Cranberries in Springtime: A Literary Meeting Place for Rural Alaskans

 

Lingonberries, Vaccinium vitis-adaea, kwntsan’.

About this Blog

 

Spring Breakup in Bush Alaska

When I first moved to Alaska in March of 2000, I lived in a wall tent while building a cabin at the edge of a remote lake in the Interior. I remember eating the last apple from its box by early April, and having no fresh fruit for a month. And no bath, either, until the ice melted. In May, we started up the Honda 40 horse outboard, and rode in the boat an hour downstream to the edge of where the ice was still breaking up along the Kuskokwim River. We stopped and got out to look around, and discovered lowbush cranberries on the tundra. The flavor of this unexpected gift brought tears. After a month of eating dried fruit, porcupine, and squirrel meat, those winter-sweetened cranberries were the best thing I had ever tasted.

 

Living in Village Alaska

Years later, living in a small Athabascan community far upriver from where I found the lowbush cranberries, I heard stories, in both English and Athabascan, about the critical importance of those berries to survival of individuals and people of the north. My experience that day led to a deepened understanding and appreciation of the skill and perseverance of local people. And the experience connected me viscerally to the land that sustains us, in a way no words can ever quite describe. Over the years, this memory has become a metaphor, or story, that continues to instruct me in my life.

 

Cranberries in Springtime

Unexpected second chances in life. Sweetness rendered in this sour fruit, by winter’s bitter cold. Beauty and destruction after a forest fire; morels, fireweed, and renewed forest growth follow. Wildflowers growing up out of an old tire in the woods. Children laughing and playing. Juxtapositions. Oxymorons. Silver linings. Lemonade. Gifts of grace.

Come. Let us sit down in the moss, lichen, and berries of the tundra and know this earth that is our home. The dialectic of healing requires some messiness and discomfort, to enjoy the beauty. It is a journey I would prefer to take together.

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