Along the roadsides and southern hills the blackberries are ripe. They hang fat and gleaming in the sun, tempting passing cyclists. This time of year you’ll often see me at the side of the road or pulled up on the sidewalk, bicycle discarded, hands scratched and lips purple, mouth full of sunshine.
A perfectly ripe blackberry is plump and firm between your finger tips. It separates from the stem with the gentlest tug. The attachment point is clean white. Press it between your tongue and palate and it dissolves with the sweet, dark taste of summer. For baking, though, you want sour with your sweet. Pick your berries a little firmer, a little less glossy. They separate with a twist and a snap so soft you feel it in your fingers more than hear it.
I rode back from the commissary late on Thursday. The sun had set, the sky ahead fading orange to green to white. At home, I pulled double-kneed canvas pants out of my pannier and on over my shorts, zipped my dad’s old hickory striped work shirt over my tank top, and switched my sandals for the boots just inside the door, not bothering with socks. I walked to the bottom of the garden. I was still wearing my helmet with its mounted light. The wall of brambles rose in front of me. I could hear a small creature scurrying underneath, the roar of the telephone pole factory like an airplane taking off, cars on the road behind me. On the other side of the hedge the neighbor’s dog stirred and growled on its chain. I pushed into the thorns, using the protection of pants and boots to reach deeper. The blackberries gleamed in the white light of my helmet. I filled one half flat and another till I had enough for the market bake. Then I picked up my boxes, turned off my light, and walked back to the house in the dark.