In this beautiful piece for Hakai, ‘Cúagilákv (Jess Housty) talks about the importance of the salmonberry bush, whose fruit has nourished generations of her family. It is through salmonberries that the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) children first learn about the connections that run through nature — being told that a good crop of salmonberries corresponds to a good salmon run and luck in the harvest. The salmonberry bushes themselves also benefit from a good run — being fertilized with salmon remains “so that they will bloom and bear fruit again in a cycle much deeper than any one season.” A recent paper published in Ecosphere demonstrates the accuracy in the ecosystem links that the children are taught, with researchers determining that increased salmon density in one season leads to increased density of salmonberries per bush in the next season.
Salmonberries glisten like small bursts of orange and red fish roe, nestled in the greenery beside magenta flowers and the hard, green clusters of berries still to ripen. On these shrubs, at the height of the season, you can see a whole life cycle painted across the riverbank in jewel tones. The salmonberry, from the same genus as raspberries and blackberries, has fruits that are composed of a chaotic heap of juicy drupelets that set a table to nourish a whole host of human and nonhuman kin: songbirds, small mammals, and black and grizzly bears. And the delicate fragrance and flavor are as satisfying as the dull thud of berries hitting the bottom of my bucket.
I treasure so many gifts from the salmonberries that help me through every season of the year, and my life: the fresh leaves that helped me through childbirth, the new shoots in the spring that I gently peel before eating them like licorice strings, the deep blush of blossoms that give me hope in the dark of early spring. And of course, the berries that talk to me, lovingly, of salmon as I fill buckets and bowls to make jelly for my precious ǧáǧṃ́. Salmonberries are my definition of comfort food.