Page 37

35

Vo l . 6 N o . 2 pallet of greens and grays, whites, reds and bright pinks lacing low and tight against the brown ground. Neither did the sunshine, or my kids on the tundra tumbling and picking. They’d fill their own buckets when we went for blueberries and came home to mash their own berries. They cooked all their mashed berries together with some sugar, and we’d eat it plain, delicious and tart. And anyway, all that aside, Fred Meyer berries didn’t grow at the top of Murphy Dome, or anywhere near Fairbanks, or Alaska. Who knows how far they’d traveled, or how many different boats and airplanes it took to get them here. The sugar for any jam I made had to come that way; the berries didn’t. I wanted to teach my kids to use local food when they could because Alaska was so far away and required so much shipping. Any little bit of effort was worth it. Plus, berrying together all five of us or me alone or with a friend, I found a mind numbing rhythm. Blue or red became a blanket around me filled with the buzz of bugs. I laid myself flat, face down to uncover more. I’d forget whatever I was thinking. The goal was simple and attainable: a full bucket. That was healthy. So was the sunshine, the air, the togetherness of it. “I like to pick them,” was how I answered my mom. We were never great at communicating. One thing was certain. My kids’ childhood was nothing like my own. Out in the berry patches, my kids pretended to be puppies and owners, and the owner had to feed the puppies berries, and they took turns in the various roles. When they weren’t picking, they climbed the trees around the patches and made forts while I picked. When I was a kid, I climbed trees and played games in the backyard, but wild berries, high alpine and tundra landscapes were not part of my world. When I was young in Nebraska, we drove to a nearby farm to pick strawberries once a year, clambered onto a horse drawn wagon and rode on straw bales out to the rows of berry bushes. We did the same thing to pick out pumpkins in the fall. The closest memory my kids have to that was the raspberry farm, but there was no straw bale wagon. The Reflections in the Lagoon

raspberry bushes were lined up in acre long rows right near the parking lot and across the street from their school. Their berries were as big as strawberries, translucent like rubies, extra sweet, and easy to gather. Still, it was my least favorite place to pick. That was partly because farm berries were pricey, but also because picking berries was the perfect reason to go exploring the Alaskan wilds. That was impossible in Nebraska, where there were no wilds. Exploring the wilds was part of the reason I’d moved to Alaska. When I was trying to discover berry spots, an acquaintance took me to her old secret spot, where she hadn’t been in a couple years. We didn’t have to walk far through a thicket of spindly pokey black spruce before we were on a very wide, very long bulldozed swath of what used to be forest but had become broken trunks and shredded roots sticking up haphazard in matted masses of soil. The season before had been a year of extreme forest fires. Fairbanks had been surrounded on three sides by several million acres of forest fire, so the foresters decided to bulldoze a ring around the city, and we’d found part of it. At the height of the fire danger, the mayor had come on the ten o’clock news to tell Fairbanks’ residents not to worry, because the city would be protected. He turned out to be right, but only because it finally started to rain. The fire ring was a kneejerk reaction to a helpless situation. This swath of it that we came across was at least a hundred yards wide. It stretched in both directions as far

Katherine “Pinky” Bleth

Profile for Michael Burwell

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Profile for burwellm
Advertisement