As we paddle we are watched over by rows of straight, dark green spruce, a signature species of the Boreal Forest. The Boreal is the northernmost forest ecosystem and it forms a green halo around the north pole below the tundra.
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Aaki (KI Homeland) is in the heart of one of the world's largest intact forests – for hundreds of kilometers in all directions it has never been logged or fragmented. The forest remains much as it has been since shortly after the glaciers retreated 9,000 years ago.
This time of year the forest is full of ripe, edible berries. Each time we stop we graze on new treats – sweet ones, sour ones, minty ones, and tart ones.
Here are a few of the berries we have eaten:
Blueberries, bunch berries, creeping snow berries, goose berries, rose hips, huckle berries, and round red berries that taste like sour cherries. There are also strawberries, raspberries, and cloud berries up here, but we haven't seen them yet.
WARNING: Only eat the bear berries if you are a bear (clusters of white berries on a stem), and don't eat anything that you are not sure is safe.
Brandon told us about his grandfather using black spruce cones boiled for a sore throat. You need to take the brown ones from the top, not the old grey ones. Ronald said he used to use balls of hardened white spruce pitch for tea. First you fry it, and then you boil it in water.
We have also had rose hip and labrador tea.
The forest is truly abundant when you know what you are looking at.