A Painful Price

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By: Tonya Stevenson

Precariously,the stooped woman climbs the tight barbed-wire fence, as the sun peeks over the majestic mountain tops.   Jan’s misused body appears much older than her sixty-nine years, only further evidence of the indomitable spirit it houses. Wires screech as Jan stumbles to solid ground.

The usual pine fresh air  is tainted with smoke. Retrieving her bucket, Jan hobbles up a game trail into the towering pine and brush covered mountain.  Her eyes search the ridges until she spies the almost delicate spiraling vines, with large broad leaves high up the side of the slope.

“Typical blackcaps, these wild berries seldom grow where they are easy to pick, and never many bushes together.  Yesterday, I even had to climb a tree to reach the berries where their tendrils stretched.”  Jan  works her way up the steep incline. Her breathing turns to jagged gasps before she accesses her prize. This is her fourth and last day of picking; she is almost done.

Jan plucks one almost black berry, and plops it into her mouth.  “Mm.  Nothing compares to blackcaps, with a taste somewhere between blackberries and raspberries – but better than either.  With seven of my eight kids living in different states, the local blackcap jam will be a special treat for them.”  Smiling, tickled at the thought, Jan begins the prickly job of plucking the berries from their fiercely stickered protection.

Startled by thunderous crashing in the brush close by, Jan’s breath catches – she freezes.  “Birds and bears love these berries, also.  That is no bird.”

An enormous bull elk emerges from the brush, and vanishes into the timber.

“Whew ,”   I am sure glad it was only you, big boy.”

Jan resumes her task moving from bush to bush until her bucket is full.

“I think that will do.” But as Jan turns to leave, her toe catches a large root…

“My berries! “ Twisting to protect the berries, Jan lurches backwards to wedge upside down in the blackcap brambles; their needled spines pierce through her clothes, from her calves to her neck.

“Ohhh! Ohhh! Ohhh! … Well at least, I saved the berries.”

“Now what?”  Jan scrutinizes her predicament.  Her feet are steeply elevated, her head down-slope.  Jan extends one arm to set the berries out of the way.

Jan struggles to rise, only to fall back.  She works this way, and that.  But, can’t get up, or feet under her.  Spent, she falls back into the briars.

“I could reach one tree branch but if I extend that far … my shoulder will come out of socket; then I will be in a real jam.”

Jan’s thoughts turn to the possibility of help. “Only one person knows where I pick my berries, my husband.  Jim was asleep when I left, and has no idea that I was picking berries today.”

“My goodness, I could be here a long time.  I hope no bears come looking for a berry snack.”

Jan hears a whirring, that grows louder.  A helicopter flies over the trees above her – carrying water to a forest fire several ridges over.

“Could I get his attention, so he could send me help?” Jan waves frantically. The pilot flies back and forth over – from the river to the fire, oblivious to the elderly woman nettled on the forest floor.

Jan’s belly growls from her skipped breakfast, her throat is dry.  Frustration and pride prick her like the stickers in her hide.  “How can I be so helpless?  This is ridiculous.”

“Lord, I can’t do it.  I need your help.”

A painful new option comes to mind.  With teeth gritted, Jan grabs handfuls of the only thing close to hold – the spiny brambles.  With desperate persistence, Jan rotates to her stomach, then knees, and finally her feet.

Both front and back of Jan’s body are now embedded with prickly thistles; her hair is tangled in broken brambles.  The poor pin-cushioned woman gathers her bucket, and creeps gingerly down the slope.

“I really hope the kids enjoy this blackcap jam.”

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