Cloudberries

“Berry picking is a serious business to Mrs. Wiik…who was born in this village of 171, and her friend, Harriet Svensson, 69. For 40 years the two, widows with children and grandchildren, have explored every patch of field and forest clearing in the region, hunting for mushrooms and wild berries — blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cloudberries.”  So writes John Tagliabue in a recent New York Times story. 2007 was a lousy berry season, too cold in the spring.  Since they were having no luck finding berries, they pulled out their geologists’ hammers and their magnifying eyepieces, knocked around some rocks, and found gold instead.

I spend most of my life in story-time, fabricating a future, replaying the past. Picking cloudberries.  I’ll be here now later. But this story is different, a fairy tale from the primeval Northern woods. As in all good fairy tales, the heroes are exemplars of the lived-in-the-moment life; if you can’t find any berries put down your bucket and pick up your geologist’s hammer.  Just the idea of carrying a geologist’s hammer speaks volumes about full engagement.

At least that’s what I project; another story.  And what happens next? The article suggests that the village, dying for lack of jobs, will be revived thanks to the gold.  (Cloudberries won’t do that.)  Thousands of visitors have already come, bewitched, story-drunk.  And what about the women?  Will they get filthy rich? Will they give up their seasonal excursions and start getting their cloudberries at Whole Foods, becoming increasingly disillusioned and dissatisfied until, in a bolt of revelation, they realize the gold has corrupted them, and they return to their simpler roots and resume their berry picking and live happily ever after?  Surely.  Unless, of course, global warming has turned the primeval Northern woods into the Virgin Islands.

I have never eaten a cloudberry.  I’m kind of craving the taste of one.

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