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We've often been asked about the origin of our farm name,
it is a bit unusual. I point toward our back field when I explain:
banks of blackberry bushes and vines on the periphery of our woods,
covering an old barbwire fence, and literally becoming fence itself in
their overwhelming growth. So that is the "briar" and the "croft" is
our little Scottish "farm on a hill".
The blackberry vines seem like trouble 90% of the year--growing where
they are not welcome and reaching out and grabbing passersby without
discriminating between human, dog or horse. But for about 3 weeks in
September, they yield black gold--bursting, swelling, unimaginably sweet
fruit that is worth the hassle borne the rest of the weeks of the year.
This afternoon I escaped from clinic earlier than usual as I was on a
mission. Tonight is a Friday night church potluck and I wanted to bring
blackberry cobbler to put in the oven beforehand and serve warm with
vanilla ice cream--a true once a year treat to offer up.
It has been an unusually dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest with
weeks of no rain at all since July, with only a couple of semi-sprinkles
this past week, but the fields are brown and even the usually lush
blackberry vines are starting to dry. The berries themselves are rich
from the sun, but a bit smaller than typical. The Haflingers have been
fed hay for the past several weeks as they are turned out in the fields
in the mornings as there is not enough pasture for them without the
supplement--we are about 6 weeks ahead of schedule in feeding hay.
I had grown a little suspicious the last couple nights as I brought the
Haflingers into the barn for the night as several of the mares turned
out in the back field were bearing purplish stains on their chests and
front legs, and one even had a tell-tale purplish mark on her muzzle
with a short blackberry vine still painfully stuck in her lower lip that
I extracted for her. Hmmmm. Raiding the berries. Desperate drought
forage behavior in an extremely efficient eating machine.
So this evening I headed down the path to the back field, not seeing the
mares until I rounded the corner of the woods, and headed toward the
berries. They had heard the Haflingers in the other fields talking to
me as I passed, and were already headed up to see what was up. When
they saw the bowl in my hand, that was it. They mobbed me. I was
So with three mares in tow, I approached the berry bank. It was
ravaged. Trampled. Haflinger poop piles everywhere. All that were
left were clusters of gleaming black berries up high overhead, barely
reachable on my tip toes, and only reachable if I walked directly into
the vines. The mares stood in a little line behind me, pondering me as
I pondered my dilemma. I looked back at them and told them they were
berry thieves and they weren't getting a single one from me.
I set to work picking what I could reach, snagging, ripping and
bloodying my hands and arms, despite my sleeves, determined that I was
not going to give up on this vision of steaming blackberry cobbler and
vanilla ice cream that I'd entertained all day. Pretty soon I had
mares on either side of me, diving into the brambles and reaching up to
pick what they could reach as well, unconcerned about the thorns that
tore at their sides and muzzles. They were like sharks in
water--completely focused on their prey and amazingly skilled at
grabbing just the black berries, and not the pale green or red ones.
Three plump Haflingers and one *plumpish* woman willingly accumulating
scars in the name of sweetness.
When my bowl was full, I extracted myself from the brambles and
contemplated how I was going to safely make it back to the barn without
being mugged. Not a problem. I adopted that "look" and that "voice"
and they obediently trailed behind me, happy to be put in their stalls for their
nightly grain, a gift from me with no thorns or vines attached.
Thorns are indeed part of our everyday life. They stand in front of
much that is sweet and good and precious to us. They tear us up, bloody
us, make us cry, make us beg for mercy. Perhaps the painful thorn is a
little girl struggling to wake from a head injury, a young man reeling
from a cancer diagnosis, a family grieving the loss of their soldier in
Iraq, a nation stunned by the humanity lost in terrorist attacks. Where
could the sweetness be behind such pain? What can justify the scars
that are borne by innocent people? How do we keep going despite
everything fighting to keep us from our goal, from the goodness that we
Yet thorns did not stop salvation, did not stop goodness, did not stop the
promise of sweetness to come. We simply can wait to be fed: a gift dropped from heaven.
Anyone for blackberry cobbler?
Emily from BriarCroft