Picking huckleberries has been a summer ritual all my life, as natural during the warm days as going barefoot, floating the river and shooting off fireworks. Some years berries are sparse or non-existent. This year they were everywhere, huge, juicy and irresistible. We four women drive up Crane Mountain, car windows shut against the dust. There are cars pulled to the side of the road everywhere. Another year we might moan, not this year. There is plenty for all after this late spring. Piling out of the car, one of us will ask about bug spray, another always has it. Buckets are distinct and individual, every kind from cut off plastic milk cartons to woven baskets.
Not so long ago we were the murmuring voices and our children had the tummy aches and tried to sneak off to build forts while we picked. For twenty years we four women have berry picked together, raised our children, shared terrors and triumphs as they grew up, became adults and went off on their own. We still talk about our kids, sometimes our jobs, the struggles of life, our aches, books we’ve read, how mad we got over this or that and how hilarious it is when we can’t find our sunglasses perched on top our head or remember where we parked the car. The content of the conversation has changed, a little. But the warmth and intimacy has not. We are best friends. And we hoard, bake, can and freeze huckleberries.
Some of us live in different towns now. But this yearly summer ritual never changes. It keeps us close, will have us gossiping and laughing years in the future when our knees are locking up, we’re using canes and our dentures stain from one berry in the mouth for every two in the bucket!