This morning’s air was filled with water – the marine air that sometimes makes summer visits to Portland from the Oregon coast. I was up early to meet up with friends and underestimated what turned out to be enough moisture to soak almost through my rain coat over the course of my walk.
Time with the people I had ventured out to meet was cozy and kind – like brown sugar on oatmeal or honey on toast. We laughed and chatted; we shared a few misty eyed moments – all that is good about being with fine people on a fine day.
By the time I was walking home the mist had begun to lift and once I was across the river a thinning ceiling of gray left the air once again uncomplicated. I made my way up the gradual rise of land along and above I-84W, the highway that ends its long continental stretch at the Willamette River. On the banks sloping down to the highway is an unimaginable concentration of blackberry bushes.
When I first moved to Portland I remember staking a tender strand of blackberry that I found behind our first apartment. It was months before I, the Texan, learned that blackberries grow like … well … weeds here in western Oregon and are often considered equally invasive. Still, I do love how every late summer the vast expanse of blackberries above I-84W become so ripe that the smell of cobbler is guaranteed for weeks.
Today the berries are mostly green, so I was surprised to see a man up ahead who had waded into the berry brambles and seemed to be picking. I smiled. I looked more closely at the bushes to my right. Yes, most were green, but where the recent sun had shown most directly over the stretch of days since July 4, there were in fact the first ripe fruits.
The man leaned over carefully moving one deep brown hand from the bush to the small plastic bag he held in the other. The man was older. He reminded me of a man I knew named Che. Che had been only kind and generous to me when, at 16, I lived for a summer in Morelia, Mexico. As an assistant to Dr. Melchior Diaz the host of my stay, he was often around the house and almost always smiling, laughing. His favorite thing to say at meal times was, “Savor!! Savorsita de savores!” This compliment to the cook on the exquisite flavor of her food never grew old for anyone. And Che’s smile as he offered his praise never tired of its contagion across the face of every person in the room.
“Savor!” I said as I passed the man. “Si!” he said and smiled much like Che. “Mira!” he said, motioning me back to look in his bag. “Para usted,” he said. I reached my hand into the dark gray plastic saying “Que bonitos.” We both smiled. Four perfect blackberries nestled into my open palm. “Gracias, Senor,” I said as I turned to walk on. I looked back over my shoulder, to smile once more. “Son de Dios” the man said, his eyes sparkling as his harvesting hand touched his chest and lifting to the sky. Gifts from God.
Now I’m home on my couch. Writing this. The sun is breaking through blue patches overhead. And a new week has begun. I’m watching for the gifts, too easy to miss along the way.