Tastes and Smell High Summer

On this rare hot day we dive into the rain forest for relief and find the old river trail blocked by Devil’s Club.  Beyond this thorny yellow green wall a bird sounds a continuous alarm which I can’t resist. Hoping that my jeans and heavy logger shirt will provide enough protection I move down the path, brushing past a gauntlet of Devil’s Club brush, each a  spreading collection of large seregated leaves outlined with thorns. Some sting my hand like mosquito bites. Aki takes the low path passing beneath the pain.

The bird chirps on after we reach the river but I can’t see it. I do see a suddenly wide path through the lush growth of summer — the animal’s secret garden. Tall soft ferns line this path. We follow it back to another devil’s club tangle and then to the main trail. Shafts of sunlight now fall like javelin points through the forest canopy. Many illuminate spreading devil’s club plants turning translucent the normally opaque yellow green leaves. My shirt smells of the leaves we brushed through, a smell of high summer.

The First People of Southeast Alaska use devil’s club tea to ease the pain of chronic illness, stripping bark off its thorny skin and then soaking it in water on a sunny day like a Southerner would brew ice tea. I have a tin of Devil’s Club salve that helps wounds to heal. The plant gives and takes away pain.

Aki’s usual forest water holes have dried up so we head for the meadow where the gentle river bank will allow her a chance to drink. She noses into the water, front legs submerged but pulls back startled by seal lions as they slam their flippers on the river’s surface to drive newly arrived chum salmon toward their hungry hunting partners. As if figuring it out, Aki ignores their antics and drinks deeply from the glacier water.

Later we return to the forest, this time to harvest tasty Nagoon berries that grow on low plants. Each is a tiny universe of deep red globes offering the untamed taste of an Alaskan summer.

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