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A few years ago, we bought six raspberry plants and stuck them in the ground along the orchard fence. Now we have a raspberry patch 50 feet long and 6 feet wide, and growing every year. Yesterday I picked two pints of raspberries, it looks like tomorrow I can pick two more, and the crop is just starting to come in.

They are a bit of a bother. Apples, grapes, pears…they’re all prune-able and trainable. Not raspberries. They flop about, make mowing the lawn a jungle adventure, and summer barefoot expeditions daunting. I didn’t plan on them jumping the fence and spreading out beyond where we planted them, but that happened the first year. The simplest thing to do would be to mow them to the ground - every week for about four years - and buy fruit frozen in a plastic bag.

I remember reading an article by some horticulturist who said, “The amazing thing about raspberries is that they are an incredibly invasive weed that just happens to bear delicious fruit.”

As I picked raspberries a couple nights ago, muttering an occasional profanity at the prickles, I was thinking about a book by Malcolm Gladwell titled, “David and Goliath.” In one chapter, he writes about a medical researcher who did a lot of the foundational research on childhood leukemia.

The way childhood leukemia is treated is one of the great medical success stories of my life. When I was a kid, if a child received a diagnosis of leukemia it was a death sentence, pure and simple, and often within months. Now, the survival rate is over 90%. Ninety percent is a long way from 100%, but that’s an incredible improvement.

A doctor who did much of the foundational research that laid the groundwork for these advances is a remarkable man. He survived a horrendous childhood, became a doctor against all odds, and dedicated himself to helping the sickest of the sick. In the process, he changed the world.

He’s been fired seven times.

Seems impossible, but the truth is he’s kind of a jackass.

Really. Loud, opinionated, impossible to work with and dismissive of everyone who gets in his way. As a boss, I’d sigh as soon as he came through the door. He could keep an HR department fully employed all by himself. He’s kind of a raspberry - sprawling, invasive, with thorns sprouting from every surface. But if you can endure the prickles, there’s a very sweet reward.

When I was young there were wild raspberries along the borders of many fields. They prospered in the shadows between the woods and fields, those areas that were uncultivated but not quite wild. When herbicides came into wide-spread use, it was common to have a type of horizontal nozzle on the end of the spray boom. It sent the herbicide beyond where the crops were planted and tidied up the margins of the fields. It made life simpler and cleaner, and beat back the Canadian thistle and pigweed. It also killed the milkweed that the monarch butterflies needed and it wiped out the raspberries. Now, many of the trees that used to line the fields are gone, too. Fields and farm sites look so different now. Everything is tidy and contained, useful and efficient.

Sometimes, tidy and efficient isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes, what’s needed is a little loud, messy, and prickly.

It’s something to think about. As a country, we’re getting to be a little less tolerant of prickles. Instead, fitting in the right slot and using the right language, being part of the team, not talking too loudly, not making the rest of the team uncomfortable is how it’s supposed to be.

That’s not all bad. Some big, long-needed improvements have come from the effort to smooth out society.

But we’ve had some losses, too.

Copyright 2020 Brent Olson

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