Blackberry High Tide: Lessons from My Grandma


Mikaila Barker

Photo credit Mikaila Barker.

Mikaila Barker

I was five years old the first time I stepped into my mother’s hometown, where my grandma raised her. To my wide eyes and innocent smile, Coos Bay was something straight out of a daydream. For years, there was nothing I looked forward to more than the 15-hour drive to my grandmother’s open heart and arms.

Everything I know I’ve learned from my grandma. She taught me to appreciate the small things in life—the slow-fading colors of summer sunsets, birds chirping in the early morning, stargazing past midnight. She taught me to treasure the people in my life and to never let anyone feel alone. She taught me kindness and integrity and passion.

I was seven years old when she moved to Cottonwood Avenue in downtown Coos Bay—the first time I learned to find beauty in simplicity. The echoes of the lake at high tide heard throughout the neighborhood were the most beautiful refrain I’ve ever heard. I can still see my grandma’s backyard trees in the light of the fading sunset, blackberry bushes adorned with thorns peeked out from behind a vine-covered arch at the end of the cul de sac.

My grandma’s life revolves around photography; she lives for the ideal shot of fog encroaching on the lush trees alongside the Willamette River, for the days of camping out on Cannon Beach for the perfect sunset, for the smiles on her friends’ and family’s faces when they see her work.

After retiring from teaching, she became a freelance photographer, traveling around Oregon and its surrounding states to teach workshops and educate others on the beauty found through a lens. She doesn’t do it because she wants the money or recognition she gets from it; she does it because it makes her happy — something she taught me is more important than anything else in life.

I let my beliefs guide me and live unafraid of standing up for what I perceive to be right because of her. She taught me that living a life lacking in my genuine persona is a lie. What I believe is what I believe, and although my ideals may change from time to time, it’s of my own conviction.

My grandma is one of those people who find value in everyone, even when it doesn’t seem deserved. Her beauty could write its own memoir.

She’s taught me that everyone has their own path, their own story, their own way of life, and that’s OK. Some people will learn from their mistakes. Others won’t. Our only responsibility as humans is to love each other and accept that growth is a choice. There’s nothing to be lost in love. The same can’t be said for hate.

It’s hard for me to imagine a day when I’ll no longer be able to make spontaneous trips to the small home at the end of Cottonwood Avenue — the memories I hold in that home and in that town could last a lifetime. But, for now, I find solace in the trees, in the whispering winds of the bay, in the soft pastels of my grandmother’s neighborhood. I’ll revel in every moment I’ve spent on the swing that hangs from her sun-yellowed front porch, in every hour spent talking on the shore of Lake Merritt, in every step taken alongside the bay. I’ll live exactly the way she taught me to: with sincerity, compassion and confidence.