An Arsenal of Plants to Boost Your Immunity and Speed Healing

Humans  have needed plants to stay healthy throughout their history.  You are what you eat, they say.   And so it is June, and I let my guard down, after all it is almost summer, and I ALMOST came down with something – some flu type thing, again…  So I went into defence mode and dug into my arsenal.

Whenever somebody in my circle is feeling like they are a little under the weather, or need to heal from a minor trauma, these are my recommendations.

EAT AN APPLE A DAY  – Really, this works.

BRUSH YOUR TEETH WITH PEPPERMINT ESSENTIAL OIL

Make sure that the oil you purchase is:

  1. Organic
  2. Food-grade and,
  3. Palatable

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We use KaroocH brand Peppermint essential oil and place two drops into our toothbrush under the paste, and brush with it once a day (tongue and cheeks too) during the flu season.  We’ve used other brands, but have found several of them unpalatable because, go figure, they weren’t food-grade, and were cut with another base oil, which we could certainly taste.  Yuk.  If it doesn’t taste right, don’t use it.

 

HAVE A BATH WITH JUNIPER AND ROSEMARY ESSENTIAL OILS

Fill a shot-glass with milk and add:

3 drops of Juniper essential oil and 3 drops of Rosemary essential oil.   Try not to add more than 6 drops total to the mix.

Run your bath, and pour the milk mixture under the tap into the bathwater, stir the bath.

I like crushing a few Juniper berries and a sprig of Rosemary, and throw them in there too.

 

GARLIC ONION SOUP FOR COLDS AND FLU

This is a great broth to have on hand in the freezer so you can heat it quickly and bring it into action you feel a cold or flu coming on.  It is also very soothing to sip from a mug if the bug beats you, and you are relaxing on the sofa with a book.

Garlic and onion boost immunity, and the thyme, bay-leaf, and sage honey, along with the white wine, work together to bolster your body to deal with the virus.

 

2 TBSPS Ghee, butter, or veggie oil of choice

4 large onions, thinly sliced

2 whole heads of garlic, minced

4 cups veggie broth

1 tsp thyme dried or several sprigs fresh

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp black pepper

1 bay leaf

½ cup of dry white wine

3 TBSP honey (sage honey is a wonderful addition to this soup)

Sage honey?  Easy.  Buy a jar of liquid honey.  Stir in dried sage leaves.  Label as ‘sage honey’.

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan.  Add the onions to the oil and stir occasionally until they start to brown.  Add the garlic once the onions are a nice golden brown.  Sautee the onions and garlic until they begin to caramelize, the longer they brown, the sweeter they get, BUT don’t burn the garlic.

Add the veggie broth, thyme, cayenne, black pepper, bay leaf and white wine.

Bring the broth to a boil and lower heat to minimum to simmer.

Simmer for several hours on very low heat.

You can strain the broth at this point, or leave the chunks in according to preference.

Add the honey before serving.

Salt to taste.

 

ELDERBERRY SYRUP FOR IMMUNITY BOOSTING  (see Wild Recipes for Biodiversity)

Use Sambucus Canadensis only (Black Elderberry) not Red, Box, Narrow or Blue Elder.

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2 cups of Black Elderberries fresh (Sambucus canadensis) or 1 cup dried

1 cup of rosehips

1/2 cup Echinacea purpurea root chunked

1/4 cup Chicory root chunked

1/4 cup chunked and bruised ginger root

1 Cinnamon stick

5 whole cloves

Zest of 1/2 a lemon

1/4 cup of honey

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Add 5 cups of water (or unsweetened sumac-ade) to the fruit and roots (See the Wild Recipes blog post for sumac-ade directions)

Heat to a simmer and continue gently for 10 minutes, mashing the fruit, roots and spices, and simmer for 10 minutes more.

Pour the contents of the saucepan through a ‘jelly bag’ made of several layers of cheesecloth, twist up the mash once the liquid has strained into the container, and squeeze out the remaining juice.  You can place a plate with a rock press on the bag and allow to strain further for an hour or two and add that to the batch before dividing into jars.

Add the honey to the warm liquid while it is still hot so it dissolves.

Add another cup of sumac-ade and pour into mason jars for storage in the refrigerator.

You can make a canning bath for this recipe by speeding the final mash squish step, but it is best fresh anyhow.

 

DANDELION CHICORY ‘COFFEE’

These two plants hold many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A and D, and are a wonderful source of iron.  They act as a diuretic, which help flush sickness through the liver, kidneys and our of the body.

Dandelion and Chicory roots can be harvested, dried, and slow roasted at 120oC (250oF) for 4 hours or until the roots snap drily and appear dark brown in the centre.  Grind or fracture and store.  Chunked roots hold their properties longer than shredded or ground.

OR you can purchase dried dandelion and chicory roots at your local health food store.  Ask for the chunky style of root over the shredded, and roast them yourself as outlined above at home.

Take your roasted root mix and:

simmer 1 palm-full of roasted dandelion and chicory root fragments to every 1 cup of water for as long as you want.  The longer the simmer, the stronger the flavour. 

We can get a double batch of this tea if the roots are chunky, you can drink the liquid, add more clean water, and simmer again.

This is a great tea or coffee substitute, which is better for your liver and kidneys while you are fighting an illness, or healing.

You may add milk and/ or honey as you wish.

Dandelion and Chicory roots for this purpose can be gathered any time of the year; however, they will be most potent before any energy is put into greening up or flower production.

You can also purchase our Dandelion Chicory Roast from the botanigals boutique.

 

BOTANIGALS’ MAGIC BOTANICAL RINSE

After I had each of my girls, I received an after-care kit, which included a 225 millilitre ‘Rinsing Bottle’ for my battered Lady Bits n’ Pieces.

Eleven years later, I still use these bottles often, and recommend that everybody have one in their First Aid kit.  I believe these are available at any pharmacy, and even your local Dollar Store.

We make a special rinse for our friends and family that is great for all of our minor healing needs from cat scratches, to blisters, to bug-bites, hives, hemorrhoid’s, nipple irritations from breastfeeding, and cleaning surgical wounds.

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Take your 225 ml Rinsing Bottle and add:

1 TBSP Witch Hazel

1-2 drops of Lavender essential oil

1-2 drops of Tea Tree essential oil

1-2 drops of Bergamot essential oil

Fill the remainder of the bottle with warm water and shake.

The three oils listed above are: anti-fungal, antibacterial and antiviral, which covers all of the bases, and the Witch Hazel is an astringent.

Apply to any abrasion, minor burn, or irritation as often as you like.   You don’t have to use it all at once.  If we need cooling action, like on sore, blistered feet, we store the mix in the fridge.  Give the area time to dry before you dress it.  I’ve used this on all of my parts, and my girls use it, and my guys use it.

You can, of course soak a cloth with the solution and use it as a compress, or wipe as well.

This DOES NOT replace the good work done by antibacterial ointments.  We try to use them as little as possible, but we don’t mess around with bacterial infections.  This is a preventative and healing rinse.

This is also for external use only DO NOT put it into your eyes.

 

TURMERIC

We pack turmeric powder into many deeper wounds we may receive, that aren’t quite big enough for stitches.

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Our dogs got into a bit of a nippy fight last week, and our Puggle got the short end of the stick,.

After we irrigated the wound with our Magic Rinse (former recipe), we packed the wound on his muzzle with turmeric.

Please use your own judgement to determine the severity of each situation.

 

May the Forest be with you.

Rapini Demystified

There was once a time when seeing Rapini in the produce section of urban grocery stores made me feel like a bit of a failure.  Here was a vegetable I couldn’t quite grasp.  I’d buy it, bring it home, cook it, and it tasted awfully bitter – time and again.  So I stopped buying it.

Then those bunches of green flowers taunted me every time I saw them out of the corner of my eye.  ‘Hey you.  Botany girl, teacher of wild edibles and vegetable production.  Why can’t you make me work for you?’

By chance, the subject came up at a get together, where I had prepared something that baffled the group, and I admitted that I wasn’t that great because I still couldn’t get a grasp on Rapini, and my friend Ian told me how to prepare it, so now I’ll share this with you because it really is a beautiful vegetable that is invigorating to eat and is great for your body and its easy.

The funny thing is that the key to prepping this veggie is the same as many wild edibles, including the stalwart of wild edibles, Dandelion greens, where changes of water are involved, though Rapine is easier, as it only requires one boil, not two or three exchanges of boiling water to get the bitterness out for edibility.

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Fill up and set a large pot of slightly salted water to boil.  The more the rapini can roll in the boil, the better the bitter will draw out.

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Wash the rapini of course.  It is a fairly clean vegetable, not sandy or silty like coriander or spinach.

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Snap off or cut off the tougher bases of the stalk.  Sometimes I’ll tear off the lower leaves, just to make smaller pieces.

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Set the rapini into the rolling boiling water.  Allow water to cover all of the bits and pieces. Boil for about 7-10 minutes.  You don’t want it to turn to mush, and you may prefer a little bit of bitter.

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Get a frying pan ready with butter, salt, pepper and a bit of minced garlic to taste.  Brown the garlic a bit for a sweeter flavour.

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You can tell if the rapini is boiled enough by the colour of the water.  They yellow signifies the drawn bitter.

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Transfer the boiled rapini into the melted butter and browned garlic.  Stir fry until coated.

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Voila!  Nice and hot, buttery, salty, rapini ready to eat.

 

May the forest be with you.

A Primer to Honour Your Fresh Greens

How often do you buy more fresh vegetable greens than you can manage for your meal plans?  I’d often look in the crisper in my fridge and find fresh greens that we’d purchased such as Cilantro, Parsley, Dill, Basil, and even Spinach wilted or turned to mush, especially when my girls were very young and I had serious time management issues.  Many of these greens can have bits pinched off of the bunch for an entire week, but then there is the risk of inadvertent damage of the remainders along with cross-contamination.

A few years ago, I sat down with an elder for a meal and she pulled some vibrant basil leaves out of a bag in her freezer and tossed them into the meal.  They turned dark and wilted into the sauce as soon as they hit the heat, but the flavour was all there.

And so from that day on I had a new brain tool to manage my fresh greens and it is time-sensible and simple.   Hopefully this primer will help you save some time and money too.

You will need your selected greens, parchment paper (I find wax paper gets too sticky), and a baking tray or two depending on the bulk of your vegetable material.

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Wash you greens of choice and shake dry.  Place parchment paper on baking tray.  Arrange greens in a single layer on the paper surface only.

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You can layer you greens and paper as high as your freezer will allow.

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Place in freezer and flash freeze for a few hours.  Overnight is fine too, I’ve forgotten for a day or two and they still turned out fine.

Once the greens are frozen, you will need to take them out of the freezer, one paper layer at a time, fold your paper with the herbs on it, and funnel them into a large freezer bag, touching them with your warm hands as little as possible.  DO THIS AS QUICKLY AS YOU CAN, seal the bag with lots of air in it, shake the herbs in the bag so they have individual space and air circulation, and set the bag back in the freezer.

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Once your greens sit in the freezer with the air for about half an hour, if freezer space is limited, you can squeeze out as much air as you can without crushing the greens.

Here’s to success and saving money!

May the forest be with you.

Making Paneer for your Botanigals Odd Spice Mixes

Paneer is a fresh cheese that is very easy to make.  Aside from the time it takes to stir the milk while it boils, and the time it takes to press the cheese, it is really a simple process and the product is way better than the packaged products you can find at large grocery chains.

What you will need:

4 Litres of whole milk and 1/2 cup of lemon juice.

(I always squeeze a bit more and you will see why later on)

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A sturdy strainer that can sit atop a large pot, a fine strainer, and a large section of cheesecloth.  Get this set up beforehand.

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STEP 1: Get your lemon juice ready ahead of time. 2 lemons should make your 1/2 cup +

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STEP 2:  Pour all 4 litres of milk into a large saucepan.  Set heat to medium low and stir constantly to avoid scorching on the bottom of the pan.  It will take about 30 minutes to boil.

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STEP 3: Once the milk is at a rolling boil and starts to foam add all of the lemon juice.
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STEP 4:  The milk will separate from the whey.  If not, you don’t have enough lemon juice.  Hopefully you will have more set aside, but for 4 litres of milk, 1/2 cup + should do it.

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STEP 5: Strain the whey from the curd.  In this photo we’ve dumped the whey away.  You can save the whey, but we didn’t have a use for it this time.

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STEP 6:  Run cold water over the curd until it cools.  We are using filtered water here, but tap water is really best and more efficient.

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STEP 7: Gather up the curd and wiggle the water out, make sure there is no more steam or heat in the curd bundle.  The centre, of course will hold the heat the longest, so be sure to cool that area too.

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STEP 8: Twist the curd in the cheesecloth into a ball.  It will still be holding water and that’s okay.

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STEP 9:  Wrap the curd ball nice and tight and smooth so no curd can escape under high pressure, but so that the twist doesn’t punch a dent into the middle of the finished cheese. Set into a strong strainer that is firmly set on a sturdy catchment vessel like the saucepan you boiled the milk in.

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STEP 10: Place a plate over the curd ball and then a cloth on top of that so the stone or bricks, or weight unit does not damage the plate or crumble into the unit.

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STEP 11:  Place the straining unit on a sturdy surface, or better yet on the floor because it will be heavy.  Set the weight on top of the cloth and plate.  Balance the weight so your cheese sets in a balanced fashion.  Let sit for at least 2 hours.

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STEP 12:  Unwrap the cheesecloth and enjoy the finished product.  I wash and dry my cheesecloth for further use.  Place your finished block of paneer in a sealed container or bag in the fridge until ready to use.  Depending on the level of hygiene throughout the process, it should keep for a week.

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Go to the botanigals boutique page and find The Odd Spice shelf.  Click on the Angrezi Curry Masala icon to find the recipe for Matar Paneer and purchase the spice so you can use your paneer in an unbelievably delicious dish!

May the forest be with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peeling Garlic Without the Grief: It’s Scientific!

 

Do you hesitate to deal with garlic because it is a pain to peel, it sticks to your fingers, and your hands smell like garlic for a good while later?

Fresh, whole garlic is so great for people, but when it is fresh, there is a chemical reaction that occurs at the moment the cell walls are damaged, which creates the potent aroma we are all so familiar with.

Here are some simple hints on how to process a clove of garlic without the sticky and stiNky fingers. There’s simple science in here too! And please remember to always respect your knives.

Step One.  Find a substantial STAINLESS STEEL knife with a broad blade, this is key to ease and safety.  The stainless steel is key here too.

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Step Two. Take the root end off of the clove.

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Step Three.  Press the knife down firmly, flat against the clove.  It’s okay if the clove breaks.  Place your fingers carefully, or use a fist, but don’t punch the knife.

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The clove will break free from the skin.

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Voila!

Step Four.  Rinse your knife under COLD water while running your fingers and thumb along both SIDES of the blade, SHARP EDGE DOWN.  Do not touch the sharp edge, K?

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The cold water, stainless steel and garlic compounds react to each other, ridding your fingers of the garlic smell.  Neato!

May your hands smell great forever and May the forest be with you.

The Circle of Life: The First Nations Medicine Wheel Garden

Written in 2006 to supplement a First Nations Medicine Wheel Garden presentation for YWCA Muskoka’s Victim’s Services program and to aid in healing when visiting the Chrysalis House Medicine Wheel healing garden which I designed in Huntsville.

This was a very popular presentation but I’ve discontinued it because it was not really mine to give.

Sacred circle gardens can be found across the globe.   The gardens are considered sacred spaces for the healing and tranquillity of the peoples that created them.  They are designed to be rich in symbolism.  They are designed to be used for ritual and ceremony.   They are often situated at vortex points (where lee lines of energy intersect).  With fewer than 200 examples still existing throughout the Great Plains of North America, what better time than now for modern-day society to take a closer look at the celebration and tranquillity that can be brought to a site by growing native herbs and wildflowers for healing, conservation and beauty.  Please, sit back and relax, open your mind, and prepare to enter The Circle of Life.

The Medicine Wheel Garden follows simple, circular designs based around the number four, with natural materials used in both their structure and ornamentation.  Most wheels are designed with 36 stones to reflect the ‘Sacred Path’ that humans travel on Earth. From a central focus, four or more paths carve the garden into pie-shaped beds that are planted with perennial and annual herbs.  The plantings are intensely personal.  They represent and express both the spirit of the gardener and symbolize the essence of each of the Four Cardinal Directions, East, South, West and North.  The garden’s entrance is always situated in the East, representing the beginning of our journey, and with the rising of the sun, the beginning of each day (see figure 1).

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Thirty-six stones help one to reflect upon their life’s journey while visiting the Medicine Wheel Garden.  The Central Stone represents the Creator, from which all life flows.  It stands alone.  The creator’s presence reminds one that the teachings of The Wheel must never be taken lightly.

From the central stone, four paths lead towards each of the Cardinal Directions, where one stone can be found for each direction, four in total. These hold their place in the circle’s perimeter.

EAST

In the East, where every visitor’s journey begins, the gardens represent new beginnings and creativity.  The East is the place for one’s spirit, and where one acknowledges the life given to us by the Sun.  Plants for the eastern garden are teas (leaves), plants with great human appeal, herbs for spiritual health, plants for incense or smudging (fire), and Spring blooms.  The sacred plant for the East is Tobacco.  An offering tray would be ideal to find somewhere in the East.

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Prairie Smoke (Geum trifolium) is a very airy spring flower (these are seed heads just about to mature).  When they can be found in large colonies, they give a feeling of mist, or smoke, hovering above the ground.  Carden Alvar.  June 2015.

SOUTH

Gardens in the South portray growth and fulfilment.  They are areas where self assurance and acceptance assists one in improving emotional health.  This is where one meditates on relationships and matters of the heart. The southern zones of the Medicine Wheel Garden are areas that bring intense growth in plants.  Plants for the southern garden are plants that provide nutrition, such as fruits and vegetables, savoury herbs, and plants that naturally assist other plants (ie. leguminous nitrogen fixers, or Comfrey for the compost). The sacred plant is Cedar. Herbs for the southern garden are herbs for emotional health, and that bring our attention to the earth like ground-covers or creepers.  This area of the garden is also an ideal place for children to appreciate the importance of the soil beneath our feet, by creating a place to sow seeds. Summer blooms will remind one that Summer is the season for the South.

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Blueberries are a delicious fruit that loves warm sun.  Many people don’t realize that these are an old-growth species which rely on fire to thrive, but also require fungal-hyphae associations with other species and their soil to truly succeed.

WEST

When a visitor is found spending much time in the Western gardens, they may be concentrating on healing physically.  This direction represents maturity and experience.  The West is a place where the power of nature, and the physical body is often evident.  Plants for the western garden are plants that put down edible roots.  The sacred plant is Sage.  This is where a rock garden should be designed if there is the desire for one, as this is the place for minerals.  Water features, or succulents will bring ones attention to how vital the element of water is for all living creatures.  Blooms for Fall represent the season of the west.

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It is nice to provide a water source for your feathered friends, among other wildlife in the Western quadrant.

NORTH

The Northern gardens within The Wheel are places where one can concentrate on mental growth and wisdom.  They are areas for hibernation and suspension.  They remind us of the Wheel’s ability to turn-over, to come full circle, to pass into the ethereal, and to return again to the living world.  Plants for the North are plants that provide edible nuts or seeds.  The sacred plant is Sweetgrass.  Plants in these gardens should be planted for animals and wildlife, such as songbirds.  Herbs grown are for mental health.  Airy or feathery specimens that blow in the wind will help bring ones attention to the element of air, which is the element of the north.  Ferns use the wind to distribute spores, and thrive in areas of the garden where sun is less intense.  Plants with winter interest are also beneficial, as Winter is the northern season.

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Winterberry holly can provide winter interest in the Northern quadrant.

THE ELDERS AND ANCESTORS STONES

Seven more stones surround the Creator stone, inside the perimeter of the circle. In Native American culture, there is intense focus upon the guidance provided by elders and ancestors that have travelled and experienced the path of The Medicine Wheel before us. These ancestors or ‘Seven Grandfathers’ have gifts for us that have been translated from The Creator.  These seven gifts permeate the teachings of The Medicine Wheel.  There are two gifts for each direction beginning in the East (Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility), except for in the North, where there is only one single stone representing a most important gift: Truth (see figure 2).

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THE MOON STONES

Twelve more stones fill the perimeter along with the four cardinal stones.  They are placed in such a manner that three stones end up between each cardinal stone.  These represent the Twelve Moons of the Year. They remind us about the annual phases of the moon, which coincide with the seasons of each cardinal direction (see figure 3).

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When applied to each individual that visits, the symbolism found within The North American Medicine Wheel garden can be infinite.  Each direction has relative meaning to an individual’s human existence on Earth. Stages of existence, human understanding, the body, forms of meditation, and areas for specific prayer can be touched in each and every design.  Even family members and pets can be represented within the wheel (see figure 4 for overview).

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Whether or not one takes their journey through life seriously, whether one rolls with the punches, laughs through trials and tribulations, or quietly observes and absorbs. The teachings from the Medicine Wheel Garden are like the water; they will accept any thing that may flow through.  This is the best part; the garden is adaptable and diverse just like life. R.

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CIRCLES

by Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux

Everything our people do is in a Circle,

Because the power of the world always works in circles

And everything tries to be round.

The Sky is round,

And the Earth is round like a ball,

And so are all the Stars.

The Wind, in its greatest power, whirls.

Birds make their nests in circles,

For their religion is the same as ours.

The Sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.

The Moon does the same,

And both are round.

Even the Seasons form a great circle in their changing,

And always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle,

From childhood to childhood,

And so it is in Everything

Where the power moves.

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This poem held a prominent place in all of my presentations on this topic.  I also read it for my dearest friend’s funeral.  That was the hardest speech I’ve ever had to read.

 I thank those that walked these lands before my ancestors and for maintaining these teachings, for your religion, like that of the birds, is now mine too.

May the forest be with you.

Gardening in Deer Country

This was my first ‘article’ written to be distributed at a ‘Ladies Night’ speech I was asked to do about gardening with deer, which is quite an issue around waterfront in Muskoka and Haliburton.

The topic was to be about ‘Deer Proofing’  but ‘proofing’ is practically impossible because deer are an inherent part of the ecosystems here that we have to live with.  Ah, the White-tailed deer.  Cute, doe-eyed, nibbling herds of destruction that love exotic and imported landscaping plants from southern suppliers for more than one reason: 1.  These nursery plants are well watered with well water from sedimentary bedrock, 2. because of the different soils they hold different nutrients ie. more calcium, so they’re like a vitamin booster,  3. the irrigated plants are, of course, more succulent, and 4. they just simply taste different.

This was one of my first public presentations representing BarK.  This presentation got us our first annual maintenance client fifteen years ago, and here’s why: I recommended during the speech that dogs and their urine are the best deer deterrent, but lacking one of those, the women of the house could just ask their men to pee around the yard a bit more.  So the next day, this client’s maintenance man phoned me up and said his wife told him that I was just ‘crazy enough’ to work with this client as her groundskeeper!

We have a much deeper understanding about these ungulates through experience in the field since this article was written/ compiled in 2003.  We wanted to pull from the book that was out at the time (Deer-Proofing Your Yard and Garden from the States) and make it fit Muskoka, listing the ‘deer proof’ plants that could possibly grow here.

It’s not a great compilation, and we have many more tricks up our sleeves at this point in our career, but it is a good primer to start with.   Here is a deer deterrent watering recipe we’ve used that was passed down to us by our Garden Mother and we’ve adapted it further with essential oils.  Good luck!

Botanigals Deer Deterrent Formula

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grated Ivory or Irish Spring soap
  • 1-2 cups of water 
  • (Optional)  Geranium and/ or Clary Sage essential oils

Blend together egg, water and soap flakes to emulsify.   Pour mixture into a container for the garden.

Whisk in essential oils.

Add the mix to watering can and then fill to agitate the mix.

Apply to susceptible areas of the garden and, if possible, to main deer pathways which access your yard.

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May the forest be with you.

Wild Recipes for Biodiversity

This article was written and compiled in 2002 and  distributed as a marketing tool for BarK throughout Muskoka at trade shows, markets, workshops, and seminars.  Updated and printed in 2005 for the Edible Algonquin Summer Workshop series.*

We all know the joys of harvesting wild fruit such as Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Cranberries or Crab Apples.  There are also many well-known wild vegetables like the Wild Leek and ‘Wild’ Asparagus along with a wide array of nuts and seeds.  By learning the virtues of the lesser-known edibles found throughout Central Ontario, we may become encouraged to invite more indigenous and naturalized plants into our lives.

Perhaps with this new dimension of understanding, our native plants and our variety of ‘weeds’ will seem more acceptable or attractive to us and be allowed to remain in our yards.

Their presence in our ecosystems increases botanical diversity.  Diversity means more options.  It opens new doors of taste exploration and nutritional alternatives for us, as well as the surrounding natural community.

The following pages include recipes that utilize some of these lesser-known plant species that can be found throughout this great garden that we call Muskoka, Haliburton, and Parry-Sound.

As we live in this enormously productive system, we need to respect both the power and fragility of its components.  Remember when harvesting:

  • to be absolutely certain of your I.D. skills.
  • Always leave enough behind to regenerate for the wildlife that appreciates this bounty as much as you, your family and your friends.  Most importantly,
  • wild foods should only be consumed in moderation and with great respect for their energy and strength.  Take care, and enjoy!

BUNCHBERRY

(Cornus Canadensis)

HABITAT: Thrives under open conifer stands where the sun penetrates the forest floor.  Best used to create a blend from forest edge into lawn, pathway or any other open space.  Ideal for under pines.

Berries are produced in late summer.  Delicate in flavor, this fruit is an excellent reason to stop and eat when on a hike or enjoying a sunny day in the yard.  Seeds can be swallowed whole.  Planting the creeping member of the Dogwood family along a pine-fringed edge of the yard give you a great reason not to mow the outskirts of the lawn (if grass grew there in the first place) and will encourage songbirds to feast right in front of you!

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DANDELION

(Taraxacum officinale)

With new pesticide by-laws popping up like dandelions in communities across Canada we may as well re-learn the new/ old ways to deal with these ‘weeds’.  High in vitamin A, and also packing iron and folic acid, dandelions provide a plethora of healthful foods that have been forgotten and eventually lost throughout the chemical revolution of the mid 20th century.  So let us raise our mugs of dandelion coffee and make a toast:  Here’s to improved health!  For your yard, garden and body!

Like lettuce, tomatoes and asparagus, in fact, like all of our fruits and vegetables, dandelion greens are best when gathered at just the right stage.  It must be done before a flower forms in the crown of the plant.  As soon as the plant starts sending up bloom stalks, the dandelion season is over as far as the vegetable portions are concerned.

The first harvest should occur long before the last frost of spring when there is a “slightly reddish tangle” of leaves poking out through the grass.  Use a narrow shovel or spade to pry out the plant, roots and all.  Voila!  Weedin’ and eatin’!

Dandelion greens harvested from grass that have been allowed to grow longer, or from edge habitats or fencerows, taste better than those found in a frequently mowed lawn.

The roots of the dandelion can be peeled like a potato or carrot, thinly sliced crosswise, and then boiled in two waters (dumping the first water once boiling, then adding more boiling water and continue to boil until tender) with a pinch of soda added to the first water.  Garnish accordingly.

Dandelion roots can also be slow roasted at 120oC (250oF) for 4 hours or until the roots snap drily and appear dark brown in the centre.  Grind or fracture and store.

Then you can Steep 1 palm-full of grounds to every cup of water for a tea or coffee substitute adding milk or sugar as you wish.  Roots for this purpose can be gathered any time of the year; however they will be most potent before any energy is put into greening up or flower production.

Between the roots and the greens of the dandelion plant are the dandelion crowns.  Remove the root in a way that allows the crown to stay in one piece and remove the greens where they begin to, well, green.  These make a fine nibble cooked (boiled for 5 minutes, drain and season) or raw.

Dandelion flower buds can be harvested before they open and can be fried until they start to pop and jump in the pan.  These can be added to eggs for a wonderful omelet.

DAYLILLY

(Hemercallis fulva or H. flava)

HABITAT: Plant in full sun for best flower production.

Gather unopened flower buds.  When eaten raw, they impart a slight aftertaste, like a very mild onion.

You may also boil a few minutes, butter, season, and serve.

Unopened flower buds may also be dipped into a rich egg batter and flash-fried in very hot fat until golden brown.

Unopened flower buds or wilted day-after flowers can be added to soups or stews during the last few minutes of cooking.  They will create a gumbo-like consistency similar to okra.  Both can be used fresh, or can be dried in a warm place for about a week and then stored for future use.  The buds will require more drying time than the wilts, perhaps they could be sliced in half.  Dry and store the buds and expired flowers separately.

Hemerocallis tubers are also edible.  Clean bulbous sections of the rootstock from the rhizomes and root hairs.  Wash and boil in salted water for about 15 minutes.  Older tubers are soft and inedible.  When dug in spring there will be many young tubers fresh and white.  These can be eaten raw.

ELDERBERRY

(Samcucus Canadensis)

HABITAT: Edge habitat.  Full sun without full exposure to the elements.  Prefers moist soils by ditches, the water’s edge, or beneath roof runoff.  There aren’t enough large colonies of  Sambucus Canadensis in Muskoka to support human use,  they’re best left for the wildlife who need them, so it is best to purchase and grow your own colonies before you use them for yourself.  Identification can be assured this way too.

The stems, roots, leaves and unripe berries will cause stomach upset.  Not recommended for people with known food allergies.

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ELDERBERRY SYRUP FOR IMMUNITY BOOSTING

Use Sambucus Canadensis only (Black-berried Elder) not Red, Black, Narrow or Blue Elder.

  • 2 cups of Black Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis)
  • 1 cup of  rosehips
  • 1/2 cup Echinacea purpurea root chunked
  • 1/4 cup Chicory root chunked
  • 1/4 cup chunked and bruised ginger root
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole cloves
  • Zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Add 5 cups of water (or unsweetened sumac-ade) to the fruit and roots (See below for sumac-ade directions)
  • Heat to a simmer and continue gently for 10 minutes, mashing the fruit, roots and spices, and simmer for 10 minutes more.
  • Pour the contents of the saucepan through a ‘jelly bag’ made of several layers of cheesecloth, twist up the mash once the liquid has strained into the container, and squeeze out the remaining juice.  You can place a plate with a rock press on the bag and allow to strain further for an hour or two and add that to the batch before dividing into jars.
  • Add the honey to the warm liquid while it is still hot so it dissolves.
  • Add another cup of sumac-ade and pour into mason jars for storage in the refrigerator.

You can make a canning bath for this recipe by speeding the final mash squish step, but it is best fresh anyhow.

ELDERBERRY JELLY:

Use Sambucus Canadensis only (Black-berried Elder) not Red, Black, Narrow or Blue Elder.  Black-berried elderberries ripen deep purple in late August.  This recipe works best if mixed with other fruit that have more acidic juice and higher pectin content than the elderberry.

STEP 1

  • Crab apples (for pectin)
  • Place crab apples whole into a kettle and cover with water.
  • Boil until tender (20 min) than strain off juice. This will be very watery.
  • Put aside

STEP 2

  • Elderberries (and other fruits of choice)
  • Add 1 cup of water (or sumac-ade) to each quart of fruit.
  • Simmer gently for 10 minutes, mash the fruit, and simmer for 10 minutes more.
  • Pour into jelly bag made of several layers of cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice.

To make the jelly, blend 3 cups of the elderberry mix with 3 cups of the crab apple juice.  Choose your alternate juice (in this case crabapple) for your taste.  As long as you use AT LEAST 50% PECTIN-RICH JUICE.

Add 6 cups of sugar and boil until the jelly test tells you it will jell when cooled in the glasses.

JELLY TEST (WORKS FOR ALL OF THE JELLY RECIPES FOUND HERE):

After mixture has reached a hard boil take up a small amount with the stirring spoon, wave over the kettle until the juice cools slightly, pour back into the pot.  If it runs off like water it is far from done.  If it drips off in two places it is approaching the jelly point.  When the last two drops run together, sheet off the spoon, and seem to break at the edge of the spoon when they drop, remove immediately.  Best stored in sterilized half-pint jars with two-piece lids.

WILDER ELDERBERRY JELLY

For a true wild jelly you could try using 50% elderberry juice and 50% sumac-ade (Rhus typhina) creating a jelly lighter in colour and tarter in taste.  But then you would have to add 1 packet of pectin to 2 cups of elderberry juice and 2 cups of sumac juice rather than the 3 cups of each required in the previous recipe.

Bring to a boil then add 5 cups of sugar.  Again, bring to a hard boil.  Allow to roll for 1 minute.  Remove from heat, skim it, pour into sterilized jars and seal immediately.

HIGH BUSH CRANBERRY

(Viburnum triloba)

HABITAT: Full sun to part shade locations.  Found along stream banks, wet thickets, moist woodlands and fencerows.  Does not like to bake in hot full day sun.

Highbush Cranberry Jelly

If berries are gathered after frost, pectin may not be required in this recipe.  Easiest if large seeds are removed from pulp before beginning the process.  When cooking, add lemon or orange peel shavings to eliminate any bad odor the berries may produce.

Cover several quarts of berries with water in a kettle.  Add outer peels of 2 lemons or oranges.  Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.  Mash thoroughly and simmer another minute or two.  Force the juice and pulp through a coarse strainer to remove any missed seeds and citrus peel.

Add 1 package of pectin to 4 cups of strained fruit.  Bring to a boil then add 5 cups of sugar.  Boil again for 1 minute and seal in sterile jars or refrigerate.

WILD RIVERBANK OR FROST GRAPE

(Vitus vulpina)

HABITAT: Full sun locations, usually edge habitats: fencerows, trailside, roadside or open forest.  Can become invasive in southern Ontario if left to naturalize; climbing trees upwards of 5 meters to gain more sunlight for fruit production.  Vines easily controlled with regular maintenance. Can be a fantastic privacy buffer when allowed to climb an arbola, or when trained to an espalier.  Prefers moist, sedimentary soils.

Gather grape leaves in June, when they are full-sized yet still tender.  They can be preserved with salt for use at other times of the year. To preserve the leaves, lay each grape leaf flat in a covered dish and sprinkle each leaf liberally with salt.  Continue until the jar is full, then cover and keep in a cool place.  To use, wash gently several times in fresh water and use as fresh leaves for rolling or other purposes.

The fruit becomes fully ripe September and October.  True to its name, the Frost Grape is sweetest after first frost.

Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves

Stuffing:

1 Cup rice to 2 Cups cold water together in a saucepan with a dash of salt and oil.

Bring to a boil then turn heat to low and cook until the water is absorbed (15-40min depending on rice type).

Mix partially cooked rice with ½ pound ground meat and add 1 package of spaghetti sauce mix or 1 can of sauce.

Place 1 tablespoon of the meat-rice mixture on each grape leaf and roll from the base toward the point, carefully tuck in the ends.  Steam for 1 hour in a covered kettle then serve hot.

SUN CHOKE

(Helianthus tuberosus)

HABITAT: Full sun.  Will do well in any soil on the drier side.  Will block your view (grows upwards of 8 feet tall).

You will only need a few yards (1 yard = 9ft2) of rootstock to produce enough Helianthus for many years.  Once you plant this species, you may not be able to rid yourself of it.  Give it lots of room in the garden or its own solitary patch of ground.  Forage in the fall.  Do not dig until after frost.  The nutrition will have sunk back to the roots by this time.  They have as much food value as the potato but most of the starch is in the form of inulin, making this tuber valuable for those who require a low-starch diet.

Use in place of potatoes in any recipe, however do not expect potato texture.  These tubers are more like turnips.  They will not become crisp when fried.

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Jerusalem Artichoke Casserole

4 Cups boiled and mashed Jerusalem artichoke tubers.

2 Cups of fine bread crumbs

½ Cup melted butter

2 beaten eggs

Black pepper to taste

Combine and pack into a casserole dish.  Bake covered for 30 minutes in a medium oven (325-350oF).  Uncover for the last 10 minutes to brown the top and serve hot.  Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese, parsley and breadcrumbs over the top when out of oven to uncover.

MAYAPPLE

(Podophyllum peltatum)

HABITAT: Deciduous woods on south-facing slopes (sunny and warm in the spring).  Prefers loamy, rich soils.

This species emerges and unfolds its parasol during the full sun of spring when deciduous trees have not yet begun to leaf out.  Later, the dappled shade of the forest is ideal for the remainder of the summer until the fruit are ripe and the umbrella-like leaves die back to prepare for the winter.  Thrives where one would find White Trillium and Wild Leek.  WARNING: All parts of the Mayapple other than the RIPE fruit are toxic.  Juice from the leaves and roots may cause dermatitis in some.

The fruit are ripe when they are yellow and the leaves of the plant begin to yellow for dormancy.  The fruit should practically fall into your hand (if they haven’t already fallen into the mouth of a chipmunk). REMEMBER TO REMOVE THE SEEDS BEFORE PROCESSING.

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Mayapple Marmalade

  • Early autumn brings the ripening of the May Apple. Gather ½ gallon of RIPE Mayapples.
  • Remove the stem and blossom ends.
  • Cut into quarters, REMOVE THE SEEDS, and place in a suitably sized kettle.
  • Add 1 Cup of water and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep pulp from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  • When the fruit is soft enough to mash easily, push it through a colander to remove the skins and any missed seeds.
  • To 4 Cups of this pulp, add 1 package of commercial pectin and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, add 5 cups of sugar.
  • Stir constantly while it raises to a hard boil and maintain for one minute.
  • Skim off foam and pour immediately into sterilized half-pint jars and seal.

This fruit has been adored for centuries and is considered a delicacy.  If harvested and processed appropriately it is perfectly safe and enjoyable.

PLANTAIN

(Plantago spp.)

Another common lawn weed that can be easily prepared as a spinach substitute!  Gather the youngest, unblemished leaves.  Add to a pot, cover with water and boil for 15 minutes.  Drain, garnish and serve!  Can also be eaten raw, added to a domestic or wild salad.

Plantain seeds can be winnowed, slow roasted, ground and added to butter as a fine peanut butter substitute.

WILD ROSES

(Swamp, Bristly, Smooth & the cultivated Rugosa)(Rosa palustris, R. acicularis, R. blanda & R. rugosa)

HABITAT: Full sun, well-drained soil (swamp rose prefers ditches or swales).  Will even do well in hot, dry sandy habitat where other plants would sizzle, but the bush shape and hips will tend to dwarf under these conditions.

Wild rose petals perfume your mouth when picked and eaten fresh.  When added to tea, you can be assured that your guests will never forget the occasion.  They can be added to ice cubes for refreshments to bring memories of summer in the dead of winter.  The cheery splash of rose petals in a salad will brighten any setting.

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Rose Petal Jam

2 Cups sugar

½ Cup water

2 Cups fresh rose petals

1TBSP lemon juice

1 TBSP orange juice

Dissolve sugar in water and add remaining ingredients.  Place in a pan over LOW heat.  Stir constantly of ½ hour or until sugar has dissolved.  Cool, pour into clean class jars and store.

Wild rose hips can be eaten raw or dried.  They are very high in vitamin C.  To prepare, remove stems and bract ends as well as the bristly seeds.  At this stage they can be jellied or dried.

Rose Hip Jelly

2 Cups juice

3 ½ Cups sugar

¼ Cup lemon juice

1 pouch liquid fruit pectin

To 4 cups of prepared rose hips add 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for ½ hour, covered.  Strain.  Measure 2 cups of juice into a large saucepan.  Add extra water to make 2 cups.  Add lemon juice.  Add sugar to juice in saucepan; mix well.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Stir in pectin immediately.  Bring to a full roll, then boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Skim off foam with a metal spoon.  Pour quickly into warm sterile jars, filling up to ¼ inch from rim.  Seal while hot with sterile lids with new centers.

STAGHORN SUMAC

(Rhus typhina)

HABITAT: Prefers sandy, well-drained soils in full sun.  Will eventually grow into thickets unsurpassed by most shrubs.  Sumac colonies are appreciated by all forms of wildlife and bring gorgeous colour change to the landscape throughout every season!

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Sumac-Ade

Collect the red, fuzzy berry clusters when they are deep red and ripe before heavy rains wash away the acidity.  Place the heads in cold water and lightly bruise between hands.  Allow to soak for 10-15 minutes then remove the flower heads.  Strain the remaining liquid through a cheesecloth filter to remove the acidic hairs.  Sweeten to taste.

Sources:

Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons. 1976.

Tom Brown Jr’s Guide to Wild Edibles & Medicinal Plants by Tom Brown Jr. 1986.

Foxfire 2, edited by Eliot Wigginton. 1973.

Harrowsmith Magazine. Issues through 1978-1989.

Through conversation and correspondence with elders et al. following presentations to the many Horticulture Societies in Ontario District 18: Muskoka/ Parry-Sound, workshops and seminars.

Compiled by Rebecca Krawczyk, 2002.  The above recipes are guidelines for educational and landscaping purposes only.  Responsibility for collection, preparation and consumption of the aforementioned ingredients falls solely upon those collecting, preparing and consuming.

BarK Ecologic Gardens & Nursery will not be held responsible for any injury that may occur while utilizing this literature as a guideline.

May the forest be with you.

*Botanigal no longer gives large public seminars about wild edibles due to the risk of over-harvesting by humans, which can degrade existing wild forage populations for wildlife.  

Private tours are possible upon request.

Black Ops Birders

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What Makes a Bad-Ass?
Protocol for Ultimate Black Ops Style

By: Corvus Corax

ARE MY BINOCULARS HANGING TOO LOW!?  If so, this common birding faux-pas can invoke questions from the layman such as: “Have you been hunting?”, or “Who do you work for?”, or if encased in a jacket on a female geek, “When are you expecting?” Oh dear.

A fully-fledged Black Ops may be spotted with their binoculars at an awkward height on the torso, despite trying to maintain a sharp silhouette. Silent fabrics are choice, and hair can be unruly. Even in the age of The Oracle, hard documentation gear is on hand: cameras, loops, and a variety of field guides; so that the discovery on any given day is never compromised or interrupted.

To find a flock of Black Ops with cameras aimed at a tree boasting a fine representation of Homo sapiens genitalia, or at a turgid flush of gametophytes, is commonplace. They can also be seen lowing like cattle over a lump of scat containing putrefied rodent. A Bad-ass can never over-analyze a blood droplet or skid-mark, as these observations often result in fascinating anecdotes, for example: ‘Chew rodent skulls well, or they’re no fun to drag through the bum’ ~ we all have our imaginations.

Bad-asses readily chirp to others in a study group about how little they know, but the Black Ops actually know more than they let on. They find the little things, often perverse, and document them, while laughing on the inside.

The Black Ops make it a regular game of speaking in code, and pretending to be on high priority recon missions; this handily camouflages the absent and sometimes messy state of the complex Bad-ass brain. It is the willingness to investigate further after a day of immersion with The Learned, and holding a twisted mind behind one’s tongue, that makes a Black Ops a Black Ops.
The Bad-ass typically carries bounty to tempt others to become Black Ops; it is the perfect guise, because those who pack great food and other sweets are often assumed to be angelic. The treats ease the transition as geeks move to the Black side. Once the Black Ops patch is worn, the pride of becoming Bad-ass overrides the fear of being discovered. If discovered, the Bad-ass knows the code to bring others into the Black Ops fold with stealth and skill, and perhaps a cold beer.

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An agent sporting vernacular Black Ops on Two-Rivers trail.  Note how the Bad-ass is typically concealed beneath the pant leg.

 

Black Ops birders can be dangerously similar to other birders; driving with Black Ops can too, be risky.  Though we operate using tactical, cautious, and defensive protocol; brakes are often applied suddenly.  There are times when vehicle doors and rear hatches may be left open as the Black Ops vehicle veers out onto a parkway, spewing gear, in order to keep up with the learned and senior members of a study group.  Aside from the roadways, other mishaps may occur.  Technical equipment has been dropped into water bodies, and smashed into bedrock.  Footwear can be lost in bogs, eyes are poked for future floaters ~ guaranteed, and operative face-plants into snow and muck are commonplace.

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Creatures that live among the Black Ops often become Bad-asses themselves.

Though there can be tactical mishaps, if a Black Ops and their crew ever get lost: Never Fear!  Survival is always in mind when packing for an outing.  A Black Ops can always save themselves along with their predictably helpless counterparts on any journey.  Like a good scout, Bad-ass birders will reliably have essential tools, liquids, plenty of food and other, ahem, provisions on hand.

Resist the urge to be cocky.  It has been proven that a Black Ops can become so confident with their Bad-assiness that they wittingly wander out of sight of their platoon.  It is easy for an operative to become distracted by a documentation mission, only to leave teammates panicking in the elements.  There is nothing quite like the hairy eyeballs a smart-assed agent can get from saturated cohorts once it has been discovered that said operative handily returned to a warm, dry rendezvous vehicle to sit in comfort while studying photographic results.  It is advised not to add fog doodles to these situations.  One must beware their Bad-ass ego when playing with others.

Black Ops Birders tend towards success; often managing unique businesses with clients who can’t seem to satiate their need for the curious Black Ops style: the IT Factor that comes with our super Bad-ass work.

Sometimes a Black Ops will honourably graduate from the flurry of self-employment to the big track:

The Government Office!

When this happens, the Black Ops must remain calm.  A new sleep schedule should be quickly and deftly adapted, with no hint of pain, or the Bad-ass may be discovered.

When wearing a uniform, attitude must be concealed to undergarments and socks.  Since Bad-asses often bite their tongue and keep thoughts inside their heads, new verbal skills must be adopted.  Projection is important, with head held high.  And the lips must delay thought, filtering through the data bank of curse words, ‘Artsy Fartsy’ phrases, and dirty analogies.  It should also be mentioned that scat photographs, calendars of genital-like tree growths, and other such hilarity projects should remain at home and not be brought to the office; not even to be hidden on the back of the office door!

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A successful Black Ops implant in-situ.  Telepathic communication with the seniority has been observed.

Yes, the life of a Black Ops Birder is unique and mysterious, but if the aforementioned recommendations are followed, to the letter, a Bad-ass can retain an appearance of normalcy and professionalism.  That is also what makes a Black Ops a Black Ops, the ability to adapt, and we learn these skills through our entrepreneurial spirit and our intense observation of the natural world.  Our Black Ops style carries us through any situation, mundane or challenging, because we are Bad-ass, and the Bad-ass always come out on top!  CC.

To my Black Ops Ladies Crew:

May the forest be with you, and may you be among the forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tales of a Walking Stick

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The Shillelagh helps us gauge the size of the prints we photograph.

We are lucky enough to snowshoe right out of our back yard. With walking sticks in hand, we pack down trails every winter to observe wildlife and experience the woods sans blood-sucking bugs. With this hobby has come a fellow love for winter tracking over snow. The stories that unfold from footprints left behind are unwittingly evident with every dusting of fresh snowflakes, and are so descriptive in their own way; they could have inspired Shakespeare to write another comedy or tragedy.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have loved the clues left behind. Tiny tracks leading to a bright red droplet of blood on snow, a smattering of feathers drifting about an impressive set of wing-prints.  Is this the scene of a murder?  Or just a quick snack provided to a Raven via automobile?  I have caught myself gazing down at the snow with no one else around, laughing out loud at the slapstick choreography laid down by a Red squirrel, of which Chaplin would be proud, marvelling to myself: ‘Who needs a Hollywood script’.

Upon first glance of my winter tracking photos, the walking stick seems to be the star attraction.  It has its own unique beauty and like many celebrities, is lankier than most.  It has received many compliments in the most unexpected places. My friends have given the stick the honorary title of Shillelagh. It was originally sought out to calm my ‘bearanoia’, as I often walk in the woods alone, but it has now become an indispensable tool and I never enter the woods without it.  As mentioned before, it is longer than the average walking stick so it allows for support, even when it breaks through the snow below trail level to hit solid ground.  It has a hook on one end; this lets me pull myself up a steep slope, or off of my backside, with the help of a small tree trunk.  I often lay the stick down in the snow to document animal tracks measuring length between bounds along with print size.

The gaits of different creatures tell such great tales. Prints can express the personalities of the animals that leave them behind, along with their moods at the time of imprint.

Red Squirrels are spastic and comedic, always taking stock.

The Fisher cruises her territory.

Otters play.

Pine Martens bound towards adventure.

The Grouse shuffles monotonously for snacks, which is amusing because walking the line is quite the opposite of bursting out of the snow into a surprised face!

Wild Turkeys, the newly imported flocking heirlooms, are so unsure of what to do with their bulk they look sideways at each other to see why they’re walking forward.

A Porcupine tramps uphill in an awkward determined, squiggle staying afloat on its bristles.

The Fox lightly skips along in direct register with purpose, scouting his turf.

Wolf seem to happen upon our trails because they are often tracking themselves; afloat above the crust covering large tracts of land.

Raven skim in from above quietly observing and leave mischievous and curious prints for you to find.

The little Deer mouse is so busy hopping on its haunches from seed to seed that it doesn’t notice its past.

While the Vole frantically scurries from one hole to another, in a constant state of fear from above.

The deep dents, long jumps and melted snow beds, accompanied by scratched soil and nibbled ferns follow the White-tailed deer.

All of these patterns remind us of winter survival and the wisdom of conserving calories.

I measure this with my stick.

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Otter tracks on the left and a sign of super-fun sliding on the right.

During the winter of 2011-12, the precipitation fell as rain almost as often snow, so the trails remained like eggshells.  Whenever we tried to ‘just boot it’ we’d punch through repeatedly, burning more calories than we cared for, so the snowshoes had to stay on most of the winter.  Another consequence of the rain and icy crust was that the trails were very noisy, snowshoes on ice crystals reverberate terribly, so we rarely saw any animals in person.  The upside to this was that the trace evidence of their travels was terrific. The mammals, other than deer, had no problem floating on top of the snow pack, and thanks to the several light dustings of snow we could tell who had walked where, and on which day.  We began to discuss the activities of the repeat rovers and eventually determined the home ranges and daily habits of several of our wild neighbours. The trails didn’t quiet down for us until the second substantial snowfall of the winter, which occurred near the end of February.  The clear sky and cold that followed gave us the chance to properly stabilize our woodland snow bridge to perfection.

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So how does one make the perfect snow trail?  One must time it just right around the ideal weather systems, which only occur a few times per winter, if you’re lucky. Watch the weather for a warm, bountiful snowfall.  Then flatten the snow and groom the trail throughout the warm spell, ideally during or just after a predictably large dump of snow.  This is even better when you know it is going to be followed by a quick freeze and clear skies afterwards.  If timed correctly one can get a bridge built through the forest so it can be walked upon without snowshoes into the spring melt.  When you get a trail like this, you feel like a wild animal, floating over the snow as if a string were attached to your head, a light and springy marionette, if at least for one or two days,  with hopes for one or two more weeks.

When we need to pound snow within a limited time frame, we use our 3 snowplowing dogs. Our two big shepherd siblings push snow with their chests, punching narrow footings for the trail bridge, and the little pug-beagle (peagle) works like a submarine, his curly tail being the only thing visible wiggling above the snow.  We follow with the snowshoes smoothing the trail like icing on a cake and…Voila!  A quadruple pounded trail with deep piers, which after freeze will be ready to float a 125-200 pound human in boots.

Many animals use our trails almost immediately after they are blazed, even when they are too thin to float us.  Some critters tunnel under our snow bridge such as mink, grouse, and other forest rodents. We can tell where they’ve been beneath, but just not from the tracks; the dogs can’t resist poking their noses through the snow when they smell a heat-sealed creature pocket.  When we pound under perfect conditions, the trails can support even the White-tailed deer along with Fisher, Pine Marten and Turkeys, who like to walk on top. The deer and hare nibble any twigs back away from the trail once they use it for travel, which helps us out too.

R.K. Ruffed Grouse prints in snow.jpgR.K. Grouse scat dual duty.jpg

Ruffed Grouse tracks and scat are quite a consistent sight, though we’ve seen fewer now that the Wild Turkey population has increased.

During one of my crunchy February 2012 treks I came across the tracks of a fisher with two perfectly tidy marks running parallel to the footprints, like a gnome had been cross-country skiing alongside. I had found its den just a few hundred meters up the hill from our trail- head the month before, and up until that point had just enjoyed observing what time, and in which direction, it ventured out across the snow from its home. The precision and consistency of the extra markings peaked  my curiosity.  It must have carried a kill!  I wanted the whole story, and I went out the following morning to find it.

R.K. Fisher dragging hare cropped.jpg

The Fisher will travel great distances to pursue and carry a kill.

The forecast was predicting a snowstorm to begin that afternoon. This was a time of great tracking, because of the light dusting over the crust, but it was not a good time for a human to slog through the snow to find the kill site.  The crust was thin, and I broke through about half-a-foot with each step. I may as well have had shovels on my feet- but I was determined.  I wanted blood, and I wanted to document it with my camera and Shillelagh.  The fisher had walked directly from its den towards the kill site, crossing the trail of a porcupine and several hares without even stopping for a sniff.  It had only one purpose that day.  From what I could tell, it knew exactly where to find what it required. After it had performed the bloody and likely swift deed, it carried its prey across the river and over the road to where I regrettably had to abort the mission. With my inner naturalist and parental adviser wrestling in my head, I headed back, absolutely amazed that this determined creature had dragged its kill over two kilometres, skirting its original trail beyond my ability to follow. The disappointment of not concluding the investigation with a gory photo didn’t dampen my spirits too badly.  I wondered if the two lines in the snow could have been created by a pair of feet, maybe a hare. A friend offered a theory that perhaps one line was created by a nose, and the other a tail, being neatly folded in half to be transported. I then thought about how lucky my cats were, that this efficient hunter had not decided to target them, as they were so much closer to the fisher’s den than the one whom didn’t live to tell…

R.K. Porcupine squiggle with stick.jpg

This porcupine squiggled two kilometres uphill and beyond from the river below.  That’s quite a migration for such an awkward dude!

Surely enough, the heavy snowfall we needed for better trails occurred the next day with a twenty-centimetre dumping of snow. With this I knew I would never get the true story of the conquest that day, but I was happy to have thicker and quieter trails.  The fisher must have sensed that the trekking was soon to become more difficult for hunting, it had gone out to kill when the travel and transport of prey was easy, and so it stayed happily in its den, all drafts sealed and well fed with whatever it was, for about a week without having to venture out into the deep, fresh snow again. I sent wishes for pleasant dreams to that natural born killer, glad that it had stayed away from my cats, as I fell asleep with a great tale in mind. (February. 29, 2012. R.K.)

N.B.  I found this a week or two later, at the mouth of the Fisher’s shelter which was under a large dead fall log.

R.K. rabbit hindquarter ouside of Fisher den 2011.jpg

May the forest be with you.