I am at the side of the trail, eating blackberries just as fast as I can pick them. They stain my fingers red and dissolve in my mouth, this one sweet, that one tart. Thorns tear at my forearms as I reach inside the briars to twist free another berry. The trick is to choose berries the shine has gone off of. They should almost fall into your hand as you touch them. If they are shiny or you need to pull them free they aren’t quite ripe.
The heady fragrance of ripe berries in the summer sun fills the air. Haunting wisps of memories distract me-I’ve eaten blackberries off the vine for more than fifty years.
As a small child I played down behind our house on Columbia street, hidden in the scotch broom and the brambles. Alone in a jungle, the rest of the world would disappear. The sun beat down on me and I soaked it up, like a lizard on a rock. The sticky juice painted a bright clown mouth on my face and stained my fingers, hands and arms. All around were the tiny, sharp reports of scotch broom seed pods snapping open, flinging wide their seeds.
When I was in grade school, I used to ride my bicycle for miles along the country roads. Water sparkled in the irrigation ditches, tar bubbles popped beneath my rolling tires. I’d ride from the hot, sunny stretches into the shade of tall trees, passing through pools of cool air and back out into the searing heat. Suddenly, the air would be filled with the scent of blackberries baking in the sun. Hedges of blackberries lined both sides of the road, completely engulfing the old barbed wire fences. Birds flitted through the tangled vines. I left my bike laying on its side in the ditch, abandoning it to gorge myself on the plump, black fruit.
I have picked berries in the backyards of so many houses I’ve lived in over the years. I vividly remember the sound they made plopping into white, plastic tubs which once held yogurt or cottage cheese. Decades of cobblers and pies, vanilla ice cream melting through the rich, red juices and pooling on plates to be greedily spooned up. The hot, sweet burst in a mouthful of blackberry pancake, the flavor so perfectly complimented by bacon, melted butter and syrup.
I notice with surprise a trickle of blood from a scratch on my arm. Ignoring it I bring another handful of berries to my mouth. The first bite mixes the sour with the sweet in a bloom of flavor. I have a seed stuck in my teeth. Above me and to the right hangs the fattest berry in the entire patch. I think I can just about reach it. Yes.