A Berry Good Day

By , September 9, 2012

Come on now. If you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you knew the day would come when I’d have to use that title, right?

Thursday, we went berry picking with a neighbor friend and her five-year old daughter. We’d planned the trip a few days before, but the weather had become more severe than we’d anticipated—some rain, lots of wind. It didn’t look like it would be very comfortable. Michelle and I weren’t too worried. The best day of berry picking we can remember included monsoon rains and snow. How could this be much worse?

Alaska blueberries--finest kind!

Some of the day’s harvest (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

The day cleared as it dawned, though, and our destination lay so far up the Chilkat River valley that it very likely had different weather than what we saw on the bay. We loaded our berry gear into our friend’s car, and headed for Flower Mountain.

Our family had been there before. Aly had spent the night at the foot of a glacier there with Alaska Mountain Guides a couple of summers ago, and we had picked berries there once or twice, although we hadn’t known where we were, exactly at the time. We’ve berried on Flower Mountain, Sunshine Mountain, and a mountain above the Kelsall River. From the rugged dirt road side, they’re all much the same: old clearcut slopes thick with berry bushes, scrub alder and devil’s club, sweeping alpine vistas, and vast stretches of sky above. In other words, breath takingly beautiful.

We bushwhacked into the bushes and began filling berry buckets. For about 8 hours we grazed through the meadows, chatting while we swept handsful of berries from the bushes.

Our blueberries are likely different from the ones you know. Our plant experts tell us we have about four blue berries, all of which are closely related to huckleberries, or are, in fact, blue huckleberries. I don’t think they include false azalia berries, which we used to harvest for my mother’s kitchen along with other blueberries. Here, if it’s blue, and a berry, we call it a blueberry, and gather it like the treasure it is.

I also gathered a quart of black currants, opulently ripe and larger than any we’ve found here on the homestead beaches.

As we worked, we watched for bears, but with three adults and a very outgoing five year-old all happily at work, few bears cared to join us. Likewise, any moose that frequented that area stayed out of the way, although with the subsistence hunt starting in a week, I scanned for them. Instead, we listened to the gentle flight calls of songbirds, a lovely, almost tender hooting sound that turned out to be a raven, and best of all, the cry of a loon from the pond far below us.

We stayed late, not worried about getting home, because the tide wouldn’t be crossable till late. Eventually we hauled our berries home.

The next day it rained and blew hard. We had a perfect day to process the currants and 6 quarts of blueberries. We now have jars of jam, a couple bottles of currant syrup, and a gallon of blueberry wine bubbling away. We’re rich!

4 Responses to “A Berry Good Day”

  1. joanna says:

    Eating wild blueberries was one of my favorite Alaska memories. Glad you had such a great time! I was thinking about you guys because I’m planning to hear Mary Oliver speak (!) in New York in a few weeks and thought you would appreciate that. One of the nice city benefits. Though we obviously miss all the AK benefits that you guys get… Anyways, cheers from NY!

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Joanna, I’m jealous! I can’t imagine listening to her read her poems in a big city, but I definitely would try it if I had the chance. Please cheer a extra loudly on my behalf!

  3. Astrid says:

    Sounds great, I have somebody visiting me at night, helping me harvest my cherries, berries and even my apples (ha I did pick the crabapples before it did.
    We haven’t quite figured it out who wants to share in our fruit this year..the coyotes? some deer or moose? or even a bear..we don’t know, what I do know is that I feel rich this year with stores close (60 miles) to buy our jams, because we don’t have much homegrown in our pantry this year.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Astrid,

    Fruit thieves are a problem around here, too. The bears are the worst, because they generally break fruit tree limbs. We’ve never had them here, but the moose browsing our cherry trees in the winter ruin our chances of getting cherries many years.

    That’s the beauty of berries, we go out and get them along with all the other “neighbors.”

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