It’s the first year in nearly a decade that I have not spent September picking brambles and making jam. On Rum jam was one of our biggest income streams and I would pick more than my own body weight in brambles every year turning them into several hundred jars of jam to be labelled up and sold in our little shed throughout the year. I sent jam all over the UK, both in the rucksacks of people who bought it and took it away with them and in the post to people who bought it from me online.
Picking brambles was one of my favourite things to do. September is so often a gorgeous month of weather, the midges have mostly gone, the visitor numbers are lower so I would wander, largely uninterrupted through some of my favourite places on the island swinging a bucket that got heavier as I went. I would have time for my thoughts, my summing up of the season passed and the season ahead. I did some of my very best thinking while picking brambles.
Then I’d bring them home and be creative, filling the caravan with splashes of purple sugary loveliness, adding all sorts of crazy flavour combinations like a mad professor or an alchemist. I’d spend hours lovingly creating labels for the jars and then feel such pride looking at a table filled with productivity, groaning with the weight of clear glass jars, jewel-like jam inside, my own writing and drawings on the outside – clear proof of my endeavours. I’d walk the heavy bags full of jam down the hill and display them in the shed, then enjoy the sales throughout the year ahead, counting out the tens of jars sold and watching stocks diminish until finally it was September once more and time to start the whole cycle again.
Friends often joined me on my bramble ambles. Sometimes they were helpful, adding large numbers of their own picked fruit to mine. Sometimes they were seen off by midges, or I’d need to spend ages picking through their foragings to remove stalks, stems, leaves and other non-bramble imposters. I had some very good chats with fellow bramblers though.
I always sustained scratches, on my arms and legs and feet. I always had fingers wounded by tiny thorns and stained by bramble juice.
This year I have picked not a single bramble. Davies picked one this week and gave it to me to eat, which was the only one I’ve consumed this year too.
I’ve picked strawberries, raspberries and currants on Rum when we’ve been over. I’ve made jam, even bramble jam just before we left the island in March and I was clearing out the freezer and the sugar stash. But I’ve not picked a bramble. I’ve not had that very specific headspace that bramble picking always gave me. I’ve indulged in no bramble philosophy, bramble ambles or bramble ponderings.
It’s been a deliberate act. I’ve been busy with other things this year; work, life, mainlandiness. But I also left it behind on purpose. That belonged to a different version of me, the Rum Nic, the jam maker, the crofter. Just now that is not who I am. It’s been good to have that break. To draw a line, take a breath, turn a page. We don’t need the jam.
Next year I’ll pick brambles again though. It turns out maybe it is still who I am after all. I’m Nic, and in September I pick brambles.