A Walk in the Woods

Our kids are visiting grama’s house for a week and my husband and I have already run out of things to talk about. Okay, not really; we recite lame movie lines to each other and use a lot of unneccesary curse words we can’t use when the kids are home.

So on Saturday I was out junking and Dr. Rossman called from work to ask if I wanted to go huckleberry picking with him the next day. I assumed he meant at, like, a huckleberry farm, but he actually meant IN THE WILD. But I was feeling good because I was by myself in an antique store on a sunny day with an iced mocha in-hand, so I cheerfully agreed.

The next day Dr. Rossman was up at the crack of dawn and I was already thinking up reasons why we shouldn’t go. I needed to paint. We have a construction project going on. It might be hot. There will be bears. But Dr. Rossman was not deterred and I did quite like the idea of huckleberry pie, so I begrudingly put on jeans (first time in weeks!) and hiking boots (which I had Dr. Rossman check for spiders because they’d been out in the garage) and a t-shirt that aptly exclaimed “Prima Donna!” in sequins.

We drove about an hour and a half east, into the Mount Jefferson wilderness, up an old logging road, then another, worse, logging road where I was sure we would pop a tire (we did not) and at last parked at a BLM gate and hiked another mile on a dirt road. Dr. Rossman then said we’d now be relying on his intuition to find the huckleberry patch that he’d seen many times before while in this area.We waited for his inutition to kick in, then headed up a hill into the wood where I was sure a puma was going to jump out and eat me. Also, we were looking for huckleberries and you know who else looks for huckleberries? Bears.

I have never seen a black bear in the wild myself, but I’ve always been told “they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” I’ve never wanted to test the theory and generally stay out of bear areas whenever possible. Dr. Rossman has seen lots of bears and assured me that we would no doubt hear (and probably smell) a bear before we saw it. Pumas, they are a different story. They’re sneaky bastards. I always imagine them lounging up in the trees like Shere Khan in The Jungle Book (yes, I know he was a tiger, stay with me) kind of leaning on one arm like they’re cruising, nodding their heads and listening to gangster rap. I imagine they would size up our little party of two and think, “The male is all hair and sinew, but the female, she’s slow and has some good meat on her.”

So to ward off bears and pumas, I talked pretty much nonstop about my fear of bears and pumas. Then I realized that it was bow season and here I was in a black t-shirt hunkered down in a berry patch and that I should also be afraid of near-sighted hunters. And spiders. Because the woods are full of huge spiders that make it their business to string their webs impossibly long distances so you can’t avoid walking through them.

But I’m a good sport and the clearings in which we were searching for the elusive huckleberries were really gorgeous and spider-free. We had a stunning view of Mt. Jefferson and Dr. Rossman rattled off the names of different paths and peaks and flora and fauna because that’s what he does.

In the end, we picked about one cup of huckleberries because apparently the bears got to them first. (I ate a couple berries off the bush and then thought what if a bear’s mouth as been on these berries? What kind of bear saliva disease could I be incubating right now?)

After about an hour of futile berry-searching, we hiked back down the hill with our pitiful harvest. I’d packed a tailgate lunch so we soothed our bruised berry-picking egos with sharp cheddar, red wine sausage and sea-salted dark chocolate. Later that afternoon, Dr. Rossman good-naturedly augemented the huckleberries with some blackberries we already had and made a stellar pie. He makes really good pies. Like, really good. And I made a big show of saying how the huckleberry flavor really came through and they are so distinctive, we probably wouldn’t have wanted to make a whole pie out of them anyway.

Because that’s what you do.

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