An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of April 27, 2003
issued from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA

GRANDMA'S BLACKBERRIES

I wrote to my Grandma Taylor in Calhoun, Kentucky that blackberry thickets here were just white with blossoms, and her reply was sad. She said she missed seeing blackberry thickets the way they used to be, missed seeing the pretty blossoms and going gathering the purple-staining berries.

It's more than that Grandma is in her 90s and can't negotiate the fields. The problem is that in my ancestral part of Kentucky small farms with hedgerows that used to separate fields have been absorbed into very large farm businesses, and the new corporate farmers are not the rabbit-hunting type so they just don't care that when they bulldoze the old field boundaries they wipe out habitat, which is another name for blackberry thickets. The fact is that my part of Kentucky has gotten cleaned up, neatened, sprayed to death, channelized and leveed, paved over, and generally ticky-tack-sprawled to death in the name of Wal-Mart and the right of people to be fat, have hypertension and buy big-screen TVs.

I can visualize the white-flowered blackberries in Grandma's fading memory, for they survive in full glory here with me now, healthy and spectacular at this very moment out in the field between here and the Hunters' Camp as I type these words.

If you could see Laurel Hill Plantation from the air, you'd see a large rectangle of forest surrounded on three sides by encroaching fields, pastures and suburban sprawl reaching out from Natchez 12 miles to the north. (St. Catherine Wildlife Refuge keeps swamp forest on the western boundary.) And it's worth thinking about why this island exists, why I'm able to live the life I have here with blackberries flowering just spitting distance away.

At the root of the reason is slavery, which enabled the plantation's first owner to prosper and pass on his property to many generations. An other reason is that selling hunting rights is very important to the current plantation's owner; my blackberry thicket makes fine deer browse and cover, and that makes the hunters happy, who pay to hunt here.

I owe my presence here, then -- and my nights of good sleep, my accomplishments on the Internet, my current writings, this Newsletter and the friends I've met because of it -- to the enslavement of Black folks, and to hunting.