Red huckleberry sauce on salmon, shrimp, and crab, red huckleberry stuffed halibut rolls, in spring rolls, in salads, dipping sauce for sushi.
My dad slows Huckleberry, his bright red side-by-side four-wheeler, to a stop alongside the dirt road. I climb out of the passenger seat. Oscar, my border collie, jumps out behind me. I grab my backpack and buckets and hang one bucket around my neck. The other I stuff into my backpack. Before me is a hillside of fallen logs, stumps and bushes. Bright red huckleberry bushes dot the hillside. It’s fall and time to pick red huckleberries for making jams and jellies and to store for winter.
From the road, you train your eyes to spot the difference between a blueberry and a red huckleberry bush, which is why it’s easier in the late summer and early fall when the leaves turn redder. In summer, the green leaves are slightly smaller than blueberry’s and there’re more leaves on the bushes. To find red huckleberries, look near stump patches, as they grow in places where trees have fallen. Red huckleberries are also found at the edges of muskegs tucked beneath a hemlock or spruce.
Red huckleberry jelly and jam, red huckleberry/spruce tip jelly and red huckleberry/blueberry jam.
I wear a ball cap, rain pants and a raincoat because yesterday it poured and the bushes are soaked. My dad heads toward the bushes beside the small parking area. He’ll pick the lower bushes. I cross the road and step across the ditch onto the hill. I steady myself and grab onto a small tree branch and climb.
I stop at a bush about five feet high, thick with plump red berries. They look like red blueberries, but they’re Vaccinium parvifolium, red huckleberry. The Lingít word for red huckleberry, tleikatán, sounds like tl.ache.uh.tunk.
In Sealaska’s online Tlingit dictionary you’ll find the sentences: Tleikatánk kanat’á een yak’éi: Red huckleberries are good with blueberries. And Tleikatánk áwé kanat’áx xoo yéi nateech: Red huckleberries are always among blueberries. This is traditional knowledge — when scouting for blueberries you’ll discover an occasional patch of red huckleberries.
Red huckleberry muffins, bread, cobbler, buckle and red huckleberry pie.
I find my footing and pull a loaded branch toward me. Oscar sniffs the grass. I pick a few berries and plop them into the bucket, making a hollow sound. Somewhere behind me, a blue jay squawks. I sing to Oscar, to the birds and the berries, letting the creatures know I’m around. There’s something to sing about here in the bushes, surrounded by dripping berries and leaves, the repetitive motion of berries in your fingertips and plunking them into the bucket. I’d rather be in this moment than anywhere else. As my grandsons often say, “This is the best day of my life.”