Bittersweet is woody vine that grows in northern and eastern parts of North America. It’s also a way to describe something that tastes both bitter and sweet (like dark chocolate), but it can also mean something that is pleasant, but is also marked by elements of suffering and regret.
I don’t know about you, but life has been little too heavy on the bitter side lately. And while I can appreciate the lessons and wisdom that come from hard seasons, what I am thinking about instead is ways that I can add a little more sweetness in the world with a kind word, a hug, and more ‘I love you’s’.
One thing I know to be true is that hard seasons don’t last forever. There are brighter, sweeter days ahead.
Over the weekend, I was at the garden center picking up a couple of flats of pansies for my garden. And on my way to check out, I couldn’t help but notice the bright, red berries of the bittersweet vines they had for sale. Which of course I had to put in my basket as well.
Thank you in advance for not asking me how much I spent on this bittersweet vine. And if you live in the northeast, thank you also for not telling me how bittersweet grows wild along the roadside.
At any rate, I was excited to get home to photograph this bunch of bittersweet. The vermillion berries against the bright, golden seed pods are such a classic fall color combination and the berries themselves are extremely photogenic. Not to mention the enjoyment factor from having a few minutes to “play” on Sunday.
I got curious about where bittersweet gets its name so I did a bit of research. Bittersweet, or more specifically Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), is a climbing, perennial, woody vine that grows in northern and eastern parts of North America. A native to Eastern Asia, it was introduced to the US in the mid-1800’s where it has spread throughout the region. Small green flowers in the spring give way to the distinctive red seeds in the fall which, along with the rest of the plant, are poisonous to humans and other animals. In addition, Oriental bittersweet is considered an invasive species for the way its aggressive growth smothers and strangles other native, herbaceous plants, shrubs, and/or trees.
It seems to me this aggressive vine is quite aptly named…beauty with a dark side. I mean isn’t that the basic definition of bittersweet?
I’ve been pondering this for a couple of days. And because I am a self-described chocoholic, whenever I think of something bittersweet, I instantly think of chocolate…dark chocolate is my favorite. Less sweet than most, bittersweet chocolate has a complex flavor with a fruity, almost earthy quality. It is an acquired taste, for sure, but I find it to be a deep, rich, satisfying experience.
Similarly, the older I get, the more I am learning to appreciate the ‘bitter’ and complexities in my own life. The dark and difficult days living side-by-side with the sweetness of joy and delight. Because the dark days teach us lessons that we might not otherwise learn. The difficult days stretch our faith and give us an opportunity to grow in wisdom. The bitter softens our hearts and moves us to be more empathetic and compassionate.
As we move closer to November, the month traditionally set aside for gratitude, I want to keep this mind…the blessings in my life, both bitter and sweet.