Huckleberry heaven again

Retrospective on a cherished summer pastime

There are huckleberries this year. I’m not telling you where because my picking friends would have my hide. Suffice to say there are lots and they’re big.

This year my first picking was with my huckleberry friends Linda and Cathy. We stumbled down a steep cliff and had to hold on to branches sometimes while we picked. Lower down, however, we were able to sit down and pick to our heart’s content. I felt a bit like a shaggy bear, four-footed in glory.

There’s something magical about being in a berry patch—any type of berry patch tucked away from civilization. I sit there and plunk the berries into a pail, listening to the birds and enjoying the calm. A little bit of paradise, it seems.

I’ve felt this way about berry-picking since I was a kid picking berries in the Cypress Hills with my family. I couldn’t wait to wander across the hillside and enter a low treed area where I couldn’t hear or see anyone else. Only the chickadees made enough noise to disturb me as I ate saskatoons and filled my pail.

Later, when I moved to the West Coast, I discovered huckleberries and used to take my own kids into berry patches all up and down highway 99 between Whistler and Pemberton. Twice we encountered bears and thought nothing of it.

At the coast, you can also find red huckleberries. My wife used to send the kids out to our back yard with cups to pick these delicate berries. She would then make red-huckleberry tarts, which she stored for Christmas treats.

When we moved to Castlegar we heard about a huckleberry patch at the end of Ninth Avenue in South Castlegar, just beyond where the Hangos live now. Someone among our new friends had let the secret out of the proverbial bag.

On an early July morning, we would ride our bicycles to the end of ninth where there were no houses yet. Then 20 meters up, we found the first berries, but these were not big enough for my kids.  They left me there and scurried over the rocks and through the bushes. Every now and then, they would yell, “Dad, the berries are so big,” or “Dad, we found a loaded patch.”

Of course, when I caught up to them, they’d move on. I’d be left with the smaller berries they preferred not to pick or couldn’t see. I’d clean the bushes of the tiny berries my sons didn’t yet have time for. Then I’d hustle on up the slope to the next “bonanza” patch they’d found. When all the buckets were full, they’d race back down to where we’d hidden the bicycles. I worried that they’d trip and fall spilling all their hard-earned berries, but they never did. I wanted to slide down the slope and catch up to my sons, their youth, but the task was impossible.

One year on the Bombi Summit – a secret spot with possible bears in every forest depression – we found so many berries that the kids decided to sell them. They sold a bucket or two every couple of days up and down 10th Avenue. When I hear that huckleberries now fetch $35 an ice-cream pailful, I whince a bit as I think of the $5 a pail my sons made.

But those were halcyon days! I was young and spry, my sons were spry and eager, and the berries were plentiful. In addition, my wife enjoyed making huckleberry coffee cakes, huckleberry syrup, huckleberry jam, huckleberry tarts, and huckleberry pies. We would eat fresh huckleberries with fresh cream and a bit of sugar, feeling perhaps we’d rediscovered Eden itself.