How to Escape Your Suburban Office Complex and Forage for Wild Berries

Brigit Varenkamp

"I'm going to go pick blackberries," I declared to my coworkers the other day. "Want to come?" But they were all either too busy, too boring, or on vacation. Their loss; more berries for me.

Wild blackberries grow all over the Pacific Northwest, and the best place to find them is near highways. Next to the ribbons of asphalt are untamed, grassy patches of vegetation—and there's no need to actually pull onto the highway and then on to the shoulder to get to them. You can find the brambles (and their berries) growing over soundwalls and through fences.

Brown paper bag in hand, I got in the car and drove to a grocery store parking lot, with plans to work a patch just off an I-90 exit across the street. Foiled: I espied some shirtless dudes hanging out on the corner I was aiming for, so I rerouted my foraging trail and went underneath the overpass instead. Always have a back-up plan.

Rule number one when picking wild blackberries, perhaps the only rule, is that you must have no fear. You will get scratched. Years of battling the obnoxious, nonfruiting brambles that grow in my backyard has taught me to fear neither vine nor thorn. Rarely have I bled from them; they aren't nearly as sharp as the thorns on my roses.

Pro tip: Use the low rambling vines as steps to get closer to the good berries. Because they all weave together, the force of pushing down one area of vine will push down the ones around it. Being tall is an asset, but unfortunately for me, it's not one I possess, though I do have small hands capable of sneaking under and through the tangle, an asset in itself.

Wild blackberries are often not as big as the ones you see in the stores, but go for the biggest ones you can. Pick only the ripest, which can easily be pulled off. If you have to give more than a small tug, the berry might not be ripe enough.

As my hands were covered in sticky berry juice, I dared not take my phone out to check the time. I kept telling myself that I'd pack it in just after I checked out that next cluster. When my bag finally started to rip, I took it as a sign to stop. Turned out I'd picked two and a half pounds in just half an hour.

Expect the berries to stain your hands violet. Upon returning to work, someone asked me if a pen exploded in my hand. The berries were seeping through the bag, so I transferred them to plastic containers I found discarded under my desk. I showed off my haul to my coworkers, but, taking a page from the Little Red Hen, I didn't share. They'd have to go pick their own.