Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Found: Berries and Salal on trail to Annette Lake


Photo of mountain lake by Henofthewood on Flickr Creative Commons license.

Saturday, a hike to Annette Lake in the Cascades with my friend E. We snacked along the way on clustered salal berries – and the occasional dusky blue or lightly red huckleberry on airy bushes.

The day was glorious: The last weekend in September, and still dry and sunny. This is unusual in the Northwest, but we’ll take it!

Back to berries, though. Admission: Until now, I’ve never really valued salal. Apparently that’s because I’d never had them fully, tip-top ripened to a dark navy, and on a sunny Cascade hillside.

They're an acquired taste: I asked E. what she thought, and she said questioningly, “Grainy, rough?”

Salal aren’t blueberries, I had to admit. They lack the easy charisma and bright flavor of more popular berries.
But in this case, to me, they were downright flavorful. There was a depth to them, a sun-warmed richness. I wanted pots full of them, I wanted pies and crumbles.
I was content with snacking, though. I gathered handfuls, each with its slightly hairy bulb and knobby end.

They were ugly enough to be left on their leathery leaf-branches for me to find on a sunny fall hike, and I loved them for it.

Photo of salal berries by Nordique on Flickr Creative Commons license

The berries provided moisture, Vitamins C and A, and the usual antioxidants as we headed up the 1600 feet of elevation change between the trail head and Annette Lake.
I found them refreshing, and I was grateful: When I arrived in Washington state, I often walked past these and other berries, not knowing what they were. My past is full of the slight irritation of not knowing berries or fruits on trees, of feeling as I pass them that I could be wasting something valuable that will go bad on the branch.

Eating the berries gave me the “I’m a hardy hiker, I’m like Heidi with the goats in the Swiss mountains,” thought pattern that I alternate with “I’m like Grizzly Adams; I can survive!” when I’m flattering myself. And yet, it was a little bit true.

After a good many switchbacks and walking past many majestic firs and spruce, E. and I made it to Annette Lake. It is a lovely lake, surrounded by wooded hillsides. I always like the peace of arriving at a mountain lake after a long hike, finding the cove in the woods that opens with light, spotlighted by the sun as a rare place, a place of water that attracts all of us: animals, humans, birds.

We had our lunches there, E. with her tuna sandwich and shelled pistachios and fruit leather, and me with my peanut-butter-and-banana pita, HoneyCrisp apple, and dark chocolate squares.

We sat in the sun on the grainy beach, facing the light of the water, watching circles form on the surface and talking about relationships and life and work, and listening to the calling voices of the fewer than 10 other people on other shores of the lake as they threw balls to retrievers and talked about we knew not what.

The water, just to fill you in, was probably pretty cold. Maybe surprisingly, I didn’t go in!

The sky was overcast when we arrived, and I had the recent memory of swimming two weeks ago in Mason Lake here in the Cascades, and finding that the water was not just limpid and chill, but downright bone-chilling.

I’d learned that although I’ll swim in large bodies of water in any temperature, in mountain lakes I prefer to dip when they are sun-warmed and it is high summer. Call me particular, call me someone who doesn't want to be chilled before a long hike in falling light, and you will be right.

Another thing we found: A king bolete mushroom, or porcini. Not exactly a feast, but we also talked to the Forest Service officers about logging roads that are handy for berries (and presumably for mushrooms).

There will be return trips, after all!