Saturday, May 26, 2012

First Fruits! Salmonberries Sweetened by Song

A perfectly ripe Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
I guess I’m not a very good mushroom hunter, or maybe I just get distracted too easily.  Early last week heavy rains and warm temperatures forced the Nooksack River over its banks in a few places and the last few days of sunshine got me thinking about mushrooms.  Katrina and I packed our baskets and headed out towards Everson to walk the sandy floodplain cottonwood forests in search of Morels.  The woods quickly swallowed us as we followed an overgrown dirt road that parallels the river.  Cottonwood fluff drifted through the bright shafts of light with such placid uniformity we felt like we were part of a gentle current underneath a kelp forest.  If mushrooms were there, we probably walked right over them because we had such a hard time keeping our eyes on the ground.  The calls of Robins, Townsend’s and Orange Crowned Warblers and a few exuberant Pacific Wrens provided further excuses to tune our attention upward.  That’s when we started to hear the unmistakable upward spiraling call of the Swainson’s Thrush. 

Cottonwood fluff, like snow, coated our path
Easily one of my favorite bird calls for its beauty alone, the music conjures smiles for another reason as well.  My mentor, Clan Chief Kwaxsistalla, loved to tell a story about the Swainson’s Thrush (Salmonberry Bird) who summoned the hungry and winter weary people of his village together for a feast and used nothing more than his beautiful call to ripen Salmonberries for his people to eat.

A feast fit for a thrush
Kwaxsistalla’s telling of the story has a magic about it that was well recalled amidst the drifting cottonwood fluff, wild rose scented air, singing birds, and… what’s that… ripe Salmonberries!  The further we ventured into the musical woods, the riper the Salmonberries got.  We picked without a care in the world and soon our baskets were filled with the glistening jewels.  Our mushroom hunt couldn’t have been better!

Salmonberries herald in the season of fruit, and while some may argue that they aren't the tastiest fruits of the year, I say that there is a lot of value in being the first.  And what do I have to compare them too?  Five long, rainy months have done a lot to sodden my memories of the last fresh fruit I ate, and several more since I ate Salmonberry's "tastier" cousins.  So in spite of the naysayers out there, I gladly break my seasonally imposed fruit fast on this colorful berry- sweetened (as I am) by the song of the Swainson's Thrush.

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