The Magic of Elderberries


A couple weeks ago, when the sun was still in its summer high, I was walking Betty. She wanted to dawdle. I wanted to outpace the murk of my thoughts. 

I’d been so contented lately and then, unexpectedly, someone said something unkind to me. Was it a joke? It didn’t feel like a joke. I started pulling on that thread, remembering other unkindnesses, and I started to believe it must be me, the way I’m often a half second behind, slow to process, and slower still to respond. I wondered if a person can be unaware of being unkind. What was the impulse behind the words if not a judgement, harsh enough to cut someone down. And I was feeling cut. But how was I to shut down this swirling gale of thoughts? If I didn’t, I was sure to float away.

Luckily, Betty took charge, and pulled to go to the creek, reeling me in like a kite.

While she rooted around in the weeds, a man with a straw hat, a white beard, and an empty white bucket, came and stood where our paths converged. He stared into the trees that hummed with crickets. Was he looking to catch some? A whole bucket? And for what?

I said, “What are you looking for?”

“Elderberries”, he said, “There’re some back there but they’re very small.”

“Elderberries? Oh, I like elderberries. Show me what they look like”, I said.

We walked back down the dirt path and he showed me. Then he plucked two for me to eat and warned me against eating the green ones.

“Toxic”, he said, “and when you pick them, be careful not to bend the branch too hard because they can be fragile.”

His name was Charlie and he talked easily. He’s like a summer Santa Claus, I thought. And while he talked, a small, grey dove landed in the bush, so close that we were almost eye to eye.

“He’s been following me around all afternoon. I think he wants to nest in my hat.” He said this as if it was an ordinary occurrence. I’d be thrilled to have a dove follow me around, wanting to nest in my hair!

Betty had gotten her long leash tangled around a tree in the thicket. I stooped in to free her while Charlie talked about being an urban forager, about his son in Chile who was constructing something with solar panels. I know we could’ve chatted for longer but I said goodbye and Betty and I walked away from the conversation. (I must remember to try not to do that, to be so fleeting, for fear of judgement.)

While I pulled burrs from Betty’s wet fur, I realized the murk was gone. I was content again, thinking about carrying around my own empty white bucket.

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