On the huckleberry trail

Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist Gord Turner with some tasty observations on a seasonal compulsion

Gord Turner contributes a bi-weekly column to the Castlegar News

 

A fellow columnist in a local online news source recently wrote about the huckleberries available around Rossland.  In fact, he was quite happy to have found abundant berries in several locations, and thus he coined the word “hucked.”  So overwhelmed was he by the berries, the picking, and the possibility of making berry wine that he felt “hucked.”

I know exactly how he felt because during several past summers I have found so many berries I couldn’t pick them all.  I came home with several pails full and went back for more until my wife yelled “enough.” I seem to become mesmerized when I enter huckleberry heaven and won’t leave as long as there are berries to be had.

I get in among the bushes and the purple-black berries, and somehow I drop the world far behind. I hear a crow yapping a ways off and the buzzing of insects nearby, but for all real purposes, I’m an entity unto myself. A cedar waxwing stops by to say hello, and a curious deer pauses in mid-stride in a nearby clearing. I sense them, but I’m interested only in the plunk-plunk of berries tumbling into my bucket.

Huckleberry picking is not for the timid.  Sometimes you have to travel several miles and find the right forestry road to get to a broad sweep of berries. Then you wind your way up into the cut block or into deeper woods, climbing over fallen logs and around stumps. In places, the alder and fireweed have taken over and have to be pushed aside. Here and there, a few huckleberries glisten on a bush, and you stumble to get to them.

In my recent picking toward Nancy Greene Lake, both my son and I fell and spilled some of the hard-won berries we’d picked. He had an excuse as he stepped on a large hornet’s nest and had to run to escape the swarm. I had no excuse other than I was scrambling over two large downed trees and had my eyes on the next berries instead of on my route.

I was amazed that my fellow columnist gave out the locations of where he found huckleberries. Here in Castlegar, the whereabouts of huckleberry patches is usually so secret no one will talk about it. They’re afraid that in talking about finding huckleberries they’ll accidentally pass on the location.

Anyway, I’ve picked huckleberries four times this summer—the first was in late June on a cliff along the Columbia River, so at a fairly low elevation. However, the cliff was so steep, I felt like a climber who needed ropes and pitons to protect himself. I held on to fir tree branches with a passion and often slid on my behind to get down to the next level.

A week later, I found berries in and around Kinnaird Park. In fact, while I was picking, friends of mine arrived and began searching the bushes nearby. I had picked the patch quite clean and felt a bit like Goldilocks after she had eaten all the porridge.  “Who’s been picking in my berry patch?” I thought I heard the tall one say.

Huckleberry ripeness moves to higher elevations as the summer progresses. Here in late August the picking has moved at least as high as Nancy Greene Lake. On one of the logging roads, we found berries in a cut block that once was quite open. Now grown over, we still found a few berries on low lying bushes, sometimes two berries at a time. Because I’m patient and retired, I have lots of time, so I still picked a bucketful before noon.

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