Aki, her other human, and I are on a gathering trip. We drive out to False Outer Point beach to fill five gallon buckets with rockweed (Bladder Wrack) for covering our garden’s perennials. The little dog chases her Frisbee as her humans fill the buckets. She should be safe as the beach is off the roadway and far from any bears.
With head down, I grab clumps of the burnt sienna-colored rockweed, shake out any pebbles or sticks, and drop the handfuls into a bucket. Aki interrupts often with demands that I throw her Frisbee. Without looking up I toss it toward the water and return to work. When I take a break to stretch, three bald eagles are flying low over the beach from where, seconds earlier, Aki retrieved her Frisbee. Maybe the big birds dove on a washed-up salmon carcass. Maybe they want to chase the Frisbee. Maybe they want to see how a ten-pound poodle tastes.
We move quickly to fill the remaining buckets and haul them to the car. In minutes we start phase two—lingonberry picking. Many years before Aki, we lived in a tundra town in Western Alaska. Each autumn, we’d pick gallons of lingonberries for jams, bake goods, liqueur, and only once—catsup. The plants grow here in the rainforest but until this year, we have rarely seen them produce berries. Last week I stumbled on this muskeg meadow with clumps of wine-red berries pulling their diminutive plants into meadow moss. The hard little spheres plunk when they hit the bottom of my berry bucket—a cut down, half-gallon soy sauce container. After an hour of picking the plunking stops as berries already in the bucket cushion the newly harvested ones.
Picking the low growing berries keeps out noses near the fragrant ground where we can smell the spicy smell of Labrador tea. Biting into a lingonberry releases the same smell, whether harvested on a rainforest bog meadow or on the tundra. None of the rain forest blue berries taste like a tundra berry. But the lingonberries we harvest today deliver the same flavor and smell as those I remember harvesting from a Kuskokwim River bluff after the first frost.