Blackberries and Life Lessons

July 2, 2018

Summer is rolling over us.  July is here.

The days are filled with picking weeds and folding laundry, shelling peas and preparing meals.  Eyeing the dirt and the straw tracked in on shoes and paws, despairing of ever getting it under control.

The soundtrack is bickering.  All day and a good chunk of the evening is bickering.  Bicker bicker bicker.  Petty jabs.  Snide remarks.  Voices raised to impossible pitches.  I’m not exaggerating when I say there has been very little peace in this household since school let out.

It’s hard.

(Forgive me.  I know I’m whining right now, but remember how I said that I need silence to reboot myself?  It’s essential to my well-being, but my kiddos really don’t understand or care about that.  My space is their space, and my person is their person.  Mamas don’t get no relief.)

Well, anyway.  I had enough yesterday.  It takes an incredible amount of willpower for me not to crack under all that bickering, and I was teetering on the edge when I finally made the decision to get us out and doing something before I ran away to Mexico and the girls went all Lord of the Flies in my absence.

So, out to pick blackberries we went.

Blackberry picking in western Oregon is a blood sport – you should know that right up front.

The vines of the plant (known as canes) are huge and covered in large, sharp thorns.  They arch and mound and sprawl, and the berries are usually layered throughout, which means you have to reach into small and thorny openings to reach them.

It being the beginning of July (not usually blackberry season) we were looking for a very specific type of blackberry: the native blackberry.

The true name of this blackberry is Rubus ursinus, and it’s more commonly known as the Pacific blackberry, or the trailing blackberry, or the wild blackberry.  We usually just call them the “small kind of blackberry” because for the most part the berry is no bigger than a fingernail, as opposed to the much more prevalent (and invasive!) Himalayan blackberry, which can be an inch long and half as wide.

The small kind are also sweeter, much more flavorful, and much much harder to find.

The bushes of the native blackberry are smaller and don’t sprawl – they tend to get overgrown by other shrubs and brush, so you have to really look to find them.  We headed up a logging road on our property and then veered off onto some deer trails in the woods

We walked and poked and looked and picked for about two hours and came away with a small basket full of blackberries.  Just enough for a pie.

It was a lot of work for what turned out to be not a lot of berries.

Whomp, whomp.

We were hot and sweaty and our hands and shins were bleeding from the sharp and thorny vines, but I can honestly say that despite all that, or maybe because of it, we were happy.  The bickering stopped.  We talked and laughed, but there was also sweet silence as my girls very earnestly searched for those bright black jewels.

More than just happy; we were utterly content.

I think picking those blackberries is the way life should be: ephemeral and sweet, but not simple or painless.

A reward worth the effort, worth the scratches and thorns and bleeding hands that invariably happen (even worth the bickering that led to the picking in the first place).  It doesn’t come easy.  It shouldn’t come easy.

The search?  Those thorns?  That adversity?

All that is what makes those berries taste so damn good.


Happy July!  If you’re in the PNW, go pick yourselves some native blackberries.  They’re absolutely worth it!


  • Just another day on the farm

    July 2, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Hang in there momma but I hear you 🙂 Silence is wonderful.. but so are your photos.. I loved the whole write up but those smuggie purple hands, a thing of beauty indeed. Enjoy the pie if that is indeed what you make 🙂

  • Tre

    July 2, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    Now you know why your Grandma took every kid she knew berry picking.

  • Margo

    July 2, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    Blackberry season is my most favorite part of summer! The scratches are always worth it. Our canes are loaded with berries, but they don’t usually ripen until end of July. Living vicariously through you — and hoping you get a little quietude soon, too! 🙂

  • Brett Ann Stanciu

    July 5, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    Blackberries! Not season yet in Vermont, but this makes my mouth water and my fingers tingle.

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