Are you ready for New England weather?
When cold temperatures are sustained, bodies of water freeze. This creates a new environment for both humans and wildlife to adapt to. Travel is made easier, though precarious, on ice-covered lakes. Games are created, and the ice becomes a playground for ice-hockey and ice-skating. People still need to eat, and fish is still readily available, as long as you can create a hole in the ice for ice-fishing. Be safe–the ice can be unpredictable if you don’t know how to read it. So safety first: check out our blog for research and videos (the best I have seen).
(These videos may not be suitable for very young children…parents may want to view videos first.)
So after working on signaling with sound, I decide to make a sun compass. Time is important right now so I only take 3 minutes to put this together. I get a straight branch and place it in the ground and mark the tip of it where the shadow ends with another shorter stick. The next part of the sun compass is time. As the shadow moves every 15 minutes, I mark it again. This allows me to form an accurate read on the sun’s trajectory and gives me an east/west line while getting other things done.
Off in the distance I hear the call of a woodpecker; I have an intuitive hit that this is important somehow but not sure at the moment. Birds are excellent allies because they know their place and are specialists and depending on the type of bird will indicate habitat.
A New Paradigm in Being LOST
There’s a lot of “charge” in the word “lost”; so much focus on the psychological fear of being lost. Things arise in the mind, like “I’m not going to have enough water, warmth or food.” This is a fear of the unknown. Let’s shift our paradigm about being “lost”.
Indigenous people all over the world lived (and live) so close to the earth that they did not call what they did on a daily basis survival. They did not consider where they lived “wilderness”; something separate from their lives. Historical research in ethnobotany as well as speaking to the native peoples directly, has taught us that it wasn’t about being lost, it was about “being”; it was not about surviving, it’s about “living.”
We can learn from this recognition of a close relationship to the land. In this paradigm, you are part of the forest. If you are at home in the woods, you are never truly lost. Knowing your place, the plants and wildlife as part of your community is what will nurture a healthy at-home mindset where ever you are.
Thinking of the forest as “home” starts by knowing your plants and their uses. What parts of them are edible, medicinal, and in what season? What edible plants have poisonous look-alikes and what are clues to proper identification? What trees are good for firewood, for tinder? As you get to know your plant neighbors, they become your allies in better understanding the habitat you are in.
Building a Shelter and Knowing Ecology
As I scan the land and see what it has to teach me, I notice an area where there are a lot of small pines, and interspersed are large pines, 80 to 100 feet high. Why is this important? Because pines decompose slower, and they accumulate a huge layer of the debris that forms a thick mat. This is exactly what I’m looking for to create that insulative layer in the form of a sleeping bag. Clustered together they create a natural shelter from wind and rain while allowing sun exposure because the branches die off near the bottom. All of these decisions play a role in location; that’s why it is requires skill to be able to read the land.
I will not camp directly under the great pines where the bark is peeling and are probably infested with ants. That was what “that little bird told me.” The woodpecker’s activity tells me the tree is rotten inside and could become a potential blowdown hazard. I don’t want a tree falling on me. Also, lightning can strike the same place more than once so I am scanning for lightning scars.
Location! Location! Location!
Earlier, my sun compass lets me know how much light I have left to work with and this is crucial since I need to set my priorities. I choose my site and start building. It is very important to be able to read the land topography. A great shelter in a poor location equals a bad shelter; as the saying goes “Location. Location. Location.”
There are clues on the land to know where water pools even though the site looks inviting. By learning what plants grow in moist or wet soil, you learn that even when there is no water present, the plants tell you of a tendency towards moist soil conditions, hence, do not build your shelter in that spot. For example, when you see moss on the ground you know the soil will be damp. So I need to continue searching for a drier area.
Building My Shelter
I start with two leg-sized diameter logs, a little longer than my height laying down. Make them parallel like train tracks, which creates a container for all the small sticks I quickly throw into the middle, making a raised bed. This is vital for staying warm because you need to create a layer of dead air space between you and the ground as insulation. The reason is that the Earth is bigger than you are and the heat from your body will transfer to the Earth; this is called conduction. This is how you get cold from laying on the ground even if you are out of the wind. My bed is made out of a jumble of sticks and a thick layer of needles and leaves. This is really “comfy”; I’m not kidding!
Telling Time by the Sun
Marking the shadow on the sun compass again, I measure with my hand how much light I have left. With this method, each finger width represents 15 minutes; a full hand is an hour. I follow the path of the sun with my hand, and I realize I have 3 hours of light.
Since I used the S.T.O.P rule and stopped early enough in the day, I have plenty of time and light to take care of all of my basic needs, and even wander from my anchor point.
The Importance in Developing Skills and Training
I have slept out before when practicing making shelters and sleeping in them throughout the year to hone my skills. I have slept in home-made shelters under clear skies, rain, snow and freezing temperatures. My record lowest temperature is 15° below freezing in February with no fire while wearing jeans, fleece top, rain coat and hiking boots. This was to simulate for me a lost-hiker scenario. After teaching many classes on wilderness living skills and survival, I have the confidence and skills and freedom to be at home in the woods and not afraid of being lost. My hands-on knowledge enables me to share my personal experience so others can have confidence when they are learning and gain that sense of freedom.
Home Away from Home
It is an amazing sensation being deep in the forest surrounded by the night with a glowing campfire for warmth and companionship. Everything is done! I have created my home away from home – a bed and shelter that keeps me warm enough even without a fire; my plastic bag to catch rain, dew, and drinking water; my sun compass for navigation, a safe fire location and firewood comprised of tree species that throw lots of heat, light and will burn long and steady over time.
Enjoying the experience of the setting sun, the sound of the owls in the trees, and crackle of a bright, warm fire, there is a real peace that washes over me. This is a gift to experience and learn from. I am camping; thriving, not just surviving.
It took me getting lost to truly find the gift of the present moment.
On November 11, 2013, Frank Grindrod made his first primetime appearance! Here’s the segment from Chronicle, Main Streets episode (you can scroll in about 2:49 minutes to see Frank’s portion about wild edibles; or you can watch the whole segment to see some of our community).
LEARNING FROM THE PAST AND PRESENT
There are many different plants that offer potential foods for us to experience. Our ancestors all over the world remind us to share a deep relationship with plants and the importance of a sacred balance. There are cultural tracks left behind for us to follow and learn this deep knowledge that may come directly from indigenous elders around the globe as well as a plethora of information in Ethnobotany and wild food literature.
I have had an opportunity to study with a number of authors and specialists and have integrated foraging into my life for more than a decade. These wild foragers, each coming from there own unique perspective, share many commonalities – passion for sharing their love of plants, eating wild food as a lifestyle, and the tremendous depth of knowledge they share. I have been able to integrate many of their best practices so as to add to the living book of eating wild.
Inspiring foragers with whom I have trained with include: Doug Elliot, Sam Thayer, Arthur Haines, Blanche Cybele Derby, Rosemary Gladstar, Walt Gigandet, Russ Cohen and John Kallas
As people discovered the gift of fire, many parts of the plants became available as food. It has been scientifically documented that the nutritional value in wild plants is beyond their cultivated counterparts.
There are many cycles in the natural world, and many of our classes are designed by what is available during these seasons. These cycles are all different in what they yield with many species of plants and the many parts, such as;
• biennial stalks,
The forager knows this and looks forward to the amazing diversity of food available in early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, early fall, late fall, and even into the winter. Through this knowledge, we learn to develop a personal relationship with these plants and the special places that they grow.
THE NEED IS GREAT RIGHT NOW TO EAT LOCAL
For ultimate health and wellness, eating WILD is the best health care insurance you can have. With these changing times that we are living in, it is important to supplement our cultivated harvest, supporting our local farmers, with a WILD harvest.
BOOKS ARE GREAT RESOURCES BUT DIRECT EXPERIENCE WITH A KNOWLEDGEABLE PERSON IS INVALUABLE.
Earthwork Programs has designed a Wild Edibles and Medicinal Plant IMMERSION SERIES to share this valuable knowledge. Join us for this unique experience in WILD FOOD and allow it to complement your current culinary habits and lifestyle.
Winter has come and gone, and spring is clearly unfolding: the birdsong, the wildflowers, the bursting of shoots braking through the Earth’s surface in fertile ground, the trees leafing out, the warmer days as frogs sing, and then in the spring, showers are coming as the ice melts off the mountains, bringing it down through the rivers. It’s a powerful time of change.
My daughter and I–with binoculars in hand and our favorite walking stick, backpack filled with food, water and a couple of field guides, map and first aid kit–venture into the forest, as the sun rises, with a goal of seeing wildlife and not being seen. We move quietly through the deep forest, moving like a ghost, invisible as best we can while using the Indian sign language we have been practicing.
We are so blessed to be in the middle of a magical place with such a rich diversity as we are in southern New England…a world where the boreal forest and the northern forest meet, giving us the best place to be immersed in nature. The boreal forest, also known as “the spruce-moose forest,” has mainly evergreen trees and a few select hardwoods like poplar, paper birch, tamarack and others. The northern hardwoods have such a vast amount of trees like yellow birch, sugar maple, American beech, eastern hemlock, white pine, northern red oak, cherry, and those are just a few—there are many more.
As we trek deeper into the forest, we notice the dense canopy not letting in much sunlight as the sun rises out of the east, giving us a sense of direction, but our awareness tunes into a subtle change, and as we enter, there is more light shining down on us than just a minute earlier. This is a track on a large scale that is affecting how much light which helps to make a more rich forest in vegetation and brings with it many animals and birds and the like. With our senses honed, there are signs of the animals all around us. We notice claw marks and bites on trees, stunted growth where it looks like a nursery of Japanese bonsai trees, and when we look down in the leaf litter, there are many footfalls showing worn-in paths on the forest floor, weaving in and out of the cliffs.
Passing through different habitats, we see the many deciduous leaves and all the light that shines creates a dappled look under our feet and in the area between the wetland and the cliffs. There is a lot of feeding sign called browse (little 45-degree angle cuts), taking the end of the branch clean off, almost like clippers.
As we expand our awareness to the area high up on the cliff, we see a good hiding place opposite of the spot we want to watch. Scanning for signs of movement, we hope to get a glance of this very elusive animal who chooses the south-facing, hard-to-access areas in the cliffs. We have already done our research; we know this animal is crepuscular, which means it is active at twilight hours (dawn and dusk). It is diurnal (day) and nocturnal (night).
Its primary food source has left sign with the angled cut that we found earlier, so we know there is a feeding area in close view. One of the traits of this animal is the ability to be motionless for long periods; even in winter, being able to lay in the snow where you can find a sphinx-like “hunting bed” while it waits to ambush its prey. To discover this body print melted out from the heat that is generated while it remains still as a shadow is inspiring! As we get down low, we find sections of hair frozen to the ice; however this time of year, you want to look for “resting beds;” places where you can make out where it has been laying down, usually under a rock overhang on a pile of leaves insulating from the ground.
The forest is so quiet. My daughter and I take turns to scan the cliffs with our glasses. We have been watching, quietly, for almost an hour and a half. We know that patience always pays off. We also know that this animal has a very small heart and it travels a very short range compared to others of its size. By knowing this, we also could watch it hunt as it stalks its prey since it is primarily a carnivore.
While looking near the top where we have been looking all morning, in the best rays of light, we see movement–a very camouflaged tawny color with dark shades and beautiful markings, big eyes and graceful movement as we watch it stretch basking in the suns glow. It has been there all this time…watching us watching for her. So who’s watching whom? While studying us, perhaps, she senses we are not a threat.
It is time to hunt. Her preferred prey, the rabbit, helps to sustain her but also helps raising her kittens. If you haven’t guessed by now, the mystery animal is the bobcat.
As we watch our cat in her natural rhythm, we are excited because we may be able to watch her hunt. Earlier we mentioned how she lies in wait in “hunting beds.” Once the prey is close enough, there is an explosion of energy–a POUNCE! From her ambush spot, bursting forth after the rabbit who has zigzagging motion to avoid capture. There is a very small window of time because she needs to not burn too much energy; if the hunt lasts longer than just minutes, she will stop rest, find another spot and start again and continue that cycle.
This bobcat needs to eat and feed her new kittens, and when she has the rabbit, she will take it to a place close by to hide it and take parts of the animal and “cache” (cover and save for later) the rest, using her front paws very much the same as our house cats. She will travel back and forth to feed her young if she has gotten a good amount of food. She will continue to hunt this area because of the success.
Thanks for joining us on our adventure into the outdoors.
Until next time happy trails…
Here’s a video from Boston Globe Magazine writer Neil Swidey with Scott LaPierre about emergency preparedness…
Winter survival focus of talk
Published: Thursday, February 03, 2011, 10:30 AM Updated: Wednesday, February 09, 2011, 9:32 AM
By Kathryn Roy
While they occurred more than two years ago, the ice storms of 2008 reverberate in the minds of Western Massachusetts residents whose lives were turned upside down due to the extreme weather.
Residents in the hilltowns and other areas across the Pioneer Valley were left without power for days.
The incident reminded Frank Grindrod of Williamsburg-based Earthwork Programs of the importance of knowing winter emergency skills, both inside and outside the home.
Earthwork offers emergency preparation talks, emergency survival and self-sufficiency workshops all over the region.
Grindrod, Earthwork’s founder and director, said the ice storms taught that being prepared for any weather-related emergency is essential if you live in New England.
If a weather forecast indicates a big winter storm is approaching, that’s the time to start preparing. Homeowners who have wells should gather bottled water for sanitation and cooking, in the event that their wells are inoperable due to a loss of power.
“We go through the house and talk about how to utilize your home if you don’t have power,” Grindrod said of his classes. “Some people have a generator, but a lot of people don’t realize your heater may not work on a generator, or you have to plug it into whatever unit you’re using.”
While most people have cordless phones these days, Grindrod said it’s important to have a corded phone as well.
“When the power goes out, those cordless phones stop working,” Grindrod pointed out. “Even though you still may have a line to your house, you want to get an emergency land line phone so you still have use of your phone in the event of a power outage.”
Grindrod recommends that in the event of a power outage or other emergency, residents need to become aware of their surroundings and to be able to accurately assess the situation.
“With that land line, you can call the electric company to report the outage and get an estimate on when it will be turned back on,” he said. “You may have someone down the road from you who doesn’t have power, even if you haven’t lost yours or if yours has been restored.”
Grindrod said with the 2008 ice storms, there were elderly and disabled people who weren’t able to take care of themselves and needed help, but no one knew of their situation.
“Some of them died; some of them used the stove in their house like a camp stove and got carbon monoxide poisoning,” he said.
Grindrod also recommends being prepared for emergencies when traveling. Cars should be stocked with water, non-perishable snacks, blankets, decent gloves, a flashlight and flares.
“If your car goes off the side of the road, one thing you have to think about is, ‘Do I stay in my car or do I leave my car?'” he said. “If a plow is coming through, you might have to leave your car if you’re in a place where you might get hit.”
Those who stay in their car should only run the engine as the car is cooling off. They should also get out and clear any snow out of, and around, the exhaust pipe.
“If you’re going to run your car, you want to make sure you crack your windows and always have blankets,” Grindrod said.
When traveling in wintry weather, or going out in the woods to hike or hunt, it’s a good idea to give friends or family an estimated time of arrival and a phone number.
“If you have a situation where someone is lost, the quicker you’re able to alert search and rescue or EMS, the quicker they’re going to be found,” he said.
In his classes, Grindrod talks about how to be prepared to survive three days in the wilderness. At home, the preparedness is different.
“Our focus is about having some basic skills to be confident and to be comfortable; it’s about knowing what to do and being able to take care of your kids at the same time,” he said. “You could try to play games with your kids, to see if you can do without power for three hours or so at home.”
To learn more about Grindrod’s talks and workshops, visit www.earthworkprograms.com or call (413) 522-0338.
Earthwork Programs will also travel throughout the Pioneer Valley to offer workshops for larger groups.
By Barbara Thomke
– February 6, 2011
After I spent the morning of Saturday, January 8th exploring the new world of Nordic Skating at the Lake Morey Skate-A-Thon, I was intrigued by an afternoon class offered in the Winter Skills Day series at the Hulbert Outdoor Center in Fairlee, Vermont called Emergency Survival and Self-Sufficiency Skills. I didn’t go to prepare myself for overnight treks in the winter wilderness, sleeping in hand crafted snow huts at 10 degrees! But I do sometimes venture into the backcountry for day-long treks on skis, so I thought it might be useful to expand my knowledge on this topic beyond what I gleaned from my Girl Scout days of yesteryore. What I learned: how to stay warm if I got lost, or what the best emergency items are best to carry along in a pack might just save me from trouble . . .
Carrying a pack of emergency supplies and checking your equipment function may be the two most important actions you can take prior to an outing. (Barbara Thomke photo)
Frank Grindrod, our instructor, a kind and gentle man, set the scene for his class of seven by showing us a video of a woman who cross-country skied alone with her dog in unknown territory, got lost, then broke through ice and fell in a river and shivered with the pooch until they were found hours later. Scary! But by the time our class was over we had a new awareness of how to take care of ourselves at home or in the woods, and had learned about the most important thing of all – being prepared. From the dozens of tips we learned, here are the top ones that I personally took with me from our class:
Outdoors – Always take with you a small kit of essentials, no matter how near or far you plan to roam, Here’s what Frank recommended:
* A signal mirror, large plastic bag as a rain protector or container for water, a magnesium striker for starting a fire and a space blanket. Why? Hypothermia (low body temperature) is the #1 winter killer.
* A tin cup to heat water in or to melt snow into water
* Extra clothing such as gloves, scarf, socks, goggles, upper body layer
* Duct tape – the universal fix-it
* A pocket knife
From 12″ of toilet paper we learned to make a wick. Using a cat food can, the cordage, and cooking oil, a small heat and light source can be created. It burned for a half hour! (Barbara Thomke photo)
At home – Frank recommended stocking up a couple of days before a storm is forecast:
* Flashlight and/or headlamps plus extra batteries. Matches and candles – the ones that burn for 9 hours that you can purchase at a camping outfitter. To increase the light effect through reflection, place a mirror behind or underneath these light sources.
* Canned and dry foods, especially lentils. Soak overnight and allow to sprout for increased protein punch and green food. Soak rice and beans overnight for quicker cooking. Store in food-grade plastic containers along with powdered milk and honey.
* A small stove and fuel.
* A crank-operated radio and a crank lantern could be called essential gear.
* Store water in food-safe plastic containers, cooking pots, and your washing machine. Because your water source may not be treated when the electricity goes out, purify water by bringing it to a ‘dancing boil’.
* Create a ‘warm room’ by draping plastic over doors and openings to trap the heat of a woodstove or other heat source – though be sure it is ventilated.
In the car – carry these items:
* A wool army/navy blanket which can be used to sleep in, as a coat, to keep an injured person warm. Wool continues to keep a body warm even if wet.
* A metal cup, duct tape and Yaktrax for traction on your feet if you walk for help.
* Water in a metal container (could be heated), or in plastic. Fill only 3/4 full to allow space for freezing.
* A bunch of asphalt shingles to provide tire traction if your car is stuck in the snow or on ice.
Visit Frank’s website for lots more good advice on this topic of how to be prepared to deal with hypothermia and other winter emergencies as well as a listing of programs and classes he offers.
Two weeks after I took this course my husband and I were on a vigorous backcountry skiing tour near our home in northern Vermont. We were only 15 minutes into the initial uphill part when the snap attachment on the kicker climbing skin of Bob’s right ski broke apart. Then the whole skin peeled off the base of his ski and lay in the snow behind him. Luckily we were able to secure the skin again with the duct tape I now carried in my pack!
“Thank you, Frank!”, I thought many times as we continued the rest of our nine mile trek without a further glitch.
P.S. I carry the duct tape wound around a pencil. The pencil can be handy to write with or punch a hole, and it makes it easy to unwind the tape. Plus, you can carry a reasonable amount without the bulk of a duct tape roll.
Editor Note: Most old hands at backcountry skiing carry duct tape in their pack emergency kit as Barbara suggests, but also wrap 25 feet of it around a ski pole just below the grip. You never know it’s there until you need it . . .