Earthwork Wilderness Survival Training School | 413-340-1161

The Mystery of Moose and How to Find Them

Moose are the ghosts of the forest

Moose are these amazing creatures that can be really close to us, and we would never realize it because they can blend into the landscape even though they are over seven feet tall and can weigh up to a ton (2,000 lbs.) and have antlers that can reach six feet across!

The odds are stacked in our favor 

moose 5

How do we notice that they have been in an area? According to research by Sue Morse of Keeping Track, “An estimated 80,000 moose live in the Northeast, which practically guarantees an opportunity to see one.”

Where can I find moose tracks and sign?

The key word here is “habitat.” This is the natural home or environment for an animal to live in.

Moose habitat is an area that has lots of brush exposed overgrown fields and meadows and also transition areas where different forest types meet, i.e., field into oak hickory forest. There is also a lot of activity of feeding and bedding in wetlands that are regenerating after a family of beavers has left.

Another place to see moose is where there has been a clear-cut or some sort of break in the forest, like a harvested plot or logged area in regrowth and has been able to have pioneer species of low growing plants, trees and shrubs.

An important step is get to know your trees

moose 4

Animals often have very special relationships to plants, trees and shrubs, and by understanding what moose feed on, you improve your chances of moose sighting and study. Do you know what a Red Maple tree looks like—we are surrounded by them; they are one of the top 10 trees in Massachusetts. The ones were looking for are between 3 and 10 inches in diameter, they have a smooth gray bark, opposite branching and bright red buds that are clustered. This is probably the tree I see that is affected by moose more than any other.

Striped maple is a shrub that is very common and is green; that’s right…the tree bark is green with white flecks and stripes in it. This is a favorite of moose, hence its nickname–moose wood maple.

Moose feeding sign

moose 2

Moose have this incredible ability to be able to reach up to 10 feet, sometimes higher when they get on their hind legs or depending upon snowpack but what they’re most known for is “walk over’s”—this is where they straddle a young sampling and walk over it while feeding; then the mass of their body lowers down the tree and they just feed while they’re walking…sometimes the branch breaks off at the tip. So think about how many times you’ve walked by these and wondered; now you know that this is the sign of the moose, especially if you look at the ends of the branches and they’ve been chewed off (a deer would suckle off the ends and pull, leaving a tattered end; since moose are in the same family of deer, they also don’t have top teeth).

One of the most exciting things I have experienced is being so close up to them and not even knowing it until I pick up the movement in my peripheral vision that alerts me to seeing their ghost-like movement through the forest.

moose 1

Always remember moose are wild animals and like any wild animals, can be unpredictable; it’s important to be careful when interacting with the wildlife.

Enjoy the outdoors,
Frank

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

F&M Great Swamp FallAs we walk into the forest, we see all the different types trees, and we know, somehow, that they all have a purpose in life, just like we do. We notice many have lost their leaves this time of year, and the forest looks completely different—kind of empty because you can see so far, and it is very open. However, that is just the surface; let’s look closer.

The conifers take center stage with their deep green and contrast to the snow; while they do shed their needles, they are primarily green all year, which is why they are called “evergreens.”

Using touch—reach out and feel the needles

hemlock branchWhen we reach out and feel the needles, and when we rubbed them in our hands and smell, there is that amazing pine scent reminiscent of a Christmas tree—that strong aroma that can remind us of the holidays.

Visual things to watch for

As we look even closer, we notice really short needles (less than an inch) that are flat and on the underside, there are distinct white lines like racing stripes; this is an excellent identification characteristic. It also has the tiniest little stem you can barely see. In botanical terms, when you look it up in your field guide, this is called a “petiole.”

Feel the texture of the bark

These trees have really smooth bark when very young, and as they get older, it becomes stiff and deeply furrowed (creating indented grooves). Look at many different trees—young and old—and compare the feeling of the bark, and how the young ones are really tender and the older ones are like a rock.

hemlock 2Natural history viewing our past

In the 1800s, Eastern hemlock (Tsuga Canadenses) was used heavily; these trees would be anywhere from 250 to 800 years old. They were harvested in great numbers and were sought after for a special quality they possess: great amounts of tannic acid—up to 12%—used for tanning hides and preserving leather; the outer bark was used and soaked. Some of the hides were kept in vats (barrels of soaking tannins) for up to six months in order for them to turn the dark tea color and create a preserve and coloring for the produced leather. Hemlock tanneries were all over the Northeast, and they shipped the hides from here all over the world.

What I have personally seen, and you can too!

hemlock 1In the picture, you can see the needles and the bark. You can see underneath the very outer light brown bark, there is a dark purple color; this is a great characteristic for being able to identify Eastern hemlock.

What use are these trees now? They are a tremendous resource for wildlife: the needles create shade to give animals and birds cover. So they are used for nesting, denning and protection from the elements.

I often find many deer and moose in these areas…tracks, signs and tons of “browse” (feeding sign). This is where deer “yard up” (all stay in same area communally); this helps create safety in numbers and helps avoid being surprised by coyotes. It also makes it easier for them to move, because they pack down the snow to conserve their energy during these hard winter months.

I’ve also found coyotes’ beds, which look like circles; the heat from the coyote’s body melts out the impression of its nose where he/she is melting snow with the breath.

Outdoor challenge and scavenger hunt you can do with your children

See if you can find the interior bark that is purple. Hint: When you look around at the base of the tree, you can see the flakey bark chips; look under there.

Tracks and sign: if you look on the very tops of the branches, close to the trunk, you will often see squirrel territorial teeth marking sign, or going up a mature tree, you can see the claw marks and sometime bite marks of our black bears climbing since they use Eastern hemlock as babysitter trees (mama sends her cubs up them in times of danger or when she is away for long periods).

And at the bottom of the hemlocks, underneath the dense needles protecting from the wind and elements, you can find deer, fox, moose and bear beds. Let’s not forget the calling cards of raccoon and porcupine too—scat!

If you find little holes and black powder on the ground and through the roots, it’s possible you have found Truffles (fungus).

Can you find the little Hemlock cones that look like little tiny pine cones—about ½ inch. Can you find the racing stripes on the underside of the needles?

You’re LOST…Now What? (Part 1)

A Beautiful Hike in the Foothills of the Berkshires…

Nature ConnectionIt’s a beautiful spring day, and the sun is going in and out of the clouds. It’s cold at night and warm during the day…just right for the maple sugaring season. It’s been a cold winter, and I look forward to being able to get into the outdoors, and now is my chance.

I decide to go into the foothills of the Berkshires to go for a hike. I think I’ll take with me some basic essentials: a day pack, water bottle, bag of gorp, lunch, a way to make fire and light, heavy duty trash bag and a small first aid kit.

I tell my wife that I’m going for a day hike. I tell her I’m going to park the car at the trailhead…just in case. I always plan ahead like that.

When I get to the trailhead, I notice that the temperature has really changed; it’s a lot warmer, possibly mid-40’s. I’m wearing hiking boots, quick-dry pants, a fleece and the wind/rain jacket.

Pine TreeAs I enter the forest, the tall trees, like pines, oaks, birches and beech, are all around me. I feel a sense of peace wash over me. As I walk on the trail, I start to let go the details in my head and about the things I need to take care of—at home or for work, like returning emails, making phone calls; it all seems to get further and further away from my mind as I keep walking deeper into the forest.

I walk for a few hours or so, and I begin realize my body is starting to heat up now. I need to take off a layer; it’s really important not to sweat. This is a really good principle to follow in the outdoors—the no-sweat principle. As I walk I pass several streams, and I see the spring wildflowers, hear songs of the birds as they fly overhead, it is quite serene.

I journey on for a good part of the day stopping for a light snack and then a hearty lunch, drinking water periodically. Continuing on, as I head deeper into the woods, I hear the call of the red tail hawk above (“keer!” pause “keer!”); we all know this sound (the movies have played it over and over…it is often heard, especially when a wilderness scene is shown on the screen). I love that sound.

I thought I would be able to tell where the trail is, but as I get deeper into the wilderness, the trail is marked less and less. I take a few steps closer to one of the blazes. Normally it has a white painted marking between 4 to 6 feet high. When I look really close, I notice that part of it has painted over brown.

lost 2So I’m able to tell for about a half an hour but then all of a sudden, I can’t seem to find the trail. I look around and it all seems to look the same. It doesn’t look like there’s been any maintenance out here for quite some time.

I try to retrace my steps; backtracking is something that I’ve read about where you try to follow the path that you came in on. But it is really difficult to see. I try to remember the key parts of tracking: notice a crease in the leaves from the weight of the foot, the area that was dug up by the heel or possibly the drag marks of my hiking stick or the tired footfalls. None of these things worked.

There’s a moment when you have to decide to cut off any other possibility, and take action and allow yourself that recognition that you’re lost!

Once you decide you’re lost, it becomes easier psychologically; you know you need to do something…some kind of lost protocol…but as you decide that you’re not lost, you keep telling yourself “oh it’s gotta be right up here.” “I know the trail is just up ahead.” “No, I’m not lost, just a little disoriented.” It’s thoughts like these that have you get farther away from the last place where you knew where you were…thoughts like these can keep you getting deeper and deeper lost in the woods.

stop

When lost, this is an important acronym to memorize: S. T. O. P.

Stop: This means do just that. Don’t go any further. This has been an emergency protocol and has been very effective. It’s used by the Scouts, outdoor organizations and guide services, search and rescue and many others. When you stop, you also need to calm down; you may want to sit down and take a few breaths and get centered. This is important. Not only are you not going any further, you are also creating what’s called a “scent pool.” This is the term for when particles of scent flakes are falling off your body, onto the ground and the trees around you. It is a concentrated area where, if search and rescue are using dogs for searching, this will be really helpful for the dogs to locate you. This is also why you hug a tree when lost.

Think: A lot of things can be going through your mind at this time. You’ve accepted the fact that you are lost. This is very important step. You need to prioritize your thoughts. Think of your basic needs: shelter, water, fire, signal, food and first aid for the first 72 hours. You may have to spend the night.

A wilderness guide used a good analogy–the first hour or so, the search area can be represented by the size of a business card on a map, and a few hours later, it is the size of open newspaper!

Observe: Use your senses. Do you smell the smoke of a fire; listen for the sound of a roaring river; see the direction of where the sun is traveling across the sky; notice where you are; look for catching features on the landscape, i.e. rivers, streams, trail junctions, dominant boulders or trees, a ridge that you can get a bigger view to see a field or lake in the distance, or a road, a fire tower.

Plan: It is important to create a plan for yourself and know your plan and take ACTION.

This could be marking your area with bright clothing, create a visual signal that creates a contrast to the environment (red coat, orange poncho, etc.). You want to come up with some “what if’s” scenarios, such as “if I hear a vehicle, helicopter or people yelling, what do I do?”

Do you have a way to make noise or a bright light if it is dark and they are searching at night? Sometimes it is easier for the rescuers to see fresh disturbance of tracks at night with lights at a low angle (tracking tip).

It is now late afternoon, and as I make my decision and it begins to slowly sink in that I am here for the night…perhaps longer…I begin to take action. Although it is warm now, I remember the nights have been cold. Before I launch into creating an insulative layer up off the ground and sheltering me from the elements, my first action is making some noise. I get a good solid stick and look for a dead tree that is close by for a better resonance when I hit it. A solid live tree sound will not carry. I also have a skill of whistling with an acorn, and that is extremely loud. I know there is no one searching for me at this moment, however I may find another hiker or a farm house or logger in the area.

threeThe universal sign for emergency is 3! Three loud whistles, gun shots, car horns or banging a piece of metal if trapped underground in a mine or in a building in an earthquake. Always remember 3.

TO BE CONTINUED…I’m Lost! Hike Turns into Wilderness Survival Experience

Free Food Falling from the Sky…Acorns!

Going into the outdoors in the mid-autumn we notice the leaves carpeting the ground in a beautiful all natural mosaic. Earlier in the season, we noticed the leaves changing colors–scarlet, orange, yellow and flame colors like a fire. As we continue to walk in the forest, we are surrounded by these majestic beings that connect the earth to the sky. These trees, in their transformation, are signs that let us know something is happening…a transition is taking place. When there is a slight breeze, we see a few leaves blowing here and there, and when the breeze is really strong, it is like it is snowing leaves. There is a primal urge to run underneath them and catch them as it makes us feel alive and connected and WILD. We also hear the sound of rocks pelting the ground and off other trees. They are not rocks at all but they sure sound heavy when you notice that THUMP. This is a great sound…it is raining food. Free food from the sky…ACORNS abound the oak trees surrounding us.

During late summer, we noticed the acorns dropping, and if we take a closer look, we are aware that almost all of them have caps attached no matter what types of oaks they are. Ancient teachings passed on from our ancestral trackers and foragers, we know this means these acorns were released early by the tree because they are parasitized or have been damaged in some way. In some cases, this means the acorn weevil got to them first before they could be used as food for us. As our awareness deepens, we realize that there is a second time the acorns fall…in October.

This is the perfect time for harvest! Look there are a lot with NO CAPS! These are the ones we want! Before we gather these acorns, let’s pause for a moment of gratitude and thanks. Here is a view from the past of these majestic beings.

The largest white oak was measured at 24½’ around in Paris; this tree is 118’ tall and has a spread of branches 127’. Its rival–the great oak at Wind Mills–is measured with the spread of 148’…a dimension unequaled by any other oak.

It is said that “six generations of the same family have played here, where two thousand children could probably be gathered in this patriarch’s shade. The supply of Indian arrowheads discovered in the soil in which it grows seem never quite exhausted. In the probable life span of this tree have been born, have mightily wrought, and died, William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson, Peter the Great, Napoleon, and Beethoven. Thrones have crumbled and new empires arisen; great ideas have been born and great pictures painted, and the world revolutionized by science and invention, and still no man can say how many centuries this Oak will endure or what nations and creeds it may outlive.” (Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, 1977.)

Have you heard about being able to eat acorns and making flour from them?

Gather the acorns, preferably from red oaks, which are more plentiful here in Western Massachusetts than our white oaks. Once we gather these acorns, we fill a bowl of water and do the “float test.” Put a handful of acorns in the bowl and watch the results. What did you notice? Did any sink? Hopefully most of them did; that means they most likely do not have any acorn weevil larvae in them (that’s good–potential food).

Do you have some floaters? Open them up and inspect them and what do you find? They are occupied; someone is using them for a home and a spaceship to get from the tree to the ground.

Now that we have the RIGHT acorns (they sank), we need to crack open the shells; rocks or nut crackers work. (My favorite way is lay them out in pairs on a towel and tap them with the end of a log. This way you can crack 50 in a couple of minutes.) Crunch, crunch, crunch…LOTS OF FUN…especially when the acorn hits another one and so on. It is like nature’s pinball game.

Time to leach out the tannins! Why?

Acorns have natural tannins in them, which are anti-nutrients. In all nuts, grains and seeds, and beans and legumes, there are phytochemicals. This is one of the reasons why we soak beans before using them. In acorns, the unprocessed tannins bind (attach) with zinc, iron, magnesium and calcium, and pull them out of your body. These are healthy minerals we need. That is why we must soak them.

What do we do with the tannins? This is great medicine for many things. It is an astringent, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Perfect for healing POISON IVY, in particular, once you have the rash. (So keep the water that you soak your acorns in; don’t just throw it out).

Ground up your acorns into pebble size or smaller. The smaller, the better and the quicker tannins will be leached out.

Cold leaching (no fire necessary; just time):
1. Put acorn meal in cold water and let it sit for a day.
2. Pour out the water at the end of the day and refill with fresh water.
3. Repeat for 10 to 12 days; there will be no more tannins in your acorn meal…it is now leached.
4. Pour off water; put in pan, spread out ¼” thick and put in full sun a couple days (bring in at night before the dew) and repeat till dry. Or use a dehydrator.
**Refrigerate for storage**
Cut with other flour to allow your acorn flour to last longer.

A couple of my wild food mentors eat acorns throughout the whole year. Thanks for all your research and sharing Arthur Haines and Sam Thayer

Acorn Bread Recipe
1 cup acorn flour
1 cup wheat flour or all-purpose flour
1 egg (1 1/2 is better)
2 tablespoons oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup milk

 

 

The White Pine

Historic White Pine—Past , Present and Future…How the Land, People and Culture Were Transformed

Join me as we walk out into the forest with the snow underneath our feet, looking at the stories that the land holds for us. We see the majestic pine, the one that grows tall through the canopy, like a cathedral, and if you are still and quiet, you’ll hear them whispering. This is an incredible sound…the song of the whispering pines. Throughout the land, we see the majestic white pine that towers over the other trees and is the one that stands out similar to Mount Monadnock amongst all the older mountains that are now rolling hills.

Bears and Pines: Bears use these trees for their height and safety for their cubs. They also use them to keep cool in summer; taking a dip in the lake then climbing these trees close to the top, they sway in the breeze, “evapo cooling” in the treetops above where the wind is. They are brilliant. Next time you’re in bear country, look up and see them chilling out. Check out Lynn Rogers bears.org for amazing facts about bears.

Our Feathered Friends: I have seen countless pine trees having a height of 50 feet or more, and so many of them have squirrel nests (also called drays), hawks’, crows’ and even owls’ nests too. There are so many types of birds—from song birds to raptors and even water birds—where pine provides an important role in their daily life. If you look carefully under these trees, you can find feathers, skulls, bones, pellets and more.

A Historical Perspective: Long ago our white pine was shipped all over the world—England, Spain, Portugal and Africa—for its amazing quality of wood used by woodcarvers, furniture makers, and home builders too. One of the most important things was using the wood for the masts of ships. Every dominant white pine had the Royal Navy’s mark of the King (this was the king’s broad arrow)…a slash that was visible for all to see and it meant that this tree was the property of the English crown. This is what prompted the first of our forest conservation laws, which we still have today.

Today We’ve Learned So Much from our White Pine: We learned from our ancestors, the Native American people. When the Europeans first came over, they got sick, often with scurvy, and the native people helped to heal them with the white pine tree. Vitamin C is in the white pine tree. These photographs show how to make White Pine Tea, which is high in vitamin C (higher than any citrus in the world).

Being able to make white pine tea primitively—rock boil water in a container with the use of fire, and steeping the needles and a using a mortar and pestle in order to get the most amount of surface area to access the properties of the needles—is very empowering to connect with another perspective which helps our relationship with nature.

This tree also contains powerful antioxidants, pro vitamin A and vitamin E along with several B complex vitamins. It also contains several minerals, including potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and manganese and amino acids.

There is much that we can learn from the white pine…let’s remember that the next time we see one.