By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Deep in thought as she picked leaves of fresh basil from the herb garden at Our Lady of the Prairie near Wheatland, Sister Marcia Eckerman, CHM, didn’t notice as a visitor approached her. I’d just spent two hours savoring the beauty and quiet of the Prairie and wanted to express my gratitude before leaving. Sr. Marcia, who assists the Prairie’s director, Sister Kathleen Storms, SSND, looked up at me and smiled, holding an aluminum bowl of emerald green basil leaves, and chives. The herbs’ aroma wafted in the air. I’d been told that Sr. Marcia is also an expert at picking berries.
“I would love to pick berries with you sometime,” I mentioned to Sr. Marcia. “Anytime,” she said. Hmmm, I thought. When could I carve out extra time in my schedule to return to the Prairie to pick berries? Perhaps she read my mind because she suggested, “How about right now?”
Resisting the voice in my head that said, “But you have so much work to do,” I accepted her invitation. Sr. Marcia offered to get me a pair of pants from the house if I couldn’t find anything in my car. Fortunately, I keep athletic clothes in the trunk. I fished out an old long-sleeved shirt and a pair of silver running tights. I’m sure I looked ridiculous on an 85-degree day in July, but she didn’t say a word.Sr. Marcia returned from the house wearing a light jacket and a pair of slacks and carrying a couple of plastic buckets with handles. We got into a utility vehicle, and headed for a blackberry patch on a hill above the Prairie’s pond. I had overlooked the berries on my walk through the Prairie, but now saw them plentifully interspersed among the tall grasses.
Branches and grass crunched beneath our feet as we walked through the thicket; birds chirped and insects hummed. Prickly thorns poked my fingers and my legs, but the momentary pain paled to the excitement I felt picking the blackberries that gleamed in the sun. “They look like jewels!” I exclaimed. “They do,” Sr. Marcia agreed. “How do you know the difference between edible and non-edible berries?” Sr. Marcia responded: “If the birds won’t eat them, they’re probably poisonous.”
She walked farther into the grasses and bushes, filling the bucket hanging from her waist, while I stayed closer to the fire lane to avoid more prickly branches snagging my tights! At her suggestion, I ate a blackberry or two. Sweet, fresh and seedy, these blackberries pleased my taste buds. I dreamed of outdoor adventures like this as a child growing up in the city. My sweat-drenched tights and shirt brought me back to reality. “I think I’m done,” I told Sr. Marcia, whose bucket was nearly full of blackberries; mine was about half-full. We got into the utility vehicle and headed back to the Prairie’s driveway. She offered to put my blackberries into a storage bag so that I could take them home.
We entered the Prairie’s kitchen where Sr. Kathleen stood by the stove, preparing jars of dilly beans for a hot bath for sealing purposes. On a counter, fresh cooked vegetables were settling into their juices and emitting a tantalizing aroma. I thanked Sr. Kathleen and Sr. Marcia for their hospitality and for allowing me an opportunity to take a mini retreat from the office.
The next evening, the retired priests of the Davenport Diocese hopefully enjoyed some of the blackberries with their dinner. I’ve been enjoying them in fruit smoothies, savoring the taste and the memories of reveling in God’s creation, accompanied by one of his angels.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.)