Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blackberries, Blood & Bottoming

It’s been an action-packed couple of weeks; things are settling from adventures, and writing resumes! I’ve missed you!

Blackberries are evil, insidious, invasive, mean, nasty, cruel, barbarous creatures. Why do we endure them? Some would say, “Because killing them is impossible;” others would say, “Because of the fruit.” I do like the fruit. A fresh blackberry, right off the vine, tastes like our gentle, coastal breezes mixed with sunshine and sugar. It comes in your mouth, and you like it. You lean down and look for more. The risk of pain is worth the reward of flavor.

Here in our little bit of Humboldt that we like to call M’skeetah Holler, we have blackberries. Lots and lots and lots of blackberries. They are like a usurping, unwelcome occupying force and they are resource gluttons. With all that a blackberry bush has going on, I’m surprised that it has any energy left to make fruit. Canes there, runners here, thorns everywhere. It certainly is productive and efficient.

Just outside my morning window, where I like to sit and merge into my day is what I call my ‘fishbowl,’ a small, enclosed area that makes me feel like I’m all by myself, out in nature. I have elegantly, whiffly jasmine, sweet, fragrant honeysuckle and some gorgeous basket and bird’s nest ferns. Hummingbirds and monarch butterflies come to taste the butterfly bush and pink teacups; spiders weave webs for me at night that glisten with fresh mist in the morning sun. It’s la luxe verte.

I sit in the morning and look out into my fishbowl, watching the creatures pollinate things and dine on nectar (and sometimes each other). In spring, I watch the ferns unfurl a bit each day; in fall, I watch the berries to see if they’re ready today? Today? Today? Lately, there’s been this ginormous blackberry cane moving steadily westward, from one side of the bowl to the other, and I’ve witnessed it grow by inches each day. It bothers me. And it has friends.

Meanwhile, my jasmine isn’t as productive as I’d like. I enjoy having it in such a state that if I open my window, nature’s best air freshener just wafts right on in, tickling my nose with happy. But the blackberries are taking up too much resource for the jasmine to flourish. This bothers me. Yes, all living things have the right to, well, live, but as custodian of my little patch of dirt, it’s my job to make decisions about these things. And then act on them. Today, I decided to do something about my botherdness.

Too hot to work in long sleeves (a thermal event uncommon in Humboldt), I went out to tend my bowl in a tank top & jeans. I knew it’d be a tradeoff.

If I were a plant, I might be a blackberry: Persistent, tenacious, successful, well-equipped for its job, fruity, mean, sharp and (if I anthropomorphize just right), sadistic. I swear, I can hear them chuckling as they pull on my pants like a sugar addicted toddler in the treat aisle at Costco begging for “suuma doze cookies, Mama!” They snortlaugh and act like it wasn’t them when they untie my shoelaces, but I know they’re watching to see if they can get me to faceplant. They laugh outright when their tender caresses produce fine welts that begins to trickle red, the same shade of red as an almost-ripe berry. It’s eerie, how much their laugh sounds like my own when I wear thorns and welt people.

Did you know that you can use some of the long and supple thin runners from a blackberry bush for bondage? And some of the thick, thorny canes make great canes (single person use, please). Yeah, go ahead and wince and maybe make the teeth-sucking sound; it’s appropriate.

But I digress.

Everything that didn’t have fruit on it, I cut. This year’s crop of berries already looks magnificent, and I know that if I get the plant to put its resources where I want them, the berries will be even sweeter and more plentiful. I’m crafting for a swell harvest. Meanwhile, I free up the jasmine and get the honeysuckle more light so that they can be abundant, too. And all it cost me was a little blood and aggravation. Small price to pay, really.

An hour later, I’m almost hot and definitely cranky. I trip over the hose (partially because my shoe’s untied), the vines won’t let go of my gloves (but will leave thorns in them), I have as much schmeg in my hair (despite wearing a do-rag) as my shaggy dog gets when he’s anywhere near redwood duff and I’m covered in dirt, dead leaves, pokes, nicks, scratches and a gouge or two. I have bottomed to the blackberries and, right about now, I hate my top. I chose my top today, and nobody to thank—or blame—for that but me. It isn’t about the top; it’s about what I bottom to showing me about where I fall short. Today my fallings short would be in patience, endurance, and band-aids.

I’ve bled for my blackberries. I’m hoping that’ll make ‘em even sweeter, because each scratch, poke, and thorn gouge represents a blackberry that I am going to eat the hell out of come early Fall. Cobblers, wine, confit, maybe some preserves: all those berries will be mah bitches then, and I’ll remember that bottoming to them got me there, to that sweet juiciness I do so enjoy.


  1. One friend of mine has a theory that there is only one blackberry plant, and its roots are at the center of the planet. Makes a great deal of sense, I think.

    They're just turning ripe here -- I've been coming back from walking the dogs with stains on my fingers and lips.


  2. i said, "suuma doze cookies, Mama" out loud.



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