By Scot Graves

Pilot staff writer

andquot;Wait for me!andquot; the small voice called out.

I turned around to see my 5-year-old daughter, Alia, struggling to keep up with me as we walked home from our latest blackberry expedition.

Small buckets brimming with the ripe, sweet berries swung from each hand. A purple stain encircled her mouth, which, when open, revealed a purple tongue - which matched the color of her fingertips.

It's all part of the summer ritual of harvesting one of Oregon's most delicious fruits. So is sacrificing a little of flesh and blood - the briars that guard the blackberries are merciless.

I have a love-hate relationship with blackberries: Love to eat 'em, hate to pick 'em.

All summer Alia has been itching to pick berries in our neighborhood.

andquot;Not until they're ready,andquot; I said. I kept an eye on the ripening fruit near our home, watching the berry clots at the end of every branch turn much too slowly from green to red to - finally! - glossy, plump purple.

I came home after work one evening and announced to Alia, andquot;Get your bucket. We're going blackberry hunting!andquot;

I approach every berry-picking session with the goal of avoiding any nicks or scratches. I always fail - or fall is more like it.

One year I slipped off a step stool and fell face first into the briar patch. Another year, I stumbled and landed on a long blackberry thorn that pierced my flip-flop and my foot. (I know, flip-flops. What was I thinking?)

And yet, I still pick blackberries. And expose my daughter to the risky endeavor!

Never mind that. She is, in her own words, a andquot;tough chick.andquot;

So off we went, searching for blackberries on a recent sunny afternoon. Our first target was the undeveloped acres behind our house. In past years, the owner had given us permission to pick unlimited numbers of berries. This year, however, the owner has bulldozed most of the land for development. Still, my daughter and I found one, small, untouched briar patch loaded with ripening berries.

The sound of Alia's lip-smacking was punctuated by exclamations of andquot;Ouch!andquot; But she championed on. Yep. tough chick.

She was less brave when it came to encountering fungus-covered berries.

andquot;Eeeuuuww,andquot; she shouted, trying to shake the fur-coated, over-ripe berry from her fingers. andquot;Why is it all yucky looking?andquot;

andquot;It got too ripe before we could pick it,andquot; I offered. andquot;Nothing last forever, especially blackberries.andquot;

She thought for a few seconds. andquot;Summer, too,andquot; she said.

How true.

Our short, but glorious blackberry season is analogous to summer itself. We relish its arrival and then, in a mad rush, we try to harvest as much of it as possible before it ends.

As the August sun set that day, Alia and I returned home, our small buckets overflowing with summer. A few days later we gobbled up the few remaining, unfurry black berries. Our tongues and fingers were no longer purple; the thorn pricks and scratches were healing nicely.

When someone asked about the scratches on Alia's leg, she stuck the leg out and exclaimed. andquot;I got them picking blackberries!andquot;

Definitely. Tough chick.

In another month, the berries. the scratches and the summer will be gone. But the memories will last forever.