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04 July, 2010


Native blackberries of the NW snake along the ground. They weave windfall twigs and failing fronds and each other into the mat of forest soil. They snag hiker feet and even though the thorns are pretty small, people pretty much think of them as a nuisance. A few know that the berries are supremely tasty, but they are tiny and sparse on the ground compared to the Himalayan blackberries clinging to every roadside and vacant lot in the NW like some savage velcro mutant.

But I've been letting them carpet the wildish back strip of the yard for the past couple of years, and this year I spent a few more hours messing with the weave. I plucked mustard weed, which unchecked will shade out the berries. Pinched some leaders, rerouted and rooted others. Avoided walking through the patch.

Gave that blackberry blanket some tender loving care. Because I am tender of this tiny piece of earth, and tend to think that something that's native and nutritious is worth tending to.

I could, and sometimes do, make like I do stuff like this for noble reasons (just ask my family who have to hear my spoutings, not just via blogview, but at any odd hour), but I just like spending time outside rapt up in some job, especially when it will end up yielding food. The work itself is pretty easy if you remember that nature is boss and sets the schedule; a few minutes of weeding now might take an hour in two weeks, and still won't bring back the sun swiped in the interim.

In this case, the earth reciprocated. The berries this year are huge compared to what you generally find in the wild. Freed from some of the competition by my selection (seemed natural enough to me), they sucked up soil and sun and now lie fat and sweet and happy in the morning dew.

Which is probably how people became tenders in the first place. Those big eyes saw something tasty and the big brain figured out that it was because of the gap in the canopy or the lack of some other plant or last summer's fire. Most archaeologists would say agriculture is on the order of 10,000 years old, and recognize that humans have used fire to change the landscape for tens of millenia. I think it's also pretty likely that there are a bunch of behaviors invisible to archaeologists that are deep in our past and have to do with tending the earth to get more food. Things like weeding, clearing, peeing at the base of a tree, ripping down branches for shelters,...who knows how long our kind of ape has been doing these things? (Maybe longer than we consciously did anything to make food grow; corn is not the only plant that evolved to trick humans into giving it an unfair edge.)

So, the blackberries can depend on tender-hearted me.

1 comment:

  1. Your posts do keep getting better and better, but this one is so particularly yummy I had to say so.

    Of course, I can't think of blackberries without thinking of Hugh Laurie all powdered-bewigged and gawping on about finding a HUGE blackberry on one's pie, heh. But still, a tasty post, even with my silly mental apparatus.