Gut Rumbles

May 26, 2008

picking blackberries

Originally PUBLISHED April 11,2005

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.

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