Huckleberry friends

Bi-weekly columnist shares some thoughts on sharing a favourite pastime

“Moon River”, a lovely song from the 1960s, still charms listeners today. Composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by songwriter Johnny Mercer, it was featured in the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  Those lyrics spoke about being “after the same rainbow’s end/waiting round the bend/my huckleberry friend.”

As I listened to that song the other night, it occurred to me my friends and I were “after the same rainbow’s end”—not a pot of gold, but a bucket of lush huckleberries.  Always for us, there are huckleberry bushes “waiting round the bend” or just over that hillside, or down in that gully. And we’re happy to seek these signs of a good summer because we’re huckleberry friends.

Huckleberry friends are those friends who are willing to wander in the forest with you in good times and bad—when there are berries and when there are not.

These people can be counted on to show up when it’s raining or when it’s sweltering hot. They can handle scratches on their hands and legs, mosquito bites on their necks, and tumbles down slight inclines.  They arrive to be with you, but their primary goal is the picking of huckleberries, preferably marble-sized, glistening-black, and plentiful.

I thought about this the other day while I was clamped to the side of a cliff with a few flies humming about me and the rumbling of a train in the distance. Despite the need to hold tightly to a branch to avoid falling eight feet straight down through prickly bushes and dead brown ferns, I was comfortable.  With one hand I could still pick the dark huckleberries that ripen in that location in late June, and so I was happy.

I have always been happy in berry patches, whether it was the saskatoon or chokecherry glades of my youth or the huckleberry bonanzas on mountainsides here in B.C. Plunking berries into my pail and holding on tight, I realized that happiness finds its way into our hearts in tiny bursts and often in the strangest places.

Nearby was one of my long-time huckleberry friends pouring berries into her pail. She had to get down some of those cliffside slopes by sliding on her bum and getting purple streaks in her clothing as a result.  She had found a place to sit among the berries and began filling her pail.

Sometimes we wandered along the cliff and ended up hundreds of metres apart. At other times, we were within a few metres of each other if one or the other found heavy picking.

Often huckleberry friends will tell each other stories to accompany the picking. Both of us have been on berry-picking jaunts where some of the gatherers didn’t want to pick. She said she had met someone who refused to pick huckleberries because she had been forced to pick berries when she was young. Consequently, that person hated picking berries.

I told her that some of my friends would rather shoot grasshoppers than go berry picking. But strangely enough, in her case and in mine, we loved picking berries from the first time we purpled our hands.

There’s something so relaxing about being alone in the woods, berry bushes bending around you, a hawk soaring high above against a fluff of white clouds, and barely a sound filtering through from far-off civilization.

Among my other huckleberry friends, D can out-pick me, H won’t leave the patch once he’s in it, and J wanders far and wide, always looking for better berries.

But they all have one thing in common—they love being in the heart of a berry patch, picking away.