When I was a small child, my father was assigned to work nearly 17 hours away as a result of corporate downsizing and bizarre union rules. He was part of a crew retrofitting rail tunnels in the mountains outside of Lawson National Forest in Northern CA so that train cars could be double stacked with cargo containers. This being the age of timetables and (if you were lucky) radio signals, the crew would have to leave the tunnels and move to a side rail at least 30 minutes before a scheduled train resulting in 45 minutes or so of down time several times a day.
Many of the side rail lines abutted wild blackberry patches. One of my few memories of the whole experience is my dad pulling into the garage on his BMW bike on a Friday with 2 ice cream gallon buckets of blackberries bunggied to the second seat. While we were used to him being away often due to the spatial realities of railroad employment, these blackberries served as a small consolation prize for 10 solid days of absence from a family with 4 kids under 6… particularly when he topped his Saturday-morning family-tradition crepes with whipped cream and these berries that resembled black caviar to our working class family.
20 years later, my husband and I were taking a grand road trip as a last hurrah before I started my PhD program. With our compact car packed with my things for school and camping gear, we crossed the CA-OR border on HWY-101 and immediately pulled off into Harris Beach state park to find our reserved campground spot. Imagine my delight in pulling into our campsite with 3 sides of these same shiny black caviar plants AND they were in season. I took it as a sign of good things to come in the Pacific Northwest and was only slightly dismayed when my new colleagues informed me that they were actually highly invasive Himalayan blackberries when I related my delight sign a few days later at orientation.
Another 3 years later, I still hadn’t taken advantage of these road-side plants largely because I was often traveling in late summer. But, when my husband’s birthday – the first we had spent together in 3 years – came along, I hatched a plan to escape the invasive 9-11 news coverage to get some peace and quiet. I picked up take-out (advert your eyes veg*ns) BBQ ribs, strapped our baby in his car seat, and picked him up from work to drive out of the city. 40 minutes, 4 miles of dirt road, and several signs for ‘optional clothing’ beaches later, we parked at the end of the dead end road and walked onto this beautiful and deserted (and clothing required) beach. It was a perfect Northwest September day. I had read somewhere there might be (invasive) blackberries so I brought a couple of containers. Indeed, there were; 12-20 ft hedges lined the beach for as long as I could see. As my husband sat watching airplanes and the occasional ocean ship come up the channel with our delighted 10 month old son, I took in the scene while picking the blackberries.
Our nomadic, academic life means we have few traditions in my young family. But every time we are in the PNW for my husbands’ birthday, we repeat BBQ and blackberries on the river. This year, we were traveling until a couple of days after his birthday. But the middle aged and preschool boys in my home were in agreement: we must prioritize making it out to the island that first week back in town. So, it was with delight that I smiled tonight as I transferred the last of my frozen-single-layer-on-a-cookie-sheet black caviar from this years excursion into a gallon sized freezer bag and took a moment to remember the delightful memories blackberries always bring for me.