Picking huckleberries in Canada is one of life’s profound joys.
But I get ahead of myself.
Mike has been restless and prowling like a caged tiger since we arrived, dying to go fishing and exploring even as I dig deeper into the quiet: into resting, reading, writing, and gazing out at the water, hoping for an eagle to fly by. There’s a flurry of activity as he takes Mark and Justine to the station building in Rupert, and the minute he drops them off, something goes amiss with their SUV.
He gets back to the cannery, white-faced with agitation. “There is something very wrong with that vehicle. Totally spongy brakes and an alarm beeping every time I hit them!” The arrangement we have with them is that we’re trading cars as well as houses, and this is a pretty big setback on Day One since we need both cars—but I’m so happy settling in the stillness and beauty of the cannery, I can’t get upset.
They’ve left people to run the cannery’s business: Shane of the ever present smile and muddy boots, and young Lisa with her dreads and yoga pants. Mike tells Shane about the problem, gets in the big truck and takes off to explore and look for the best places to fish.
I, meanwhile, find a spot out on the huge, rotting dock with its thick silver boards and rusted old cannery equipment, and, in the shade of some sort of steel tower, I sit on a patch of velvety moss and write with my laptop on my knees and stare at the river whenever my eyes need a break.
I’m completely self entertaining. All I need is beautiful surroundings, healthy food, a decent bed, a pad of paper and a pen (though a laptop is faster) and a place to take walks. “You could have fun in a paper bag by yourself,” Mike once said. “I need a little more going on.” I seriously hope he finds fish!
Shane, meanwhile, is a fountain of information and handiness. He tells me where more huckleberries are and encourages me to “go find mushrooms” in the nearby woods. I tell him I cannot, I only know what “magic mushrooms” and poisonous toadstools look like, which are what grow wild in Hawaii–and he laughs.
I walk and read and write while Shane investigates the broken SUV. He knocks on my door and tells me he’s ascertained that the brake line is “rusted through” and the car inoperable. “I could replace the lines, but I need a hoist to take out the gas tank to get to it, and we don’t have a hoist for cars…” that he even considered it is, again, a sign of how people roll around here.
He holds out a calloused, muddy hand filled with fragile golden mushrooms. “These are yellow morels. Good eating, fried with a little butter.” Shane’s not much taller than me, but built like fireplug, all shoulders, round bald head, and friendly smile. The golden mushrooms look as unlikely as a Mayan artifact in his hand, and I’m ridiculously touched that he scoured about in the bushes and trees to find them for me as a sample.
“Just wear good boots,” he says, pointing to the trail. “And take the dogs.”
Mark, knowing my bear phobia, has already assured me he has seen no bears this season in their area—“But we have had three wolves. Sometimes they come down, scrounging along the river bank, and face off with the dogs.”
The dogs are definitely more than decorative, and I won’t be wandering anywhere without them.
The day passes in serenity. I consider going mushroom-picking, but the dogs have not accepted me as part of the pack yet and will not follow me onto the trail—and leashes are not an option. These dogs do exactly what they want. Lisa, the lovely sweet girl taking care of them and the Crawford’s cabin, talks with me for awhile and tells me she walks them daily, and we make a plan for me to come on her walk. “That’s when they accepted my leadership,” she tells me. “So we will get them accepting yours.” The husky wolves still bark-howl when they see me, though Kuba will come and drape herself like a giant hunting prize over my feet, coated with mud from gamboling in the low-tide mud of the river.
The main event of the day ends up being picking wild huckleberries and blueberries. These grow on tall bushes within the perimeter of the cannery, and pop in your mouth with a little sweet-sour taste, definitely stronger and more tart than domestic. I pick and pick, and eventually have about two quarts of mixed berries. I fill a big bowl with water and I’m sitting in the evening on the deck, sorting out leaves and taking off the tiny stems, enjoying the gemlike, translucent red of the huckleberries against the dense velvety purple of the blueberries, when Mike returns.
He didn’t find fish in four hours of driving and exploring. Apparently with the heavy rains they had in the area, the salmon have continued far up the river. We are picking our son Caleb up tonight at the station downtown, and he proposes that he and Caleb, also here “on a mission” to catch big fish, just go as far as they need to for the next three days and stay in motels, and leave me and our daughter, who gets in tomorrow night, at the cannery alone.
I am down with this plan, since Tawny and I have talked, and she’s been terribly stressed with moving to a new house last weekend and the rigors of her scientist job in San Francisco, and all we domestic goddesses want to do is sleep in, take walks, talk, and bake beautiful cakes and pies together (hence the berry picking) so I’m more than agreeable to this.
We buy baking supplies in Rupert, and after even one day of serenity on the river, the interior of Safeway, with its bright lights and overwhelming choices, causes me a brain meltdown, especially when I circle the store multiple times in search of wine and cannot find a drop! Pro travel tip: apparently, in Canada, there are designated stores that sell alcohol, and this Safeway is not one of them.
We rent the car from a young woman in a storefront office underneath a crumbling hotel behind the Rupert bus station. She’s sniffling wildly with allergies and has very long fake nails, and the car is a white nonentity that smells of plastic which Mike had planned to take and drive punishingly as is his wont, but I end up being the driver because they charge by the kilometer after 300. So the men will be taking the truck—a much more fitting vehicle for them anyway.
Caleb gets off the bus, handsome and vibrant and solidly strong as he picks me up for the longest hug. He is a five star hugger, and I haven’t seen him since Christmas of last year, and admit to a bit of a sniffle. Having adult children who still want to come and vacation with us, as has happened these last few years, is such a joy—but I hate the distance between us in Maui, and them at opposite ends of California. Really hate it. And when and if our children have families, I will find a way to be closer, even if it means I have to leave my beloved Hawaii for part of the year.
We bumble around downtown Rupert and find a pub, and eat too much and catch up talking, and then back to the cannery for another profoundly restful night’s sleep—which is woken by Mike kissing me goodbye as they leave on their Epic Quest, and the sound of rain on the river.