Brilliant gold aspen and birch leaves shiver in the breeze. Berry bushes change from green to red, and deepen into purple. Mid-August into mid-September is my favorite time to be on the Gaede-80 homestead, located outside Soldotna, Alaska. Berry bushes change from green to red, and deepen into purple. Tall fireweed molt magenta blooms into cottony strands and green leaves curl into faded red ribbons. Low bush cranberries ripen into crimson clusters among mounds of lacy moss. White dogwood flowers fade and produce fluorescent orange berries, and when touched by frost, match the cranberries in their deep red hue. The mosquitoes have ceased their annoyance. Walks in the woods are less padded as the moss stiffens with cooler. The smell of smoke, which in summer puts homesteaders on alert for forest fires, is now, after weeks of rain, a friendly outdoor fragrance.
I recall the autumn of 1999…….my siblings, niece, and I spend hours gathering cranberries. As if drawn by magnets, we wander into the woods. We crouch low to the ground, exclaiming, “These are the biggest berries ever!” We marvel at the natural landscaping of weathered stumps filled with fuzzy natural vegetation and topped with black crow berries. In the quietness of the woods, with boots buried in moss, we talk of decades past when Mom taught us the joy of berry-picking.
We paid attention when she showed us how to remove their stems and bits of debris by rolling them on a rough kitchen hand towel. Some of the cleaned berries were bagged and placed in the freezer for future use; others were measured out for immediate cranberry nutbread, cranberry crunch, cranberry muffins, or cranberry tea.
For years it was a mystery to read recipes that instructed us to “chop” the cranberries. These berries, actually lingonberries, were too tiny to chop. No tough skins, like true cranberries, harvested from bogs, and purchased in stores.
Perhaps next year, I will kneel in the moss and curl my fingers around the berries. This year, I savor the memories of Alaska Autumn.