Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom: The Call of the Wild . . . (The Wild Blackberry, That Is)



Isn't it curious how in so many of our pastimes and hobbies we play at supplying one or another of our fundamentally creaturely needs-for food, shelter, even clothing?  Michael Pollan


Is there a name for a question one asks when he isn't really interested in the answer to that question, but is actually fishing for different information or is trying to make a different point? I got one of those a few weeks ago from one of my children:

"Dad, how much do blackberries cost at Publix?"

The actual answer to his question is around $3 or $4 a pint. But that wasn't what he really wanted to know. What he really was curious about is why every year about this time I put on my custom-made picking gloves and my thorn-resistant gear and head out to pick wild blackberries in the woods around Harmony, spending hours in the sweltering humidity, gingerly plucking those sweet morsels from among the vicious bushes.

I had to confess to him that accumulating berries is NOT the point of picking wild blackberries. If it were just about gathering berries, of course I could buy them at the store. Or I could go to a berry farm nearby where I could pick domesticated blackberries that have no thorns. But what's the sport in that?

Anyone who fishes or hunts could tell you, if they were candid and honest, that it would be far less expensive to buy their fish or venison or turkey or duck or elk or whatever at a store or butcher shop, than to buy a boat, fishing tackle, rifle, camouflage clothing, camping gear, duck blind, hunting or fishing license, and the hundred other things required to outfit a hunting or fishing trip. As much as they might want to prattle on about "free meat" for the freezer, truth be told, when you do the math, it's actually very expensive eating.

No, there seems to be something very primeval about securing "free" food from the wild.

To me, it probably started back in my early days as a Boy Scout in the arid landscapes of northwest New Mexico, when the "Handbook for Boys" challenged us to locate edible plants in our environment. Sure, perhaps a hearty outdoorsman could suck a little moisture from a prickly pear cactus or could stomach a few dandelion leaves from someone's ill-kept lawn, but that didn't really "count" as far as I was concerned.

Only after moving to the Southeast and discovering blackberries and other fruits growing wild and free did I feel I had actually completed that requirement from my scouting days. And once I was hooked on eating wild blackberries, my quest matured into figuring out how to harvest them without getting hurt by the thorns.


There have been times when I've overdone it, like the year I picked over five gallons of berries so we could make blackberry cobbler for 200 guests. Yes, that was over the top.

I've also been known to write three Wednesday Wisdom articles in a single year about lessons learned in the blackberry patch:

That too was a bit much.

But since then I've reined in my ambitions, and now a gallon or so is enough. This year I gave myself a deadline and even loaned my gloves to a friend so I wouldn't get too carried away.

At 66, it's OK to be wild. Just not too wild.



Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom: From Bummer to Break-In to Bountiful Birthday


A good man measures his life not in the number of his years, but in the quality of his friends.  Todd Stocker

This year, I was on course for one bummer of a birthday.

About 10 days ago I received a charming card from the lovely folks at the circuit court's office in Kissimmee. This unexpected invitation requested that I show up at 7:30 a.m. on May 14th - the morning of my birthday - and then spend the rest of the day with a few hundred new friends enjoying jury service.

I looked on the back of this card and sure enough, it definitely didn't come from Hallmark.


Don't get me wrong - I think the whole concept of juries is one of the greatest ideas ever to spring from the human mind. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." It's an amazing way to protect ordinary citizens from an overreaching government.

Personally, I'd love to serve on a jury. I think it would be a most fascinating experience. But in my case, I know I'll never get the chance because any lawyer worth his salt will boot me from the jury pool in a heartbeat. An intelligent trial lawyer simply does not allow another attorney to "contaminate" the jury with his own ideas of justice.

Consequently, a call to jury service is for me just a wasted day: I can't do my civic duty because of my profession, but I can't refuse to show up either. It's a classic Catch-22.

I made massive changes to my work calendar to accommodate my birthday assignment and made plans to hopefully spend the day Monday in the jury waiting room doing something, anything, productive.

On Friday night, Marcie and I retired for the evening, looking forward to a quiet Mother's Day weekend leading up to jury-duty Monday.

About 11:30 pm we were abruptly awakened by loud banging on our front door and someone repeatedly ringing the doorbell. We were scared! I frantically pulled on a shirt and Marcie grabbed the phone to call 911 if necessary. She warned me to look through the peephole before I opened the door.

But before I could get to the front door, I heard the garage door open amid the sound of deep male voices. Then I was REALLY scared.

"They're coming in through the garage," I hollered at Marcie. "Call the police." I ran to the door from the kitchen to the garage and just as I arrived someone started opening that door. I put my shoulder against it to try to push them back, but they were too strong. The door and I were pushed backwards.

Then they started laughing.

"Hi, dad. Did we surprise you?"

Did they ever!!!!!

It was Evan and Paul, our two youngest children. They had secretly flown to Orlando, Evan from Atlanta and Paul from Logan, Utah, to spend time with us for Mother's Day and my birthday. They knew how to open the garage door and from there how to get into the house.

Fortunately, having heard the laughter, Marcie didn't call 911.

After we chastised them for scaring us witless, we settled down to talk late into the night. We love spending time with our children.

For the next two days, they cooked for us (and they're both excellent cooks and bakers), cleaned for us, and even went with me on a little impromptu service project for a single mom who was in the hospital and needed her yard cleaned up. What wonderful, thoughtful, helpful men they have turned out to be.


All weekend we ate and talked to our hearts' content, thankful to live in such a bountiful land with wonderful family and friends. We enjoyed a fine and fancy dinner late Sunday afternoon; they made me a four-layer chocolate cake for my birthday; and then they hopped on planes to fly back to work Monday morning. Marcie and I were left with tons of yummy leftovers and a mountain of sweet memories.

As expected, I wasn't needed to serve on any jury, and I found some useful ways to spend my time, including writing this article. My 66th birthday was a joyful occasion. I'll always remember this one, my "bummer - break-in - bountiful" birthday.