four

Pick a blackberry
But don’t expect it to be
A painless affair.


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Today’s blackberry harvest. As you can see, I was a little over-zealous when gauging ripeness.

As this is my second post about berries, I feel I owe my readers some explanation. I have come to the conclusion that berries must somehow run in my family. My great-grandfather Pépé tended a huge blueberry patch in his back yard; a few years back, my dad planted several blueberry bushes of his own to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. And you’ve already heard about Nana’s wild strawberries. But “berrying” is an activity in which I would regularly participate with my own grandmother, and she is, I feel, the source of this ritual in me, which of course in reality traces back to the roots of human survival and diet. But she gave it a systematic feel: Wear an old long-sleeved, button-down shirt. There are always WAY more berries than you think there will be, so bring plenty of buckets. The shirt and the buckets – those are the berrying accoutrements. Finally, pretend for just a few hours that you don’t mind crawling with – or inevitably eating – invisible spiders or getting mauled by millions of tiny barbs. That’s the berrying mentality. Equipped with shirts, buckets, and fearlessness, you will be ready to forage the wilderness for raspberries, blueberries (no thorns there, but for some reason invisible spiders), or blackberries.

I have many summer memories of berrying with my mom and grandmother. The memories are pleasant, but thinking back on it, it’s hard to distinguish where the berry juice ends and where the blood begins. I had the advantage of having small child’s hands that could, for the most part, slip easily between branches to avoid getting pricked. But even in her berrying shirt, my poor, brave grandmother would get so scratched up, that for a lesser being it would certainly have been far from worth it. Now, I too have clunky adult hands.

Two summers back, the berry in my blood (presumably) revealed to me a secret blackberry patch on my college’s campus. It’s only a secret because the berries ripen long after the students have left for the summer and long before they arrive again for the fall semester. I had the good fortune of being in town and of happening upon the right part of campus during late July, and so I discovered the patch.

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My first discovery of the campus blackberries. Also my first experience picking berries without fear of getting eaten by a bear.

This year – the third season I’ve harvested there – I learned that not only the branches (which I already knew about), but the leaves too are lined with horrible barbed thorns. I tried to be sneaky by gingerly snaking my hand under the leaves to get at a ripe blackberry, only to be snagged in my pride by one of these bad boys:

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Yeah. So there are thorns there, too. (The tops of the leaves seem to be safe.)

I might add that I accidentally left my berrying shirt in the car and so found myself trying to berry in short-shorts and a tank top. If you were wondering about my paltry harvest in the top image, this outfit is exactly the reason why I came out with only about fifty blackberries.

All this to say that you can pick blackberries however you damn well please, but you’d better want those berries (or at least the idea of those berries) enough, because otherwise it’s not going to be worth it. You will get stung, berrying shirt notwithstanding.

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