Blackberries and Prose
There is nothing more likely to indicate to us folks in the temperate climate of middle England that Summer (if we have been lucky!) is coming to an end, than the arrival and full ripening of the wild blackberries (rubus) growing in public – usually neglected – spaces. This particular Summer has borne a plethora of green growth and a lot of excellent fruit has followed due to the wonderful combination of extremely rainy days interspersed with more than its usual quota of hot and sunny ones. I was out in the fields near to my house just the other day and saw that the blackberry brambles were absolutely rampant and overborne with fruit. Their heavily laden stems are reaching far above the grasp of the average picker and offer a challenge to those acquiring the supreme prize of gathering in the fattest and most luscious berries, whilst avoiding the ever pernicious and unforgiving thorns!
As the ripest and juiciest black specimens are carefully plucked and taken away, many more are maturing to provide an eclectic and eager queue of people, young and old who are ever-present to take home all they can carry. These ‘hunter-gathers’ mostly end up in a very sorry state having had their skin torn open and legs usually stung by nettles which are also prolific at this time of the year. Very often they have also sustained soaking wet feet from the boggy undergrowth into the bargain; but they will all claim that the prize is worth the pain.
(13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013)
Related to this annual indicator of the oncoming Autumn season (or ‘Fall’ as you would perhaps say in Mountain View, CA), I would like to share my observations with the recently deceased Irish poet, Seamus Heaney who wrote of just this subject from his childhood memories. I present this small poem as my contribution to the celebration of his past life.
“Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney
‘Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.’