The Petersburg Rainforest Festival had its 10th anniversary this year. The community has a solid foraging community that shares those connections with others. As part of the event, they usually have events in both Petersburg and nearby, such as boat excursions to glaciers off the Stikine Icefield. This year I went along for the naturalist trip up the river.
Although fast moving, 130 miles of the river is navigable. It used to be an important trade route into the Interior by the Tlingit. Our trip went as far as the border between the United States and Canada, about 33 miles.
As you enter the river territory, you see the delta where glacial silt and soil have been deposited, creating bars and navigation hazards. Our captain, the owner of Breakaway Adventures, Eric Yansey, demonstrated his prowess while revealing his secrets.
He said that just as sand collects on a beach and forms ripples and patterns, the same thing occurs in water. As the current flows past the high edge of that rise, the water boils above the surface. That is, when there is enough water to do so. Eric says he looks for the boils as indications of where the water is deepest in these shallow areas.
On the starboard side, we could see harbor seals laying on one of the sand bars. Done giving birth near the LaConte Glacier, they were free to lounge. On the other side was grassland turned yellow by the changing season. It lays on a strip of land that seemed only a bit above the waterline. Years ago, farmers from Wrangell would bring their cattle over to graze during the summer months and collect them before winter came. Now this area is an important stop during bird migration.
Where highbush cranberries hung over the banks towards the water, we ventured off the boat. We found some mushy boletes and headed inland where we encountered unbelievable amounts of highbush cranberries, some nagoonberry holdouts, and blueberries.
Moving up river, we made our way in the Shakes Slough towards the glacier. Eric has been helping Petersburg High students survey and map the glacier each year. He showed us a photo of the retreating pattern. Rounding our way around some icebergs, we made a half circle by the face, looking over the icefield to the left, knowing that it connected to the LaConte Glacier.
From easy living to a bit of a slog, we moved off of the lake created by the glacier to a spot outside and climbed up a tough bank to find ourselves in the midst of a tight thicket of blueberries. Heading toward a muskeg area, we were able to see the difference between bog rosemary and labrador tea. As the ground rose a few feet, we began to encounter mushrooms. Just as the plants have been late in the cold summer, so have the fungi. We ended up with a winter chanterelle and a handful of hedgehog mushrooms.
Before heading back to Petersburg, we went up to the border. In an island in the middle of the channel was a monument with one side marked the United States and the other side, Canada. Even more impressive was the notched out trees on both sides that extended up mountains. Eric said that every ten years, the Canadians and Americans take turns marking the line between the two countries.
As we headed back to Mitkof Island, moving slowly out of the churning browns and glacial milk-colored waters towards the emerald green shores near Petersburg, it was time to dream. To imagine going all the way up Telegraph Creek or to just cross over into the lure of the Stikine once more.
• Corinne Conlon is a freelance writer living in Juneau.