Just looking at it made me feel dirty. Our camping plans turned to panning plans days before when I learned that Idaho is the only place in the world (other than India) where you can dig up big fat star garnets: beautiful deep purple gems with star shapes across their surfaces. We would camp near the Emerald Creek Garnet Area, a spot deep in the St. Joe National Forest, where I was convinced we would strike it rich. We’d yell “eureka!” like the gold rushers. Say goodbye to debt and hell-ooooo to garnet-colored dreams. It would be glorious.
Riches in our sights, we hiked up the gorgeous half-mile trail, a path bordered by a coyly bubbling creek, to get to the garnet area.
When the forest opened up into a large clearing — the garnet area — the scenery changed. Dramatically. Instead of lush trees there were mounds and mounds of mud that resembled baby poop. Crowds of people were hacking at the piles with shovels. And the stuff was smeared across the potbellies of every traveler here.
Turns out there is no “panning” that happens. Pay 10 bucks here and you get a bucket and a shovel. Then you dig in the dirt and dump it in the bucket. You sift it. Wash the mud.
It looked very messy, but understand that I had dollar signs in my sights. My car-tinkering, full-bearded man, however, deemed it “gross” and sat out to watch the jiggling-bellies sift their soil.
So I dug, sifted and washed. And I found one star garnet. It’s about the size of a kernel of corn — and to be honest, I’m not sure that it is a garnet. But I did a lot of work to get that thing. And I’m keeping it, dammit.
There’s more than just the pumpkin donuts. All summer long, dozens of Green Bluff farmers open up their properties for you to come pick in-season fruit. Though the time to pick strawberries is coming to a close, there’s still a whole lotta pickin’ left to do: cherries, raspberries and blackberries are ready this month, with apricots, peaches and nectarines ripening in August. Drive the two Green Bluff loops — there’ll be U-pick signs along the way. Check out greenbluffgrowers.com.
Idaho’s edible gem is the huckleberry — a tiny, perfect little fruit. Huckleberry season runs from mid-July well into the fall months. You can wait to pick them on a guided hike on Schweitzer during the mountain’s annual Huckleberry Festival (Aug. 1) or make a stab at finding them yourself. Priest Lake is famous for the little buggers, appearing in everything from pies to margaritas at the lake’s resorts. Asking for someone’s coveted picking spot is like asking for their wife for an evening — but the Priest Lake Range District can happily supply maps if you’re looking for direction.
While you’re out at Green Bluff picking fruit and stuffing yourself with other goodies, stop by the Fleur de Provence Lavender Farm — a spot on the Green Bluff loop — that allows customers to pick their own bouquets of the aromatic, purple-flowering herb.
The adventure here is at the doorbell. Urban picking — or gleaning — is an activity that’s become popular in other cities (Portland has a website devoted to it), and one that takes a different kind of guts than, say, duking it out with a bear for huckleberries. Gleaning attempts to redistribute unwanted food to those who need it more. Say your neighbor has a plum tree that blooms every year, only to have the fruit drop on the lawn and rot in the grass. This year, knock on that neighbor’s door, ask them if you can have the fruit and, if they’re cool with it, pick away.