Thursday, September 26, 2013

Huckleberry Fever

Mapping the Mine
Huckleberry Gear: Bucket and Gun
Oh, Sweet Berry of the Northern Rockies
Autumn Glory
Fall Gold Upon the Berry Plants
Some Plants Still Verdant
My Private Picking Spot (Behind the Privy)
Half-way to a Gallon
Berry-Inked Hands
No Ferrets Here
Huckleberry Thief!
Or, Huckleberry Hound Dog
Score! Homemade Huckleberry Pancakes!
Breathe in sweet air and the fever hits. Huckleberries scent the air like warm Pop-tarts. Roman Nose, it turns out, is the--as in THE--place to pick huckleberries. We have found the mother lode.

Like miners with tin-pails and a shovel, we head out to get rich. Actually, we just want some berry-gold for our own pancakes and jam, but people really do make money as "berriers." On the street corners of Spokane and Couer D'Alene huckleberries sell for $40 a gallon. You'll find huckleberry shakes and pies all throughout the region during the summer, selling for $5 a shake or slice. Jam--if you can find it--can cost as much as $10 for 4 ounces. Yep, there's huckleberry gold in them thar mountains behind Elmira Pond.

We join the throng of berriers who are all locals. It makes us feel local, too. Despite the cold that has already hit the high elevations, huckleberries are still ripe for picking and hang plump on branches like purple gold nuggets. Grizzlies like the berries, too and these bushes in the bowl of Roman Nose mountain are so dense and vast that they could hide legions of bears, looking to add protein to their menu.

Some leaves are green and even budding. I'm in awe of the fecundity of these berries; so many for all of us picking. Some plants are golden in fall colors and others have deepened into cranberry hues. No matter the color of the plant, the berries are deep purple, almost black. They look like a blueberry. My hands look as if I've been writing with a fountain pen leaking purple ink. I feel like a child finger-painting. And then a child walks past me, picking with her parents, and she has finger painted her entire face with huckleberries. I show her my hands and we both smile.

But the berries are small and only a single one drops unlike clusters of raspberries that drip from canes. So you have to cover much ground to get a gallon. One berrier tells me to look for alders along the lakes (there are three at Roman Nose) and another says to go up the slopes. I discover a huge un-mined patch behind the forest service vault toilet of concrete. It's funny how sweet the air smells so close to the public privy.

Soon I've picked my way into solitude. Todd is casting flies at fish, babysitting dogs so I can pluck and pinch. Other berries have scattered. It is so silent in this cathedral of granite, pines and brush. The silence is broken by scampering through the brush with a distinct thud of feet to the beat of thumpa-thumpa-thump. Sometimes I hear it coming toward me; other times away. I can see the brush jostle where the critter is running and know it to be too small for a bear. Then it pokes its head out, slowly, looking at me looking at it. It comes out into the open then spins around into the brush and charges at me.

It's a ferret! I jump back to the trail, fast on my feet, bucket of berries in hand as it runs across my path. I squeak, loud enough for Todd to hear me across the lake. He calls, "Charli?"

"I'm under attack," I shout back. That's it; huckleberry fever or not, I'm out of here!

My husband never seems to get to riled when I shout things like that. He continues to fish. I supposed he'd fish  until he actually saw a snarling, drooling grizzly or a sprinting chain-saw-toting murderer. I'm breathless as I make my approach. "A ferret attacked me," I tell him. Anything wild that comes within mere inches of me is an attack in my lexicon. Todd sees that I'm not bleeding or carrying a torn limb from my own body so he shrugs off any attack.

"Probably just a squirrel," he says.  He continues to cast and I notice that huckleberries are all around him. Grumbling that it was a "ferret" and it was an "attack" I get the fever again and start picking. It's like a compulsion to clean the bushes of berries. You can't just pick one. Bobo dives into the brush and that makes me feel safe from ferrets. She emerges before diving into another.

Setting down the bucket, Grendel charges over to it and plows his head into the berries. I scream louder than I did at the ferret and he startles, dropping a mouthful of dog-spittle and berries all over the ground. He looks at me with guilty eyes and I grab the bucket. Evidently he likes huckleberries. Todd soothes Grendel's hurt feelings; GSP's are notorious for trouble but easily hurt if they think you are mad. And yes, he just grabbed about 30 minutes worth of picking out of my bucket so I am mad. Todd picks up the discards, wraps his arms around Grenny like a hug and feeds him berries. Neither of us can remain sad or mad after the sweet look Grenny gets in his eyes.

It takes four hours to pick a gallon of huckleberries. I suppose the experienced berriers are faster, more efficient. I see several with five-gallon buckets. Fast fingers and fearless hearts. We head home and look up the ferret online. Huh. It wasn't a ferret, after all. I explain to Todd that it had a weasel-like head...and, what do you was a long-tailed weasel. The description also said that they attack animals larger than they are. See. It was attacking! But the description said they are also very curious. Hmm...maybe it was just asking, "Whatchya doin'?"

The short answer, Mr. Weasel, I was struck by huckleberry fever. But now I have jam and frozen packets of berries for future huckleberry pancakes. Nom-nom-nom, Mr. Weasel.


  1. Oh, HUCKLEBERRIES! How I miss picking them in the hidden valleys of Idaho! We all had our favorite places : ) I would keep enough to make us huckleberry syrup and freeze a bunch for pancakes, then I'd sell a bunch to roadside stands!

    1. It made me feel like a real Idahoan to pick them! There were lots of berriers picking the last of them to sell, too. I'm just in love with having them in pancakes!