My hands are Oregon hands, stained wine-dark with the juices of June. My arms, too, are speckled with red, but that’s my own blood from being stuck, a reminder of the thorns that accompany the best pleasures. On my t-shirt there’s a mix of berries and blood. The juices of June.
Within moments of returning home, I was in the garden picking handfuls of raspberries and black raspberries. I didn’t need a bowl, not where those berries were going. My right hand man gave me fingers to pluck; my left was bowl and scoop. As soon as I filled up my primal vessel I did as the cavemen (in Oregon? Sure — poetic license), yes, the cavemen did: stuffed the entire handful in my mouth.
Because I can.
My lust for these berries won’t be sated for another month. I planted another row last year, and it’s still not even remotely enough. I’ll u-pick them, buy flats at the market, buy flats at the farm, buy them in restaurants and pick them at friends’ places.
It’s gluttony, I know, and thanks to teaching the Professeur, M. Brillat-Savarin, for so many years now, I know the difference between the gourmand — the delicately attuned lover of food with a capacious palate and appetite for the finest and most appropriate foods for his class — and me, the glutton. It doesn’t matter where and how when it comes to raspberries, I just want to stuff my face with them. Even when I lived in California, I’d buy those horrible cellpaks of ‘Willamettes,’ which are harder and larger than some of the other Oregon varieties of raspberries so we trade them to our neighbor to the south for their inedible monster “strawberries.” But unlike the strawberries, I’d buy those horrible cellpaks with their nasty kleenex pad and eat raspberries all in one sitting, just so I could take some edge off the craving.
Here in Oregon, I can eat the soft ones and the sweet ones, the acidic ones and the monstrous ones, the golden ones, the dark ones and the pink ones and the warm ones bright in the sun. We have a month of fresh raspberries ahead. I like raspberries far more than strawberries, which are delicious but always seemed a little obvious to me, kind of like a sweet plump girl who means no harm and doesn’t quite get the jokes. They have a dumb-looking bonnet and they get turned into cartoons. Raspberries, on the other hand, lent their name to that gross gesture of blowing spitty air out of your mouth. Raspberries have a bit of punk in them.
And if raspberries have an edge, black raspberries are rude boys. Raspberries I always knew, but I remember very well the first time I spotted black raspberries under the stairs leading down to my grandfather’s dock in northern Michigan. I’m not sure how old I was, but I must have been close to the ground, even though those steps were steep. Anyway, they were feral and growing through the stairs to scratch the legs of little girls. I had to eat them. I knew I’d get pricked and didn’t know if they were poison or not, but they were glossy and becoming and beckoning.
My parents weren’t in sight, and my grandfather was busy gutting fish down the dock. He held a chinook aloft and showed me the egg sac.
“You see this? Rich people pay good money for these fish eggs,” and with a snort he dumped it all with the guts in the bucket.
Rich people, thought I, would pay me good money for these shiny berry eggs. So I’m going to taste them. And when I did and their wild dark tart sweet seedy little bits entered my mouth for the first time, I realized some things were too precious to be sold to rich people. My black raspberry empire thus ended where it began, in Manistee, Michigan.
Now I grow them and I still don’t have enough, but I know I’m the luckiest girl in the world for just one second in June when I collect them by the handful and take that very first mouthful, unadorned. I close my eyes and am grateful, hardly possibly, for another year.