Monday, April 26, 2010

Baby Steps Into Foraging

This MooseBoots journey can sometimes be influenced by external forces ... timing ... seasons ... impulses ....  I want to start foraging more of our food.  I have talked about it for years, but (insert excuse) ....  This week, we have taken a step forward.  If any of you are interested in foraging, I highly recommend The Forager's Harvest as a good place to start. The guy who wrote this book forages a good percentage of his food and wrote this book based on his lifelong passion for foraging.

Our last outdoors class was a pleasant review of foraging some of the native foods in season now.  So, since then, we have been eating dandelion greens with at least one meal a day.  Most often, we eat the green mixed in with leaf lettuce and basil for a delicious salad.  Tonight, we ate dandelion greens sauteed with butter and garlic, which we grew ourselves last year.

Yesterday, I told Wendy that we needed to go foraging.  But, other tasks won out ... ducks need a house, the yard needs to be cleaned up, wood needs chopping.  Tonight, while Wendy was preparing dinner, Little Fire Faerie, Precious, and I went for a walk with the dogs.  It was a quick foraging trip.  We walked and gathered some Japanese Knotweed and some dry, standing dead wood for a fire.  Big Little Sister lit the fire by herself, including splitting some wood with a big knife.

The knotweed was washed and chopped up.  This was added to some sliced apples and strawberries.  Then, it was heated over low heat.  Incredibly, it turned into some very delightful applesauce. 

Who knew that this, my MooseBoots journey, could be so delicious and enlightening at the same time?  This is a great time of year!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Moose Boots? Naw!

My MooseBoots journey has led me to my apprenticeship.  The stated goal of the program is to "grow a deep relationship with Spirit and integrate these practices into daily life."  I have always believed that there are spirits in the universe to help guide us, protect us, and teach us.  Religion, however, has never worked for me.  What I believe is a deep seated awareness that tends to dislike labels of all types and attempts to dictate behaviour.  This seems to support my beliefs in the spirit of the earth, of family, of responsibility, and of respect.

The last bit of homework I need to complete (rather quickly) is to make an article of clothing.  Leather seemed a nature material for me given all of the learning I am doing with hide tanning.  Unfortuantely, I have not tanned enough material well enough to make anything other than a simple pouch.  So, I will be using commercially tanned craft grade elk hide.  I bought it make a practice set of boots ... note these would not be moose boots because I did not tan it, it is not moose, and still have a lot to learn!  Your task is to identify this ....

It may be pretty easy for all of you, but this is not within my comfortable range of skills.  I will do the best I can and I guess that that is all that matters.  Maybe, I will make a pouch with the road-kill squirrel hide to keep people from focusing too much on this.  This MooseBoots journey sure has taught some interesting lessons so far; I wonder what other opportunities await!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Anxious Beekeeping Newbie

While practicing awareness and observation skills for this MooseBoots journey, I noticed today that the trees in the backyard are budding.  In particular, the peach trees that have never really produced well for us have large buds that look to be ready to flower within the next few weeks.  These trees have produced peaches twice, both times as a result of me, read Deus Ex Machina, playing bee with a swab.  It would take a swab and touch each bud on the first tree, then touch each bud on the second tree, and finally touch each bud on the first tree again.  One year, we got a few peaches, but most had some kind of mold on the skin ... the peaches tasted great.  Last year, we looked to gearing up for an enormous crop, but the yellow jackets bored into the fruit and they rotted on the tree only days away from being ripe enough to pick.

To spare me the effort, and to support all of the other plants, we finally took the plunge to get started in beekeeping.  We have talked for many years about starting, but the large initial investment has always stopped us short.  If you are going to buy the hive and all of the equipment, it can really add up.  We have opted for a top-bar hive similar to this one.

We had the option of trying to build our own ... the plans are readily available online.  We thought better of it on our first hive, so we opted to order one from Gold Star Honeybees, a local outfit.  It has been sitting in the dining room for about a month now ... still not assembled and selaed in the boxes.  I need to get going on putting it together.

The bees are due to arrive the second week in May.  The timing looks good.  I have read the Barefoot Beekeeper.  I have also spent a bit of time on Youtube watching videos of beekeepers doing their thing.  I am not allergic to bees (although my mother thinks I might be) but am a bit nervous.  Of course, because this MooseBoots journey is not about doing things the fastest or easiest way and is more about learning a traditional way, I will not be purchasing any of the usual beekeeping gear.  We will see how this works out. 

I am really excited to learn to work with the bees and develop a relationship with them.  While I hope to harvest some honey, I really hope to better support our little ecosystem and homestead.  It will be a great learning experience.  I also intend, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, to leave almost all of the honey for the bees over the Winter and harvest some in the Spring.

While I will not be tending the hive barefoot, and I will not have achieved my MooseBoots, I hope to find a mutually beneficial partnership with the hive.  I can't help but wonder what additional things I might learn to help me on my MooseBoots journey.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Outdoor Skills Class - April 2010

My MooseBoots journey got a bit of a boost yesterday.  It was certainly a refreshing change from the usual 9-5 routine.  Instead, we had our monthly outdoor skills class, "The Earth Is Our Home."  This followed a skipped month because a large number of the members of this group also participate in a homeschool downhill ski group ... the things we are teaching our kids.

To start, we gathered in a circle and sang a song to welcome Spring.

Let's dance and sing and welcome Spring
Dance and sing and welcome Spring
There's only one thing the Mother's trying to bring ...
and that's Spring!

The kids were excited to be out on a bright sunny day.  It was gorgeous.  We started by revisiting our old friend the Red Maple.  At our last gathering, we were given a twig to sketch before this class.  The buds were just visible.  This time, we sketched the twigs on the live trees to compare the buds and leaves.  I chose a tree that was just a bit further along than some of the other trees ... it actually had some very young leaves opening.

The only thing that could have been better  was foraging some spring greens ... so, we did.  We gathered Trout Lily, Dandelion Greens, Jerusalem Artichokes, and firewood.  Then, we washed the foraged food and made salads and macaroni and cheese over the fires we built. 

The kids, ages 6-12, worked well together building the fires and foraging.  Some of the kids carved spoons, spatulas, and even chop sticks to eat.  We sat together and shared the meal we had gathered (and shared some smuggled venison and hard boiled eggs ... I can't abide a meal with no meat).  It is amazing to be in the woods with people who want to learn the same things without all of the distraction of modern life (cellphones, computers, etc.).  I even saw some kids ... gasp ... playing Army with ... gasp ... sticks and branches for ... gasp ... guns!  To quote one of my favorite teachers from high school, "it warms the cockles of my heart."

While cleaning up, we saw ...

a Ruffed Grouse in full fan ... it must be mating season.

I have been intending to practice foraging more often.  Last year, we did a bit.  This year, we hope to do more.  The Forager's Harvest came highly recommended as a good starter book.  If you want to get started foraging, I would definitely recommend getting a teacher in your local area ... it will be more efficient and safer, initially, while you learn.  When we forage, we only harevst plants that we are very familiar with ... dandelions, wild carrots, berries (blue-, black-, rasp-), milkweed (no, it is not toxic ... read the book), maple sap, cattail, pine, fir, hemlock, sweet fern, partridge berry.

It may be touted as a class for the kids (parental attendance is encouraged), but it is really for me.  I have heard the same echoed by some of the other parents.  Thanks to the Koviashuvik crew for assisting in my education, and that of my kids, on this MooseBoots journey.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

5th Annual Knap-In at University of Southern Maine

Sometimes, on this MooseBoots journey, things just click.  The Universe presents things that seem to fit so neatly into our plans and desires.  This weekend, I went to the 5th Annual Knap-In at the University of Southern Maine.  The events certainly exceeded my wildest expectations.

First, the is a whole geography-anthropology program that I never knew existed.  I have lived near this university nearly my entire life, have been into this building hundreds of times, but never knew about the gem hidden on the thrid floor of Bailey Hall.  In addition to the flint knapping room, there were several others open for the event.  Each focused on a different topic - the zooarcheology room, the Amazon room, the Smuttynose room, the rock room, and the demonstration room were one of the seniors in the program presented some of the work she has been doing, in Africa, on the Swahili culture and archeology.

I had the benefit of hanging around the whole time.  Every couple of hours, after their dance classes ended, one of the girls would join me and I would visit each room again.  I did not get to spend enough time with the flint-knappers, but I certainly got a great deal out of the rest.  My girls did too - which as homeschoolers is every bit as important ... it also doesn't hurt for them to see me learning and interested in learning.  Each room was monitored by students from the program.  Each of the students with which I spoke was intelligent, engaging, and truly excited about the work they were doing.

The favorite for the girls was easily the zooarcheology room.  There were several displays - one showing the evolution of humans complete with replica skulls, one showing bird bones, one showing large animal bones, and one showing bones dug from dig last summer on Smuttynose Island.

Little Big sister was pretty excited about visiting the Amazon room.  She is terribly interested in snakes.  They had on display three anaconda skins.  The largest only one-third the size of the largest snakes found in the Amazon.  In addition, they had baskets, necklaces, bags, blow darts, bows, arrows, and ocelot, and many more pieces.

The Smuttynose room was filled with artifacts recovered from the island.  Students travlled there last summer, and will be returning this summer, to dig.  The island was used between the 1600s and the 1800s as a fishing station.  It is well known for the murders that tooks place there in 1873.  The student I talked to first was sorting smoking pipes.  He explained that the diameter of the hole in the stem could be used to date the pipes ... earlier pipes had larger holes.  He also showed a few fish hooks and explained that they got smaller through time because the fish sizes decreased because of over--fishing.  In addition to the artifacts from the fishing industry during this time period, they also found "pre-historic" stone tools and implements.

Unfortunately, I did not get to stay for the entire presentation on the Swahili, but what I saw was impressive.  Wendy stayed for the duration and told me I missed the best parts.  When I left, she was just beginning to show photos of the dig site where she was working.  She spoke at length about the trade route used in the early period of the Swahili people on the East Coast of Africa and their interactions with the Arabic, Indian, and Chinese traders.  The presentation was outstanding.

The two rooms I wished to spend most of my time were the stone room, where a student explained about the different types of rocks on display, and the flint-knapping room.  I was not able to spend nearly enough time in either.  I have recognmized that I know nothing about rocks and minerals.  I feel a strong need to learn and this was enough to really fuel the fire.  When I did finally get to the flint-knapping room for any length of time, it was nearing the end of the event.  The expert knappers were busy, but I asked to circle with my four girls near him.  He took a liking to Little Fire Faery and immediately started working exclusively with her ... to the detriment of the rest of us.  He carefully showed her the techniques, but did not let her do as much as she would have liked.  We did bring home the start of a nice arrow head and some rock flakes.

Of course, during the day, in spite of the fierce wind, there was a demonstration fo friction fire starting.  I have started a fire with a bowdrill exactly one time despite numerous attempts.  I did learn a bit by watching someone else use one.  My notch was probably too big and I was too excited to let the coal strengthen.  I also added a bit of understanding about fire board materials, etc.

As far as material, it seemed like a great opportunity to move my MooseBoots forward.  In the end, however, there was just too much.  Of course, our homeschooling philosophy is ... throw stuff at them and see what sticks, at very least they will remember seeing the material before when they are ready of absorb it.  Maybe it applies to me too!

Maple Brew!!!

This weekend was a busy MooseBoots weekend.  In spite of being "computerless" for the better part of the week, I had some amazing experiences.  It started with the 5th Annual Knap-In at the University of Southern Maine and continued beyond today's rock grinding, homework for my apprenticeship program.

Today, we bottled the Maple Brew.  I was concerned that the yeast was not working when I put it in, but slowly it started bubbling.  It bubbled very slowly for a little over a week ... I was told that it was because the sugar is sucrose.  Sucrose apparently ferments slower than "sugar".  Of course, we sampled it while bottling the meager 10 half-liter bottles.  The reviews are all positive ... exceptional, the maple flavor comes through nicely.

I guess MooseBoots dont' spoil the flavor.  I count this sugaring season a success in spite of how short it was.  Thank you, Maples!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Buckskin - Steps 3, 4, and 5

So, this weekend, like last weekend, I had some time to work hides in the effort of getting some buckskin for my MooseBoots journey.  The weather has been stunning here in southern Maine - today it actually hit the mid-70s, not bad for and early April day.  So, to recap:

According to Tom Brown, the steps to making buckskin are:
  1. Skinning
  2. Soaking (optional, hair off only)
  3. Fleshing
  4. Racking
  5. De-Hairing (optional, hair off only)
  6. Scraping
  7. Braining
  8. Stretching
  9. Buffing
  10. Smoking
Last week, I actually fleshed and de-haired a hide.  Note that I reverse steps 4 and 5.  I like to use the fleshing knife and fleshing beam to scrape the hair off after I flesh the hide.  This is not the traditional method, but I have found that there are a variety of sequences to tanning ... it depends on the individual doing the work.

3.  Fleshing
Fleshing the hide must be done to remove all remaining meat, tissue, and fat remaining on the skin side of the hide.  This tissue will rot if left on the hide.  I have a few different pieces of equipment to use for this - fleshing knife, large pine log, and a smaller 4" diameter log.  I use the logs as a fleshing beam, although the are commercially available models.  The flesh side is done first because the hair will protect the hide from accidental puncture.  Of course, if you intend to keep the hair on the hide, you should be careful to scrape head to tail to avoid ripping hair out.  There is a membrane under the meat and tissue that should be removed.  If it is not removed during this step, you will have to remove it in step 6, scraping.  As near as I can tell, this is the whole wet vs. dry scrape controversy - I am simply following the steps that have been presented as I have no personal bias.

4.  Racking
Again, note that I perform this step after I de-hair the hide.  Racking the hide is simply stretching it on a frame and letting it dry.  It will dry hard.  This is really the goal, to allow you to scrape off the membranes on both the flesh and fur sides of the hide.  The frame must be very sturdy because the hide will shrink as it dries -  I have tried lashing logs together and I have screwed 2x4s together.  The 2x4s seem to be a bit easier to work with.   

5.  De-Hair
The idea is to rack the hide and pluck the hair from the hide before it dries.  As I've said, I use the fleshing knife and fleshing beam to scrape the hiar off when I am done fleshing the hide.  I have found that sometimes the hair folicles are not scraped off enough, which translates to more scraping when I get to that step.

So, we've gotten to the point where we are ready to scrape.  I should tell you that I have found steps 6 and 8 the most labor intensive.  This could be because I have not adequately fleshed or de-haired the hide.  I still have many hides with which to more closely follow the steps as outlined in the book.   Regardless, I realized today, I have quite a lot left to learn about tanning hides, on this my MooseBoots journey, in spite of the fact that I have now gone through the first six steps a few times and all of the previous experience with rabbit hides.  I do find that I tend to lose myself in the work and it is very grounding -  therapeutic.  It is a opportunity to form a real connectionto nature and I find myself expressing my appreciation and gratitude to the hides for all of the gifts I have been given.