A Simple Pleasure

· Posted by Joshua in Nature

Blackberries ripening on the stem.

Blackberries ripening on the stem.

The blackberry season in my part of the world is mostly over by now, but I thought I would take a moment to extol upon the delights of blackberry picking, and to a lesser extent, blackberry eating. I don’t mean to state that blackberries aren’t positively scrumptious when devoured, for they are, but there is something about actually picking them that satisfies more than just one’s appetite. It is simply bliss to stumble upon a patch of berries somewhere in the woods and stroll lazily through the shade staining your fingers purple with handfuls (and mouthfuls) of the juicy little things. Not everything is perfect about them, of course. Now and then there is occasion to recoil at a berry that’s been taken by the bugs, and the berries are guarded by thorns that I’ve had the misfortune to tear my skin upon more than once. On the whole, however, even these mishaps make up part of a marvelous experience. It is one of the few things that, at least for a little while, can truly make me forget about the rest of the world. Politics and microwaves and automobiles and blogging and the internet fade from my mind, and I am simply there, picking berries, and nothing else need have ever existed.

As I return home, of course, my modern concerns come rushing back to my mind, and among other things I realize what a wonderful blog entry I could make of this berry-picking. I rush back another day with a digital camera to snap a picture, and finally I endeavor to do as I am doing now, sharing this experience with my friends over the internet. It seems almost sacrilegious to transform such a simple and solitary pleasure into a fleeting bit of hi-tech socialization, but at the same time, it seems too glorious an experience to keep it all to myself.

Humanity has come a long way to get to where it is today, but sometimes I wonder, as I suppose we all do, has it come in the right direction? Are we even free to choose what direction progress takes? I don’t mean to lambaste innovation, I love it. At the same time, however, I’ve found that picking blackberries has made me a little envious of the early humans, those who came before supermarkets, before cities, before even farms: the hunters and gatherers who represent the bulk of our species’ past. They took all they needed from nature, picking their livelihood from the land just as I picked my berries from the brambles. During times of abundance, when their desserts were ready and waiting in the woods just like my berries, they undoubtedly found time, likely more than we do, for simple pleasures. There is, however, no room to romanticize their lives. I’m positive I would be unable to live as they did. For every easy summer, they had to contend with a frigid winter of scarcity, one without walls or central heat. Our earliest ancestors didn’t need to worry about gas prices or traffic jams, commercial breaks or senate campaigns, but they did, to far a greater extent than we do today, face a struggle simply to survive. And yet, if we must even today be constantly worrying about something, then why must it now be about what is superficial rather than what is truly important? If we are to live, then why not really live, instead of merely extending our lifespans by hiding within our walls?

These are simply questions, to which I have no immediate answer. It is something to ponder on.

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  1. Do you believe that technology is a blessing as was as a curse? It gives us more things to worry about, but also makes our life easier. I read a philosophy paper on how technology is a curse that not only will we use the earth as a resource, but humans as well. You seem to find the world as an end rather than a mean to something else technological. What is your take on this? I know you said that you would not be able to survive as our ancestors once did, but would you rather live in their times fighting for survival than now? I think about the hypothetical questions that everyone asks about life or death situations, what one would do. This is a little off topic, but do you think we can know how we would act in a life or death situation as compared to whether we would survive in ancestral times?

  2. That’s a lot of questions.

    I don’t think that technology is inherently a blessing or a curse, it is simply a means of achieving an end. Our chosen ends, and the lengths we will go achieve them, are what will bring good and bad results.

    In response to your second question, I would actually say that the world is and will always be a means. We depend on the world and its resources to exist, to subsist, to live. If we live, then we have no choice but to alter and utilize the world we are in. Now, I certainly think that the world can be enjoyed on its own terms, and that an unspoilt landscape is a beautiful thing—but even in these cases, is not the world still serving as a means, a means of enjoyment, of recreation, of beauty? It isn’t a matter of whether or not we should use the world as a means to our goals—we have to do that. It’s more a matter of extent. To what extent ought we shape the world to meet our goals, and to what extent ought we shape our goals to reflect the world we’ve got? Also, do we draw our livings from the world selfishly and greedily, or sensitively to the needs of other people and organisms who rely on the same planet in ways different from our own?

    If anyone else reads this, feel free to add your own perspective on the issue.

    To answer your last question, I don’t know if I would rather live in another time, because I’ve never been to any other time, and thus I couldn’t be sure what I was getting into. That actually answers your last question too, I think.