Story last updated at 8/19/2009 - 5:58 pm
There I was, happily filling my tote with wild treats from a six-foot-tall blueberry bush which was overloaded with delicious, nutritious fruit and pondering if the unusual, sunny weather was to thank for the proliferation of berries this year. Humming a tune, I depleted the nearest side of the bush and gratefully noted more fat, juicy blueberries awaited harvest further back. Carefully pushing aside the camouflaging leaves and bending down to peer through the bush with great anticipation, I was suddenly eyeball to eyeball with a huge, black and tan spotted slug!
"Aagh! You can have all the berries!" I screamed, making a hasty retreat to a less crowded section of the patch. I had forgotten to be prepared for high rise slug sightings, although I've seen plenty of them over the years. Full grown, wild Alaskan forest-dwelling slugs are of respectable dimensions (although usually less than a foot long).
How do they inch their way five feet up the skinny branches of a blueberry shrub?
And what's with all the bugs? They don't eat blueberries. They just fly around and bite your ears. I'm thinking it's one of those symbiotic relationships where the blueberries attract the people so the bugs get something to bite, then when the humans go running and screaming out of there, the bugs have protected the blueberries from overharvest and they can all buzz around laughing it up along with the berries for a few hours.
We can't ignore the aspect of the presence of those little white worms either. The perfect berry may be worm free, but that's just not always possible, so it is best to just try to appreciate any extra nutritional value inherent in said worm. Maybe medical science will find they are super anti-something or other soon.
Speaking of biting, there's another blueberry connoisseur that might not just bite your ear, but bite off your ear, which is, or course, Mr./Ms. Black Bear. Luckily, I don't have any heart-stopping personal memories to relate of surprise encounters with bears while picking berries, but if a bear appeared and pushed the issue, heck, I'd share. The trampled bushes and missing berries I'm finding suggests that they shouldn't be too hungry and I'm sincerely glad about that.
The bears might not get the best berries anyway. I'm starting to notice that some of the biggest, most awesome berries are hiding under and around small spruce trees -where the bears don't want to stick their noses any more than I want to reach my hand into the spear-like projections of spruce needles. Remember the rule: the more painful or impossible the feat to collect the berry, the bigger and more tasty!
The risks of slug, bug and bear trauma aside, I thoroughly enjoy harvesting blueberries and huckleberries - all blue, black and red ones mixed together. The pleasure of spending time out on an isolated mountainside is great - with or without berries. Moving around, climbing over logs and rocks, skirting a wet area, and never knowing what the treasure hunt will bring is great fun, not to mention the uncanny quiet. After a while it suddenly comes over you that it is quieter than quiet - it's all just there, not a sound or movement for hours except the occasional lone raven soaring by or a floatplane off in the distance. Nice. I can recommend it - and it's all in the day of a Southeast Alaskan blueberry picker.
Carla Petersen is a remote-living freelance artist and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org