Several weeks ago when I returned home from a long day working in Guerneville, my husband Zack had a surprise waiting.
That morning when he and my mother-in-law had walked up to check the water lines on the far end of the ranch, they discovered that our spindly, skimpy blackberry vines had not only multiplied into several large thickets that surround the small pond that at this time of year is mostly a mud hole, but the vines had spread and grown plush and heavy laden with rich, dark berries. There in the refrigerator sat a bowl with at least a half-gallon of sweet, beautiful berries.
When my dad retired from the U.S. Navy, we settled in Bandon, Oregon, where we had family. One morning the first summer there my mother packed a picnic and drove us to Bear Creek Road where my dad’s Uncle Frank had a cattle ranch. There was an enormous blackberry patch that grew along the creek.
We ate more berries than we picked and soon had dark purple stains on our faces and hands. It wasn’t long before the novelty wore off and Mom had to nag us to keep us going. Finally noon arrived and we happily set our buckets down.
When Mom told us it was time to get back to work, we reluctantly put away the picnic things and picked up our buckets. Right then we heard a loud snuffling sound from the other side of the tall vines. That’s when I remembered Uncle Frank’s warning about bears and how much they loved blackberries.
The noise came again, this time a low, soft growl. Mom must have remembered that warning, too. She put her finger to her lips, shushing us. We packed up as quietly as we could and headed for the car.
Over the years, we picked other patches, but we never went back to that first one. It belonged to the bear.
When I moved here in 1981, there were occasional bears on Pine Mountain. Years ago we lost two ewes that a predator control person believed was a rare bear attack, but we haven’t seen or heard of bears here in many years.
Last Sunday morning I made a large blackberry cobbler for our potluck. I spread four cups of berries in a 9-by-13 inch glass pan, then mixed up biscuit dough with a bit of sugar, some butter and a splash of vanilla, and plopped it by spoonfuls on the berries.
I always love that moment when a group sits down to eat, talking and laughing. When they taste those first bites, silence settles on the group, except for murmured sounds of appreciation. Whether it’s just immediate family or a larger gathering — extended family, friends, neighbors or strangers — that moment always seems to come.
That moment had come that Sunday at potluck. When most everyone had finished eating, I went to the kitchen looking for one more small bite of sweet goodness. There was a bit of lasagna left, remnants of a delicious salad with dried cranberries and walnuts and a few spoonfuls of curried vegetables. The cobbler pan wasn’t just empty, it had been scraped clean.
In ancient times, sharing food was a sign of who you trusted, who you welcomed into your family or clan. In many ways, I think that’s still true. We don’t often eat with strangers, at least not at the same table. That’s too bad because when you share a meal with those you don’t know, they don’t remain strangers for long.
This Sunday I’ll make another blackberry cobbler. Who knows? Some travelers might stop by.
Pamela Tinnin writes from her ranch on Pine Mountain. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.