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   Volume 81 - Issue 41   email:   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
"Everybody should have warm feet at Christmas."
- Shael Davidson  


John Kinnear photos
Spectacular view looking east to the Lizard Range
from the Big Sand berry patch
Looking Back - John KinnearIt looked like I was going to get skunked this year. Made a 50 kilometer trip on a quad all over the traditional berry patches up Big and Little Sand Creek above the Galloway mill in BC and came up with nada, zip, zero. The poor saskatoon and chokecherry showing in the Pass led me to believe it would be bad everywhere on the Alberta side also for picking those beloved hucks. Then I made a couple trips up to the gate in Westcastle in late September and bingo, there they were. The second trip was on September 30th, probably the latest I have ever gone in search of purple mountain gold. And it was great.
 According to my parents the first time I was plunked down in the middle of a huckleberry patch all I could say was: "Oh my God, Oh my God". It appears that even at the early age of 5 years I recognized that I was in the presence of a truly awesome berry. I may have cut my teeth on saskatoons and chokecherries but as far as I'm concerned “vaccinium globulare” or huckleberries are a cut above all other berries.
They are a breath of tart mountain air sealed in a little purple casing. When I know they're out there it drives me nuts.  I can smell them and taste them in my mind and become obsessed.
 Memories of berry picking trips as a child stand out in my mind. Travelling from Coleman into BC berry country in the back of a pickup was an adventure in itself.  Pounding down old dirt roads full of potholes in search of this elusive bear berry.  Flopping back and forth in a pickup, singing and laughing and grabbing at branches. What a wonderful kid’s adventure.
Corbin Road 50 years ago, now there was a wild and woolly trip. We eventually gave up counting those old narrow wooden bridges we had to cross as there were so many of them. The bush seemed so wild and untouched and only a large sawdust pile suggested any human impact. Ah, but up on the slopes above that old sawmill site, that's where the big ones were. Hanging like grapes on tall bushes. Two bites to a berry. (Just kidding) My father, that world champion finder and picker, would disappear with his metal lined packsack and lard pail almost immediately. Up that slope to high ground away from us noisy kids and all. The great escape. Find a good patch, drop your pack, get comfortable and get into the picking routine. Shut out the world’s problems, breathe the crisp morning mountain air and listen to the rush of the wind high up in the trees.
Round about noon us purple- lipped kids would be called down to a sweet tasting little mountain stream in the valley bottom for sandwiches and soda pop. Then it was off with the shoes and socks and lookin' for frogs and scratchers in that foot numbing water.
Corbin, Hartley Lake, Hosmer, Big and Little Sand, Coal Creek or Morrissey. The routine was usually the same. Lotsa driving and lotsa picking. Undaunted by flies, mosquitoes, wasp nests, bears, treacherous deadfalls and knee deep mud holes we came in search of those perfect purple globes.
Most years we were successful, sometimes we got skunked.
There are no guarantees Vaccinium will be there. Course no one will tell you where their secret patch is should you meet them on the road. It's the unwritten law of pickers. Besides you know what they say. The only thing wilder than a huckleberry is a huckleberry story.
I think I know what makes a banner year tho. Contrary to its popular reputation as a cold and a hostile element, snow in the high country is actually a critical protector. Like a big blanket the snow cover acts to insulate the huck plant against the subzero colds that can settle in for weeks in the thin upper air. Also deep snows provide water storage for the coming year. In a good year, as far as the huckleberry plant is concerned, the snow will fall thick and early. A light snowpack and a late frost and you'll find yourself wondering what a saskatoon pie tastes like. Yeech! But today, October sixth there was a reported 8 inches of snow at the Adanac summit. So it is to be a La Nina year and hopefully that means lots of hucks next summer.
 In case your thinking we whites "discovered" huckleberries you would be dead wrong. Native first nations relied heavily on vaccinium as a food source. The Yakima preserved huckleberries by dehydration, drying the berries near a burning log rather than attempting to sun dry them in the humid Cascade summers. The Salish began their annual July powwow by sending a runner into the hills to pick hucks while everyone else waited in camp. On returning, prayers were said, the buckets passed to everyone who took only two berries and waited till everyone had two, then it was time to eat. No berries could be eaten before this time and after this simple ceremony it was considered safe to pick berries of all kinds.
The Kootenay Indians (now called the Ktunaxa) also had a celebration of huckleberry season in the grizzly bear dance which was second only in importance to the famous annual tortuous "sun dance".
The Salish and Ktunaxa did not adulterate their huckleberries by using them to make pemmican like the Plains Indians. Preserved huckleberries were an important element in their winter diet.
Huckleberries in the middle of winter remind me that spring is not far off and memories of sitting in the warm sun on a hillside, breathing crisp early morning mountain air in silence sustains me through the "dead" of winter.
A few simple tips for the novice picker.  Pick uphill, it's easier to see the berries. Whistle while you pick (especially kids with purple lips), the pail will fill faster. When you find a good band of berries work the same elevation along a hillside.  And lastly, never laugh at someone else's berry stained rear end till you've checked out your own.
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