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Lions Roar : January 2005
AFTER FIFTEEN YEARS OF listening and watching and hiking around and hunting this valley—fifteen youthful years, no less—we’re starting to learn some things. We’ll never know enough, nor even a fraction of what we’d like to, but we know where the wild strawberries are sweetest, in the tiny little lanes and clear- ings no larger than a house, where little patches of soft, filtered, damp light fall down from the midst of the old-growth larch forests, little clearings where the snowshoe hares come out of those old forests (despite the protestations of timber company biologists who say the rabbits—and their primary predators, lynx—don’t live back there) to nibble on those new sweet berries in July. Late in July, we like to try to get into some of those patches just before the legions of rabbits do, and pick a little basket of berries. The girls have a tiny doll’s basket (the berries are no larger than the nub of a pencil eraser, but contain more con- centrated sweetness than an entire bushel of the mega-irradi- ated, supermarket jumbo-giants), and because I’m colorblind, I can’t find the tiny strawberries and have to rely on the girls to do the harvest. They’re delighted by my weakness, and by their sharp-eyed superiority, and delighted also, as junior hunter-gatherers, to be providing for me. We all three have little baskets—in the dimming blue light of dusk, I absolutely can’t find a single one—and from time to time the girls take pity and come over to where I’m down on my hands and knees, searching, and drop a few into my basket. And as is their habit, they eat far more than they pick, not even really hunter-gatherers but more like wild animals, feast- ing in the moment, letting their bodies do the hoarding, rather than jars or cabinets—the girls more a part of the forest, in that manner, in that moment—and by the time it is too dark to see well, and we must walk back toward our truck, the baskets have barely enough strawberries to drop into our pancake batter for the next morning: but they will be memorable pancakes, and it will be enough. Just as we reach the truck, some friends come driving by, and they stop to visit for a while in the dusk, with the old sen- tinel larches so immense all around us. Our friends’ own chil- dren are grown now, and they reminisce about picking wild strawberries with their children when they were Mary Katherine and Lowry’s age. R I C K B A S S is the author of eighteen books, including a novel, Where the Sea Used to Be. His newest book is Caribou Rising: Defending the Porcupine Herd, Gwich-‘in Culture, and the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (Sierra Club Books). He lives in northwest Montana’s Yaak Valley, where there is still not a single acre of designated wilderness. Daughter Time “The time of childhoodisgoing to gofast,” says RICK BASS. “I’m doing what I can to slow itdown. There’s still time for me to learn some of what they see and know and feel.” PHOTOS BY MOLLY NUDELL