It was early September, time for Mary Ann and me to go on our annual huckleberry hunt. This year I hadn’t had a chance to check out the crop in advance, so we didn’t know what to expect. The last two years, boy howdy, the bushes were nuts. Huckleberries pushed at the margins of the forest like they were behind the velvet rope at the nightclub, saying Pick me! Pick me! And, like roadies with all the power, we were able to select just the prettiest ones most likely to put out.
“But you never know,” we said this time, perfunctorily modest. The fates frown on audacity.
You never do know. Still, we approached our berry grounds with all the anticipatory glee of a postal worker taking his paycheck to Reno. And we pulled up to our accustomed turnout and charged into the woods with empty buckets and full hearts.
A half hour later, the hearts were running a pint low but nothing else had changed.
“Huh,” we articulated.
“Do you suppose it’s been picked over?” Mary Ann wanted to know.
|With a Huckleberry Hound.|
No, I didn’t. They don’t all ripen at once, and ordinarily you can see little berries all green with ambition right next to their voluptuous sisters. What we had here was that rare non-existent variety. We’d brought along our friend Margaret and a huckleberry hound for good luck, without vetting either one properly for auspiciousness. But berrying is a bright and hopeful pursuit and we gave it all we had. An hour in, I had thirteen berries to my credit. They huddled along the bottom of my bucket like the skinny, morose kids about to be picked last for dodgeball. There were few enough that I got to know them by name, and have favorites.
Two hours in, I had begun to scan the smaller alders in case our berries had switched teams since last season. Whereas the alders failed to turn up any huckleberries, it must be noted that they didn’t produce much fewer than the huckleberry bushes did.
Well, you can keep this sort of thing up for hours at a time, especially if you are content to sift quietly through the dappled light of a fir forest to no particular end. There is a restorative quality to the early-autumn slant of sun in the woods, and although this year it has a pinkish cast from not-so-distant fires, it still feels like a benediction. And one of the beauties of our local berries is that you don’t have to bend over for them. In fact, I’d say just about all the berries that weren’t there this year were at waist-height, probably.
After 7.5 berrypickerhours and a consolidation, we had finally covered the bottom of one bucket, assuming it was kept level. We could achieve two pies if we used jar lids for tins. And added apples.
But that’s two more huckleberry pucks than we’ve made all year. We’re chalking it up as a win.
Ooooo… how disappointing! To what do you attribute the lack of berries, since they apparently weren't already picked over? Climate change? Or maybe they just shot their wad the last two years and needed to just roll over and smoke a cigarette and get some rest? I hope it's just the latter.
I Googled it and the best I came up with was an article about the 2008 crop being squelched by a late spring. We did have a lot of chill and rain last spring, but I thought that was normal. Or used to be.
We had a warm winter here in SW Montana then an early spring followed by an 8" snowstorm in June. We lost all fruits and some berries. Also lots of birds. Now I'm writing while looking at another snowstorm, this one before our first freeze and which left about six inches on the ground. I don't know how plants and animals are going to cope with this new, diasterous weather we have wrought.
Yeah, well this disastrous weather is putting out the fires that are burning up a good portion of the state.
They must be in a resting cycle after giving you enough berries for dozens of pies two years in a row, they probably thought you still had plenty and could take the season off. They'll be back next year.
Yah! We'll git 'em next year!
Too much rain can wipe out an entire crop. That was my first thought so I went and asked The Google. She agreed. Damn shame about the berries and fires but it sounds like it was a great day to be alive and outside.
All righty then, rain it is!
I do hope that the recalcitrant berries return next year. Walking in the woods is always lovely, but berries are a very big bonus.
Or a whole lot of very tiny bonuses.
7.5 berrypicker hours??? I would call that an example of Berry Dew Diligence.
Did you know that it IS possible to BUY huckleberries? I can turn you on to my dealer if you're interested. They don't cost much more than the same quantity of Beluga caviar.
I knew it. I knew someone would have a dealer. I remember seeing huckleberries for sale for $20 a gallon some thirty years ago, and thinking: that's CHEAP.
Before I went to Seattle a week ago, my daughter bought from the Hmong farmers a quart of hucks, and i made a apple and huckleberry pie. It was great.
Mary Ann says apple plays very nice with huckleberries. And some years it has to.
Disappointing. And yet – blog post. And even better, the being in nature part. I doubt you'll forget how beautiful it was there.
And yet–blog post. Words to live by.
They don't cost much more than the same quantity of Beluga caviar.