For the last seven years, our family has travelled to Mt. Adams to pick huckleberries. We make the drive up the Columbia River Gorge, cross the river into Washington, and head up through the little town of Trout Lake to the dry forests of the eastern Cascade Mountains. This has become a popular area to pick over the years, and at first sight of all the cars pulled off along the main forest service road with a frenzy of folks hunting around with buckets in the bushes, one might think gold was struck here! We like to travel farther back onto gravel side roads to some of our favorite spots away from the berry picking crowds. I try to make frozen huckleberries somewhat of a staple in our winter diet, so we do several big picking trips every year to stock up. We pick in the mountains closer to home in late September, but we also keep returning to pick in the Mt. Adams area in early to mid-August because it is a beautiful place, and because this is where my father, my grandparents, and my great grandparents all picked huckleberries over the years. In fact, this area has a long, long history of huckleberry picking.
Here's a little huckleberry picking history from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Website:
"For almost 10,000 years, Native people have been traveling to what we now know as Indian Heaven Wilderness. Archaeological evidence and historic records tell us the area provided a wealth of resources for Northwest Tribes. The Sawtooth Berry Field in the northern part of Indian Heaven Wilderness is world renown for its wealth of huckleberries. The area was burned in the late 1890's and again in the Great Fires of 1902. The fields were subsequently maintained by later fires, which may be attributed to Native Americans whose berry-drying fires would escape. From 1902 to the mid-1920's, the area served as a famous summer gathering place for Northwest Tribes. Much festivity, trading, and ritual surrounded the annual huckleberry feast. The tribes would pick and dry huckleberries, race horses, play games, make baskets, dry meat, tan hides, and fish in many lakes. The local tribes included the Yakima, Klickitat, Wishram, Wasco, Cascade, and Umatilla. Tribes from as far away as Montana and Wyoming also participated.
A council in 1932 between the Yakima Nation and the Forest Service resulted in a handshake agreement, thereby designating part of the Sawtooth Berry Fields (east of Road 24) as an area of exclusive use to the local Indian peoples.
The annual huckleberry harvest is still an important part of Native American tradition."
I really enjoy folklore and storytelling, so I thought I would share this traditional Yakima Creation Legend about huckleberries that I came across on the USFS website:
"Long ago, this world was inhabited only by animals. The animals could talk and understand each other, and they were just like we are today. One day the Creator called everyone together and said, "There are new people coming to live on this earth. You must make room for them by selecting new names and identities.You have the choice of what you want to be in this new world, and I will help you."
The animals all declared what they wanted to be in the new world. The Creator asked each one to perform certain feats in order to qualify for their new identity. If an animal failed to perform the feat he had to choose something else for which he was better qualified.
Coyote, as usual, monopolized all the best choices, but each time he could not perform the feat. First, he wanted to be the eagle, but he was unable to fly high in the sky, and did not have the keen eyesight the eagle must have. Next, he wanted to be the salmon, but he could not swim well enough. At last, the only position he could qualify for was the plain old Coyote, which he is today.
Every time an animal qualified for what he wanted to be, the Creator took part of his body and placed in the new creature. For this reason, the Indian people respect everything that has life, be it plant, animal, or human, because they are all part of the Creator.
When the Creator was finished with his work, he looked and said that he did not have any berries in the mountains. The only part of his body that was left were his eyes. So, he took his eyes and put them into the ground in the mountains. The veins in his eyes bled into the earth and became the roots. The roots became the plant, and the berries sprouted and became the huckleberries."
In past years we have gone for very un-glamorous camping in dusty spots up in the woods where we could pick right around camp. We would come home so dirty, it would take days to clean up all our gear. This year we sought a little more balance between good camping and picking, so we found a campsite in the woods by a little creek at the end of a dirt road. We had to move a log out of the road to get through, but this campsite was well worth it. The kids had the creek to play in and we had some peace and quiet from all the pickers down on the main road. We had to walk a little ways to pick, but we didn't mind.
A large tree that had fallen across the creek was quickly turned into a bridge by sawing off the limbs on top. That bridge was looking pretty well-worn before the weekend was through. The kids spent a lot of time running across to build frog habitats on the sandy shore.