The bush along the bike path to school first sprouted bright red berries about a month ago, right when the rolie polies came out in force. My children, naturalists of course, spotted them immediately.
They also immediately wanted to put them in their mouths.
"Raspberries!" they shouted, grabbing at the bush.
"Wait!" I said, uselessly.
"Ouch!" they said, stabbed by thorns.
"YUCK!" they said, spitting out the partially chewed berries, and as much taste as they could.
"Sigh," I said, as usual wondering when they'd ever learn to listen to me and why the entire myth of natural consequences began.
"Step back from the bush," I said, "Close your mouths and open your ears."
They hesitated, and looked back at the bush.
"Before you grab at any plant or bush, you need to know what it is. Some plants can make you sick or give you a rash."
"I know what that bush is!" they said, "It's a raspberry!"
My children are like most children: they believe that what they assume is what they know, and they also believe they know it all. "I don't need tap lessons," Patience said to me the other day, "I already know how to tap, see?" She shuffled her feet. I sighed and tried to explain, for the 10 millionth time, that nobody is born knowing how to do anything. We all spend our lives learning and that usually means learning from someone who does know, for example, in a class. Patience gets it now and again, especially when it comes to reining in her perfectionism, so I have hope.
"That's not a raspberry plant," I said.
"It looks like a raspberry plant!" they said, betrayed.
"Does it? Did the berries taste like raspberries?" They narrowed their eyes, looking for the trick. "Look at the berries, they are smooth. Raspberries have little hairs. And are sweet, not yucky."
The children pondered.
"Hmm," said Patience, "That's true. They are also harder, and a different color of red."
"True," I said.
"So what is it!"
"I don't know," I said, "But I know who to ask."
I believe it's important to live by my words, and admit when I don't know something, then model how to find out. So when we got home, I called my neighbor. I described the bush and its fruit, and she immediately knew what I meant.
"Dewberries," she said, "They're coming ripe now. My daughter and her friend picked so many in the woods today we have enough for jam and pie! You can find wild bushes all over the place."
"How are they to eat?" I asked.
"Not as sweet as raspberries, about on par with blackberries. It's all the same family," she said, "But don't eat the red ones. Dewberries turn black when they're ripe."
I told the children what I'd learned, and we did a little more research online. Dewberries are also called running blackberries. The children loved that---a plant that runs. They giggled and joked. Also, we learned that most of the plant is edible. Brewing the leaves into tea treats diarrhea. You can eat the shoots (if you peel them) and the fruit.
"That's so interesting," Patience said, "I never knew you could make drinks from plants, or that you could eat more than fruit off of plants!"
The next day, after school, we stopped by the dewberry bush and looked for ripe black berries. "Here's one!" we kept calling to each other, this time mindful of thorns as we picked, and selecting only high berries. Leaving low berries means less chance of well, animal urine, among other things, and also makes it easier for birds and squirrels to get fruit, too.
This is more advice my friend---the real naturalist---provided.
Our excitement around the bush attracted other children, and we told them what the bush was and what we were doing. They dared each other to try the berries, and the brave ones reported the taste the others, who also stepped up to try it.
"Dewberries," they said to one another. "Watch out for thorns!" "It's like a vine, more than a bush," some observed. "It's sour!" "No, it's delicious!" "Only the black ones!" "Watch out for that spider web!" "Don't hurt the spider or web, they eat mosquitos!"
I thought about how my friend and others worry about kids being so separated from nature. It's a small thing, one thing, but in that moment, kids were right in with nature, seeing what it offers. And that made me smile.
That's also why my daughters and I were so upset yesterday when we walked our bikes to the dewberry bush and found it...gone. Chopped down at the base.
"It was a weed," the landscaping guy said, "We didn't plant it there."
I wondered if he or his crew had ever gone dewberry picking in the early summer, in the morning, on the way to school. I thought that maybe if he had, he would have carefully skirted the bush, leaving it for the kids and woodland creatures.
Later, we'll go look in other spots and try to find a new dewberry bush. An adventure to follow a mystery, solved.
Note: You'll notice it's Wednesday, and I have no Hump Day Hmm. I just didn't get it pulled together this week. If you have interest and/or suggestions, please send them my way. I'll try to get it going again next week if you like. :)
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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