Suppose you're walking along a path in a forested city park when you see very tall man walking toward you, seemingly covered in blood. It's all over his shirt, face, hands. His intense, stoic gaze is directly on the path in front of him, as though he won't see you even when you pass.
Do you (a) turn and run screaming in the other direction, (b) keep walking but quietly call police on your cellphone, (c) stop and ask "Heavens, are you ok?" In Vancouver's idyllic Stanley Park, the prevailing response appears to be (c), which is a nice surprise.
In fact, the two ladies had already passed me when they finally turned and asked "are you ok?" Perhaps they needed to get close enough to verify that the blood was flowing from my own newly-carved wounds, and thus was probably mine. Still, it was a nice gesture.
Was the blood worthwhile? To judge, one must know the objective: Rubus parviflorus, the thimbleberry.
Photo: Northern Bushcraft
Though obviously a Rubus, like all raspberries, the thimbleberry is scarcely a food at all. It comes off as a fragile cap, hollow inside like a raspberry, but barely a millimeter thick. Connoisseurs place it lightly on the tongue and then press it slowly against the roof of the mouth, letting its sharp taste flow outward like a ravishment. To me the taste is a mixture of raspberry and rhubarb, but stripped of sweet distractions and ramped up to an ecstatic pitch. Individual berries can seem as different as sopranos, as though inviting legions of specialized fans.
All this flows from a fruit so thin that it's almost not there. It yields almost no nutrition, no substance, no energy, nothing but a pure sensation. It's easy to declare it ethereal, an image of perfection, like the single virgin in a tower whose beauty ennobles a lifetime of knightly gore. So there's something noble about risking bloodshed for them, something that would be lacking if mere blackberries had been at stake. (Blackberries, too, would muddy the tale with their own potential for violence. They have fierce thorns, while the thimbleberry goes, as the botanists say, "unarmed.")
So yes, the gashes in my face, which would have been tough and sexy if it had been a bicycle accident, arose from a berry-picking accident. The archetypal scene:
Having climbed into the thimbleberries and successfully found bliss there, the time came to get back down. Most middle aged men will understand the psychology of the moment, when one confronts the need for a 1.5m jump over the ditch to the gravel path. In short, the required jump looks like something that the man remembers doing many times, and he momentarily forgets that the last of those times was more than a decade ago.
So he crashes. The front foot hits the far side of the ditch, and as it slides down the man slams headlong onto the path with some forward momentum. His chin, left temple, and the brow above his left eye all touch reverently to the gravel and slide along it for a few inches, surrendering to its sharpness.
When he comes to rest, he notices first not the blood, but that his water bottle is lying on the path right in front of him, spilling slowly into the dust. It feels tragic, a waste, as though the water were blood. But he can't stop it in time, and when he finally grabs it it's been reduced to a useless husk. This moment is so poignant that the discovery of real blood, all over his shirt and pouring from his face, feels like tasteless exaggeration, too much literalness spoiling such a lovely metaphor.
But were the thimbleberries worth it? If I were back in a British-influenced country I'd put cost-benefit analysts the question, as the British can quantify the "welfare value" of a perfect autumn breeze. But I'm in North America, where cost-benefit analysis is cruder. So the thimbleberries, like the virgin in a tower, are simply not in the same dimension as the blood and gore, and I can rejoice in the impossibility of comparing them.