That was my formative blackberry moment. Ever since, I've expected blackberries to come in staggering quantity and indecent juiciness. So I was excited the other week when Bek mentioned that she'd stumbled upon a hoard of scrumpy blackberries in Mount Beauty, which is practically nextdoor (30km-ishly) to Bright, current Harlot Family HQ. I already knew about Bright's blackberries, of course. A few years ago, Tim and I had waded down the Ovens River with our pants rolled up, picking blackberries that dangled from the riverbank. Last year, in early March, I'd salvaged the last of the pickings from the pine forest track behind Mum's house. But Bek's enthusiasms triggered memories of the 1984 harvest, so Operation Pick Blackberries in Bright Y2K14 turned into a thing.
At about 7.30 this morning, the Aged Wilbur and I set up the hill behind mum's house. It's about half an hour of zig-zagging up through almost vertical gum forest (pant, pant, pant) until we reach a sort of plateau, and then a dirt track that winds through the pine plantation. The understorey has been colonised by blackberries, which, imho, is to the blackberries' credit. I mean, iknowiknowiknow, invasive weed of national significance and all, but those pine trees really acidify the soil and there aren't many indigenous plants that can cope with such a low pH. Blackberries help hold the soil together, which is no bad thing on a slope like this one. They are the delight of little bluewrens, and (in my unsubstantiated, research-free opinion) they do that dynamic accumulator thing that makes permaculture people so excited about yarrow and comfrey. I'm convinced they're good eggs. Or possibly I just like the berries and need to come up with a compelling case for why the Department of Primary Industries should not be blasting my berry sources with glyphosate (which they seem not to be doing; good work, DPI).
I filled the better part of a bucket with blackberries, ate quite a few along the way, and fed some to Wilbur. The dog, I should say, has always been a fan of things he can eat. My brother, M, used to chide me for letting fruits and vegetables disappear down the Wilburtian gullet. The gist of these chidings was that fibre led to sloppy dogpoos, and as my brother was for a long time poo-picker-upper-in-chief, fair enough that he should hold strong opinions on the subject. Since M has moved to far north Queensland, where he has bigger anxieties than sloppy dog poo (such as monsoons, cyclones, cane toads the size of camels, tiger snakes in his bed, wild pigs stomping through his agricultural efforts, tropical ulcers, the full Indiana Jones shebang, really), I have resumed my program of supporting Wilbur in his quest for vegetable foods. In this quest he is wildly enthusiastic. Beagles really do know how to put the omni into omnivore, greatly expanding the definition of edible so that it embraces, for instance:
ineffably delicious wombat droppings.
Blackberry pickers should wear fishermen's waders, suits of armour greased with vegetarian lard, and gloves made out of synthetic rhinoceros. Not their favourite short-sleeved cotton shirt. I spent quite a lot of time this morning unpinning myself from the thorny embrace of a blackberry cane, which got me thinking about why blackberries come with prongs. It's a deterrent obviously, to creatures that might otherwise eat the canes, but that means that (to such creatures, at least) the canes must be edible. And possibly even more than edible? Possibly even Quite Nice? I am officially registering here my intention to do some experiments with the edibility of blackberry canes, but I'm going to wait until next Spring, when the canes are green and juicy, not cantankerous and a bit over it all, like they are now.