For the Love of Huckleberries
I wanted to go huckleberry picking. Last year, I was determined to go. I spent time reading blogs and the Forestry Service pages about what to look for, what types of places to look, and what to do if I saw a bear.
So I called a friend to go with me.
She is a true Montanan (I was a bit of a poser), and the bears are likely more scared of her than the other way around. We went, but by the time I got up my nerve to go, the season was really over and there were none to be had. Her boys and mine did a lot of sword fighting with fallen sticks, and I got to sample her super yummy chocolate chip cookies, and I learned not to be so frightened of the wilderness.
I knew that this year was the year. Heavy spring rains extended the picking season, and people were so huckleberried out that they would even give up their super-secret spots, telling you where you could find some of your very own. Huckleberries are part of our local economy here, bringing in something like $35.00 a gallon. You cannot force them to grow where you want them; you must forage. There are a few rules in these here parts: 1) You help your neighbor, and 2) You never ask someone about their huckleberry picking spot.
My husband knew how badly I wanted to go, but we have been told that it is not the event for children as young as my own, and so it just did not look likely. He called a friend, arranged a time for her to pick me up, and then watched the children for the next six hours.
She and I drove the gravel mountain road and she talked about huckleberries.
“For me, they’re currency.”
Assuming she meant she sells them for some spending cash, I nodded.
“What are they going for this year?”
“No, not money, currency. Love currency. I can tell people that I love them with huckleberries. I can make an apple pie for the church pie auction, or I can make a huckleberry pie. I can give someone a card, or I can give them huckleberry muffins. See?” And I did see. This same friend brought over a huckleberry pie just the week before. And I really felt loved.
The car fell quiet as we turned a sharp bend and the trees on the left opened up to a view of the entire valley below. You immediately felt the silence like a thick blanket and with mountains extending the skyline, you felt small in contrast.
“Awww, I hope it’s not Coney Island up here today.” It took a second for me to understand, but when I saw cars lining the graveled ditch, I laughed. Her favorite spot was empty. She explained that the best huckleberry picking is always on the steeper slopes, and you hike (or in my case, slide) to the bottom. This way, you can look up to the huckleberries at eye level. If you are looking down at the shin-high bushes, you are likely to miss them because the foliage hides the juicy blue and purple berries underneath.
“Besides, the best berries are at the higher altitude,” she explains, “so if you start low and work your way up, you’ll have less disappointment.” The slopes were steep, the berries sweet. I ate 3 for every berry that hit the bucket.
We were in a very desolate, quiet place. We only heard the sounds of our own voices as we discussed life and all of its quandaries. Even though we did not pack lunches our tummies were satisfied, the conversation engaging, and by the time we left the buckets were full.
As we pulled away in the car she said, “Close your eyes. What do you see?” I just laughed. I could see nothing but the very best of huckleberries bobbing before my shut eyelids.
We arrived home, and as I collected my belongings from her car, she secretly dumped her berries—6 hours’ worth of berries—into my bucket.
If you are interested in learning more about the huckleberry, this wonderful little cousin to the blueberry, check out this site:
Happy Huck Hunting--