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huckleberry day

(post, Kim Carlson)

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Have you ever had mountain huckleberries? They're sweet and perfumey — with a distinct flavor that most everyone likes. 
I come from a clan of huckleberry lovers, and every August the members of my family go to great lengths to gather these tiny prizes. 

Ten of us hounded them one day last week, driving two hours to a patch that my mom and dad had scouted the week before. The temperature was in the 70s and the air was clear, an ideal day for huckleberrying.

Some of us ate more than we saved; others competed for who could gather the most. Huckleberries are smaller than blueberries, and it takes awhile to gather enough to notice. The weekend rain had smashed some of the berries, and picking was so-so.

But I wouldn't have traded the day for anything. There we were, ages 3 to 67, gathering and munching, talking and laughing. Perfect hours.

We picked and picked, and then we left the rest for the bears. Late afternoon, we walked to a lake nearby and some of us waded — despite the leeches! — while others of us threw sticks for the dogs and lounged as best we could on the bumpy shore. 

This winter when I add a handful of frozen berries to the pancake batter, I'll remember the dappled sunlight of the huckleberry patch and the way the berries stained my fingers, and I'll be twice thankful for those little purple bits of summer.