Students have a berry good time

"Natanya Johnson serves up a huckleberry pancake to first grader Jessica Dunn. Johnson, along with other AmeriCorps team members, made the pancakes with berries picked by the students.Matt Johnson / staff photosHuckleberries become a science lessonDr. Huckle and Dr. Berry were hard at work in the woods Monday.Leading more than 20 first graders through woodland trails behind the South Whidbey Intermediate School, the two young doctors taught the children everything anyone would want to know about huckleberries -- a common shrub in young, Whidbey Island forests. The two doctors, actually local AmeriCorps team members Tony Napolentano and Patrick Helm, did not have to do much teaching about one huckleberry fact: the berries taste good.The outing was on the second of two days of the second annual Huckleberry Festival at the South Whidbey intermediate and primary schools. Scores of children trooped out to the school district's woodlands during the festival to pick tens of pints of berries and to learn about forest ecology.The forest, which was clearcut about 10 years ago, is a story of natural recovery. Seeded with trees by students and volunteers, the land is covered with 5- and 10-foot trees and many low bushes and shrubs that cannot survive in a full-grown forest. The huckleberry is one of those plants. Huckleberry bushes grow thick in the little forest and produce huge amounts of berries every fall.While in the woods, Irene Talbot's first-grade class could almost hear the bushes growing and producing berries, thanks in part to descriptions provided Dr. Huckle and Dr. Berry, and by a woodland fairy played by AmeriCorps' Jessica Raymond.Dressed in flowing pink and brown garb, Raymond spoke about the bushes as though they were people.This bush is so loud, she said to the children. Can't you hear it?Raymond explained how the plant's roots, branches, leaves and berries all work together to keep it and its species alive. She sang songs with the children about the huckleberries, and about the trees and animals that surrounded them.Of course, a few of the students' minds were drifting back to their favorite aspect of the huckleberry -- the taste. Earlier in the day, the students pulled the stems off the berries they'd harvested during a walk through the woods. Then they ate huckleberry pancakes prepared by the AmeriCorps team. Some of the students, like Chris Van Riper, would have been happy just with the berries.I can't stop eating them, he said, popping the berries in his mouth as fast as he could.Other students were not prepared for the sweet and tart of huckleberry pancakes. Although she enjoyed eating the berries off the bush, Jessica Dunn said did not like them once they were cooked into pancakes. She told her teacher they would be better with maple syrup.AmeriCorps team leaders Will Black and Tom Sanford said educational days like those during the Huckleberry Festival will be the focus of this year's AmeriCorps team. Last year's team concentrated on work projects, such as building trails in the school district's forest and at Possession Point Park. The team's members specialize in outdoor education. "

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