Not long after my wife Katrina and I met, we discovered how much each of us liked to get out into the great outdoors. Even on our first date, after we did one of my favorite things, eating, we went to a nearby park and went for a walk on the nature trail. This was the first of many such hikes through the woods that we have taken together, and now that we have a slew of kids, they all seem to have caught the fever, never hesitating to strike out through the woods looking for adventure.
Several years ago, while we were having Sunday dinner over at Katrina’s mom and dad’s house, Katrina got the wild desire to go blackberry hunting. Although I know better now, at the time I had no idea how much Katrina really loved blackberries and to what lengths she would go to get some. I sure enough found out that day.
We struck out across the hillside behind her folk’s house for an afternoon hike in the heat. As we wandered deeper into the woods, I sure wondered where I was being taken just to find some blackberries. Nonetheless, I enjoyed our hike through the woods and we finally arrived at a clearing. On the edge of that clearing we discovered a long thicket of blackberry bushes hanging full, so we began picking them excitedly.
As we worked our way up the edge of the blackberry patch, we noticed a house not too far away, and at about the same time we also noticed an elderly woman emerging. We became concerned that we had stumbled onto someone’s territory, so we thought that perhaps we had better head back, but the lady called out to us. So we walked up to her house to see if she wanted to scold us for being on or near her property. It was quite the contrary.
As we walked up, we met a sweet elderly lady by the name of Edith, and she was very excited that we had come her way. We apologized to her for being on or near her property and picking the berries, but she insisted that they were wild, plentiful, and just going to go bad if someone didn’t pick them. She said it wasn’t her property either, but that nobody ever came up here to pick them, so they were free for the taking. Then she motioned us to come in out of the heat for a moment, and as we waited inside she went to another room for a moment. She soon came back with a large bag of frozen blackberries and insisted that we take them. She said that she was never going to use them all. We told her that we could not take her blackberries, but she insisted so much that we just could not refuse.
After cooling off for a moment more and visiting with Ms. Edith, Katrina and I headed back toward the woods thanking her for her kindness and blackberries. We soon emerged from the other side of the woods at Katrina’s homeplace red-faced and hot, two blackberry bandits loaded down with loot and the memories of the new friend we had made that day.
Ten years later…
They are upon us. They’re everywhere. As people get excited about getting out and about in the heat of summer, so do the chiggers. From about the end of May until early fall, one step off of the beaten path invites those flesh-eating microbes to hop on and enjoy the all-you-can-eat flesh buffet. Perhaps some of us are more of a buffet than others! Needless to say, the kids seem to be oblivious to the fact that they are being eaten alive as they jump through thickets and thorns enjoying their summer fun.
One place that is notorious for harboring an abundance of chiggers is the blackberry patch. A little over a week ago, one of the kids burst through the kitchen door, red-faced and breathing hard, screaming “There’s a bunch of blackberries down the hill!” This incited a stampede of little people pouring out the door, bags in hand, ready to pluck the hillside clean of anything that resembled a ripe blackberry. As the door slammed shut behind them, I was sure thinking that it was a bit too early in the year for the berries to be ripe yet.
Soon a couple of the kids came back in to display their spoils, a couple of half-filled sandwich bags of berries. They immediately began asking Mommy if she could make them a cobbler, and she consulted the cookbook as to how many berries were required. She told them that they would have to find more to make one, and they headed out the door on a mission. It wasn’t too long before they were back with more, and although a bit short, Katrina set in to making them (and her) a cobbler. I don’t know who was more excited, Katrina or the kids.
The remainder of the evening was put on hold as a blackberry cloud settled on the brains of several children and one mommy happily slaving away rolling out crust and cooking up blackberries with sugar. As the final piece of the crust was placed on top, a heart shape was artistically added with a fork and it was shoved into the oven for the ultimate test of patience—waiting for the masterpiece.
Lips smacked as small fingers licked the preparation pan and tidbits of stray crust were nibbled away at. About half-way through the baking time the oven light went on and the team huddled around the window, peering in to watch the dark purple juices bubbling through the edges of the crust. After what seemed like an eternity, Katrina pulled out the finished work with much fanfare.
As bedtime approached, waiting was no longer possible. Mommy dished up the crispy crust mixed with wild berries and sugar, and the kids all dove in face first, unconcerned that this hot concoction was capable of frying the flesh off of their tongues. With greater speed than berries being picked, half of the cobbler disappeared, woofed down faster than a beagle eating a biscuit. As the kids headed up the stairs to attempt to remove the purple stains from their smiling teeth, they soon settled onto their pillows. There was no concern in their minds at the moment that the blackberries they gathered came and went quickly, but the chiggers they had collected in the meanwhile would hang around for days.
A few days later, the chigger bites subsided and our next generation of blackberry bandits were at it again. As a matter of fact, Mommy joined the bandits down the hill this evening, and they returned with another portion to add to their cobbler collection. When Holly showed me her half basket of berries, I said “Are those chigger free?” to which she quickly replied, “No.”