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Wednesday, October 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Huckleberry Haiku celebrates year’s bumper crop

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

Vaccinium recipe

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:

Ripe huckleberries

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:

Hucks undigested

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

Huckleberry smiles

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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