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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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”:
Stained fingers and tongue
Red badge of courage
Indeed, clothing stains were a common theme, which inspires me to one last informational nugget of my own:
Grandma’s trick for stains:
pour boiling water through cloth.
Best to disrobe first.