For the past couple of weeks I’ve played my gigs through wincing pain. The pads of the fingers on my right hand are covered with puncture wounds and splinters of tiny thorns; they’re also stained the color of Barney the dinosaur. I’m a bit embarrassed at the unsightly chigger bites covering my wrists, the backs of my hands, my ankles. And to be perfectly truthful, I’ve been sneaking onto someone else’s property in the evenings about two hours before the sun goes down. It’s slightly cooler then, which matters a lot since I’m wearing heavy gauge long pants, a long sleeved shirt, boots, and a hat. It’s not what you think. Wait, maybe it is. Blackberries.
I take for granted the ubiquitous wild fruit that grows on cut-over land in my region. But last summer was cool and wet, and there were no blackberries to be had. The fruit itself is too seedy and tart for me. But when made into syrup, jam, sherbet, and vinegar it’s one of my very favorite flavors. Midwinter I ran out of blackberry syrup (which is my topping of choice for yogurt) and I’ve had a mighty craving ever since.
Two years ago, blackberries grew everywhere on our farm. Since then the trees have gotten taller and shaded them out. But a fifteen-minute walk through the woods gets me to a large parcel of recently lumbered land with acres and acres of brambles, seedling loblollies and poplars, and yes…blackberries. Any experienced blackberry forager knows that to get to the sweetest, plumpest berries, you have to fight through the fierce new growth vines that surround the old, berry-laden vines that hide in the back, usually near the edge of the woods. I called my dad after my first time out this year, complaining bitterly about my bleeding hands. Full of practical wisdom, he said, (insert WV accent) “you know what you need is a heavy leather glove on your left hand and a rope to tie your bucket around your neck at waist length.” Genius! After implementing his advice I could pick a gallon per hour.
There’s a thrill to finding abundant food that I didn’t cultivate myself. I’m sure this is what foragers of wild mushrooms must feel. I work so hard on my garden beds, planting most of what I grow from seeds that I’ve saved myself. I wait. I weed. I weed some more. But in July I suit up in protective gear and head to lands of red clay thorny torture. I return with buckets of pure blackish-purple heaven.