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.

1 comment:

Ladyfromthewoods said...

Now we only lack Chunk winter also known as Linsey-Woolsey breeches winter! It's the last (hopefully) cold snap and sign that the danger of frost is gone.

It's when you pull out your winter pants again or burn that last chunk of firewood!

Great post and awesome poem. Thanks for sharing it!