Everybody keeps secrets. It might be a secret stash of money under the mattress, or how much money you made last year. It might be how much you weigh or how old you really are. There are family secrets–Did Aunt Polly really have an affair? Was Uncle Jo really a CIA agent? There are company secrets–Who really knows the formula for Coca Cola? What will Microsoft’s next big release be? And there are national secrets, things so confidential no one really knows the truth, especially the American public. After all, we’re still waiting to see our president’s birth certificate.
In northwest Montana the biggest secret of all isn’t where the guns are stashed or which politician is lying. No, our biggest and best kept secret is where we pick Huckleberries.
These small wild berries are similar to blueberries and are actually from several varieties. In Montana they typically grow in higher elevations. Despite many efforts, no one has found a way to raise them commercially. Some say it’s because they have to pass through the digestive tract of an animal (usually bears) before they will germinate. I even have a friend who collected bear scat, kept it in his freezer all winter, cut it into pieces, and planted it in his garden in the spring in hopes of creating his own private huckleberry patch.
Huckleberry picking is as much a part of living in the Flathead valley as hunting and skiing. And everyone has their secret spot. Don’t ask them where it is, because they won’t tell you. At $40 a gallon, no one’s going to spill the berries. But trying to get a gallon? Yeah, good luck with that. Each plant may only have three to four berries on it. And when you consider that each berry is only the size of a small pea, it takes a lot of bushes. That’s why no one is anxious to share their stash. It takes a lot of hiking and walking through scratchy underbrush, spiderwebs, and who knows what else (I try not to think about it actually) just to get to them. My efforts this year only got me a bowl full. Two hours of wandering for less than a sandwich bag full. I’ll be rationing them out like they’re gold.
So if you decide to move to the Flathead and people ask, “How much did you get this year?” they probably aren’t asking about your salary, more like what’s stock piled in your freezer. Because there’s nothing quite like sitting at home on a cold winter day when it’s snowing outside, enjoying a bit of huckleberry cheesecake, or a handful on a salad, or in a bowl of cereal. It’s a little taste of summer to help us endure the winter.