August 11, 2011
Just north of our neighborhood is a deep, wooded ravine that runs under the nearby highway to join a salmon stream. Just south are five acres of open land, privately owned. When I say open, I don’t mean empty. The land is dense with salal, wild blackberries, and scrub trees. Our neighborhood, on a dead-end street, serves as a wildlife corridor between the two areas, one of the reasons we love it. On the other hand, my cat disappeared about this time last year.
It is the season for blackberries, and the bushes are especially prickly during this time, as though to give up the purple/black fruit to only the most worthy seekers. Right now deer, songbirds, crows, blue jays, raccoons, and yes, rats are feasting on the fruit. There is so much that many berries will simply fall, staining the road with their bloody juice. One summer evening I passed two Russian Orthodox priests in full regalia reaching to snatch berries from the closest vines, putting them directly into their mouths over their long white beards and pale vestments, heedless of stains.
The vines are armed with a chemical irritant that keeps the scratches from healing quickly. The local name for them is Himalayan Blackberry, an invasive species along with Scotch Broom and English Ivy. There are work parties held on a regular basis to fight back the encroaching plants. No such work is ever done on these five acres.
The blackberries I eat with ice cream harbor a complicated flavor of sugars, fruit, and something darker, peaty, organic. It is a tangle of story lines, thousands of summers of growth and decay, the soaring song and the abrupt squeak. Somewhere in those brambles may lie our cat’s remains, already nurturing the profligate growth of next season – sweet, and bitter.