Often, even the simplest and most tedious of tasks provide much-needed relief from ‘the grind’ of modern life, and provide us with a moment to reflect on what matters. They also present us with opportunities to stretch ourselves in the same moment. My wife and I recently found one such task in a dusty field in the middle of nowhere.
We were returning from a short trip to the Teton Valley on the West side of the Teton Range in Eastern Idaho/Western Wyoming recently, a valley full of lush fields, amazing vistas, beautiful skylines, and abundant wildlife. I had given a small presentation to an unnamed board, and we were in a hurry to get home to kids, family chores, and sleep in our own bed.
As we left the valley, we wound our way across beautiful land that took the hardiest of settlers to tame, and even then, it was still wide open and sparse in terms of people and signs of civilization. We were amazed at the homesteads that spread out over the landscape, alone to tame the acreage and work that definitely comes with being a large property owner.
In that part of the country, the scenic often suddenly transitions to the stark, the beautiful to the desolate, then back again. That is the case as you wind down state highway 33 approaching Rexburg, Idaho. As we passed through a small town just outside of Rexburg, we delayed our blink long enough to catch a simple sign advertising raspberries for sale, with the catch being that you needed to pick them yourselves. On a whim, we opted to stop and pick a few pints of fresh fruit. We walked up to the unattended stand, picked up a few pint cartons, and proceeded down the endless lines of raspberry bushes. I began somewhat begrudgingly, with memories ruining many Saturdays as a kid picking fruit with my family. I walked up to the bushes, initially seeing the literally thousands of bees floating around the field, the dirt, the decaying raspberries that never made it to a basket, and the work ahead of me. I felt that u-pick-it farmers had developed the greatest money-making scheme around. Let other people do the work of harvesting, charge them a solid rate, and enjoy the profits.
Within just a few minutes, the thoughts of hesitancy and regret left my mind. Without any particular rhythm or pattern, I walked through the plants, picked berries, dug through the branches for the best ones, and found the constant hum of the bees soothing. I was quickly lost in the simplicity of it all, the pleasure of harvesting probably no more than a snack, how the task caused me to forget the drive home, my watch, and all the reasons I was rushing home from a great getaway with my wife. I quickly learned which size, color and feel of berries tasted the best. I learned that some of the best flavors were in the ugliest of berries. I found that if plants were not harvested regularly during this time of year, the initial crop of berries would overpower the plant, causing it to cease production of any fruit of worth. I learned that if you did not wait to pick a berry until it literally fell of in your hands, it would be nearly juiceless and flavorless. Raspberry bushes have splinter-like thorns, and I collected my share, but the serenity of the moment caused me to ignore the discomfort.
The temperature was just shy of eighty, and the sun quickly approaching its midday apex. Only a small breeze worked its way across the field, and the traffic was barely enough to even notice the road. I was in love with the quiet simplicity of it all. The previous night, I had spent over an hour presenting and answering questions about important topics for the audience, sharing some of what I knew, and hopefully passing on something of worth to the small audience. It was enjoyable, but serious. Less than twenty-four hours later, nothing that held my focus was serious, and yet I immediately felt that it was just as important. I felt I could pick raspberries all day long. My wife even commented the same.
We finished picking two pints a piece, and proceeded to pay. The sales booth, as I said, was unattended (something found only in a small town of trusting souls like this one), and there was no change for the larger bills I was carrying, so my wife suggested we pick a flat (8 more pints). I agreed, and we headed back to the field to gather fruit. This time, however, we had a specific goal, changing our approach to the experience. It was still enjoyable, but no longer did I wander the field picking aimlessly. I was on a mission. I experimented with the best ways to hold the container, how to capture more than one berry each time I reached for the bush, and how to ensure I only got the best of berries. I found myself in a personal race against my former picker self, and even in a race against my wife as we each scoured the bushes for the best fruit. I found that holding each branch steady with the hand holding the container allowed me to shake the branch with the other hand and collect the fruit as it fell, quickly filling my containers (faster than my wife). The funny thing is that my wife had exactly the same emotions and impulses for each picking experience in that same hour.
It was amazing to me how the exact same act could cause such a different reaction from me based on the stated goal. At first, I picked well, but with no focus other than my own enjoyment. Later, however, I was there to win, to do my best, to make the most of my time. I pushed myself on something as simple as picking raspberries, for no other reason that to do well on the stated goal of picking a flat. Seems almost childish, and yet that same event provided me with two different forms of enjoyment and self-realization just through my desired outcome.
Goals matter. Focus matters. Raspberries matter.