Finding huckleberries is one of the sweetest, simplest, best joys in the world. Not unlike the beautiful little surprise bits of joy that crop up from day to day in real life; round, ripe, purply blue huckleberries always pop up when you’re not expecting them, while you’re slogging uphill in the early morning, already tired after the first tenth of the ambitious hike you’ve planned. And like struggling and striving for happiness in life ultimately ends in the opposite, heading out with the intent to fill buckets with huckleberries always ends in disappointment, in a pie filled with bland grocery store blueberries. But head down, feet getting hot in your boots, quads starting to protest, heading uphill; there they are. And here’s me, squatting on the side of the trail, as ravenous for the berries as a baby bear must be after a long, sad, berryless winter.
A dozen tiny berries later, either picked and popped straight down the hatch or hoarded into a tiny but infinitely pleasing palmful, everything is restored, all is good; we bravely tromp onwards and upwards. For five minutes, until we stop at another irresistible berry bush, the humans hurriedly plucking them off like they might disappear, the dog mangling the entire bush with equal eagerness. And the berries lined the entire trail. Led us all the way up to 7,000 feet or so, when they finally petered out and we were left to fuel ourselves with only determination and honey sandwiches up to the top of Jug Mountain at 8,340 feet.
Then they helped us down, after we’d all had our fill of being upright and moving our legs long ago, done hiking when we got to the top of the mountain and looked down at the green-brown valley splotched with blue lakes like paint spills, ringed with low mountains and higher peaks in the distance, a veil of smoke hanging over it all, drifted up from the fires down south. Though we were sure we’d sapped the berry bushes for all they were worth on the way up, still, an abundance of sweetness on the way down, each little berry quietly waiting between two green leaves, easily popped off the bush with a tiny pinch of the fingers; each berry as satisfying and delightful as the last, as the first.
“Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”
-Wendell Berry (an appropriately named man…)