“Can you hear it?” I called down the stairs to wake up my kids.
Two sleepy voices from their bedrooms called back out to me. “The call of the huckleberry!”
This has become a family tradition, when we are about to go huckleberry picking. We were taken out years ago when the kids were small by dear friends, and between their great sense of humor and our family always creating a “family language” around everything, we have made this an annual tradition. Now, it had been years since ALL FOUR of us had been available to go together, the last few years it had just been a couple of us. So THIS was exciting! A family day with all of us. We were embarking on an adventure! A day together up in the mountains picking huckleberries, a favorite time of year from their childhood. It was going to be a perfect day.
Can you hear it??
Can you hear the call of the huckleberry?
Perhaps you live on the other side of the country, but here in the Pacific Northwest, this is a “SPORT”. Every family has “Their spot” and no one gives it up. It is a well kept secret! Sort of like an Italian grandmother and her secret sauce recipe. SSSHHHH! Don’t tell anyone, but I just might give you directions to my secret huckleberry patch and what mountain it is on. We will whisper now, because we don’t want to alarm the locals….
After the chaotic and tedious jobs of making food, filling water jugs, packing backpacks, (all things we should have done the night before but didn’t), we were on the road. A roughly 90 minute drive from where we live. If we didn’t stop. So it took us two hours. I see you shaking your heads, so you have traveled as a family too? Yes, more than one stop happened. One of which may have been for “sissy coffee” as grandpa calls Dutch Brothers, or any other coffee that isn’t straight black mud.
We often have read books aloud as a family, listened to sermons, listened to music, or other activities when traveling together. This day, we were listening to a sermon by Chip Ingram about how we react to circumstances beyond our control Hmmmm, in retrospect…
Arriving at Huckleberry Massacre Road, (Is this a hint as to where we pick?) where we always park, and gathering all our gear, we trekked in a long ways. To the END of the world it seems. I know it has to be a mile or two…but maybe only one in reality.
Up hill. Both ways.
Before you know it, we are competing as to who has the most berries, who found the best spot to pick, and who picked the most berries last time. We are bantering, laughing, chatting. Lunch was amazing, we have little tiny stools we carry to sit on while picking, instead of bending and squatting. So we sat our chairs in a circle, prayed together under the swaying trees and birdsong, and ate this way, in our circle, playfully bickering over who picked the most before lunch, and who didn’t earn their lunch. The hot July day in the mountains, with views in the distance that anyone would envy. I wished I had brought my camera, and my phone was at the bottom of my pack. The refreshing breeze whispered through the trees, swept over our sweaty foreheads, and cooled our tired bodies. Chipmunks argued with each other over the fattest huckleberry, and scampered off. I felt truly happy.
Every year it gets harder to get us all together at once for an adventure, and I’m just a mommy with her whole little family alone together on the top of the mountain picking huckleberries and the day was perfect. My heart swelled.
The afternoon was lovely, we cried out when we dropped a fat juicy berry for the fairies on accident, hoping they would be planting them for us, reseeding the huckleberry patch for next year. We had dumped out our buckets into the empty cooler after lunch, and were hefting heavy berry buckets once again. The sun was showing us it was getting late, but we had found the best spot of the day and were reluctant to leave it.
The berries were so big we would have to drag them out of the forest. They were the biggest, best berries in years, of all time!
A true buffet of jam, pies, huckleberries in cold and hot cereal, huckleberry pancakes and huckleberry ice cream awaited us! The most we had gotten in one, long, backbreaking day in too many years to count! We had also found great picking with two different varieties, both red and purple. We were so excited! Overjoyed!
Finally, with all our berry buckets emptied into the now literally “full to the brim” cooler, we strapped it onto it’s dolly and began dragging it out.
Every time the boys pulled it up a hill, down a steep incline, or over a log, I found myself PRAYING to God that it would not dump out. I felt a little guilty on the last steep incline, because my boys could have fallen, and I was praying they would not dump out the 8 to 9 gallons they guessed we had in that cooler.
Some folks sell their berries at 40 bucks a gallon so this really was a valuable treasure, even though we would not sell them.
It felt SO GOOD to reach the car, and take off that hot, burden of a pack, and set it in the car. As I sat in the front seat, peeling off my shoes and socks to cool myself down, my husband was loading everything into the back of the van. I had left my exhausted man with the packs, and the overstuffed cooler sitting on the ground behind him. I am still fussing with my socks, seatbelt and cooling essential oils as he is getting in and starting to back up the van to get out of the spot he parked. Kids are chattering, he is backing up and there is a noise…
What was that? My husband backs up another 10 feet and suddenly slams on the breaks.
What are we dragging, or pushing behind us? I look up and see a long dragging mark in front of us where something has indeed been dragging under our van as we had backed up. The horror washes over me! The vision of that cooler BEHIND my hubby as he had loaded the van flashes through my head.
“OUR HUCKLEBERRIES!” I cried out, pitifully.
Four doors crash open and four panicked people rush out to see what lay on the ground. There is our cooler tipped over on it’s side, and a long, 20 foot or longer trail of huckleberries on the ground. The lid was ripped off the cooler, and now under the car. I jump in, and move the car. We had to move it eventually, there were too many under the car, so I just bit the bullet and did it. We survey the damage. It appears we have part a cooler left. Some of the berries have been turned, by the tires, into something unimaginably gruesome.
There was shock, cries of honest feelings of devastation. Disbelief! All those gorgeous, huge, beautiful, red and purple berries, our treasure of epic proportions in a glory year of picking! A whole days labor times four people. So many feelings pouring out, and all we could do was stare at it in disbelief and horror.
After a few moments, I shook myself. It is getting late, the sun is about to set, we are deep in the mountains, and we have a LONG drive ahead of us. I turn the cooler back upright, and assess that we still have half a cooler full of clean, flawless berries. I look at the ground and realize that some of our hours of work may still be salvaged. At least the part that was not in a long streak of mutilated jam behind the tires. I frankly tell them to help me pick up what they can that is still in good shape, we wash them anyway, washing off some dust from the road won’t be any different. Not really.
All of us start picking up what we can, with a few more whimpers of emotion spewing out. By the time we had been picking berries up for a couple minutes, I started to laugh, and someone joined in, then another someone. My husband felt terrible, and kept apologizing but out came our family’s sense of humor. We start cracking jokes, the banter starts back up, dragging even the most upset of us into it. We gleefully named that dirt road!
“Huckleberry Massacre Road.”
Yup, that is the name of it now. It will never be anything else to us. So that is where you should park when you hike in to our super secret spot! The jokes come out like a stream now.
Can you hear it???
They are screaming!!!!!
The death scream of the huckleberry!
We made road jam!
The berries so nice we picked them twice!
This is huckleberry roadkill.
Some people tell ghost stories, we tell huckleberry massacre stories!
Can you hear it?
They are crying!
The screaming of the huckleberries!
It looks like a massacre! Obviously the guy who picked the least was punished! No one will want to eat our jam now, how else will we hide him!?
Giggles, Smirks, snorts, chuckles. (Our family may watch a little too much “Criminal Minds” on TV, PLEASE forgive our sick humor.)
Mom has given the phrase TOE JAM a whole new meaning! (Yes, I looked down at my feet, they were covered in dust and “jam” for sure! Squishing between my toes, was muddy huckleberry jam.)
About then, a man in a truck drove up, and stopped. He stared at us, and what may appear to be my partially slaughtered feet. I yell out that we picked gallons, then drug them behind the car, and he just left, saying “I won’t tell anyone!”. Like 4 people crazily, laughingly, picking up chunks of something off the ground that was obviously drug behind the car due to a long streak of bright red carnage stretching on for many feet in the middle of the forest could look like anything suspicious! A woman’s feet having gory looking chunks fall off. What could be wrong here? We giggled.
Eventually, we picked up as many usable berries that could be salvaged whole, and left the rest for the fairies to plant new bushes to feed the forest with. The forest animals would feast on jam that night! Perhaps even the twitchy, jittery chipmunk that was harvesting berries back in our secret spot as fast as we were, right along side us, would be able to store some of them up for winter.
We drove back up Huckleberry Massacre Road, and onto the main mountain road. The long drive down the mountain was spent in exhaustion, and listening to the second sermon in the series we started that morning. As the speaker started by “reviewing” the first lesson about how we react to circumstances being what grows us, teaches us and gives us experience in wisdom, someone from the back seat says, “I wish we didn’t always need object lessons to these.” And we laughed, ruefully. Yes we could have really lost it, we could have yelled, screamed, stamped our feet and cried. We could have let it ruin our special day. I know we felt like it, some of us may even have REALLY wanted to, but all we can do is accept, assess, (It is what it is), and move on. Work through the mess, one step at a time.
Pick up the pieces one berry at a time. Let it make you a better person, and move on in faith.
Can YOU hear it??
The whimper of the Huckleberries?
Wait, I almost forgot. Directions to our super secret Huckleberry patch!
What, ARE YOU NEW? We don’t tell people that, around here!