on ‘relationships’ to a theme about ‘change’.

This consideration of the themes in my poetry has given me a good start to organising the poems, and identifying gaps I have to fill.  I know now there are lots of gaps, and many poems yet to write!



Bitter Blue


of all the silvery summer days we spent none so warm sun on

granite boulders round blue berry field miles across hazy miles

away from hearing anything but bees

and berries

plopping in the pail


beside you I draped my lazy bones on bushes crushed berries and

thick red leaves over moss dark animal trails nudged between rocks

baking berries brown musk rising to meet blue heat

or the still fleet scent

of a waxy berry bell


melting in my mouth crammed with fruit sometimes pulled from

laden stems more often scooped from your pail full ripe blue pulp

and the bitter shock of a hard green berry never ripe

or a shield bug

with frantic legs

and an edge to her shell


Published as: ‘Bitter Blue’, Summer 1993, The Amethyst Review 1 (2)

Published on on July 31, 2011

© Jane Tims 2012

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

18 Responses

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  1. Excellent poem and drawing, Jane, and I also enjoyed very much your reflections on relationships attached to memories, or maybe that’s vice versa. One of my favorite memories is picking blackberries with friends when I was young, picking raspberries with my grandfather when I was even younger, and grand family blueberry picking times in Cape Breton, after which piles of pies were assembled – as the many nieces and nephews nursed their many blackfly bites, from flies that outnumbered the blueberries many times over! Thanks for the memories.


    Jane Fritz

    July 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    • Hi Jane. Thanks for sharing these memories with me. Black flies and horseflies are certainly part of the experience! Jane


      jane tims

      July 8, 2012 at 7:16 pm

  2. Oh, and I loved the poem “greed” and the muttering of the sea. Made my memories of times at the shore echo in my head. Thank you.



    July 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm

  3. Jane, a wonderful post and poem. I am so much enjoying reading about your process with the manuscript.



    July 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm

  4. I really like this post Jane. Your thoughts on berry picking, the lovely drawing, and oh gosh what a beautiful poem.



    July 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm

  5. I also have wonderful memories of fresh berries. My father would often pick wild raspberries and blackberries in the early morning before he milked the cows. When I got up, there would be a bucket of berries sitting in the kitchen ready for us to eat for breakfast.



    July 7, 2012 at 12:37 am

    • Hi. Sometimes we don’t realise how hard other people are working on our behalf…. Jane


      jane tims

      July 7, 2012 at 7:20 am

  6. Jane, I love your poem…. I love your drawing too… The two of them together… What a lovely person they reveal in you!



    July 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    • Hi Merrill. Thank you for your very kind words!!! Jane


      jane tims

      July 6, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      • I put it up on my Facebook page and I note that two fine poets I know also agreed that it’s really very good.



        July 6, 2012 at 9:54 pm

      • Hi Merrill. Thanks! Jane


        jane tims

        July 7, 2012 at 7:19 am

  7. Bitter Blue ( revised )

    Summer lasts such a short time
    Having to weed and pick berries just sublime

    The fun of warm day just all of a sudden dropped
    Enjoying play and leisure time just stopped

    Off to follow mom and dad to pick the black, the ras, the staw,the blue berry
    My gosh we would even go after the bitter and vile choke cherry

    Each of us were assigned our own vessel or cup
    If we did not pick then we would not later on berries get to sup

    At least in the field we would eat our fill
    Not being able to help fill the bucket not such a bitter pill

    Luckily at the end of the day the desserts were real fine
    Not sure I can say the same about my dad’s choke cherry wine

    It seems the memories of picking are not so good
    But if I could go back and share those moments again I am sure I would.

    What brats I am sure we must have seemed
    Not to always have mom and dad around, I never could have dreamed

    The spontaneous poet


    • Hi Spontaneous Poet… there is a ring of truth in your poem. Personally, I am delighted to report we have a bush of our own ‘bitter and vile’ choke cherries on our cabin lot this year. I am glad you know the times spent picking the berries with your mom and dad (and mine) are now good memories. Keep on spontaneous poeting!!!! Jane P.S. Did you recognise the reprobate berry pickers in my drawing????


      jane tims

      July 6, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      • A poet you may indeed be. Thank heavens your drawings protect the innocent


        The spontaneous poet

        July 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

      • Please visit again, spontaneous poet. Jane


        jane tims

        July 8, 2012 at 7:11 pm

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