Monday, May 19, 2008

Blackberry Winter

What is it about fruits, especially berries, and their many associations from childhood? My favorite bedtime story was about a black bear who got lost in the forest and found a thicket of blackberries to eat. I would make my mother or father tell it over and over and then think about it myself, as I fell to sleep. [Certainly it was a derivation of Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal, another favorite: kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk]

At my grandparents' farm in New Hampshire I couldn't wait to go to the pine woods with my grandmother or later run up myself to pick low bush blackberries and blueberries, and high bush blueberries later on in the summer. We had the occasional wild strawberry patch but nothing like I've seen on roadsides here in Kentucky.

In the Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio we'd go to an area park for a hike and often leave with pockets of blackberries, certainly well satisfied by our gorging. In Kentucky, while the wild blueberry does not grow here as it does throughout New Hampshire, blackberries are everywhere. They ripen in July and are a popular fruit for canning and preserves [one of the local vernacular cakes is called Blackberry Jam cake, almost like a fruit cake but with a caramel icing].

This week I heard a term for the first time (and I love regional expressions): Blackberry winter. This is a cold snap in May after the blackberries have bloomed and we are certainly having one now: a long stretch of cool, fall-like weather after the rains. I also learned today, in referring to our deed, that our property line falls along Cold Weather Creek. How appropriate, I thought (and soon at Cupcake Chronicles we will be reading Cold Comfort Farm), and the kind of place name I love.

"Blackberry Winter" would also make a great title for a novel or some such but of course, through a quick Google search, I have discovered that Robert Penn Warren, a Kentucky native, wrote a short story of the same name.

One of my favorite poems about blackberry picking is by Mary Oliver and simply called "August" when they ripen in the north. It is from her Pulitzer-prize winning collection American Primitive. We will soon be leaving the roses, strawberries, gooseberries and other things in our yard, not quite ready for picking. But we'll be back for blackberries when they fruit in July and hopefully into August.


When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

Mary Oliver, American Primitive

NOTE: photo is of black raspberries near our compost bin in New Hampshire last summer...but close enough.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Hi there ~ great time in Akron and I need to write down some highlights (many you will find over on Cupcake Chronicles). I realize it is getting harder with the spring here, and gearing up to head back to New England for a few months, to find the time to blog, let alone write. But I'm also writing/writing (meaning "writing for paycheck," although random) and getting my next book topics together.

I've realized, also, in the past few weeks that I don't take enough time to read other people's blogs. Several of my friends have blogs, too, and I come across many blogs I'd like to read more regularly but that I never seem to find again. Cat gave me a great tip for how to keep a running list of blogs to check, but of course, I've already forgotten how to do that. She is blog-Queen and even used to publish a magazine in her spare time. My blog is already so "busy" in the sidebar columns that I am reluctant to add a "Blogs I Read" column but perhaps it is time (and that would solve the "where do I keep a list of other bloggers that I read?" conundrum).

It's not that I don't want to read other people's blogs, it's just that I need to make the time to do that. Like everything else, I suppose, it is all in the organization and time management of what we do or choose to do. For example, right now I should be organizing my office and getting stuff ready to bring in the car next week. I am also supposed to be finalizing a book proposal. I use the internet for a lot of research and quick checks but when it comes time to sit there and read something on line, I find it a bit more difficult for the old eyes to do too much. So I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank those of you who read my blog(s) and who also take the time to leave such thoughtful posts.

Keep checking back from time to time and I might just surprise you. Otherwise, I expect I will be a more regular blogger again when the kids return to school in August (yes, down here they go to school from early August to mid-May: I think I will get used to it only because right now it feels like June...but I imagine August in Kentucky feels like, well, August in Kentucky!).

In the meantime, enjoy your summer (or winter, down in Australia and environs ; ) ~

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Where Thou Art--that--is Home"

I am so looking forward to seeing two friends in Akron next week--actually The Cupcakes for those of you who follow that blog--and to going back to New Hampshire for a time--and yet so much is happening here I almost hate to step away from it all. But this is good because I will want to come back again in July. We are rooting here. I never thought in a million years that you could pry me out of New England and yet here I am: a modern day pioneer woman in the wilderness (well, hardly, but the whole getting in the wagon, even though that wagon has made a few return trips in recent months, and striking out for new territory has just held that image for me). Thank you for that poetic reminder, Edie (and Emily and Melissa): "Where Thou art––that––is Home." ––Emily Dickinson, 1863 [is that like the modern day: "No matter where you go, there you are!"?]

Among the non-reading and writing highlights of this week: I have helped to butcher a hog for our freezer at our Mennonite friends (did not participate in the actual slaughter, just the meat fixings); learned to make scrapple and sausage; designed a chicken house for pullets and laying hens that we are getting quotes on now; went in search of wildflowers of Kentucky (with camera, not clippers); worked on a book proposal with another writer; sold a condensed version of my blog on "Appalachian Homeplace," with two of my own photos, to Old-House Interiors (for their twice-annual publication, Early Homes); and am finalizing my talk for Stan Hywet next week in Akron.

More writing irons in the fire, and other non-bloggable developments, which are also good ~ and let's not forget my monthly Bunco gathering with new friends in nearby Casey County. And I have more blog fodder, and photos, too. In sum, I've done everything but clean up my office and better organize it: the story of my life (and married life, too, but I have a patient husband and at least I keep my piles to just one room). I can hear the childhood refrain now: "Cathy, you can't go out and play until you PICK UP YOUR ROOM!" [Yes, I was a clutterer-piler back then when I had very little to clutter and pile apart from books and dolls.]

I realize as I've tried to step away from this computer and blog world for a time that I really can't: it is too necessary for what I do, how I think, write and process stuff. But it hasn't hurt to try and regulate my time on it a bit more. After all, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her books on a tablet and typewriter, probably while multitasking in her farm kitchen. We know that Emily Dickinson certainly wrote (often in her pantry) and juggled household tasks. It's not impossible ~ one just has to be highly focused and organized.

These computers are supposed to give us more time, are they not? And yet I find them to be the ultimate time consumers. An hour later and there you are--if not writing "in the zone" as it were, I often ask myself what I have I done? "And you might ask yourself, how do I work this?"

One look at our Mennonite friends' cellar pantry (and this photo only shows half of their supply) and I realize how productive time can be. After a day of grinding up 74 pounds of sausage meat, packaging up scrapple and pork tenderloins for the freezer, and rendering and canning 16 quarts of lard it was not hard to compare the difference between that productivity, however combined it was in labor force, and 3,000 words on a good day.

There is also an inescapable Zen-like quality to working like this, in the moment and the task, with a productive output at the end of the day. Writing is similar, yes, but it is more self-absorbed and doesn't always keep the children fed and in clothing. Meanwhile, there are times when my own children probably think I prefer writing to their company. This is a hard thing for me and one reason I'm trying to better regulate my writing time. And yet, I can't imagine not ever writing. It has always been a part of who I am and want to be.