I recall a real Montana mountain experience I once had. We went huckleberry pickin'. Yup, drove for an hour and a half to the backside of the mountains. We were told the higher we go the bigger they get. So onward and upward we drove over those back forest roads, at 5 to 10 mile an hour, it takes time you know, huckleberries, it’s like finding gold. It is especially good when you don't run into locals who believe that you have trespassed onto their personal private patch!
My seasoned friend, Elizabeth, knew all the tricks. We took a boombox to play music to keep the bears away. Noise, they say warns the bears that you are there, in their berry patch, so they don't bother you. We happily picked berries most of the afternoon, accumulating about a gallon and a half. Because I was told that they were as big as your thumb when you get up higher, I kept walking by lots of them and selectively picking only the biggest ones. Of course that meant that I did a lot more looking, whilst my friend sat and stripped each bush only leaving the really tiny ones. Finally she admitted that the big as your thumb version, may have been an exaggeration and what we were seeing was possibly as good as it gets. With this new information I returned to my old not worth pickin' bushes and pillaged and plundered.
When our tapes ran out we decided singing would really scare the bears away so we relived many a camp song. Always between songs we would loudly and with enthusiasm, “Thank Mr. Bear for sharing his berries.” You must always be grateful! Talk to the bears, they are our friends, was the song in our hearts.
We had just arrived at a really amazing spot, picking consisted of just rotating your body and moving your fingers as fast as you could go. How, do those bears do it? These berries are bluish and purplish, about 1/4″ to 3/8″ in diameter. I had trouble hanging on to them and I don't even have fingernails worth mentioning, let alone 5″ claws and paws.
What a wonderful afternoon, we had somehow gotten above the smoke from all the fires and had this great time mindlessly gathering our little stock pile of goodies for winter deserts. With this new patch we figured we could fill another container before leaving. As we were discussing this, I heard myself say, “It's time to go now.” Elizabeth responded something like this, “Right, are you nuts? Keep pickin' at $40 a gallon we have lots more to harvest to make this trip worth it.”
Did I mention we had this little boo boo on the drive up where we took a wrong turn and then had to jockey ourselves out of it? Making a U-turn on skinny mountain roads is not a pretty picture. As we were backing up into the brush, you have a tendency to stay very close to the uphill side of the road. We discovered that someone had put a metal post in the ground. Ouch! I'm not sure what is worse, when you first hear it hit or listening to the sound of it scraping and tearing as you slowly pull away from it.
She was right; we definitely need to pick more berries. But once again I heard myself saying, “It's time to go!” When this type of message comes to me, I no longer question it. God is always communicating, and I have found that not only listening, but obeying is really important. I may never know why we should leave but I know better than to ignore the sweet calm command. At this point Elizabeth looked at me for a second as then, agreed. With this we picked our way back to the car. Carefully, stepping over and through the slash, struggling to leave each bush knowing that all we took were the biggest and the most obvious. As we started driving down the road we once again thanked Mr. Bear for his generosity.
As we rounded the narrow ridge where we had been picking, a silver tipped grizzly, effortlessly bounded up through the underbrush (it was really steep on that side of the road) right in front of our car and loped ahead of us. “Oh, my gosh, Oh, my gosh!” Were the intelligent utterances that came from our mouths as the car came to a complete stop. Then Mr. Bear leaped up off the road, remember this is really up, mountain up. In just a couple of strides he was above us, turning, he stood and looked down at the car and snorted, blew, whatever it is that they do, then he stretched his neck to get a better view and sniffed the air. Curiosity satisfied, he then continued up the mountain, at a run, probably to check on his berry patch, which was just on the other side. The slash didn’t seem to prevent his momentum at all. As I said, “locals” have a tendency to be very territorial. Once again we uttered, “Wow! Wow! Wow!” That's as close to speechless as it can get for two women.
The mental picture that remains is not one of being scared to death, but of a mountainside, covered in purple flowers framing the majestic head and shoulders of a grizzly bear. His eyes looking at us with indignation as if to say, “Who gave you permission to be here?”
What a great way to see a bear — in the car, not in his berry patch! One scenario, the one where we didn't leave the patch but continued to pick was: “Oh, Oh, Mr. Bear, what big teeth you have. Look, as we hold our berries out in a peace offering. We picked them all for you!” At this point, we flash our most innocent and pleasing smile and pray that he has already had dinner!
Originally I grew up in the Midwest, having been a “Flatlander” all my life, where the largest animal was a deer. I'm fairly new to this environmental fact, that, I am considered, in some four footed circles, prey.
So once again, thank you, oh still small voice of love.
Lin Paporello is a Christian Scientist living in Boise, Idaho.