We are off to hunt nitzi. Rosa acicularis. Rosehips. The fruit of a wild rose that grows prolifically around our village. They are everywhere! Best picked after the first frost when they turn soft and sweet. Of course, we may not be the only ones picking today; hares and bears and grouse like them, too. There is an element of risk involved; several bears have been sighted nearby in the past weeks, so we go armed and with an experienced guide.
Rosehips are full of vitamin A and C. The word in the village is that the vitamin C content of one rosehip equals that of three oranges, but I’m not sure I am buying that. Our neighbors make jams and jellies and even ketchup out of them. I’ve tasted the jam and it has a pleasing flavor that reminds me a bit of plum at first taste but quickly morphs to a flavor all its own. The rosehips are a beautiful shade of dusty red and about a half inch in diameter. The insides are crimson and have many very stoney seeds that will crack your teeth for sure. The jam is great, but I plan to try my hand at jelly, or perhaps ketchup, since we already have jam.
All the roads leading out of town find their way to fishing or hunting camps maintained by the Athebascans and named according to how far they are from town. We head toward 8 Mile, following Sucker Slough for a ways. The road is pretty good for a country road, except for the occasional wallow that denies crossing until we lock the hubs and engage the 4-wheel drive. Once or twice we suspect we are done for, but we make it.
We wind our way through miles of meadow and glade; white spruce, aspen, birch, willow and black cottonwood blanket our way. Yellows splash by, then greens, then more yellows occasionally washed with red. The air is cool and still and sweet under a deep blue sky and a brilliant Arctic sun. And for a moment, time stands still.