I was born in Oregon. But I have very little memory of it. When I was four, the desert became my home. The land that has prickly pears and citrus. We aren’t known for fresh fruit or berries. Even our pumpkin patches have to be staged with pumpkins brought in from less-arid lands and lined up like they are ready to be picked.
In October, I was able to visit my birth state—that green and water-blessed landscape of Oregon. As my Arizona brain caught up to the idea that a river could have water in it, my eyes were drinking in the vivid colors of fall—oranges and greens mixed with reds, purples, and splashes of yellow.
My friends walked me through flower beds and gardens—acres of flora now preparing for winter. Flowers were still vividly peeking from below beds of fallen leaves. Riffing birds kept beat for the rhythmic dances of the squirrels clambering after drifting acorns.
As we walked, the grass, naturally green and damp, crushed gently beneath my chucks; I noticed what looked like berries growing along the back wall. Beautiful, small blackberries. My friend pointed out that their beauty was only in the first glimpse. For these were wild blackberries.
My interest was engaged as I imagined how wild strawberries are smaller and grow throughout the countryside and are sweet and wonderful—full disclosure, I am basing my entire knowledge of these tiny red gems on Little House on the Prairie and a hike I took as a kid. I then thought of wild grapes we have in northern Arizona. They are beautiful and grow in clean clumps, but their tiny fruit are so bitter, lemon is a sweet relief. I can still taste a wild grape I ate from a poor choice as a middle schooler. I can vividly remember my grandpa cautioning me about the tiny bastards, but I didn’t listen and snuck one any way…only to find there was no water or salvation until we got home.
I leaned in closer to view the tiny wild blackberries, captivated as I wondered what joys or deception they brought. Only, the truth about blackberries is more potent, and deeply more relevant to life than a sour grape.
Blackberries grow in an insidious fashion. In the eyes of a casual viewer from the desert, they don’t appear to be a threat, but when I looked closer, my heart broke. I followed the vines of blackberries backward and saw ivy beneath it, now choked of light and resources. As I walked down the embankment, bushes, now lifeless, filled my vision. The blackberries’ thorns wrapped around the base, strangling the life-giving cores of the plants.
Thriving plant life on one end of the hill transformed into a knot of desecration and death on the other. The blackberries had come, smothered all hope, and then in the darkness, it too had given up. Dried leaves and sharp thorns decorated the shriveled and hanging bodies of the fruit that never got to be—and even when it dreamed of life, it was tiny, bitter, and impossible to consume.
And it didn’t have to happen.
The beautiful flowers—yellow and pink, orange and blue—could have grown majestically and strong instead of broken and suppressed into choked nutrition.
Blackberries—when cared for, when protected, when nurtured, when thriving, when pruned—are hearty and scrumptious. That fruit is delicate beauty for any pallet. Even the berries that make it in shipment to the desert are sweet and lovely, rich and large. They are proof of health in the plant and the garden.
But these wild blackberries—these consuming vines of agony—spoke to my soul. This is trauma. This is a broken system. This is coping gone askew and disorders rising to hopefully find the right piece of light or ground or growth.
When a survivor develops a way of coping that is unhealthy (eating disorder, cutting, drugs, addictions)—it is survival, grasping, clawing, desperately clinging to anything in order to feel life. Only that process removes life from both. Death and carnage are in the wake of the vine that has no fruit and the plant that no longer has life.
When we strive to heal, we are trying to unwind and remove the reaching tendrils of the wild blackberry bushes. Only, just like the blackberries—the job is intense. My friend told me it is a full-out war to get rid of wild blackberry bushes that have taken over your property. It is a war, but it is not hopeless. There are methods and ways to specifically battle the thorns and weed-like activities of the wild blackberry.
Every garden step has to be intentional to remove the blackberry. Each planting of a new plant must be prepared with the knowledge the wild blackberries are near and will try to take over.
But the battle is worth it. Because the tulips are worth it. The lilac bushes are worth it. The non-wild blackberries are worth the fight.
And so are we. When trauma rears its tendrils to extend its reach, we must be aware and prepared. We cannot allow it to turn our souls’ landscapes into knotted memorials to what could have been.
Instead, may we rise with the victorious space of overcoming the blackberry bushes in our lives and resting under the lilac bush while we eat berries and a giant Oregon pear (for real, add it to your bucket list).
And yes, that image of the blackberries on the hill by the ocean—that’s Haystack Rock from the Goonies…the ultimate 80s movie that showed us how to fight the wild blackberries and embrace the beautiful fruit of valuing and loving each other. It modeled protecting our most treasured from the reach of the deadly, wild blackberry bushes.
We do not have to be controlled by trauma or by wild blackberry bushes. And, the fruit of trauma is not sweet, just like wild fruit isn’t.
It’s the fruit of healing that is extraordinary. And it’s waiting. Want some?