From across the water, tiny white dots at the base of the fjord appear to make up the entirety of Sudavik, a sleepy, peaceful town located in the Westfjords of Iceland. In years past, the town was home to a petrol station/market as well as a restaurant/bar. Now, the main commerce appears to be the Arctic Fox Centre and a fast food joint called Amma Habby. But as they say, the best things in life are free, and in this regard, I feel like I have struck gold here in Sudavik.
You see, this weekend is Bláberjadagar, or in other words, the annual blueberry festival (literally translated “blueberries days”). This fairly new tradition has taken place since 2011 and I am told that the whole town, as well as passing visitors, come out for the three-day event. A local musician, Mugison, will be performing. A blueberry pie-eating contest promises to be as entertaining as it is delicious. And who knows what else lies in store. The flier is written in Icelandic after all, but the main advertisement for the event appears to be a bail of hay eerily referring to what lies ahead.
The Centre is bustling with preparations and today involved blueberry picking by myself, and Grayson, the other ex-pat volunteer (pictured above) who you may have read about already through his entries before mine. Gray is as creative and casual as he sounds through his writing, easy to talk to and always ready for an adventure. I suspect the Centre attracts this type of person throughout its volunteer program. Having been here three days longer than me, he is already an expert at foxes and blueberry picking – two skills I would have put in the category of “huh?” had you asked me about my abilities six months ago.
Blueberry picking is more complicated than you might think, assuming you have never tried it, which I have not. Pumpkin picking is more my thing, as you would have to be fairly blind to miss a pumpkin in its patch. Collecting blueberries is much, much more precise. In order to find wild blueberries in Iceland, you have to climb to a higher elevation, maybe 200’ above sea level, and then you must look very (very) carefully for them.
That is Gray, there, looking carefully. There are three kinds of berries you may come across: blueberries, “Aðal” blueberries (translated “main” blueberries), and crowberries. Crowberries are abundant and you will look at them and wish they were what you were looking for, but they are not. Blueberries, which are the WRONG kind, are also quite abundant, growing mixed in with the “aðal” blueberries, they look almost exactly like what we were trying to pick. But they will just not do.
The photograph above shows both the wrong blueberries and right (“main”) blueberries. Can you tell which one is tastier? If you guessed the branch on the left with a slightly lighter green leaf and stem, you would have guessed correctly. So after a few (many) tries, I was able to spot the difference and avoid the crowberries all together, which are quite bitter and I don’t recommend you try them.
After about an hour and a bit of wandering imagining how disappointed Midge and Jonas would be if we came back empty-handed, my haul of blueberries barely covered the bottom their tiny pail.
But eventually, we began to understand better the zen of the blueberry. Although you can find little patches of them, if you relax enough, they will find you, in abundance. After we realized this, we stumbled upon Bluetopia. Not very impressive in the photo, but I assure you they are hiding in there. Much like a “magic eye,” this requires staring and patience.
As satisfying as stomping on a bunch of crowberries was, the more peaceful feeling was sitting on the side of a mountain side, surrounded by the right kind of blueberries that suddenly surrounded you, and slowly picking each one by hand.
For if you try to grab a bunch at once, they sort of squirt at you and roll away. Tomorrow, we search again, ever thirsty for more of the delicious fruit. I could not feel farther from my home in Brooklyn right now, and I don’t mind one bit.