It’s Hand to Branch Combat with the wild berries


Yesterday after playing piano for two Masses and after a fattening lunch at Georgie’s, I battled the growth in my yard, especially the berry vines. Anyone who lives in rural western Oregon knows the berries that grow wild here—salmonberries, thimbleberries, blackberries, huckleberries—are a blessing and a curse. They offer delicious fruit, but they pop up everywhere, and the vines are vicious with thorns that grab at you like claws and don’t let go.
I live in the forest. The pines, berry vines, sword ferns, ivy and no-name weeds would take over if I let them. The forest would close in and smother the house and me and Annie along with it. So I spent my Sunday afternoon in hand to branch combat. I cut for hours, soaked with sweat and scratched with thorns, but loving the feel of my muscles working, growing strong. I don’t need a gym. I get plenty of bending, stretching and lifting working in the yard.
 
Cutting between the dog pen and the fence, it rained branches that piled up along my feet while Annie dashed around grabbing sticks to chew on. I cut everything sticking out or hanging over—as high as I could reach. I filled my squeaky yellow wheelbarrow over and over, but there was always more to cut, poking out of the fence, through the hedge, or sticking up through the boards of my deck. The berries are even choking the life out of my beloved blue hydrangea. It’s like a monster movie where you can’t get away from the monster. But I attacked wherever I could. And now, if anybody has a truck, I need a trip to the dump.
The forest plants and I are living creatures fighting for the same space. I will never win, but as long as I never stop, I will not be defeated.
Today, mosquito-bitten, sore, and mysteriously two pounds heavier, I look out at my clear path and neatly trimmed vines and feel power pulsing through my suntanned body. I have loppers, and I’m not afraid to use them.

This is what spring looks like on the Oregon coast

March is unpredictable on the Oregon Coast. Sunny one day, stormy the next. When I took this picture yesterday, it was windy, drizzling and cold.  Today, we have sun, but rain is forecast for later. People are flocking to the beaches for spring break, but I wouldn’t spread my towel on the sand just yet. Go to the aquarium, blow a glass float, visit our art galleries and museums, or try our clam chowder, marionberry cobbler, and locally brewed beer. Don’t forget your hoodie.

All winter, our berry vines have looked like dead sticks, but they’re coming back to life. These salmonberries are determined to take over the space between my deck and the fence. Meanwhile, the daffodils are blooming like crazy despite the rain and wind. Trillium decorate our trails, and in local creeks, skunk cabbage plants are starting to spread their giant leaves and send up bright yellow flowers that do indeed smell like skunk spray.
Happy spring to all. May your storms ease, your snow melt and the sun make everything bloom.

My berry-picking dog


Our daily walks are journeys of discovery. Last night Annie and I saw a calico-colored mouse, dead but totally intact, with its feet in the air. Tonight it’s gone. I thought I saw a really long garter snake under my bushes. Annie dove down to smell it and looked up, confused. It was a snake’s skin without the snake in it. Probably about two feet long. Now I want to know, where’s the snake that left its skin behind?

There’s always something to see. We’ve seen eagles and deer, dead birds and sea lions. Early in the year, we found three-leaved trilliums signaling the beginning of spring. Orange-bellied newts slithered slowly across the street. As the trilliums turned from white to pink to purple, scotch broom painted the landscape yellow. 
Then came the rhododendrons in pink, red, white and yellow. Now it’s purple foxglove, white and yellow daisies, buttercups–and berries.
While I was on vacation and Annie walked with the dog-sitter, my pup learned to pick berries. Now I can’t get her to stop. I’m too busy laughing anyway. She’s particular about her berries. Nix on the thimbleberries. Huckleberries are a last resort. She goes for the blackberries and salmonberries (which look like salmon-colored blackberries).
I admit to snatching the occasional ripe blackberry off the vine, nibbling it delicately as red juice drips down my fingers. But Annie has no patience for delicacy. Nor does she seem to care whether the berries are green or past their prime. She will pass up every other plant and plunge her face deep into the bush, grabbing as many berries as she can, swallowing them whole, then looking up at me with a crazed grin. What a miracle; you can grab food right off the bushes.
I think the miracle is that she hasn’t gotten sick or cut herself on the stickers. She’s one good berry-picker. Are you looking for a picture of the berries? She ate them all.
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End of commercial. I like coming here to get away from the business of selling books. The blackberries and salmonberries are almost done. Poor Annie won’t know where to find snacks on our walks when the berries are gone, but I’m sure she’ll find something.
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