The best huckleberry picking season in years has inspired hikers, campers, pie makers,
teachers, scientists, a TV weather reporter and an internationally acclaimed
Spokane novelist to pay homage to the harvest with a few well-chosen words.
Last month, when it was clear that a bumper crop of the region’s signature mountain fruit was ripening in the Selkirk, Cabinet and Bitterroot mountains, I planted a seed in a column requesting readers to capture the essence of their huckleberry experience in three lines of Huckleberry Haiku.
“Sorry I’m slow to respond,” wrote Holly Weiler two weeks later. The Eastern Washington representative for the Washington Trails Association had been coordinating volunteers to build bridges and other trail improvements at Mount Spokane.
But when she found time for relaxation, Weiler set out on a trek, where Huckleberry Haiku became a perfect if not haunting mental companion as she attempted to put miles behind her.
“I couldn’t get 5-7-5 out of my head while hiking yesterday!” she said, dropping this in my haiku bucket:
Never hike Hungry
With high mileage goals in mind
Height of berry time
Most of the haiku submitted paralleled themes familiar to every huckleberry picker, such as bears, berry stains and spilled buckets. Some people shared their personal huckleberry vocabulary. For example, Bob Divine, borrowing a line from “Night at the Museum,” uses the term “gigantor” to describe the prize find of a grape-size huckleberry.
Colville National Forest botanist Kathy Ahlenslager, while making use of the Latin names she had to memorize in college, was consumed by the basic pleasure of huckleberrying in this verse she titled Keep It Simple:
Purple in the hand
Purple in the mouth
Chris Loggers, the Colville Forest’s wildlife biologist, lives near Huckleberry Heaven but clearly working too hard:
Curses, failed again
My destiny unfulfilled
Let others pick mine!
Indeed, KXLY TV chief meteorologist Kris Crocker Post reminds us that not everyone gets out to the mountains. “I’ve only been huckleberry picking once,” she said. “I was on some weird medication when I was trying to get pregnant, and I was hallucinating bears everywhere, so I’ve never gone back.” Her haiku explains:
Kris was unwelcome
Hunting berries at Priest Lake
Bears don’t watch TV
I couldn’t help but commiserate with Kris and others in her profession:
Berries but a dream
As we forecast in your tube
News of a haboob
Impossible as it sounds, the purple mountain majesty that lures many to commune with mosquitoes and grizzlies isn’t for everyone, says Rachel Toor, a standout trail runner and associate professor in the Eastern Washington University English department.
“I know this is an unpopular position, but I like huckleberries about as much as I appreciate haiku – which is to say, um, not.”
I couldn’t help but wonder, haikuically speaking:
She balks at haiku
Finds foul the huckleberries
Does she have the runs?
Most people, however, take to huckleberries as naturally as bears, including local musician Carlos Alden:
Scattered clouds blue sky
Eating berries while we pick
Wait, did you say “Bear?”
Backpacker Ken Vanden Heuvel reported this exciting haiku tale fresh from an experience in the mountains:
Thrashing brush outside the tent
Awake before dawn
Bears aren’t the only critters Spokane author and naturalist Jack Nisbet associates with huckleberries.
Nisbet sent in a bumper crop of a dozen Huck Haikus, with all sorts of imagery to put a reader in the place as well as the mood. His verses spotlighted dragonflies, marathon pickers, campsites, sky above White Mountain, “she slice” of beargrass and the “laughter and low murmurs on a huckleberry slope cut by long stretches of utter silence.”
One verse spurred my imagination:
The pine marten that
Tried to run up your pants leg
Kicked over my can
I, too, have had many berry-related critter experiences. One frequent observation prompts me to ponder the efficiency of a bear’s gastrointestinal design. Forgive me for being honest, but:
Bear’s scat would fill my bucket
Wash well; who would know?
Adam Lynn of Tacoma isn’t so consumed by the sight of purple piles:
Bear scat matters not
Nor majestic mountain view
Pie fills my mind’s eye
Josephine Faith Gibbs chimed in on the pie angle, complete with a taste bud-taunting photo of her baking talent right out of the oven:
I’m in a hurry
Huckleberry pie is not
Sit. Breathe. Savor.
Jon Thorpe of Liberty Lake says huckleberry recipes are mostly unused at his place:
Cheesecake, milkshakes, pies
Some tasty rewards for folks
More patient than I
Thorpe also offers advice learned from down time in huckleberry patch:
Back sore from bending
Sitting in the berry patch
White pants bad idea
Jess Walter, Spokane’s hottest writer – author of six novels published in 26 countries and translated into 28 languages – seemed to be cooking up another plot with this haiku:
I stumbled on a grow-op
Purple haze indeed
Be careful out there, Jess, and – ’scuze me but you missed a pie!
Poetry from other readers suggest that huckleberry picking can be an intensely personal experience.
Sara Girton of Elk revealed:
Now deep in summer
Among the bushes I stride
My heart bleeds purple
Paul Shields of Liberty Lake wrote:
Lost in the berries,
Sparkling mountain jewelry,
I find true treasure
Phil Hough, a wilderness advocate in Sagle, is into quality:
Picking purple prose
One round berry at a time
Dark hands nose and toes
Dave Gilbert of the Gonzaga Outdoors program says the prime time to appreciate a huckleberry is at the source:
Eat just one berry
You know where and when you are
You should savor it
Jim Kershner, a writer well-known to S-R readers, supplements his camping diet with purple fruit:
Fresh-picked purple gems,
Nestled on packed-in oatmeal,
Breakfast on the trail
Huckleberry picking led Jeff Holmes, a hunter and writer, to poignant skeletal evidence of wounding loss in North Idaho:
Broadhead, shaft, fletching,
Under a purple-hands pall
White bear bone reposed
Cost is not an issue for most huckleberry hounds, unless you’re a freelance writer like Kevin Taylor:
A difficult search
Leads to a huck paradise
How much per gallon??!!
Family memories are fertile fields for Huckleberry Haiku, as Rick Price of Sagle points out:
Picking with daughter
Cheap, sunny, mountainside joy
Her can never fills
Ken Hires, North Cascades National Park ranger at Stehekin, paints another image:
Laughter in the air
Purple lips frame purple teeth
Every family seems to have a member who suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder when exposed to a huckleberry patch.
Dan Hansen says his family refers to forays with his wife, Pam, as “no berry left behind.”
Teresa Vanairsdale confessed to being “the one” in her family.
“I would do anything for a huckleberry!” she wrote. “I have folded my body in ways I’ve regretted, picked during the beginning of thunderstorms until my husband would order me out of the woods and persevered for hours with undersized berries and low-yield bushes to top off my margarita mix bucket.”
Vanairsdale, who may be the poster girl for the Huckleberry Haiku challenge, offered this:
Poetry and hucks
My two favorite prospects
Luck goes a long way
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