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It's blackberry season here in Oregon. Starting right about now, until late in September, the bushes that grow wild all over on the coast are covered with blackberries. And every year my kids and I and any assorted neighbor kids head for the bushes. We pick blackberries.

Over the years we've learned some blackberry picking success rules. Probably the best tip that we've picked up is taking along a piece of cardboard about 2 feet square for each person. We use the cardboard to stand on, pushing the ground level bushes down and letting us get deeper into the thicket, or to lean against and use as a shield so we can lean further into the bushes. The best container to pick into that we've found is a 2 quart plastic pitcher...the kind with the handle that you can get at the grocery store. It's easy to hold, not too big and not too small, lightweight, and it's cheap. Clothing is important too. The absolute best blackberry picking clothes that we've found are long pants, tennis shoes, and long sleeved cotton t-shirts. T-shirts may be slightly hotter than looser shirts, but tighter clothes don't snag on the thorns as bad, and if the clothes are too tight you can get poked through them. We don't use gloves...we tried them and we just couldn't feel the berries good enough through them.

Location is important. I like patches that are easy to get to, that produce well year after year, and that are in a pleasant place. We've found that patches bordering on grassy fields or meadows or even parking lots can be ideal. Some areas are sprayed with poisons, but if that's been done the blackberries won't produce well anyway, so you wouldn't pick there anyway. I've found that the north and east facing sides of a patch usually produce the biggest and juiciest berries and the berries are the most numerous there. We've found an ideal patch just one block from our house in a big empty lot that we visit every summer many times. Next year, however, a new school is going to be built there, which I'm very happy about, but I will miss our blackberry picking spot.

To me, the most important part of picking blackberries with my kids is that it's a time when we talk and share and laugh together. We get away from the TV and video games and stresses of everyday life. We relax, and as our minds and emotions and bodies adjust to the pace and surroundings, we begin to talk softer and more gently to each other. We sing silly songs and discuss things that just don't seem to get talked about other places. We talk about what we're going to do with our harvest, and that brings up talk of holidays and winter and family traditions.

Blackberry picking with my kids is a good thing.

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