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  • jdettmann

Summer’s Blood Was In It

We spent a couple of hours this past weekend blackberry picking on my parents’ farm, which is one of my favourite things to do. The blackberries are always ready the weekend after Australia Day, so we waited until my dad’s back was turned and slipped away up the hill.

The reason for the subterfuge is that since blackberries are a terrible pest in these parts, and you are supposed to keep them away by spraying them with noxious pesticides, Dad gets quite annoyed each year when he realises how many there are. We have a running joke where I pretend to hide their location from him, but he knows where they are. And he does try to keep them under control, but blackberries are serious invaders.

This may or may not be the view from the hill where the secret blackberries may or may not be growing.

They are also delicious. When the berries are perfectly ripe and the sun burns down on them, they smell like artificial blackberry flavouring; it makes me realise what the food scientists were aiming for. This year’s first attempt was cut short after half an hour or so when we realised May Blossom, strapped to her father’s back, was eating faster than we could pick. The chirps of ‘More more?’ were unceasing, and the sun was blazing, so H took her home while I picked a few more.

The next morning we went without her. We took two buckets, wore hats,  long trousers and long-sleeved shirts, and our snakeproofiest boots. We were ready for action. It took about two hours, but we came home with at least two kilograms of plump, shiny, ripe berries: ‘glossy purple clots’, to borrow from Seamus Heaney’s poem (which I have also done for the title of this post).

While we picked, we chatted idly. Very idly. You know the kind of talk you do when you are both completely focussed on something else? I remember it from the art classroom at school. You go into a kind of trance and you talk a lot of shit. It’s lovely, that kind of talk. Mostly it was observations about the berries and the land. About the different ways the bushes were growing and how scratched we were getting. There was no talk of all the Big Decisions we are trying to make in our lives at the moment, and the Big Bad Scary Things we are dealing with. We each stopped every now and then to extricate the other from snarls. It was very peaceful.

A helicopter flew quite low overhead and I observed that when I was a kid, if I had been out playing on the hillside with a friend we would have pretended we were lost and it was a rescue helicopter whose attention it was imperative we attract. Our lived depended on it. H said when he would have done the opposite: the helicopter would have been hunting them and they would have had to hide to save their lives. Funny.

There was also, if I’m honest, a bit of smack talk. We discussed our respective hauls, competed over certain bramble patches, and compared our blackberry-picking risk profiles. We get like that, H and I. We’re both a little bit competitive. On the squash court the smack talk can reach appalling levels, and he always wins the game, not because he’s a better player (obvi) but because he can reduce me to helpless laughter, the kind where you can’t catch your breath, with his on-court lines.

But I picked more berries than he did. Blackberry fact.

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