This afternoon I took an hour’s break for blackberry picking. There’s work to be done, but babies and ripening blackberries wait for no man. Another blogger told me that they grow wild all over this sandy, pine-filled region. Using her guidelines I mentally mapped out several clumps back in May. Every week since I’ve looped past to watch their progress from white flowering buds to red berries to borderline ripeness. It’s like running a trap line, minus the fur, sidearm, and protestors.
Two days ago the biggest and sunniest patch exploded into purple-black deliciousness. It sprawls through a weedy ditch bordered by woods and a dirt two-track running back through the trees. I pulled off the road, backtracked to the nearest driveway and found a woman cleaning on the porch in her nightgown and a man out working by the shed. Did he own the land (and therefore, the berries)? “Nope. It’s an easement. Have at ’em.”
It’s the first picking – the patch hasn’t yet reached full maturity – but after a hot and prickly half hour in the sun I came home with a satisfying blackberry layer in my bucket. It was a very tentative harvest though. First, blackberry canes are spiky – much more prickly than the raspberries I grew up with. Second, the thick tangle of canes grows intertwined with a thick tangle of poison ivy. And third? You can’t see anything below knee height in that barbed jungle and it’s a bumper year for Copperheads.
A venomous snake bite hospitalized a friend just up the road from the berries a few years ago. This year people in our county are running into Copperheads by the scores – even in busy areas downtown. Nobody knows what caused the boom, though it’s rumored to have something to do with upheavals left by the spring tornadoes. I rustled the plants and pushed the undergrowth back ahead of me, but all with wistful visions of my rubber knee boots a thousand miles away in my parents barn.
Next time I’ll be prepared: a new pair of snake boots, long pants, Tecnu poison ivy soap in the cupboard, and a leather glove so I can grab canes with my left hand while picking with my right. Why is it that everything I do these days seems to require a biohazard suit and safety gear?
Footnote: The unnerving thing about Copperheads (besides, you know, the fangs, venom, and general snakiness), is their “freeze” tendency as explained in wikipedia:
“Like all pit vipers, A. contortrix is generally an ambush predator: it takes up a promising position and waits for suitable prey to arrive…Like most North American viperids, these snakes prefer to avoid humans and, given the opportunity, will leave the area without biting. However, unlike other viperids they will often “freeze” instead of slithering away, and as a result many bites occur from people unknowingly stepping on or near them. This tendency to freeze likely evolved because of the extreme effectiveness of their camouflage. When lying on dead leaves or red clay they can be almost impossible to notice. They will frequently stay still even when approached closely, and will generally strike only if physical contact is made.”
In other words? You might not know the cute little fella’s there until you step on him and he chomps on your leg.