One day, it arrives, the tipping point: a warm, maybe even hot day, sunny but with a thin wind carrying the merest touch, that slightest nip of arctic air - a chill not of fogbank and ocean, but dry, stern, the real deal. Summer's sliding into fall. There'll be more warm days, more even some hot days, but the announcement has been made. Walking across the M-lot bridge in early September, I was assailed by the jammy smell of blackberries baking in those last hot weeks, a last fling of berryness before subsiding into vast mats of clean-picked brambles.
We all have our favorite locations on campus, those sweet spots of berry lust that we – or may not - share with our compadres. Those with patience have been known to collect enough for pies, tarts, jams; they bring bowls and cups. The rest of us? Well, we just pick and gobble, hoping to hide our purple-stained fingers when we get back to the office. But oh, yum-eddy, yum-eddy yum!
This blackberry vine, however, is a double-thorned plant, treat as well as threat. As fruit, they are the best: nice nibbly packets plucked straight from the vine, rich in antioxidants, an explosion of warm nectar on the tongue. But what we see around campus is not a native species of berry, it's the invasive Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), a very aggressive, prolific species originally from Eurasia, but now a pest just about everywhere, but particularly the Americas and Australia. They devastate the complex, integrated relationships of our biome, crowding out the native species and creating a monoculture of berries, berries and more berries. Yummy, but still: they're home-wreckers. These vines grow remarkably quickly, sometimes inches a day, and up to ten feet a year, swarming creek banks, overwhelming bushes and taking down the trees that provide the tall shade necessary for salmon fry, choking sunlight and oxygen from plants and creek alike. Their vicious thorns can be too much for native animals, trapping them rather than protecting them as the gentler, kinder native California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) bush does. Their roots are shallow, providing poor erosion control. The presence of one measly leaf can strike fear in the heart of any landscaper or manager, for like ivy, blackberry vines can be nigh unto impossible to eradicate without diligent and aggressive attention. They seem to thrive on being yanked out: any little piece left in dirt can root; their canes stretch out several yards long, creating daughter plants anywhere they touch dirt, their pollinated seeds are dropped everywhere from the gut of fruit-delirious birds.
The banks of Copeland Creek are especially thick with blackberries. In seeking to restore the lower reaches of the creek, the Friends of Copeland Creek has been yanking out the vines. They've had some success; the banks near the Butterfly Garden are pretty well clear of them. But the other side. Oh my. The banks are swarmed. The Club meets every Friday at noon to whack away for an hour or two, trying to stay ahead of the beast. They're making little headway; at this point, they're concentrating on just keeping the mile-long path clear. They can sure use some help and welcome all who want to don gloves, wear protective long sleeves and pants and whack blackberry vines. I've heard it's good for getting the frustrations out.
Last week, Carson Williams, Financial Aid Manager at SSU, and I went on a brief walk, sharing our fave blackberry patch locations. Mine, near the Butterfly Garden, is being removed, understandably enough. There’s a patch along the inner bank of the old track, albeit scraggly-looking and yellowing now. Another fav, the bushes along the creek, near the M Lot bridge, though prolific, could be considered suspect by some, Williams told me, as he has noticed Mosquito Abatement teams spraying up and down the creek bed. (Take that, West Nile virus!) But there is a mother lode, a berry patch to end all berry patches, well away from any issues of mosquitoes and abatements, in the wild lands to the west of the N parking lot. There's a bit of bush-whacking to get there, and as anywhere that isn't paved these days, full-on anti-tick precautions should be taken before venturing down the faint Disc Golf Course paths. But what a treasure awaits: yards and yards of berry bushes, there for the picking.
Though now, in October, the season has just about passed. The sky is grey, low and expectant, the wind damp, the air lugubrious and heavy. Looks like we’ll have to wait until next summer to indulge in berry love again.
Visit for more information:
Friends of Copeland Creek