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Nature can certainly be unkind.

I’m not referring to the wilds of Montana, nor to the critters at the ranch. I’ve been in a much wilder territory for the last couple of days.

I was peacefully picking berries. This is a gentle enough occupation in Montana. You do occasionally have to surrender your huckleberries to a bear or check over your shoulder from time to time to make sure there isn’t a mountain lion planning to make points with the bears by removing competition for berries.

However, my most recent encounters have mainly been with wildlife uninterested in berries, equally uninterested in consuming berry pickers and simply motivated by ill temper.

Even the bushes were ill-tempered.

I just got back from Washington. Since our chokecherry crop is abundant but not very sweet, I figured I’d fill some of the holes in the jelly cupboard with blackberry jelly.

It was a bit late in the season, and the “easy” berries had been picked, but there were still plenty left for someone with a stepladder. I had tossed one in the back of the truck before I set out.

The first problem was that my usual picking spot had been attacked by blackberry haters. They had hacked, uprooted and poisoned a whole row of nicely accessible plants.

The next problem was the spider. There were actually lots of spiders. Hundreds. Thousands! However, they were mostly orb weavers whose hostility was only demonstrated by six-foot-wide stretches of cable-strength webs. A huge spider stood guard in the center of each one and I forbore to try to break through except when an unwary move on my part left me attached to the silken strands. I apologized to the spiders, but they were apparently unmollified. They called in reinforcements.

I barely saw the tiny spider that bit me, but it won’t bite anyone else. It won’t be identified by anyone else either. My immediate reaction to a surprisingly painful bite was to whack it. There wasn’t much to identify.

I picked for a while longer, but my hand started to turn numb, so I decided to go back to the truck and see if there was anything in my first aid kit for maliciously-inclined spiders.

As I reached for a branch to push it aside, I realized it had stripes. It also had a head at one end and a pointed tail at the other. I knew it was a non-poisonous snake, but decided to push my way out of the vines in another direction and leave it undisturbed.

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Blackberries have long, sharp thorns. I found them all.

My new route took me past a tangled patch with a plum tree in the middle. I wondered if they were ripe, picked one and found out that (a) they were ripe, and (b) a wasp had already staked a claim on the one I picked. I only let out one quick scream.

The first aid kit was well equipped. By the next day, the feeling was back in my left hand (spider) the pain was gone in my right hand (wasp) and my berry bucket was full of blackberries. Success.

Lyndel Meikle works on a Deer Lodge area ranch.


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