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Rich Landers: Berry-picking readers enjoy penning purple prose

Purple-stained fingers are a huckleberry picker’s trademark.
Purple-stained fingers are a huckleberry picker’s trademark.

One of the best huckleberry crops in memory is leaving stains on fingers and smiles on faces throughout the region. Berries are so thick in some mountain areas, a serious harvester might move less than 25 feet in an hour.

A season like this can inspire people to literary heights, as I found out six years ago when the region enjoyed a bounty of huckleberries similar to this summer’s bumper crop.

On a whim, I asked readers if a forest festooned with an incredible profusion of berries could inspire literary achievement in addition to overactive salivary glands. Dozens responded.

Readers of the Spokesman-Review turned out to be well-versed in the art of huckleberry picking. It’s in our blood, not just stained on our fingers and tongues.

I’ve often been haunted by three-line, five-seven-five-syllable haikus that pop into my mind while huckleberry picking, especially when I’ve been with my kids …

Living the moment

The bucket half full

betrayed by a purple tongue

She bears little fruit

When I asked readers if they, too, could put berry picking into words, the “Huckleberry Haiku” poured out of them like fresh, sweet huck syrup on hot pancakes.

For the record, some readers ignored the request for poetry and simply wanted to know specifically where they could find this bumper crop of berries. None offered enough money to get detailed directions, although the Bitterroot, Selkirk and Cabinet mountains are excellent places to start looking.

There was no shortage of Huckleberry Haiku coming in by phone and email.

I’ve often wondered how Shakespeare might have been influenced by purple-finger madness: “A horse, a horse, a gallon of huckleberries for a horse.”

One of the most intriguing pieces was called in by Linda MacDonald of Bonners Ferry:


Hands picking nimbly

Grandma chats on happily

to the rustling bear

The poem refers to a gem of family lore dating back 50 years.

“Grandma was at her favorite huckleberry patch in Boundary County,” MacDonald said. “She went on picking for quite a while, talking away and thinking that was grandpa moving around in the brush next to her until the bear went ‘snort, snort.’

“But she always reminded us, she didn’t spill her berries.”

That misfortune, which has fouled many picking missions, inspired Timothy Braatz of Bonners Ferry:

Bitter end

The end of summer

huckleberries on the ground

Dad kicked the bucket

Bloomsday founder Don Kardong was moved to reveal what may be a secret to his marathoning prowess:

Move on

Plump purple berries

but we hustle down the path

Purple bear scat too

Steve Heaps, a retired psychologist in Spokane Valley, has a more domesticated rivalry going:

Huckleberry hound

Big dog strips off fruit

He learn’d the trick this morning

Now I must compete

Jim McGowan, former Colville National Forest wildlife biologist, had an even sadder story of huckleberry competition:

Too late

Barren twigs I see

The only color is green

Being second sucks!

Being a two-time world champion rower and Yale graduate, Jamie Redman of Spokane appeared to have college loans on her mind as she sampled her harvest:

Cash crop

Forty bucks a quart

My purple lips tell no lies

I ate a month’s rent

Kitty Kennedy of Spokane started writing Huckleberry Haiku when she couldn’t sleep one night, then dribbled in submissions for days.

“This is worse than knitting,” she lamented by e-mail. “I can’t stop.”

Here’s a favorite from her batch:

Home SWEET home

Fiftieth birthday gift

12-by-12 outfitter’s tent

Off to berry camp

Dee Sowards of Cheney offered a cook’s perspective:

Baker’s lament

Frozen stash in hand

So few fruit, so many dreams

Pies, muffins, pancakes

Paul Lindholt of Spokane was moved to purple passion in a series of “Huckleberry Love Haikus” written for his wife. Here are two that seem to work together, the least erotic of the bunch (titles mine):

Working up to it

You rest while I pick

Then I’ll feed you soft pebbles

sprung from Earth’s rough flank.


We know muskrat love,

huckleberry longing, too.

Come, sweetheart. Let’s eat.

Michael Riley of Potlatch wrote in thanks for the incentive “that kicked our butts out of the house, down the back roads, and up the mountain.

I was moved to poetry after the nice haul and the great time had with my wife, two boys, and yellow Lab”:

Bottom line

Stained fingers and tongue

berry-picking gluttony

Red badge of courage

Indeed, clothing stains were a common theme, which inspires me to one last informational nugget of my own:

Hot treatment

Grandma’s trick for stains:

pour boiling water through cloth.

Best to disrobe first.

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