It has been a while since we took all four of our dogs to the woods for a walk. It is usually a very involved affair. Enli and Dingo wrestle, run, and tug at leashes while our chihuahua, Rastas, scampers underfoot. Then there is sweet Shadow. Shadow is thirteen years old and moves as an old dog does. She has been with us through it all. She loves to go to the woods to explore, but nowadays she tuckers out quickly. As a puppy she would race behind our mountain bikes baying the whole time. She and Storm would chase deer. One would chase the herd in an arc while the other cut them off. We had to call them off many times when they got too close. We feared they might actually get one. Even at age thirteen her eyes still perk up and she gets excited when the harness is placed on her. The problem of course, is getting all that chaos of dogs moving in the same direction, at the same time, at the same speed.
Christa and I loaded the roiling pack up in her Rover and we headed out. I wanted to try a new trail I spotted on the way home from work so we left our usual routine of Trail 9 in Croom and headed out to explore something new.
After parking at the trail head, the first thing I noticed was the huge blackberry bramble in full bloom with blackberries dripping off in every direction on the other side of the fence. I love blackberry season and knew this was going to be a good hike. Last week when we were out the blackberries weren’t ripe yet. That particular bramble patch would have to wait though until we made it back with dogs tired enough to stay still in the truck. We don’t normally park near the road with the dogs, but today we didn’t have a choice. With all the dogs leashed we made a dash for the trail on the other side. Once safely behind the fence they were unleashed to… well… unleash their energy. Off in every direction they went. Enli takes the lead following every random scent, Dingo tries to keep up taking his own meandering path to ambush Enli, and Rastus runs underfoot of everyone. Shadow… she just plods along happy to be going.
Christa has made a habit of going to the woods several times a week if she can for as long as I have known her. She refused to carry a gun in the beginning, complaining that it was too heavy. I got her two dogs as protection. Storm and Shadow. They did their jobs admirably and we have plenty of stories where some rather undesirable people kept their distance with those two around. Storm passed away last year. Shadow soon after suffered a stroke making it difficult for her to walk much less run. Christa now has Enli and Dingo, as well as a gun to protect herself on her forays. Since it still lifts Shadows spirits to go we try to make a habit of taking her at regular intervals regardless of how short a trip it turns out to be.
The hike today was going to be short from the beginning. A few hundred yards in and there were more blackberry brambles on both sides of the trail hanging heavy with ripe berries to pick and red berries that will wait until next time we are out that way. It has been a while since I have seen a crop of blackberries this thick.
When it is blackberry and blueberry season we don’t get very far very fast. I grew up with a blackberry patch in our back yard that my Dad maintained. I can also remember picking them during our summers in North Carolina at my grandmother’s mountain cabin in Franklin. I love blackberries. It is an experience just picking them. It is not like oranges where you can pick two or three and you are satisfied. You have to pick hundreds. Each black orb of sweetness is an exercise in having steady hands. Pull too hard and you can pop the juicy ones. Don’t pay close enough attention and you will pull back fingers full of thorns. The reward is a tangy sweet flavor. We were fortunate to have some heavy rains this last week. The blackberries responded by producing some very sweet, juicy berries. It didn’t take long for our hands to be covered in purple juice staining our skin. We only looked up long enough to holler for the dogs to stick around. We picked those bushes clean. None of the dogs like berries except for Rastus. He loves them. Unfortunately for him he is too short to reach in to get his own. It was a curious thing to watch Storm when he was alive nibble a berry off the plant and drop it for Rastus to devour. As far as I know, Storm never ate them for himself. Rastus got a few that we picked for him.
After devouring every drop of sweet, juicy, tart berry that we could find we moved on. The trail we took is straight and level regardless of the surrounding terrain. That means it is an old railroad bed. I know the area is the site of a ghost town known as the town of Oriole. A nearby lake is named Lake Oriole. A google search shows that there was also a phospate mining company that operated here beginning around 1913 after the town vanished hauling out 50 tons of phosphate a day. There is also a cemetery with some of Hernando’s pioneers interred there. That is definitely on the list of things to find.
We left the house a little late this morning and found ourselves hiking in the late morning high humidity Florida is known for. Shadow began to wane. As much as we want to push her to get exercise we also don’t want to see her hurt herself by pushing too hard. Another problem soon presents itself. Deer Flies. I hate them. Shadow needs to rest, but as soon as we stop they swarm us. Bug repellent doesn’t seem to phase them. They are like little exercise nazis. If you stop they remind you to keep moving with a painful bite to the bare flesh. The solution was to carry Shadow. Christa volunteered for the job and back we went with Shadow draped across Christa’s shoulders.
Just before we made it back the wind picked up seemingly blowing away the still, damp air and the deer flies with it. Shadow made the rest of the walk on her own. Once back to the car the dogs were loaded into the air conditioning and that blackberry patch was all ours. We hopped the fence and did something I don’t think either of us have ever done in our lives before. We ate so many blackberries that we had our fill of blackberries. That bramble patch was so dense with the fresh ripe berries that we could eat to our heart’s content. I love picking a huge handful and eating them all at once. The berries explode in your mouth with a sugar rush.
Where are those glorious plants of sweet delectable berries? I’m not telling. Go find your own.