One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Devil In The Brambles

I love autumn. To me, it is the most sensual season of the year. The smell of ripe blackberries, roasting peppers, and the warm baking spices—nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Biting into a crisp, sweet apple—the sound of the crunch. The slant of light that stretches shadows of buildings and tree trunks. The skittering swirl of dry leaves down the sidewalk.

It’s harvest time, which, as a writer, is often when a piece of work that I’ve been growing, nurturing, fully focused on for the past year is finally ready to send out in the world. Which also means its time to start something new. And for me, the best place to start is with the senses. Because the senses, more than anything else, evoke emotion.

Many years ago, a wonderful writing teacher gave me a simple writing exercise that was transformative, opening a portal into deep and emotional memory. Part meditation and part writing, the exercise simply required sitting quietly and going back to some moment in childhood, then connecting to it through the senses. I remember closing my eyes and finding myself standing in a dirt lane in front of a patch of blackberry brambles. The air had a crisp edge but the low sun was warm on the back of my head and the brambly smell of sun on the fruit and leaves and stems and the taste of warm, ripe blackberries was vivid. But it also carried a melancholy note, a feeling of loneliness that the sensual memory brought back from my childhood.

Illustration by Molly Brett
Why blackberry brambles? There seems to be an archetypal element to them—they show up in many fairy tales and fables. Sleeping Beauty’s castle sleeps beneath an overgrowth of brambles, Rapunzel’s prince falls out the tower window, gouging his eyes out in the bramble bushes, Children’s picture books are full of them. Perhaps it’s the prickles, the thorns that one has to endue to get at the sweet fruit. The universal lesson that the pursuit of pleasure comes with some pain along the way. The concept of risk and reward. Of sacrifice for harvest.

Some people say you should not pick wild blackberries after September 29th, Michaelmas, or you’ll risk running into the devil. The story goes that when the archangel Michael kicked Satan out of heaven on that day, the devil landed in a patch of blackberry brambles and so now every year he gets his revenge by spitting (some say peeing) on them, making them inedible. Whether or not you choose to believe the story, it is a good idea to pick your berries by the end of September before they shrivel into dry, brown seedy bumps.

With that in mind, my daughter and I walked through the Presidio yesterday gathering about half a gallon of berries between us. We both got pricked but it was worth it. The afternoon was also a lesson in patience and quiet observation worth noting for other ventures. Like writing.  Over and over I would be certain I’d picked every ripe berry from the patch I was foraging (and why is it that the sweetest, plumpest berries always seem just out of reach?) but then after looking up at the fog pouring in over us, and getting ready to move on, I would see a whole cluster I had missed. They’d been there all along—right in front of my eyes, but somehow I hadn’t seen them. Kind of like a piece of writing that isn’t quite working—you get ready to abandon it but give it one last glance and see the connections that were missing. Right there before your eyes.

This morning, I had a big bowl of berries for breakfast—they tasted like sunshine and the last of summer’s sweetness. And a little bit melancholy. Which I actually like. Autumn is the melancholy season, which is another reason it’s my favorite season.

What do love most about autumn?

Take Good Care,



  1. Love love love this. Mmmm.

    Blackberries have always meant the end of summer to me. My best friend and I always picked them right before school started.

    Gorgeous meditation here.

  2. Dear Sharry:

    My name is Phyllis Peters, and I am an author whose upmarket, comedic novel, Untethered: A Caregiver’s Tale, is about a group underrepresented in humor: caregivers. I write with some expertise in this field. As I change my parents’ Depends, flee screaming from Social Security officers, and enjoy my own ongoing nervous breakdown, I would consider it a thrilling diversion to have you review my work.

    With over 30 million, mostly baby-boomer adults in the US alone currently giving care, Untethered: A Caregiver’s Tale naturally plays to a built-in audience and to anyone who loves a fun but thoughtful read. Tom is a workaday administrator and proud boomer. His recent divorce has just ended in marriage to Mel—a sexy, younger French colleague—as he begins caring for his aging and increasingly difficult parents. When his formerly upstanding dad gets arrested for assault with an old dial phone, Tom tries to persuade his parents to sign over their power of attorney, to stop driving, or to take up a comparatively safe hobby like genital tattooing.

    Denial, however, becomes Tom’s most powerful adversary. With Mel’s desire for children proving a game changer, with his pot-smoking, French great-grandmother-in-law moving in, and with his elderly neighbors challenging his very sense of self, Tom escapes into magical thinking. Buying into local lore sends him searching for real buried treasure, but meaningful, emotional treasure proves much more elusive.

    Untethered: A Caregiver’s Tale is full-length fiction as comic relief. It is the modern family at its funniest and most vulnerable, offering cathartic fun aimed not at the caregiven, but in praise of the caregiver.

    My fiction and articles have appeared in literary journals, online publications, and magazines such as The Pinch, The Ampersand Review, and Munich Found. I have also written screenplays, formerly represented by the Warden McKinley and Michael H. Sommer Literary Agencies.

    At your convenience, I would like to have my PR agency forward you the materials of your choice (complete manuscript, sample chapters, jacket blurb, and press kit available). Please also visit the Untethered website at The site will steer you to our Indiegogo campaign, which outlines the book’s direct involvement in raising money toward Alzheimer’s research.

    I look forward to your response. Thank you for your time and your imagination.


    Phyllis Peters