Huckleberry picking is slow tedious work but connects us to the hunter-gatherer that still dwells deep within us.
Last week, Cathy and I started out on a hike to Prospect Peak near Heise. Knowing that we would be traipsing through huckleberry country we were prepared with a container each, just in case there were still a few berries holding on.
We weren’t far up the trail before we stopped at the first sign of surprisingly abundant berries. We dropped our gear and began to pick.
Picking huckleberries is an exercise in patience. The berries are small, a big one barely exceeds a quarter inch diameter. They aren’t big and proud like blackberries which practically jump into the pail. Single huckleberries are set well back against the leaves. Each berry required nimble fingers with the dexterity of a flea-picking monkey and I dropped more than a few trying to extricate them.
Our fingertips were quickly stained from berries that refused to release easily from the stems. A thousand berries later, the purple stain had migrated up the fingers and into the palms.
I examined my first small handful and proudly slid them to the quart-sized storage container. I was dismayed at how lonesome they looked in the bottom of that cavernous yaw. The next handful seemed to contribute little to the supply. There was still more bottom than berry.
But by then, I was hooked. These berries were a bounty for the taking, a way to supply for my family from the fat of the land. That fired up a primitive urge. I entered a psychological freefall through time. I tumbled out of the Information Age, barreled past the Atomic Age and careened over the Industrial Age. Skirting the beginnings of the Age of Agriculture, I landed squarely in with the Hunter-Gatherers.
This harvesting of berries was far more than just a few sweet berries for a forthcoming pie. Now I was in touch with my primal self, sniffing the wind and my hiking staff a spear to defend my patch of berries against all others.
It was suddenly all about survival. My fingers were animated by visions of far off winter blizzards holding us hostage for weeks at a time. I was anxious, almost possessed, with gathering more. Maybe, I thought, I’d make pemmican, that Native American favorite. I could grind huckleberries and tallow with venison from last year’s time travel and form the hunter-gatherer equivalent of energy bars to survive winter.
Even as I stripped down to my metaphorical loincloth, my wife remained firmly planted in the 21st century. She ignored my protestations that is wasn’t about money and very practically pointed out that even at the current wild price huckleberries were fetching at the Farmer’s Market, our harvesting was netting us each about $8 per hour. She bored quickly of the tedious task but marched on hoping I’d come to my senses.
When two quart containers were finally full, I did return to the present, adjusted my modern gear and marched to Prospect Peak. But for the rest of the day, my hunter-gatherer alter-ego sizzled just below the surface.