Thursday, December 30, 2010

Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs

Most of you know that I share my MooseBoots journey with Wendy and the girls.  Wendy's philosophy is similar to mine from a slightly different angle.  What you may or may not know is that Wendy is in the process of having her first book published.  It is due to be released on April 1, 2011.  Here is a blurb about it ...

About the Book
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the percentage of the total American population living in suburbs grew to nearly fifty percent. Fossil fuels were cheap and plentiful, and car-dependent, energy-intensive lifestyles came hand in hand with this demographic transition. In the age of Peak Oil, environmental catastrophe, and a failing economy, it is imperative that we transform the suburbs into sustainable communities.

Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs envisions a suburban evolution—from isolated cookie cutter houses with manicured lawns and two-car garages to small, closely packed, productive, interdependent homesteads. This guide to simplifying suburbia and adopting a lower energy lifestyle breaks down all our basic needs and describes how they might be met after the loss of the modern conveniences we currently take for granted. From small-space gardening techniques and a guide to small livestock to tips on cooking and heating, sanitation options, and much more, this is a complete guide to becoming more self-sufficient wherever you live.

Required reading for anyone interested in increased self-reliance and a lower carbon footprint, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs will help you look past the white picket fence to a new world of possibilities.

About the Author
Wendy Brown is a suburban homesteader growing roots (both literally and figuratively) in Southern Maine. Until 2005 her family was living the American Dream, complete with credit card debt, car payments and two mortgages. Concerns about the environment, Peak Oil, and the economy combined with a growing desire to live a more self-sufficient life caused her and her family to reevaluate their lives. The result has been a transition from a completely dependent, consumerist lifestyle to one of living debt-free in a comfortable, more energy efficient home in a desirable location with a bountiful garden.

Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: The Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil

We think that is it a great read, but we might be a little biased.  You can pre-order a copy from Amazon, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: The Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil or, if you prefer, directly from New Society Publishing.  Of course, we would love to hear you comments and see your reviews on Amazon after you get a chance to read it.  In the mean time, keep reading along here about my MooseBoots experiences and Wendy's take on them at Surviving the Suburbs.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shamanic Gifts

There have been many surprises on this, my MooseBoots path.  Sometimes, it might be a situation where I have the opportunity to comfort someone unexpected.  Sometimes, it might be an unexpected gift.  Perhaps, the latest is the most pleasant of all, a simple reminder that while I travel this path I am accompanied by my family, although sometimes they are kicking and screaming.

Wendy, the girls, and I make a lot of the gifts we give.  I'll admit that with my work schedule, Wendy and the girls do most of the work.  As such, it was no surprise to see the girls working hard to make all of the gifts they would give - Big, Little Sister's knitting needs clicking away, Little Fire Faery learning to use the sewing machine to make a rattle for her new niece, or Precious, drawing and painting.  They worked diligently for weeks to have something for everyone on their lists.

Christmas morning, we opened our gifts.  You may know, or you may have guessed, we are not particularly religious.  In fact, if asked, I would say we are not ... I am not saying that we are not spiritual, just not religious.  I opened an envelope from Little Fire Faery.  Inside, I found this drawing.

Little Fire Faery had journeyed to retrieve power animals for Wendy and me.  Wendy's new guide is a frog.  Mine, specifically, is a rattlesnake.  We attended a shamanic journeying workshop this summer so that Wendy, Big Little Sister, and Little Fire Faery could learn to journey.  I thought it had ended there.  This, beautiful act, was a clear indication that I am not alone on my path.  I knew they supported my work, but I didn't clearly understand that they are right beside me on the path.  It is amazing what kids learn when you don't think they are paying attention.

I know that I am blessed.  I, unlike many people, have the full support and encouragement of my family to pursue my true path.  How many people do you know that can honestly say that?  How many other "MooseBoots journeys" are cut short or take unnecessary detours?  My journey, while not defined, is clear.  I have heard many times, and it rings true in this regard, that it is my intent that matters and that I need to let go of outcome.  For me, an engineer who has been trained to plan everything out and set goals, this can be difficult, but I know that I have the support, love, and company of my family.  Thanks, guys.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hive Clean-Up

My Mooseboots journey, as is life, is filled with pleasant successes and disappointing failure.  The bees were a sad example of a failure.  From the exciting beginning steps to the ultimate recognition of failure, they provided a lot of food for thought and learning.  Where did I go wrong?  I will never know.  Did I release the queen on installation?  Was the hive infected with a virus from the breeder?  Was the colony robbed of all resources and died out?  I know for a fact that I was queenless at one point ... the sheer number of drones was out of proportion with the rest of the hive.  Perhaps, I had a laying worker.  The only thing to do is try again.

I have removed the legs from the hive and removed all of the dead bees.  The hive is indoors right now.  I will paint it and prepare it for next spring.  I have also removed all of the comb from the bars.  I figure that if there was an infection, it might do no good to keep the comb.  So, assuming the risk outweighs the benefit, I melted it all down.  I am now the owner of 1 half-pint of bees wax.  Wendy and I have talked about what to do with it a bit, but it is still sitting there.

Last year, I put my name on the list for a breeder in Vermont.  His bees have been bred and raised in Vermont, so they should be better suited to my area anyway.  I believe he is also very careful about the chemicals and techniques he uses for his bees.  All around, I hope the bees arrive healthy and ready to set up their new home.  I may just put my name on the list for local swarms, to be safe.

The further I travel on this MooseBoots path, the more I learn how much there is to learn, whether it is the bees, mushrooms, friction fire, basket making, or something else entirely.  I am often overwhelmed, and yet simultaneously excited to continue down the road.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Basket Making

While cruising down my MooseBoots path, I have been fascinated by arts and creative endeavors.  I do not consider myself artistic in the least, but find myself drawn (hee, hee, hee, pun clearly intended) to things like drawing, carving, and ... basket making.  Of course, I don't normally do things the easy way or the "traditional way" of easing into new skills.  I dive right in.

Over the spring and summer, I worked on gathering materials and building skills for making a basket.  Of course, it was and on again, off again project.  Most of the basket itself was made with Aunt Tammy in my thoughts.  I finished the weaving part the day she died, so really there is a lot of her in there.  Over the summer, I found some material for the rim and finished the project.

The basket is made with Iris and Lily leaves and a small piece of cattail cordage in the bottom to hold things together.  The rim is made from a hardwood slat we got from a business in a local industrial park.  The top finish piece and the binding cords are basswood cordage that I twisted myself.  Here are the finished photos of my very first basket.

I find great peace in working artistically, in spite of my clear lack of skill.  I also decided that my baskets would probably come out better with purchased materials that are dimensionally uniform ... of course, if you are here, you know that that is NOT what I am about and it is NOT how I work.  My MooseBoots journey is really about connecting with Nature and the Earth.  As such, I can't think of a better way to gather materials.  Maybe the next one will be a little better.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 6

My Mooseboots path has been so enriched by our weekly Nature Adventure Class.  In addition to learning new skills and getting a chance to spend some quality time with my family, it serves to reinforce the skills that I already have.  There is really no need for a complex lesson plan and break neck speed.  Sometimes, it is just fun to play.  We were also pleasantly surprised to run into an old family friend, who had been attending with her kids on the Tuesday group.
We started out by playing a game.  We picked a "coyote" whose job it was to call out and catch (tag) the other animals as they ran across the field.  Animals caught became trees and helped catch the remaining animals.  The game is fun enough on its own merits, but add a dog who wants to play and take the field boundary markers and you've got a blast.  The kids were laughing.  The adults were laughing, too.  I am not sure who had more fun.  After a few rounds of this quick energy burning game, we went into the woods.

We began by working with our "owl eyes".  We stood in a circle, held our arms out wide to our sides, and wiggled our fingers.  Then, each of us has to tell the other what we could see at the limits of our peripheral vision.  When we were all in the correct frame of mind, we played another game.  This time each person was a squirrel who had to move his acorns from one hoop to another.  Sounds easy, right?  Now, add one "hawk" to catch the squirrels.  Any squirrel caught becomes another hawk ... after a while it is pretty scary being a squirrel.  We all had a great time, again.

It was time to shift into reinforcement mode.  We were all blindfolded and put into a single line.  We were to follow the person in front of us.  One person was chosen to remain un-blindfolded and direct the group to a specific place.  We needed to use our foxwalking skills to keep us safely on the move without anyone getting injured.  It is a bit unnerving following a bunch of kids around blindfolded, but it was an amazing experience.  I really became aware of the extent to which I use my sight ... I guess we all do.  I certainly recommend taking a partner into the woods and trying this.

Next, we gathered and split into three teams.  We were all given 15 seconds to look at some objects and their placement on a blanket.  Then, each team had a few minutes to gather the objects and place them in the same orientation as the original.  Of course, Wendy and I, teamed up with a six year old, and had a blast guide him along.

Afterwards, the natives (anyone under the age of 13) were getting restless.  So, we played a game of "storytelling hide the treasure".  Each of the two teams was given a bandanna and told to hide it.  Then, we reconvened and told a story of how to find our "treasure".  It is interesting to complete the mind shift from a written/recording society mindset to one of an oral tradition.  I have been working on learning some local native legends to start telling them to the girls.  I think this is an important part of reconnecting with the universe and each other.

After the treasures were gathered, we took quick walk to some cattails.  Mike explained that many parts of the plant were edible and showed us several of the parts.  Tom Brown has claimed that there are four plants that are required to survive in most of North America.  That is to say if you know these plants, you can gather enough food to survive.  Cattail is one of the four.  Most of the younger kids, however, were done at this point, so the teenagers and above got a bit of additional teaching.  I also collected a stalk to dry and try as a hand drill.

On the way back out of the woods, we gathered firewood for our weekly fire.  When we got back to the fire pit, the kids built the fire, but did not light it.  I held the one match and was going to light it, but I noticed an interesting exchange going on.  Wendy gave Mike a magnesium fire starter.  He had never used one and so, was trying it out.  Wendy then took out her bow drill.  So, each worked to get the fire going.  I decided to wait.  Not long after, Wendy succeeded with her bow drill and got a fire going.  Mike said he needed some time with the fire starter.

It may not have been the most educational class, but it was fun and helped to reinforce many of the things I already knew.  This MooseBoots journey, as in any process of learning, requires both of these -  fun and reinforcement.  I have been blessed by the universe.  I hope to be able to help guide us, as a society and a world, back into harmony and alignment as a part of nature.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 5

This weekly Nature Adventure class has been a huge boost to my confidence, in knowledge of nature/survival skills, as I travel down this MooseBoots path.  It has affirmed many things for me ... I know a lot more than I believe, time spent with my family is hugely rewarding, time spent in nature is incredibly healing, etc.  It has also highlighted a few things ... knowledge unapplied is not really worth much, I need to slow down and really experience things, I need to work at being more aware, etc.

As it was a cool, rainy day, we met inside.  Many of the families did not even show up.  So, the group, small as it was, met and continued working on the skills we are honing.  I have noted that a large part of the focus for this group is awareness building.  As such, we began by playing a few games.  In the first, we joined hands.  The catch was that one the circle of hands, we had two hula hoops.  The game was one of squirrel and fisher.  The squirrel tried to keep away from the fisher.  The fisher tried to eat the squirrel.  So, each hula hoop was passed from person to person.  Or, each person had to pass through the hula hoop to move it in one direction or the other.  There is nothing so fun(ny) as squeezing 40 year old bodies through hula hoops while linking hands.  The amazing part, the unschooling part, is that we all laughed and completely forgot about the fact that we were developing our observation skills.  I found that I innately monitored the position of the hoops without effort.  The kids had a great time, too.  By the way, I any of you is interested in these games, Maine Primitive Skills School has published a book, The Invisible School: Playing Hard and Growing Smart , that contains many of them and much more.

After a few rounds, we switched the game.  We ditched the hula hoops, stopped holding hands, and played with a red bandana (squirrel) and two blue bandanas (fishers).  It really increases the pace of the game to have to monitor two fishers.  Luckily, squirrels can jump (throw across the circle) or walk (pass from hand to hand), but fishers must walk.  Somtimes, fishers, or kids holding fishers, forget that they can not jump.  The game, as they all do, really engages the kids and allows them to be aware without trying to be.

After all the fun, we stopped to unwind.  No ... literally, to unwind.  We were given bits of twine to un-twist back into fibers.  These fibers were all placed in a great heap on the floor.  As we finished what we had been given, we were given more.  It was like making cordage in reverse.  It told the kids that we were probablky going to have to re-assemble the strings later.

We moved on to our next awareness game.  Each of us was blindfolded and led to a room.  In this room was a "path" of blankets on the floor.  We were to follow the blankets and identify/memorize as many of the objects on the blankets as we could using only our hands to "see".  Then, we were to return to the other room and draw each object on a peice of paper.  Again, those young spongy minds were quick, but older minds are better at details ... he he he.  As we each played the game, the other continued unwinding.  Then, we reviewed the items as a group.  No winning, no losing. 
The highlight of the class, in my opinions, was the bow drill work.  Mike had brought a number of bow drill sets with him for us to work with.  After we moved to the garage, we were instructed and then we drilled.  Wendy showed amazing skill ... on her first attempt with the bow drill, she got a coal.  But, it was small and went out.  Then, she got another and another.  Finally, she chucked the coal into a bundle of twine fiber and made a fire.  Somewhere along the way, we lost all of the kids but one, Big Little Sister.  So, we adults and teenager worked each trying to make a fire.  I succeeded too.  It was amazing.  In recognition of our success with the bow drills, Mike broke out the hand drill.  He, Wendy, and I worked on team hand-drilling and succeeded in starting a fire with a mullein stalk and cedar fire board.

I experience such a sense of fullness and contentment after each class.  This is the barometer by which I measure the value of the steps I take on this MooseBoots journey.  Unfortunately, this particular class was only scheduled for 7 weeks and is winding down.  Fortunately, there seems to be a bit of interest in continuing on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.  This activity, and those similar, keep me grounded in reality and really help me appreciate the good things life has to offer.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Do You Smell Smoke ....

Some times this MooseBoots path takes an amusing turn.  I often bumble my way along and stumble knee-deep into something ... often not something you want to be knee-deep in.  Regardless, Wendy and I laugh an we move on.  Sometimes, I'm not sure she isn't laughing at me, but ....

I have been searching for the fabled Chaga Mushroom.  I have heard from numerous sources that it was used by native people to carry a coal to start a fire.  Placing a coal in it will start it smoldering.  It will smolder that way for long periods of time ... hours even.  You can see the obvious benefit of knowing this plant, if you were in the woods and moving your camp long distances.  I have also been told that the place is packed with antioxidants and is a great tea.

I know that it typically grows on birch trees.  That sounds like a great place to start.  So, each time I go in the woods, I look.  Nothing .... Where are they?  I notice that on dead birch there are lots of Horse Hoof Mushrooms.  So, I started looking primarily at dead trees ... fungus grow on dead trees ... seems valid.  Frustrated, I returned home each time empty handed.  It seems that the Horse Hoof is used for the same things, so I did bring one home and  try to put a coal into it ... nothing, maybe it needs to dry.

Last weekend, I went to a workshop on Northern European Shamanism, which was great.  I had the opportunity to wander the grounds of the Gilsland Farm center during a lunch break.  As I wandered, I noticed on a LIVING birch a small growth of Chaga, which I quickly, and respectfully, gathered.  When I got home, I showed Wendy my prize.  I lit one chunk.  It didn't seem to take ... maybe it needed to dry, so I placed it on the wood stove.  This was at say 18:00.  Then, we continued our evening.  The girls had some friends over for the night and they giggled the night away and watched zombie movies.

Wendy and I were going to bed at about 23:00.  Then, she sat bolt upright.  "Do you smell smoke?", she queried.  No, I did not, until she went to investigate ... what are those girls doing?  Several moments later she returned.  "What was it?", I asked.  "YOUR mushroom!"  What?!  It worked?  "What did you do with it?", I asked excitedly.  "I threw it in the fire."  I guess that is where it belonged.

So, I laughed at, and to, myself and drifted off to sleep with a new nugget of wisdom.  I figured if I don't laugh at myself, someone is going to.  The sheer volume of knowledge, plant lore, and wisdom our native brethren had never ceases to amaze me.  It is humbling to know that I have so much more to learn on this MooseBoots journey.  Of course, it helps to know that there is joy and comfort along the way.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 4

As most of you know, my MooseBoots journey is bleassed with the company of Wendy and the girls.  Sometimes, in spite of the fact that I know how amazing they all are, I am surprised.  They are incredible and teach me more often than I say.

We attended our weekly nature adventure class.  It was a beautiful fall day ... clear and warm.  We started by making puppets.  It is often a good idea to start by focusing the kids on a craft activity.  The task was to draw, and color, a character on a piece of paper.  The kids drew and colored ... and drew and colored some more.  Where is the nature adventure, you ask?  We were outside.  Of course, we all lead by example ... so, here's my friendly White Tiger companion.

Our new friends, and we, then went out into the woods.  There was a puppet sized debris hut all prepared for the "bad weather" that had been predicted (in spite of the blazing blue sky).  We were shown how it was built and then bidden to create one for our very fragile, thin companions.  There was a torrential rain coming quickly from the west, east, north, or south depending on the location, relative to the nearby stream, of the applicable shelter.  Little Fire Faery and I worked together, our friends huddling together for warmth.  We built the shell and overlaid the ribs with bark from a nearby fallen birch tree.  Then, we piled on huge quantities of leaves to keep the "rain" out and the warmth in.  Big little sister worked on her own, while Precious worked with Wendy.  No sooner had any shelter been finished and the rain began ... it was raining, in very localized patterns, buckets (or pitchers) directly on each.  After the cold night, each puppet crept out of its shelter and we assessed how they weathered the storm(s).

Afterwards, an incredible, unexplainable thing happened.  The kids, working together completely unprompted, started assembling a large shelter for themselves.  There was no fighting, crying, whining, etc. just good, old fashioned teamwork.  Did I mention that these kids are all homeschooled?  Mike, in his years of wisdom, did not want to interrupt such a spontaneous endeavor, in spite of the plan to work on debris huts next time.

Unfortunately, we had other things to do ... like more awareness games.  There on the forest floor rested a blanket neatly folded in half, hiding an assortment of natural treasures.  We quickly divided into two teams and were shown the items ... Wendy counted 15.  Then, we scattered to find the same items in the surrounding forest.  We found the beech leaf, but mistook the birch leaf for another.  We gathered fir instead of hemlock.  We found sticks, roots, fungus, and sarsasparilla.  It is amazing how litle time 30s is when trying to memorize 15 items ... certainly not enough to assign a few to each teammate.  I am pretty sure the team Wendy and I were on won ... rotten kids and their near perfect memories.

Alas, during the frantic pace, Mike "fell into the frozen stream".  We needed to light a fire and quick ... 15 minutes and he was a "Mike-sickle".  We scurried, gathering fuel for the fire.  Alas, the forest we were in (wink, wink) did not grow any birch trees.  No birch bark for the fire???  Luckily as we returned to camp, I gathered some dry goldenrod heads (thanks, Tom Brown, for the story).  The kids had built a wonderful tee-pee fire into which they stuffed the goldenrod.  Little Fire Faery (how appropriate) was assigned the fire lighting again, obviously because her success the last time.  With two minutes to spare, Mike was saved.  Whew!

Sometimes, it is good to remember to have fun along the way.  We adults tend to overthink and over-analyze.  The kids ... not so much.  It was a great moment to savor on my MooseBoots path.  Image what a tiny shift in priority can do!  No, really, imagine.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Outdoor Skills Class - October 2010

I often feel a bit frustrated by the spasmodic nature of this, my MooseBoot journey.  The frantic stop and start and stop again nature of life as a human on this planet in this culture.  I, too, catch myself entering the trap of the "I want to do this now and forget the journey". mentality.  The truth is that the destination is not really that important ... how you get there is.

We recently attended out monthly outdoors skills class.  The bigger girls got a bit of extra instruction ... they spent the night prior out with some others in the group at the Wigwam site.  They did very well and had a blast.  Wendy and I were so proud.  When we got there, the six kids who spent the night out acted out the night for us ... dinner, fox walking in the dark, gathering water, etc.

As has recently been the case, there was a finely honed gem of learning that occured and quite a bit of "practice the old stuff".  This class started with wandering around the forest looking for a spring.  And ... we found one.  We each tasted the sweet, cool, clear water fresh from the spring.  Then, we talked about how we knew it was a spring ... water was flowing away from a spot with no visible source upstream and how there was a very deep hole at the source.  We had a discussion about drink water without purifying it first ... that it is safer to boil it if there is any doubt about its "holding of microscopic creepy crawlies and industrial waste."  This spring was clean.  So, we learned a song and sang.

Afterwards, we wandered a bit more to find a suitable shelter building area.  The kids discussed what we needed to find.  Then, the group broke up.  Some kids built shelters on their own, some built fairy houses, and some make a fire and applesauce over it.  I must admit that I had to step back and let Big, Little Sister direct the build.  She did a great job.  Little Fire Faery, to my horror, was teamed up with two of the youngest members of the group (5-6 year olds) who did not listen very well.  She did a great job too of
guiding them as much as they would be guided.  Precious and a few others about her age built their own small shelter.

The group all gathered later to inspect the shelters and then to enjoy the fresh, hot applesauce.  It was so relaxing to just be in the woods, away from work, part of life.  We then packed up to go back and help at the farm for a bit.  Unfortunately, my escape was not complete and I had to return to work afterwards (it was no doubt all done on my terms).

While this pace may not be as fast I like, I do try to enjoy the scenery along the road.  My life is so rich and full of good things that I really need to slow it and enjoy.  Afterall, what is the rush?  This is my MooseBoots path and I should savor each step on it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 3

My travel down this MooseBoots path has accelerated a bit with the addition of this weekly class.  The nice part is that, while we may cover similar material to that in the monthly Outdoors Skills Class, having a different teacher with a different perspective tends to fill in gaps that I was completely unaware of.  Of course, there is the added benefit of practicing these skills/abilities more often.  This week, in lieu of going into the woods, we went to the beach for some work on tracking.

I will admit that I was very excited about this class.  I have been creeping forward in developing this particular talent.  And, the beach is an incredible place for working on tracks.  We started by talking about the ways animals move and trying to imitate them.  So, as rabbits, we bounded over the sand.  As cats, we stalked across the sand.  And, as raccoons, we waddled forward leaving behind our tracks.  I became apparent to me that I had obviously been trying to learn this the wrong way previously.  I had been trying to learn it from Tom Brown's Field Guide To Nature Observation and Tracking, a very well written and enlightening book, which I highly recommend spending some time with.  Sometimes you have to act and move to really learn something.  The play brought home the essence of each animal and its tracks.

The kids, being kids at the beach, had a really difficult time concentrating on the lessons at hand.  So, we played a game ... otter tag.  We divided into two teams, each wit a "head" and a "tail".  All other team members followed the head linked together.  The object was to get the other otter's tail, a bandanna placed into the last person's pocket. 

After a few rounds, we got back to "work".  We played a game called track the porcupine.  As coyotes, we were really hungry and needed to track and find the porcupine, a log with nails sticking out of it that was dragged around the beach and hidden.  This was better received as we had to bay our way running down dinner.

Afterwards, we played a few other awareness games ... Bat and Moth, a nature based version of Marco Polo played in a circle in the sand, and Mother Moose, a sort of inverted Monkey in the Middle game where the group tried to steal the baby moose from the guardian mother moose (anyone tagged forces the group players to move out of the circle and begin again).

Then, we went on a bird hunt.  We all stalked, fox walked, very quietly to see if we could find birds in the bushes.  There were tracks everywhere, but no birds.  Perhaps, we were not so quiet when we were 10 feet away before we started to "hunt".  We hunted for quite a while, but eventually the kids gave up.  In stead we worked on baiting the birds.  We sat quietly and tossed bread to the seagulls to see how close we could entice them to come.  When the bread was gone, we all got up and chased the birds, some of who were clever enough to skirt us and get the remaining bread crumbs.

Finally, we ended with story telling.  Each kid told a story about the piece of treasure he/she had gathered on the beach.  I had a story in mind, but was not prepared to tell it.  I have been researching Algonquin legends with the intent of telling them to my kids by the fire side.

It was a fantastic time.  I was able, in spite of last minute work pressure, to relax and enjoy the opportunity.  My MooseBoots path, as I have said, has become clearer and attendance at these classes with Wendy and the girls is far more important to my future than work is.  I did return to work afterwards to finish anything that needed finishing.  I do not know exactly what the future holds, but whatever it is it will certainly be on my terms.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 2

My MooseBoots path, indeed my life, has been moving at an incredibly frantic pace, both professionally and personally.  The good news is that I have re-adjusted my priorities and feel good about the path I am on.  I do not know where it leads, but it feels right.  My newly adopted priorities are family first and work second.  I have reached a turning point ... I am working toward something new.  I am working to live, instead of living to work.  This has manifested, recently, in my attendance at weekly Nature Adventure classes and monthly Outdoor Skills classes, to the chagrin of my bosses (and perhaps, too, of the recently visiting customer).

So, on a rainy, dreary Wednesday afternoon we gathered.  The group met inside, but all was not lost.  We played a number of awareness building games.  I find, in homeschooling and in life, people learn better through play with no conscious effort toward learning.  At least, my kids and I do.  The first game was for one person to sculpt an animal using imaginary clay and the rest of the group to guess the animal based on the non-verbal clues.  Some rounds, the rules only allowed local species.  Others, kids were allowed global selection.  This game morphed into acting out your chosen animal.

Next, we practiced awareness.  We played a few games.  First, we had people stand in front of the group.  Then, these people left the room and changed a few things ... rolled up sleeves, removed earrings, etc.  Then, the person(people) would return and the group had to observe the differences.  To make the game more difficult, after a bit, we sent multiple people from the room and changed different numbers of things on each.  The culmination of the awareness games was an observation test.  We divided into two groups.  The whole class was shown a number of objects on a bed for 30 seconds.  Then, we, as a group, listed in as much detail as we could all of the things on the bed.

After, we were divided into three groups.  Each group was given a skull of a local animal.  The object was to study it and determine its species.  We payed attention to the aural cavities, the nasal cavities, and the eye sockets to identify them.  Then, the groups all gathered and each acted out its animal.  I was impressed with Big, Little Sister, who immediately knew that our skull was a Red Fox (not to be confused with Redd Foxx, whose skull is shaped very differently).  I'll leave the other two for you to identify below.  I guess Wendy was right ... I should have brought my possum skull.

The finale of the class, was a bowdrill demonstration.  Now, I thought Wendy was the only one who would not complain too much about the smoke of using one of these indoors (I have done it once), but ....  Mike lit a fire in the house using the bowdrill.

Overall, the class was amazing, in spite of the rain.  It is such a treat to take time to do and learn things that are so beyond that which most people even think to wonder.  My MooseBoots journey has certainly been enriched by the opportunities that have been presented, and by the fact that I have dared to take them.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 1

As you have been follow my MooseBoots wandering, you may have noticed a propensity toward living more closely with Nature.  You know that we take a class once a month to learn skills that allow us to live WITH, not ON, the Earth.  So, it should be no surprise that when the opportunity arose to participate in a new weekly class, we jumped.

This week was the first week of our Nature Adventure class.  The class was created as a means of getting homeschoolers some socialization by a woman who had trained with Tom Brown.  You may have heard of his book, Tom Brown's Field Guide to Living with the Earth, which is a precious book for me.  When she published the class, the response was overwhelming and two classes were created.  She also enlisted the aid of Mike, an instructor at the Maine Primitive Skills School, to help teach these larger than expected classes.

The pace of this class is much different than that of our monthly class.  The kids were engaged and we moved from topic to topic as seemingly the ideal time to keep interest.  We started with a name game to get everyone comfortable with all of the other people in the class.  Luckily, we were fortunate enough to know almost half of the people fairly well anyway ... no discomfort from us (of course, my girls aren't really shy and make friends readily).  Afterwards, we discussed our senses and how to use them differently -  we talked about soft eyes and deer ear.  We also talked about how to move in Nature (foxwalk and heron stalking).  Then, we played a game to practice each of these things.

First, we played a game to practice foxwalking.  Three kids sat in the middle of a circle blindfolded.  The rest of the group was to walk toward the center, retrieve and item and walk back with their item.  The kids in the middle would yell freeze and point when they heard someone/something.  The person who made the noise was "out".  The kids were really engaged and so, we played two rounds.

Then, we played "bluejay, monarch, and viceroy."  In the game, a person is selected to be the bluejay and is removed from the circle.  Then, a monarch is selected.  The monarch is the "leader" and all of the "viceroys" must mimic the monarch.  Then, the bluejay is brought back and must identify the "monarch".  The game was to help with soft eyes, seeing using wide angle vision instead of looking directly at something.  I found it incredibly difficult to do with my own arms moving in front of my sight.

Next, each kid was blindfolded and told to sit until he could feel his own heartbeat.  Then, he was guided to a string course.  The blindfolded child then needed to follow the string, using touch and hearing.  It was a great exercise for the kids.

The final game was to "find your tree."  Wendy and I partnered for this.  Your partner is blindfolded and then you guide you partner, via a circuitous path, to a tree.  Your partner then feels, smells, tastes, and hears everything she can about the tree/location and is then led away.  The exercise is for you partner to then find her tree.  I tried to cheat  make the game more challenging by removing any of the other sticks laying around the tree that Wendy might use to identify her tree (after she had felt them there).  She did find her tree without difficulty (in spite of the fact that when she said it was her tree I said, "no").  I was able to find mine (and identify the type blindfolded) without any trouble as well.  It was fun.

The final exercise in the woods was to gather wood to make a fire.  My girls, and several other kids who had built fires previously) went about gathering dry wood and bark.  Many simply picked up wet wood from the ground.  The ultimate goal was to build a fire, using one match, to burn a string tied horizontally across a fire pit.

During the walk back to the fire pit, we stopped and learned about Sarsasparilla.  I have seen this plant millions of time and never knew what it was.  Of course, it is commonly thought of as Poison Ivy, which it is not.  Then, back at the fire pit, the kids were told to build the fire while Mike got his matches.  The fire was built and a match lighter was selected.  After three attempts, another fire lighter, Little Fire Faery, was selected.  She, in spite of the the other kids badgering her to light the "dry" leaves, lit the birch bark, because she knows that birch bark will burn even if it is just pulled from a stream.  She was successful with her first match ... of course, we have the kids take turns building fires in our fire pit.  She was calm and in spite of peer pressure did what she knew to be right.  I am so proud.

Afterwards, we talked for a bit.  It was amazing to find that I shared similar experiences with several of the other adults (professional training - accounting, engineering, etc., but a desire/need to reconnect).  Mike for instance graduated from college with a degree in accounting and realized that that was not for him (he, as I said, is an instructor teaching wilderness skills).

This MooseBoots journey required me to participate in this class as well.  There is currently no plan to continue beyond 7 weeks, but ....  At this point, I expect to get some flack from work about missed time, but I have also decided that they need me more than I need them and they are welcome to send me packing.  This path requires nothing less than commitment and dedication.  I am coming to a crossroads and the outcome of the decision, when it needs to be made, is already clear.  I am simply waiting to see what is along the rest of the path, which is not so clear.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Outdoor Skills Class - September 2010

Throughout my absurdly frantic work days, I feel the longing to be out in Nature.  To be part of the rhythm of the universe, not our man-made bastardized version of reality, but to really be a part of the natural world.  That is, after all, what this MooseBoots journey is all about.  This is about my growing awareness and longing to be, not what we have been told we must be but, part of the Universe or, if you prefer, Everything.  It is the reason we started with our monthly outdoors skills class.

This month, the class took a new tactic for learning.  We had multiple tasks that need to get accomplished - cut vegetables, getting cooking water, building a fire, gathering firewood, and finish the woodshed.  The overall common thread was for the kids to cook soup for lunch and to serve the adults.  Adults were not supposed to interfere ... just assist only as needed.

The kids did a great job preparing the soup.  It was a delicious vegetable soup made from things that each family brought.  The adults sat in the wigwam while the kids filled bowls and handed them out.  Several people, Wendy included, thought to bring bread, too.  It was so good to be in the woods for that short time and the weather cooperated nicely.

After lunch, the kids played a game for a bit.  Then, we were shown how to sharpen a knife.  This served a a stark lesson for me.  I had read about sharpening a knife, but had not tried it.  During the class, we simply followed the steps I already knew, but had not tried.  The reminder it that you can read, but that does not give you any experience.  Big, Little Sister and I took advantage of the opportunity to try a new skill.

Knowledge gained, but not used, is useless.  The cosmic slap was a bit of a wake-up call to not sit still ... learn something, try it, own it.  It is always easier to have someone show you how to do something, but my path requires something faster, and frankly a bit less costly.  While I am often frustrated by the languorous pace of this MooseBoots path, I need to bear in mind that it is in my power to speed it or simply savor the delicious new things that come my way.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Queen Is Dead ... Long Live The Queen

If you have been following along on my MooseBoots journey, you know that many of my learning experiences begin with failure.  (If you have not been reading along, we'll wait while you catch up.)  These failures, life's little unexpected twists, provide much more fertile soil for growing wisdom and learning, as frustrating as they are.

You also know that this was my first year with bees.  And while I have read a few books and spoken with a few people, I still rely on my instinct, intuition, and observation to help me along.  Since early on, I knew there was a problem, but ....  Then, I re-queened, but ... the hive is clearly dead.

I checked in recently and found a vast wasteland.  Dead bees litter the floor of the hive.  The honey stores are gone.  There are no eggs or larva.  Only a few dozen bees remain.  I do not know what went wrong, or when.  Obviously, I re-queened too late for any effect.

All that remains is to clean it up and try again next year.  My MooseBoots path will continue.  I will learn what I can from this and move on.  I am sorry, Bees, I have failed you.  Please, offer me guidance and insight so that I can work with you next year with more beneficial results for us all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Black Cherry Jelly

I have been making a conscious effort to note the season ... when are the different berries ripening, what is blooming, what could I forage today.  This path, my MooseBoots journey, includes many indigenous skills such as tanning, hunting, and foraging.  I have been waiting patiently for the Black Cherries in the back yard to ripen.

Now, our Black Cherry tree does not produce delicious cherries that can be enjoyed right off of the tree.  Ours are a bit bitter.  So, this year, I thought I would try making Black Cherry jelly.  Nobody in the house was much interested, but ....

I carefully harvested cherries.  OK, I used the roof rake to knock them out of the tree into a sheet of plastic.  I only sustained a minor scratch in the process.  Still no interest ... who will help me harvest the Black Cherries?

 I brought them into the house and washed them.  Nope, no interest ... who will help we wash the cherries?

I painstakingly crushed them to extract the juice.  Now ... no interest ... who will help we crush the cherries?

I poured the juice through cheesecloth to separate out the chunks and into the pan to boil.  Anyone ... nope ...who will help we boil the cherries?  I added some sugar and let it boil down, until it was just right and then poured it into a jelly jar.

I sat in the refrigerator for a few days setting up.  Then, I put some of the thick jelly on a bagel.  It looked so good ... my mouth watered.  Who will help me eat this Black Cherry jelly?  One bite .... YUCK!  It is still bitter.  Of course, my philosophy is, and has been, that when you make something or take its life, you must eat it.  So, I finished the bagel.

I am pretty sure that there will not be anyone accompanying me on this particular leg of my MooseBoots path.  Maybe I need to spend a bit more time in Nature's Garden and see what Sam has to say.  I may just end up leaving the cherries for the birds, who seem to really enjoy them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Queen Me

5My MooseBoots path sometimes takes unexpected turns for the worst.  As excited as I am about the bees, they are not doing well.  It was able to figure out that my hive had gone queen-less.  I don't know how it happened, it just did.  Of course, the real red flag was a dramatic drop in the number of bees.

So, I called around and found an apiary that had one last queen.  I promptly picked her up and installed the cage in the hive.  This all happened about 3 weeks ago.  I am waiting to see if the hive will recover.  I look in the window everyday.  I am really nervous how few bees there are.  Perhaps, I re-queened too late.  We will see.  Of course, if the hive does not survive this year, I will try again next ... I am still on the waiting list for New England raised bees.

These type of set-backs only reinforces that I have much to learn.  Really, is that not what life is all about?  My MooseBoots path continues....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What A Fun-Gi!

My journey, my MooseBoots path has provided a new lesson today.  It is about patience and letting nature run its course.  Lately, the lessons are about life and death.  What more is there when it comes to important stuff?  No, kids, your cell phones, facebook, clothing, hairdos, and favorite celebrities are not really important in the big scheme of things.  We have mushrooms!

Wayyyy back in June 2009, we inoculated several oak logs with shiitake mushroom spore.  Today, this is what we saw.

The funny thing is that I had given up on them.  I planned to cut the logs up this fall to burn.  Just in a nick of time ... poof ... mushrooms.  Perhaps, Gramzilla came by to offer some assistance in her new form.  (If so, could you please help the bees, too.  Thanks, Gramzilla.)  Being a newbie, however, I do not know the proper time, or method, to pick them.  So, any of you more experienced people, feel free to chime in.  I am thinking that I would also like to learn how to collect spore to seed new logs for future years.  Feel free to share if you have done that before, too.

So, this week, the universe has taught me a little about growth and a bit about dying.  Really, are they not a part of the whole process that we call life.  My MooseBoots journey has benefited, by having opportunities for personal development, by both events.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Farewell - Gramzilla

This path, my MooseBoots journey, provides flashes of the future, hints of what is to come.  Of course, there is no explanation ... hint ... flash ... opportunity ... hint.  It is fairly widely known that I am not completely satisfied in my current position at my current employer.  Perhaps, a new path is emerging ... there have been several coincidences in the last few days.

Let's begin at the start.  My Grandmother has not been well for some time.  She has been bed ridden on and off for months.  She has been in and out of the hospital several times.  She has had numerous surgeries to correct back, hip, and knee issues that prevented her from really living.  Five days ago, she was transported from the hospital, after and extended stay at a rehabilitation hospital and an emergency room, to a hospice facility to receive end-of-life care.

During this time, she had expressed frustration about how long the process was taking.  She had decided that her time was up and that she was ready to die.  I have been a casual bystander for the most part; I played the role of the objective voice of reason for my Mom, Gar.  She relied on me to provide insight into situations without the confusion and fog of family dysfunctions and bickering.  In spite of the fact that I am not completely convinced, she insists that I have been very helpful.  I was also called up to journey to her and try to assess what was holding her back.  I did and relayed the information, which was purportedly helpful.  Then (hint), Gar commented that there may be a place for me in this type of work.

Wendy, the girls, and I went and visited on Saturday after playing a little at a local water park (end of summer deal).  Gramzilla was pretty wiped out, but woke briefly and acknowledged that we were there.  The mood was somber, but this had not really changed much over the last few days.  We stayed for a couple of hours and left.

Sunday, after Wendy's drop off, we stopped in for a quick visit.  One of our neighbors has also not been doing well and we suspected that he was in hospice care too.  I asked and confirmed that he was there; of course, we ran into his wife at the same time.  Wendy spent a while talking with his wife and daughters.  The had been no significant progress with Gramzilla although her pulse had weakened and her breathing had slowed.  So, we left after a bit, offering any assistance we could give to the neighbors.  Wendy also invited one of the daughters over with her child to see our animals. 

The call came in on Monday morning at about 1:45.  Her breathing had changed and she didn't have long.  Now, I didn't get the message until about 6:15, or so, and I had to take chickens in to the butcher.  I texted Gar to let her know.  Then, I rushed about feeding animals, showering, loading chickens with Wendy's help, and left.  I arrived at 7:50.  Gramzilla was certainly different ... gasping, gurgling breathe significant in the last days of life.  Gar began weeping when I walked in the room.  Apparently, she needed a release and support that she was not necessarily getting without Wendy or me present.

The family had gathered and were very somber.  The room was tense with everyone hanging on each gasp ... would there be another?  After a bit, my aunt wanted some music.  She wanted to play some of Gramzilla's favorites ... starting with Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.  I started pandora and typed in the song.  Perhaps I started the whole ball rolling, but ....  I do not believe that this was a sad, somber occasion.  This woman has been struggling with pain and depression for a while.  This should be a celebration of her ability to overcome life's adversities and move on into a new beginning.  Soon, family members were singing along with the songs and telling stories of Gramzilla's life.  There was laughing and joy by the side of her deathbed.  Some family members, including Gar to my surprise, could not condone this and a couple left the room.  Gar did not leave, but I could read the annoyance on her face.  She is an ordained interfaith minister and had dealt extensively with abuse victims and many social services incidents.  I leaned close and spoke softly ... this is their way of dealing with this and it is bringing out stories of Gramzilla.  Who am I to say this?  I have no training, but intuitively (hint) I knew what to say to her to show the need.  It did wonders to relieve the stress in the room and clear the air.

I left to go to the bathroom.  As I walked back down the hall, my neighbors daughter approached ... distraught ... her dad had passed.  Wendy and I have never been terribly close to these people, but we knew them.  She looked to me (flash) for consolation.  I hugged her and assured her that he was in a better place with no pain or suffering.  Then, she floored me with, "my mom would love to see you."  Who am I?  What do I have to offer other than an ear and a sympathetic heart?  She pointed the way down the hall (next door to my grandmother) and walked away.  I hesitantly walked into the room unsure of what to say or do.  I first ran into another of the three daughters and offered her my condolences, a hug, and murmured some reassurance that he would not suffer any more (he was diagnosed recently with painful, uncomfortable cirrhosis of the liver, but he did not drink).  I then approached the new widow.  I guess you don't need to do or say anything in particular; she told me what she needed.  She needed someone to re-assure her that he was better now and that things would be all right.  She just needed someone to listen, to look and see what had happened to her husband, to say that he was a good man, to hug her while she cried at her obviously painful loss (they had been married for 44 years).  I offered any assistance they might need from us and left.

I am an engineer, not a social worker, clergyman, or physician.  I am an apprentice studying Shamanism.  Regardless, I returned to much the same scene I had arrived at in my grandmother's room in the morning.  I called Wendy to relay the message about the neighbor to the other neighbors who had asked.  She offered to bring lunch for everyone.  After a bit, she arrived and everyone enjoyed the delicious food she brought.  Nothing much had changed ... maybe the breathing was bit slower.  She left, the girls were staying, and I walked her out.  When I returned not 5 minutes later, everything had changed.  The gasps were gone and the breathing had changed to very shallow attempts to breathe.  Within 2 minutes, she was gone.  Gramzilla had passed over.  She had completed the transition from this plane of existence to the next. 

The girls were brave and had witnessed the final minutes.  The Precious and Little Fire Faerie drew some pictures and placed them on her chest.  Big Little Sister needed something from home to complete her drawing.  We will be sure to pass it on to be with Gramzilla.

The last few days have been long.  I have seen flashes of were this MooseBoots journey is taking me, but the picture is far from complete.  I have learned of talents I never knew I possessed.  I had used them to offer comfort and insight.  Gar told me later that I had been very helpful to her ... I was only doing what came naturally and intuitively.  I have much to learn, but the last few months, with Tammy's passing and now Gramzilla's, have shown me that the application is far more valuable that the conscious recognition of the knowledge.

Rest in Peace, Gramzilla.  Thank you for helping to shape who I am.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Uses For Oil Lamps

One of the recurring themes on this MooseBoots journey, my path to a hand-made pair of moccasins made from hand-tanned leather, is to live in the moment, to take the opportunity to really savor life's flavor.  I find,as an adult, that I need constant reminders and, even still, significant effort from time to time.  Kids, particularly my kids, seems to get it, however.  In the hopes that we can give them a life where they do not lose that precious belief and attitude, we homeschool.  Wendy is also other valuable source of encouragement and inspiration.  Anyway....

A few weeks ago, the power went out.  It was nearing dusk and so, we lit some candles and, of course, my olive oil lamp.  Mind you ... the power went out, let's just say at 19:15 for convenience.  By 19:16, Wendy and the girls had the marshmallows out, accompanied by Hershey's chocolate bars and graham crackers ... s'mores in the making.  And, who needs sticks ... fondue sticks work very well.  Oh, the power was back on within 10 minutes, but the sheer momentum of s'more build kept the lamp lit far beyond any requirement for light.

As much as I learn from books and watching videos on Youtube, it can not compare with the intuitive knowledge and teaching that comes from our own wife and children.  Not only My MooseBoots path, but my life, is enriched, more than words can say, by these wonderful, creative, beautiful people. 

Thank you, guys!

P.S.  It turns out that the power outage is not a necessary component.  Several days later ... they just wanted s'mores so the lamps was lit again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Outdoor Skills Class - August 2010

Consistency is lacking in my MooseBoots journey.  Repetition creates habits that we live instinctively.  One of the planned activities that goes a long way keeping my sanity intact is our monthly outdoor skills class.

The class, which is designed for the kids, tends to meander along ... no rush and frantic flurry of activity.  Our teachers do not bite off more than the kids can chew, as frustrating as that can be for some of us adults.  This month was no different.  I'll preface this all with the fact that we missed the first half of the class ... schedule conflict.

This month we started working on a wood shed for our semi-permanent camp site.  The construction started similarly to the wigwam ... pounding upright posts into the ground.  These had been de-barked and sharpened to a point and had a crotch about four feet up the length.  The back uprights were not pounded into the ground, but pushed in and leaned against a couple of trees.  Cross beams were added and then a few rafter logs.

The highlight, for me, was going out and searching for bark, birch and pine, from fallen trees for the roof covering.  I find it calming to be in the woods, opening my senses and really searching.  Perhaps, it is the forest bathing effect.  I, personally, can not get enough time in the woods.

While we may not have added a really cool new skill, and we may not have created something really beautiful and useful, I must say that my MooseBoots path benefited from simply being in those lovely moments.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Black Nightshade, Bunchberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries

My efforts toward progress on my journey, my quest for the skills, wisdom, and knowledge to make a pair of MooseBoots, has been very sporadic lately.  Things get busy, frantic even.  They don't ever seem to stop, but, in the few minutes pause afforded, there seems to be some time, not enough, just some.

I went hunting for the seemingly elusive wild Maine blueberry.  They were well hidden and difficult to find.  Maybe, this is because the girls were along and enjoying the day.  Perhaps, there has been a lot of pressure and they've simply going into hiding.  Regardless, the blueberry patch we hunt supported only a meager few small berries.  We searched around the area, but only came up with a handful for our trouble.  During the search, we did find this.

This is a bunchberry.  Bunchberry, the world.  I had never taken the time to really see this plant before.  I knew in an instant that it was bunchberry.   Of course, I left it and returned to the house to consult with Nature's Garden to ensure that my intuition was correct.  Perhaps, I should consider carrying this with me on my adventures ... hmmmm.  Anyway ... I went back and picked a single berry to sample.  Thayer suggests that the berries are bland, but I found that, after eating partridge berries when I find them (kind of a bond with the land thing for me), they had a pleasant, mildly sweet flavour.  This is certainly a plant worth knowing, but I won't count on it for more than a bit of a snack or to bond with a place.

We decided to avail ourselves of a nearby pick-your-own farm for the blueberries.  I'll admit it was much quicker picking 4 pounds of berries on lovely high-bush plants bursting with fruit.  The part that bothers me is that we had to pay for them.  Can you still consider it foraging if money changes hands, even if it is a reasonable sum?

My inner hunter gatherer was not satisfied with this effort and demanded more.  So, when we returned home, we all walked on the nearby portion of the Eastern Trail.  I have been foraging snacks at work, after having watched the blackberry bushes for months in eager anticipation.  I knew that the blackberries should be ready.  The bramble were not at full peak yet, but there were plenty of berries for the picking.  After a pleasant, sunny time, we returned home and weigh our haul ... 3.5 pounds.  The intent is now, during the peak, to return and pick more.  All of the berries that were not immediately eating have been washed and frozen for the winter.

Not to be shown up, our own lovely homestead still provides plenty of surprises.  We compost, rather lazily, but we do.  Our compost pile tends to provide more than just fill for any of the various beds, pots, or otherwise.  It also provides us with plants ... some we know because we cultivated them previously, some we do not, perhaps they are native to our area and appreciate the rich, healthy, fertile medium.  Wendy was weeding her garden and pulled up this plant. 

She asked me if I knew what it was. 
"No."  Upon close inspection, I added, " that little green berry, and the way the leaves attach to it looks like a tiny tomato."
"It is not a tomato."  Pause.  "Maybe," she added, "it is a member of the nightshade family."
Clickety click, click, click ... searching ... "Hmmm, how about black nightshade?"  Flip, flip, flip ... reading (Nature's Garden) ... "Hey, that's edible!"  How's that for teamwork?

Patiently, I waited for the berries to ripen.  I picked one, after confirming that it was indeed black nightshade and not one of the other nightshade family members, and popped it in my mouth.  Ewww, not what I expected ... it tastes like tomato and is not sweet like other berries.  Tomatoes, in case you couldn't guess, are not my favorite fruits.  Musing, gears whirling, I wonder if you could make a tomato-like sauce for pasta with those?

This MooseBoots path, in spite of life's twist and turns, is simply amazing.  It still surprises me how often my intuition is correct and how much I already know.  Of course, there is always more to learn ... I think it is a testament to one's wisdom when this realization comes to light.  Of course, while picking blackberries from the bushes at work the other day, I became aware of some other berries that need identification.  See, more to learn and experience.