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Don't Pick the Berries!

The bears have been gone from my back door for a few weeks now, a clear sign that new resources of sustenance other than garbage must be available. Up here at Welches in the foothills of Mt. Hood that means huckleberries and blackberries are ripe.

All of us who live at the mountain can breath a sigh of relief. We no longer have to keep our garbage inside until pick-up day — that is, until early spring next year, when our black fuzzy friends will be back, awakened from hibernation, some with cubs, hungry.

My sister Sue and I drove up past Government Camp to do our share of invading bear territory and pick huckleberries. We first stopped at a campground known for its produce, found a good spot, and started picking. An eight or nine-year old boy approached us and told us we couldn’t pick those berries. His parents wanted them. Sue said, “Well, tell your parents to come on out and pick.” He replied that his parents were the campsite hosts and we had to do what they said. He told us his mom wanted those berries for a pie and we, at about 50 yards and across a road, nearly out of sight, were too close to their trailer. It’s their yard.

Now, this is the National Forest we’re talking about, not some fenced-in domain. My sister and I looked at each other and moved on down the road about a hundred yards. The kid arrived on his bicycle and told us that it was O.K. to pick there. Gee, thanks. He repeated in this grown-up scolding voice that we shouldn’t have been picking “their” berries and that they really didn’t appreciate it. I told him that we were in a National Forest and that we did not appreciate the sound of their mobile home generator chugging loudly in the woods and perhaps he could ask his father to turn it off for a while. The kid looked at me like I was insane and said, “How could we watch TV?”

Ooh, boy. I mentioned perhaps they could enjoy the forest and not watch television and the kid told me (accompanied by a hand gesture – finger and thumb about a half an inch apart) that he was “this close” to having his father come out, and then I would be sorry! I suppressed a grin, guessing that his father was watching TV and wouldn’t get off the couch. I said, “fine.” The kid sped off on his bike to tell on me.

No angry camp host appeared, and meanwhile, I was pretty far away. Soon, the boy raced up the road on his bike and found me. “My dad said we’re sorry.”

Gee, I was sorry too. I asked him to help me pick berries and then his mom would be happy and she could make that pie. He said he hates to pick berries and so do his mom and dad. In fact, his mom hates to make pies and she just thinks she has to for a party they’re having for his dad’s boss.

This time, I couldn’t suppress that grin.

This is the best time of year at the mountain, that delicious lull before autumn rains and winter cold. The summer folk have abandoned their cabins, hiking trails and backwoods roads are almost empty and tee times aren’t hard to get. Berries are ripe and mushrooms will be popping up. A few tomatoes still hang green, losing the race to red and grasshoppers buzz in the dry grass. And still the sun lingers.

These lazy last days of summer, my friend Ann and I sit on her balcony overlooking the Salmon River. This Salmon River is much shorter than Idaho’s “River of No Return.” That Salmon River is 350 miles long, and Lewis and Clark, at approximately 40 miles, deemed it impassable, which, as legions of rafters and kayakers now know, is not true.

I live upstream from Ann’s about five miles. The river runs low and lazy near my cabin with just enough water for fly-fishing and for neighbor kids to float by on inner tubes. The river, gathering momentum, gurgles over rock fall at hers.

On the balcony, we drink wine and watch the last of the hummingbirds dart at her feeders. Her cat Tigger stalks the squirrel that is cautiously sneaking down the tree to steal bird fodder, messily picking out all sunflower seeds, while Orrie, Ann’s dog, lying calmly at my feet, lazily eyes the cat. The river hums. Steaks sizzle on the grill.

Tomorrow, we plan to trek into the woods to hunt Chanterelles. I just hope there won’t be a kid on a bike telling us we can’t.

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