Saturday, December 1, 2012

Awareness Building Article

This post is part of a series that will be re-posted (or linked) on the New Society Publishers blog.  I will be linking article by other authors here, too.

So, you've finally been convinced that you need to prepare. What was it that finally tipped the scale for you? Was it the fast approaching end of the Mayan calendar, the possibility that something may actually happen in the very near future? Was it, as many believe, the re-election of President Obama in the US for another 4 year term? Was it the untimely demise of the mystical and ubiquitous Twinkie? I suppose that none of this really matters, because you are here looking for help. You've certainly come to the right place. I am full of it … advice that is.

Everyone seems to have an opinion as to what is of primary importance. For some, guns fill the top slot. Weapons provide the ability to defend what you've got or, for the less scrupulous among us, to take what someone else has that we want. Others believe some secret hide-away in the great north woods is the first stop to preparing for the future. This would provide a retreat from the raging hoards, who are also trying to eke out an existence. Whatever it is, this group of people tends to believe that preparing is equivalent to purchasing things to survive the coming cataclysm. The idea is that enough stuff can be stored to get through some undetermined length of time. I like to lump all of these people together as the “hoarders”. They will certainly be prepared for the short term. But, what will happen to them after they run out of the things they've stored? Will they be prepared for the longer term, future possibilities?

There are also those who start with gathering knowledge. This knowledge can manifest in the form of gathering books, attending workshops, or in building hands-on skills that may be necessary for the future. There is certainly wisdom in this approach. Given enough knowledge coupled with practical, hands-on experience, one can build shelters, make fires, gather food, and such. I call this the camp of “know-it-alls”. They believe their knowledge will sustain them through the darkness ahead. Of course, the difficulty is learning while simultaneously building enough hands-on experience to be able the skills, should the need arise. This can be tough if one is trying to hold down a job requiring 40 hours a week while also preparing for “The End Of The World As We Know It” (TEOTWAWKI).

Each of these mindsets has its merits. I certainly have stored some things to help with the future. I have also sought out the skills to help me through times where I may not have access to the services we enjoy today. These include skills that I feel could be needed for my future physical and mental well-being. In my mind, neither approach is wrong, but each on its own is incomplete. Together, they offer a more complete solution, but this is still not the whole package. The missing component is having, developing, simple awareness.

Your teachers in school probably told you a thousand times over your life, and now I am telling you again, to pay attention. Stop and smell the roses. Take your time and enjoy the scenery. Slow down. What they didn't tell you is that this is the key to a happy, healthy life.

Even as I write this, I can feel the collective gasp of surprise, the feeling that, perhaps, you've wasted a few moments of your precious preparation time by reading this. If you would indulge me for a moment more I will try to explain how this is applicable to you and the importance of it all. Of course, in this type of situation the logical reaction is fear-driven, panic based action, which is the worst reaction. So, I understand if you stop here. If you are still reading, breathe easy.

We too have fallen prey to the fear, in the past. Back in December 1999, in the middle of the Y2K panic, we started to stockpile Taco Bell salsa packets. In fact, we had a whole grocery bag full. In the worst case, we could have had salsa soup if something really happened. Our hoarding was somewhat in jest, because we didn't really expect anything to change. At the same time, there was real fear. What if things did get bad? Over the ensuing years, we have stocked up on things to help us prepare in the event that TSHTF.

For many years, I was interested in wilderness survival skills. I purchased every book and watched every movie I could find on the subject. I read books by Ray Mears and Tom Brown Jr., the US Army Survival Manual (FM 21-76), and more. As time moved on, I also added an interest in foraging and medicinal plants. I started gathering, and referring to, books, like “The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants” and “The Forager's Harvest”, both of which are excellent references. This put me squarely with the “hoarders”. Ironically, at least to me now, I had never applied these skills. I thought that since I had the books, and so I possessed the knowledge. Perhaps in some strange, twisted way I did, but I believe now that I was WRONG!

Over the last few years, I have taken the opportunity gain some hands-on experience with some of these survival skills. My family and I have taken classes on fire building. We've built shelters, including wigwams and debris huts. We learned to make cordage and birch bark baskets. So, we began to move into the “know-it-all” camp, too. We naively thought that we were now prepared. WRONG AGAIN!

We were missing what I now believe was the final piece of the puzzle, awareness. The simple ability to be in a situation or place and be able to see things for what they really are, to feel the natural rhythms and cycles, to be able to anticipate when and where things will occur. Awareness, in my mind, is a deep rooted understanding the natural world, of human behavior, of yourself. Skills and tools are wonderful, but without awareness neither can be terribly effective. For instance, reading about edible plants in “The Forager's Harvest” is a start, but without the experience of actually finding and harvesting a plant, you may find yourself a bit stumped if you ever need to find that specific plant. It does no good to know that elderberries are edible if you don't know where, or if, it grows near you, or what it looks like before the berries form, or when the berries will form this year based on this year's weather pattern. Reading about a plant does not adequately prepare you in the event that you actually need to find it for food. Enter … awareness.

Luckily, building awareness is very simple. Pay attention to what is going on around you. Take your time to notice things, even if they seem trivial now. What you observe now may be valuable in the future. Keep a record of what you see and when it happens. Remember that you are seeking to develop a feel for what, when, or where something might happen. In nature, things are cyclic and one can often make predictions based on something that is currently happening. For instance, I have observed that when the sap in the maple tree starts flowing there are tiny little buds on the tree and the stems on my Red Maples turn red. These things are easily missed, but if you pay attention you can see them change over the course of a few days. These things indicate to me that it is time to tap the trees. This awareness had me tapping very early (January) last year whereas conventional wisdom dictates that trees in my area should be tapped near the end of February or the beginning of March. I also felt like the season was going to be short, based on the weather we had experienced over the winter. Again, I was correct. The season was over in 3 weeks. In spite of the “bad” season, I was able to collect enough sap to make 3 gallons of syrup. This is the gut feel that one must develop.

There are, however, many traps to developing awareness. These may trick you into thinking you have achieved a high level of awareness. There are always more pieces of the puzzle to fit together. The traps can be so subtle that you might not notice that you have fallen for one. Here are some of the traps for which I have fallen. I am sure there are many more.
  • I have been so focused on one thing that I have overlooked everything else. I can not tell you how many times I have gone into the woods to gather stinging nettle only to completely miss the mushrooms growing along the path, or some such.
  • I have gone places where I thought I knew well only to find that there are other plants there that I may or may not know. There is a blueberry field where I have been many times over the last 10 years. Last year, for the first, I noticed that there are wintergreen plants growing under the blueberries.
  • I have gathered information and believed that I had acquired the skill. I have read about using acorns. I have even attended a demonstration of the steps to making acorn flour. After actually processing the acorns this year, for the first time, I realized that I knew nothing.
  • I have read about plants and thought I knew where to find them or how to use them. But I could not, until this year, find Hen Of The Woods Mushrooms or Chanterelles.

In retrospect, the missing pieces of awareness are easy to see. The key is that one must simply be willing to be open to the experiences and to seek out all of the pieces of the puzzle. There is also some level of awareness in recognizing what one may need and what will be available in the future.

Building awareness, of any kind, is fairly simple to do as long as you don't fall victim to the traps along the way. Keep an open mind. Proceed slowly and deliberately. Don't ever believe that you know it all, because the Universe always seems to find a way to prove you wrong. And, be grateful for the things you find and learn. You'll be surprised by how much there is to learn, see, and experience.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Acorn Pie

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the US.  I have so much to be thankful for.  I have an incredible family.  I am healthy.  And, the Universe is very generous with wisdom, lessons, opportunities and gifts.  We spent the day at home working and playing together.  It was truly a rare event in our busy lives.

I woke at about the same time as usual thinking about pie, acorn pie.  I love pecan pie.  However, I wanted to make a pie with something I could grow or forage near my house.  I thought that surely there must be a recipe online for acorn pie.  I did not find one, but thought that I could modify a classic pecan pie recipe (thank you, Molly Watson).  I would substitute acorns for pecans and honey for corn syrup.

I had the honey in the cabinet.  It was the honey I harvested from my hive this spring.  But, the acorns ... well, I didn't have any.  So at 0830 or so, I went outside to take care of the animals.  Afterwards, I walked up the road to see if I could find any.  There were a few that I gathered, but there were not enough lying out in the open.  I decided to try and kick the wet leaves around to see if there were acorns hiding beneath, kind of like a turkey would do.  I found very quickly that the hidden acorns were easily found.  Within 30 minutes, I had gathered 3 pounds of raw acorns.

I brought the acorns into the house, gathered supplies to shell them, and set about the task.  I settles upon cutting each in half and then in half again, effectively quartering them.  The meat could then be removed fairly easily.  Of course, it took 2 hours to shell all of the acorns.  All in all, I only found about 1 dozen that were bad and needed to be thrown out.  The rest ended up in the bowl for further processing.

The acorns were then boiled in about 12 changes of water to leach out the tannins that make them bitter.  This took a considerable amount of time.  We would sample a nut every couple of water changes to check if they were ready.  It was not difficult and did not require full attention, just periodic intervention.  Finally, at 16:30 they were ready to go into a pie.

Wendy made a crust for me with lard she had rendered from the cow share we purchased.  I whipped up the filling.  Finally, it went into the oven for 40 minutes.  When it came out, it looked exactly like a pecan pie. I set it aside to cool, while we cleaned up from all of the other cooking.

After it had cooled, we sampled it.  It is good, but does not taste like pecan pie.  The acorns still had a hint of bitterness.  And, the honey we harvested has a strong flavor and aroma.  Overall, I am pleased with the outcome and will enjoy it until it is gone.  I took a lot of effort to make, but was the perfect accompaniment to our wild turkey, home-grown squash, home-grown jerusalem artichoke in "Jerusalem Artichoke Quick Bread", home-grown and hand-ground indian corn in "Indian Corn Pudding", locally grown mashed potatoes, and locally grown cranberry sauce.

My MooseBoots journey has again proved satisfying on a very deep and personal level.  Many people would have opted out of making the pie because of the effort involved, but I really wanted to make this pie.  I succeeded and learned a whole lot along the way about acorns, turkey behavior, and acorn processing.  For me, it was akin to 8 hours of meditation.  I am grateful for this opportunity and for the ability to share it with all of you.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

At The Orchestra

We are at the Portsmouth Music Hall to see the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra with our music teacher, the incredible Andy Happel, soloing the Fiddle Concerto by Mark O'Connor. Thus far it has been amazing!

Friday, November 2, 2012


Terrified, Precious woke me this morning at 03:00.  She had had a bad dream.  It was one of those where zombies are chasing you and your friends, attacking when least expected.  She was shaking, and quietly sobbed, while describing her friends being killed one by one.

I had her tell me her dream.  Actually, I had her speak her dream, all of it, into my hands.  When she was finished, I closed my hands around it and asked that the dream be changed into mere Scrabble tiles.  I asked Precious to help me with this.  When we were both satisfied, I shook my closed hands as you would when rolling dice.  She helped after a moment.  Her dreams were now nothing more than a random pile of letters held in the palms of my hands.

Perhaps that would have been adequate, but I wanted to replace the fear and panic in her heart with something positive.  I remembered, even at such an early hour, that Precious is participating, along with Wendy and her other students, in the National Novel Writer's Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge.  I asked that the jumble of letters in my hand be transformed into words for her story.  I asked that they help her achieve her writing goal and that they be useful nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives for the creation of her story..  Then, I simply blew all of these lovely words back into her head through her crown chakra.

I thought about this for a while, as I lay listening to her breath slow into a steady cadence while she drifted back to sleep.  I felt good about this work and began to think about the deeper implications.  For me, it helped re-affirm that our words, our actions, can be used to create physical change and to heal.  Speaking in itself is a physical action - our breath leaves in specific vibratory patterns which in turn move the eardrums of our listener, who hears what we say.  In this instance, however, I was able to bring about a chemical change in her tiny quivering body.  Her adrenaline levels dropped, she calmed, as we worked together to switch off her "fight or flight" instinctual reaction.

I continued to ponder, as I slowly drifted off, the impacts of our words.  Our words can soothe, heal, and teach.  They can be used to promote healing and growth all around us, and beyond.  I think of it in terms of  paying it forward ... you help someone, who in turn appreciates it and helps someone else, and so on.  Of course, the problem is that words can be used quite destructively, as well, to belittle, injure, and spread rumors, lies and discontent.  I guess it all boils down to one thing ... your intent.

Personally, I chose to be positive, an instrument of healing and assistance on every level possible, from personal to universal.  Overall, because I do slip every now and then, my intent is to be an conduit of healing, harmony, and joy.  I am fairly certain that this is one of the fundamental purposes for this MooseBoots journey - not just to learn, but to learn how to live in concert with all of the beings (humans, plants, animals, rocks, etc.) with whom I share this world.

So, today, as your read this and beyond, please consider your words carefully.  But, more importantly, be clear on your own intent.  Remember that what you put out there will be returned to you.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kindred Spirits

I have recently had such an amazing experience on this, my MooseBoots journey.  I consider myself so fortunate to have had the experience and would love to consider this as a part of my future career path, while  concurrently following a path to personal  fulfillment.  Perhaps, they need not be separate paths, but one complete, holistic approach to living a meaningful life.

Months ago, Wendy was invited to attend, and speak at, the recent Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs,  Pennsylvania.  After she submitted her workshop topic (literally, 5 minutes after), she received an e-mail asking if she had an additional topic to present.  She and I like to bounce things off of each other.  So, we chatted for a few brief minutes and came up with an idea of presenting a workshop on Ecological Awareness (more on that later, perhaps another post).  And so, she and I were slated to give a workshop together, in addition to the one she would give twice the same weekend.  Giving the talk was simply incredible and will take more than just a passing moment or two to describe.  I will post the presentation in some form here over the next few weeks.

After our workshop was done for the first day, we wandered through the rest of the fair.  We were delighted to be able to speak with some of the other people there.  For instance, we met Craig Russell, President of the Society For The Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, who is a well spoken, older gentleman.  He spoke with us, at length, about a number of things.  We spoke about chickens, articles he has published, and tapping nut trees, like black walnut.  His depth of knowledge was simply incredible.  I told him that I wished he lived closer to us.  He is on old-timer who has a vast amount of know-how to share, but no one to share it with.

The highlight event, as far as this post is concerned, was that evening when we gathered with the other New Society Publishers authors.  There, we met John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist.  As we spoke with them, we realized that they too homeschool their son, have no television, and are trying to build their skill sets to deal with potential future crises, economic or otherwise.  It is inspiring for me, although we are not on the same level as they, that they are able to support themselves by doing these things while they continue to grow.  It was amusing to note that none of the authors had televisions.  We, the authors, decided that it must be on the questionnaire for New Society Publishers, although the New Society crew, Ingrid and EJ, on hand denied it, in spite of not owning televisions themselves.

The atmosphere, at the fair, was relaxed and happy, with little to no exception.  People were open to, and seeking, new ideas.  They were there to learn from those "of like mind".  We were gathered together in fellowship, communing together, sharing our own stories and experiences.  It helps us to build a sense of community, which helps us all to grow beyond our current state of being.  We, as a society, have, for the most part, lost any meaning to our lives.  Generally, we fill our time with entertaining diversions to sooth our ill-at-ease feelings of being and the meaninglessness of our lives.  These types of events can fill us with a sense of purpose and belonging, meaning for our lives.  There is something about these types of events that are vital for all of us to live to our fullest potentials.  Indigenous cultures, native american or otherwise, understood this and built these cultures around it.  It can be seen in their ceremonies, initiations, or in their simple ever-present  gratitude for the gifts given them by the Earth.

I have found that I am not alone in these feelings.  Some friends from Maine also attended the fair.  I have had some discussions with them and heard that they too felt the sense of belonging and community.  The fair not only provided meaning and purpose, but a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the path they have chosen to follow.

It is my hope that as I continue down this MooseBoots path, learning, growing, and sharing, that this too might become a more complete part of my life, fusing the secular, work a day life with my more fulfilling spiritual, nature based growth.  I would love to give more of these talks and workshops, to share the wisdom I have been fortunate enough to gather.  There is both healing and growth for all of us in both the giving and receiving.  Gathering together in community provides the framework for both healing and personal growth.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Perhaps She Took It To Heart

When the egg production drops off, I remind my laying hens that it's "eggs or legs, ladies.". One of them seems to have taken the prompt a little too seriously. From left to right ... normal chicken egg, duck egg, and ... drum roll ... freakishly, large chicken egg!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bee Home - Cheap Rent

Opportunities come and go.  Some, if we react quickly enough, we can capitalize on and expand our awareness, knowledge, personal growth, or our perception of the abundance of this beautiful planet.  Others, as has recently happened on my MooseBoots meanderings, we miss the fleeting chance.  These are not lost.  Perhaps, they are simply preparing us for the next.

A month or so ago, I posted that a friend had found a swarm and I walked him through collecting it and putting it into a hive.  At that point, I had never actually seen a swarm in real life and I had never built a hive on my own.  Well, the same friend sent me a message a bit over a week ago ... it was a picture of another swarm at his house.  This time, I sprang into action to build a hive.  Maybe, I should have built one sooner, but ....

I have had several old cedar fence sections in the backyard for a couple of years.  They were given to us by someone who had replaced it.  Some of the sections have been made into stages for dancing and such, while others stood by waiting.  These, I decided, would be perfect for making a top bar hive.  I flipped through my copy of The Barefoot Beekeeper to see if there was a build your own hive section.  I then turned to Phil Chandler's website where you may download his top bar hive plans.  The clamps to glue the boards together were my own quick design.

I am not the fastest builder in the world, and it took several days to get the hive to a point where I could put bees into it.  At that point, the bees were already gone and settled into their new home in some other,  undisclosed location.  Undeterred, I continued building to finish the hive.

In the spring my hive will likely swarm and I will need a new home for them anyway.  I made a few mistakes along the way, but it is complete, costing a mere $25 for the lumber to make the bars and the screen for the bottom of the hive.  All of the rest of the components were fashioned out of old fence sections.  It still needs a coat of paint and some minor tweaks, but ... viola!

Unfortunately, I was not prepared for this swarm, but I will be ready for the next.  And so, I continue to tread down this MooseBoots path in awe of the gifts the Universe gives, especially when I don't know what they are for when given.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Caught In The Act ... Foraging

We've been making a concerted effort to get out and enjoy Nature's bounty. It is an unexpected education at times.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Earth's Medicine Cabinet Part 1

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Foraging Two-Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Something Is Lurking In That Tall Grass Over There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mild Winter Decimates Stinging Nettle Patch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bee Mindful To Share Knowledge

The last few weeks have been incredibly full of things other than following my MooseBoots path.  The two weeks leading up to last Sunday were spent preparing for the girls' dance recital.  At least one of the girls had practice every night leading up to the shows.  It is always a huge event for us, especially because dance, and our dance family, is an enormous part our the girls' schooling.

My education was not completely stalled, however.  A part of any learning is also learning how to share the wisdom you've acquired.  These opportunities are sometimes well thought out and planned.  Other times, they are spur of the moment events that demand immediate attention.  Recently, I was called on to share in a more immediate circumstance.

On this day, I happened to be skipping out on dance practice.  I am prone to severe migraine headaches.  I have learned some of the triggers, and try to avoid them, but not all of the triggers.  With particularly bad episodes, I can only lie down, sleep, and hope for the best.  This day was one of those.  After taking my non-herbal "headache cocktail" (I can't think when they get this bad), I took a lavender scented cold thing to bed to sleep.

The call came in ... "there is a clump of bees in a tree.  What do I do?"  In my bleary eyes stupor, I said that it sounded like a swarm and that they were looking for a place to live.  I willingly shared what I had read in The Barefoot Beekeeper.  I suggested that he capture them and keep them in a hive.  He was not a beekeeper, did not have a hive, and could not begin to figure out how to capture them.  I was in no condition for a really lengthy conversation, but I told him to look up the plans on the internet to build a top bar hive and found him a link about making a swarm trap.  He built this swarm trap, immediately and hung it within 2 feet of the swarm.

The following day, we discussed the fact that swarms are not aggressive and that they are really focused on protecting the queen by huddling around her and finding a new place to live.  Upon leaving work, he went home and built his top-bar hive from scrap lumber he had around the house.  Then, he called.  The swarm was still in the tree and not in the trap.  I suggested that he just cut the branch off and place it into the hive.  I reminded him that he would need to remove the branch within a short time or the limb would be get embedded in the comb that the bees built.  I also told him to provide food for them to get the hive started.

My friend, now a few weeks later, is the proud owner of a top-bar hive full of bees.  We have discussed when to harvest any honey and how to protect them for the winter.  His bees have likely survived a winter here in Maine and are much hardier than mine.  It is nice to be able to share wisdom and have a new fellow beekeeper to compare notes with.  Ironically, with my direction, he has done something I have yet to do ... see a swarm in the wild, capture it, and hive it.  And so, my MooseBoots journey continues in unexpected ways.

If you are interested in learning to become a beekeeper, I recommend The Barefoot Beekeeper.  The woman who got us started also has a book, The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives, coming out soon.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What's The Difference ... Blackberries or Black Raspberries?!

Today, while continuing my arduously slow pace down my MooseBoots trail, I was excited to realize that I can tell the difference between a black raspberry flower and a blackberry flower.  While this may not sound terribly thrilling to most, it is very satisfying for me.  This is not something I learned by reading or researching.  This is knowledge acquired solely by observation.

Wendy and I have been trying to stay on track with our foraging efforts.  This is increasingly difficult this time of year ... dance recitals, gathering wood for the coming winter, birthdays, anniversaries, and such.  It has been a few weeks since we have gone out.  In the foraging world, this is not recommended because things change so quickly.

Over the past long weekend, I made an effort to get into the woods.  I ran out of stinging nettles for tea and had to get more from the large nearby patch.  Wendy was working and the girls didn't want to play, so I headed out alone.  It provided the opportunity for me to meander along and stop and look at things more closely.  I found many plants just coming to life ... some that I have been awaiting but could not find in their younger states (bunchberries, sarsaparilla, etc.)  I found a huge patch of bunchberries that I knew were there but could not see before this.  I stopped and picked a "mess" of nettles.  These I am dehydrating for tea.  I sang as I picked and thanked them.  As I picked, I watched the butterflies playing on the newly forming seed head.  I also found a few lady bugs.

After I picked the nettles, I wandered around the field where they grow.  Wendy and I have been here many times this year.  The changes are incredible.  Many of the plants were first saw are now larger and developing, but other are just starting.  It is amazing to see the new things that I hadn't seen before.  As I walked, I found many, many blackberry plants, flowering and preparing to start growing their fruit.  They are everywhere.  I also located a third large stand of stinging nettles.

As I wended my way home, I was surprised to find moose tracks along the path.  The stride length and size of the tracks were clearly not deer.  Now, I know there are moose around, but they are not terribly common where I live, they are also not unheard of.  But, to think that I was following a moose, my heart skipped a beat for a second.  Don't get me wrong ... the tracks were easily days old, but ... I was able to follow its trail for a hundred yards or so.

The culmination of this whole experience came today, when I found our black raspberries are beginning to flower.  They are clearly different.  And, the whole scene pulled together for me ... I have been seeing blackberries everywhere.  I count myself very fortunate to have been able to build my awareness to this point.  I wonder where my MooseBoots path will take me next.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jerusalem Artichokes And Friends

The past few weeks have been very busy.  We've had dance competitions, yard work, and assorted other things to fill our time.  As such, my MooseBoots journey took a brief respite.  Today, however, I took another step forward with my amazing family.

A few weeks back, we harvested 25 pounds (12 kilograms) of Jerusalem Artichoke.  They do not store very well, so the options are to eat them all quickly or dehydrate them.  We did a little of the first and more of the latter.  We experimented with a few different techniques.  Some we sliced and put into the dehydrator.  Some we shredded and left in the sun to dry on cookie sheets.  Finally, we left some whole and placed them in the sun to dry.  The goal was to turn them into flour.

Unfortunately, the whole ones have simply rotted because they did not dry fast enough.  The sliced ones in the dehydrator were dried overnight.  These were crushed into bits with a mortar and pestle, but did not powder very well.  I had a back up plan, however.  I had gathered a large flat-ish rock and a small round rock.  These worked really well at grinding the small chunks to flour.  It was very demanding for effort, but I was happy.  Each small batch was sifted, with the larger chunks being ground more.  For this method to be truly effective, I need a larger rock for the base ... so I am looking for a piece of granite approximately 1 foot (300 millimeters) square and an inch (25 millimeters) thick.

The shredded root, dried fairly well, but never got dry enough.  I tried our hand grinder.  It simply got gummed up.  So, I dehydrated the rest with the dehydrator overnight.  This morning, Precious and I ground it up with the grinder.  It worked very quickly and very well.  We even ran it through twice to ensure a nice powdery flour.

This afternoon, after music practice for Little Fire Faery, we took a stroll together as a family to a nearby waterfall.  We have not been there for a long time.  Since the last time, a nice easy network of trails and parking lot have been built, making the area way more crowded than we remembered it.  While there, we ran into some old friends - partridge berry, blackberry, and chaga.  We also met some new ones - false solomon seal, clintonia, orpine, and ostrich ferns.  To aid us, we brought The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, and Wild Plants of Maine: A Useful Guide to help us to make positive identification of our new friends.

The ferns are past, but we were able to see, first hand, the difference between the ostrich fern and the cinnamon and interrupted ferns, which are both furry.  We have all heard about fiddleheads, but until today we never knew what to seek.  We also never before found a suitable patch to harvest.  We now know where to find then next year.  We will just have to look earlier next year.

Our goal was to find ramps, or wild leeks.  As we wandered along a less traveled trail, we found what we hoped was a leek.  But upon breaking one of the stems and finding a distinct lack of that familiar onion-y smell, we opened the books.  We incorrectly decided that it was False Solomon Seal, which is edible but without a second positive ID we did not eat.  It turns out that this is the toxic False Hellebore.  Continuing on, we ran across orpine.  Contrary to the above stated wisdom, I tried a small nibble of this.

As we moved further, the girls stopped because they heard something.  With a little further investigation and searching, we found what we believe is a spring, running with clear water from under the roots of a tree over a clean clay deposit.  We will likely return at some point to collect a sample for testing.  Of course, we have also located a source of clay should we decide to try our hand at making clay pots or a cob-oven of sorts.  This is an important step forward to finding what is available in the near-by area, being aware.

We reached the end of our time, and trail.  So, we turned back.  On the way back, Wendy climbed a hill to see where we were relative to the roads.  When she came back down, we also found a stand of clintonia.  These, like the orpine, I tasted.  Our reference stated that they taste like cucumber, so I tasted first.  I was delighted with the lovely cooling cucumber flavor.

It was a fantastic day, and an incredibly beautiful way to continue on with my learning and growing, while happily treading my MooseBoots path.  And, please, do not eat anything, even a nibble, without positively identifying a plant.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Another Incredible Weekend

Our lives are always busy, but I never really thought about how busy until one of the neighbors stopped, as she was driving by, and said, "you are always up to something."  I believe it is imperative to continue traveling this MooseBoots path as much as time permits.  This weekend was another fabulous example.

Saturday began as most do ... we dragged the girls to dance class, hit the grocery store and the farm, and came home to put everything away and eat brunch.  That is where the weekend picked up its pace.  While Wendy was heating things up to eat, I decided to start harvesting the Jerusalem Artichoke that grew last year.  The area is only about 12 square feet (50 centimeters by 200 centimeters).  But, after all of the digging and sifting, I picked 24 pounds (just over 10 kg) for the lovely tubers.  Because I was just slightly late, some of them had started to sprout.

After munching, Wendy and I went for our now weekly foraging walk.  For the past two weeks, we have not harvested anything because it is early.  This week, however, we started to pick.  I filled a basket full of tender Stinging Nettle leaves.  I thanked them profusely while I picked them.  I even sang to them.  I turns out that I had picked enough for one meal, sauteed in butter and garlic, with a bunch left over to dry for tea.  While I was there, I also picked several of last years stalks to make some more cordage.

Wendy, went off to check on the Japanese Knotweed.  Last week, the carefully cleared around the plants to open them up to the sun.  Her efforts paid off in the form of 0.5 pound (1 kilogram) of beautiful stalks.  These were steamed and provided enough for one meal.  Finally, she wandered around and harvest some Dandelion flowers.  These will be battered and fried into fritters.

After we rounded up the girls, we came home and smoked a chicken to go with our foraged bounty.  While waiting for the bird to cook, Precious and I cleaned some of the Jerusalem Artichokes, while  Wendy sliced some up for drying and loaded the dehydrator.  Little Fire Faerie, Precious, and I also replanted the Jerusalem Artichoke bed for another crop next year.

Throughout the day, Wendy and I had discussed using up the berries we had frozen last year.  We decided to try something new ... Freezer Berry wine.  So, without any kind of recipe, we boiled the berries in a pan of water.  The plan was simple ... berries, sugar, yeast , and water.  The boiling down, the pan needed to cool, so we left it overnight.

This morning, Wendy and I started right in on finishing up the Freezer Berry Wine.  We removed the bags fully of berry pulp, added more water and sugar, added the yeast, and put it into the carboy to ferment.  Wendy decided to try to use the pulp to make fruit leathers.  Of course, we made more liquid than the carboy could hold, so we also boiled it down into black raspberry jelly ... yum!  This then inspired Wendy to make scones, which she has been wanting to try.  All in all, it was fantastic!  Sorry ... the scones did not last long enough to get a picture.  The wine is happily bubbling away, right next to the mead.

After breakfast, I cleaned the rest of the Jerusalem Artichokes and spread them in the sun to dry.  Then I began raking up the mulch, and removing the grapevine, along the fence that needs to be replaced.  Wendy, was busy cleaning out garden beds and wanted the mulch.  So, we spend a few hours mulching, cleaning, and planting.  Somewhere along the way, don't ask me when, Wendy also made yogurt.

For dinner, we had hamburgers and hotdogs with ... fried Jerusalem Artichoke chips.  They are simply delicious.  After dinner, Wendy had work to do, so I played around a bit.  During our walk yesterday, I picked up a couple of rocks to use for grinding flour and such.  First, I tried crushing the dried Jerusalem Artichokes with a mortar and pestle.  It works, but take a long time ... I needed for surface area.  So, after cleaning them, out came the rocks.  They are much quicker and it satisfied my need to work with natures tools.  Of course, I still have a lot more to grind to flour, but I was able to figure out how to do it and show Wendy, who, I guess, was pleased with the fine powdery flour.

All of this does make me wonder how much I could learn and do if I didn't have to work to pay the mortgage.  Regardless, if I didn't need to tread the mundane path of our society at large, I might not fully appreciate the things I find walking following this MooseBoots journey.  I am so grateful to find myself in this beautiful place, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Thank you!