Thursday, August 19, 2010

Guest Blogger John Heydinger: "Last Note from the Last Frontier"


Out surveying vegetation in an area wetland last week, I was introduced to the cloudberry by a friend and co-worker.

Now, I have next to no botany experience and generally wouldn't trust myself to grab an assortment of tasty-looking foliage and include it in my diet. However I was assured that we on the Kenai Peninsula are in the midst of berry season, and the summer is drawing to a close.

So with a slightly used yogurt container in hand, I set off across the bog in search of my quarry. The cloudberry itself looks like a multi-berry explosion and goes by the latin name rubus chamaemorus meaning something along the lines of "grounded mulberry". When ripe they have a pale orange color and can only be described as just this side of tart; the sort of delicacy that takes a couple of tries before you develop a taste for it.

Searching along the spruce outcroppings surrounding our bog I was able to pluck enough cloudberries, and to my wonder and surprise, blueberries, to make up the bulk of my lunch. Returning to my work in the afternoon I inquired to my knowledgeable friend about the prospect for making my own cloud and blueberry jam. After a ten minute explanation involving implements such as cheesecloth and ingredients like pemmican, I decided that perhaps the whole process was a little more than I wanted to undertake in my last week in Alaska.

I guess I just don't have what it takes to go native up here.

It is getting colder up here (though it was never particularly warm to begin with) and nights are taking on a decidedly darkening pallor. (That is to say that night is actually becoming night-like for the first time in months.) Already there is an unmistakable aura of autumn and that is my cue to exit, stage south. The bears have retreated from the salmon streams and are gorging themselves of berries for the coming long, dark cold - the kind of place that a true Minnesotan might feel right at home in their despondent Lutheran Winter, when all anybody can do is not complain and hope that things will get better. Though unquestionably a Minnesotan, I have no patience for such Midwestern virtues, for I have seen places where the sun shines everyday and do not wish to resign myself to our particular brand of fatalism.

The bears are going away and so shall I.
We each make our retreats
to more comfortable climes;
they to there dens, and me back home.

Thanks to the Last Jew Standing for encouraging these posts over the summer.

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