Blueberry Autumn

Cascade Blueberries ripe for the pickingKaren’s fingers stained from picking blueberries in the high countryss

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Washington’s Cascade Range has had an extraordinary year for blueberries and huckleberries, with the delicious berries in abundance and rich with tangy sweet flavor.  Even the Black Bears are unusually happy, wearing grins instead of their usual scowls and looking rolly-polly with fat for the coming winter.

Traditionalists in the Pacific Northwest call all the blue and black round berries “huckleberries,” and many families would take time each September to go huckleberry picking together.  I am from the Midwest, and have a different folk taxonomy.  I tend to call the really blue berries “blueberries,” and the dark, nearly black berries “huckleberries.”  Whatever, they all taste good to me.  Although, this year I had a decided preference for the subalpine species known as Cascades Blueberry, which has the scarlet leaves in autumn that light up vast stretches of the high country.  Cascades Blueberry’s scientific name is “Vaccinium deliciosum,” which tells you what the long-ago scientist who named it thought of these “best of category” berries.  These short shrubs seem to put all their energy into producing a few big and incredibly tasty berries, rather than the berry farm bushes that produce vast quantities of rather bland fruits.

Huckleberry fields near Mt. Adams historically occupied thousands of acres, and were a traditional and vitally important food for the Indian tribes of the region.  They traditionally burned these meadows because they learned that burning kept the huckleberries dominant.  When whites began harvesting huckleberries in the area many decades ago, the U.S. Forest Service negotiated the “Handshake Agreement,” in which Indians were granted the right to harvest berries on one side of the road through the huckleberry fields, and whites got the other side.  The agreement still stands.

The photographs here were made during two September 2009 backpacking trips into the high country.  Both were in the vicinity of Mt. Baker, a huge stratovolcano in the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, which towers over the North Cascade Mountains near the Canadian border.  One trip took us to Yellow Aster Butte; the other to Watson Lakes.  Both were saturated with blueberries.

One final observation:  to get the closeup photographs of the low-to-the-ground Cascades Blueberry, I spend extented periods laying on the ground.  During these times I crushed a lot of berries and my hiking shorts–and undershorts–were stained purple.  And of course, I couldn’t resist photographing them!

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Karen Rentz picking Cascades BlueberriesKaren Rentz picking blueberries near Watson Lakes in morning sunss

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Cascades Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum)Cascades Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum) is a small, subalpine speciesss

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Brilliant Cascades Blueberry in Mt. Baker WildernessScarlet meadows of Cascades Blueberries near Yellow Aster Buttess

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Frost on Cascades BlueberryFrosting on the berry leaves along the shore of Watson Lakesss

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Blueberry leaves with sun behindBlueberry leaves with the sun behindss

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Subalpine lake with autumn reflections near Mt. BakerReflections of a blueberry meadow on a mountain tarnss

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Ghost conifers in the subalpineGhost conifers surrounded by blueberry bushesss

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Noisy_Diobsud-147Morning frost on blueberry leaves near Watson Lakesss

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Betty Renkor Picking Cascades BlueberriesBetty Renkor picking blueberries near Watson Lakesss

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Blueberry-stained shortsNot my favorite picture of me, but there you go ….ss

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Blueberry-stained underwearI  wear briefs, not boxers, and the berry stains on my shorts seeped throughss

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Cascades Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum)I laid on the ground to get photographs such as thisss

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Cascades Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum) and sunAn impressionistic view of blueberry leaves against the sunss

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Scarlet blueberries catch the morning lightScarlet blueberries catch the morning light  below Yellow Aster Buttess

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Picking Cascades BlueberriesWe picked a quart of berries to take home, and there served them on vanilla ice creamss

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Cascades Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum)An impressionistic view of autumn blueberry leavesss

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Dwarf Blueberry (Vaccinium caespitosum)Dwarf Blueberry, a different species, produces more berries, but they’re not as tastyss

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Cascades Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum)Another impressionistic view of autumn blueberry leavesss

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Cascades Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum)Cascades Blueberries don’t occur in clusters, but as single tasty treasuresss

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Fresh wild blueberriesBounty of the high country, stolen from the bearsss

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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

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