One of my favorite pastimes in the summer is picking blackberries. This is only surpassed by my love for making and eating blackberry pies. Yes, homemade blackberry pies… I make the crust from scratch, roll out the dough, keeping it thicker than the store-bought shells, and fill it with a mixture of sugar and sweet, tart, wild blackberries straight from the briar patch. There’s nothing that compares to a handmade blackberry pie in the middle of summer, unless it is a well-stocked freezer full of berries in winter which yield such amazing desserts and cobblers as to astonish and amaze our frozen taste buds.

Even my children enjoy hunting berries in anticipation of the sweet pastry rewards. I remember one day in particular when our clan went on a search through the far-reaching hills around our home in hopes of finding hidden patches of these wonderful, thimble-sized fruits. My oldest daughter cares nothing for the seedy things. My youngest daughter is a great blackberry eater. However, neither of them is enthusiastic about harvesting. On the other hand, my son, Benjamin, is always ready to hunt berries. He is the first one to suggest a hunt, and the last one to gain a bucketful as he eats them hand- over- hand right off of the thorny brambles. He is also the first one to point out that we should take care, for we might meet with a bear, or a snake, or worst yet, a tornado. (At his tender age of eight, he is excessively interested in dangerous hypothetical situations and natural disasters.) But so far, he is relieved that during our berry excursions, we have only met with a few cows and some yellow-jackets who love the berries as much as we do.

But as I was saying, on this day in particular I remember that we walked through many neighboring fields and forests. We first went to the best patch in the area. This berry patch is legendary. Its circumference and size would put one in mind of a grand oval swimming pool, and its berries are large and heavy with juice. To be frank, most of the other patches pale by comparison. It yields several gallons each summer, and so this became known to us as The Big Patch. My children and I wound around the sticky bushes to get the fruits easiest to reach, but soon it was time to delve deep into the heart of the thorns and weeds to get to the ones most difficult to glean. Briars and small splinters yanked at our clothing and tore at our flesh, but it made no difference. We were hard-core berry pickers, resigned to the work at hand in order to receive our delicious reward. We were poked, our fingers stained purple, our arms and legs bleeding, but the large, shiny berries were in sight, so we paid no mind to the pain. It was all worth the toil and effort. After a half- hour, we had filled our large plastic pitcher with at least 3 quarts of ripe berries, minus the ones surreptitiously popped into small, purple mouths.

We left The Big Patch in search of other bushes, but we had difficulties finding the quality of berry that we were used to picking. We found some bushes which were empty and unproductive, filled with tormenting thorns and barbs. Some were plain briar patches with nothing at all to offer. When we did find a productive patch, most of the bushes were small in comparison to The Big Patch, and the berries were tiny as well. A person would need to pick at least 6 of the tiny berries to equal one berry from The Big Patch. But I decided not to complain. I mean, the truly pleasurable thing about working in a blackberry patch is that it is a “freebie!” We have not tilled, or fertilized, or watered. In fact, wild berries blossom for everyone- for people, or for cows, or for yellow-jackets, or for whomever. So, despite the size of the berries, we continued picking, simply grateful for the small harvest nature gave us. Blackberry bushes can crop up on any patch of earth that is not trimmed regularly.

So, our next stop was Aunt Tracy’s house. Tracy was out of town for a while during summer, and so she had given us permission to harvest the berries from the field behind her house. She had always been an avid picker like the rest of us, and her small, square cobblers were deliciously present at family gatherings. She had mentioned that her blackberry bushes were numerous and fortuitously close to her house. Thus began my blackberry envy. I had always wished for blackberries near my house, growing wild, copiously fruitful. Yes, I was jealous! But this summer, I was finally able to take advantage of her blackberry meadow. Maybe I would not have to search so diligently through the woods this season!

When I finally came around to visit Tracy’s patch, I was ready for a full afternoon’s work. I had my work gloves, a plastic bucket, and I was smothered in bug repellent. My son was at my side, ready to eat his weight in luscious fruit. As we rounded the corner of the house and surveyed the back lot, I realized that yes, there were many wild berry bushes near her house; but as I began picking, I saw that these berries were also the tiny-sized dwarfs that were time-consuming to pick, leaving little to show for the work at the end of the day. Sure, these berries were better than none at all, but it took half an hour to get a teacupful when The Big Patch could yield a quart in 15 minutes. My blackberry envy was completely unfounded! I could picture poor Tracy holding a handful of berries with briar-scratched knuckles. Her work must have been painful and slow for each small cobbler she baked. I felt quite ashamed as I continued plucking the minuscule morsels of fruit and plunking them into the hollow and needlessly large bucket.

Meanwhile, Benjamin gave up on the job quickly this time, yielding to the call of a forgotten trampoline in the backyard. As I made my way around the meadow, treading in tall grass and watching for snakes, I began to look at some berry bushes from afar, gauging whether or not it would be worth the wade to get to the few tiny fruits. Discouraged and itchy, I decided my son didn’t have such a bad idea. I threw down my bucket and gloves and joined him on the trampoline. We jumped and laughed until dusk, then walked home hand in hand, smiling, although we had not filled our bucket that evening.

It was nearly nightfall. We stood in the gravel driveway, fatigued with our dirty, briar-bitten legs, watching as the bats took over the evening sky with their loop-de-loops and fast dives. I tilted my head upward for a better view of the “acro-bat-ics” and put a hand on a nearby stump to steady myself. Ouch! Something prickly grazed my arm. As I backed away from the stump, a thorny branch pulled at my skin. In the near-darkness, I squinted at some swaying red and purple objects dangling from the branch like tiny Christmas tree ornaments. Well, what do you know! I had a wild blackberry bush of my very own, right beside the driveway of my home! How about that! After all of those afternoons searching through the woods, there were berries right next to my front porch. I chuckled and showed my ironic discovery to Benjamin, who was still enthralled with the bat show. He examined the berries in the twilight, then popped one in his mouth. He announced that they were large and juicy berries like the ones from The Big Patch, not the tiny dwarf variety that was so difficult to harvest. What good fortune! It was a small bush, but maybe with time and patience, it would grow into a larger patch someday!

Through my berry patch adventures, I have not returned unscathed, nor have I returned empty-handed. I have resurfaced with more than battle scars, scratches, and blackberries. I have gained much more than poison ivy.  I have also gathered some bits of wisdom:

  1. Be thankful for gifts. – A wild blackberry is an undeserved gift in a world full of savage barbs. Never complain about the size of your gift.
  2. Do not envy your neighbor’s blackberry patch. – It does neither of you any good, and you may find that your envy is for nothing more than a few tiny berries and horribly scratched knuckles.
  3. Decide if the bush is worth the wade. – When it comes to blackberry picking, wading through some weeds is a requirement. Make your goals worthwhile.
  4. Know that every prize comes with a cost. – In order to enjoy those delicious blackberry pies, the berries must be picked. We must be willing to endure the thorns and the pains of the harvest.
  5. Take breaks when you are discouraged. – When the berries are tiny and the work is tedious, there is no crime in stopping to enjoy a giggle and a jump on a nearby trampoline to recharge.

And finally…

6.  Look for happy little patches near home. – Sometimes we trek through woods and wilderness only to find that ironically, a blossoming berry bush is growing in our own front yard.

It is yet another hot, July day here on Blackberry Ridge, and we are counting our blessings by the handful. I am sure we have at least two more weeks of fruitful production. So, if anyone needs me, I’ll be in The Big Patch. Or I might possibly sit on the porch and admire my newly-discovered and easily accessible berry bush. Or better yet, maybe I’ll spend the afternoon in the kitchen making a pie…

5 responses to “Lessons Learned in the Blackberry Patch”

  1. Jay Avatar

    Hi Julie,
    Yes, to all of the above that you have listed and I agree.

    However, what I visioned while reading your writing is a mother and a son making a memory. How the Big Patch was so good, and the little berries were not, etc; but the part that I liked best was when you and your son were walking home hand in hand, talking about “important stuff” sitting and watching bats and just making a memory to recall in years to come. I’m glad you had a good day with Ben. With or without a lot of berries.

    Happy Weekend,

  2. Mom Avatar

    Hi JuJu,

    Yes, you are THE blackberry picker extraordinare! I remember my last trek to your big berry patch was when you were 9 months pregnant and you were not a bit discouraged from the jaunt to the patch.

    Love you!


  3. Lulu Ann Bernardich Avatar
    Lulu Ann Bernardich

    Hi Julie~

    Your Mom sent me to your site.
    I love all of your writings, you do a great job.
    Keep up the good work.
    God bless you,
    Lulu Ann

  4. 365words Avatar

    It is definitely blackberry season. I wrote about my addiction to picking yesterday on my blog.

    Last night at a party I was served blueberry cobbler, which was good enough, but not GREAT. Two elements are crucial: a rich biscuit crust (this was more like sponge cake); and the acidity and aroma of blackberry.

    I’m salivating just commenting here.

  5. Schellie Avatar

    This is a lovely story. There is nothing quite like the bond between a mother and her son. I am so glad that you have not only girls but a boy as well so you can know that bond. I’m sure you are an exceptional mother just as you are an exceptional person.

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