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.



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