Bear Spray, a Pistol, and Lip Gloss

Karla texted me last Monday morning: Are you able to kayak some time this week?

Me: Yes!!

Karla: …if you have time maybe we can go to the reservoir and get a little huckleberry picking in, too.

And so we set the date for Thursday!

When I arrived at Karla’s home at 9:30 AM, she and her husband Jim had already loaded the kayaks on top of the van, and she had her gear packed and ready to go. All we had to do was load my bags and cooler, add her lunch and more ice to the cooler, and we were off!

The Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir are about 20 miles Northeast of Kalispell, and it is a popular spot for camping, watersports, hiking, you name it.  It’s also a well known area for huckleberries!  The reservoir is contained by an arch style dam, built 1948-1953 by the Bureau of Reclamation for the purposes of flood control and hydroelectric power.

Huckleberries are a small purple berry indigenous to the NW US and Canada.  They are highly prized, in part because no one has yet been able to cultivate them for garden use.  They only grow in the wild.

Huckleberry bush

So, huckleberry pickin’ is a popular July activity in these here parts. Oh, and guess who loooves huckleberries?  Why yes, of course, the bears!!  So carrying your bear spray is as important as carrying your bucket!

For my Southeastern friends, we may have to concern ourselves with bears, but guess what we don’t have to worry about?  Snakes, chiggers, or poison ivy!  It’s just too cold for them here in the winter.

We put our kayaks in the water and paddled up the reservoir, away from the dam.  Here’s the obligatory selfie!

It was cool and breezy on the water.  I love living somewhere that I can actually wear pants and a long sleeve sun shirt in July!! Summer camp canoeing experience, even if it was nearly forty years ago (!), came right back to me and helped me become comfortable in the kayak quickly.

Karla in one of her happy places, on the water. Gorgeous mountains behind her!

Because it was a weekday, there were very few boaters on the lake.  We almost had it to ourselves.  Oh, the tranquility.  The sun was not yet overhead, there was a light breeze on the lake.  We paddled along side by side, inhaling deeply the scenery, friendship, and fresh air.

The view from the kayak.

After a while, we paddled to a bank and walked up the hill.  Pretty quickly we found a good patch of berries and picked for a while.  Karla had the foresight to bring gallon plastic bags with us so that we did not have to carry buckets in the kayaks.

Our lakeside huckleberry patch.

We paddled back to the cove where we’d parked her van.  She’d also brought two chairs with side tables, which we set up for a quiet picnic lunch.  Well, it would have been quiet, except that a twelve year old boy and his younger brother were fishing in the cove, and when they saw us, they moved to the picnic table near us and peppered us with questions.

Picnic lunch spot in the cove.

Can we borrow your kayaks to fish?  We can’t cast far enough from the bank to catch any fish.  How much did your kayaks cost? Do you have any food?  Do you have any water?  Do you have any bug spray?  Do you have any paper?  Do you have any matches so we can start a fire? (Oh, yes, we are so going to give you MATCHES.)

The picnic table where the boys sat while they peppered us with questions.

I had one question I wanted to ask them: Where are your PARENTS?! After the tranquility of the water, fending off their questions was like swatting at a fly that won’t go away.  Karla works at Kalispell Middle School, so she knew how to answer the questions in a manner that did not encourage conversation, yet at the same time was not rude.

We skedaddled out of there as soon as we finished eating!

We drove off the main paved road, up a couple of dirt roads, looking for more berries.  The first time we got out of the van, I was stuffing various items into my pockets.  I proclaimed to Karla, “I am ready!  I have bear spray, my pistol and lip gloss.” Like the bear cares if I am wearing lip gloss. A few minutes later, Karla laughed and said, “There’s your blog title: Bear Spray, a Pistol, and Lip Gloss!

Well, the afternoon was a bust for berry picking, darn it.  We tried several different spots, but the shrubs either had no berries or green berries. But, it was a good exercise because I became adept at identifying huckleberry bushes.

In a fruitful huckleberry patch. (Could not resist!)

A funny thing happened at the first place we tried.  We were a ways into the woods when we heard a noise.  Karla’s sister and brother in law had been camping recently in this same area, and they had seen a bear, so we were keeping a close eye out.

I heard the noise, but it kinda sounded like someone revving a car engine, so when Karla asked, “What was that noise?” I said as much.  We have a neighbor who loves cars, so during the summer evenings we hear him driving and working on his engines. Thus it is a sound that does not raise an alarm in my mind.

“No, Eleanor, that is not a car.” Then I realized, “Hello, I am far from the campground, in the woods!” We stood still and listened.  There it was again.  Karla said, “Let’s go back to the car,” and we hustled out of there!  I even unclipped my bear spray and and kept my finger on the trigger.  We never saw a bear, but it did sound like one might have been huffing nearby.  No sense taking any chances!

Later, I told Karla that I was glad that happened, because it assured me that she is on high alert, and that she is paying attention as she is picking.

This morning, Jaren came to help John get our hay in for the year, and he was sitting with us as we finished breakfast.  I was relaying this story, and I don’t remember what exactly John said in reply, but it included the word “paranoia.” (Easy to say when you weren’t there!) Jaren looked at him and asked, “Did you say ‘bearanoia’? ” No, he did not, but we have a new word to use!

Bearanoia: At all times, being on full alert when in the woods where bears are known to be present.  See also: bear aware.

One Reply to “Bear Spray, a Pistol, and Lip Gloss”

  1. Such a fun adventure! So glad I was able to share your first huckleberry picking experience even though it was a bust.

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