Every year around this time, the sand behind my house turns a gentle but convincing shade of blue. It’s almost as blue as Lake Superior—almost as beautiful, too. We did not know, upon buying the property, that it was a trove of blueberry bushes. It is something of a big deal in this part of the state; many towns in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan hold a Blueberry Festival each summer in honor of this delightfully yummy, antioxidant-rich, prolific little berry. If we lived in a time and culture where gods and goddesses were created to honor natural beauty and ferocity, no doubt we would have ourselves a blueberry goddess.
As it is, we settle for it being a wonderful beauty of our wonderful earth. And though we can talk about the science behind why and where blueberries grow, though we can prepare the soil for their health and longevity, though we can prune and pick and protect the bushes from trespassers who would stomp through unknowingly, the truth is that blueberries are every bit as magical to me today as Santa Claus was in 1985.
Why is it so magical? Why am I so enraptured with this seemingly insignificant berry? It’s simple: It teaches me something new every time I walk among the bushes. In the past, I’ve written about The Master and the Blueberries, and I’ve written For the Beauty of the Blueberries. Here are a few things I’ve learned since then.
Don’t be afraid of bears. It’s actually amusing to me because many people are so careful when picking berries, not wanting to step upon or crush the bushes standing between them and their bounty. And I applaud that—truly. It’s good to be careful and not do intentional harm to the bushes. But when I’m down on my hands and knees, crawling through a patch to find the bluest, ripest berries, I always remember the year we saw a black bear romping through the patches cleaning up our leftovers. Black bears can be heavy—this guy wasn’t huge, but he was certainly big enough to make blueberry jam between his toes, if you catch my drift. Still, not only did our bushes survive their black bear encounter, they continued to grow through the remainder of the season as they normally would, and they grew fine (and spread) the following year. If a black bear, weighing a couple hundred pounds (maybe a little bit more) didn’t kill the blueberry bush, you probably won’t, either.
Don’t despise Littles. Small berries happen, sometimes from a lack of picking or pruning, and sometimes just because of some blueberry magic that happens. Still, small berries, when ripe, taste every bit as good as larger berries; they cook and bake up just as well in your pancakes and muffins, and they are rich with the same nutrients.
Don’t move so quickly. It’s important to take your time when picking blueberries. As a child, my tendency was to pick one patch for ten minutes, then move to another bigger, more exciting patch. As an adult, I realize how bountiful one patch can be. I will sit in one spot until I’ve found every last berry. Every last berry is worth finding.
Dig a little. It’s easy to look at a patch of blueberries and see what is right in front of us. Often, when you lift the branches of a bush and look beneath the surface, you’ll find a plethora of inconspicuous berries. Just when you think you’ve picked every berry on a bush, you may realize you’ve only just begun.
Don’t pick the white berries. They, too, just need time. Be courteous and give it to them.
Don’t pick the white ones, but… a little bit underripe (reddish purple) isn’t going to kill you. In fact, I bet once you bake those blueberry muffins, you can’t pick out which one was underripe. Forget the muffins, if you close your eyes and eat a perfectly ripe blueberry and one that is just a touch early, I bet you can’t tell the difference between them at that point, either. It’s absolutely okay to eat blueberries that aren’t at that perfect blue moment.
It’s okay if you miss some berries. Fruit exists for our health and sustenance, but it also exists for the health and sustenance of the wildlife. We have many birds (and as previously mentioned, the occasional bear) and other wildlife who rely upon the dried berries to get them through winter. And listen, if you lived in the Upper Peninsula snow, you’d want some yummy berries to cheer and sustain you in winter, too. Trust me on this.
You don’t have to eat the stems and leaves, but it’s pretty normal to have some in your bucket after a long day of picking. Just pull them out as you clean your berries. It’s really not a big deal. It doesn’t make the fruit bad; it doesn’t make the picker incompetent. It just happens. It’ll be all right, I promise.
WARNING: Spiders! This, too, is not worth panicking. Spiders love hiding out in and around blueberries. Consider what good taste they must have to want to spend time near your beloved berries. Try not to kill them. Set them free in your garden. They’ll help protect your plants from yucky, destructive bugs. (And hey—maybe that’s what they were doing near the blueberries in the first place!)
Don’t despise a bush that bears no fruit. It may be my fault—I might not have picked the berries last year. Or it may be a young bush not ready to fruit. Or it may be crowded out by weeds. The best we can do is care for it and give it time to mature and thrive.
Each of these lessons speaks volumes to me about the Christian life. You and I, you see—we are blueberry bushes. We are growing, each one of us, into plants that bear good fruit, healthy fruit, sustaining fruit. But we are also each one of us a blueberry picker. We are at once both giver and partaker of fruit.
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23, ESV)
If each one of these attributes is a blueberry, we must be honest and confess that most of us are not constantly producing perfectly ripe berries of each attribute every hour of every day. That's not a judgment upon us—it’s a call to see one another as we are: Imperfect vessels of a fruit that is being perfected in us.
Too often, we criticize one another. As Christians, this is a fundamental mistake. When someone fails to exhibit a fruit of the Spirit, we curse them with our judgment and disdain—as if we always bear healthy and abundant fruit! The truth is that we grow fruit in season. The truth is that some fruit takes longer to ripen than other fruit—not because one plant is inferior to another, but because one maybe hasn’t been relieved of its “first fruits,” or hasn’t been pruned yet, or is choked by weeds over which they have no control, or it hasn’t had as much sunshine as another plant.The truth is that our brother or sister may be growing a white berry, and while you may be hungry and needing something to satisfy your spirit, that berry may be growing for someone else’s sustenance.
And the truth of the black bears? Well that simple: If you get crushed by someone who’s hungry for fruit, don’t panic. Trust your roots. Trust in healing. Trust in the strength of God to keep you and help you flourish even in your pain.
Ours is not to judge the blueberry bush—whether of ourselves or another; ours only is to praise God for the growth that can and does and has and will produce life-giving fruit. In the end, He’s the One who makes it happen anyway. And that’s still a magical mystery to me.