One of the many joys of living in Montana are huckleberries. Small, round, ranging in color from dark blue to almost purple, they have the appearance of looking a lot like a blueberry. They grow close to the ground on small bushes and plants, and have to be picked by hand. 98% of the time you have to know where to find them and be sure to get your butt out there as soon as they become available b/c the odds are somebody else knows about your spot too and believe me, they WILL rush out after them the first chance they get.

The reason for this?

While huckleberries may look like blueberries, they actually taste like heaven. Check that, they taste like angel tears packed tight inside  a thin skin made of hopes and dreams. And I’m not even kidding. There’s a  reason these things go for $15.99 a pound at the local farmer’s markets.

In the summer of 2010, I found myself back in Missoula right around the time huckleberries came into season. For weeks I had been waiting for the occasion to arrive and had even lined up a partner in crime to accompany me down to our favorite picking patch. Unfortunately, when that day arrived, she was unable to go.

I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to go anyway. (No, this isn’t the free advice part yet)

That afternoon I loaded up into my car and went down through the Bitterroot Valley past Hamilton. I arrived at the trailhead to find not a single other car in sight, my eyes bright with my good fortune and my stomach growling at all the berries I’d soon be eating.

Like a modern day, extremely large, Little Red Riding Hood I  basically skipped through the forest, a plastic bucket in hand. I arrived to find nobody had yet touched the spot, the branches so thick with berries they nearly hung to the ground.

Me, in my boundless wisdom, went straight to picking with both hands, oblivious to everything around me. (Still not up to the advice part yet)

It wasn’t until about fifteen minutes (and a nearly full bucket) that I realized I wasn’t alone. And when I say not alone, I mean a rustling in the bushes that definitely wasn’t coming from a rabbit. Finally realizing what was happening, I grabbed my bucket and backed away, the spot I was standing in soon taken over by a black bear cub.

I’m not gonna lie…for a minute I just stood and watched. Black bears are relatively harmless, and this little guy was fantastic. He didn’t even look at me as he took to devouring berries, leaving purple paw prints in the dirt as he went. I sat and watched for several long minutes, actually smiling at my good fortune.

Yeah, I’m an idiot. (Still not quite there)

About three minutes into the show, I remembered that very rarely do cubs this small venture out alone. How did I happen to remember this? Because his mama emerged from the trees behind him. Again, I know that blackies aren’t all that dangerous, but I also know to never, ever go anywhere near a cub w/ a mama around.

That ol’ girl took two steps my way and I flung my entire bucket of huckleberries to them. I then spun on a heel and got my butt down the path as fast as I could, eventually ending with a section of the trail crumbling beneath my feet and depositing me into a creek bed fifteen feet below.

So there I was w/ a sprained MCL, soaking wet, still a half mile from the car, and no berries. (Still not to the advice
yet)

Later that afternoon, I returned home to see I had received an email from my folks vacationing in Punta Cana. They told me all about their time in the DR and asked what I was up to. Me, not knowing any better, miiiiiiiiiight have let it slip that I was nursing a sprained knee from running from a bear alone in the woods.

Folks….if you never learn another thing from my writing, puh-leeeeeze listen to this….never, EVER do this. You think a mama bear can be ferocious? Try emailing your own mama w/ a line like the one above, while she’s vacationing in a foreign country w/o cell service, and lemme know how it turns  out for you.


On second though…don’t. Please just take my advice on this
  one…

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