Sunday, November 2, 2014

Foraging Into Fall

Today, the snow has returned for a brief visit.  Daily temperatures have been in the 50's during the past few weeks, so the snow will be gone shortly.  In fact, the snow did not even stick to the ground.  There is still plenty to be done before the snow stays for the long winter months.

I started to ponder today.  What would the natives in this area be harvesting?  Most of the plants have begun to die back.  Berry season has passed.  There are a few apples remaining on the trees, but the only native apples in this area were crabapples.  The nuts are gone from the trees.  The People here would have gathered, and stored, what they needed for plant-based food sources, except those gathered from evergreen trees and such.

I imagine they would have turned to hunting, like we do in modern Maine.  Many animal-based foods are still plentiful ... deer, rabbits, squirrel, moose, migratory birds, raccoon, porcupine, and turkey are all still active.

In modern times, we also have access to some non-native plants that are producing.  A week or so ago, I found and identified (with some help from a Facebook group and local botanist) nearly a dozen Autumn Olive bushes no more than a mile from home.  They are loaded with berries, ripe for picking. 
And, there are a number of non-native apple species that still cling to the fruit high in their branches.

I, like my ancestors before me, have set aside my gathering basket for a bow in search of  meat.  I'll admit that I am not a very successful hunter.  In the five years or so that I have been hunting, I have been blessed with only two turkeys.  One was taken this fall.  However, I do still have time to be in the woods before expanded archery (deer) season finishes for the year.

After I shot the turkey, I took her to the tagging station.  When I pulled up, there was a moose in the process of being skinned.  I quipped that my bird would not fill the freezer nearly as well as the moose.  It brought a chuckle.  Afterwards, I asked what happened to the moose hides.  I figured that most people kept them, but guessed that it didn't hurt to ask.  "I throw them in the garbage ... people don't want them and leather brokers don't either." was the reply.

My jaw nearly hit the floor.  I believe that using as much of the animal is the proper way to honor the animal for the gift it has given.  Of course, thanking them directly is important, too.  I told the man that I would love to get my hands on one, if one were available.  My phone rang just shy of a week later.

I do not have a whole lot of free time.  Modern life keeps my family on the run a good deal of time.  But, I have managed to find enough time over the last two weekends to scrape the flesh and fat off of the hide, and to de-hair most of the other side.  The hide, which is lovely if a little smelly, is very nearly ready for tanning, in spite of the fact that I spent a good chunk of the day, today, in the snow/rain that fell, while the wind howled through the trees.  As I worked, it occurred to me that the rawhide would make several very nice drums.

Regardless, I consider myself very fortunate to have been given such abundance and so many opportunities to learn and grow.  I am that much closer to my moose boots.  Actually, I have orders for  three pairs for my family.  Of course, standing here on the cusp of actually making the boots, I realize that my journey has only just begun.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Foraging Sundays - Weeks 11 and 12

This week has been an incredibly abundant week, but I need to fill you in on the very short story of last week first.

Last week, I cancelled Foraging Sunday.  It was with a very heavy heart and considerable self-flagellation.  It seems that on Week 10 ... rather after foraging on Week 10 ... I found a new friend ... poison sumac.  It was not during my forays into the woods for food, but while cutting vines to make a basket for gathering the hazelnuts I have been anticipating.

The new neighbor was tucked neatly into the vines.  Now, I can not honestly say that I didn't see it ... I did ... I just didn't really pay it too much mind.  I tend to be a little cavalier about nature ... if I am respectful and open about my activities, no bad will come.  I saw the plant ... I didn't recognize it ... I didn't research it ... I IGNORED it!

I did not know I came in contact with anything until the next afternoon when the contact dermatitis rash started to appear.  Of course, by then it was too late to really assess the full extent of the exposure.  I do not like taking medicine and turned, as I often do, first to herbal remedies.  I started vigorously scouring jewelweed into the rash.  I broke open all of the now obvious blisters, rubbing my skin raw.  I tried to relieve the itch and rash for a few days to no avail.  By day 3 or 4, I stopped treating at all, figuring that the worst was past.  By day 5, the swelling started.  By day 7, Wendy was panicked enough that I reluctantly agreed to visit the local quick care clinic.  I had a hard time arguing while unable to bend my right arm or leg, yellow crusty streaks coursing down my legs.

I do strive to impress.  The nurse noted that normally people do not show up with cases as bad as mine.  Really, I thought 15% coverage was a small number.  Normal people come in when the rashes are the size of a computer mice.  Did I mention that I don't really like to go to the doctor?

Regardless, the next stop was the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions for Prednisone and antibiotics.  I started the Prednisone immediately.  The antibiotics ... not so much.  Instead, I used garlic.  I ate 4 raw cloves of garlic a day for the next 5 days, after which point I didn't really think I had any sort of infection.

After the trip to the clinic and Wendy's apparently convincing argument to give me a note to stay home for the next two work days, I conceded defeat and cancelled Foraging Sunday Week 11.  I am so sorry to disappoint you all.

Yesterday, 7 days into the 12 days of Prednisone, feeling good and much less swollen, although just as itchy, I started looking for food for this week.  I started with the hazelnuts.  I noticed the husks were starting to turn yellow and decided to pick.  In all of the rest of years of my life, I have probably gathered a total of 25 hazelnuts ... small, little, tiny nuts.  The squirrels, chipmunks, and others always seemed to beat me to them.  Yesterday, I gathered 5 pounds of hazelnuts, and I have not even visited all of the 50 bushes I identified this spring.  Call me silly, but I was reluctant to go dashing off in the woods willy-nilly in shorts and a tee-shirt while still battling the current itchy affliction.  I will visit them next week, most likely cautiously clad in full length pants and shirt that will be removed and placed in the washier immediately upon my return.

In the afternoon, the girls and I took our bikes and went out to see what we could find.  I told them to be on the look out for hazelnuts, berries, mushrooms, and such.  We did manage to find a small number of chanterelle mushrooms, thanks to the recent rains.  We also discovered (about 1 week late) a nice patch of black trumpet mushrooms that were too old to eat, but worth noting for later in the year.

Upon returning home, I suggested the girls gather some of the feral apples that were dropping in the neighbors yard.  Hey, it's my sandbox ... I make the rules ... feral apple trees are forage!  They left without so much as a grumble and returned a short while later with 8.5 pounds of small, gnarly, splotchy apples.

This brings us to Week 11.  Today, we started out with a lovely applesauce.  I took 1/3 of the apples and cut them into small pieces.  These pieces, still sporting bits of peel, were boiled in water to mush.  I was worried that I had placed too much water in the pan (maybe I did, but it boiled off quickly enough).  The contents were then strained through a food mill, which took all of the peels out and let through a nicely textured sauce.  I returned it to the pan ... remember, too much water.  Then, I added a bit of sugar and some cinnamon.  I would have used maple syrup, but I fear we will not have enough for the coming winter.

Voila!  Breakfast!

After breakfast, I needed to run the girls to the dance school.  I figured I would stop at a few stops along the way home afterwards in between the errands I needed to run.  That all changed when ....

On the way, I noticed a roadkill Whistle Pig (it's just another name for a groundhog).  It was fresh within 24 hours.  It was not there yesterday and it was now.  Marmots (I am full of names for them), are diurnal, so it was hit late in the afternoon yesterday or this morning.

I immediately picked up the phone.  It would seem that I am truly a DOG person ... I tend to bring home dead things.  I asked, "how would you feel about me bringing home a roadkill woodchuck?"  Wendy was hesitant, but, after admonishing me several times about not eating(or bringing it in the house) it if it smelled bad, agreed.  Funny, she sniffed it after I was done cleaning it!

With a new focus, I finished running the days chores and even stopped to look for more chanterelle.  Instead, I found a handful of milkweed pods small enough to eat this week as a lasagna (right, Wendy?).

Dinner was a lovely soup made with Whistle Pig, chanterelle mushrooms, dehydrated wild greens, feral apples, jerusalem artichoke flour, mint and chives.  Oh, and we had some of the 1.5 pints of applesauce left over from breakfast.

I still have 1 quart of soup and 1 pint of applesauce for lunch tomorrow.  By now, I think my co-workers expect strange foods to be in my lunch bag.  I just wonder what they'll think tomorrow.

The weekend has been filled with such an abundance of food.  We are blessed to be able to learn the  things and to grow.  This has been our most successful week yet!  Here is to more to come.

As for the Sumac, I take this as a lesson.  Be aware!  Pay attention and be curious!

Poison sumac, for the reminder, I am honored that you chose to be my teacher in this.  Please, accept my humblest (and itchiest) apologies for slighting you.  I  recognize your power and your right to be.  You are truly a unique, unassuming being.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Foraging Sundays - Weeks 7-10

In spite of the hectic pace of our modern lives, Wendy and I have continued to challenge ourselves with foraging all of our food on Sundays.  We are learning quite a bit, perhaps more about modern life than about foraging, but there are certainly some incredible moments.  For instance, one lesson that echos very clear each week is that one must have the time to actually go out and find food, unless one knows where it is and when it will be there.  The native people in this are had such knowledge and the time to gather the foods and store them for the coming winter.  We, on the other hand, are still learning and growing.  We follow along the best we can.

Three of the last four weekends have been consumed with my participation in a local production of the Full Monty.  It was fun ... I love theater ... but it is incredibly time consuming.  This often meant having only an hour to go find food on Sunday before leaving for the show.  And, try as we might, we could not seem to find the time to plan ahead.  Thankfully, we have been given many fish throughout this adventure.

In keeping with the spirit of the challenge, we are trying to learn to fish, we are learning new plants, and we are checking new areas (or old areas) with our newly found skills.  I am brushing up on hunting skills and paying attention to what is growing (or moving) in the areas I visit.  We are storing extras when we can, like the 1.5 lbs of blueberries we picked this past weekend.

So, without further ado, here are the meals we have eaten.

Week 7
Wood sorrel soup with blueberries

Week 8
Chanterelle, jerusalem artichoke, purslane stir fry with blueberries.

Week 9
 Blueberry and jerusalem artichoke cobbler

 Blue gill fillets, purslane stir fry, with blueberries

Week 10
Blueberry, chanterelle, purslane stir fry with spicy wood sorrel soup

As you can see, we have relied on the blueberries and greens with every meal.  We have added them to stir-fry, we have eaten them raw, and we have baked them into a pie with Jerusalem Artichoke flour crust!  Our staples have been chanterelle mushrooms, blueberries, purslane, dandelion greens, wood sorrel, and jerusalem artichokes.

While we are not eating nearly as much as we would normally on Sunday, we are getting enough.  It has shown us that we don't need so much.  Most Sundays, we have been satisfied even with only a single meal. That is not to say that we will not be trying harder to fish and find new foods.  We know that the blueberries will be around for another week, the raspberries are ripe, and that the blackberries are coming soon.  There is food.  We have even stored up some dehydrated blueberries for the winter to come.  We will not starve, but we are watching ... hunting season opens in a month.

Next week, Saturday is currently open ... no weddings, shows, and such ... we hope to spend more time fishing and gathering.  Maybe, we'll be able to scrounge together 2 full meals!

We are truly blessed to receive what we have.  The Universe has so much to offer!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Foraging Sunday - Weeks 5 and 6

Wow!  It has been six weeks.

I watched, with amusement, this evening as a chipmunk enjoyed some of the scrap I gave to the chickens.  The irony was not lost on me ... I am trying to learn to find food in the wild, while he was learning to find food away from his nature environment.  He lives, everyday, in the wild, eating, breathing, living.  I live, everyday, in an artificial, alien place, which attempts to convince me that the natural world is there to be exploited, reviled, and abhorred.  Silly really.  I guess we are both just looking to find a way to be at peace with out lots in life.

Wendy and I have been following along with the challenge.  Week 5 was a little sparse.  We have a decided lack of skill in the time between greens and berries.  I am sure there is plenty to eat, and we could have gone out for more periwinkles, but we did not.  Instead, we stretched out skills a bit and foraged flowers.  There were many options ... milkweed, clover, rose, etc.  We also took advantage of a gray area - abandoned plants, which took the form of a massive grapevine that has been feral for several years.  With these, Wendy whipped up a nice flower soup with a butter base and some stuffed grape leaves (stuffed with flowers).  And, thankfully, we were given an 18" pickerel, which I learned to clean (it was significantly less work than cleaning a rabbit).

There was only one meal, but it left us satisfied.

This week, I was concerned.  Wendy is away with the girls.  I was left to my own devices.  Saturday, I took a stroll with the dogs to an area I haven't visited for a few years.  I knew that I had learned a lot and wanted to see what I had missed in earlier visits.  All I can say is ... Yee Haw!

I took the dogs, who were a significant impediment, but I still succeeded.  We walked for a couple of hours.  In that time, I marked, with the GPS, several more Hazelnut bushes.  I also spied a fresh mushroom growing near some old one on a broken off tree (which I misidentified).  I was fairly certain that I knew what they were and so I picked them.

In "Browsing Nature's Aisles", we emphasize using at least sources for identification of things you do not know well.  I was able to search the internet and find pictures (resource 1), I looked through a mushroom book (resource 2), I posted a photo on a Facebook Mushroom group local to my area (resource 3), and I used an on-line identification key (resource 4 - BONUS) to verify that it was indeed an Oyster Mushroom (Pleutorus populinus)!

And, in addition, I found a new blueberry patch with newly ripening fruit.  Of course, the dogs were done and I didn't have a container for berries.  I returned on Sunday in the morning without the dogs, who seemed relieved to be able to stay home instead of accompanying me.  In a short time, I picked 1.5 pints of lovely blueberries. for my meals.  I was a little concerned that this would not be sufficient to squelch my hunger.

Sunday was a very busy day.  I am acting in a local production of "The Full Monty" and we were running the technical aspects of the show prior to the opening this week.  It meant that I would be out of the house for 9 hours or so ... no time to find more food.

It turned out that the mushrooms, sauteed in butter and garlic and a pint of blueberries were enough for the day.  I still have half a pint in the fridge.

Even in the face of everyday problems, like a roof that needs repairs and more bills than money, I am in awe of the abundance that the Universe offers - the gifts, the lessons, the love.  Oh, as is my custom, I asked for a message or lesson while I was out.  The response was a pair of hawks swooping into a nearby tree, calling to each other, playing in the branches.  They allowed me to see them before darting away again, leaving me grinning.

It is officially berry season.  Foraging Sundays have just gotten a lot easier.  I am still trying to learn to fish for myself, but I know now that I will eat.

With gratitude and love, I continue to learn and grow.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Memorial Day Give-Away ... And The Winners Are ....

We have chosen the winners in our Memorial Day Give-Away!  Winners, in order of those drawn, may choose the book of their choice.  Please, respond with your choice (if you are first or second place), and an address for shipping.  Comments moderation has been turned on.

  1. This Self Sufficient Life
  2. Sharon R
  3. Unknown
Congratulations to all.  Winners will have one week to reply.  After this, new winners will be drawn as necessary.

For those who did not win this time, keep following along because we might just do another give-away soon. 

Or, purchase one or more of them.
  • "Browsing Nature's Aisles" here, using the link on the left.  
  • "Surviving The Apocalypse In The Suburbs" can be purchased from Wendy's blog, Surviving The Suburbs.
  • "Botany In A Day" can be purchased from Tom Elpel's site,
Have a fantastic day.  Enjoy, and enhance, your independence.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Foraging Sundays - Week 4

This week might be more appropriately named Seafood Sunday.  People have been very supportive of our project.  Some have given us fish.  Some have taken us out to learn to fish ... or ... harvest periwinkles.  I am careful to tell everyone that one of the points of the exercise is to stretch our limits and expand our foraging ability.

The fact is that we live in Maine.  While writing "Browsing Nature's Aisles" (which can be purchased by clicking the link on the left side of this page), Wendy and I recognized the importance of this source of support.  We did make an effort to learn to dig clams ... read the book ... but that was pretty much the extent of it.  We do not know much about the various foods available ... seaweeds, shellfish, fish, etc.

This week, we focused much of the effort on the bounty of the sea.  It started early in the week, when we were given the fillet meat of a 21" Striped Bass.  We were also offered the opportunity to go an harvest periwinkles.  And, later in the week, we decided that we should try our hand at ocean fishing.

Saturday, in advance of Foraging Sunday, which the girls have nicknamed Starving Sunday, I planned to meet a friend at the beach to harvest Periwinkles.  We are getting better about planning ahead.  Maine law allows the collection of 2 quarts per day per person.  So, two girls in tow, I ventured forth to meet with someone who knew a little something and was willing to share (thanks, Mike).  After a brief introductory tutorial, I was off and a little over an hour later, I had gathered about 6 quarts of wrinkles.  The girls were off gathering their own treasures ... something about a saltwater fish tank.  I tossed in some seaweed, too - Wild Atlantic Nori, some Bladderwrack, and some Wild Atlantic Kombu.  Of course, we had to run off to pick up a clamming fork and basket (lesson learned).

Sunday, Big Little Sister (check out her fishing outfit) and I got up and left to go fishing.  In spite of the two hours we spent without a nibble, we were rewarded with some cool things, like the shrimp and the Lion's Mane Jellyfish we saw.

But, alas ... there was work to do.  We needed to dash off to pick up some firewood for the coming winter (yes, I know it is only just summer).  We ran home to eat a quick meal of Striped Bass, which was fabulous with blackberries laced with maple syrup.  And, we were off.

After a couple of trips for wood, we then decided late in the afternoon that we should eat again.  Wendy rushed off to cook, while the girls and I continued to unload the trailer.  She sauteed the periwinkles in Peach wine that we bottled just recently and garlic grown in our garden (spices don't count).  She is a Wiz in the kitchen.  Now, if you ask me, I will tell you that I do not like seafood, but ... all I could do was moan in delight as I devoured the tasty little snails.  Oh, the bonus ... Wendy found a bag of frozen Hen of The Woods mushrooms, that I had found while wandering the wood line a year ago, in the back of the freezer.  These, she sauteed in butter and spices.  Oh my!

Wendy pointed out that our fanciest meal in a long time was free.

The greens are now getting too big to eat as salad, but we are still gathering them to dry and use in soups over winter.  The seaweeds are drying to, for the same purpose.  I have been watching the brambles though, and if our black raspberry bushes are any indication ... we are in for a banner berry year!  Bring on the blueberries!

Once again, we thank the Earth for providing such an incredible abundance of foods all around us!

Please, if you are playing along, let us know how you are doing.  And, don't forget to enter our giveaway!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Foraging Sundays - Weeks 2 and 3

In spite of the lack of a post last week, we did continue the project.  It was a little tough given our schedules, but we found that a little advance preparation goes a long way toward success.

Wendy began foraging a day early.  So, even with a schedule full of dance photos and rehearsals, we managed to feed ourselves from the land.  For breakfast, we ate sauteed greens with chive flowers and blackberry jam we made with foraged berries last year.

That was where the advanced searching ended/  We weren't sure what dinner would be, but we trusted that it would.  I found a break in the schedule and took the opportunity to visit a public land trust for the first time since we started foraging.

Precious and I spent an hour walking its fields and wooded paths.  As we walked the fields, I noticed plenty of milkweed, which was to become part of the meal.  The most incredible find, however, was a couple of small Reishi mushrooms.  This was the first time I had found these gems.  I was not even sure of the ID when I found them, but knew they looked familiar, so I took checked the stump and noticed that there were many more fruit popping out, so I took a couple of small fruit bodies.  I was giddy.  In all honesty, with my limited mushrooming experience, I believed, at the time, that I had found Chicken of the Woods.

That is often the way it is with us.  Something calls to us, we answer, and then we try to figure out what we have.  In this case, a quick check in "Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada by local author, David Spahr showed that this was not what we thought.  I thumbed through the book (a photo of the mushroom was on the cover so I knew it was in there) and stumbled upon the ID.  Then, as we describe in "Browsing Nature's Aisles" (which you can buy here by clicking on the link on the left), we sought out more 2 more resources.  The first was a quick internet search, and the second was confirmation on a Facebook group for mushroom ID.

Reishi!  I have heard all about the amazing health benefits of eating this and using it as an anti-tumor medicine.  Fortunately, none of the clan here has cancer, or other major health issues, but we still wanted to honor the spirit of the being, who spoke to me.

Wendy searched for a recipe and came up with this idea ... Reishi soup.  She cubed the tender pieces of the mushroom and boiled them, adding greens and spices.  It was delicious.  The balance of the harvest was dehydrated to be used in a more traditional way.

Which brings us to this week ... bear in mind, the girls had dance rehearsals each night of the week until 20:00 or so, ahead of their dance recital.  Planning ahead was not really an option, but we figured with the recital out of the way, we could spend Sunday fishing and foraging our meal ... until ....

Our son, his wife, and two children made an unannounced, unexpected visit from Kentucky.  They drove the many hours to be here for the final nigh of the girls' recital.  It was a complete surprise to my girls.

On a side note, driving down the road to the recital (at 50+ MPH) I spotted some mushrooms on a tree on the side of the road - I am fairly certain they are the Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus) I have been seeking.  Of course, once I have them in hand, I might sing a different song.

How does that change anything you ask ... well, they are coming over this morning for Father's day breakfast.  So, the project will be put on hold for good reason.  We will take a rain check and make up the date another time.

We are so grateful for the experiences and bounty that the Earth and Great Spirit offer us each day.

Don't forget to enter our give-away for some great books, and don't forget to share your stories.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Foraging Sundays

Wendy and I have been learning and growing over the last few years.  I have bemoaned the fact on many occasions that progress is slow and finding time to go out and see what is happening is difficult.  So, we decided (well, I decided and Wendy agreed to tag along ... the girls have opted out) that we would eat only foraged foods every Sunday for the summer.

I don't normally like to participate in "challenges", but Wendy does.  She seems to thrive on them.  As such, she kept asking me about the "rules".  For me it was simple ... only foraged food, but she wanted to know about cooking fats, spices, drinks, etc.  So, here are the three rules we've agreed upon.

  1. Beverages are exempt.  This means that if we are drinking it, it does not have to be foraged.  So, we can have coffee, store bought teas, milk (only as a drink not added to food), etc.
  2. Dressings, spices, and cooking oils are exempt.
  3. Everything else must be foraged - food we grow does not satisfy this requirement.
Our initial intent was to begin last weekend, but we did not remember until half way through the afternoon. So, today we began.  While Wendy fixed breakfast for the girls and their sleepover friends, I took a stroll to gather a brunch salad.  I did not venture far and that which I gathered provided only a smallish salad for each of us.  It included dandelion leaves and flowers, common blue violet leaves and flowers, plantain leaves, dock leaves, jewelweed leaves, and  a few bits of wood sorrel.  I ate my salad dry ... no additional dressing. Wendy chose a lavender vinegar that she made last fall to top hers.  We both expected to be very hungry before dinner ... and we were.

Thankfully, our son-in-law had delivered some trout to our freezer a few weeks back.  We planned this for dinner.  For sides, we decided that we would have steamed stinging nettles and japanese knotweed.  We figured we might also add some more salad if need be.

By 17:00 or so, after a busy day, we were both very hungry.  Before I dashed off into the woods, Wendy pulled some frozen blackberries from the freezer.  I have never been so happy that we had put up food.  She drizzled a bit of maple syrup over the berries and handed me a spoonful.  Whoa!  I needed that.  Then, I was off into the woods for some nettles.

I picked a bit ... enough for us to have for dinner ... and then, I got distracted.  I noticed some bittersweet vines nearby.  I picked a few from the trees, initially thinking to protect the trees from the choking vines, but ....

After a few minutes, I found myself starting a vine basket.  This is my second attempt ever, but quickly found myself engrossed in the task.  Seeking more vines.  Weaving the ends.  It is only a small basket.

About 10 minutes into it, I heard some rustling in the dry leaves on the ground.  I turned to see a gray fox walking toward me.  It did not see me immediately and got to within 10 yards (meters) or so.  It was then that it came to an abrupt stop and swiveled its head in my direction ... panic was the only message in its posture.  I spoke reassuring words, which must have sounded like "blah, blah, blah, I am human and you'd better run", although I was trying to allay any fear it had of me.  As as quickly as it appeared, it turned and fled, my eyes following the arrow straight path.

At this point, I figured that I should go home so that we could cook dinner.  I must point out that I was no longer thinking of my hunger.  Upon my return, I lit the gas grill.  Wendy and I wrapped the fish in foil with butter and lemon balm leaves and put them on the grill.  Wendy them blanched the nettles and turned them into a wonderful soup ... butter, water, nettles, salt, pepper, and some chives.

When everything was ready, we sat at the table and feasted, rounding out the meal with more sweetened blackberries.

So ends our first Foraging Sunday.  While we do not expect others to follow suit, we are quite satisfied with this and are eager to see what the summer holds.  Be sure to check back next week to see how we did and, if you chose to play along, be sure to share your stories.

Thank you, Earth Mother, for the beasts and plants to sustain me.  Thank you, Great Spirit, for guiding my feet on the path to wisdom.  Thank you, Friends, for helping me to learn and grow and supporting me through both.

Don't forget to go enter our give-away and to share it with your friends and family.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Give-Away

Today, in the US, is Memorial Day, a day to remember those soldiers who have fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy today.  As a veteran, I fully appreciate the sacrifice they have given.  Personally, I also like to also honor our ancestors, who have gone before us, gathering knowledge and skills, embedding wisdom and instinct in our DNA.  It is important for all of us to REMEMBER.

We have been very fortunate here at the Wyvern Heath.  Wendy and I lead such an incredibly full, wonderful life and are thrilled to be able to share it with so many amazing people.  We help when we can, share our stories, and encourage people to think and act for themselves.

To that end, I am offering this give-away. 
  1. Autographed copy of "Browsing Nature's Aisles"
  2. Autographed copy of "Surviving The Apocalypse In The Suburbs"
  3. Gently used, well loved copy of "Botany In A Day, 5th Edition" by our Thomas Elpel.

To enter, leave a comment here.  While we appreciate comments our Facebook pages, they do not count for this give-away.  Even better, comment and "follow" my blog by clicking the "Join This Site" button on the left.  Make sure to share this with all of your friends and family.

We will choose three winners on July 4th, to celebrate your budding independence from the fear and greed that control our world.  Winners will be allowed to select their preferences in the order drawn.  If you are not selected, or simply can not wait that long, feel free to purchase any of the books from the links provided.

Be sure to like our Facebook pages, Browsing Nature's Aisles and Surviving the Suburbs, too.  Better yet, be an active participant by sharing your stories, asking your questions, or commenting on the things others have shared.

NOTE:  We are happy to schedule walks and talks for your group, or on your property, if you are interested.  We will only guarantee pleasant conversation and eager sharing of our experiences.  The rest is gravy.  Contact us through either of the Facebook pages links above).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Birch Brewing

We ended up with about 2 gallons of maple syrup.  As quickly as the season came, it went.  As you know, I like to try new things.  So, rather than put the equipment away, I tapped a birch tree for the first time.

Birches flow differently than maples.  I am not sure what temperature range they like, but as soon as I tapped the tree, the sap poured out.  In fact, in 24 hours, we had collected 5 gallons of sap.  If we were to boil this down to syrup, it would take 100 gallons of sap to make a gallon of the sweet stuff.

So, true to my nature, willing to stumble along and make mistakes, I decided to try brewing it. 

Tonight, I made 3 gallons of birch beer using a traditional recipe from Stephen Buhner's book, Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers (well mostly).  After which point, I made 1 gallon of Mugwort-infused birch beer.  And, just for fun, I made 1/2 gallon of birch, freezer berry wine (11%) and 1/2 gallon of birch, freezer berry mead (10%). 

The last were made following (sort of) the recipe I posted here.  I boiled 1 quart of berries in birch sap and let it cool.  Then, I added sugar to half and honey to the other half.  Presto!

Here's hoping that some of this turns out good!  Regardless, I have learned something new ... and isn't that the point of these MooseBoots excursions?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The End Of Winter

As I wend along this MooseBoots path, I find a comforting rhythm.  The seasons ebb and flow into one another with slightly different nuances at each passing.  It has seemed like a very long Winter at the expense of the Spring.

We tapped the maples back in February, the sap flowed for a few days.  The weather turned cold, the sap stopped.  It has dripped in fits and starts.  We have finally achieved having both enough sap and time for a boil.  Thus far, we have only 3 pints of syrup put up for the year.  We still have ~60 gallons of sap left to boil, but the buds on the trees are getting bigger (my primary gauge) and the weatherman (my backup data) is forecasting increasingly warmer days.  I fear the season is all but over.  It is strange collecting sap and not boiling until April.  In spite of it all, we are so grateful for the abundant offering nature gives.  We gladly accept.

Last year was a year for the bees.  We spent a bit more effort with them.  We purchased a package again to put in one of the hives. We caught a swarm at a friend's home and installed them in a hive that I built.  And, we caught a swarm at our home and put them in a hastily purchased hive.  Each Spring, around this time, we check to see if the hive(s) survived.  We figured our odds were better this Winter because we started out with three hives instead of one. 

We watched with excitement in February as the bees from one hive took a purging flight (they hold their excrement all Winter until it is warm enough to leave the hive).  We continued to watch each hive for signs of life.  The Yellow hive, which contained bees purchased from Tennessee or Georgia, show no signs of life.  The Gray hive bubble with bees on that warm day and have continued to show signs of life each warm day since.  The Green hive, the swarm we caught here at home, shows signs of life, but we only ever saw one or two bees.  We weren't sure it survived.

Last week, we unwrapped the Yellow hive and removed most of the remaining honey.  We left some for the bees in the Gray hive to come and take.  Yesterday, I unwrapped the other two.  I did not open the Gray hive, which is obviously alive and well, but I was curious about the Green hive, which we were unsure of.  I slowly removed bar after bar finding only empty comb and dead bees, until ... I decided to take a look at the other end of the hive, where I had put the swarm into the hive.  I started lifting a bar and saw movement.  Of course, I took a better second look and decided to leave it ...  THEY ARE ALIVE, too!

We have noted over the past few days that the two, of three, hives that survived were started with bees (swarms) from Maine, while the one that died, was not.  Perhaps there is nothing to it, but the strongest hive last Fall was the Yellow hive, which had the longest time for preparation for Winter.  The Green hive had only from July until the cold to build comb, store honey, and seal the hive.  Yellow hive had a full 2 months longer.

I am not sure of the strength of the Gray hive, but the Green colony is very small.  Of course, they should be able to fill the rest of the hive given that we should see pollen soon.  The maples will flower and the pines will release their pollen.

There is so much to learn.  And, Nature seems to be so willing to teach, if only we take the time to slow down.  In the words of Dan Tyminski and  Avicii, " ... there are endless roads to re-discover ...".

May you feet find the path your hearts seeks!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Maple Sugaring - Legend

Those of you who have been following along this MooseBoots journal know that I like to tell stories.  Someday, I hope to be good at it.  A few years ago, at one of the nature classes we attended, we were told an Algonquin legend.  This is not my story, it is not from my heritage, yet I feel compelled to tell it.  For those whose ancestors have handed this down, thank you for sharing it with me through those you have taught.  In the hopes of honor the traditions who passed this story down through untold generations, I tell this story from my memory, in spite of the fact that I could probably Google it and copy it word for word.  Here goes ...

Long ago, when the animals could speak and we, the people, could understand, there lived a Great Chief, Glooscap.  Glooscap loved the people and cared for them greatly.  He protected them from the many Giants that roamed the earth.  He taught them the correct ways to live with the earth, to honor the gifts that she gave.

In this time, maple trees did not give maple sap.  Maple syrup flowed through the trees.  When the people were hungry, they simply tapped the trees and ate their fill of the delicious syrup that nature had provided.  It came to pass, however, that the people became complacent.  Instead of honor the gift, they simply tapped the trees and lay down under them guzzling the sweet liquid.  And so, they became fat and lazy.

One day, Glooscap returned from a hunting trip and saw the people lying about under the spouts on the trees.  With his great wisdom and understanding, he knew the danger to the people, even if they did not see it themselves.  He also knew that the land needed the people to help support it.

Glooscap called the people to him and taught them that they must not act in this manner.  He explained that the earth needed their labor to support its growth and well-being.  He also explained that they needed to work and move to keep their bodies healthy.  After which, he departed for another hunt.

A week later, Glooscap returned to find the people lying under the maple trees again.  This time, he could not contain his anger at the people for their laziness and carelessness.  He went to his wigwam, took his largest birch bark basket to the edge of the nearby stream, and filled it with water.  He carried the water back to the maples and poured the water into the trees, diluting the syrup into sap.

Knowing that the people still needed this food, he explained to them that the syrup still flowed in the trees, but that it was watered down.  In order to gather it, the people would need to collect the sap and boil it to remove the extra water.  He knew that to do so, they would need to collect fire wood, make baskets, and such.

And so, to this day, we still gather the sweet sap during the spring flow and boil it into the syrup.

May your days grow longer, may your homes be warmer, and may you find all that you need to be healthy and happy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Kid Is Alright

Kids just seem to get it.  We are born with the inherent knowledge that we are divine and that we are all connected.  They are born with wisdom beyond their time in this sphere.  They share, they comfort, they laugh without restraint, they cry unabashedly.  Children are in touch with the world, their own spirit, and their feelings.

Somewhere along the way, however, it is taught out of them, beaten out, stripped away by a society that does not value these things.  It is a shame, because so many of us seek to find these things that should never have been lost.  I guess that that is what this MooseBoots journey is about ... rekindling that knowledge, the wisdom, the connection.

Last week, before the flu ravaged our home, Wendy and I took our weekly trip to the grocery store. Normally, the place is slow and quiet on Saturday mornings when we go, but we took a side trip to eat breakfast at a local restaurant first.  It was busy when we got there, which normally sets me in a less than glowing mood (I can't imagine acting as rude as some of the people we encounter at times).  This day was different ... perhaps, the moon and stars had aligned and set the proper atmosphere.

Regardless, we ventured onward.  We breezed right through the produce section and onto the organic offerings.  Wendy stopped to get organic cane sugar and soap.  I went on to get the girls' their weekly ration (4-pack) of locally brewed soda (no preservatives, real sugar).  In the short aisle, a Mom was shopping with her young girls.  If I had to, I'd guess 18 months and 3 years old.  The younger sat in the cart.  The older wandered around her mother.

I have a way with kids.  I like them.  They like me.  I love their honesty, their joy at little things, their glow.  Perhaps, they see the same in me.  Regardless, the young girls in the cart smiled a crooked smile at me.  Of course, I smiles back, looking deep into the abundant happiness filling her eyes.  I could not help myself ... I kept looking and smiling and waved a bit.

Her mother noticed the smile and remarked that she, the girl, really loved me.  I responded that she was a cutie.  It was about this time that her older sister noticed me.  Now, I don't know how many of you know this, but a three year old CAN talk.  She started with her name.  I told her mine.  To which, she responded that he favorite movie had a character that shared my name.  It didn't take long for Mom to let us know that this could go on forever.  We took this as a hint and said our goodbyes.

The tone had now been set.  I could not refrain from smiling at people throughout the grocery store.  I did note that men don't seem to like to make eye contact and so, did not get to share in the wonder.  Several women (of all ages) met my gaze and smiled back shy smiles.  What is wrong with our society?  The same society that fills us with so much fear that it is not OK to meet someone's gaze, that it is not OK to look at anyone else, that it is not OK to talk to strangers.

Turning the corner to one of the last aisles, I noticed a woman stocking a display with cleaning products.  Clearly, she did not work at the store, so I asked if she made all of her own products.  She stopped, turned, and talked to us.  It turns out that she does make the Gracefully Clean products in her basement.  She is working on expanding the operations and she is very careful about the things she put into them.  We chatted amicably for several minutes, exchanged contact information, and parted ways.

Rounding the final corner, Wendy and I started to chat up an old woman, whose husband was not at all happy with the distraction.  Of course, she smiled and laughed and encouraged us to keep laughing to stay young at heart and healthy.  She chatted with us for the rest of the aisle, while her husband waved her to come on.

It was obvious that there was no middle ground to speak of.  Young kids and older people, in general, understand.  They will meet your eyes, speak to you from their hearts, open themselves to touch your soul and allow you to touch theirs ... to connect.  People in the middle do not.

This brought to mind  the book "Of Spirit and The Water".  In the book, the author, who is an African shaman, describes his life.  During his early year, he was left with his grandfather, which was the tradition of his tribe.  The very young children of the tribe were left with the elders.  Not because of physical ability in the field, but because both the very young and the very old were close to the divine and could share wisdom that would benefit their community.  The young were fresh and had not forgotten divinity.  The old had lived life and seen much only to return to the wisdom they had forgotten in the middle years.

So next time, you see a kid smiling at you, be sure to smile back and wave.  You never know how that reflection will influence the rest of your day, or your life.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


For those who visit regularly, know this ... I am alive.  My creative juices are not really flowing much and I have not found much to discuss.

Wendy and I are still trying to promote "Browsing Nature's Aisles", but like all things here in Maine, we are in stasis.  I am, however, awake enough to be watching for signs that the Spring is here.  The Maples never lie.  Randy Link captured it best.

If you read this, please comment and let me know how you are. 

Oh yeah, please like "Browsing Natures Aisles" on Facebook, and please send your friends.  We are open to coming and doing talks, signing, etc., too.

Rest well, for the Spring comes with new awakenings.