Brace yourselves. This is a rather long, yet absolutely beautifully written story from a user of Reddit. At most, I have experienced maybe 1/100th of the war against blackberry bushes and the bond that this man has. Even that minute taste of that seemingly endless fight was enough to allow me to appreciate his story.
I am a Veteran of the Pacific Northwest, Himalayan Blackberry wars.
I have seen stuff.
My parents, in the late 1970s bought two acres of land outside of Portland Oregon. It was fallow pasture that had become overgrown in Blackberries and small trees. They were 10, 12, 15 feet deep in places, and covered the entire two acres.
To survey the land for septic system, my father and I hacked pathways into the depths of the beast. My arms were scratched, my legs scratched and seeping blood the palms of my hands pierced as the iron thorns of the canes as big as bamboo easily penetrated my leather gloves. I should have known what then next 12 years of home life would bring. I was ill prepared for the future this land would extract from me in blood, blood and more blood.
Once the permits were in place, one fall day, a bulldozer arrived and scraped the front acre of land smooth and flat. The pile of blackberry canes and tree corpses was a berm of organic detritus as big as a tractor trailer. “What are we going to do with it, Father?” a young, innocent boy asked. “Burn it come spring.”, says Dad. I looked forward to torching that pile, as the canes that scratched my arms were dead and buried in the heart of that pile of pain.
Winter came, and the house was built, and the land surrounding the house was seeded with grass. We moved in when the late winter rains fell, and the sun hinted of spring to come. It was then, as the first warm rays of promised spring that they began to rise from their muddy graves. At first, small, lime green tendrils emerging from between the yet weak blades of grass. Their triangular leaves unfurling their be-fanged faces turned to the sun’s promise of life risen. The underground roots erupting in an new hope, a new generation of Blackberries rising from the dead.
I alerted my father to the dead-rising, but he assured me the lawn mower, a John Deere, would keep them under control. Naively I believed him, and come the first dry day, swept them to reaping under the whirling blades of mechanized vegetative death. Satisfied with my work, I surveyed the neat, patterned rows upon rows of an acre of shorn grass, but saw them still. Little stalks of thorn and leaf, still sticking from the grass; still reaching for my blood.
“Weed killer.” says dad, “We will just pick up some lawn weed killer”, oh the hubris we labored under, oh the delusion. A visit to a local feed, seed and rental store, the kind that would rent you anything from chainsaw up to an excavator, and a conversation with the old geezer should also have warned me off, but, again, father was confident, and I believed in him. “Oh,” says the old guy.“There’s nothing we have here that will kill only them Blackberries and leave the grass”, he says. “There’s nothing to do but keep mowing them down, and eventually they won’t come back.” Wisdom in those words, wisdom of a veteran who had seen stuff, and had been in the wars. We vowed to mow them to death.
It was then, that father got the idea that we would clear the 2nd acre of land - still embraced firmly in the clutches of the blackberries by hand. It was early spring, and our hubris in our own abilities was high. Gas powered sickle bar mower was procured, a gas powered weed-eater with a metal blade acquired, machetes, pruning shears, thicker gloves - all the implements of our crusade procured.
The warm day arrived to begin our assault; to reclaim our land from these invaders, and as we approached the wall of green death, I faltered at the effort. “Where do we start?” I asked father. “We start here,” he pointed, “and we don’t stop till we hit the property line”. I had no idea where that was, but looking out over that sea of thorns, I quailed. To our work we bent, father mowing and cutting an carving the beasts, I pulling and dragging their bent and broken carcases into a pyre atop cardboard boxes intending to ignite them in fiery revenge. Blood I shed, blood and sweat that whole day long, from morning to dusk we toiled that warm saturday day, and when done, hardly a dent we had made.
We ended the night, the warm water of the shower stinging my arms, legs and hands in a hundred pricks, scratches and cuts. Dinner was quiet as father and i ate quietly, exausted from the battle.
“You don’t seem to have gotten very far.”, says mother - the exact wrong thing to say at that moment. Father kept mostly silent, but said, “We’ll get further tomorrow. We know what we are doing now.”
“TOMORROW!”, my young, teen mind said - This continues another day?!?
The next day (Sunday) dawned much as had Saturday. Clear and cool, an oddity in the Spring of the Northwest. We started early, picking up where we left off, the dew of the morning wetting my gloves, my fingers sore and red from the pricks of the day before, arms bearing welts underlying each rat-a-tat-tat pattern scratch leaving a Morse code of scabbed over pain from each thorn’s march across my skin. Father cut and hacked while I pulled, and slowly we gained upon the infestation.
By evening of Sunday, the pile had started to grow to a respectable size. Pile after pile of the fallen foe heaped upon each other. As dusk began to settle, Mother informed us today was a valid “Burn Day”, so we were free to torch the pyre.
Father collected up the tools, and brought from the garage a 1-gallon can of diesel fuel. Diesel because it won’t ignite like gasoline was the thought. I was eagerly looking forward to sending those vines to blackberry hell, and had secured matches from above the fireplace mantle. Father opened the gas can and bid me to anoint the pile and thus I did. Like the Holy Father I baptized the vines in dripping fuel, round the pile I went, circumnavigating it, i gauged its size to be equal to the old 53 Chevy pickup we had sitting in the garage, an artifact passed down from grandfather to son in law. Round I went, till the container was empty.
I tossed the empty container to father, landing in the soft grass next to him. I looked out over the 50 yard by maybe 10 yard of land cleared, the dry duff of fallen leaves ages old and dried canes of decades past now leaving behind barren earth, ready to receive our will and spring forth in grass. From my pocket, i drew the matchbook, and bent to a cane extended out from the pile as the aged, clawed fingers of a crone trying to snag me to it’s clutches.
The match sputtered to life, and I touched it to a withering leaf, the edge catching in greasy black and orange. Knowing my task complete, for having ignited the pyre, i turned to father, and began to walk towards him. 1 step, 2 steps, 3 steps and 4, and then, the house walls were lit, bright as day, the windows reflecting back a brightness I had to close my eyes to avoid pain. The sound, ‘FWWWWwwoooOOOOOOOoossssshHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!“ the heat upon my neck, arms and ears, exposed to the searing maw of hell as it opened to receive our offering of its spawn.
Fathers eyes opened as wide as i have ever seen, the mushroom cloud reflecting bright in his pupils. Turning, and stumbling backward, I beheld the roiling, angry pillar of flame. The Old testament tells us that that God appear before the nation of Israel sometimes as a pillar of fire that reached to heaven. If so, then for a moment, I beheld God come to earth.
Stumbling to Father, we both gave each other that stupid, grin and laugh, that only men who have avoided death, or grevious bodily injury while doing something stupid do. The Back door flew open, and Mother appeared, yelling "ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?!?”. Father answered, “We’re good here.”, patting me on the shoulder. We were good, we had toiled side by side, and despite the nearness of disaster, stood next to each other, men, beholding the victory of man over nature.
Spring’s inexorable March to summer was met with many, many more pyres. Each time, father and I laughing and sharing that moment when we beheld an angry God. The pile the bulldozer had scraped was ignited, and because of how much dirt was mixed in, it burned for 3 months. Not blazing, but slowly, smoke rising from its ever diminishing berm for 90 days.
When we ended, the whole two acres had been reclaimed. It was fall when we marked the property line not with a wild guess, but by finding ancient fence posts that long ago set the boundary of this land and that. We could walk from corner to corner, but, surrounded we were on 3 of 4 sides by Blackberries - 10, 12, even 15 feet high in places. A frozen tsunami of green, ready to crash across the property line if ever we let down our guard.
Each year of my youth, I spent mowing that lawn, and each and every year the blackberry canes sprouted from the Earth. Each year, I use herbicide to stake the property line - holding back the tide.
Father is gone now, and mother grows older. I moved away, and cannot get to Portland as often as i like. Mother tells me, chuckling, that from time to time she still mows down a blackberry in the yard - growing from a root ball, old and withered, but fighting for life. It has been over 30 years since, and still a root ball is found close enough to the surface to break out into the sun. Were i not witness to it, i would never believe how tenacious the Himalayan Blackberry holds to life.
The property around my childhood home is developed now on 3 of 4 sides, and others have eradicated the reservoirs of doom that were those thickets. The 4th is designated soon to be converted into plats, so no longer do I need to worry that mother will be swarmed over one night by those vines.
The backyard trees have grown, the grass taken hold and peace is felt in the breeze.
Most no one knows the warfare that raged upon those fields, the blood spilt, the pain, and the pyres to the fallen foe.
I still know. I still know where each pile was set, I have marked them with my blood, and i will never forget.