Ridin’ the Blackberry Line

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Several years ago when I lived in Wyoming, I became familiar with a Western song called “Ridin’ the Hi-Line,” by Wylie and the Wild West, which I first thought must have something to do with those enormous power lines strung across mile after mile of open plain.

Then someone straightened me out in that congenial Wyoming way (“No, you nimrod, it’s about ranching…“) and I had a whole different set of images to imagine. Cowboys leaning into the wind as they ride mile after weary mile in the high country, their keen eyes trained for lil’ dogies and varmints and other stuff to put in Western ballads; cattle giving birth in an early spring snow, the mama cow bravely staving off the wolves until the cowboys arrive to shoo them away (even in my fantasies, I don’t shoot wolves); patient ladies in tasteful calico multi-tasking diffidently as they await the cowboys’ return. ( “Johnny, you finish your math homework before you go out to target practice.Come here, Jenny, let me sew up that gash in your little hand. I told you not to play with Daddy’s huntin’ knife.Oh, for pity’s sake, the pemmican has boiled over.… “)

I was somehow reminded of this song last night as Ken, Nancy and I finished the last of our white wine at the picnic tables under the arbor and Ken pulled himself up from the table, hitched up his Dockers and said, “Better take a look at the berries. “

Nancy nodded solemnly and headed out to round up the golf cart. We loaded in and I fetched up Bob Dog, who, at 16 can trot all the way to the top of the orchard and back, but why? I worried that he would fidget, but as soon as the golf cart started moving, he breathed a sigh of relief and stretched out on the seat with his head in my lap. In DogWorld, luxury wears many guises.

We pulled up beside the “thornies,” Ken and Nancy’s code for the blackberries with­ — you  guessed it, thorns — and noted the number of berries and their relative ripeness (a lot and very) before heading for Apache country, having nothing to do with Native Americans and everything to do with a thornless variety of fruit with berries the size of  kiwis. Meandering down the rows, Nancy got as close as she could to the bushes, which meant that occasionally Ken or I would get slapped by a blackberry branch. Happily, we were now in the thorn-free zone and only got a little plop of berry juice to mark our trauma.

Nancy was frankly more interested in the Technicolor sunset over our neighbor’s house and kept maneuvering the golf cart to head west, which made Ken fuss about the berries right over there! and try to nudge the steering wheel in the direction he felt Nancy should be driving. The result was much weaving and hilarity, with all three of us happy there are no orchard cops to offer citations for insufficient decorum in the blackberry patch.

The berries look good – in fact, they look great, and I took a big bowl of them to my office this morning to tempt my co-workers into coming out for the You-Pick operation. “Yes, they taste fabulous. … Yes, they’re clean, go ahead and taste. AND, they’re loaded with anti-oxidants…”

They are so transient, these perfect berries, and I hate the thought that even a few might go unappreciated. I know I certainly am doing my part to see that that outcome never happens. Pick one, eat one, pick one, eat one. My body will not permit an oxidant within 20 feet of it.

We completed our patrol just in time to park the golf cart in the gathering dusk. It’s tough work out there on the Blackberry Line, but an orchardist’s work is never done.

I’ve started working on a little song about it. Maybe I’ll get Wylie, or better yet, my friends in the Blackbury Band — the sweetest cowboy sounds since the Sons of the Pioneers — to sing it for me.

Ridin’, ridinthe Blackberry Line,
The thomies and Apaches are purple.
You’ll taste yourself silly
And drive willy nilly,
For flavor that’s sweeter than syrple …