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Search for Country Gold

Kathleen Kohler

Mom donned her straw hat and retrieved the Revere Ware Dutch oven from the back of the kitchen cupboard. "Here." She handed me a small sauce pan. Blackberry season had arrived.

We strode down our long country drive under the August heat. My berry pan bumped against my leg while I skipped along, kicking rocks. Short of the main road, we left the driveway to wade through a knee-high grass field.

Mom and I tramped down the familiar path that led into the woods. Chipmunks scurried on branches overhead, as they whistled to warn relatives of intruders. From their high perches they paused to scold us, the berry thieves. Sun filtered through a canopy forest of alders dotted with evergreens of cedar, Doug fir, and hemlock. Streams of light and shadows dappled and danced across the woodland floor.

"Only pick the black ones," Mom said when we reached the berry patch.

A rhythmic drumming sounded as ripened berries hit the bottom of our pans. Soon after we started, Mom poked her head from around the other side of the berry patch. She waved her hand over the huge mountain of wild vines. "Do you know what this is?"

I surveyed the area. Tangled vines weaved their way in, around, and over a pile of decaying logs. Nearby, were clumps of grass where snakes lurked, waiting for the perfect moment to slither out and scare me.

Hmm … Maybe she saw something I didn't. "What?"

Mom pinched several berries into her open hand. Her eyes lit up and a smile warmed her face. "Black Gold," she said in a low voice as if revealing secrets of treasure.

At eight, I was old enough to know gold defined wealth. And while we lacked financial wealth our woods bode rich with blackberry vines.

I smiled as Mom's enthusiasm captured my heart. From then on I looked forward to our time together picking berries. Summer after summer, we combed the woods around our Cascade foothills home in search of the "Mother Lode." Careful to avoid the sting of blackberry thorns, I lifted green leaves to discover clinging to the vines clumps of "black gold." With pans full of juicy berries, we were rich!

One late summer afternoon headed to the woods on yet another berry expedition; we stopped halfway across the county road and looked up. Seventy-five feet away a black bear stood frozen in the middle of the road. He shook his head, and stared us up and down.

"Look at the ground," Mom whispered, fear in her voice. "Don't look at his eyes."

Seconds stretched like minutes. I wanted to look up to get a better view of the furry creature, but feeling Mom tremble didn't dare. Satisfied a woman and a little girl didn't pose a threat, the bear lumbered away in the opposite direction. We heard branches crack and break as he crashed through the woods.

We continued on, determined to fill our pans with berries. Back home in our kitchen, Mom washed and cooked summer's bounty. She froze some berries, while she simmered others into thick syrup to drizzle over pancakes that coming winter. Glass jars filled with jam sparkled on the counter as we waited for their lids to ping, sealed tight. And always after a trip to the woods, Mom mixed up a batch of sticky dough which meant fresh blackberry cobbler that night for dessert.

Half a century later my family's house remains, though the berry patches have long disappeared. Across the road stands a huge church. On both sides of our seven and half acres, developers have cleared the land and built high-end homes.

But no stack of dollar bills can compare to the "Mother Lode" Mom and I once harvested from those country woods surrounding my childhood home. "Black gold"

**Note: "Search for Country Gold" appeared in the Apr/May 2013 issue of Mary Jane's Farm magazine under the title Black Gold.

© 2012 Kathleen Kohler