Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Urban berries

It’s the juxtapositions that brighten life.

Shortly after arriving in Seattle Katie and I were out exploring Pike Place Market where we found the most delightful delicacy- blackberries. However, this tasty treat comes with a hefty price tag- $4 dollars for a tiny little box (a lot for an intern). So imagine our delight when we were climbing the steep stairs out back of the market and discovered a blackberry patch under the highway overpass! Needless to say I’ve been going back on a daily basis for a fresh bumper crop of succulent berries for my morning cereal. The only downside to blackberry patches are the lethal vines literally covered in razor sharp double-edged thorns. One afternoon I made my way to the blackberry patch (with my reusable bag…very eco-friendly) and on this day I really tried getting deep into the patch, which is tricky because it’s on the side of a steep hill. Unfortunately I had opted for the ever-inviting open toed option of the Rainbows (best flip flop on the market). You can picture it: leaning into the innermost sanctum of the bush for the ripest fruit only to come sliding out of my Rainbows and take a bigfoot sized step into a carpet of flesh penetrating thorns. Now each step trying to excavate myself becomes an exercise in pressing thorns deeper into the sole of my foot.

So I came limping out of the bush and tried steadying myself while I gingerly removed each micro-thorn. But I was startled when a voice from nowhere called out “You ok there buddy?” I looked up and a guy was kneeling on the ground behind me with a needle sticking out of his forearm. Here I was below a highway overpass with a blackberry patch and a guy shooting up. And right before he got his fix he had the compassion to ask if I was ok. I’m not sure why this was so profound to me…but it really was. I was so happy to be sharing that moment with this stranger. Obviously not happy that he relied on this substance to get through life but so touched that he delayed his addiction a slight moment for me. And for some reason I just felt like “I’m really living life now.” The juxtaposition- sweet wholesome innocent blackberries and the chains of drug addiction. It’s the same way I felt when I was solicited for sex by a prostitute on the streets of Vancouver. Stunning beauty of a city of glass and the utter destitution of selling one’s body for income.

I’ve been observing a lot of people these first 3 weeks here in Seattle. It’s fantastic…there is every kind of person you can imagine in the city. The diversity is truly remarkable. I’ve seen a family of little people, a man with gigantism, a man with a hunchback, a transvestite dressed just like the female mannequin upper torso he was carrying like his Siamese twin, a group of naked bicycle riders dressed only in ridiculous hats, and a tiny Chihuahua wearing a pink sweater with dollar bills sticking out the neck arranged like a lion’s mane. With the exception of that last one, these are all people. Members of the human race. We come in all shapes and sizes and accessories. What unites us? What do we share that makes us all human beings? I believe it’s the capacity for goodness and kindness to each other. It’s easy to fall into seeing our uniting characteristic as inherent evil, the capacity for harm, or addiction. But if we look closely in the midst of the urban chaos, there are berries. God-breathed berries and they will force you to stop and savor their goodness.


  1. This is a glorious first post for Urban Berry, the newest and hottest blog in the Old 50. I look forward to being regaled by many more ruminations on Seattle life. For every berry on every bush under every overpass, there's a story to be told, like Whitman's leaves of grass. He says: I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.

    Your belief about the goodness of human nature is basic Hinduism/Buddhism/Shintoism 101. It's only in the western traditions that humans are assigned fallen natures. Just something to ponder on.

    Keep it up. Blogging is a commitment, like getting married. You have to work at it. What's your target number of posts per month?

    Woah, a monkey just ran down my hallway. Gotta go play with it.

  2. Apple offered to buy my blog already for $1.2 million but I told them they'll be sorry they didn't offer me more.

  3. It often takes moving us into an unfamiliar situation to open our eyes to beauty, absurdity and wonder. I'm so happy we are on the journey with you.
    BTW - Steve, I keep laughing at the visual of your last paragraph.