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Pickin' and grinnin'

Posted: July 23, 2011 - 4:53pm

Author’s note: This Kirsch Classic™ was the very first column I wrote for “Slack Tide,” two years ago, more or less to the day. Happy Birthday, “Slack Tide” — long may you stay forever young.

A lot of people don’t know how lucky they are, but I do. I’m a stay-at-home dad whose kid goes to day care and a self-employed writer with a very lenient boss. At the same time, I also live in a rainforest where it hasn’t rained for what seems like months.

Naturally, with all that time and all this great weather, I’ve been out there almost every day, slaughtering ‘em, just slaughtering ‘em. For hours at a time, until I come home, tired but exhilarated, sunburned but not blistering — for a ginger kid like me, the equivalent of having a nice tan — hands and clothes stained with the blood and entrails of the wild Alaskan blueberry.

You thought I was going to say salmon, right? You’re not alone. More than a few eavesdroppers have made the same mistake, overhearing me inform yet another similarly uninterested friend of an awesome spot I just found near Outer Point. Obviously, I recognize the thrill of hooking a silver, netting a sockeye, fighting a Chinook, cursing a humpy for not being one of the other three. But for the life of me, I can’t understand why blueberry picking isn’t accorded at least some of the status reserved for salmon fishing.

OK, so it isn’t hunting. It’s gathering, and that’s pretty darn close. Granted, blueberries probably aren’t what Ted Nugent had in mind when, during his set at the 2006 Alaska State Fair in Palmer, I heard him rev up the crowd by telling them that every night he eats some “dead Alaskan [expletive].” Still, when you pick a blueberry, that’s exactly what you’re doing: killing and eating some dead Alaskan [expletive].

Consider this: if blueberries were animals, they’d scream like hell when you plucked them off a bush. Half the bumper stickers in town would support criminalizing possession of jam, with or without intent to distribute; the other half would say things like “Want More Berries? Move Down South” or “If it Can’t Be Mined, it Must be Picked” (Obviously, there’d always be a few outlying stickers, Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes urinating on some logo or other, for instance).

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that berry picking is about the easiest, least exertive outdoor activity I can think of (not to mention a sneaky way to get my daughter to eat fruit in non-leather form). Blueberries are easy to spot, with or without polarized sunglasses. Like bear claw salad tongs, their sheer number and availability around town boggles the mind.

By contrast, salmon are more like Johnny Depp on Fourth of July weekend 2009 or Harrison Ford/Calista Flockhart the summer before: a big huge deal the whole town’s talking about even though nobody can confirm that either one is actually here. Sure, everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who claims to have seen them someplace, but by the time you get to where that someplace is, a thousand other people are already there. Then — poof — gone. In fact, the only difference is that no salmon’s ever won a Golden Globe, and Johnny Depp, if he was ever actually here, wasn’t here specifically to spawn, although if the rumors were true, and he really was vacationing on a private yacht parked in the Channel (or Auke Bay or Fritz Cove, depending on the story), you’d have to imagine he at least got a little action. I mean, he’s Johnny Depp.

Blueberries don’t carry nearly the same uncertainty. Every cast’s a hit, every blueberry’s a keeper, and everyone loves pie. You can cram your freezer fuller than that girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you know, the one who turns violet. I forget her name. Point is, pretty much any picker at any skill level will provide for his family, and providing for your family is always manly. Well, maybe not if you work behind a cosmetics counter, but even that takes a serious pair of ... ahem ... “berries.”

Also, salmon doesn’t work nearly as well in a smoothie.

Oh, and no matter how gifted an angler you are, you will never, ever catch a salmon with a plastic dog poop baggie — I must’ve stuffed four pounds of blubes into the one I happened to grab on the way in to Rainforest Loop a couple weeks ago, just in case “they were in.” Incidentally, those same dog poop bags also make excellent makeshift galoshes for those out-of-town guests who understand “appropriate rain gear” to mean sneakers and a disposable poncho.

Of course, the main thing about blueberry picking is that I can actually do it without showcasing just how much of an idiot I am. No knots to tie, no hooks to bait, no lines to untangle — which typically consumes most of my rod hours — no fingers to nick/cut/sever with a filet knife, or, lest we forget, no hypothermic water to fall into, which typically comprises the rest of my rod hours. You don’t need any special gear. You don’t burn any gasoline. And you can get every bit as drunk, if not more so. Take it from me. Whoah, baby.

By the way, I’m much better at fishing for halibut. You know, if anyone reading this has a boat and wants to take me. I’ll bring the scones.

• “Slack Tide” runs every other Sunday in Neighbors, although this week, Geoff Kirsch has “Gone Pickin’.” Gotta get it while you can.

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