PAT NEAL: Autumn harvest frustrations

AUTUMN IS A time of gathering the wild abundance that grows all around us.

There are so many hidden treasures to discover, it’s hard to figure out which one to plunder first.

All you need is four-wheel drive, a tank of gas and a wallet full of permits to enjoy what we used to call the freedom of the hills.

The most important item to gather before winter is a good supply of mountain blueberries.

Some folks call them blue huckleberries. They are both good and good for you. They are the best berries we have.

Thousands of acres of them grow in the foothills of the Olympics.

That’s why it was such a disappointment to see the road leading to the huckleberry patch has been obliterated.

The road had been “decommissioned,” as part of a salmon restoration industry scheme to restore the bull trout or whatever else they could think of.

Causing one to wonder if the network of roads through the forest built at taxpayer expense wouldn’t come in handy for fighting the inevitable forest fires we’re supposed to get from climate change.

With the huckleberries off the table, we went looking for mushrooms in the deep, dark forest only to encounter another disappointment.

Lite beer cans along the road alerted us to the recent passage of other less socially conscious mushroom hunters.

All we found were the cut off stems of the edible mushrooms and the smashed remains of the poison ones.

We talked to another glum mushroom hunter who encountered the same difficulty.

He blamed the invasion of city-slicker mushroom pickers on some do-gooder newspaper columnist who narc’ed off all the good patches.

Bidding farewell to the surly mushroom hunter, we elected to harvest that most secretive of wild fruits, the cranberry.

The little native cranberries do not ripen until after a frost, so our timing was perfect except … there were no berries.

This was a mystery because there were no empty beer cans so we knew people hadn’t gotten to the cranberries first.

An investigation revealed who had.

There was a pile of bear dung full of cranberry parts right in the middle of the bog.

Bears like cranberries, too.

What berries the bears don’t eat are fouled to the point where no one else will want them.

At least bears don’t leave beer cans.

Defeated in the pursuit of berries and mushrooms, we decided it was apple picking time.

The homesteaders that pioneered the Olympics all planted fruit trees.

Their cabins and barns may have collapsed but they left us a heritage of apples in pioneer orchards.

These can ripen at any time between August and December.

The flavor of these apples, particularly after a frost makes the genetically engineered mush balls that pass for apples in the supermarket these days taste like the cardboard box they came in.

Right now is the time to pick the winter apples for storage.

Walking into the orchard was another major disappointment.

Many of the branches on the apple trees were broken off and laying on the ground.

Bears like apples, too, but they are awful hard on the trees.

The only apples left were too small to bother with.

So, we decided to go fishing. Until we saw the river.

It was so crowded you’d have to bring your own rock to stand on and I forgot mine.

Yes, autumn on the Olympic Peninsula offers such a diverse range of outdoor activities from not picking wild berries to not finding mushrooms and not catching fish.

You really owe it to yourself to get out there and experience it all.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal