Sunday, July 10, 2005

Paradise Displaced

L. is here with me this weekend, and I was excited today about taking her to play mini-golf. L. loves to play mini-golf just about anywhere, but her favorite course (and mine) is the one at Rocky Gorge, which is about two miles away from the home I grew up in. Probably because it's the course I've played more than any other (I am not a huge mini-golfer, but I suppose I've played at least fifty rounds during my lifetime), it's what I think of as a typical mini-golf course: there's a windmill hole, a bunch of water hazards, a clown's head, and numerous other novelty holes. On a hot day like today, the Singing Pine hole is among the best holes because you have to walk through a cave between the tee and the hole, and you get a bit of shade. Today the pine was lip-synching Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces," and how can you not love that?

I once shot a par round at this course, which has a lot of par 3 holes, so you at least have a fighting chance, and today I was four over (with two holes in one!), which is really not so bad. L. shot a much higher score, but she had a great time, and when she was taking a lot of putts to finish a hole or had one come very close to the hole only to roll down to a lower level, it allowed me to say things like, "Let this be a lesson to you. Golf is nothing but heartache!" Normally I'm just joking about things like this, but she's nine now, and today she was showing some interest in the driving range, and that sort of thing has to be nipped in the bud. I think it's a good idea to support your kids in all their endeavors, and I dutifully show up at all her ballet rehearsals as well as some of her lessons, but golf? You let something like that slide, and before you know it, your kid's voting Republican.

Anyway, while I did enjoy the mini-golf today, I was excited through the whole round because the Rocky Gorge mini-golf course is on Route 29, and about a mile south of there on Route 29 is the place where I have picked blackberries for the past few years. Attentive readers will note that barely a day ago I had said that the location was a secret, and it was, but there is sadly no longer a secret to keep. I don't guess that I've been through Burtonsville in nearly a year (my parents sold the house I grew up in a couple of years ago, so I don't have much reason to get over that way any more), but as I headed south towards it, I could see that something was horribly wrong. Route 198, which used to intersect Route 29 just a few hundred yards south of my blackberry patches was now suddenly half a mile north of the blackberry patches. Or rather, it's now north of where the blackberry patches used to be. After passing the new interchange, I thought that it was far enough away from the giant electric lines whose wide clearing had housed my blackberry patches that the blackberry patches might still be there, but when I got to where the power lines are, it was clear that a great deal of other construction had been done, including the demolition of the shopping center that used to be right next to the blackberries.

It is, no doubt, a linguistic and moral weakness on my part, but I am entirely unable to express or explain how very profound a loss I felt when it was clear that my blackberry patches were gone. It isn't just the loss of the berries themselves, though that is sad. I had already decided to take the raspberry jam recipe from
here and make it with blackberries instead, and I could just about taste the fresh blackberry pies that I would have made. Still, I was sadder about losing my patches than about losing the blackberries in them.

They weren't really mine, of course, but it feels like I should be able to call them that because I don't think that anyone else ever picked blackberries there, with the exception of my father whom I told about the patches a couple of years ago when it became clear that I had picked more than I could hope to use and there were still plenty left. I was somewhat hesitant, even then, to tell him, but I figured that I owed him something for having brought me into the world, and revealing my blackberry source paid that debt. With interest.

Traffic throughout my county is pretty bad, and I'm sure that the new interchange will help it out, at least in that area, and I certainly remember sitting at the light at the old intersection often enough before they put in the new overpass. I am not so self-centered as to think that my ability to gather large quantities of free blackberries is an unreasonable price to pay for improved traffic for hundreds or thousands of commuters.

But I'm still greatly saddened by the loss. I moped the entire half hour or so that it took us to get home. Ten years ago, if something similar had happened, I would have known another patch to go to, but all of the good patches I have known have met similar fates.

Surely the general shrinking of semi-wild places is part of what saddens me. When I was a kid, I had no shortage of woods to run through, creeks to splash in, and fields to search through for a praying mantis egg case or a bird's nest. But it's a very different area now. A few years ago, after a protracted battle from my parents' neighborhood association, the high-tension electric lines came through, and most of the woods got removed to make way for them. At least a couple of my childhood treehouses vanished in the process. I was never going to climb up into them again anyway, but I still didn't like to see them go.

I felt better, about the blackberries at least, when we got home and I did some other things in the kitchen and thought about it some more. I suppose I have a few options. I can start looking for some blackberry patches closer to where I live now. There are still some semi-wild areas around here, and there must be some blackberries, and if there are, there's not likely to be much competition for them. (The downside to this plan is that for the next few weeks I'll be looking for blackberries every time I'm out in the car, and it seems like a not-so-great excuse if I rear end somebody when my attention is distracted by potential brambles.) Or I can swallow my pride and go for the thornless blackberry bushes at the nearest pick-your-own farm.

But I think that the best plan is probably to call Dad. He now lives in Florida most of the year and Pennsylvania during the summer, so he really no longer has a proprietary interest in his own blackberry patches. As a last resort, I can ask Mom to tell me. Asking a wife to reveal her husband's blackberry sources surely violates some provision of common law, but given the immensity of my need to know (and the fact that she has been pretty much constantly pissed off at my father for the last fifty-three years) she'd probably tell me. I reckon I can worm it out of him, though. I may have to give him a couple of quarts of what I pick, but I did give him a totally kick-ass neon pink flamingo lamp for Fathers' Day, and he thought it was the best gift ever, so if I can find a way to subtly remind him of that, I imagine that he'll cough up the berries (so to speak). I just hope that the developers don't get there first.


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