Blueberry Island

Ripe Vaccinium spp. greeting our arrival.

The gusty frontal winds and wash-board waves were occasionally reduced to acceptable circumstance by the scenic beauty of Northern Wisconsin flowage shorelines. Each exhausting stroke of our paddles seemed to merely inch us closer to an ever-distant locale. Campsite after campsite were occupied. About eight miles of fighting the wind and twenty-one of these let-downs passed by my steadily doubting eyes. We continued our pursuit to the end of a series of designated sites. The last one, a small island in the middle of a large body of water, was our final attempt at redemption. The lack of a parked vessel and absence of smoke or noise meant we had finally found a place to settle for the night.

As soon as we touched shore something caught my eye which transformed hours of struggle into a distant memory: ripe blueberries. My friend and I enjoyed a few berries immediately. I had other plans for the rest, so we kept working on setting up camp. We enjoyed a sunset, ate a late dinner over the fire, and talked about our satisfaction under the shooting stars and glistening ceiling above.

Sunset on Blueberry Island, Turtle Flambeau Flowage. July 17, 2010.

Sunrise began behind the forested horizon and I awoke to the redundant song of a small, yet boisterous, bird. I made a quick descent to the place where the blueberries grew, the steep sandy northern shoreside. The ambient light exposed an adequate patch of ripe berries growing near the shores of this 75x30 yard oasis. I tested another two or three as I assessed the cache before returning to my slumber. Two hours later I was awake and making preparations. My friend began to construct his rock-star breakfast, fit for the whole band, as I gathered most of a cup of blueberries.

The first task was the picking, then came the crushing. Using a fork I mashed the berries as they slowly heated over the wood fire coals. After they deconstructed sufficiently, I added raw sugar from my food stash. I mixed in the sugar and kept mashing and stirring until the delicious syrup was boiling and eventually finished. I took one taste and immediately shared some with my company. We both looked pleasantly stunned. This added a slight sense of urgency to the rest of the cooking process knowing that we could soon have more than a lick off the fork. Soon thereafter we ate like royalty. Freshly made wild blueberry syrup over French Toast-ified English Muffins. The name for the island began to formulate in my mind as I enjoyed the meal. By the time I finished my last bite, the name had solidified, "Blueberry Island."

Freshly harvested blueberries made into syrup over the campfire.

You truly cannot retain in memory that which the moment has to offer. I remember my reaction: eyes closed and head tipped back as I indulged in visceral eating ecstasy. This is what wild foods is all about. This is how Humankind was meant to eat. The connection to our food is founded on the discovery, preparation, and enjoyment of consumption. That connection cannot be bought, merely attained through an intimate participation with Nature. The reverberating thought I have is that if we seek, we shall find. Bliss found me on Blueberry Island.  What more could I ask for? I have more than the shared memory though, I have a story to share and a restored sense of faith. I owe it all to chance.


Post Script : Not only did blueberries grow on this small island, but so too did: beaked hazelnuts (which we roasted despite their adolescence), wintergreen (after-dinner mint), milkweed (nibble snack), cattail (out of season), pin cherries (in season but very tart, better if made into jelly), juneberries (in season and very tasty, I made some sauce with them as well), and evening primrose (whose flowers we munched on periodically).