By Janelle Eklund
Tangle Lakes. It rained all night and early morning. Four of us gals lingered at breakfast in the cozy lodge, waiting for the rain to stop - hah! Around 10:00am we bit the bullet and donned our rain gear, pulled on our rubber boots, filled our day packs with empty yogurt containers, and optimistically stepped onto the tundra and into blueberry heaven. Our optimism paid off - the rain stopped even though the clouds persisted. Instead of the rain pouring down our heads it laced us with its wetness from the bushes and mossy covered ground. The hill was somewhat steep, which made for good picking. It was nice to change position - lay, sit, kneel, stand, and bending over. Needless to say my buttocks and upper leg muscles were pleasantly sore the next day.
The bushes were thick with berries, some large, some medium, some small. When there is that many to choose from I get picky and seek out the bushes that are thick with the larger version. Of course they don't all go in the bucket. It is important to give a taste test now and then - mouthfuls give you a better evaluation than just one or two! This is also important because it keeps the hunger pains at bay.
Some people like the blueberry pickers, a handheld device that rakes them into a holding area. Even though picking is much faster with one of these devises, I prefer to handpick. I like to touch the berries and if some aren't quite ripe I can be selective.
When one is picking blueberries all sense of time is lost. As you are picking, if you are not conversing with friends picking near you, your thoughts wander to.....blueberry picking! It's nice because you forget about all those day to day things at home screaming at you to do. Once in awhile you look up to see what's going on around you - ducks flying over, caribou moving about, locating picking friends. Sheets of rain clouds threatened to rain on our blueberry parade but the powers that be were with us and they skirted the hill we were picking on.
Because your tummy is keeping the hunger pains away the watch ticks away and before you know it, it's...3:00pm! We obviously didn't eat quite enough berries and our tummies longed for other things so we took a quick break and downed a little late lunch. Refreshing our packs with more empty containers we headed back up the hill and walked to the end of the ridge. As we walked we passed by many a bush thick with large berries. It was all we could do to not bend over and pluck them into our buckets. But our leader kept us going, assuring us that there were many more at the end of the ridge. Well, it wasn't too bad. There was a lot there but it seemed the best is what we passed. We were still able to fill our buckets pretty fast.
As we picked our way back a small antlered caribou ran across the flat and up to the top of the ridge, slowly making its way toward us. Its presence was invigorating. We all stood contemplating each other until the rain finally washed us apart.
About 5:30pm a sheet of rain danced our way and graced us with its downpour of wetness so we headed for shelter and quit for the day, satisfied and thankful for our bounty and the rain-free day.
Blueberries are not only good, they are good for you. Their antioxidants help keep you healthy. When I got home I spread the wet berries on paper towels laid on cookie sheets to dry. I then put them in quart freezer zip-lock bags and set them in the freezer. Most of mine are consumed on cereal throughout the year. They are great in muffins, pies, and make nice jam, syrup, and blueberry juice. Blueberry leaf tea, taken in moderation, can be healing.
Blueberries are healing in more ways than one, picking puts you in soothing places and clears the mind. Happy blueberry season!
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.