A Northern Berry

— I write to sound the praises of a berry ; one that grows the world around in northern countries, but which with us is almost unknown. It is called the cloud-berry in the highlands of Scotland and Wales, in Norway the multebær, and in arctic America the yellow-berry. Wherever found and under whatever name, it is admirable.

I saw it first several years ago in Norway, when traveling along the half-beaten track where solid Norwegian comforts could be obtained, and yet where the contaminating influence of the English and American tourist had not made itself felt. Under such propitious circumstances, the fortunate wayfarer may meet the multebær accompanied by rich and foamy cream, which is brought to the table in a bedroom pitcher of a noble size. With the advent of the English tourist, the size of the cream-jug and the quality of its contents will deteriorate, and one must not hope to enjoy the multebær in its best estate where the Anglo-Saxon tongue is heard.

A midtemyr, or moor where the multebær grows, is a thing of beauty from the time when the white blossoms open, in June, until the frost turns the myr to a mosaic of reds and yellows. The five-pctaled flower, three quarters of an inch in diameter, looks, with its yellow centre, like a single white rose. The stem runs along the ground, lifting its blossoms and crinkled dark green leaves above the silvery reindeer moss and alpine plants which surround it. Here are the waxy bells of the arctic cranberry, the pink and white twin flowers of the Linnæa, starry saxifrage, marsh marigolds and violets, purple butterwort, and the white orchids spotted with pink called by the Norwegians “our Lady’s hand.” On the hillocks and higher rocky ledges about the marsh grow tangles of juniper, heather, dwarf birch, and the soft gray tufts of the arctic willow.

Later, when the opening heather is sending a crimson flush over the swells of land, the myr is at its brightest. The solid round fruit, resembling a large raspberry, turns a vivid scarlet, while the sepals, curving backwards, are a clear gold color. The leaves, too, by this time, are variegated with buff and maroon, and the brilliant berries of the cornel mingle with alpine gentians of an intense blue.

When the berry is quite ripe it is a pale salmon-yellow, cool, refreshing, and with a peculiar honey-like flavor quite its own. The botany says, “ It cloys when eaten in large quantities.” but my experience has been that it could never be furnished in an abundance sufficient to produce such a result.

To really appreciate the berry you should gather it yourself, if possible on some barren elevated plateau above tree limit on a fjeld of western Norway. There the air is a delight to breathe, so clean and cool and tonic it is on those wind and storm swept heights, so laden with that aromatic northern fragrance of peat and juniper and heather. In the distance, snow - covered peaks lift themselves above the treeless table-land, and from the precipices come the voices of many streams, blending in a harmony which swells and dies away with the blowing of the winds.

My first gathering of the multebær was one of those happy experiences which come oftenest when unsought. In fact, Gunhilde and I had gone a-fishing for fjeld trout. Gunhilde had no points of resemblance in common with the goddess of northern mythology. She was only a little maiden of eight years, with shy blue eyes and tightly braided flaxen tails. But she was full of kindly, gentle impulses, had the gift of serene silence, and an unwavering love for her barren hills and for trout-fishing.

My light tackle was four thousand miles away, but I did not disdain, therefore, to catch trout by more primitive methods. Gunhilde dug worms in the good old-fashioned way, tying them up in one of her small stockings ; then she brought out two young saplings which were to serve as rods, and we started for the fishing-grounds, three miles away.

I will not stop to describe our sport that morning ; suffice it to say that Gunhilde and I jerked by main force so many mountain trout from that little stream that we felt fairly entitled to pause, on our way home, at a multemyr, and refresh ourselves largely.

Not only does the multebær grow in comparatively sheltered marshes, but I have found it while passing over the highest ridges of the Hardanger Vidda, a desolate waste where all traces of vegetation had apparently disappeared.

Ole my guide, Freya my pony, and I had had a long, fatiguing day. We had forded swift streams, eaten at noon our fladbröd and cheese in a sheltered hollow, and were hurrying to reach a refuge hut still far away, when the sun was low in the sky. For hours the only sign of life had been the whir of the rypen, or arctic grouse, as they sprang from our feet as we passed, the twittering of the grassfinch’s young brood, and the plaintive cry of gray gulls that swept by us as we skirted some rocky lake shores. All day the clouds had hung low, sometimes inclosing us in a chilling gray mist so dense that Ole’s figure, only a few steps ahead, loomed vaguely in distorted giant form ; then a sudden current of air would toss the mist to right and left, making a clear passage through which we could see a far-off snowy ridge or stretch of glacier. Once, Ole, with a field-glass, had discerned and pointed out to me a herd of wild reindeer feeding on a distant ledge.

Great masses of granite were strewn over the barren ground, where the only trace of vegetation was a few gray lichens. But while passing by a giant boulder which looked like some relic of Druid worship, I saw a glimmer of scarlet and gold. Slipping down from Freya’s back, I went to investigate. There was the multebær growing in a little circle where the rock gave it shelter from the keen winds that blew from the ice-fields. The plant was lower and the leaves were smaller, but the berry was just as large, as juicy, as finely flavored, as on the lower levels. Under the lee of each rock I found a small handful of fruit ; how refreshing the cool, juicy berries were to our throats, parched with fatigue ! We could not have left them ungathered, though we had still far to go, and the setting sun warned us not to linger.

As the twilight approached, the clouds lifted and ranged themselves in majestic masses above the Haukeli Mountains. The sombre colors turned to rose and violet ; every snow peak and glistening slope of glacier reflected the changing tints, every little pool seemed aflame, and the great polished boulders shone as if with inward fires.

In pleasant contrast to my rough Vidda experience was the next appearance of the multebær. It was in the Latin Quarter of Paris ; not the truly Bohemian neighborhood near the Pantheon, but the “ Annex ” beyond the Luxembourg gardens, where the English and American students congregate. I had gone one evening with two artist friends to call on a Norwegian lady, an old resident of Paris. We found her in a cosy little sitting-room, surrounded by trophies of travel and home souvenirs. Our talk ranged widely from land to land, for we were all born wanderers, and eager to exchange suggestions for future jaunts. Before we parted, our hostess, after heating water in a quaint little bouillotte among the embers, produced a bottle of multesaft, or syrup made of multebær juice and sugar, poured a little into some high glasses, added just a dash of Cognac, filled the glasses with boiling water, and brought out a box of Holland ginger-cakes formed like all manner of men and beasts. Then, with a “ Vær saa god ” from our hostess, we gathered around the tiny table, bright with its curious Norwegian glass and silver. And when we had finished, we three guests stood in a row before the dear old lady, holding up our petticoats on either side, in true peasant fashion, bobbed a little curtsy, and said in chorus, “ Tak for maden ” (Thanks for the food) ; and she, inclining her snowy head, murmured sweetly, “ Velbekommen ” (May it agree with you).

In America, the multebær, called there the yellow-berry or cloud-berry, is found on the White Mountains at tree limit, in some parts of Maine, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, on the summits of the Canadian Rockies, and throughout the most northern portions of the continent. It is common on the mossy plains near the Polar Sea, but bears fruit there only in favorable seasons.

While taking a long voyage to the delta of the Mackenzie River, in company with the Northern Brigade of the Hudson Bay Company, I saw the cloud - berry on the shores of Great Slave Lake and at several places along the Mackenzie River. At the most northern point, Peel River post, near the Arctic Sea, I found the half-ripe berry on July 15. The natives sometimes preserve the fruit with syrup made from the sap of the canoe birch tree. This lacks the fine maple flavor, and requires a much larger quantity of sap to form the syrup, but it serves well enough as a substitute for sugar. Even in that country, where life is hard, where the struggle for a bare existence never ceases, there is a summer, a short period when all vegetation seems to spring forward at a bound, when ten days of the unsetting sun is enough to bring leaves from the bud to full perfection. As the snows melt away, the low-growing flowers will be seen already in bloom, and one courageous anemone — the pasque flower — unfolds its far-covered petals as early on the distant Mackenzie as on the prairies of Minnesota and Dakota.

One night, when still within the arctic circle, we stopped for wood at a place where the steep high banks were crowned by a stunted but dense growth of spruce and white birch. It was midnight, but behind the distant foot-hills of the Rockies the sun’s beams glanced towards the zenith, and the great spaces above were all aflame with rose-color.

Going on shore, I climbed over the boulders, among which grew the yellow arnica’s showy flowers, Siberian asters, and brilliant blue Mackenzie lupine. The hillside was covered with thickets of rose-bushes and the silver-berry, or sac-à-commis of the early voyagenrs. Making my way through these, I reached the summit, and entered the freer dusky spaces beneath the trees. Here was a soft twilight, where large gray moths flitted to and fro, and where the only sound was the threadlike plaintive note of some anxious little wood-bird, as, unseen by me, he peered down through the thick branches. Far below I could see the great river shining between the tree-trunks, and hear faintly the voices of the Indians as they ran from the shore to the boat with their burdens of wood.

Moss everywhere ! burying the prostrate trees, covering the rugged boulders, filling up hollows, and softening all outlines like a heavy fall of snow. A beautiful carpet, soft as feathers to the touch, formed of miniature fir-trees, palms, and delicate fern patterns. There was the silvery reindeer moss interwoven with sage-green filaments crowned with tiny scarlet salvers, the snowy cetraria, the haircap moss, blood-red peat moss, and dainty gray lichens resting lightly on the mosses, and bearing a strange resemblance to the dusky moths that hovered above them. My feet sank deep in the soft mosses, and felt the elastic bound of mosses still below, and the breaking and crackling of dry branches of trees long since buried from sight and preserved from decay.

At some former time, Indians had been there for canoe birch, leaving behind them sections of the slender tree - trunks and fragments of bark. The latter had curled in fantastic shapes, Some forming baskets, others scrolls arid cornucopias, and in these had grown miniature gardens. Trailing mosses drooped over the sides ; here swayed the fragrant bells of the Linnæa ; here were pale green and yellow pyrolas, and the deep pink blossoms of the arctic dew-berry sending out a strong fragrance of bitter almonds. And all around what a wonderful growth of flowers for a forest nook north of the arctic circle ! The lady’ssmock grew fair and tall, and near it rosy clusters of valerian. At the foot of the larger plants were beds of low-growing green and white orchids, the waxy moneses, pink and white vetches, arctic anemones, coralroot, broom-rape, and the star-like blossoms of the northern bedstraw. The flowers of spring, summer, and autumn seemed to unite here, the Labrador tea still retaining some spicy white clusters, though the fire-weed was opening its crimson blossoms, and the bear-berry was weighed down with its spikes of scarlet berries. And here, growing in the moister places, I discovered my old friend the multebær. I bent down and gathered some trailing sprays, finding them of more luxuriant growth than those of higher altitudes on Norwegian fjelds, though this place was much farther north. Here the great Mackenzie, flowing from the south, brings softer winds, and extends the limit of the forests which give shelter to these delicate flowers.

The hidden wood-bird no longer sounded his note of alarm, and from a thicket swelled the song of a hermit thrush greeting the sun as it rose after its brief hour of eclipse behind the mountain range. But as I listened there came the summons of the boat, the old voyageur cry, “ Ah ho ! Ah ho ! Il faut porter ! ” I gave one farewell look at this arctic garden, seen for the first time by a white woman’s eyes, climbed down through the roses and silver-berries, and a few minutes later our little boat was on its southern way, stemming bravely the mighty flood of the Mackenzie.