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Berry picking is a major subsistence activity for Yupik Eskimos. Blueberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) and "blackberries" grow wild on the tundra. The latter are like blueberries but darker purple, sweeter and seedier. I am confused about what locals call a "blackberry" vs. a crowberry (same color but larger with different foliage). Some online references say the "blackberries" are crowberries (Empetrum nigrum) but, according to locals, crowberries don't taste good. Bethel had a bumper crop of berries in Aug 07 since the rains had been good. While you are pickinf, hope for a breeze to keep the mosquitoes and no-see-ums away; otherwise, cover up, use repellent, and keep moving.
The berries can be used for many delicious things. Not only are blueberries wonderful in a pie, but "blackberries" are tasty also, once sugar is added and they are cooked. Tres leches with blueberries and whipped cream on top is yummy; however, the main Native dessert with blueberries is agutak or Eskimo ice cream. It is berries with whipped Crisco, sugar, and a little boiled white fish. Don't judge until you try it. Besides, it is a perfect high-energy food for cold weather, since it has lots of fat, sugar and Vitamin C.
Updated Aug 20, 2007
Many people have fish camps on the Kuskokwim River to smoke and dry their fish. It is a good place to get away from it all. My friends' fish camp was on an island in the river and even had a steam bath and a one hole "golf course."
Written Aug 19, 2007
The headquarters and visitors' center for the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge are located in Bethel. The small visitors' center is free; in fact, we did not see another person (not even staff) while we were there. There are interesting displays, including mammoth bones and a tusk. A description of the refuge is below.
In southwest Alaska, the waters of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers flow through a vast "treeless plain," or tundra that forms the heart of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Almost 70% of this 19 million acre refuge is below 100 feet in elevation, and consists of a broad, flat delta stitched through with rivers and streams and dotted with countless lakes, sloughs and ponds. Bordering this expanse of tundra and wetlands are forest and shrub habitat and uplands sporting mountains more than 4000 feet high. The Delta is among the most populated rural areas in Alaska and within the refuge, 35 villages and nearly 25,000 Yup'ik Eskimo people make their home. Most are dependent on local resources to support an active subsistence way of life.
Updated Sep 2, 2007
Address: 807 Chief Eddie Hoffman Road, Bethel, AK 99559
Phone: (907) 543-3151
For an Okie New Mexican such as myself, walking on tundra is a unique experience. In the summer the ground is spongy even if it seems dry. It is like you suddenly become lighter. The smell is unique too. It seems pristine and totally clean. The colors catch your eye. There are blue, dark purple and bright red berries among the grasses, low shrubs, lichens, mosses and fungi. You really should try it sometime.
Written Aug 21, 2007
The Bethel Cultural Center includes the University of Alaska, Kuskokwim Campus Library (with free computers)and a museum. The Saturday Market is also held there. Unfortunately when I was in town, the museum (which has a beautiful collection of Yup'ik traditional dress, instruments and artwork, and has received an Honor Award of Excellence in Architecture from the Alaska Chapter of the American Institute of Architects) was closed in preparation for a large traveling exhibit that was coming. When you walk into the Cultural Center, the library is on the left, the museum is in the back, and the Saturday Market is held in the big room on the right. I am guessing that the Cultural Center is even more popular during the cold, dark winters.
Updated Sep 2, 2007
Address: 420 Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway, Bethel, AK 99559
I did not get to do it this time (the season was closing as I arrived) but it is highly recommended to try Mike's and Jill's (one of my friend's sisters and brother-in-law) Kuskokwim Wilderness Adventures. They have river camps on the premier trout and salmon streams of the region, like the Kisaralik River. People come from all over the world for these trips, which are getting to be more and more popular. Better book early to get a reservation. Someone caught a 26" rainbow trout at a camp ~50 miles up the river the day before I got to Bethel.
Updated Sep 2, 2007
Address: P.O. Box 1225, Bethel, AK 99559