Huckleberry Picking

30 August 2014 § Leave a comment

Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler is 139 pages gone, and my pace is slowing and Italo Calvino knows it. After I struck up a conversation with that mysterious woman on the bench, who liked to draw inanimate objects, I came to learn her interest in grapnel anchors was more cunning than aesthetic. I was being duped, and somewhere after that point, and before I sought out the publisher and maker of books to complain about my faulty copy of Calvino, I went up Mt Mitchell to pick huckleberries.

The huckleberries are found at high altitudes, and we had to go pretty far up the 6,683 foot mountain to find the trail where they grew. If you went too far into the forested mountain slope, the shade was too strong. You had to stay along just the right parts, where the sun made its arc, to find the huckleberries trees that grew tall (taller than low altitude ones) and full. 

With the two hoes we had brought along, we’d hook the branch or thin trunk. Like a grapnel anchor hooking to the bars of a prison window, the hoe would bend the tree towards us and allow us to free the huckleberries. The ripe ones were eager, and we’d use care to grip them strong enough that they wouldn’t tumble to the ground, but gentle enough they wouldn’t pop, stain our fingers, and be ruined for cooking. Huckleberries, if you didn’t know, are small fruit that look very similar to blueberries, but are more tart and sour. Those that grew at the top of the trees were dried by the sun, and at least half of each tree’s bounty were not yet ripe, and we left them behind for a later prison break.

Two hours walking along the trail, pulling trunks and branches toward us, selecting the ripe berries, dropping them in our bag, and repeat. We haven’t measured yet, but I venture to say that we walked off with at least four cups of the small berries. Another mysterious woman will toss three cups of those into a pie, and we’ll consume the literal fruits of our labor with a scoop of ice cream.

Then I’ll have to return to the printing house and find out what happened to my book. If there’s one thing reading Calvino has reminded me of, it’s that the narratives of our lives intersect with the narratives we read. Never more directly than while you’re in the act of reading it, but, of course, long after the reading is done as well.

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