Saturday, August 18, 2007

the pursuit of blueberries

Mid-August here in Southcentral Alaska and I've been off the bike for a couple of weeks. What to do when not able to ride?
So, for the past two weeks, I've been doing some hikes - even went for a run... once. The first longer hike was on my own on the newly-reopened trail from the end of Canyon Road back to Rabbit Lake. I had a sunny Wednesday off and hadn't been to the lake in a long time. Ran into a few people, but mostly enjoyed the day & just sitting by the lake. I only glanced around for blueberries.
A few days later, Jon & I did a hike after work starting at the same trailhead, but hiking up to a ridge. Waning daylight left us no time to pick berries, but you could call it a scoping mission, because the main reason Jon hikes in August and September is for the blueberries. He'll pick for hours - all day if he can. He can fill a backpacking pack with containers and come home with all of them filled. He will pick til sunset, so focused he gets in his quest.
I did go back to the trail once more with him to pick after work. We each filled one large container before calling it a night. We didn't do much hiking, but we scoured that berry patch!
Then, just this past Thursday we had a day off (one of two, actually, but the first it rained). We packed a few containers and headed to Little Peter's Creek. I'd never hiked the route, but knew the destination. It looked like about a six mile trail each way. On the way up we made note of a few promising spots and continued til the trail disappeared into the tundra. We ate a snack and started picking, each of us making our way along the side slope. In the sun the entire time. Containers filled, we started back, stopping at different berry patches until they played out or we lost interest.
Jon says if a location doesn't look amazing, to move on until you find one that does. I can see his point. You can spend a lot of time picking eight berries off a bush or find a bush that's covered with dozens. It keeps my attention better.
Our final picking spot was where the winter and summer trails were close to each other. I remembered an impressive blue while hiking up and promised I would return to it, but didn't mark the spot. So, moving away from Jon, I strolled along the narrow trail as it wound through roots, trees and berry patches. Picked a few just to hear the plunking sound in the bottom of the container. Did I remember it wrong? Did it only impress me because it was the first patch we had come to? I wished I had placed a branch on the trail to mark the spot so I wouldn't have to wonder.
I stepped over a tree that had fallen on the trail and made my way a little farther when there it was. More berries than leaves on this particular plant. I whistled for Jon to join me, but he didn't hear. I squatted to pick, container on the ground, both hands pulling the berries from under the branches. I looked up and around me trying to be alert for the bears who might be traveling through the area, hoping they were all at the creek catching salmon.
It was quite a haul I'd discovered and some nearby plants were almost as filled, but none quite like the one that first got my attention. Soon the patch played out and, not wanting to get very far off the trail, I joined Jon at his spot. It was eight in the evening - we began the hike just before noon - and we still had about two miles to hike back to the trailhead.
At home, Jon put the berry containers on the scale - about 17 pounds! Time to get out the freezer bags and get to work!

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