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Monday, August 10, 2009

Enough to make blackberry wine

Today, in preparation for a "routine" test tomorrow, I was allowed no food, just water mostly, all day, followed by 32 oz. of rather sickly stuff in four doses from 6 to 7 p.m., to be repeated at 4:30 tomorrow morning, and visit the hospital at 8:30 ... I'm told I'll be going home by mid-afternoon, but to have a designated driver, so Beloved will take much of the day off. I'm supposed to be asleep, but my insides are gurgling like the piping underneath some ancient and decrepit neighborhood.

I used to be pretty good at this kind of fasting, but I was younger then. By ten o'clock this morning I was obsessed with food. Any kind of food ... hot, cold, spicy, bland, sweet, sour, complex, simple, organic, otherwise, food food food.

So I resolved to stay as close to food as I could get!

I've been drying greens and herbs and medicinals, and zucchini and eggplant slices, and curing onions, and so spent the day pouring things in jars, and labeling them, and braiding and hanging the onions, and slicing tomatoes and more zucchinis for the dehydrator, and lovingly washing the glass of the dehydrator window, which had been getting dusty, and gathering eggs, and changing water hoses in the garden, and carrying water to the pear trees, and picking tomatoes and winkling out some potatoes from their beds, and picking blackberries.

The blackberries can be a bit of an adventure.

There were a lot of blackberry bushes ranging around the place at will, when we got here, and they have been hacked and mowed back to a reasonable share of the property -- thus far shall you come, we tell them, and no farther. Not that they listen much.

Anyway, there are certainly enough that we count them as tolerable for their berries, for ourselves and the poultry, and for the cover they give to the large covey of quail that gets here about this time every year, staying until late November (where do they go?). They don't get a share of the irrigation, though, and must shift for themselves.

Every summer is a drought here -- the creek always dies in June -- and this is the second driest summer we've had. The earth is cracked everywhere, trees are drying up, doorframes are shriveling, and the garden starts screaming for water right after we've shut down the pump to give it a rest. We'd love to water everything, but the pump was designed for house supply only, not house and grounds. Beyond the reach of our short list, the blackberries gasp, and curl up and turn brown by degrees -- but they always seem to make it through.

In tough years, like this one, the vines most exposed to sun and dry seem to husband their strength, hold the ripening of their berries until as late as possible, perhaps awaiting that first mighty storm that eventually rolls down from Mt. Thielsen into our watershed, changing the season into fall as surely as the curtain changes an act in a play.

So we begin our blackberrying season in the shade, in the dry creekbed, where the roots of the vines in the bank seem to find enough moisture to make summer berries. Following the lead of the vines, we have a long season, and generally pick and pick until the day comes, usually soon after labor day, that we swear we are sick of berrying and may well never do it again. Quite a bit of the harvest thus escapes us, to fall prey to flocks of birds heading south, or to no one at all, falling ignobly to earth, ignored by bug and beast alike.

I like to cut the top off a recycled half gallon plastic jug and slip its handle onto a belt, then pick with both hands, dropping the berries into the jug, shuffling along the cobblestones of the creek bed, right to left. When the jug is full it will make two batches for the freezer, or one jar of jam, or half a cobbler, or enough berries for a breakfast for four, with yogurt, or homemade granola, or cottage cheese, or oatmeal, or cream-of-wheat mush, or what-you-will.

If I keep having tests that require me not to eat, leading to such obsessions, I may yet pick berries enough to make blackberry wine.


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