When I was a child in wartime England many people had vegetable and flower gardens by their homes or on vacant lots. In the U.K. these plots were called allotments and here in the U.S., Victory Gardens. Picking vegetables and fruit were summer chores for children old enough to hold a pail and careful enough not to crush the fruit or eat all the peas.
My grandparents had two long rows of gooseberry bushes in their home garden with which I became very familiar. I hated gooseberries, green sour fruit on prickly bushes. Adding insult to injury was the topping and tailing of the berries after they were picked before they could be baked into gooseberry tarts, a fine dessert, but not one I enjoyed.
Picking raspberries is something I do enjoy. It is almost meditation for me. So, in early July, anticipating the side effects of an approaching tropical depression, I headed out to our raspberry patch. Picking “soft” fruit in the rain is a “no, no,” a lesson learned long ago in a dull and damp climate.
Our raspberry patch is beyond the flowers and vegetables, in the realm of the groundhogs, skunks, and birds. In late spring I had a territorial battle with the groundhogs who had quickly established a burrow under the raspberry patch and designed a fashionable, well-built but poorly camouflaged, exit in the middle of Row #2. A battle ensued with the use, on my part, of kerosene-soaked rags, rocks, and bricks to close the elegant exit. Four attempts were made to re-open the route but by the time the baby chucks were born in May another access had been secured and peace reigned for a few weeks.
As I picked raspberries in the early sprinkles of rain I thought about the subterranean architecture beneath my feet. The entrance led to a larger chamber. I know this because I put my hand and forearm down the hole to feel the construction after the second attempt to establish the exit. It could have been a reckless move on my part. Though woodchucks are herbivores they have sharp teeth. I admit I entered before knocking but, fortunately, no one was home!
Why should we care about what lies beneath our feet? It is the geological, biological, and human history of this planet, our home. There are incredible things hidden beneath us and fortunately, the earth itself protects and preserves many of them from human and climatic damage. From time to time some of these treasures come to light and we are amazed and humbled at their age, complexity, and also the skill of people who came before us.
Those finds attributed to human life are often the easiest for most people to appreciate: the tombs of Egyptian nobility hidden in remote desert caves, incredibly preserved for 5,000 years by the extremely dry air; or the cave paintings of Europe, some sealed by natural means for 30,000 years deep below ground. In parts of the world where people have traveled to and fro for millennia they have left traces of their lives and travels in the form of “buried treasure” things that were important to their daily lives or survival: money, jewelry, tools, and weapons. I was fascinated to see, in Wikipedia, the number of such hoards that have been found in Britain alone and the period they cover: Bronze age, Iron age, Romans, Anglo Saxon, Viking, Medieval and 16th C to 18th C. A tour of human history but also things that we can relate to even today. I think of what we choose to hide though banks and vaults are not as romantic as under the earth!
Now and again strange finds hit the news. The English Wars of the Roses between the royal houses of York and Lancaster ended at the battle of Bosworth Field in England, in 1485. King Richard III of the house of York (white rose) was killed by Henry Tudor, Duke of Lancaster soon to be King Henry VII (red rose). Richard’s body was not found on the battlefield, a fact that upset the Yorkists for centuries. In 2012 a parking lot was being expanded in the town of Leicester near to the historic battle site. As excavation was being done to prepare for the new expansion a shallow grave was found containing the remains of what was later scientifically determined to be King Richard, hastily buried probably by Henry’s departing soldiers, in what was, in 1485, a Franciscan friary. How many layers of history are here under a parking lot? As a Yorkist, I am happy to say that Richard III has now found rest in York Minster.
Meanwhile, back in the garden, as I picked, an audience of birds gathered overhead in the trees and on the power lines, watching my progress. Conversations were in many avian languages. Probably part of the discussion was about whether I would replace the netting over the berry patch – of course. There is a good reason for that netting! Alarm calls indicated that some in the audience were concerned that there was an invader in “their” part of the garden though they see us every day. As with all warm-blooded creatures, including humans, something unusual draws a crowd! Some in this crowd were surely interested in picking raspberries in the rain.