Saturday, December 28, 2013

Blackberry Memories

Walking Concord Road in Winter

Yesterday after spending the morning doing the work that I hope will bring in cash for keeping a roof over our heads and for dog food, I went up to the shop to start pulling up the brier patch. When the house sat empty for nearly two years, things go more than a little out of hand over there. Not that things were all that tidy before. My father carted in a load of junk over the years to leave laying around everywhere and the disruption of the soil because of the building foundation we put in caused it to be difficult to keep the weeds and blackberry brambles in check. Since the place is now my shop and open for public viewing, it's high time I did something about the wilderness that is partly hiding the view of the house.

I am really fond of blackberry brambles, except when they threaten to engulf my house. When my brother and I were kids, one of our favorite activities was playing in the small patch of woods that covers one corner of the property. Our grandfather had a saw mill there long ago and blackberries grew thick in the center of a cleared space. White pines carpeted most of the rest of the little woods in dry needles and there were thickets of rhododendron down by the creek that we called our "tunnels." Playing in the creek and watching water striders and tiny fish were a favorite pastime.  Sometimes we could frighten ourselves half silly by teasing a crayfish buried in the mud. We made up all sorts of adventures in those secret little green caves.

When the season was right we loved to go down and pick blackberries. I don't remember if we ever managed to get enough home to be of any use to our mother but we had a fine time wandering through the woods with a bowl to put the berries in. I don't remember ever seeing any snakes, although we were frequently warned against them by the grandparents. I imagine we made so much noise the snakes fled in dismay. I do remember that we shared the blackberry patch with lots of birds that frequently scolded us for our major thefts of the goodies.

One of the huge white pines was hit by lightening during those years when we were young and my grandfather had someone come in and cut it down. I don't know where we got the idea; my brother and I were pretty small, but we decided that the tree that was cut had been the "king of the forest" and we needed to chose a successor. We found the biggest tree, we thought, and went through some sort of ceremony to "crown" the new tree. I don't remember at all the ritual we performed but I do know that we sprinkled sawdust from the cut tree in a ring all the way around the new monarch. Kids can be funny.

My brier pulling yesterday was fairly successful. My friend Linda watches the signs and she said yesterday and today would be the best time to do it to keep the brambles from coming back. While I cleared a small patch I let the chickens out for a roam and some grazing so I could keep an eye on them. They had a wonderful time scratching and exploring. A few stayed near me and pecked at the dirt when I turned it up by tugging out the long brier roots. Others ranged happily down the driveway and up into the fields while the resident cat watched them warily from the edge of the foundation.

I am also moving the old woodpile, a bit at a time, that is just far enough from the house to be a nuisance and to keep me from being able to cut the grass properly. I need the wood and it's in the way over at the shop, so I'm taking a bit at a time in the van when I go over. The chickens congregated around me while I was shifting sticks from the pile to the van, watching for insects. Amazing how they could understand that what I was doing might benefit the flock.

When I was done I enticed them all back into their yard with scratch feed and a bit of coaxing. Watching chickens run makes me laugh every time, with their necks outstretched and their legs spinning awkwardly behind them. I counted beaks and everyone was present as I shut them in. It was dark by the time I walked back up with Knightley to shut them in and secure the coop. The sky was still clear and the stars were blazing in the just after twilight darkness.

This morning there was a bit of cloud cover over our walk. It was warmer today and I was able to walk earlier. I don't like letting the chickens out too early if the cold is bitter. The chicken's water wasn't frozen this morning and the chores were much easier without a chilly wind. Emma saw a squirrel on our way back and got all bouncy and there was a strange gray cat waiting for me to fill the food bowl that also got her attention. Today I will work, and this afternoon I will be pulling briers. Just part of life in the country on Squirrel Spur and Concord Road.

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