July is the season for picking wild blackberries on Camano Island.

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July 2014 was an excellent year for wild blackberries on the south end of Camano. Dad stumbled upon the mother lode of wild blackberries on some land south of their house that had been logged a few years ago. He picked 20 gallons.  Mom and dad froze them. They will make their way into about 40 delicious blackberry pies.

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My dad is a master blackberry picker. When I was a boy he taught me the art of blackberry picking, which can be summed up as follows.

First, you must have the right tools.

The most important tool is a gallon pail with a home made wire handle that swings back and forth. This is important because blackberries grow best on terrain that has been logged, rugged terrain, with thickets, nettles, and hidden logs and holes to stumble over. In attempting to get to the best patches the blackberry picker will often have to leap from logs into thickets and brambles not knowing what danger below awaits him. This inevitably results in a good blackberry picker taking one or two stumbles, even falls. The swinging blackberry pail handle allows a picker to fall and yet keep the pale full of blackberries from spilling. I have fallen face first and even rolled, all the while keeping the precious pail of blackberries securely guarded. They are, of course, much more precious than the blackberry picker.

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(My blackberry pail I used this summer was not quite a gallon pail because I was working back to my old form and wanted to start small)

A second important tool is a machete or stick by which to whack nettles out of a way, to make a path through brambles, and to push aside the blackberry vines itself so that you can reach in and pick the ripe blackberries. It is important to point out that one should not expect to pick blackberries all day and not be covered with cuts, scratches, bruises, stings and embedded thorns.

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Second, you must be silent when you are picking blackberries

Blackberry pickers are more fiercely secretive than even fisherman. If you find a good patch of blackberries it is imperative that you keep this patch to yourself. It must be guarded, just like a fisherman guards his secret fishing hole. This requires great discipline. A young boy who has just leapt off a log into a thicket and tumbled face first into nettles must never let out a yell, or shriek, or even a sound of dismay. The only allowance to this rule is if you happen to smash into a hornets nest, then you are allowed to may a small yelp as you run, mainly to warn one’s dad of the impending danger.

Another time that a youngster is allowed to make some noise is if he discovers a specially abundant patch of blackberries, blackberries big and ripe and falling into the hands. Even then the boy or girl is not allowed to yell “Dad, come here, hurry”. Instead, he or she is to make a sound like an eagle cry, which for whatever reason is better than a human voice, and which hopefully the father will recognize as his own child’s. Picking blackberries with dad empowered me to develop a rich vocabulary of eagle and other bird cries which I expect will come in handy some day.

Last July I had a reunion of sorts picking blackberries with Dad

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I spent last July on Camano Island and one day I picked blackberries with dad at his secret mother lode. I found that I had not lost any of my old form, the artistry of blackberry picking. I stumbled but kept every precious blackberry in my bucket. I only let out one whoop and holler to call dad, and hearing his growl “be quiet” quickly reverted back to my eagle cries. But I must confess that I only picked one bucket compared to the two dad picked, and I only picked for one day, while dad went back day after day. But that one day of picking blackberries with dad was special, a day I will never forget, ushering me back into days long ago.

As an emerging expert blackberry picker myself, I would be happy to share my artistry with any friends who are crazy enough to try.

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