10. Idaho Bears and Huckleberries
Published on 27 August 2022 at 12:54
© 2022 Robert Sickles
Linda and I have vacationed and visited with two special couples many times over the years. The ladies, Linda, Joan, and Kathy, now like sisters, have been friends since early school days, and their husbands, myself, Don and Mac, enjoy the times together, whether it’s a backyard BBQ, going to a ball game, a run of the white water, beachcombing, a stay at a country inn or just visiting at home and catching up with stories about our kids and grandkids. The way I see it, we each have special attributes to add to the mix.
In my simplistic nutshell: Joan is a brilliant gourmet, a planner and detail person, a very strong and supportive woman, someone you would want on your side, and a formidable opponent in table games and cards. Joan's husband Don is a superlative family man, and a fountain of knowledge, technique and wisdom—go see Don if you want to know who won the ’93 World Series, or if you want to get better at using a golf putter, or if you have a question about Saint Augustine or John Adams. Linda is a fair-minded and easy-going good sport, willing and able to join in to whatever the gang decides and pitch in when there’s a chore to do—a lovely star of flexibility and kind support. Kathy is a social magnet who magically turns friends into family wherever she goes—two of her secrets: not having a judgmental bone in her, and being able to remember names, anniversaries and birthdates better than anyone! And Kathy's husband is Mac, a master of so many trades and capabilities, building a house, piloting a cabin cruiser, creating beautiful stained glass and custom cabinetry—and a habitual joke teller and wisecracker, loved by many, tolerated by some. No matter the topic of conversation, he has an endless repertoire of “true” stories and one-liners to fit the moment, and even a few practical jokes to liven things up. Mac can always be depended on for comic relief, or in some cases, comic upheaval.
One summer, we all rented a waterfront house for a week’s stay on Priest Lake in northwestern Idaho, about 25 miles south of the Canadian border. We enjoyed boating to the wild uninhabited north end of the lake, jumping off the dock into cold crystal water, watching a meteor shower in the darkest, star-filled sky, taking in the mountain view from the patio, trying the local restaurants and browsing in the little towns along the lake. As remote as the setting might seem, Priest Lake has a gently populated waterfront, a few resorts, marinas and campgrounds.
Exploring our roomy rental was like joining the owner’s family for a summer getaway, full of their memories and treasures—the fishing gear in the hall closet, binoculars on the window sill, framed photos on the book shelf, water skis and life vests in the boat house, a large add-on bunk house with 4 beds in a row, a tidy kitchen. On the wall by the door, there were leather cuffs with bells, and a decorative sign suggesting you should wear them when berry picking to alert bears of your presence. In spite of those of us who took the bear warning very seriously, it was decided we would go hunt for the Northwest’s famous wild huckleberries the next day.
We had some idea of where to look for the huckleberries, thanks to a tip from the homeowner. Naturally, a couple of us were already on edge about bear danger in the woods. And, of course, Mac loved stoking the fire, and had an endless run of old puns, groaners and his famous “no bull, true story” knee slappers about bears and hunters, hikers or picnickers—and, yes, even a dirty joke about Goldilocks.
“I went hunting for bear with my brother-in-law. “Mac,” he asked, ‘Have you ever hunted bear before?’ I replied, ‘Hunting naked? Of course not, but I've gone fishing in my underpants.’”
So sad, Mac.
“By the way, did you know that the most common thing hunters find in the stomach of a bear is a leather cuff with little bells attached?”
Oh, now that’s mean.
Driving up into the nearby forest, we eventually found a sun-dappled area with lots of berry bushes, and we began picking. We moved carefully downhill over large fallen trees and rocks and pushed our way through dense undergrowth, hunting for the “mother lode” of berries. Following their hunches of where to pick, a couple strayed a little a little further into the woods. I couldn’t see exactly where she was, but Linda was calling out “Hey guys! I’ve found the best berries!” A minute later, she suddenly came bounding up the slope toward us, literally flying over the tangle of boulders and logs, arms flailing and spilling her bag of berries, a terrified look on her face, softly calling “BEAR! BEAR! Oh my God, I saw him through the trees—right down there!”
Standing frozen, we held our breaths and prayed! In a few seconds we heard rustling in the branches and animal sounds of huffing and snorting. Then Mac emerged from behind a tree in that direction, wearing his brown ball cap pulled low over his face. We should have known! Linda and the rest of us were victims of Mac’s latest prank! It didn’t help that he stood tall with his arms outreached and growled when he got close to Linda. She swatted at him and said he was mean. Kathy called him an asshole!
Badly shaken, half of the group wanted to skip the berries and get in the car, while sensible heads pushed for continuing to pick more berries. “We need at least enough for a pie or two!” Kathy asserted. (She is always mindful of the boys’ appetite for goodies.) “Bobby, you want pie, don’t you, Hon?” (She is also really big on pet names and terms of endearment.)
We assumed we’d have to drive the miles to town to find a grocery store, but fortunately the little convenience market out on the highway happened to have shortening and flour, so the pie bakers got right to it. I forgot to mention, if you're not sure about making the best pie crust, let Linda know you need her help. The sight and smell, so incredible! I needed a taste right away, so I eagerly lifted my serving up to my lips so I could munch directly off the plate. When Kathy pleaded for me to wait for a fork, Mac insisted “He doesn’t need a fork… forks are for amateurs. Look at him go!” For the third time in my life, that I can think of, pie has been the happy outcome of a long day's travel.
Oh man! The fresh, sweet, tart, purple goodness of wild Idaho huckleberries, and our blend of good nature, humor and talent—a perfect combination!
What a fun memory! We always loved our time together and miss them these days. Seems like we picked enough to make several pies...yummy!
And they were fresh!!
Loved your descriptions of the personalities in this crew. We melded together for many years.
We just got back from a 12 day vacation and sat down to relax and read your newest set of blogs. As soon as I read the headlines I had to skip to blog #2 knowing it would be a fun trip down memory lane. Those were great days and we were quite a crew. I was a little disappointed, but understood why, you didn't explain exactly how Linda "found the motherload." These are memories that serve food for a lifetime.
Way to go, Huck! Will every story have pie in it?