Issue: 2015-11-26 Photo: Rick Massie
Bastard toad flax (round orange berries) growing along side low bush cranberries (small red berries)
Many people enjoy harvesting berries in preparation for the long winter months. Although I have a busy schedule as a caregiver at my family day home, Trinin Tsul Zheh (which means the home of the little children in the Gwichin language), each summer beginning in July we start picking berries.
Cloud or salmon berries are the first berries I pick. My friends and I get a ride to Crow Mountain and walk the rest of the way to the cloud berry patch. We always wonder what we will find each year. Are the berries ready to be picked? Are there lots of them?
When the berries are abundant, we pick a couple of buckets at a time; we easily spend hours berry picking. We know that other people know the area and the berry patches, too, and may want to harvest the berries, as well. So we leave the patch for a while and return a couple of weeks later to the same area to see if there are any berries left or that are now ready to be harvested.
Picking berries on Crow Mountain allows me to leave behind what I don’t need in my life. I become aware and connected with the beauty of the land, the freshness of the air, and I feel so at peace. Smells such as fresh Labrador tea, different berries and numerous plants fill the air. The colours are vivid and the ground looks like an old fashioned patch quilt.
The openness of the mountain allows me to see as far as Second Mountain or Berry Mountain giving me a sense of security and safety. Feeling safe and berry picking are the best way to enjoy a summer day.
When I pick berries, I pick for myself, but also for others. I share them during family get-togethers such as birthday parties, special holiday feasts, and other occasions too. It is wonderful to give what you worked for; it empowers me and builds my self-esteem because I am doing something for others, which is what I was taught to do.
When I am done picking salmon berries, I begin picking blueberries which are found much closer on the side of Crow Mountain. What I mean is that we don’t have to travel so far up the mountain to find them. There are many good established patches of blueberries. I always see many people picking blueberries and can imagine what a great time they’re having. Taking time out of your home and things you need to do allows you to rejuvenate your whole being and you always feel better when you come back home: feeling healthy and having a bucket of berries, what an accomplishment! Before you know it, you come to the realization that you have more blueberries than you need.
By the middle of August, it is time to check out the cranberries. I am very familiar with the cranberry patches. I go where I know others will not go to pick them.
As with all the berries, I usually go with friends or family members. Being considerate and respectful of others is present when berry picking. You only pick what you need and what you don’t need for your own use you share with others, especially those who are too ill or unable to pick berries themselves.
When berry picking season is over, I feel once again that I have successfully accomplished my goals for the summer. I start baking muffins, cakes, desserts, and jams to share with family and friends. As the chill starts filling the air and a new season comes, my friends and I get together and share a cup of Labrador tea and some baked goods and talk and laugh about what happened to us while berry picking on the side of Crow Mountain in Old Crow.