Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Gifted Day

“Writing any story set in Alaska is hard, because Alaska is always a character. Even if the story is about something else, Alaska is still a character.” –from tonight’s conversation over dinner.

Berry picking is one of the premier delights of an Alaska summer. High bush cranberries, blueberries, salmon berries, raspberries, red currants and black currants are all to be found, if you know where to look. The blueberries are not yet ripe, but very soon the village will make its annual trek up Blueberry Hill.

Today, we went in search of cranberries. Cranberries are a great source of vitamin C and medicinal. In the winter, a quarter cup of cranberry juice will ward off colds and infections. I was given a jar so that we, too, may try it. The berries grow in clusters and, as the name implies, they are high and easy to pick. My companion, a true berry obsessive, could spot berries from a hundred feet away. By the end of the day, I was getting pretty good at spotting them too. We tromped all over the woods behind the airport, filling buckets and discussing the state of the world. The country here exists in a remarkable balance. Avarice seeks to unbalance it, to rip away what is there and leave a gaping emptiness where once life thrived.

I am learning a great many things about plants and their uses. Soft grass, with its good insulation properties, was used in the old days as boot liners during the winter. The tall grass was cut for dog bedding. In the days before manufactured toys, clumps of grass would be uprooted, the dirt shaken out of the roots and tied into little grass dolls with wild and curly hair. (I figured out how to make them and the girls and I spent a frolicsome afternoon making grass dolls.) Chamomile is a most common ground plant and can, of course, be brewed into soothing tea.

Medicine plant, or wormwood, is a bitter astringent that has been known to help serious illness. I chewed on a leaf today, and was immediately convinced. It was invigorating, but so was riding all over the place on a bicycle. It’s not every day I go aerobic!

We spent all afternoon under flawless skies picking up two groaning buckets full of the tiny berries. Then it was time to eat! I actually got two dinners this evening: one with the Deacon family, the other down at Evie’s. It would have been her husband’s 84th birthday, and though he could only be with them in spirit, they had the party anyway. Everyone brought food: salmon cooked in many different ways, pasta salad, fry bread, four kinds of cake, ice cream – all of it delicious. Elders, young parents, children and babies all gathered in Rose’s living room. I said a prayer with her and reflected that a week from Friday I will be doing the same with my own father as he celebrates his 84th.

It is from our families that we learn the lay of the land. It is from our families that we are given our stories. If I can honor that, I will be grounded. As one of my good elder friends said, “Finding yourself. That’s such a white thing. So you run off to find yourself. I know people in their forties who are still finding themselves. If you haven’t found yourself by then, what is the matter with you?”

The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man, upon finding, sold everything that he had and bought the field. Of course the point is not to find yourself. It is to lose yourself, and be found.

Here are some more village shots:

Town Hall and Post Office

Hee Yea Lingde: The Local Power Company

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