Here in Australia, blackberries are a noxious weed. They grow in mountainous heaps (seriously – some tangles are enormous!) and spread uncontrollably, their sharp thorns making them completely unapproachable. Of course, this fact does not change how delicious their fruit is. Birds and humans alike are attracted to the sweet little criminals and thus we inadvertently help to spread their seeds.
So it is that each summer, where possible, many Canberrans head to the outlying pine forests (where escaped blackberries are rampant) and try to find a patch that doesn’t have the warning sign saying that they have been recently poisoned.
I suspect that this summer the activity is even more popular than usual. Last summer was so horrid with the drought and all the smoke that any blackberries would have been dry and hard as rocks and picking would have required a face-mask (for smoke, not COVID). This summer, by contrast, is wet and cool and the blackberries are juicy and enticing. Picking is also less uncomfortable than usual as the weather is so mild. One can don the necessary long sleeves and thick pants and boots and wade comfortably among the unfriendly vines without sweating litres.
Despite the thorns and the flies and the summer threat of snakes, there is something quite therapeutic about blackberry picking. In order to avoid being scratched one must move carefully and deliberately and progress can be slow – often only being able to pick one berry at a time. It’s so frustrating to rush and then drop a particularly sweet and soft one down into the well of thorns and know it is lost forever. So one accepts the slow fill of one’s bucket and works away in quiet concentration – imagining examples of the wonderful pies and jams to come.
Since our kids were born, I have often missed the blackberry picking as it’s not a particularly child friendly exercise. However, with the house being flooded and P trying to do his paid job as well as work on the house, and the kids being on holidays and not attracted to the messed up home they normally love, I barely saw P in January. When he decided that he must go blackberrying (he loves a good jam), I was loathe to stay at home with the kids yet again. So we all went. And the kids did pick for a while but then they found occupation in hunting for quartz among the pebbles on the nearby dirt track. This was fine with me and I could pick for perhaps forty minutes undisturbed. It was lovely and I can’t wait to go again (as we surely will).
It’s hard to know whether to feel guilty about potentially propagating a noxious weed or satisfied with the pleasant family activity of gathering of a “natural” bounty.