Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Death of a Pine Grove

There are field people and there are woods people.  Without question, I am the latter. When I learned that the trees had to be removed to clear a spot for a barn, pasture and cornfield, I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing. I could see the barn with hay spilling from an open loft and actually hear stomping hooves and clucking hens; however, it was not enough. Of course I love farming and miss the days when I had my own small farm complete with over fifty laying hens, a few randomly magnificent roosters, and a handful of mischievous goats and an unplanned, large population of bunnies straight from an Alfred Hitchcock movie scene.

Other than the bunnies, which were endearing at first, the farming experience was rewarding and incomparable to any other experience thus far. I long to have a farm again, so why can’t I jump up and down with glee at the thought of it?

Before this, I gained much of my insight, inspiration and groundedness from a pond alone. However, I fell in love with the ancient [Eastern White] pine grove the moment we met. The sacred grounds – a world of great magnitude and tranquility – became my private sanctuary. It was situated on a rolling hill carpeted with orange pine needles and huge, rich, moss covered granite rocks with a vast array of mushrooms scattered about on standing deadwood and stumps.

If magic exists, it does so in a pine grove such as this. It is shady and other worldly. The separation between light and shadows was bold and clearly defined. Sometimes when I stood close to a tree and looked up the straight, unending trunk, I sort of got a high. The limbs are out of reach and sway in the wind against the sky. Deep grooves in the gray bark beg for touch. Many of the great giants stand over 100 feet tall and were reserved in colonial times for making masts for the British Royal Navy, hence the local name Kingswood.

I found a place in the center of the grove where inhaling the dense, sweet, cool, air and exhaling to share with the rest of the world, eased my anxiety. I loved the trees so much that one day, for a few moments, I blushed in their presence. I stood in the middle of a wondrous community where I wanted to remain. At first I was a little embarrassed, which instantly reminded me of how much I needed to follow through. I decided to live up to my reputation. Who was judging other than me?

I hesitated, stepped forward and hugged the tree that stood boldly before me. At first it was very strangeРso clich̩ Рbut it felt really good. It was true. I was an authentic tree hugger. I laughed and hugged tighter.

Every season, day and night, I visited the grove and viewed it through the kitchen window – I spend a great deal of time in my kitchen. One bitter clear night in January, I was awake at 3:00 A.M. staring at the full, bright moon flickering through the waving branches and exploding off of the snow. The peculiar silvery green hue – physics of the January moon illuminating the snowy pine grove – validated life as I knew it.

There was always a certain rush of air, somewhat musical, somewhat intentional. The sweet scent of pine ebbed and flowed. I have celebratory baskets of pine cones displayed here and there.

I knew that the logger would be coming soon. I paced up and down the hill; the usual whispering amongst the trees remained a consistent force.

The logger said, “If a pine grove is cleared, deciduous trees will replace them. It’s a good thing.” I discovered that it was true. But, it didn’t matter.

The clanking chains on the wheels of the skidder rattled within my solar plexus. I broke into a sweat as chain saws cut into the trees and then lopped off the limbs from the tree lying on the ground. Genocide.

Black flies and mosquitoes buzzed around my head, landing on the bare skin of my arms and neck, biting and stinging. I stood motionless watching as many as six trees at a time being hauled down the hill. My mouth was dry and my temples were throbbing when the logger waved at me from atop his skidder. I forced a weak smile. Every creak, groan and cracking of limbs tore at my insides. I gasped when the ground shook as each tree fell. I tried to think about other things.

I woke up with a start when I wondered how long a tree lived after the initial cut. Was death instant? Did the roots live? Did it feel pain?

I took a short video of progress at the end of each day in an effort to accept it. Lone survivors stood haphazardly in the remains of the grove anticipating their turn. The earth shuddered greatly when the grandfather – the grandest tree and one of the last to go – crashed to the ground.

Heaps of pine tree corpses are now strewn about the property awaiting their trip to the morgue. The sun shines brightly through the hole in the sky where the pine grove used to be.

The air is heavy and wet with bleeding pine pitch; nothing escaped a blanket of bright green pollen.

I will be grateful and work hard on the farm. I will avoid looking out the kitchen window for now. I must rely on the seeds of nearby hardwood trees for a promising future. I will not forget the pine grove, for it remains imprinted on my soul.

From the Journal: Babies Breath – Marigold

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Garden Tears - Never Underestimate the Rain

Rain is my constant companion. Although it is mid-May, I continue to carry wood to keep the fire burning in the kitchen stove. I refuse to wear a coat outdoors. The mud sticks to my shoes and I abandoned my garden gloves. However, it’s the best time for planting because the black flies don’t like rain and it is less traumatic for plants to transition from pots to moist earth.

My drenched shirt clings to my skin; I prefer rain to bugs. The water that drips from the end of a long curl and onto my face becomes a syncopated rhythm to the music in my head. I always do that; I have songs for random things like the postage meter and the washing machine.

I keep a close watch on the flowers and herbs. Not just the flowers in the gardens scattered around the house, but the wild flowers and herbs in the woods, by the streams and frog pond. I continue to bond with the gardener who worked the earth before me. She passed the torch, making me the caretaker. I honor the position and must earn the trust necessary to maintain the love born from deep within the womb of Our Mother.

I carry my guide, my camera, journal and pen, and open my heart to Her offerings. I wait patiently for one purple tulip to open. I walk by and peek out of the corner of my eye, pretending to be nonchalant. Hastening nature insults Her and me.

The two pastel pink tulips – with heavy heads and weak stalks – promised so much, yet suffered a cruel fate, breaking and dying just before blossoming. I brought them inside and placed them in a bud vase where they will have a chance to boast their beauty, if only in death. Seems nothing goes as planned.

This morning, the rain came down harder than yesterday. I sipped my coffee and through the kitchen window, watched tree limbs bend and sway in the wind. I went outside without a sweatshirt or coat; the cool, damp air brought me deeper into the moment.

I tried to witness when the newborn leaves came. Again, they appeared when I wasn’t looking.

The up-and-coming dark purple lilacs wait quietly on the edge of everywhere, about to explode. Wilting daffodils retire politely, making room for the irises. Some red and yellow tulips reached too high, too soon, following the path of the pinks as they tumble to the earth in vain, submitting to my bud vases.

I revealed my anticipation as I knelt before the single purple tulip, unable to resist touching the silky unopened bud. Overwhelming splendor invites tears. Never underestimate the rain.

From Journal: Babies Breath

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Cardinal’s Lament

When his spirit departed, I dashed outdoors to witness the world. I needed to know how it would or would not be. I stood on the hilltop and looked beyond the lake at the rolling pumpkin clouds. The imprint of the wind on the water rippled and swirled in an instant and then stopped abruptly, dissolving into an ancient memory.

The night – patient and polite – had waited long enough. With tight-fisted buds, the trees waved in the diminishing wind one last time. Velvety shadows wrapped safely around the bluish gray mountain range – a maiden’s silhouette.

It was more than tranquil. Everything sighed except for you. Your song resonated urgently into the dusk. Despair and grief abandoned my heart as I caught sight of your brilliance from within quiet branches.

Your lament was reassurance. I was woken by the purity of your song; it remains. Your boldness captures my eye, leaving mourning to the doves.

Since then I have seen you when it is best to see you, as I did today. There is no need to speak in my dreams. All words were spoken. The birdsong sustains infinite love.

From Journal - Babies Breath

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Foraging – Going Underground: Roasted Dandelion Root Tea

Two years ago I was bit by a brown recluse spider. My treatment consisted of 43,000 mg of antibiotics within ten days. To say that I was wiped out is an understatement. I felt like a shell of myself; I feared that I would never feel normal – whatever that is – again.

In order to restore my immune system and regain my strength, I embarked on a daily regimen of natural herbs and supplements. In addition to the wonder of red clover tea, I began to drink roasted dandelion root tea, which is an effective detoxifier loaded with vitamins and minerals. “Naturopathic practitioners use dandelion root tea to treat skin conditions, liver disease and gastrointestinal upset”i.

Unfortunately, the dandelion has gotten a bad rap. Our society categorizes it as a weed and will stop at nothing to eradicate it from the earth. I cringe whenever I see advertisements where people happily squeeze the trigger on a bright green plastic bottle and fire poison on a dandelion plant, killing it instantly. What a tragic victory, killing a rich source of “vitamins A, B complex, C and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc"ii.

I have become quite fond of roasted dandelion root tea – the bitter, sweet, almost nutty flavor is soothing in addition to astounding health benefits. Knowing that it is good for cleansing the liver and gall bladder, while offering an abundance of vitamins and nutrients is reassuring.

Some people prefer to blend the roots with chicory and or beet roots to make coffee or spice it up to make Chai; it is a personal preference.

You can purchase packaged roasted dandelion root tea at health food stores, the roots alone, or already blended with other roots for coffee. I prefer to harvest, roast, prepare and enjoy my own favorite tea.

The time for harvesting roots is in the spring before it produces a flower, or in the fall after the flower has passed. When the plant is flowering, the sap which contains the nutrients is invested in the stem and flower and the roots have lost potency and flavor. That is when you use the flower for dandelion beer or wine!

I wish that I didn’t have to mention this, but I do. Please take care to harvest dandelions where you are certain that the area has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides. Remember, it’s all about avoiding and eliminating poisons and toxins.

Depending upon the soil, you can loosen the earth around the plant with your bare hands or you might need a trowel or shovel to dig up the roots.

After I have a heaping basket full of dandelions, to avoid making a mess in the kitchen, I sit on the bottom step of my porch and shake the excess dirt from the roots. I separate the greens from the roots and place them in two piles – the greens are excellent in salads or steamed like spinach. Like the roots, they are best in the spring and fall.

Some people scrub the roots under clear, cool water while others prefer to soak them. I have done both, but think that scrubbing them is better because after that, you roast them and it takes longer if the roots have absorbed a great deal of water.

After the roots are clean, I let them dry on a clean cloth towel before chopping them into small chunks and spreading them on a cookie sheet. I set the oven at 170 degrees F and roast for approximately three hours. Stir them from time to time and check to make sure that they are brittle and dry before removing them from the oven. Moisture causes mold growth.

I keep my roasted dandelion roots in a glass jar with a tight seal. You can use your wildest imagination when making your roasted dandelion root tea. This is one of my favorite recipes:

1 tablespoon roasted dandelion root
1 or 2 whole cloves or a pinch of ground clove
½ cinnamon stick or dash
1/8 tsp of minced whole ginger root or pinch of powdered ginger

Place above in a reusable [hemp, silk or cotton] tea bag or strainer and steep in 8 – 10 ounces of boiling water for about ten minutes, or boil for five minutes in a saucepan and strain into your cup.

Sweeten with a few drops of local maple syrup or blueberry honey.

Nothing compares to going underground for a delicious, earthy cup of tea that has been right there under your nose all along. How sweet it is.

From Journal - Babies Breath

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Foraging –A Walk on the Wild Side


I am passionate about identifying, finding, preparing and eating edible wild foods and medicinal plants. I have always been interested in natural remedies and enjoy an organic lifestyle; however it is more meaningful to me after researching my Native American ancestry and the character of “Nellie” or Nanatasis in my forthcoming historical novel, Etched in Granite.

Nellie – of Abenaki descent – shares her knowledge of the healing powers of wild plants, nuts, seeds and roots. I broadened my practice of foraging following my research and find it to be especially significant during these uncertain times. To be able to harvest indigenous plants from the early thawing spring, to lush summer, into the abundance of fall and then hibernate in the deep freeze of winter –is a forager’s dream. The offerings of woods, hills, fields, streams and lakes of New Hampshire are plentiful, often missed and ripe for plucking.

A few days ago, I came across Evening Primrose in the early phase. It is never too early for Evening Primrose, even if they are poking out of the snow; they are good.

First of all, they are a biennial; I was seeking the first year’s taproot. The young leaves – long, slender with a trace of red on the ends – are flat on the ground extending outwards from the center. The optimum time to harvest is before the leaves are upright. It is a short season; once the weather gets warm they grow quickly and become bitter to taste.

Most folks are accustomed to acknowledging them later and in their second year when they have tiny yellow blossoms – these are not the roots to look for; the nutrition has gone into flowering.

I freed the roots – creamy white with a dark pink band at the base – with my hand trowel and filled my basket. Sitting comfortably on the porch steps, I shook away the loose dirt and discarded pieces of debris such as pine needles and dead leaves. I went into the kitchen and rinsed them thoroughly under cool water. Next, I cut the greens from the top and set them aside in a colander. I scrubbed the roots with a copper pot scrubber, which I believe is easier than using a knife or peeler since they are generally about three to four inches long, although some can be the size of a medium carrot.

The greens can be added to a salad or boiled for approximately five minutes and then served with butter, salt and pepper.

The taste is unique – sweet and mild, similar to a spicy turnip.

The roots should be boiled for a minimum of ten and not more than fifteen minutes. Keep it simple with butter, salt and pepper or jazz up the roots by adding grated Parmesan cheese, vinegar or anything that inspires you. To tone down their sharp bite without snuffing them out, serve with potatoes and sour cream.

Going for a walk on the wild side is exhilarating. Exploring what each season brings in abundance with joyfulness and delight cannot be rivaled. Fill your basket, fill your plate, fill your belly, and fill your soul.

(Journal - Babies Breath)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Goldilocks Pays a Price - The Bear Encounter

It was over a week ago when a hungry bear ravaged my bird feeding station, waking me up with a start. I was fortunate that it did not destroy the feeders. I decided that I would continue feeding the birds, but I had to take the feeders down at night. I was unable to bring them into the house because of mice, so I opted for the trunk of my car.

The flurry of bird activity did not settle down until well after sunset. I was careful to take down the feeders each night before dark; I awoke early each morning to hang them. My devotion to birds dates back to my childhood when I used to band them as a 4-H project on Sunset Hill in Center Harbor. I have been feeding, watching, counting, reporting, banding and nurturing abandoned babies and injured birds for many years.

I spent the last three winters on the Gulf of Mexico, celebrating the sunny beaches but craving the mountains. This was my first winter back home. In the fall, I hung several feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds, songbird seeds and both homemade and commercial suet. I was concerned by the lack of attendance at my feeders. I tried to understand this radical change.

I was filled with joy when the bird activity increased, including over a dozen species. Taking down the feeders at dusk and hanging them up at dawn was a small price to pay. Soon I would delight in visits from the migrating indigo buntings, rose-breasted and evening grosbeaks and orioles that would join the already feasting chickadees, nuthatches, variety of finches, sparrow, juncos and woodpeckers. I am also honored to have a pair of mourning doves and blue jays. Even the red squirrels are well mannered and eat the spillage on the ground.

Last night I lost track of time. I gasped when I realized that darkness had fallen and I had not taken down the feeders. I slipped into my bright pink crocs and headed out the door. I stopped abruptly when greeted by a full chorus of peepers and wood frogs. They finally arrived. Their chirping whirled around me from all sides – the woods and two ponds. My original intent vanished quickly as I raced inside to get my recorder.

After making sure that my batteries were charged, I flipped off the porch light, went outdoors and walked towards the pond. I recorded for about 45 seconds and stopped. I inched a little closer to the pond because peepers and friends tend to fall silent when they realize that they have an audience. Without pressing my luck further, I stopped and recorded for another minute. I stood quietly trying to decide if I could get even closer when I heard a snap and some rustling in the woods. This is not uncommon, but I sensed something different.

I stood motionless and waited. I heard nothing. I brought my recorder into the house and remembered that I needed to take down the feeders. Not wanting to interrupt the glorious earthy jam session, I approached the bird feeding station in darkness. I took one feeder off of the hook and then another. Suddenly I heard a very loud, deep huff – almost a snort. It was close enough that if I reached behind me, I could definitely touch it. I knew it was a bear. He blended into the blackness of the night. I darted up the porch stairs into the house with my heart pounding. I grabbed a flashlight and ran onto the porch and shined it on him, a full grown adult black bear. His muscular, sleek, black magnificence overpowered my senses.

We maintained steady eye contact. At first he was on his hind legs and then without moving his head, dropped on all fours and snorted once again before ambling off into the woods.

My breath came in short puffs. I knew that I should have been afraid. However, what I felt was not fear; it was exhilaration. Knowing that the bear watched me record the peepers, return to the house and then walk within a few feet of him is almost too much to comprehend. Although he was in my domain, I was too close and he let me know. He was uncomfortable and could have easily mauled me. First, it was a warning from the bear and then from nature that I needed to experience on many levels. We share this world; I must remember that there are others in the woods and to be cognizant of their presence.

I felt more awake and aware than I had in months, maybe years. The significance of our exchange sharply defined the boundaries between us. I was reminded of opening my eyes to see the larger picture. This was no accident.

Symbolically, the bear awakened my senses and called for me to be more in tune with my natural surroundings. Being Goldilocks has consequences.

It was imperative that I rethink the bird feeding situation which had transformed bird feed to bear bait. If I continued to feed the birds, he would continue to visit the area, which is unfair to him, because he is operating on instinct and hunger. It would be dangerous for us all. I could not imagine him being killed because of this.

The birds are okay now; it is no longer the dead of winter. My interest is based on my own desire to observe them. This is my favorite time of year for birding. However, I live in bear country. It is my responsibility to take the feeders down by April 1st, when hungry bears come out of hibernation. Got it.

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