One mid-July evening, when the jewel colors of the Chehalis and Wishkah rivers and the hills of Douglas Firs sparkle their brightest, Dad took Stephen and I out in the woods to pick little wild blackberries. These small tart berries stain your fingers deep black and are a fight to pick because of their thorns but their taste in homemade pies and cobblers or boiled down into a sauce to spoon over vanilla ice cream is worth every scratch: delicious. Plus, it was tromping in the woods with Dad, so we eagerly went.
It was right after dinner and Mom stayed behind to do whatever Moms do when Dads take the kids away. I must have been about eight years old and Stephen, six. We drove off in the old blue Chevy truck, circa 1975, windows down, to the edge of town where we parked alongside the edge of a forest owned by Weyerhaeuser. It was one of our favorite spots to pick blackberries and we occasionally saw someone else picking salal, but usually it was just us. We walked up the gravel logging road with our MJB coffee cans strung over our necks with telephone wire. They hit against our knees with a pleasant tinny sound.
As we found patches along the road we picked the small fruit, each one plinking into the can sounding hollow and lonely until we slowly started filling it with a comfortable layer of berries. The really ripe ones squished instantly at first touch making a satisfying goo on grubby fingertips. The smell of dust, of sun-baked ferns, and deep woods was good. Unseen deer stepped on underbrush sending ringing cracks through the quiet. Bees were interested in the berries too and I was scared of them. Fortunately it was too hot for mosquitos.
At some point Dad looked at his watch and up at the distant sky, just visible through the dense treetops. “OK, time to go home.” We had some berries, not a huge haul, but we carefully poured our cans’ worth into Dad’s. “Looks like enough for a pie, good job.” I was learning to make pie and knew that four cups was a slim one while six, decadent. Hopefully it would be a thick one.
As we ran down the hill with Dad strolling behind, we were stopped short of our truck by a locked gate. Dad was puzzled. “I’ve never seen them lock this.” He said. He looked at us, looked around, noticed our truck parked helplessly a little ways off, and looked again at the padlock. He examined it carefully. “We may have to spend the night out here.” He glanced at Stephen and I, dressed in our cotton T-shirts and shorts. He made a soft hissing sound, the same sound my Grandpa Eleven made when thinking.
I thought of wolves and bears. Stephen and I made some small murmurs of fear but didn’t know what to say. Dad always knew how to solve our problems, surely he would figure out a way for us to get home. I wondered if Mom would worry about us. Would she call the police? I can’t wait to tell Arielle about this, thinking of my best friend, she will be jealous.
Dad walked up and down the length of the gated road, about thirty feet before wilderness stopped him on either side. It was an old fence. The air was getting colder and I wondered what it would be like to spend the night outside without a sleeping bag. Or Mom.
But with a shout, Dad found a place where he could just lift up the chain link to let Stephen and I wiggle under. We did, bellies to ground, and then he did a marvelous thing: he climbed up the fence, and jumped over the additional two feet of barbed wire. I was in awe. Was there nothing Dad couldn’t do?
Rushing in the back door twenty minutes later, begrimed with berry blood, sweat, and dirt, we could barely get the story out to Mom as we peeled off our shoes and socks, stickers, stones and sticks falling out on the floor. The purple trophies, redolent and dusty, had made it home too. I don’t know how but Dad either pushed them after us under the fence or swung them over somehow before he jumped. Maybe he even wore them as an athlete would a medal as he leaped the barbed wire.
I don’t remember how big the pie was, but I can still see my Dad leaping that fence. I'll never forget it. Happy Father's Day, Dad!