Smoke and Huckleberries

(One item to remember to put in your pack is a spare charged battery for the camera. Otherwise your usual design for a blog post shall go image-free. Dear readers, you will have to use your imaginations!)

July is the month for smoke and huckleberries, although they usually come a little later than the first week. The past few mornings I have awakened to hazy views to the north. A large wildfire on the border of Canada and the U.S. filters smoke into the Methow Valley. The scent of freshly burning forest penetrates my sleep and I may dream of the crackle and roar and sweat of the fire line. I’m not sure because I don’t remember when I wake up. Smoke is one of the most evocative smells in my experience. It haunts me.

The weather has been hot for three weeks. Temperatures reached well over 100 degrees for several days in a row. For the past few days the highs have been in the mid-nineties in the valleys. One becomes accustomed to the heat, until 88 degrees feels comfortable. Breezes are noticed and appreciated. So is shade.

Today I ventured to the West Fork of Buttermilk Creek. I was delighted to note that the area has not caught fire for the last few decades, so there were plenty of tall trees offering shade. The creek rushed and tumbled in its channel, hidden by alder brush and stacks of down logs. At one point I took off my boots and slung them across my shoulders. Rolled up my pants and waded barefoot to cross. Cold! Not quite the bone-numbing chill of a glacier-fed stream, but close. Rebooted, I hiked on and saw dark orbs clinging to the twigs of bushes next to the trail. Of course I had to stop and sample them. Hm. Not quite ripe. Some of the berries are a warm shade of red-violet. Experience has taught me that the tastiest berries are dark purple. Those lighter ones can be tangy and bitter. And they were, but I got a hint of what is to come–that deep rich flavor of mountains, forest, and air.

I climbed up to find the ninety foot long turnpike I was looking for, with its stringer logs all askew and filled with black muck and pale rocks. This will be repaired in a few weeks so my mission was to make notes and measurements. As I scouted around, I noticed the sun disappearing behind clouds. It was hard to tell what was going on up there because of the tree canopy and haze. The weather forecast called for possible thunderstorms. As I skittered back down the trail, thunder began growling behind me. It was a constant mutter coming my way. My wade back across the creek was refreshing but speedy.

Now I am home watching the clouds from the hillside above Twisp. To the northeast, a giant thunderhead is devouring the sky. The air is still smoky, so the clouds are vague and surreal as they drift from southwest to northeast. The temperature has cooled somewhat, but it’s so dry. The grasses have cured to golden and all I can think of is how fast fire would run through them.

Well. Tonight is for storms, and I am watching lightning strikes on this map: . Now thunder rumbles over the house. Time to put away the screen and watch the real world. Tomorrow is another day and all I know for sure is that there will be more smoke.

One thought on “Smoke and Huckleberries

  1. So poetic, as always. Makes me miss a bunch of parts of the job (not every part, though!) I do ;love hearing about your experiences up north – we have got to get together for coffee when you get back!

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