When fall begins to flash its crimson colors across the valley hillsides, my internal clock begins to pull me out of bed just a little earlier each morning. This seems contrary to the “pull the covers over your head” reflex that most experience when daybreak comes later with each passing day. For me, the brilliant fall colors are like a beacon, calling me to the forest to forage. They trigger an instinctual desire that lies dormant deep within me to “fill the pantry shelves” before the snow falls.
It is refreshing to step outside the front door long before daybreak and inhale the cool winds of fall, a welcome reprieve from the oppressive smoke that has suffocated our existence for months on end. I love watching the sunrise as darkness slowly fades into early morning light, casting a soft glow on the valley below. Then, in the blink of an eye, as the sun crests above the east hills, it transforms the drops of dew adorning each blade of grass into a field of sparkling diamonds. It is a great way to start the day, tuned in to the wealth of beauty around us kindly provided by our predecessors, Mother Earth and Mother Nature.
The hub-bub of harvest has an ebb and flow, punctuated by weeks of intense labor followed by a few days of much needed rest. The brief break between Bartlett and Anjou harvest allowed us to pursue one of my favorite family traditions: Becoming a gatherer. While harvest is an exciting, exhausting and sometimes entertaining cycle necessary for the survival of the family farm, its frantic pace makes the moments of calm in between even more enjoyable.
Pears and cherries from the orchard, mushrooms and huckleberries from the forests, blueberries and tomatoes from the garden. With this little break over Labor Day weekend, we head for the hills. Literally. A spray house buddy of Flip’s said the huckleberries were thick on Red Hill. I wanted to try my hand at picking a bucket or two for the winter guests that descend on us hankering for the best food the Pacific Northwest has to offer: Salmon, huckleberries, mushrooms and fresh fruit. Setting the table with these delicacies is our way of welcoming family home.
Off we go up the winding roads that circumvent the lava flows and forests to the southwest of our home. The roads are dusty and pocked with large rocks exposed by the winter run off. We must traverse some deep chasms cut through the road bed by man and nature, our truck bottoming out, then bouncing over these treacherous trenches. No relief for the aching backs of harvest.
We pass a multitude of huckleberry bushes that cover the hills with a crimson carpet. All are devoid of berries. “Stark naked” was the term my father used when we were young scouting the Washington huckleberry fields. Nothing worth stopping for.
We continue the trek higher and higher until finally, we are at the road’s end. Beautiful fluorescent red bushes as far as the eye can see with nary a berry-laden branch. I am determined to bring something home. After much fruitless searching, I finally discover one small bush under the overhanging branches of a huge fir. Protected from the sun, it has managed to bear fruit on the minimal moisture afforded by the shade of the ancient tree. I emerge from the underbrush with one small cup of berries in hand. Not enough for company, pie or jam. I might be able to scrounge a tin of mini-muffins out of this measly offering.
It is time to return to the valley below. We talk about stopping in Parkdale and visiting the newest little eatery there, The Blue Canoe. I had taken Ren and Aya there a few weeks before to sample their ice cream counter. The little ones were pleased by the cones and friendly atmosphere. I was equally impressed by the freshly painted, sparkling clean, small town restaurant.
Parkdale greeted us with bumper to bumper traffic and a parking situation reminiscent of downtown Hood River. We headed on past the eateries. Then I remembered the delicious hamburger I had at the Gorge White House a month or so ago (pictured above). I knew it would be elbow to elbow with weekend visitors, but I had my trusty cell phone, making take-out a possibility.
I asked my cell phone (go figure, talking to your phone) for the phone number of the White House in Hood River, Ore. A number came up and I pushed the phone’s convenient call button. After a half dozen rings, a nice woman asked how she could direct my call. I thanked her and asked to be transferred to the amazing food truck just outside her door. There were a number of clicks on the phone and then a busy signal blared in my ear. The call had been dropped. Maybe there was no reception in this particular spot as we wound our way down the road from Parkdale to Pine Grove.
I pushed the number again and soon another woman answered. It didn’t sound like Marybeth Kennedy, but she asked how to direct my call. I asked if she would please transfer me to the food truck, the one that served the best burgers and tator tots in the Gorge. There was a pregnant pause and the woman slowly drawled, “Maaaaam, you have reached the White House in Washington, D.C. We don’t have a food cart.”
I apologized profusely and told her there really was a White House in the Gorge in Hood River, Ore., that served great hamburgers. She ought to stop by if she was on the West Coast. Unfortunately, she hung up before she heard my entire sales pitch.
Who would have thought that your cell phone would give you a direct line to the White House in Washington, D.C.? We had a good laugh about this unusual encounter and mused about what the reaction might have been if I asked for MaryBeth Kennedy at the White House. It had the makings of a great coffee shop or spray house story. I am sure they thought I was deranged.
Flash forward to last Monday, when I opened my email and found that someone was trying to hack into my Microsoft account. Not once, but multiple times. A warning came from Microsoft that a hacking was in progress. Not knowing what to do, I did what I always do when having technical difficulties with the computer: I simply turned the darn thing off and waited for it to reboot. During this waiting period, my mind raced to the obvious conclusion. I was the target of the secret service. They didn’t believe my story about the burgers and the White House in the Gorge. Perhaps they believed I was a deranged soul out to do the president in by enticing him to eat more hamburgers. I ran to the window to see if any drones were hovering overhead. Nary a drone, but several nasty crows squawked at me. I should not let my imagination get the best of me. There were probably as many fantastical stories going into the White House as there are coming out.
Uuuuuh ... there I go, letting a fantastical story get the best of me again.