Sunday, April 16, 2017

34 Degrees - Spring is Here!

Anyone looking at these photos might understandably doubt my assertion that spring has arrived.  We still have 1-2 feet of snow throughout the yard.  Temperatures linger below freezing past breakfast.  In fact, the iced tea I store on the back porch overnight flows around a frozen chunk at 11 am.

But even my chickens know that spring has arrived; they have started to lay eggs daily.
The snow recedes

The sun, which barely rose above tree top level in February now soars overhead, granting us 15+ hours of sun per day, so we retired the floor lamps to an outbuilding until September. Outside, the snow surface is degrading.  Along south and west facing hills it is sloughing down in sinuous lines.  In flat meadows it is pitted and pockmarked as it settles.  A sole pool of water is widening in one shallow spot along the lakeshore - perhaps the first spot where pike will spawn.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Forest Scavenger Hunt for Food, Remedies, Useful Products

Birch trees
Climbing the learning curve from “erstwhile city slicker” in Texas to remote rural life in Alaska, my acclimation has been immeasurably aided by several courses in botany, which have enhanced both gardening and foraging for food, home remedies, and construction materials.  Currently, I am enrolled in a fascinating on-line course in Applied Ethnobotany (offered by the University of  Alaska-Fairbanks).

As the name suggests, this field studies human use of plants - for food, fuel, textiles, shelter, medicine, and anything else.  I am learning how indigenous peoples and settlers utilized the resources all around them, that other people, like me, surely overlook. Interested readers will see below a list of resources they may be able to utilize for their own regions.

At the very beginning of this course, our professor instructed us to harvest some local plants for
Witch's Hair (lichen)
several projects.  Really?  In February?  In Alaska?  What could I find this time of year?  Well, duh, trees.  I live in a forest!  But besides use as firewood, construction, and spring birch sap, I did not know much. So one day, my husband and I pulled on our snowshoes and dragged a little plastic sled through the woods for a scavenger hunt. How fun!  In half an hour, we gathered two species of pendulous (hair) lichen with the evocative colloquial names of “witch's hair” and “bear hair,” chopped some chaga and “punk” conks off old birch trees, peeled off some loose birch bark,  gathered a handful of frozen spruce resin globules,
and cut a wrist thick swath of sweet grass sticking up through shallow snow beneath the shelter of a large spruce tree.