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Given the Raspberries ...

IT has taken years for certain natural phenomena of New England to associate themselves in my head with specific dates. It was nearly 10 years in Boston before the fact of foliage season generally peaking around Columbus Day, the second weekend in October, became fixed in my consciousness; and it was a bit longer than that before it fully registered that it is pointless to put away one's wool suits for the season until the second week in June.

And so, having finally hit upon the last Saturday in July as the date to count on for my annual raspberrying expedition, I was somewhat dismayed to hear, when I called the tape-recorded report at the pick-your-own berry farm the Thursday before, that it would be "the last raspberries of the season" that would be available for picking the following morning. And though the farm would be open from 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, too, there were no promises as to how long the raspberries would last. The cheerful

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recorded voice went on about blackberries and peaches and other delights, but for me, these were mere sideshows.

This was clearly a raspberry emergency. I knew I had to be out at the farm when it opened at eight Friday morning.

It was a beautiful drive through the summer morning - the early sunbeams raking across the stone walls and catching the flowers, wild and otherwise, blooming nonchalantly along the road. At a time like this one is grateful for the compactness of New England: One travels from city to suburb to countryside here in fewer miles than it can take to get out of the parking lot out West.

The woman behind the counter when I got to the farm looked a little skeptical when I arrived and expressed interest in raspberries, but she did give me a box - a box for strawberries - and directed me out to the appropriate part of the farm.

There, alone except for the company of the assiduous bumblebees, I contemplated the lessons of the berry patch.

The first, of course, is carpe diem, seize the day, even when it turns out to have to be Friday instead of Saturday: The ripe berries must be picked and eaten now; to have no time for them would be to be out of sync with the natural world.

A second lesson is how easy the berries really are to find, even at the end of the season. If none are in plain view, simply lifting a branch or dropping to one's knees may provide all the fresh perspective one needs to find the little red jewels. This may be a hint for a journalist looking to round up more than the usual sources, or for anyone searching for new ideas, for fresh inspiration when one's thoughts seem pretty well picked over.

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But if there is a single most important lesson in the raspberry patch it is the rightness of ripeness: the way the berry simply comes away from the plant when one grasps it ever so gently, if it is ripe, but hangs on, ever so subtly, if it is not. When the berry is not ripe for you, it must be left to whatever pickers may come after. There is no point in picking the unripe berry - or in forcing a decision prematurely, or in taking that which is not intended for us, or in acting before the moment is right .

The rightness of ripeness is a phenomenon not unique to raspberries: One experiences it with apples, peaches, other berries. But it is most perfectly expressed by the raspberry, which leaves behind on the bush everything but its pure red edible self.

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