Other than fly fishing.

The heat in the Inland Northwest has been brutal this summer, and it has made fishing on my home waters pretty challenging. The reason I like fly fishing, however, is the fact that it requires one’s participation in the wider, non human world–the world that so many call “nature.” And, of course, there is much more to nature than rising fish. For instance, huckleberry bushes surround our cabin and run up the mountain behind it. In fact, the bush pictured below is right next to the spot where I beach the canoe, between the lake and cabin. So, while my mood could be better, after having my fly snubbed by the local cutthroats, turning from the beached canoe toward hundreds of ripe huckleberries is a great consolation.

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I describe fishing and berry picking at my cabin as a form of “participation” in the wider world because they both involve real, physical engagement with the living environment. This engagement blurs the lines between “nature” and myself, which is one of the reasons I try to avoid the former term. It is true that most Americans now live very anthrocentric lives, but, even in urban centers, distinguishing what is “natural” and what is not is a difficult task. Thinking similarly, the 19th century romantic, Henry David Thoreau, actually described huckleberry picking and eating as sort of socializing that takes place between humans and “nature” (see quote below).  Traditional Native American friends, seeing the non-human world as a much more personal place than most of us, leave offerings to or attend ceremonies honoring the plants from which they take berries or other items. All of this explains why, for me, finding those berries upon returning from a fishless paddle around the lake is more meaningful than you might guess. And it doesn’t hurt to get rid of those berries before the bears come looking for them.

Following, you can read Thoreau’s thoughts on huckleberries:

“What means this profusion of berries at this season only? Nature does her best to feed her children, and the broods of birds just matured find plenty to eat now. Every bush and vine does its part and offers a wholesome and palatable diet to the wayfarer. He need not go out of the road to get as many berries as he wants, of various kinds and qualities according as his road leads him over high or low, wooded or open ground: huckleberries of different colors and flavors almost everywhere, the second kind of low blueberry largest in the moist ground, high blueberries with their agreeable acid when his way lies through a swamp, and low blackberries of two or more varieties on almost every sand plan and bank and stone heap.

“Man at length stands in such a relation to Nature as the animals which pluck and eat as they go. The fields and hills are a table constantly spread. Diet drinks, cordials, and wines of all kinds and qualities are bottled up in the skins of countless berries for the refreshment of animals, and they quaff them at every turn. They seem offered to us not so much for food as for sociality, inviting us to a picnic with Nature. We pluck and eat in remembrance of her. It is a sort of sacrament, a communion—the not forbidden fruits, which no serpent tempts us to eat. Slight and innocent savors which relate us to Nature, make us her guests, and entitle us to her regard and protection.”

Henry David Thoreau, Wild Fruits: Thoreaus’s Rediscovered Last Manuscript, ed. Bradley P. Dean (WW Norton & Company, 2001), 52.

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My dog is a big fan of huckleberries too.

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