Clarissa Rizal: Alaska Native Artist Blog

Accentuating Tlingit Traditions

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Berries: Fruit of the Northern Climes

August 20th, 2013 by Clarissa

Check out the hands of real berry-pickers!

Earlier this year, I made up my mind that I was going to pick berries – whatever it took, wherever I was, whatever weather!  And luckily for us up here in the north, this Summer has been one of the best in recorded memory!  I picked soap berries in Whitehorse, Huckleberries in Haines, nagoon berries in Juneau and raspberries and blueberries in  Hoonah!  I make my fortune by making myself fortunate in taking advantage of the fruits of our land — golly, and imagine all the berries that are out there that never get picked!

Wayne and Cherri Price, Teahonna James and Clarissa Rizal enjoyed an afternoon of picking huckleberries up a mountain on the other side of the Chilkat River in Haines, Alaska

Always pick berries with friends and relatives.  Never go alone.  Remember:  we have bears who feast on berries just like we do at this time of year.  Even though we see them as relatives, bears are much bigger and stronger than us and therefore, we must respect them, right?  Right.

Tim Ackerman always comes prepared with his chainsaw in the back of the truck; never know when you’ll come across a fallen tree on the narrow dirt road to the mountainside berry patches. Wayne Price helps set aside the logs (that will eventually become somebody’s firewood).

Soapberries are named according to the high amount of saponin content — the chemical compound that makes the berries foam up when whipped or shaken with water.

We do not have soap berries in Southeast Alaska, so I never picked them.  I remember my grandmother and mother would receive a precious jar of soapberries during a potlatch; it was always a prized possession.  In fact, so prized that I was given a tiny jar of soapberries from a potlatch that I attended about 5 years ago – I still have it; never opened.  I told myself that I would never open it until I meet the soapberry and pick ‘em myself – I had this chance back in July – I picked all I could in a short amount of time and hand-carried it on a plane to my friend in Hoonah in honor of her mother who had recently passed.

Vanessa Morgan picking soapberries along the woodland path outside of our campus apartment in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Nagoon berries are the bestest berry in the world!  They grow in open boggy fields in the northern part of Southeast Alaska — nagoon berry pickers do not let out where their special patches of berries are located – if so, then you must be someone very very very special – so take heed to those three people to whom I let my secret!

The “cloud berries” of Yukon, if I am not mistaken, seem to be a relative of the Nagoon, but do not quote me on this.  These berries are generally the last berry to harvest, ripening in mid to late August.  However, the berries are all in a bumper crop this year which of course puts stress on us berry pickers.  The raspberries, nagoons, blueberries, and thimble berries are all ripe at the same time!

Washed and cleaned Nagoon berries hold their shape

The fragrance of the nagoon is like nothing else, just like its flavor.  If you’ve never had nagoon, if you’ve never even picked a fresh nagoon from it’s habitat and popped it into your mouth, you have not yet lived!

Two 2-qt buckets were filled in 3 hours during hot muggy weather

What do we do after an afternoon in the nagoon-berry bogs? Wash up in a river beach!

 

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