Summer officially began last week with the solstice and all the accompanying notes of barn swallows in the air, thimbleberries ripening and word of the first huckleberries. As I look for the various notes of summer, one of my favorites is the return of the summer camp at the Dance Palace Community Center— as much a part of summer in West Marin as the coastal fog rolling over the ridge in the afternoon. For almost 50 years, red, blue, purple and yellow groups of campers as colorful as wildflowers venture to Papermill Creek and Hearts Desire Beach, smush clay, paint, watch birds and celebrate Grandparents’ Day. Like generations of gray whales that pass the coast each year, generations of campers move through camp, becoming counselors and leaders. Just another note of summer music.
Word on the street of those huckleberries sent me out to Inverness Ridge, but so far all I could find at my super-secret patch were the pretty pink bells on the shrubs and plenty of green berries. I usually see them by the end of July with Dance Palace campers picking them at Tomales Bay State Park during the annual visit capping off the camp season.
Shrubby huckleberries thrive in damp, acidic soils and are often found along the Inverness Ridge, areas of Tomales Bay State Park and on Sky Trail. There are two genera—Gaylussia and Vaccinium—the latter being in West Marin. Our most common species is the evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). The chef at the 19th century Pacific Union Club hotel at Divide Meadow so prized them that he went up Old Pine Trail to clip and trim the bushes, making it a particularly productive patch.
In addition to writing the Nature Notebook, Loretta Farley is a part-time clerk at the Dance Palace and clay smusher at camp.