Blackberries

Forty years ago, when I first looked for property here, a patient realtor drove me around. Sometimes we’d stop and graze on blackberries in brambly thickets, warmed by the sun and tart, bits of wildness on a cultivated island.

Blackberries grow in bunches, a couple ready to pick, alongside others still red or pink – food for another day. Sequential ripening benefits scavengers of all kinds. On the bluff, shaded by huge firs they never fruited, but only stretched thick, aggressive canes armed with sharp thorns, over the salal onto the driveway.

Wild blackberries are often deemed thuggish interlopers, best controlled by goats. But in this summer of our discontent, I see them as a gift. On the big street near us, passersby stop to pick from a hedge thick with berries, deep purple stains the sidewalk below. One morning, when I asked what she’d do with them, a woman gathering blackberries along a quiet street said muffins – and to freeze and eat in the winter. She recommended a handful on the top of sweet lemon cake. My neighbor and another friend make freezer jam – and inspired me to try.

On a commuter path nearby, blackberry vines entwine themselves in the lowdown branches of a young cedar. I passed that patch repeatedly before noticing a dark spot, then another. The cedar boughs protect a little from the sharp barbs of prickles snagging clothing and skin.

The construction behind us (thankfully paused since early summer) destroyed giant tangles of berry bushes, but a thick patch remains – alive with birdsong all spring. North facing, those berries have been slow, but now, encouraged by weeks of warm sunny weather and one downpour rain day, they ripen.

Sweet B quickly learned to discern ripeness by a gentle tug, and with her parents gathered berries for pie from the hedgerow in our little neighborhood. On her dad’s shoulders, she reached high up, where dark clusters dangle, and her mom topped our blackberry pies with crusts of woven lattice.

It was summer.