There is a big wall of small alder trees I can see when looking out my back door. Every time I see it I feel drawn to it and want to go explore it. Yesterday afternoon when I arrived, I tried to get settled into my place, which was hard to do because all of my things had not yet arrived in the mail. Today, there is still no progress to be made, so I give in to the call from the forest. I head out my back door and as I approach it I begin to see a trail, so I start following it. As I move slowly along listening for birds and other animals, I hear the village children playing and laughing just past the trees to my right. I go off the trail here and there to check some things I notice along the way. Soon I come to another trail. I turn and follow it to an opening. The trail opens up and drops steeply down into a valley meadow surrounded by a beautiful vista of Spruce, Birch, and Willow trees backed by mountains, tundra and sky that go on forever. I stand in awe. This is a 5 minute walk from my back door. Until this moment I have been so caught up with bureaucratic red tape of finishing grad school and months of preparation for being here that the village seems to have become a mythological place I will someday move to. The reality just hit me, I am living in the middle of rural Southwest Alaska. This - pure wilderness - is my backyard. I remain in awe as I stand and examine the immense landscape, letting the idea that this is my home sink in.
These kind of pictures never do justice. Obviously this is owed the the actual experience of being there immersed in all that is around you. Sometimes we think it is a certain something that makes a place special, but really, it is everything together creating the experience. Each thing is needed by the other to express it's full beauty and potential. Not unlike ourselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson writes about this in a poem called "Each and all". This is my favorite part of it.
I thought the Sparrows note from Heaven
Singing at dawn on the Alder bough
I brought him home in a cage at even'
He sings his song but it cheers not now
For I did not bring home the River and the Sky
He sang to my ear, they sang to my eye
There are several different types of berries that grow on the tundra. In early Summer there are Salmonberries which are a bit like raspberries, but bigger and more orange in color. In August and early September there are lots of alpine blueberries, which are just like blueberries you would buy at the store in the lower 48. They are delicious and they are everywhere, sometimes pretty spread out. The trick is to find a good spot where they are nice and thick, while managing to avoid contact with bears, who also like spots where they are nice and thick as they put on weight for the Winter. In September, cranberries and blackberries get ripe and ready for picking and eating. These are nothing like cranberries and blackberries you would find elsewhere. The Blackberries look a lot like blueberries, just a single berry no clustering, but are a little smaller and are a deep purpleish-black color. Blackberries don't have a ton of flavor like blueberries do, but they are still good. Cranberries are even smaller, red and their flavor is tart. All three of these berries grow like ground cover on the Tundra. Berries are usually picked by the zillions and then frozen for use throughout the Winter.