Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Latest Amazing Gift

It is so easy to fall into old habits, especially when things get busy.  Our month, since my last post, has been filled with birthdays, anniversaries, dance competition, play auditions, ballet shows, a book signing, and building a raised garden bed at the library for the summer reading program.  It has been a month of celebration, for sure, but has left us all exhausted from the effort.

With the bustle, it was easy to fall off track, or, perhaps, to take a slight excursion off of my MooseBoots path.  I have not been foraging everyday.  I have not been working forward.  While there have been brief, too brief, moments of progress and exploration, I have paused..  When I find myself in situations like this, I have a tendency to become very critical of myself and disappointed, frustrated, with my progress.

I do try to keep things in perspective.  Let's face it ... I spent 40 years learning to "play the game."  I have been taught the "rules."  I am good at the game that we, as a culture, play.  One would be hard pressed to find anyone who would not consider me successful.  I work hard and typically achieve the desired results in the expected time frame.  I am honest, have a strong sense of fair play, and value my personal integrity very highly. 

I was a great student, achieving above average grades with minimal effort.  I graduated high school with the ninth highest GPA out of 200+ students.  I  attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute on an 80% academic scholarship.  I graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering in 4 years, while working a full time job to pay the bills.

I was an exceptional soldier.  I was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal after only 5 years of military service as a Sergeant (E-5).  This was in addition to several Army Commendation Medals and numerous Army Achievement Medals.  I was given a lateral promotion to Corporal.  This is unheard of in non-combat arms units, but it happened for me because of my work ethic and my ability to fill a position (E-7) several levels higher than that worn on my collar (E-4/E-5). 

While some may look at my achievements and argue that I have it all, it is not very satisfying.  What does it provide for my spirit?  How does it support my soul's purpose?  I am a leader, perhaps a "natural born" leader, and I fill the role well.  This is, quite possibly, the only piece of the "game" that is important on my future personal growth path.

I have spent the last 2 years trying to become more in-tune with myself, spirit, and nature.  In essence, trying to unlearn the rules that society has given me.  Anyone who knows me will recognize that I have always liked to bend the rules and stretch them.  I don't always conform to expectations - I guess I never have fully.  Actually, the effort for the last 2 years has been to re-learn what I knew as a child.  I see that my children hold this knowledge.  They, as homeschoolers, have kept their sense of wonder, their passion for learning, their zeal for life.  It is more difficult for me, who has been through the standard training.

A few weeks ago, at nature class, we briefly discussed bird language, and since then, I have been trying to be more aware of what the birds are saying at different times. I am by no means an expert, but I have become aware of the concept. I have tried to use it to locate Wendy in the forest, and I try to pay attention to how the song changes when I let the dogs out.

Other discussions/lessons in our nature group have prompted me begin plotting about manipulating my environment - in particular the discovery of a huge patch of stinging nettle, and my plan is to gather and scatter the seeds on a hill nearer the house.  I want to encourage the plant to grow close at hand to facilitate my foraging efforts.  So, you see, I have been aware of the need to forage and have been thinking about this journey.  I researched nettles a bit and found that they are prolific in almost any spot, shady or sunny.  So, I chose this hill on the side of our road that had been cleared, a few years ago, and sprayed with that green goop the road crews use to seed disturbed soil.

As I turned to return home, I heard a cacophony.  Several crows were squawking loudly.  I looked and saw them chasing something, a crow periodically swooping at it.  It looked like a large cat, but I could not be sure.  It turned into a driveway up the road a bit, so I ran to try to find some tracks or get a glimpse of the mystery creature.  I looked into the driveway and saw no sign of the animal.  I knew it was still around, because the crows were still causing a ruckus, but it was not moving.

I figured that whatever it was was hiding and I would not get a peek.  So, I began to scan the ground for tracks.  Of course, the road, although it is dirt, is well packed and finding tracks is difficult at my current ability level.  I did not find any, but if I had, they might have looked like this.

At some point I looked up, perhaps I was trying to look for a pattern to show me where the track might be.  Perhaps, I felt something.  I can't say for certain.  When I did, however, I saw a gray fox standing at the other end of the driveway.  She (I don't know how I know this) was watching me.  I crouched down and spoke to her.  She stood.  Then, I decided that the moment was a precious gift and words were not appropriate.  She and I shared this experience for at least 2-3 minutes.  Just watching ... connecting.

Gray foxes are crepuscular.  It was well past any time she should have been out.  I have not gone to look, but clearly she was trying to take something the crows wanted.  I believe, on only a gut feeling, that she was out trying to gather food for her kits.  I have not seen them.  I have not seen any remains of food that the crows and foxes would eat.  But I know.

There have been many crows around lately ... more than I have seen before.  Wendy and the girls maintain that they saw a raven the other day, and seeing a gray fox in daylight is not a normal occasion.  Is there a message here for us?  I guess I will be reading, in Animal Speak, what message, medicine, each of these brings.  I will have to see if I can piece together a meaning that makes sense to both my logical brain and my intuitive feel.

And so, I continue down my MooseBoots trail.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wild and Free

It is no secret that I really want to learn native skills and to accumulate ancestral lore.  I try to take time, on this MooseBoots trail, to learn and gain proficiency in the skills that allowed people to live, and thrive, in concert with the land in this area a mere 300-400 years ago.  I am studying shamanism and participate in nature classes with some of the folks at the Maine Primitive Skills School.  And, I excel at seeking out information in all forms - Google is an amazing tool.  As such, I tend to gather books, web sites, and videos to further this end.

This past week, we had our latest nature class.  We had plans to do certain things and harvest certain plants, but the Universe had other ideas.  Instead, we wandered a bit.  It is amazing what you can find if you take the time.  The turkeys had visited a near-by field, as had the deer.  Their track visible in the soft sand, in spite of some recent rain.  We also found frog eggs in various stages of hatching - one clump was half hatched, another was just started, and yet another had not yet begun.  Mike was most excited, however, by this.

Stinging nettles.  I have not even begun to stratch the surface of their usefulness.  I have taken the first step to being introduced.  I gather some and tonight, we ate them.  I sauteed them in butter and lightly salted and peppered them.  Then, I scrambled some eggs and mixed them in.  They were delicious.  As a side, I also harvested some Japanese knotweed and steamed it.

Big, Little Sister made a custard to go with it.  Here is dinner in all its glory.

It occurs to me, as I type this, that the meal could have been gathered completely within a 4-mile radius of here.  The eggs are from our hens and ducks, the milk is from a local farmer, and I've already talked about the wild foods.  The only outside of that radius was the sugar, which we could have switched with some of our own maple syrup.  It is very empowering to know that we can have such control over our food.  Granted, only a small portion of our food is foraged at this point.  But, we are moving in the right direction.

Wendy and I talked about trying to forage at least a part of one meal a day.  It might be a lofty goal, but it would be good to try, especially since there is nothing in the garden ready to harvest yet.  This will certainly help to further my position along my MooseBoots path.