lessons from the arctic (5)

you will see berries everywhere you go. some of them are wild blueberries, and some of them are a berry that looks just like wild blueberries, and some of them are cloudberries. you'll try to be careful about not grazing too much, out of concern for your gastro-intestinal system. inevitably, though, the most appealing-looking ones you will find when you wander off the trail to empty your bladder, because those are the places that haven't yet been picked over by other hikers.

the blueberries that grow close to birch forests will taste raw and flat, like cut grass; when you're on an exposed hillside, high above where the birch could no longer stand, you will find much smaller, drier specimens that at first give you little confidence in them. but, let the wind whip your face and chap your lips while you slowly scramble uphill along the shins of buttresses, and when you rest, you may lean down and pluck one out of curiosity. these are the best ones, where the environment harshened just enough to squash the competition for soil nutrients.

you will look uphill and see reindeer, and know that their scat feeds these berries.

in the marsh, you'll see reddish baubles pressing out of green fists. you'll meet a tall local man, walking with his small child and anxious dog. "i don't remember english word," he'll start.

"cloudberries," you fill in.

"yes! yes. cloudberries. very good."

when he passes you, you'll see that on his pack hangs a large plastic pail, full of a ripe golden yellow mush, trailing flies that are desperately trying to tunnel in through the edges. remember what a woman told you earlier: "like a color between orange and gold," she said, struggling with the right adjectives to describe it. "the red ones taste like nothing."

as the tall man leaves with his child and dog and bucket, you understand why you've only seen red cloudberries.

05 September 2018 19:56

  Commons License this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. for more details, please see my license information.