As I step outside and soak in the sights of Autumn, I can’t help but be in awe of the vibrant beauty that surrounds me. Countless shades of golden yellow and orange offer bold splashes of color amongst the green canopy. The occasional encounter with bright red foliage, courtesy of cultivated Japanese Maples found in city parks and suburban lawns, offers a stunning feast for my eyes. Autumn, you inspire me!
Down in the understory, the red fruits of Rose and Hawthorn pop out against sparsely leaved branches. These Fall fruit offerings are ripe for picking and provide nourishing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which are helpful for boosting immunity this time of year. . .
Patrick and I deeply inspired by our recent trip to Ireland, where we were part of a group exploration of the western part of the country, led by PNW-based ethnobotanist Heidi Bohan. This incredible excursion took us to some beautiful and remote areas, where we harvested the edible and medical plants of our Celtic ancestors, explored ancient dolmens, cairns and ruins, and learned firsthand from masters of traditional Willow basket-making and Crios band weaving. We’re still reflecting, integrating, and catching up on sleep from this trip (we just returned on Saturday!), but in the meantime, I’m inspired to share with you a delicious recipe for Hedgerow Jelly, which we learned how to make from Heidi while we were staying in beautiful Beaufort, Ireland.
As Summer winds down and the school year kicks off again, us modern-day humans often find ourselves naturally shifting away from the quintessential outdoor-oriented lifestyle that the warmer months bring here in the PNW. Days filled with hiking, camping, and swimming subside as cooler days and nights transition us into a more domesticated, indoor-centered existence. Wetter weather, fewer hours of day light, and less free time in general often deters folks from pursuing as many outdoor adventures with friends and family.
Less outdoor adventure-time often translates to fewer nature connection experiences overall. But what if we could shift away from that tendency? What if we didn't have travel to connect with the natural world? How might we create opportunities for nature-immersion experiences right in our own urban or suburban back yard?
Wild Plants often stop me in my tracks. On a typical wander through the forest, I usually take my precious time to pause along the trail and examine the plant life. I take a mental inventory of the various species that I encounter, often pondering their ethnobotanical applications and imagining how each plant may have traditionally been used to satisfy the basic survival needs of food, medicine, and fiber back when folks lived a lot closer to the earth. Sometimes it takes me forever just to make my way a few short yards down the trail, since I stop to look at plants so often. What can I say. . . I’m a plant dork, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
The other day as Pat and I were slowly hiking through Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, nibbling on Blackcap Raspberries and Trailing Blackberries along the way, a conspicuous plant stopped us in our tracks yet again. As it caught my eye, my mind suddenly flashed back to the very first time I stumbled upon this species, many years ago when I was a new student at Wilderness Awareness School. With great curiosity I pointed out my new discovery to a fellow classmate at the time, who quickly identified the plant as Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra). He informed me that eating Baneberries might be the “bane” of one’s existence, as the entire plant is highly poisonous and can cause nervous system damage and possibly death.
Ripe Red Huckleberries, Trailing Blackberries, Himalayan Blackberries, Blackcap Raspberries, and Thimbleberries are exploding amongst the forest and fields these days, and our summer camp students just can’t get enough of their sweet and tart deliciousness! A couple of weeks ago we challenged some Earth Scouts to a mission: collect as many ripe wild edible berries as possible, and we’ll whip up a batch of Wild Berry Ice Cream! They happily accepted the challenge and foraged a ton of berries over at a favorite spot that we like to call "Huckleberry Hill".
When we arrived at Fairhaven Park Tuesday morning, most of the snow had melted with the exception of a snowman or two and some giant balls of snow in the big field. As we were examining the snowman, this inspired Melissa to make up a game of “Snowman Spy”. A variation of “Raven Spy”, everyone playing needs to tag to snowman & Melissa, whisper you name and hide before the snowman counts to zero… This happens overtime and the count keeps getting shorter so the game gets more fun and high paced as it goes along! The kids are really starting to get the hang of playing hiding games in the forest — some of them really disappear in the bushes!
Our theme this week was shelter building, and in our continuing story Moon Bird and Running Deer need to make a primitive shelter to sleep in while they’re out on their adventure to Thunder Mountain.
Sunny skies and warmer temps made for a beautiful day at Whatcom Falls Park last Friday. Pat and I didn’t anticipate such a warm day, so we were prepared to get a fire going in the grill adjacent to the Small Shelter at the park. When we noticed the clear skies, though, we decided against it. The Fox Walkers were still pretty “fired up” about batoning firewood, however, so we spent a bit of time in the morning getting some nice wood chopped up for next time. . .
I remember snow days as a child and the sheer joy of getting all bundled up to go play in the fresh snow until we were icicles then coming in for hot cocoa and going back out for round two! To help ease the comfort of the cold morning we took advanced of the nice little shelter to stay dry and made a nice hot fire to cook some popcorn over! While the kids played, I got a few batches of popcorn cooked, oiled and salted… During story we had a little popcorn and warn herbal tea party under the shelter while learning from Skye (as well as Moon Bird, Running Deer & their new friend “Mr Lovely” aka “Mr. Big Cat”) about how to stay safe when dealing with large creatures such as cougars or bears.
Last week was full of excitement, with Halloween and the first snow of the season all in the same week! We spent our mornings at Fairhaven working on fire skills once again, and getting some wood chopped up for these cold, frosty days!
Our curriculum continues to focus on hazard awareness, and our Moon Bird and Running Deer story recalled their encounter with a cougar in the forest. Moon Bird initially reacted by running away from this big wild cat. However, the cougar was much different than a typical cougar. . .
The sunshine is back! We began our day at Whatcom Falls last Friday with a fire to warm our bones during the crisp fall morning. The Fox Walkers had the opportunity to practice their fire making skills by batoning wood and collecting dry materials to help keep the fire going. They also enjoyed roasting some apples over the fire once again. This has quickly become a favorite activity amongst this crew!