old and new

by underswansea


Willow and I were back up the creek looking for berries. She stayed close while I picked. She smells the berries and knows what we are after. Ara was blind the last few years and would spill the bucket. I’d scoop it up without scold. She was too old for any of my guff. Willow bounces around but never spills the bucket.

Willow is hard headed. Sometimes I have to talk firm. Especially when it’s time to go. She likes to ignore me, extending our stay. I can’t say I blame her. She doesn’t know we have other commitments. I have to give her my firmest, ‘sit’, before she will let me pick her up and put her in the truck. Slinky and Ara would have cowered at such firmness. All I had to do was think commands and they would follow. Lisa says we have to be firm or Willow will think she’s the boss.


It wasn’t long and I had a bucket. The huckleberries are good this year. I passed up the elderberries. They are easy to pick in their big clusters, but they all have a pit. I remember an old-timer that would suck a sour handful then spit the stones. He called it wine. He could out hike anyone, going one speed despite the terrain or weather.

I phoned up an old friend last night to tell him it was a good year for huckleberries. We used to pick together. He was older and filled his bucket quicker than I did mine. He knew the dips behind rocks and the trail of deadfalls where the bushes like to grow.

He said he didn’t have gas money to get into the woods and check the berries. It broke my heart thinking of him stuck in town. We hadn’t talked for a long while, he said, ‘what are you doing now?’


I told him I’ve successfully worked my way to the bottom of the institution that’s my employment. My hands are softened in bleach. They even feel slivers now.

I told him if the union and management would ever converse they would kick my ass to the curb.

He said it’s been dry in his neck of the woods. Plenty of fires. He said the elk were lower than usual.

After an hour of kicking old times we were tying it up.

He said, if you work for the government and piss off the union and management you must be doing something right.

It made me laugh and appreciate. It was an attempt to make me feel good. He was stuck with only memories. Like all the best talent wanting to sing, paint or scale the ridges.

I was jogging ahead. Not sure of what I was seeing. He was keeping pace. Never wavering. He’ll be there at the end, I guarantee, waiting at the trailhead, full bucket of huckleberries, gas money or not.