When Life Gives You 2020…

Seven thirty on a Sunday morning and I’m in the woods between Porlock and Porlock Weir on the Somerset coast. Steep combes reach up toward the blue skies, the smooth waters of the Bristol Channel pave the way to Wales. After days of rain sunlight dapples the muddy trails. Spontaneous streams gurgle through the undergrowth. Soggy blackberries glisten, like tiny strobe lights. They’re prolific, dotted along prickly branches that snag my trousers and claw at my fingers. Berries burst as I pick them, bloated with moisture or furry-white with mould from the incessant dampness of the last week. But there are still multitudes of perfect ones; dark burgundy orbs conjuring up warm ovens and oaty toppings. They promise friendly visits and glasses of wine for Sunday lunches – once social distancing becomes social history.

Motor memory controls my fingers, resurrecting sisterly outings of decades past along the childhood lanes, mouths covered in red stains, one for the basket, three for the instant gratification. No washing, just a wipe on the jeans or a rub of a thumb. Once home, we dunked the berries in tubs of water and watched the creepy crawlies float to the surface before Mum baked the fruit into pies or crumbles.

I didn’t gather these foraging memories in the US. I picked blackberries only in England, teaching my children the skills (and the maths of one in the basket and three in the stomach without washing or worrying) during visits home. You can pick berries in the US of course, but in the areas I lived, it was pay-to-play, organized, rule-driven, commercial. Back on Exmoor now, I wander the free smorgasbord of fruit, alone except for a solitary bird. I can’t identify the cry, a croak almost, not a pheasant or a pigeon or any of the little fellas I see on my birdfeeder. I search for a glimpse of the bird, but the trees are too thick to allow more than the one-sided conversation to penetrate the greenery. Still, it’s nice to know I have company.

I’d expected to be showing my US husband the charms of blackberrying – yes, it’s a verb in England – by now. He should have been here months ago. But I’m alone. So is he. Still. The immigration systems in both the US and the UK seem coldly detached from the immigrant/emigrant’s needs. It’s bizarre that we can go to restaurants, schools and shops but visa applicants still struggle to get a one-on-one meeting with an immigration officer. Why is it not safe to send passports and paperwork into someone who could easily be isolated at a computer terminal? It’s easy to harbour thoughts of darker forces interfering with the immigration process. Easy to think that certain powers are conspiring against the sharing of ideas and ideals, of relocation and residency variation. Against joining families together and reuniting citizens of all nations in the country of their choice. Against the joys – nay, the necessities – of adding new ingredients to the global stew pot. If we can rally on the White House lawn, we can carefully tiptoe though travel hubs and follow quarantine rules dictated by scientific data.

I push the darker thoughts aside and let the sunlight play on the fruits in my own berry pot. Here in the woods I feel part of my homeland. Reaching, picking, the plop of the berry in the pot, and the sounds of Exmoor remind me why I’ve fought so hard to return home. I’ll wind my way back along the trail to Porlock, peel a few apples, wash the blackberries, stir the crumble topping and wait for warm scents to fill the house. Hopefully, next autumn’s crop of berries will be harvested by my entire family. Settled, safe – and home. But for now, when life gives me 2020, I’ll make blackberry and apple crumble.

6 thoughts on “When Life Gives You 2020…

  1. Really enjoying your blog. I too remember the days of picking blackberries along the lane, along with sloes and elderberries. I miss those days and you bring it all back to life in your words. Don’t forget whilst hubby may not yet be able to get into the UK, as a GC holder or a citizen you can still visit him back in the USA.

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    • Thanks for you kind words. I’m glad you have these memories too. As to travel back to the US, it’s a bit risky at the moment. A sudden lock down on either side of the Atlantic would see me stuck over there and it took so much effort to get out! Patience is the key, I think.

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  2. Sorry you’re having such trouble getting your hubby to follow you. Bureaucratic wheels do turn slow but it makes one wonder if the covid thing slows stuff up even further.
    I’ve been picking wild grapes (see fb post with “bloodie” grape fingers). It’s been a very good year! I’m trying to decide on jelly or just juice. I love wild grape juice. I’d go for your berry/apple cobbler sitting next to a generous skoop of vanilla ice cream any day! I’ll be right over! Ha!
    Hope you have other family to keep you company.
    Stay safe! – Christine

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    • I’ll get the ice cream ready for you! And yes, I have friends and family here but it’s hard to meet up at the moment. It’s the same for everyone though. Thanks for reading and best to you in these crazy times.

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  3. One in the basket and at least 3 in the mouth, yes! As for what 2020 is dishing out… oh my. Hope you are reunited soon.

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