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.

Most Recent Posts

An Interview with Julia Phillips, Part 2

An Interview with Julia Phillips, Part 2

In this episode, we dive into specifics about the author’s identity and experience as a white American woman from New York City, observing rural and Indigenous Russians of Kamchatka in their day-to-day lives. We hear her reflections about time spent in rural Kamchatka, traveling with dogsled teams, reindeer herding families, and gathering wild foods. We reflect on circumpolar questions about the ocean’s fish supply after Fukushima,

read more
While Nanabijou Sleeps: Tanya Talaga on racism and survival of Indigenous youth

While Nanabijou Sleeps: Tanya Talaga on racism and survival of Indigenous youth

Three hours north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Armstrong had several large new homes situated on a rise above the town, each with a law enforcement vehicle parked in the driveway. Below these houses, most of the community lived in older, smaller, rundown homes. We wondered about the relationship between these officers in “Armstrong Heights” and the rest of the community, given

read more
An Interview with Julia Phillips, Part 1

An Interview with Julia Phillips, Part 1

Welcome to our podcast, Salmonberries, where we bring you stories, interviews, and discussions from across the circumpolar North to surprise, delight, and build community. Our inaugural podcast features an interview with author Julia Phillips, who wrote the debut novel Disappearing Earth . . . As I read it, I kept thinking of all the ways it is relevant to Alaska. I was so excited by the author’s approach to storytelling . . .

read more
Women of Kamchatka: Review of Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Women of Kamchatka: Review of Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Set in the Kamchatka peninsula of far northeastern Russia, debut novelist Julia Phillips writes in Disappearing Earth about the interior worlds of women, the importance of community, and the impacts of gender-based violence on both, with a depth of human insight reminiscent of Tolstoy. The story opens with the kidnapping of two young Russian girls . . .

read more
Civil Rights Heroine: Review of Fighter in Velvet Gloves by Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr.

Civil Rights Heroine: Review of Fighter in Velvet Gloves by Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr.

Elizabeth Peratrovich’s history-making speech before the Alaska Senate in 1945 persuaded passage of America’s first state anti-discrimination act, nearly 20 years prior to Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act. Boochever’s concise, sensitively written, historical teen non-fiction book Fighter in Velvet Gloves conveys Peratrovich’s positive can-do life attitude . . .

read more
Review of One Water: dispatches from the streets and backcountry of Interior Alaska by Rob McCue

Review of One Water: dispatches from the streets and backcountry of Interior Alaska by Rob McCue

Rob McCue’s One Water is a refreshingly interior account, not only because the first person narrator reports from inside the action—often the interior of the city cab he drives in half the stories—but also in the sense of “interior” Alaska, with Fairbanks as its hub and “big village.” . . . It’s a feisty guy narrative from the underserved center of the state that quickly surprises you with its inclusiveness. You never know . . .

read more

Pin It on Pinterest