What does August mean to you?
Two events define August for me; soccer camp and huckleberry picking. Our church hosts a kids’ soccer camp and for the last several years I’ve been in charge of organizing it; that’s next week, and I can tell you I’m feeling a little stressed. Good thing that one of the best de-stressers of all is my other August highlight! Every year my mom, sister and our children head into the foothills of the northern Rockies in search of huckleberries.
Huckleberries love a higher altitude and they are also very specific about their dislikes, so it’s never a guarantee that we will find any. If a year is too dry, too wet, too hot, too cold, you might find bushes, but no berries at all, so driving three hours is a bit of a commitment. Not to mention the year the van broke down, or the times we’ve froze while picking in the rain! Despite this, or maybe because of these obstacles, we love our huckleberries. They are a pungently flavoured berry with a distinctive tang and high staining power. Nothing like eating huckleberries for breakfast and spending the first hours of your day with blue-stained teeth!
The location is so beautiful. These hills were logged about 5 years ago, and are dotted with baby spruce and pine trees; a perfect location for huckleberries to thrive. We also like that we can see any wildlife that might be approaching. This is grizzly country, after all!
This year the berries were terrific; about the best I’ve ever seen. While some years it’s a struggle to fill one bucket, this year I came home with 5 gallons, after about 4 hours of picking. The kids were a great help!
You might be thinking we’d be nervous about bears. The loggers we met on the road told us they’d seen grizzlies and wolves, and all other kinds of wildlife. Do you know, I’ve never seen a bear while picking berries? They hear us, chattering and laughing, and keep their distance, I guess. I would likely be nervous were I picking alone (are you kidding? I would NEVER pick alone – the one time I tried, I saw a wolf!), but with a group, we tend to scare off any predators with noise. I like to make up songs about berry picking; this year’s solo was “The Last Inch is the Hardest,” my take on a Sheryl Crow favourite, “The First Cut is the Deepest.” It really does take forever to fill that last inch of bucket to the top!
Every trip to the mountains is special. Whether we are hot or cold, in or out of the treeline, functioning at full capacity or broken down; we return at supper with sore muscles, berry-stained pants and hands (and teeth & tongues), cheeks sore from laughing and completely relaxed.
In five months, when the temperature drops to -35, I’ll find myself wondering “Why do we live here?” It’s photos like these, and memories like yesterday’s that remind my why I am so thankful to live in northern British Columbia, right here, right now.