Friday, September 19, 2008

What’s with the cranberries this year?

I was walking through the grocery store the other day, when I noticed a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. She was standing in the check-out line; I went over and said "hello."

She wasted no time on irrelevant chit-chat (like "hi, how are you?").

"Have you been cranberry picking this year?"

"Yep," says I. "Last weekend."

"And . . . ?"

"And I don’t think we were the first people to hit the berry patch. We only got half a zip-loc."

She pursed her lips, shook her head. "No, no, it’s just like that this year. The berries aren’t where you expect them."

"Well, I thought I saw some evidence others had already been there: broken mushrooms and footprints in the lichen where someone had been walking."

She shook her head again. "No. It’s the berries. They probably weren’t there in the first place."

The conveyor belt whisked her groceries toward the till, and I moved on.

Later in the day, I had an appointment with my massage therapist. After the customary "where does it hurt?" conversation, she got straight to the point.

"Have you been berry picking this year?"


"And . . . ?"

"And when we found berries they were great: clusters of beautiful burgundy fruit, just like little grapes," says I. "But I think I chose a spot too close to town – someone beat us to it."

More of the lip-pursing and head-shaking. "No, no. It’s just like that this year. The berries aren’t where they usually are. We went to our favourite spot and . . . nada."

"Then where are they?"

She waved a hand. "Somewhere else."

So there you have it. Something strange is going on with the cranberries around Yellowknife this year. We all had high hopes. This summer’s weather was perfect for a bumper crop: long hot days, lots of rain at nights. And as noted above, when you find the berries, they’re great. It’s just that they are surprisingly elusive. Is this a permanent shift? Will we all have to find new preferred picking spots? Are the berries going to settle in their new locations for the long-term, or will they be migrating to different locations every year? We await the answers . . .

(Photo above was taken in 2002, a much better year for cranberries.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekend at Blachford Lake Lodge

I'm trying to chip away at a new story, but autumn in the North provides too many distractions.

The most recent was a two-day trip to Blachford Lake Lodge, a 20-minute float plane ride from Yellowknife. I've been to the lodge a number of times, and know better than to take my laptop, story drafts, or even my yoga mat, for that matter. You have to make the most of your Blachford time, and when you're not eating (waistline warning: chef on site), you need to take advantage of the walking/skiing trails that loop out past the lodge, or the fishing opportunities (by boat in summer, through a hole in the ice in winter), or skating, sliding, dog sledding . . . whatever the season has to offer.

This was the first time I've gone fishing at Blachford. I didn't catch anything, but Pierre caught three pickerel at a nearby lake. He turned them over to chef Marc-Andre, who served them almondine-style on Sunday. Both guys were considered heroes by the lunch crowd.

The never-ending cycle of meals is a blur, but I remember whitefish, smoked char pasta, tomato soup flavoured with local juniper, apricot and white chocolate scones, braised red cabbage, rosti potatoes, fruit crumble, and ever so much more.

Spending time in the outdoor hot tub is one of my favourite year-round activities. After sipping champagne under the stars, it was a relief to get out of the water without worrying that my wet feet were going to freeze to the deck before I found my flip flops, or that my robe - wet from my pre-tub shower - was going to be frozen stiff, and therefore unwearable. (A hazard when tubbing at -40.) On the other hand, the northern lights tend to be better in the winter. It is quite cool watching them as the steam from the hot tub freezes into frost on your hair.

I took a book to read, but spent a good deal of time going through the lodge's eclectic little "northern library," which includes a number of books from the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s. Interesting to see how the North has changed over the years . . . and how it hasn't.

We arrived home yesterday evening, and so it was back to reality. I really should spend some time on my story, though, because cranberry-picking season is upon us, so guess what will be distracting me next weekend?

(Top photo: the main lodge. Bottom photo: rear of the original cabin on the Blachford property, now called "Trappers' Cabin," after Henry Cadieux and his wife, whose families are long-time residents of the area.)