I couldn’t suppress my curiosity. I stopped the van, opened my small, triangle shaped side window, and called out, What are you ladies doing?
Picking berries, one replied.
What kind of berries? I asked.
Blackberries, she said.
Oh! I might come back! I told her.
Come on back, she agreed. There’s plenty.
By the time I finished at the post office, the day was growing hot, and I didn’t feel like talking to strangers, so I drove on by the blackberry bushes and the ladies harvesting the wild fruit.
A week later, I was at the bargain grocery store in Babylon. I found fancy, organic whole-milk yogurt for a really good price. I put the yogurt in my cart and wondered what I could add to it to jazz it up. I had almond slices in the van…that would be a tasty addition. Berries would be good too, but the fresh strawberries and blueberries in the produce section were priced higher than what I wanted to pay.
Then I remembered the women on the road picking blackberries. Fresh blackberries would be good with the fancy yogurt. I decided to risk that the season was over or the berries had all been picked. If there were still berries free for the picking, I’d have hit the jackpot. If the berries were all gone, I could enjoy the yogurt with almonds.
I got to my creek sanctuary after dark and slept to the sound of rushing water.
I was up early the next morning and arrived at the post office moments after it opened.
It had been years since I’d picked blackberries. I remembered it was a scratchy activity, but I had forgotten quite how serious the thorns on the bushes are. I was wearing a filmy, floaty, flowy cotton skirt when I first approached the bushes, and I was immediately ensnared by the thorns. I thought of the characters in the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, a whole community sleeping behind thorny bushes that enveloped the castle. Once I’d extracted my skirt from the real-life thorns, I walked back to the van and put on jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Then I was able to get down to serious picking.
I concentrated on the bushes in the shade. There wasn’t much traffic on the road, so I didn’t feel unsafe. While there were plenty of berries to pick, the plumpest of them always seemed just out of my reach.
Back at my campsite, I rinsed the berries with fresh water. Once all were rinsed, it was the moment of truth.
I put half of the yogurt from one container into my blue bowl. Then I added a generous mound of blackberries and mixed the two ingredients gently. The first taste was sublime. The yogurt was cold and creamy and a little sour, while the berries were sweet and a bit tart too. Yum!
Free food is wonderful. I’ll gladly do a little work out in the fresh air to save a little cash. When free food is fresh and wild and healthy and tasty—well, that’s all the better.
If I had the means to can blackberry jam or a freezer for storage, I would have picked more berries and put them away to enjoy in the winter. Since I have no way to store berries for more than a couple of days, I enjoyed what I picked in the fleeting, delicious now.
I took all the photos in this post.