Nothing captures the essence of summer like a drop of rain hanging from the end of a blackberry after a storm. This is my favorite time for the blood sport of berry picking.
The weather is right for long sleeves and boots. I get the blue and white strainer, one rose glove - for shoving the thorny canes aside- and my clippers. Those are mostly for the locusts that have insinuated themselves among the berries. Locusts like to hide out amongst the other vicious plants but I have no reason to spare them since their violence serves no practical purpose for me.
I put on long pants and a long sleeve shirt and enter the fray. The last of the thunder rumbles behind the hill while I softly curse myself for once again neglecting to clean out the berry patch in the winter. The nest of thorns is daunting.
Before picking anything, I call to the snake to let it know what I am doing. We are on friendly enough terms, but I try not to startle it. The best berries are always the furthest in, hanging just past where you can reach them, tempting you further until the wicked curved thorns start to slice through your jeans and into your legs. Just half an inch further than you can reach is the best berry you ever saw, a perfect little beehive of purple globes. That berry is the one you want. Reach for it...it's too perfectly ripe. It falls into sea of canes and then...I pick thorns out of the back of my ungloved hand with my teeth.
This sort of temptation is how I ended up with a blackberry cane stuck to the top of my ponytail while my would be rescuers, my friends Kathy and Paul, were incapacitated with laughter. Another temptation is to set down the container with the berries so I can reach further without spilling any. This usually results in an invasion of ants, much worse than the usual stowaway - the stink bug. (Also once my boxer ate all the berries I had picked while my back was turned. Another good reason not to set them on the ground.)
When I was young, I ate more berries than I put in the bucket. My cousin Larry, even had a rhythmic method of making sure we ate more berries than we took back. "One for the bucket, one for me. One for the bucket, two for me. One for the bucket, three for me." Obviously, the odds for the bucket did not improve as the singsong game continued. But now I am responsible for the pie like the grownups before me. I have to be the one to bring something back, although there's nothing more tempting than a fat, wet blackberry that falls right into your hand. The effort takes more time because I cannot act like an adult. I eat as many as I put in the strainer and I have to reach further into the canes to get enough for the pie.
When I'm done, I have to pluck thorns out of my hands and legs and my thumb is bleeding. The blackberry bites have made me drop a number of berries back into the bush but the sacrifice of blood and fruit has worked. I have been given a strainer full of thick, sweet, purple summer. There is no perfection without blood. The thornless varieties are not as sweet. I will do it again tomorrow.