Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blackberry Picking

From a fast write during a summer writing workshop...

There was a vast woods behind my house and through the woods ran a long trail which we called the Indian Trail. Whether Indians really used it or not is unknown to me. I always imagine they did.  The woods was a bountiful place for playing.  When you followed that trail for a quarter of a mile or so it came out in field filled with blackberries.

In summer when the blackberries were out—early august or so, it was expected that you grab a bucket, make your way down the trail and pick as many as you could.  Because the briars were thick and the bugs were everywhere you generally had to put on shoes (something I rarely did in the summer) and long pants and long sleeved shirts.  I hated that.  It was so hot already.  But mother insisted that we get as many blackberries as we could before the birds or the other neighbors did.  Come to think of it, no one else was out there except us. 

Those were the day when property was not marked by no trespassing signs.  People could just go into fields and pick.  I have no idea who owned that land.  It has since been taken over by developers—those berries long gone under the blade of a backhoe.  But there we went…covered from head to toe, out into the evening hours when the sun was lower but the bugs were worse.  I can remember wading into brambles over my head, crouching down unable to move because every movement caught my hands and face and arms,  Scratching thin trickles of blood across my shins and ankles.  Bees buzzing in my ears, dragonflies as they whipped by my head.  I hated doing this.  Hated the heat and the scratch and the bugs.  Swatting, swiping, sweat trickling down my cheek.  Plunk after plunk of berries in the can.  Fill, filling, full.  Feeling victorious when I stumble across a pocket of rich ripe black fruit.  Trying to get them all without getting stuck. Reaching the highest ones, some eaten already by bees and birds.  Tracking back, down the Indian Trail, once spilling a whole bucket on the ground and frantically picking up the moist hot fruit in my hands.

Back home mother would give us big dishes of fruit doused in sugar, back when sugar was good for you, and we ate them and scraped seeds out of our teeth; she made ice cream with blackberries and blackberry pies.

I hated the expectation that I would go.  Hated  the heat and the work. Hated the bugs and the buzzing, always the buzzing, hated the thin trickle of sweat and that threatened feeling I had surrounded by brambles, no way in or out.  I loved the sweet fruit and the way it made my mother remember her childhood.  The way that made her happy in a way other things could not.

But now, like many things from summer, I wish I could go back. Wish I could turn the earth back over and grow the patch again.  Pick some blackberries one more time.

--Amy for the PGM


  1. I love how summer, especially, brings back such visceral memories of heat and various discomforts, and how you delineate how your mother's own memories played into this ritual. You bring it to life vividly and with many layers of understanding. It was great to hear you read this in person. MKP

  2. summer does bring out not just our own memories but those of our families too. Berries come at such a price, what a reminder of bugs, thorns and heat.