Friday, 4 August 2017

Blackberry-Picking



Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
- 'Blackberry-Picking', Seamus Heaney

I hunted for blackberries today whilst walking one of our dogs, watching him run and play in the long grass. Though it’s still early, and most of the berries are still nobbled and green, I found a tangle of riper ones in the fields between the river and the old railway bridge. I had – very wisely – decided to go for this walk at midday, thinking that if anything it would rain, but instead it turned out to be stiflingly hot. As it perhaps should be at this time of year. The sun was so bright and the air so still that the smell of ripening blackberries hung about the hedgerows. I tasted one, but it was sharp and sour, and sent shivers through my teeth.



The other week, on another walk, we harvested two small bags’ worth and cooked them into a crumble. We mixed in some apples from my grandma’s garden (frozen from last year), and made two little puddings – one without sugar for my brother. Both were eaten before I even thought to take a picture. There’s another cluster by the chicken-garden just down the path from the back door – they have ripened the fastest, and my mum has been filling bowls with them this morning. Maybe I’ll bake something more adventurous with those later, if I have time to spare.


I don’t know why so many people have written about and mused on the act of blackberry-picking. Perhaps because people are now more likely to walk along a road than beside a neglected hedgerow, or because the act of picking free food from a bush seems like something from another time. A few years ago, there was an abandoned ‘waste land’ near home, which, though it may sound unappealing, was my favourite place to play, make up stories, or read in the sun. There were little mossy hillocks, a pond surrounded by perfect climbing-trees, forest-like grass, and banks of buddleia covered in butterflies. There was also an enormous clump of blackberry bushes, which produced the fattest berries I’ve ever seen. When I later read Heaney and Plath writing about blackberries, ones whose juice is barely contained within their thin, globular skins, I knew exactly what they were talking about. I learned Plath’s poem off by heart once, and though I cannot recite it so flawlessly anymore, I still remember the blackberry alley going down in hooks…

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,   
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.
‘Blackberrying’, Sylvia Plath


xxx
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