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A Taste of Heaven in the City

A Vermont native, missing the countryside, finds six juicy blessings in a backyard bush.

Peggy Frezon, holding a bowl of heavenly berries

Yard work seemed like the wrong words to describe what my husband, Mike, had to do one afternoon. After all, could you really call our puny cookie-cutter lot a yard? Kelly, our little spaniel mix, dashed out the back door after Mike, but I hesitated.

The sun shone brightly, the first chance we’d had in weeks to get in some much needed mowing and weeding, but my heart wasn’t in it.

This patchy plot of grass with its single overgrown maple tree was the one place in my life I believed God didn’t inhabit. Surrounded by neighbors on all sides, everyone’s space cordoned off by chain-link fences, ugly telephone and electrical lines overhead.

Even after 20 years, it was a view that only reminded me of how much I missed the lush countryside of Vermont, where I’d grown up. A little piece of heaven. My current hometown near Albany, New York, could not compare.

“What are you waiting on?” Mike asked. “Let’s get started.”

He marched toward the garage. I stayed on the back steps, my mind longing for what I’d lost. Our tiny yard was all the more dreary these days. I’d recently turned 50, the kids grown and out on their own.

So this is where I’ll be for the rest of my life, I thought. Completely cut off from God’s beautiful world.

In the countryside of my childhood everything was different. I could still remember running across the rolling green fields near our home, catching grasshoppers, climbing trees, chasing butterflies. In the distance, Mount Mansfield’s massive, rugged ridgeline, no subdivision to spoil the view.

I used to love to lie on my back in the grass, breathing in the sweetness of the natural world around me and looking for angels in the clouds. God’s handiwork was everywhere.

I recalled walking down a quiet dirt road one summer day, the bushes on either side thick with wild berries. With a quick step over a shallow gully I worked my arms through the vines to pick juicy berries and pop them in my mouth. I went back for more until my hands were purple.

I got a few scratches from the thorns but I didn’t mind. It was worth it—this thicket like my own private candy store. “Thank you, God, for giving me this delicious snack,” I said, licking my fingers.

But that was all so long ago. Now instead of green pastures I shared the neighborhood with a train station. Beyond that a tangle of highway on-ramps and overpasses.

There was no pastoral dirt road to walk down with Kelly. We tramped over hard concrete sidewalks along busy, noisy streets. Kelly was content with the smell of storm drains and trash cans. She didn’t even know what she was missing. But I did.

Where was God? How could I feel close to him without the glory of his creation surrounding me? Get a grip, Peg, I told myself. God created everything! If only I could feel it!

I shuffled down the steps to catch up to Mike. He opened the side door and rustled around. “I’ll do the mowing,” he said. He pulled out the red mower and reached for the starter cord. “How about you tackling those weeds in the back?” he added.

“Are you sure that it’s worth the bother?” I asked.

Mike brushed his hands on his jeans and then kissed my forehead. “Sure it is. We can’t change everything, but we can take good care of what we have.”

“Okay, God,” I muttered. “Help me to be a cheerful gardener.”

I found my gardening gloves at the back of a shelf and scrounged around until I unearthed the long hedge clippers in a dusty box. I heard the roar of the mower coming to life.

Kelly bounded beside me as I made my way to the far corner of the yard. “Ouch!” I looked down. I’d stubbed my toe on a metal pipe that used to be a clothesline pole. What would I find lurking in the weeds?

I thought of all the work we’d put into this yard over the years, trying to make something of it.

We’d ripped up the ugly blacktop a previous owner had installed to hide the muddy patches alongside the garage. Planted grass, then more after it died. I’d filled flower boxes with impatiens, but it couldn’t capture the wild beauty of the countryside.

Growing up the kids had barely enough room to kick a ball or toss a softball. In the summer there was always the noise from neighbors and passing cars to contend with when we barbecued. I couldn’t imagine lying in the grass here, let alone ever spying a passing angel overhead.

I crouched down near a snarl of vines and twigs and pushed the clippers into them searching for the best place to cut. “Owwww!” Sure enough, I’d jabbed my arm against a pesky, razor-sharp thorn.

I looked closer at the leaves with their jagged edges. Something bright peeked out among the barbed branches. Carefully, I parted the thick tendrils and stared. Gingerly reaching in, my fingers plucked something small and delicate. “Mike!” I called over the roaring mower.

He approached, wiping the sweat from his brow. I held out my hand, closed into a gentle fist.

“Here!” When I opened my fist, there in the palm of my hand rested six berries. Plump, deep, black raspberries, staining my skin purple. I popped one in my mouth, and another in Mike’s.

“Mmmm!” he said.

I ate more, the sweet juice delighting my tongue. They tasted just the way I remembered, way back when, along the old dirt country road. Warm and sweet. For a moment the sun felt brighter, the grass greener. Kelly barked, chasing after a squirrel, her tail wagging happily.

I poked my hand back into the prickly twigs wanting more of its fruit.

The tangled mess was not weeds at all, but a berry bush, right in our own backyard! We’d never noticed it before. We certainly hadn’t planted it. I looked to the sky, a single cloud passing by. A bird must have delivered this gift to us. An angel bird who knew what was missing in my life.

Yes, I’m a Vermont gal. But if I look closely, it’s possible to find a little bit of country anywhere I live. Our maple tree. The weeds. Birds. And of course, our black raspberry bush which provides us with the sweet taste of my beloved Vermont childhood.

God’s nature, and his love, is all around us. Even in town.

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