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  Brad's Teacher Writing: "Blackberry Picking at Jericho"

September 24, 2007

The essay that follows is inspired by the work of Ray Bradbury in his novel, Dandelion Wine. It demonstrates the use of descriptive writing in response to a prompt on summer rituals.


Blackberry Picking at Jericho

Every summer I gather blackberries, make delicious jam then, best of all, slice cheese onto bread and slather them in jam made from berries picked only a few hours before.

My wife and I go—usually in late August, but this year on the 8th of September—and pick as many berries as our pinpricked hands can stand. Blackberries are armoured with prickles and thorns, so I always have many scratches on my arms and legs.

“You want to go to Jericho?” I suggest, meaning Jericho Park, one of Vancouver’s finest, a park that includes a large patch of wild blackberries on its northern edge.

We drive across the city, remarking on the highly overgrown boulevards up and down King Edward Avenue. Vancouver looks shabbier than usual. It’s late summer, grasses brown, wasps a bother at picnics, the crisp chill in the air heralding autumn breezes still to come. Parking is easy along Fourth Avenue since we’re not heading to the beach. Instead, we march into the woods.

On the way, we see a family walking home, buckets empty. We continue. Under the forest canopy it is wet from Monday’s rain. I begin to fear that the berries will be moldy or nonexistent.

The blackberries have had a hard year. Half their normal height, standing barely a meter above the ground, the plants hide the best berries under dark green leaves, their glowing purple like the garnets on the fingers of a king. Most years, I’m teetering like some crazy leaning tower of Pisa, standing too high on my aluminum ladder, reaching for the plumpest berry, all the while raked by thorns and, nastiest of all, by tiny prickles nearest to where each purple black berry grows.

We start picking. The traffic noise is distant; a fall wind swirls through the poplars. My hands turn purple as more berries fill the plastic yogurt container hung round my neck. I eat one, maybe two. The berries are too few this year to waste; besides, I want to make jam or maybe even a pie, the best pie of summer, the blackberry, topped with a dollop of whipping cream.

But there are not enough for pie, even after one hour of picking, the hot late summer sun burning the backs of our necks, our t-shirts sticking to our backs. Jam will do, emerging from our freezer on some dreary, mist-filled February day, bringing back memories of this afternoon. We make two batches, taking turns stirring stirring stirring the bowls of berries. Loaded into jars, we have 13, the unlucky one half eaten in a day.

Picking blackberries in summer, gathering them together, then stirring them in a bowl of freezer jam for a few minutes, the smell of ripe berries wafting up, mixed with the apple-sweet smell of the pectin, is a favourite summer ritual, one I hope to continue as long as I am able.

—Draft Four (484 words) See a document that shows my final changes here.




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