Lessons from the Brambles: What I Learned from Masters of Survival


“Why it’s simply impassible!

Alice: Why, don’t you mean impossible?

Door: No, I do mean impassible. Nothing’s impossible!”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Lessons from Nature: What I Learned from the Masters of Survival

The land I call home was once covered in blackberry brambles. So covered that I could not walk anywhere. I could not even set a foot onto it. I could only look from a distance.

Time in nature has taught me that I can learn valuable lessons from the life forms I share this planet with. Nature wisdom does not discriminate, and the language it speaks includes the plants  disdained as invasive weeds.

The first time I set out to cross the property I was armed with a small pair of hand pruners. It took me well over 20 minutes to walk about 100 feet. I quickly figured out that if I wanted to pass through, I was going to have to ask for permission. The land belonged to the brambles, and they were going to vet any visitors before allowing access to the interior. Any struggle or haste on our part and they will instantly halt our progress with their thorny, boundary honoring spirit.

Over the last couple years I’ve formed a relationship with these plants (a mix of several species of invasive blackberries). Where their thickets once sprawled there is now a house, porch, and patio. There’s a meadow, a gravel road, and a garden. A few fruit trees and several trails wind through the hillside that is still ruled by the blackberries. We’ve mowed and pruned, pulled and dug, and I suspect we will continue to do so for years to come. Maybe the previous owners gave us title, but the Blackberry King is still deciding if we are worthy.

I want to learn from the blackberries. They are masters of survival, and their generosity warrants knighthood. What an amazing, resilient plant.

I do not water them, yet despite the dry California summer they are essentially unstoppable. Storing their reserves deep in the soil, the crowns re-sprout even after repeat mowing or months of sheet mulch cover. The June flowers support the pollinator populations and speckle the hill with faded pink. They prevent erosion of the soil and also function as an effective barrier for deer and humans, both will choose to go around rather than through a thicket of brambles. They provide habitat for wildlife; birds and foxes, rabbits and fawns all hide in the nooks and crannies. As if all this weren’t enough, they end the season loaded with delicious jammy fruit in abundance.

They are strong and persistent, nourishing and protective.

As I walked through the trails gathering their fruit, the blackberries taught me something new. Here is what they whispered . . .

Blackberries are often sweetest when they are slightly lackluster. At first glance, this doesn’t seem to apply to other things, such as romance, writing, or even bad hair days. But nature is full of wisdom when we learn how to listen. The fruit tastes best at the moment it loses its shine. So how can we apply this concept to life in general?

When things become dull or uninspired, we seldom think of those times as the sweet moments. But if we relax into these uneventful spaces, we can find peace and a chance to rest. We find nourishment. In a world that is so often too busy, overflowing with options and information, loaded with demands and expectations, the dull moments are necessary. Welcome the cloudy days, our solitude, an afternoon nap. Savor the calm before the storm of inspiration.

Living your dream life doesn’t mean relentlessly chasing after rich and juicy experiences. And in the case of blackberries, the plump and shiny may be far more tangy than we expected.