GET OUT: Beyond hucks

By on August 18, 2015

Fostering a new love for some of this season’s more abundant berries

A lone raspberry beckons Teton travelers. (Credit: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

A lone raspberry beckons Teton travelers. (Credit: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Amyriad of things exist that bring us to the valley. Some come for powder, some for the mountains, and others for the great shopping downtown offers. The sole reason that perpetuated my choice to live here exists in the forests. It is not in the cold stuff, or the rivers or anything else other than the low-lying shrubs growing under the thick of the pines.

Berries are important. The purple fat ones that typically grow during this time of year provide an inexplicable happiness. For those who do not know, I am talking about vaccinium membranaceum, also known as the Huckleberry. Do not confuse this with the common blueberry, for those are of little importance to the palate. I have not found a berry that quite compares to the beloved huck.

Berry picking is likely the most extreme sport here in Jackson. Not only does it take dedication, but also it takes preparation, planning and downright commitment to save enough for the winter. One must watch out for other berry pickers in this terrain because they may be guarded, aggressive or even shocked to see another human in their patches. When I encounter other pickers, I typically try to see them before they see me, give them a wide berth and hide the fact that I am searching for berries. This way, they think I am but a mountain vagabond, unaware of the deliciousness hanging on every bush and do not view me as a threat.

This season has officially been the worst huckleberry season of my Teton tenure. Some blame the cloud seeders. Others blame the spring hail. I do not know the cause of the dearth of deliciousness in the valley, all I know is that I am making less pie and feeling a bit antsy.

I began my search for the hucks thinking it was a no miss scenario.

Spot No. 1: Depleted. Huckleberries were white, leaves shriveled, the scene pathetic.

Spot No. 2: Berries were fat, but numbers averaged three berries per bush. My heart rate increased. I had spent about 32 hours searching for berries but had not yet found a spot worth picking.

In the twilight hours of my infinitely long search I heard a rustling right beside my little path. It soon became apparent that my woodland guest did not appreciate my rendition of Neil Young and Crazyhorse. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large bear sprinting away from my corridor. Initially, I felt ashamed that the bear had to listen to my terrible voice, but curiosity soon replaced indignity. Bears are known far and wide for their keen sense of smell, thus, profound sense of great berry patches. Typically, I would never take a good patch away from a bear, but desperate times called for desperate measures and the bear appeared to be completely out of sight.

With an excited heart, I scoped the patch the great beast was munching on only to be let down yet again. It was a sorry patch for a bear of its size, further validating the lack of hucks in the region. I felt a bit bad for the thing, trying its best to maintain a healthy diet on such a small, sparse and shriveled excuses for berries.

After that experience, my search for the beloved purple beads of happiness subsided. Subsequently, I replaced my allotted summer “picking hours” with mountain adventures alongside friends and family members. It was when I finally accepted that I would have no berries that the magic occurred.

While walking in the woods with my parents, a large thunderstorm came in. We sheltered in a safe place and snacked. The rain and lightning finally stopped. Everything looked shiny and new. I continued along the trail and noticed an assortment of other berries that were not of the huckleberry lineage. They were red and fat and ready to be picked.

Red berries grew like no other in the depths of this canyon. We picked until we reached the tops of our containers, and then continued to our destination. It was then I realized that the Tetons are more than just huckleberries. They are the raspberries, the thimbleberries, the currants and all the other great edibles that manage to survive the frigid winters outside of a warm cabin. Not only do they survive, but also they thrive. They too can be picked and jammed and frozen and enjoyed in the darkness of winter and even huckleberry-fueled humans can survive on stockpiling a different kind of berry every once in a while. PJH

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