Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Earth's Medicine Cabinet Part 1

There is so much the Earth offers. Can you name these two medicinal plants? Bonus points to anyone who can also tells what they are good for!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Foraging Two-Step

This weekend, Wendy and I took a couple of steps forward with our foraging.  It is something I have been interested in for some time, and believe it is an important part of my MooseBoots travels.  In fact, Wendy's next book is about our adventures stepping up our foraging game.  Additionally, Wendy is giving a talk about our learning at the Mother Earth News Fair in PA in September.

This fantastic weekend began like any other ... groceries, trip to the feed store, etc.  But along the way, we got it into our head to go clamming.  Neither Wendy nor I have ever been, so I made a call, or two, to a friend who digs for clams.  Then, we headed out.  We chose our spot - a location we had visited a few years ago while geocaching.  At the time, the girls were a bit younger and getting stuck in the mud on the clam flats was terrifying for them and terribly funny for us.  This time, we knew what to expect.  We also opted out of any equipment, except for a stick.  I figured that the indigenous people in this area did not have expensive clamming forks, so we should be OK.

Strolling casually, looking for the tell tale "bubbling holes", we searched.  First, we noted that the sand was making a popping noise like breakfast cereal.  So, we stopped and decided to dig.  Wendy took a couple of tries with the stick, but broke it twice.  Well, sticks are out.  We dug into the sand with our bare hands.  At first, we noticed that the hole was much deeper than the anticipated 2-6 inches.  Then, we stopped and looked around ... we were standing on a hill in the middle of the clam flats (Lesson 1).  Clever us, we moved to another "crackling sand" area nearer the level of the low tide waters and resumed the dig.

Now, digging in the clam flats with your bare hands is difficult, to say the least, and brutal, to be completely honest.  And yet, we dug.  Soon, we filled the bottom of a 5-gallon plastic bucket.  OK, it was more like 2 hours.  In the mean time, all of the girls had wandered off further and further, discovering interesting things like dead fish.  We called the girls back and went to the tidal river to rinse the sand off of the clams.  I caught some water and swished it all around in the bucket and then poured the sandy water out.  After doing this a few times, I noticed that there were a bunch of half shells in the bucket.  How did those get in there?  We continued after removing the half shells.  A few minutes later, I looked into the bucket.  We were down to a half dozen or so left.  I reached in and inspected all of the remaining "clams" and was introduced to "mud clams."  A mud clam, as it turns out, is a dead clam shell that is filled with ... you guessed it ... mud (Lesson 2).  After removing these, we were left with 4 clams, which weighed in at a whopping 0.5 pounds, and battered fingers.  I guess that is why people who clam use the new-fangled tools (Lesson 3).

Unabashed, we left with our haul.  As we wandered back, we stopped to catch frogs in the pond.  Wendy also wanted to gather some cattails to eat.  As she was handing the knife to Little Fire Faery, they noticed a cool "snake-like thing" in the water.  Upon closer inspection, we all decided it was a 3-inch long leech.  Little Fire Faery decided she was finished wading in the pond.  After a quick picture, we continued back to the truck, noticing again, as we did on the way on, that the blackberries are starting to ripen for the season.  We vowed a return.  Once home, Wendy made the clams into a bit more than a pint of clam chowder.

This morning, Wendy and I got up to go on a mushroom walk with a local mycologist.  The light rain did nothing to dissuade us from going.  We visited a nearby area we had never been to and did the walk.  We, as a group, were able to find some young chanterelles.  But try as we might, we could not find any black trumpet mushrooms.  It is still early in the season for mushrooms in our area, with a peak in September or so.  Wendy and I are fairly new with mushrooms and still have a lot to learn.  We will probably need to pick up, and read the book recommendations: Fascinating Fungi of New England and Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms. Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada, which we have, was also recommended and will demand a good thorough reading, as well.

As with everything else, we decided that there is some much more to learn.  I guess that is the nature of life.  Regardless, it was a fantastic weekend.  The crowning moment was a friend, who was returning from a trip to her family home for the weekend, delivering live lobster, mead, and "Downeast Whelks."  I am not fond of seafood, but will try the whelks (shelled snails) and will most definitely partake of the mead.

I lead such a charmed life.  I feel I am truly blessed by the people, places, and experiences that have been given to me on this MooseBoots journey.  I, again, find myself humbled and grateful.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Something Is Lurking In That Tall Grass Over There

Sometime, quite often actually, my MooseBoots journey is filled with pleasant little surprises.  This evening's jaunt into nature was no exception, but I got to share something with my daughters that few people ever see, let alone seek out.

Tonight, Little Fire Faery, Precious, and I went for a walk to check on the blackberries.  We went through the woods, as we always do.  The difference was that it was already pretty close to sunset when we left.  Precious brought a flashlight, which was not necessary but made her feel better.  The woods were gloomy and quiet on our way out.  About three steps in, Precious asked if she could just turn around and go home.  If you ask her now, she might say that she is happy to have gone ... we saw something incredible.

Now, there is no such thing as quiet with them, particularly when they are nervous.  The endless stream of chatter pretty much guaranteed that we would not see any animals.  Nerves got even a little more edgy whenever I stopped to look at anything ... blueberries, bunch berries, etc.  In each clearing, where it was a bit brighter, things calmed a little.  Of course, we talked about the animals that might be around at night, especially about those that might eat the chickens and ducks that I offer to the forest when the die ... coyotes, weasels, fishers, etc.

It was a beautiful night and when we reached the field, the girls played.  The blackberries on one end of the field were tiny green things ... no where near ready to pick.  I wanted to see the others in the field and wandered off toward the opposite end.  Surprisingly, I found the stinging nettles had grown some of their leaves back.  I guess this is not their first rodeo.  I should have known.  It is a good thing ... I am staring to run low on stinging nettles for tea.  This was certainly a pleasant surprise.  Now, I had another reason to go to the other end.

I wandered further out of sight.  The girls played lion and gazelle.  The gazelle stand on top of a pile of sand on the look out for the lion, who is hiding (stalking, actually) in the tall grass.  The object is to see how close the lion can get without being seen.  Have I mentioned, lately, that I love my incredibly imaginative family?!

There were clear indications of animal activity - deer beds, track, turkey beds, etc.  I reached the opposite end of the field and looked around another dirt pile.  This was where I had found a smaller patch of stinging nettles and, in the surrounding area, blackberry brambles.  In the steadily decreasing light, I did not find either, but as I rounded the berm, I walked right up on a turkey nestled in the tall grass.  Funny, I thought ... turkeys roost.  Why is she on the ground?  I stepped closer, within arms reach, when I heard a tiny chirp and saw something dart away.  It was a mother turkey, sheltering at least two newly hatched poults.  I, unfortunately, left my phone and camera at home.

I backed away slowly to avoid disturbing her and her chicks ... I didn't know if she would leave the nest.  To hurried back to the girls ... calling for them to come quickly and QUIETLY.  Little Fire Faery asked in hushed tones ... is it an animal?  A deer?  A fisher?  A turkey?  We approached again ... I was surprised how quiet the girls could be.  We got within 2 feet of the mother again.  Precious needed to be picked up to see the poults because of the tall grass.  Mother Turkey was not really impressed at this point and began hissing at us.

At this point, we left feeling blessed by this rare sight.  Of course, by now the sun had all but set.  The walk back through the woods was much darker ... nerve that much more tense.  But, they each had their stealthy ninja (Japanese Knotweed) sticks.  I did note though that as soon as Precious made it to the road, she ran home.  Now, how is a dad supposed to tell spooky stories, if the intended audience is running away?

I am indeed grateful to have the honor to see this incredible sight.  I am grateful that the Earth is so generous with her gifts.  Thank you, Universe / Great Spirit, for once again reaching out to me and sharing this incredible beauty with me.

Here is a video that shows a flock.  Remember to read the text to learn some interesting things about turkeys.

I may need to pick up The Wild Turkey: Biology And Management , or something similar to research more about the fascinating beings.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mild Winter Decimates Stinging Nettle Patch?

Last summer, during one of our nature classes, which I considered a part of my MooseBoots journey in spite of the fact that it was set up for homeschoolers, we found a large patch of stinging nettles.  I was very excited to meet this new friend and found a lot of great information about its medicinal and nutritional value.  As it flowered, I gathered a paper grocery bag full of leaves to use as tea over the winter.  It turns out, I also gathered thousands of nettles seeds.

I had become fascinated by them.  I feel an affinity for them that is difficult to explain.  I anxiously awaited their return this spring.  I watched them grow from tiny little sprouts to lavish plants covered in beautiful leaves.  I visited the patch regularly and harvested over 1 pound (0.5 kilograms) of the leaves and dried them for tea.  When I harvest the plant, odd as it may sound, I do not wear gloves, as many people do.  I consider  feeling the sting a part of working with, and honoring, the plant.  The tingling sting can last for hours and some people believe it stimulates the body's immune response.

Knowing how I feel about this incredible plant, you can imagine my shock when I visited and found all of the leaves eaten, bare stems swaying in the breeze.  I was devastated.  Upon closer inspections, I found larva on the stems.  This brought to mind that a friend had mentioned that the Red Admiral Butterflies were migrating in huge numbers this year.  Could this be the larva of the Red Admiral?  After a bit of research, I decided it was the cause.

The Red Admiral Butterflies can not tolerate cold weather and typically breed in the south and migrate north in the spring and summer to lay their eggs.  According to an article I found, the winter was mild and allowed the butterflies to winter further north than usual and breed in greater numbers.  This is coupled with an apparent cycle of larger numbers migrating every ten years or so, spelled the destruction of my favorite patch of nettles.  In fact, all three patches I have found were destroyed.  So, the mild winter decimated the stinging nettles patches that I like to visit.  Thankfully, I gave most of the seeds I had gathered last year to friends to plant, so the nettles will begin anew.

The question that remains in my mind is this ... what predictions can we make about the future of the ecosystem around me?  Adult Red Admiral Butterflies feed on the nectar of milkweed, mint, and clover among others.  I would expect that those plants in my area will benefit from the large number of butterflies and may produce record numbers of seed and be particularly prolific next year.  Will we see an increase in certain bird and bat populations because of the greater availability of prey?  Will the nettles produce substantially larger numbers of seeds next year to compensate?  Will the fibers grown in the nettles stalks be stronger, longer, or different than those grown last year?

I can only guess to the full impact this will have.  Nature will surely compensate ... she seems to be more than competent in this regard.  I am eager to see if I notice the adjustments while wandering my MooseBoots path.

Oh yeah ... did you notice what appears to be a Red Admiral Butterfly in the third photo?  If you'd like to learn more about the Red Admiral Butterfly, or be able to identify other butterflies, check out the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies.