Season of the Huckleberry
The Pacific Northwest is known for the shifting of its seasons. Long winters, warming springs; short summers, coloring-changing falls. But the locals know of many other seasons; one of which is the season of the huckleberry.
The wild mountain huckleberry thrives in acidic soil and grows in higher elevations: between 2000 to 11000 feet. There are only a few states where this fruit can be found: Washington, Oregon, Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, and Idaho.
We left in the morning to begin another year of picking; our spot is up that way, yonder: take the winding road that climbs to 4000 feet, onto the dirt path, and take a right, then a left, and another left where that pine cone is. Past parked cars from other fortune hunters looking for their treasure; like modern day prospectors marking their claim while searching for that blood-violet gold, hidden in these hills.
Recalling our route from memory, the four tires underneath us spin up loose dirt; a blanket of brown dust spreads across the mountain path, our tire marks leave no trace as the dirt behind us drops slowly back down to earth. Pulling off and staking our own claim, I slide the gearbox to PARK.
We pile out and retrieve our buckets from the back. Brushing aside growth, we cross into the wood and brush and follow our trail. Walking on dead, decaying, downed timber upon uneven ground, we search.
Our feet take us to our secret spot. It seems untouched. Unspoiled. Finding the shrubs and spying a few, the first of many purple, plump berries are plucked from their leafy homes and dropped into our plastic containers.
As we work, we joke and laugh. Listening to our children's conversations, the innocence of their talk makes me smile. A quick “Dad, you need to make your huckleberry ice cream again,” brings me back to conversing with them. “Do you know how to find huckleberries, Daddy? Look for purple.” Observing, working, and learning together.
Moving from shrub to shrub, branch to branch, the huckleberries are in different stages of their growth. The trunk's roots dive deep under the rocky surface, the branches show life evident through its fruit — “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."” [John 15:4-5]
The mountain air is fresh and the summer sun shines down, while warming our skin. Battling pesky flies and other winged insects, we continue our hunt.
We spread out and find more patches. Clear a patch, step a few feet in either direction and clear more shrubs. Thinking I found the mother lode, I squat down and pull the berries from top to bottom, turning the branches over to find more; glance to my right to find another shrub covered in blood-violet gold staring back at me.
Fingers sticky and stained dark purple. The summer yield is plentiful — “I am the True vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” [John 15:1-2]
The buzzing of flies is obnoxious. Sweat drips. Backs ache. We reap the harvest of the One who sows — “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” [Colossians 1:10]
As we move from patch to patch, the higher altitude air mixes with wood and scat; bears are in these woods. Our talking grows and quiets, like the peaks and valleys of North Idaho; the silence broken by laughs or words. Our huckleberry collection grows as does the day.
Leaving our spot for another days' reap, we hike back to our metal marker. On the way, we come across other patches of berries that we quickly strip. Eventually we make it back to our dust covered ride. Our fingers still dyed with the purple tint of summer.