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"It's no skin off anyone else's back when they hold as secret lore what almost nobody even cares about anymore."

Most everyone living in this region holds a few deep, dark secrets. Among the very most closely guarded, the knowledge of where to forage the best wild edibles. One can tell if they've been accepted into a family if they're entrusted with the location of the most reliable morel patch, huckleberry field, or trout stream. Outsiders need not apply, as if to keep this essential portion of deeply local identity safe from Californication. These special places were invariably originally simply stumbled upon by some fortunate forebear, who sealed his lips just as soon as he realized his great luck. Visitors hear stories, of course, tales of pick-up loads of morels, but they believe them to be mere legend or braggadocio, and so quickly discount them. This perfectly natural disbelief further insulates these Elysian Fields from further discovery and serves as a near perfect defense against outsider intrusion.

The older families refer to themselves as hillbillies.
The questionable benefits of modernity have largely passed them by, save for the begrudgingly accepted rural electrification. Their grandfathers didn't quite see what all the fuss was about and died believing their stake had been sullied by power lines and the installation of a simple light switch. The most remote still favor the squeak-bang, the familiar sound their outhouse door makes. They might still own an operable Willy's jeep or Duce and a Half, and Lord knows what they do for spending money. They have larders worthy of great admiration, though, with home-canned jars of the most curious wonders worthy of any five star French hash house. These families forage as more than a matter of tradition, but of simple survival, the products of their hard-won wisdom directly sustaining them.

It's no wonder why so many of these folks feel hostility toward any outside force, even their own government. Perhaps especially their own government. Some of these families found themselves downwind when an egghead at Hanford decided to release Cobalt isotopes into the wind to more conveniently trace where the wind might carry contamination. Curious cancers bloomed in a predictable arc outward from that lab. Our government shifted into serious denial mode. Foreign wars took sons. Far away cities attracted beautiful daughters. Prices out there never once stopped climbing until the hill folk lost any desire to compete. They withdrew instead, a strategic necessity for retaining the only identity they ever knew, resulting in an increasingly Disconnected States of an America Normal Rockwell would never recognize.

Between my mom and my dad's families, I hold a hundred and twenty years of local lore, the most treasured being a perfect place for foraging wild black currants. A small stream tumbles down a narrow draw to blend into a small river. At that convergence, water splits into innumerable trickling streamlets overgrown with thimbleberry and black currant. One must walk in the water to reach what we joyously refer to as the Mother Lode bushes, ones where ribbons of berries dangle enticingly beneath protective foliage. By the third week in August, those berries have achieved perfect ripeness and one picks them a handful at a time with a simple light downward grasp that reminds me most of milking an extremely gentle cow. A few berries inevitably fall into the stream below where I imagine native Dolly Varden trout filling up on what would amount to their dessert. The Muse and I quickly collect two bags full. We're tempted to go full berserker on those bushes and leave no berry hanging, but our needs are more easily satisfied this time.

We passed nobody on the road in or out, reassuring us that the road to our personal Valhalla had not yet been posted on TripAdvisor. Our secret's still secure, this family treasure remains in the family. Ask me where to go to find the finest fresh black currants on the planet and I might suggest that you go to Hell without passing Go or collecting any two hundred bucks. Go find your own magic. This patch won't be passed around. It's hallowed ground, or as hallowed as any ground ever gets anymore. I never was a hillbilly, but I deeply respect the way they conduct their affairs. It's no skin off anyone else's back when they hold as secret lore what almost nobody even cares about anymore.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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