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Fairbanks area's berry crop is a good one but don’t ask me where to go

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Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 11:58 pm

Fairbanks — Psssst.

You want to know a good place to pick blueberries?

Follow me.

But first, let me put this blindfold on you, spin you around 20 times and then hold this rag doused with chloroform up to your nose. Breathe deep now. You’re getting verrrrrry sleepy.

Before you pass out, though, let me put this burlap bag over your head and help you into the trunk of my car, where you can take a nice, little nap. Here’s a pillow to rest your head on. I’ll wake you up when we get there.

OK, so I may be exaggerating a little. A real Alaskan wouldn’t give you a pillow, but the rest of it is pretty darn accurate.

If there are three things that I’ve learned in my 26-plus years living in Alaska it’s that you don’t tell people: 1) where you go moose hunting; 2) where you go salmon fishing; and 3) where you go berry picking.

People new to Fairbanks sometimes have a hard time comprehending the secretive nature of local berry pickers.

When Taylor Maida, an agricultural and horticultural assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, moved to Fairbanks three years ago she made the mistake of asking some people she thought were her friends where to go berry picking.

“It was dead silence,” Maida recalled. “Somebody told me, ‘One thing you’re going to learn here is you never ask anyone where they pick berries.’ ”

Likewise, I don’t think Brian Naplachowski, the News-Miner’s new circulation director who recently moved to Fairbanks from Washington state, appreciated it when I laughed in his face last week after he asked when I was going to do a story on where to go berry picking around Fairbanks.

“Yeah right, and get run out of town on a rail,” I told him, trying to suppress my laughter as I walked away.

Seriously, berry pickers are just as secretive as moose hunters when it comes to revealing their sweet spots.

Take the phone call I received from a woman last week pleading with me not to reveal her berry picking spot, even though I didn’t have a clue who she is or where she picks berries. She accused me of publicizing her berry picking spot in a story a couple years ago and said a whole bunch of people showed up and picked her berries.

“Finding a berry picking spot is one of those things you have to do on your own,” she said. “It’s a rite of living in Alaska.”

While I didn’t recall ever writing such a story, I assured her that I would do no such thing and that her picking spot on Murphy Dome was safe.

Oops.

Of course, it’s not like it’s a big secret that Murphy Dome is a good berry picking spot. That’s like saying the Tanana Flats is a good moose hunting spot. Everybody knows about it. Ask anyone in Fairbanks to name a good berry picking spot, assuming you have a Taser trained at their chest, and the answer you’re probably going to get 7 or 8 times out of 10 is Murphy Dome.

If it’s not Murphy Dome, it will probably be Wickersham Dome off the Elliott Highway or Chena Dome off Chena Hot Springs Road.

Dang, I did it again.

But seriously, anyone who is semi-serious about picking berries knows about those three spots. The same goes for the Granite Tors and Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs trails in the Chena River State Recreation Area east of Fairbanks.

Wait a minute, you didn’t know there were berries in those places?

That’s like saying you didn’t know there were blueberries in the boggy flats along Nordale Road or along Ballaine Road in the Goldstream Valley. What do you think all those people squatting in the bushes with buckets are doing? Actually, don’t answer that question if you didn’t already know the answer.

The good news, at least from what I’ve seen and picked so far, is that this year’s blueberry and raspberry crops appear to be good ones and there should be plenty of berries to go around, if you can find a place that hasn’t been picked over.

In fact, my wife, Kristan, discovered a new spot just the other night that she said is one of the best blueberry patches she has ever seen. It’ somewhere north of Fairbanks, but she won’t tell me where. For some reason, she thinks I’ll blab about it to everyone.

Contact outdoors editor Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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