Here’s a video from Boston Globe Magazine writer Neil Swidey with Scott LaPierre about emergency preparedness…
Many years ago I was awakened to the stories of our wild neighbors. Though we do not always see them, they leave so much information about the stories of their lives. There is adventure, drama, death, play, romance, and mystery. Through the years I learned how to stop, look, listen, smell, and feel these stories and attempt to reveal the mysteries. I do this through the art and science of animal tracking.
To see what our wild neighbors do – through their tracks, and their behavior through the signs they leave behind: claw marks on trees, scrapes, bite marks, digs, rubs, scat – is an initiation into a secret world. Though the world of our wild neighbors may seem one of secrecy to us; to them it is a very obvious. The sign they leave behind are markers to state who they are, what they are doing in the area, and if they are available to mate.
Some mammals are crepuscular; that means most active during twilight, at dawn and dusk such as deer, moose, rabbits, and beaver. Others are nocturnal such as our bat friends and flying squirrels. Then there are those, who like the majority of humans, are diurnal – active during the day – such as gray and red squirrels. Whether or not we have the opportunity to watch our wild neighbors up close and personal, they always leave sign of their presence and as a tracker you get to see those visual cues and smell their scents and be able to have that deeper connection and understanding of what is happening in the environment you are exploring.
Our black bear story takes place on a chilly fall day where the leaves covered the ground and the sound of the crunching under our feet echoed through the forest. My friend Mark and I were tracking through an open deciduous forest full of majestic American Beech elders, Red Oak, White Birch and Hickory. This year was a mast year for Beech and many beechnuts covered the ground. We noticed a large disturbance of leaves and as we looked closer we saw the tracks of turkey feeding signs mice,squirrel and the prints of deer and bear tracks. For a tracker all this sign could be equated to a kid in a candy shop; so much to gaze at and be excited about; so much to choose from. Aha, the treat we had to take a closer look at; the pièce de résistance, were black bear claw marks going up this tree as we looked up we saw many broken branches. They had been broken from all directions being pulled into the center. We knew this was not storm damage for the breakage would have been in all one direction of the path of the storm. We had discovered a “Bear Nest” this is a place where they climb up and sit in the middle of the crotch of a tree and FEED pulling the branches in to them then sitting on them and eating more. When bears are feeding constantly to put on weight they often are resting/ napping often too. Perhaps in the nest? later on that day when we were under the Hemlock trees we found an amazing sight. A set of bear tracks in the shallow snow with great detail. As we followed the mystery of where are they going why this direction we saw something I had never seen before. Right underneath the Hemlock tree at the base was a large clump of branches. These were not short they were rather long some 2 feet and in such a beautiful arrangement in the shape of a rounded bed. This was a Bear bed I had never known they made above ground beds with such detail and weaving of all Hemlock branches for a soft form.
So earlier in the day we found bear tracks at the base of the beech tree’s bear claws leading up the understory to eat beechnuts. Why beechnuts? Beechnuts are high in fat and bears are looking for high-energy foods to fatten themselves up to survive the winter some sources quote Beech nuts having 60% Fat. When we have a mast-year of beechnuts such as we had this year, with so many Beeches producing an abundance of fruit, the bears capitalized on this food source. You may have noticed last year that we had a mast year of acorns, with oaks putting out acorns aplenty. Bears are opportunists so whatever tree species are masting, bears will be there to put the weight on.
Throughout the summer bears are fattening up whatever berries, nuts, invertebrates and other animals they can find and just as we do they have their favorite foods. Don’t worry though, we are not on the menu of the black bear who typically stands about five feet tall with a range of four to seven feet tall. Adult males weigh between 125 and 500 pounds, depending upon age, season, and food while adult females usually weigh between 90 and 300 pounds, again, depending on age, season and food type availability.
According to Paul Rezendes, a renowned tracker in the northeast, that given the choice, Black Bears seem to prefer beechnuts even after the snowfalls. He has witnessed them digging up Beechnut under a foot of snow and putting off their sleep if there’s a good crop. Looks like this year the bears may be up past their bed time. There are years when
the American Beech do not have a “bumper crop” year and so the bears will seek out other tree species that are masting in any given year. Apparently they will even feed on White Ash seeds when the oak, beeches, and hickories are not masting. My wife and I sampled White Ash just to see what they would taste like. Arianna was not impressed
with the idea of having to eat many of these, whereas, upon soaking the beechnuts, she claimed them “quite tasty”.
Though spring to summer was mating season and summer to fall was major caloric intake season, come November a black bear’s focus is finding a denning site. They will try a number of sites before they settle on the one that serves their specific needs. A den may be a hollow tree, a cave, or an excavated den of a smaller mammal or even a small depression above ground; the main criteria is where a bear has determined to be safe and secluded. And this winter, on your visits through the woods, you may snowshoe or ski right by a bear den and not even know it.
A pregnant female will give birth sometime in January or early February and as any human mother will confirm, that under no circumstances, unless you are being heavily sedated, could you possibly sleep through a birthing experience. They are however, very efficient hibernators. In the late fall the Black Bear will start to eat less and become more lethargic, and while they are denned up during the winter they will not eat, drink or defecate during hibernation. And because their fur is so insulative, the bear’s body heat is lost very slowly, “maintaining temperatures above 88 degrees–within 12 degrees of their normal summer temperature.” (Rogers, Lynn, 1981) Still, a female Black Bear is
certainly alert enough to nurse and clean her young.
So as you step outside this winter, work on developing a deeper awareness of the beings around you. This will serve you in whatever you do in life. So go off trail into the forest, fields, swamps, and ridges. Explore the wild world around you and perhaps you too will find black bear marks on a beech tree in the middle of the woods and then say – AHA!
Learn more about Black Bears!
Read and watch Black Bear researchers such as Lynn Rogers and Ben Kilham; they have so much to share! Additionally, since it is challenging to express all the information in an article about black Bears and I want you to get outside, into the outdoors, I’ve provided a video to go along with this article so that you can go out on your own or with your family
and be able to find these things in your own forest. http://earthworkprograms.com/?page_id=800
Please be mindful and respect the Bears in their habitat.
This year I started to notice the oaks producing nuts and them dropping in late august. Now coming onto the end of October I am noticing hardly ANY acorns dropping. There have been only a few individual trees where I have seen a good crop.
Last year we were swimming in acorns.It was a mast year!
Mast Year: a phenomenon when the fruit (mast) produced by trees in a given year is exponentially higher than the average; by extension, a year in which vegetation produces a significant abundance of fruit
However this year there are hardly any.
another great reason as a forager to learn about storing food.
Dry your acorns for a few weeks by a wood stove and they will be shelf stable for a year or so.
Next time there is a mast year stock up so you have acorns for the year where hardly any drop.Watch the cycles.
All the best
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.)
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.
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
There’s something magical about gathering your own food as a family, and what an education for children and for families to have this experience together. Learning how to see through the eyes of a forager really helps to create a bond with the natural world so we can develop deeper relationships through routines and rituals, especially when you immerse yourself in our forests and fields.
I remember talking with a Seneca man of the Haudenosaunee nation (People of the Longhouse). He told me a story of the origin of the strawberry and how this plant heals human relations. There is a special ceremony, and in honor of the strawberry festival, no one would eat a single berry before the ceremony. It is a full day of songs, stories, dances and giving thanks that the strawberries have returned once again. This also begins the time of the berry ripening. This was not only time to be thankful for the strawberry but all of creation. Strawberries are called big medicine and the leader of the berries because they are the first to ripen and begin the berry harvesting time; they are also shaped like hearts. The Seneca man told me they drink the juice as a way of rejuvenation. There is a whole culture around harvesting berries. We can learn a lot from other cultures that give thanks and celebrate community and values from fostering a deeper relationship with plants.
Being fall, we begin looking for one of North America’s best-kept secrets of wild food: the autumn olive, silver berry, autumn berry. This immigrant from another land is a real gift for the forager. This shrub has many names; it grows in fields, and the leaves and the berries have a silver hue and look speckled. They are ripe anywhere from late August all the way to mid November according to wild food author Sam Thayer.
Finding autumn olive is great fun, and you will notice there are so many berries that the branches droop from the weight. When picking, watch out for the small thorns it has to deter animals who want to eat the fruits. You will be amazed at the amount you can gather in such a short time. Several gallons from one bush are very common and you still leave plenty for all the wildlife.
Now that we have all our berries, we want to make sure that we process them right away or freeze them for a sunny day. You can get creative in how you mash them. Make sure to keep the seeds; they contain omega 3’s and the flesh is an antioxidant, high in vitamin C and contains lycopene, a chemical compound that promotes prostate health.
The trick with creating fruit leather is making sure it dries thoroughly, or it could mold. Have the top half dry and cut in small rectangles so it is easier to flip. Let other side dry completely. When done properly, it can store for years.
Before eating anything from the wild, make sure to properly identify it and study with a forager since there is not enough information here.
So get out in nature and experience the abundance of autumn olive, and enjoy your fruit leather for years to come.
Autumn Olive Fruit Leather Recipe
This can be quite tart, especially at the beginning of the season. After the first frost, the berries are even more delicious!
Collect the berries.
Mash the berries. Make sure pulp and juice are mixed thoroughly.
Spread on tray; berries should be ¼” thick or less; the thinner it is, the less time it takes to dry.
Put in direct sun for many hours—5 or more. When top half is dry, flip (the bottom should be able to slip). Let the bottom half dry (again, many hours). Make sure it dries thoroughly.
Chief Oren Lyons is one of the elders with whom Earthwork Programs has been connected through Jon Young over the past 10 years. He has been involved in helping to shape the awareness of the United Nations, and here he is with a message that all of us should hear.
“And we do have to get back to basics…and values…and our values have to change.” Chief Oren Lyons
From this video experience, we are talking about taking our leaders and going to visit him…
Nature connection is not just important but wildly important! The last Valley Kids was packed with several stories on nature-based learning with some powerful evidence to share about Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods, and his work about Nature Deficit Disorder and what is happening locally and internationally.
What the Research Shows on Nature Deficit Disorder
Nature deficit occurs in kids, adults, families and communities. A study found that young people could identify 1,000 corporate logos but fewer than 10 plants or animals native to their backyards.
Nature is not just important; it is like an essential vitamin for all beings, for our development mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Nature learning is part of our genetic makeup; it is in our DNA—we are related to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We are specially designed for this type of learning. Our eyes can pick out the subtlest movement without looking directly at an object.
OWL EYES is a Routine for Seeing More in Nature
Exercise: Look at this magazine by setting it down in front of you. Allow your eyes to relax, not focusing on the words but a soft look. Next, bring your hands out to your sides, arms extended and wiggle your fingers without looking directly at them (move arms forward a little if you do not see movement). When you see movement, notice your fingers are just on the edge of your vision (this is called “peripheral vision”).
This is a way of seeing more in nature. This is how you spot the hiding deer on your walks through the forest, a spider making a web and you see a strand dance in the breeze glistening from the sun’s light reflecting on it, or the pumping of the tail of a phoebe (fly catcher type of bird) right above you in the canopy as it hunts for insects and snaps it’s beak ever so quietly. Things like these are constantly happening around us.
Mind Workout and Scientific Study
Exercising the power of our senses…sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste…can change your biochemistry. Every time you engage the senses fully, this creates little electrical impulses in the brain and creates new pathways for brain activity. Imagine the possibilities of learning if you are constantly engaging the senses and creating more brain use. Inside our brain, areas are firing that have never been stimulated before when you interact with a plant you recognize, and feel its texture and notice its inside is mucilaginous (slimy); this is a new little electrical storm in your brain.
This electricity can be measured and gives us another reason to be immersed in nature. Having these transformational experiences on a regular basis changes the capacity of the brain and the mind. This provides a holistic way of perceiving reality and perceived reality.
A Walk Alone in the Woods
I was walking barefoot, moving slowly with full awareness, feeling the earth in between my toes as I moved like a heron with such grace and balance and free flowing like the current of the water rolling over the rocks in the stream. As I moved through the tall grass, frogs were still and let me pass, then my eyes noticed movement of a very small bird in the dense thicket. I froze and in that moment, saw a mink, which is a small weasel, on the bank of the stream moving like a shadow gliding along. The bird was the messenger for me to pause and listen. This bird’s body language and movement was erratic and seemed nervous to me. That was all it took, then that magic moment happened, seeing the mink…relaxed and in its natural rhythm, not running from me or hiding.
As I share this story and describe it in detail, there is a curiosity that is awakened—something primal. This may cause a response of wanting to experience something similar. It gives a reference point of possibility. There is a fire sparked through the power of storytelling and imagination that the listener could be the one who experiences an intimate encounter in nature as well.
Our Role as Mentors
Let’s ask ourselves powerful questions that will foster our relationship and create a powerful culture with nature and people and unite us together. “COME UNITE WITH ME!” This is what the word COMMUNITY is. Here is a question: how do we have “QUALITY NATURE CONNECTION?” What is the secret to integrating nature into our lives on a regular basis?
We are gardening all the time. Everything we focus on with intent, we can help create. Every time we share nature, we plant seeds.
Are you planting seeds?
Enjoy the Summer!
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.
Our Wild Food Immersion Series is a “how to” experience that builds confidence and competence in gathering. Check our Calendar, and join us for this unique experience in WILD FOOD and allow it to complement your current culinary habits and lifestyle.
Look, Listen, Feel, Touch and Taste
Deep Listening, There Is More Going on than You Think
The sounds of spring are all around us. There is a BIG difference in hearing and listening. Hearing can be passive. Listening causes us to reach out with our senses to become more present in the moment. We may hear the chorus of frogs calling in the Vernal pools, flooded meadows, temporary ponds and sometimes in roadside puddles. Usually the first songs we hear are the spring peepers, tiny tree frogs identifiable by the “x” on their back. Their most common call is a long drawn out P-E-E-P, but this year listen to the other call that is a type of whistling trill, which is a sound signaling that these frogs are agitated by something. In order to find out what, we need to get closer and be quiet, slowly stalking over to the edge of the water to get a closer look. This trill may mean a couple of male peepers are competing for a female; it could also mean there is a predator in the water, overhead, or it could be you.
Also listen for wood frogs, the ones wearing the black mask. Though they are frogs, their call may be confused with the call of ducks – “quack, quack, quack”. Wood frogs are predators of spring peepers so if you hear the quacking, investigate to find out if there are peepers in the pool also.
Listen for the S-I-L-E-N-C-E. This speaks volumes to what is happening as you approach or if you happen to walk by and everything stops. If you are quiet, you can get really close and observe this behavior that you might not otherwise be aware of. The gift you could be rewarded by is seeing the natural rhythm of this place. A red fox could be observing your approach or perhaps a raccoon could be dining on frogs’ legs.
Deep observation is another way to develop a rich relationship with the land and your wild neighbors, the frogs and salamanders and everything that is connected to this strand of web of life that takes place here.
It’s Spring Time, It’s Spring Time
There’s a certain feeling in the air. Everything is waking up, blooming, blossoming, hatching. Smells are wafting on the winds, and the leaves are unfurling and are becoming fully developed. This is the perfect stage for them to be edible. There are many edible trees that are around and available; basswood, in particular, is one of my favorites. It’s like having salad greens, and you just pick it off, like our wild neighbor, the deer…no processing necessary—just pick and eat (and don’t forget, give thanks for the bounty, like our ancestors have shared since the beginning).
There’s a lot going on as it starts to get warm…as the snow melts and the streams start to overflow. The waters are intense with the spring freshet from the thaw from up in the mountains where the snow is melting, coming down all the way into the valley and pushing out into the ocean. It’s such an amazing display of Nature’s power. The wetlands and flood plains in the fields and forests are bursting with life. During this time, the frogs and turtles are becoming very active. Watch for the turtles as they line up on logs and bask in the sun. Observe the red-winged blackbirds filling the cat-tail edges of the wetlands; notice the red and yellow field marks on the wings of the male as they display their dominance for prime real estate.
The birds are singing their springs songs. The wildflowers are growing up and coloring the landscape. The insects are hatching. In the stream, watch for mayflies, dragonflies and caddisflies emerging. And watch for those red-winged blackbirds ready to snatch up a flying meal.
The snakes are coming out of their hibernaculum–the place where they spend the winter…sometimes it’s under a culvert or in a pile of rocks. We see them moving around, sometimes 12 to 14 snakes all at once, soaking up the sun and basking. They’re endothermic, which means they’re cold blooded, and they cannot generate their own heat like we can; they need the warmth of the sun.
What the Mammals Are Doing
These warm days are great opportunities to be able to see the animals raising their young; fox and weasels have kits while coyotes and bats have pups; rabbits have leverets; porcupines have porcupettes; bobcats and beavers have kittens; bears have cubs and deer have fawn.
In their multiple color phases like sandy and charcoal gray, red fox kits are developing their black boots, black ears and their white-tipped tail (which distinguishes them as a red fox); they begin to learn how to adapt to their forest home with their amazing camouflage and all their senses being fully developed. The young bears are learning how to forage, turning over logs and feeding on insects, and they are learning how to use their new claws as they learn to climb trees for safety and fun. Have you ever seen a cub climb a tree—it’s very cute to watch!
There are so many things happening: squirrels and otters, coyotes and beaver–they all have young to raise and feed. Some of these animal babies are born with their eyes closed and their ears not being able to hear and the only thing they can do is smell, while others are born with their eyes open, furred and are ready to go, like a snowshoe hare.
So off you go “into the outdoors” either by yourself, or with family and friends, to connect deeper to where we live in this exciting explosion of activity…the springtime. See you in the woods.