by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Sep 12/97) - Rosa Kayotuk and Lillian Elias have never seen such a good year for berry-picking.

They should know. They've both been doing this since they were kids.

This year's crop is "just excellent ... goodness, I've never seen so many blueberries," said Elias. "They're as a big as store-bought ones."

"They're everywhere," said Kayotuk with a laugh. "Well, it rained all spring and summer, and they've never been better. I've been going out for how many years now, since I was a kid, and usually I get the same amount. This year, I got twice as many."

The Delta is filthy rich with berries this year, thanks to almost perfect weather, for berries if not people. It's cranberry season now, after bumper crops of blueberries and yellowberries in July, and the more elusive blackberries and raspberries.

Kayotuk has picked two five-gallon pails and one three-gallon pail this season, the last of which she gave to a wheelchair-bound friend in Sachs Harbour, Sarah Kuptana.

"They don't have berries there, so I always get as many berries as I can for her," said Kayotuk.

Elias estimates she's spent 150 hours this year picking berries. "I pick all I can handle," and then she gives what she doesn't need to parents and elders. She also picks Labrador Tea and rosehip, to mix in with regular tea leaves.

Kayotuk goes up in the mountains for yellowberries early in the summer, and then goes to the coast later in the summer, where the berries there are just coming on. Cranberries can be found everywhere in the Delta, laid out in a massive red carpets.

The best spots for berries, said Elias, are around hills and lakes, and in places where there are lots of birch trees.

I would have guessed that, like down south, these ladies would now be busy making pies and preserves with their harvest. But that's not the case. Both women and their families prefer the berries straight up, in a bowl with maybe sugar and milk.

Most go in the freezer until special events like Christmas and Easter.

Elias sometimes makes jam and cranberry sauce, but mostly she and her family like the berries in a bowl, perhaps various kinds mixed together and minced with together with a local root. "It tastes different, really good," she said. "Delicious, that's all I can say. I'd rather have that than some store-bought jam. The kids like it too."

Kayotuk's family spends every summer gathering berries and fish for the winter, to complement caribou and other local meat. "My kids have grown up on native food, and I love it too," said Kayotuk. "I've grown up with bush life, and I love bush life."

Elias also loves picking berries. "Just being out on the land and smelling the freshness of everything, smelling the leaves and the ground and the moss. I guess that's why I pick berries."