PAT NEAL: My fruitless search for wild blackberries

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news, when the journalistic skills of this gossip columnist were tried to the utmost through describing a devastating natural phenomenon that almost no one can agree on.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

It’s not my fault if the latest regional forecasts and windshield surveys have predicted that due to climactic shifts, weather changes and other stuff, there would be no blackberry pie on the Fourth of July.

Here it should be noted that previous pie predictions promulgated in past columns have had an accuracy rate of 99.9 percent.

The importance of blackberry pie in the celebration of the birth of this great nation cannot be overstated.

It is a message to the world that no matter how bad this great experiment we call democracy is failing, we can still sit down together at the end of the day and have a steaming-hot piece of blackberry pie.

Picking a wild blackberry pie on the Fourth of July is a benchmark of what’s right with America.

This year, unfortunately, the berries are late.

At the rate things are going, all we will have are salmonberries on the Fourth of July.

There is nothing wrong with a good salmonberry.

They are a spring tonic.

But springtime is almost gone, and the salmonberries are barely ripe.

The thimbleberries and wild strawberries are only blossoms.

The huckleberries are withered.

The blackcaps are microscopic, all of which adds up to a berry famine for the weeks to come.

To the wild creatures, this is a devastating development that could affect our ability to hibernate. For berry pickers, this is a disaster the size of which has not been so far observed in this century.

By blackberries, we are not referring to the watery, seedy and invasive evergreen and Himalayan berries ripening in late summer, no.

To call yourself a blackberry picker when you stand on the blacktop alongside a level patch of country road and fill your bucket in no time with these sad excuses for oversized waterlogged blackberries is an insult to the spirit of the quest for the real wild blackberry, of the genus Rubus, of the rose family.

That’s not saying this journalist hasn’t, in the interest of journalism, sampled the various pies, crisps and tarts made from the tame wild blackberries — just to be polite.

Sometimes you have to go to the dark side to see how the other half lives and know but for the grace of God, I would never bake a pie of bogus berries.

Not on my watch.

You would have to pry the berry bucket from my cold, dead fingers to get me to pick tame blackberries, but then I couldn’t because I’d be dead.

Picking wild blackberries can be a wilderness adventure.

Be sure to not tell anyone where you are going when you go blackberry picking or you could get the search and rescue do-gooders after you, and they’ll find your berry patch.

Remember, you have no friends when it comes to wild blackberry picking.

Most every living thing in the woods is trying to pick them before you do, including slugs, deer, coyotes and bears.

Of course, there is always a chance of seeing a cougar.

If you encounter wild animals while berry picking, just remember: They can run faster than you.

Don’t bother running.

Just keep picking.

The critters are just like you.

They only want the berries and usually don’t care if the humans share.

Picking wild blackberries can leave scars that last a lifetime.

The only cure might be a slice of the wild blackberry pie.

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Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal wildlife@gmail.com.