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by Catherine Owen

Picking blackberries is on my top ten list of spiritual experiences. The muzzy scent of ripening berries amid milkweed, thistles, dandelions. How there are always impasses: the tawny spiders that spread their webs between thorns, wasps ahead of you, already sipping at each of the swollen nodes. Of course, the scratches, the quick jabs when you reach beneath a branch, over top of a bush. The juiciest ones after all are always just beyond your stretch or beneath, in the shade. How you learn to tell which ones to pick just by looking at them. Green obviously not, but black is not enough. Each fruity pod needs to be sufficiently puffed to be sweet, too taut and it’s a sour dribble, too soft and it falls apart in your fingers, leaving stain smears. Worse, it drops to the ground, irretrievable. I love the memory of picking blackberries with my family as a child. The end of our street was lined with bushes and my father took us five kids out to pick in August and September. We filled ice cream buckets with the fruit, my mother baking what we didn’t eat hot from the vine into muffins or pies, our legs slashed with thorned echoes for weeks. & I adore the renegade nature of picking this wild fruit. More common and readily available than huckleberries and salmonberries, it spreads rampantly and is the bane of those who wish to control the world. As I was walking to pick this bag of berries on a sticky August afternoon by the tug-full river, I heard a developer say to a worker – “Take out all the blackberries…you know….clean things up!” I strode past quickly, wanting to cry, hoping I will always be able to taste that warm burst of juice as it becomes summer in my mouth again.