Gut Rumbles

April 11, 2005

picking blackberries

I found the Mother Lode one day. I was exploring the woods and I discovered a tremendous series of dirt-mounds, back where nobody ever walked, and it was working alive with blackberries.

I immediately ran to collect my friends. We grabbed cans and buckets and I led them back to that place. Barefoot and barebacked. we must have picked more than 20 pounds of blackberries, and that doesn't count what we ate while we were picking. Mamas made jelly and jam, we ate blackberries with sugar and cream, had fresh blackberries on our breakfast cereal every morning and we shat like gooses for a month after that.

Have you ever picked a lot of wild blackberries in the woods?

If so, you probably already know what I'm going to warn you about. First of all, those vines have some very tricky thorns on then, and they'll get stuck under your skin in a way that you don't even feel, until you develop a humongous pustle where that sticker is residing. It'll look like a giant pimple until you take a needle and dig that barb out of there. That's ugly work.

Second, snakes like blackberry thickets. Be careful where you step or where you stick your hand. We must have killed a dozen copperheads and run damn near that many black snakes (including one that I SWEAR was long enough to wrap around a good-sized house. Okay--- maybe just a good-sized car--- but he was still a big 'un.) out of there while we pursued those berries.

We were picking berries when I heard a sound I learned to recognize a long time ago. I told everybody to hold still, because I couldn't tell where it was coming from. As soon as we stopped moving, the sound quit, too. But I knew what it was. A fucking rattlesnake.

Have you ever heard that sound in the tall weeds or palmetto scrubs? It sounds just like a plastic Easter egg filled with sand that somebody is shaking vigorously. If I could spell that sound, I'd do it with "chicka-chicka-chicka," but really fast.

I knew damn well WHAT that thing was, but I couldn't tell WHERE it was. That put an end to blackberry-picking that day. I told my brother to back out just the way he came in. (If ANYBODY was going to get bitten by a rattlesnake, it would be my accident-prone brother.) We had plenty of berries, and that RATTLER was letting us know that it was time to go home. We took our berries and backed out of there.

I never went back to pick any more, either. We made one hell of a haul that day and I became tired of eating blackberries after a while. But I never forgot hearing that rattlesnake, either.

If you know what it is, it's a sound that will freeze your blood.


When I was a young child, I would spend a lot of time with grandma. Her neighbor was kind enough to endulge me to pick blackberries from her backyard. Mmm-mm-good. Whenever I eat them today, I think of grandma. It's a happy memory.

Posted by: oregano on April 11, 2005 08:07 PM

My gramma used to carry a broken hoe handle that she used to whack the bush with, I ask why and she said to scare the snakes and other varmints away.

I always came back with purple lips after a berry picking outing.....

Posted by: Jerry on April 11, 2005 08:22 PM


How DARE you forget to mention the dangers of the GOD AWFUL REDBUG!!!!

Chiggers to the rest of you non Georgia peeps.

And hot blackberry cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream is true heaven on earth.

Posted by: Midaz on April 11, 2005 08:30 PM

Black snakes are a redneck's best friend in the woods..they'll run all those hethern rattlers and copperheads off... they'll also make your girl grab you 'round the neck and thank you for savin' them from that "python",..etc., etc.

Posted by: Bob in the hills on April 11, 2005 09:24 PM

My mother would often pull over on a country road, and make us pick blackberries. "Don't pick the ones near the ground," she would say. "The snakes licked those." You mean there were snakes here?!? And you want my little fingers in there? Why don't you just give me a hand grenade to play with? Still love those blackberries. Red ass and all.

Posted by: Velociman on April 11, 2005 10:47 PM

I got a burr up my butt one night and decided to drive on out to the Tom Mix Memorial, out on the Florence Highway north of Tucson. The moon was full, so I decided to follow a trail a little ways out into the desert.

On my way back to the car I heard that sound suddenly explode out of the shadows at my feet.
I damn near leaped six feet high!

Almost stepped on the sonofabitch...

Posted by: Desert Cat on April 11, 2005 11:03 PM

"Gooses"? Geese!

You know, that's the first time I've *ever* seen you make any sort of grammatical mistake. I'm half-expecting you to prove it wasn't a mistake, after all.

Posted by: zonker on April 12, 2005 12:01 AM

As a country child I considered it a wasteful sin not to pick every blackberry that I could. May I refer you to Seamus Heaney's early poem on the subject. But after reading your account I am glad (all over again) that St Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland.

Posted by: Nelly on April 12, 2005 02:45 AM brother and I knew of a secluded blackberry patch that nobody else did and we'd pick them all the time. I got careless one day though while standing on a log trying to reach those upper branch beauties when all of a sudden the log slipped out from under me and when my feet hit the ground it was right on a copperhead. Yep, he bit me...but at least I had heavy boots on and he didn't quite have the jaw power to penetrate them completely.

Still, it pretty much freaked my little ass out.

Posted by: marcl on April 12, 2005 04:12 AM

I've got about six blackberry bushes in the back garden, they ripen at slightly different times and produce by the bucket load. No snakes though, any chance of sending one?

Posted by: robert in england on April 12, 2005 07:20 AM

I found a copperhead in a blackberry briar, three feet off the ground. Right where I was about to put my hand.

Posted by: Steve H. on April 12, 2005 11:03 AM, been a long time since I've seen a wild bush of those. Mom never really got to make as many cobblers as she wanted because my sibs and I would eat way more than we brought back.

I believe myself to be correct when I say there's nothing scarier than being able to hear a rattlesnake that you can't see. There's something seriously erie about hearing that dry rattle come from what appears to be nowhere.

Posted by: Stereotype on April 12, 2005 03:18 PM

Blackberry time, for me, was 'production'. Out came the big canning kettle, 20 pounds of sugar, and the Kerr mason jars. I'd strip down to my underwear, tie up my hair, put on a big apron, and steam myself to a frazzle to get a years worth of jam and syrup - about 12 quarts of each. When that 'ping' sounded as the jars sealed, I really felt good. And the taste was out of this world. There is nothin' like sourdough pancakes with a drizzle of homemade blackberry syrup, a few raspberries on top, and a dollip of whip cream...

Posted by: Bonita on April 12, 2005 06:39 PM

Stereotype, you aren't kidding...

Posted by: Desert Cat on April 12, 2005 11:45 PM
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