Caught by the River

Free Range: Hard Play

Amy Liptrot | 11th August 2023

Despite blackberries ripe too soon and wildflowers gone to seed, Amy Liptrot and sons make the most of the season they find themselves in.

Some of my very favourite times, in my six summers of being a mum, have been picking wild berries with my children. We didn’t have berries on the farm where I grew up in Orkney and it still feels like I’ve walked into a Flower Fairies book. When they were babies on my back, I passed raspberries to them over my shoulder. Now they are able to find and pick the berries themselves but still small enough to reach the low bilberry bushes. Kids pick instinctively and it seems to satisfy a primal need.

It’s the first wet week of summer holidays but as a parent who had a baby and a toddler in the winter lockdown of 2021, I am undaunted. My day-filling skills are strong. I decide on a family walk to ‘Berry Lane’ despite the light rain. The kids have taken to asking for felt tip moustaches in the morning. Their current favourite toys are litter pickers. We find bilberries, raspberries and the first blackberries. They become absorbed, getting purple fingers and tongues. Dom lifts our older boy up to reach some high brambles and grab them with the litter picker. Later we bake berry muffins.

I love experiencing the seasons with them. But this year summer seems intensified and accelerated. The first blackberries are ripe in July, seabirds have left the cliffs up to two weeks earlier than usual, wildflowers gone to seed. It feels autumnal already. I am interested in living seasonally and marking the turning of the wheel of the year, but how do we do this when the seasons have started to go weird? 

Lately I’ve been seeing more about climate adaptation, rather than halting the changes. A Flood Information Centre has opened in our town — I hear advice on ways to manage heat and birders anticipating more exotic species on our shores. I feel a great need to appreciate how things are right now. 

Sometimes I envy the childfree: not the nights out but the ability to do things like walking a long distance trail, spending an entire week writing or a whole weekend in bed. But this is the season that I’m in and I want to make the most of it. These are the last weeks before my little one turns three, when his earliest memories will develop. I try to take him for snatches of time in the wild — twenty minutes say, the length of an episode of Paw Patrol — paddling in the river or wandering in the woods, where unexpected and rich things happen: finding crayfish claws, a discussion about waterflow, weeing outside. With no timetable or agenda, doing something outdoors and non-commercial, we escape the confines of capitalism. We’re not going to Soft Play today. This is Hard Play. This is living soil, this is the rushing river after days of rain, it’s real fire, wild food. This is us, alive.