How I found my blackberry heaven

SEQUIM — I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

That’s because I was in blackberry heaven.

It was like a dream and a nightmare all rolled into one.

It all happened, of course, on the hottest day of the summer.

That’s about the time the blackberries get ripe around here.

By blackberries, I do not mean the seedy, watery, exotic blackberries that ripen into the fall along roads.

No, ma’am, we’re talking about the wild blackberry that grows in the wild places — the further from the road the better.

In the old days, blackberry patches were owned by tribes of Native Americans.

They were dried into cakes for winter — or traded as a valuable commodity.

Little has changed to this day — except today the berry patches are owned by whoever finds them first.

Where do you pick wild blackberries?

Don’t bother asking me!

As a journalist I cannot reveal my sources, or the location of any blackberry patches.

But I will tell you that they like growing in burns and clearcuts.

So if you find a good patch of blackberries, chances are you can thank a logger.

That is, until you try wading through the piles of logging slash, limbs and tops leftover from the carnage.

As I searched for my blackberry heaven, I pushed my way through dense stands of stinging nettles as high as my head.

Nettles only grow in the best soil, so I knew I was on the right track to my dream berry patch.

Then I hit a thick stand of Devil’s Club.

They are a rainforest cactus that can fight back.

Touch a Devil’s Club anywhere, and the rest of the vine will swing around and nail you with a mess of nasty spines.

Berry pickers’ hands often look like they were mauled by a bear.

(Maybe they were, but you can’t let the bears scare you off if you want a wild blackberry pie.)

As I fought my way through the nettles and Devil’s Club, I stepped into a mountain beaver hole — and fell through a rotting slash pile.

There it was!

In a shady cave, under a stump pile, were endless vines with luscious skeins of sweet, shiny blackberries.

My blackberry heaven!

Shaded by the leaves of sword ferns, the berries were almost a half inch long.

I didn’t bother with the small ones. (Or with the bleeding.)

My feet were trapped in the slash. There was pain. I thought I might have broken something.

I couldn’t move.

I didn’t care!

I could fill up my gallon bucket right where I was.

That’s the secret to blackberry picking.

Find the right blackberry patch, and you can join the ranks of the gallon-a-day club.

Picking the berries as fast as I could, I began to feel what it must be like to be very rich.

But I failed to notice a faint buzzing sound — until the pain of a hundred red-hot pokers got my attention.

Hornets!

It is also a general rule of blackberry picking that the best patches grow on top of the paper nests of bald-faced hornets and yellowjackets.

Experts advise that you remain calm when attacked by hornets.

These are the same people who tell you to remain calm when you are lost, or sinking or wake up with a skunk on your chest.

I remained calm — until I got stung.

Then I started wallowing through the brush like a wounded moose.

I thought I got away.

Then I took off my hat to swat a hornet and got stung on the head by another one.

The race was on!

By the time I made it back to the old logging road, I was sweating like a walrus.

I’d lost my bucket, and one of my shoes — but no matter.

It’s a tough trail to blackberry heaven.

I’m going back tomorrow.

———–

Pat Neal is a fishing guide and writer who lives in Sequim. His column appears in the Peninsula Daily News every Wednesday. He is available for speaking engagements.

Contact Neal at 360-683-9867, and at P.O. Box 1806, Sequim, WA. 98382.

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