Many people come to Alaska for many different reasons. Many have come for adventure and gold, and some have come just to be away from it all. And many times, when the adventure is over or the gold is gone, the things people leave behind are forgotten and left to reclaimed by nature.
I have always enjoyed setting off through the woods only to find an old cabin, an abandoned vehicle where there is no obvious trail, or even an old piece of mining equipment. Often these things had been abandoned so long ago that they were rusting out or collapsing, but you never knew what kind of treasures you might find.
One such place that I found was an old cabin that had completely collapsed in on itself so long ago that the only way you knew it was there was the depression it left behind and the few artifacts that poked out like broken window glass. There was no obvious trail that lead to it and no obvious reason it was there. It was too far out of the valley to be a mining cabin and too far up the mountain to be for trapping, so that likely meant it was a cabin of someone who just wanted to get away from it all. This location would have given them quite the view of the Yukon Valley with a few trees cleared below.
I’d been following a little mountain stream that had branched off. Well, it didn’t so much branch off, but the little ridge above oozed out water that trickled in small waterfalls from the moss overhanging the rocks. Naturally, I climbed up to investigate.
On top of the ridge, surrounded by poplar and birch trees, nestled a little clear pond that was only a few feet wide and about fifteen feet long. The sun was at just the right angle that it tinged the surface of the pond in a brilliant gold color that was shadowed by the quaking leaves.
It was so calm and idealic that it washed peace over me. And then, as if out of a dream, I noticed the ground around the pond was covered in the largest red strawberries I’d ever seen. This both puzzled me and surprised me.
There are wild strawberries in Alaska, but the mountain variety in the Interior are usually small and get about thumb sized or a little bigger depending on the climate, but some of these were huge, palm sized berries!
I picked a berry that was juicy even as I picked it up and took a bite from it. It was so cool and super sweet; almost too sweet. I sampled water from the pool and found it was sweet too, a clear sign of naturally occurring calcium from the spring at the far end of the pool.
While there is limestone about a hundred miles to the west of this area, it was more scattered and sparse in this area, though this part of the valley that I grew up in had many strange anomalies.
Investigating the area, I found other plants that seemed out of place until I stumbled upon the remains of the cabin. From this, I was able to surmise that there had once been a garden in a clearing and likely these strawberries had been planted and now grew wild around the pond.
I filled a large Ziploc bag with berries and took them home, often visiting for many years to collect these amazing hidden gems. People often asked me where I found them and I would smile and tell them, “In the mountains.”
I was able to do some research and found there was a man who’d lived up the mountains from the mid 1930s to the early 60s who was said to have had a garden and would come down and sell them to the Hot Springs Resort. He later helped them plant their own gardens later and was buried at the cemetery there. No one knew exactly where his cabin was and it was guessed on a map.
The local historian who ran our mining museum agreed that I was likely right in assuming that this was the right cabin and had made plans to visit it to document it, but that never happened since the climb was difficult and the ridge was isolated, perfect for someone who wanted to be alone.
Now I grow strawberries in my garden and when I pick them and eat them, I think of that mountain spring and wonder if strawberries are still growing there.