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Cliff Drift Wonder Wander

The days we go out tracking with Earth Tracks always seem to have some sort of magical quality. I really love quietly watching the early morning rays of sun filter through the rising mists in the valleys as I make my way to our location for the day. I’m not sure if it is just the circumstances — the tired, half-asleep, dragging myself out of bed hours earlier than I’d like on a Sunday morning, but the drive to wherever we go always seem to bring me to a place of calm gratitude, super appreciative of being present with the beauty that’s infused in the world around us.

We started out in a typical fashion, circling-up in the tall grass and wildflowers of the meadow as the morning light intensifies, sharing our gratitude and intentions for the day. Although we have still not seen any definitive signs yet this year, some of us continually have at the back of our minds, to keep an eye out for traces and impressions of bobcats that may be lurking in our nearby landscapes. As a group, many of us shared intentions of being present in the moment, as well as quieting our minds, digging deep into mysteries, paying attention to little tracks and details, the trail lines in the landscape and deepening our connection to the deer.

Much of our sharing had deep undertones that speak to something greater:

Learning to see, experience and appreciate the beauty and intricacy in the minute, not only the large and majestic… How everything in Nature is communicating with us constantly… How animals are just instruments being played by the landscape… Looking at tracking as a mirror, tracking the landscapes outside of us, as well as within us, practicing inner tracking, where we are within ourselves, in our bodies, minds and spirits.

I find myself with deep underlying feelings of something English words seem to come up short in expressing, but the German word Heimat comes to mind. In these instances and outings with these people, fellow trackers and nature-lovers, sharing our stories, discussions and wonderings together, with others who feel the connection and calling, we are building something more than just our own experiences.

Along with the sense of gratitude and deep appreciation, there is often an accompanying joy and playfulness that often surfaces in these outings, and it certainly was present with us throughout the day. We were blessed with a sharing of a quick lesson on the hairy-nosed mole, especially relating to information on their interestingly peculiar reproductive organs, too explicit to go into detail here!


Based on our theme, location, and considering where the energy and focus of the group was, we decided to start off on our group tracking adventure in silence, practicing some of our tracking techniques, moving in a dynamic meditation – using our “owl eyes”, listening with “deer ears”, moving as carefully and quietly through the landscape as we can, sharing our observations by hand gestures and facial expressions.

We began to move in a line that dispersed gradually out across and into the forest and meadow border, heading around to come up downwind from our intended destination.

The idea was to keep at least one person from the group within sight, so we could communicate, but I soon found myself drifting further and further away from others that had been in sight, skirting the edge of the Cliffs that look out over the valley. We had been here last with the previous year of apprentices, moving in scout formation with a smaller crew, in a damp, cooler October morning, and had encountered a group of 6 deer at that spot. I was hoping they would be around, be it seemed that they probably knew we were there, and were on track to avoid us.

At some point, when I realized how far from the others I was, and that I had been travelling in a bit of a different direction than them. I had a bit of concern that I might have a really hard time meeting back up with the group, and that I might actually be on my own for most of the day. When I came to terms with that possibility, I realized that would also be a great way to experience the day regardless, and I found myself wandering more fluidly, with less concerns.


Eventually, a crow call pulled me back to the awareness of the group and our day together. I began to slowly move toward the call, and it took quite a while. I was surprised when I finally found the recollecting group, and only half of them were there. As we all trickled in, we began to form a collection of the neat discoveries we had come across. Nearly everyone had found feathers.

Wild Coffee - Triosteum Perfoliatum

Once gathered, we worked to ID the typed of feathers we had found (many Wild Turkey and Grouse), shared about Hop Hornbeam aka Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) seeds, how they can act as a larder for various animals in the ecosystem, and there was a particular plant I had never seen before, Wild Coffee (Triosteum Perfoliatum), that I was delighted to be introduced to.

As we spoke and shared our findings, creativity began arranging our finds in an expressive nature art display for future passer-bys to contemplate.

Following our quiet morning, we headed out to a particular lookout to stop for lunch with an amazing view.

Sometimes we find unexpected oddities while we are out in the field, like the fact that there seemed to be an unusual amount of knives and ‘guns’ lying around up at the lookout point this time.


Another treat was to see Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) alive and pretty well in various places throughout the landscape, and it was especially neat to see what seemed like signs of possible gastropods feeding on their berries.


After lunch we had time to ourselves for a quiet Sit Spot along the cliff edge. It was incredibly peaceful and relaxing, feeling the gentle breeze, listening to the birds and insects, and wondering into the growth story of a particular Cedar tree. I love these trees that grow on the limestone cliffs, they have a special role in their environment and each of them seems so unique and to tell their own stories.

A part of me relates deeply to this tree, and the quiet time alone with it shares so much. I am so grateful for the time to just be, out here in Nature.


Following our sit, we climbed down a refreshingly cool cliff crevice that came into a beautiful patch of Pale Jewelweed (Impatience pallida), where some of us had our attention captured and stayed to play with the popping seed pods. Part of the group continued to climb up another small cliff projection where a Turkey Vulture nest had been built at the base in previous years.

It was a tight fit at the top, and we were gifted with a delightful surprise – handfuls of racoon scat all over places with limited handhold spaces. One of my personal favourite aspects of the Tracking Apprenticeship is the banter, laughter and camaraderie shared as trackers, usually of a nature that may seem quite unusual or even disturbing to some.

After a bit of an unnerving decent, we headed back along the bottom of the cliff face, through plenty of prickly plants and boulders, picking up tons of seeds along the way to spread throughout the forests and meadows.

We discovered many things thorough the day, like various dust baths,

 

several fruiting fungi,

 

some really amazing displays of Jewelweed over the cliffs that definitely were a treat to see in bloom,

 

some good signs we were on track,

 

and some interesting insects

 


At some point later in the afternoon, we found ourselves looking at the effects of microblasts on the environment and peculiar variations of how the shape/form of trees can tell us quite a bit.

There were quite a few peculiar tree forms that seemed to pop out of the landscape, they always get me wondering about what it must be like to be a tree and the story of all the things that have come to pass that their forms tell us about.


As we circled up to share the last of our words together for the day, that phenomenal sunlight was still present with us.

Overall, it was a really amazing day, it was super peaceful and so much learning and sharing took place. Every day we get out together, it’s such a great time.

I find that I’m always so grateful to be able to participate in the apprenticeship program weekends, I always learn so much new information, and also gain so much inspiration and motivation to grow my understanding and knowledge-base further.

Tracking Apprenticeship 2017 – Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017

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Plants have all the anthers

Utilitarian Uses of Plants Weekend
Written by Tamara Anderson and Ann Schletz

Plants Apprenticeship 2017

Alexis lit a fire literally and figuratively to start the weekend session of Utilitarian Plant Uses. After providing time for a sit-spot to “shake off the road dust”, Alexis facilitated a bow-drill and a hand-drill workshop. Several people were successful at making their very first coal and fire that morning. At the end of the weekend, everyone was “fired up” – inspired by the numerous gifts that plants provide for utilitarian uses.

Fire bundle lit!

Guest instructor, Laura Gilmour shared a workshop on making pitch sticks with tree resin and charcoal. We each made a pitch stick, also known as a glue stick that could be used to repair tools and patch canoes.

Pitch Stick Making

Next, it was time for a cordage-making session. We worked with the stems of the plant Dogbane to make strong cordage using a reverse wrap. Please find a punny cordage joke at the bottom of this write-up.

Cordage Making

Cedar attracted our attention and focus for the next session. We were invited to make spoons and bowls using the cedar as our base. After a session on knife safety in the morning, we were carving and burning holes in the wood with coals from our well-lit fire. Many spoons were made in addition to some fine, coal-burned bowls. Alexis made a handy pair of tongs with a pine branch to help transport coals.

Laura shared her gifts for basket-making in a workshop that included making a Pine Bark Berry basket. She also demonstrated how to make a Birch Bark basket that can hold water, a willow basket, a cattail basket and corn husk basket. Our appreciation for basket makers worldwide definitely grew as we tried our hand at weaving and stitching baskets. Alexis shared his skills at making a grass mat as well.

Basket-Making

Using Japanese Knotweed, Laura demonstrated how to make crayons. The wax and colour is heated and then poured into the cut segments of the open stem of the plant. The hot liquid is trapped in the nodes of the plant. When dry, the open end is cut to reveal the tip of the crayon.

Crayon-Making

Sammy harvested some Black Walnut to make an ink stain. Laura added some gelatin and we used sticks to try the ink. The ink was very dark and dried quite quickly. We each took a sample of Black Walnut ink to take home.

Black Walnut Ink-Making

Ann and Tamara shared a session on natural dyes. Ann brought a blanket that she is knitting. The blanket is made up of squares of different coloured yarn that has been dyed with Buckthorn, Eastern Hemlock, Queen Anne’s Lace, Dyer’s Polypore, Goldenrod, Black Walnut, Cedar and Purple Cabbage.

In the evening, we shared a wonderful potluck. People continued to make either bowls or spoons. Laura shared different techniques to make torches with natural and human-made materials. It was a very fun weekend reconnecting with the plants from a utilitarian perspective. With gratitude for all of the people that shared skills this weekend and for Alexis for organizing it all😊

 

Funny Cordage Joke:
Three strings want a milkshake. The first one walks into an ice cream store and says, “Can I have a milkshake.” The owner says, “We don’t serve strings here”. The string leaves, disappointed. The second string gives it a try and walks in to the store with more confidence. “I will take a milkshake.” The owner says, “No you won’t. We don’t serve strings here.” The string leaves. The third string has an idea. He ruffles his strands and makes himself look really cool. He walks into the store and says, “Can I have a milkshake?”. The owner looks at him and asks, “Are you a string?” The third string replies, “No, I’m afraid not. (a frayed knot)”.

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Tastes like “Chicken Dinner with the In-laws”

Energetics and Plant Constituents

During the Saturday session of our Plant Medicines weekend, Alexis led a workshop on The Energetics and Constituents of Plants. He gave a brief overview of the origins of plant medicines and discussed Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic, medicine and Medicine Wheels used by First Nations / Original Peoples. We discussed the age of Modern Medicine being approximately 150 years old in comparison to ancient medicinal practices. He also discussed the Four Humours, a Greek System that is used in North America.

The body has an innate ability to heal. When working with plant medicines, we need to ask, “How can we support this ability to heal?” Alexis recommended finding herbs that stimulate the vital forces healing the body. As an example, nervines and adaptogens help the body to adapt and respond to stressful situations with resiliency and reduce anxiety.

In terms of Energetics, we have all Four (Hot, Cold, Damp and Dry) to some degree. We took a quiz to find out what our constitutional type is. By answering questions, we determined which two energetics are dominant in our own bodies at the present time (this can change as we age). The quiz was from a book called, “The Alchemy of Herbs” (page 16) by Rosalee de la Foret. For more on this topic, Alexis recommended a book called, “Vitalism” by herbalist Matthew Wood.

For healing, a practitioner needs to know a person’s constitution (Hot or Cold and Damp or Dry) to find out what that person needs rather than what might aggravate their condition. Opposites are best. As an example, a person with a constitution that is cool and dry has a respiratory infection that causes them to be damp and hot. The constitution of the illness is damp and hot which shifts the person’s constitution. To bring the body back into balance, the person needs something that will be dry and cooling.  Afterwards, it was time for a tasting session. We had a chance to try a number of herbal tinctures to discover how they might affect the body (Warming or Cooling, Moistening or Drying). We also had an opportunity to guess what the plants were by using our sense of taste.

Flavour Wheel of Fun

Plant Flavour Wheel

Next, it was time to head over to Lee’s “Flavour Wheel” workshop under the cooling shade of the walnut trees. We ate some ginger which is a pungent flavour in the “dry and hot” category on the flavour wheel. We discussed how it would be good for sore throats if used in combination with honey which is a moistening demulcent. We tried garlic scapes, also a pungent flavour and discussed its antimicrobial properties. We tried spearmint leaves (also listed as a pungent flavour) which was wonderfully cooling as expected. Next, we tried Tarragon/Savoury which have antimicrobial properties. We discussed how herbs that were used for meat preservation (Tarragon, Savoury and Cayenne) are still used as flavouring in traditional recipes around the world. We tried Sheep Sorrel and then Black Raspberry. We ate some unripe apple and noted the dry-tasting tannins. We tried Motherwort and discussed how bitters support the nervous system. We learned that Bitters can also be a bile stimulant. Wormwood was very bitter. It is a vermicide, used in killing worms within the body.
Next, it was time for teas. We tried some Wood Nettle tea which was delicious. Lee said to steep it for 15 minutes before drinking since the hairs have formic acid. Nettle was surprisingly in the salty favour category which was interesting. We had a discussion on foraging and how salt is difficult to find in the environment. Being able to taste the subtle salty flavour of a plant would be very important for survival on the land since salts are important in maintaining electrolyte balance in the body. Tamara shared how a visit to Quebec City revealed how the word “restaurant” originated from salty restorative soups called “restoré ” offered by kind homeowners to weary travellers. We chatted about how the human body has the same salt/water balance as the ocean. Beautiful connection! We tried a Borage tea and noted the hairy armour of Borage. We moved into the “Sweet” section of the flavour wheel and tried Licorice Root which would be another great addition to ginger if treating for a dry cough. We tried dried Juniper/Red Cedar berries and discovered that they are sweet on the outside but the seeds have alkaloids in them which makes them very bitter. Too many alkaloids are bad for the body. This is one way for the plant to move its seeds around if animals spit them out.
Lee wrapped up her workshop by getting people to suggest conditions that could be alleviated by a combination of herbs in the flavour wheel. Thanks Lee😊

Tincture Making

Digestive Bitter

Alexis shared information about tincture and tea making. When making healing tinctures for people in need, herbalists understand that herbs have affinities to certain organs. With this understanding, herbalists also recognize that herbs have complementary pairings. Alexis used the example of red clover and cayenne. Red clover is a support to the lymph system. Cayenne is a stimulant that moves the clover medicine around the body.
When making a formulation of herbs as medicine, use the following components:
• 1-2 key herbs (4-8 parts per herb)
• 2-4 supporting herbs (2-4 parts per herb)
• 0-2 balancing herbs (1-2 parts per herb)
• ½ – 1 catalyst herb (1-2 parts per herb)
The key herb is like the king or the emperor. It is of primary importance in supporting a required action for a system in the body. The supporting herbs may enhance the action of the key herbs. They are like the advisors. The Balancing herbs tone down any harsh actions that can be caused by the key or supporting herbs. E.g. Hops and Valerian combined and both cooling and warming (neutralized). The catalyst enhances the overall effect. E.g. cayenne.

We made a digestive bitter with the following herbs:
Key: Wormwood
Supporting: Motherwort, Yarrow
Balancing: Bergamot, Anise Hyssop
Catalyst: Dried Ginger

Poison Ivy Wash

Jewelweed Poison Ivy Wash

Alexis made a tincture with Jewelweed. He cut up jewelweed stems and leaves and put them in a glass jar filled with apple cider vinegar. He placed wax paper on top so that the vinegar would not rust the metal lid. We talked about how beautiful jewelweed leaves look underwater. They are shiny like shimmering jewels!
When caring for tinctures, Alexis said to shake the tincture 1x per day for 4-6 weeks. One of his Herbalism Mentors Rosemarie Gladstar says that this helps to put your positive energy into the tincture. It also helps to agitate the plant material, facilitating better extraction. After filtering the tincture through 4 layers of cheesecloth or a fruit pressing machine (tincture press), funnel it into a medicine bottle or a spray bottle (in the case of the poison ivy wash).

Cocktail/Mocktail Party

Cocktail / Mocktail Party

After a supper break, we reconnected with a campfire and a Cocktail/Mocktail party.  Alexis and Lee shared the motto “Drink to remember not to forget” from Chris and Laura Gilmour (with Wild Muskoka).
On the table, there was a spread of:
• Clear Soda
• Gin
• Ice
• Digestive Bitter tincture (from last year)
• Mint
• Lemons
• Thyme Vodka
• Lemon Balm Vodka
• Cedar Whiskey
• Cherry Syrup
• Rosemary Syrup
• Sumac, Strawberry Shrub (Apple Cider Vinegar and Sugar)
• Elder Flower Syrup (Sugar)
• Elderflower Cordial (Sugar and lemon)
• Licorice Tea
We mixed these ingredients together to create a variety of cocktails and mocktails:
1. Elderflower and honey, Gin, Lemon and Soda
2. Cherry Syrup, Mint, Ice, Soda
3. Cherry Syrup, Cedar Whiskey, Lemon and Soda
4. Lemon Balm Vodka, Cherry Syrup, Strawberry Sumac Shrub, Lemon and Soda
5. Thyme Vodka, Cherry Syrup, Lemon, Mint, Soda

and last but not least…
6. “Chicken Dinner with the In-Laws”: Rosemary Syrup, Thyme Vodka, Lemon Balm Vodka, Lemon and Bitters.

We mused on the traditions of naturally plant-flavoured sodas and alcoholic beverages rather than the present-day artificially flavoured drinks that flood the market.  I am looking forward a glass of my Dandelion wine when it is ready on the winter solstice:)

Written by T. Anderson

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Tracking on the Edge of Suburbia

When we first pulled up to the area we were going to be tracking for the day, I was a bit shocked. The present environment was a suburban housing development underway, bull-dowsed blocks of land, pushing back on the surrounding forested areas, with boxes in rows multiplying, encroaching on what remains of the surrounding natural environment.

What? I was quite shocked, meeting up on a newly created road, on the border of a huge construction zone. When I had last visted this location, about 5 years ago, it was a completely different area.

 

I didn’t know what to expect from this place…

 

It didn’t take long before we found some really great, clear tracks in mud. We started with ID basics, how to narrow-in on the evidence, and explore some possible deductions. We came across raccoon, dog, and coyote tracks, and a red fox trail with scat on top of haybales along the fenceline of the construction zone. Not to mention the birds. The setting was already providing plenty of tracking opportunities and we hadn’t even gone 50 meters from our cars.

 

I had set an intention of paying special attention to the landscape, and tracking ourselves as we move through it. However, paying more attention to the landscape became a bit distracting for me, I found myself feeling quite emotional about the changes happening there, the impact of human activities and urbanization. Several times I had to stop and take a moment to be with gratitude for what bit of nature is still there for us to explore and interact with, and all the lessons woven into it that unfold.

Throughout the day we discovered many amazing things and had some great discussions. One highlight that added another layer to tracking for me was some confusing tracks that seemed to be a morphing animal, turned out to be a hare and coyote travelling along the same line, in opposite directions, their tracks overlapping each other in some spots.

At the end of the day I realized what a gift it is to track in such an environment, filled with human activity and development. It really showed me how easy it is to find tracks and signs of wildlife, even in such a loud, urban environment. We don’t have to go on long excursions out of the city to find good tracking spots, things are happening all around us, wildlife is continually adapting and finding ways to survive alongside our development. All we have to do is look for it and keep asking ourselves questions.

 

Sunday, May 14, 2017 – By Lianna Vargas –   2nd year Earth Tracks Tracking Apprentice

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Rain or Sunshine Kind of Day

The bird songs welcomed folks to our second day of our weekend. As some drank lemon balm tea and others coffee, we settled down in a circle and listened to each other’s morning gratitude’s. To our surprise, one of our year one’s gifted us with Tamarack branches harvested from her morning drive to this course.  Alexis had a grand agenda for us this day and these Tamarack branches were included in the plans.

We started with setting aside a chunk of time journaling about plants. Alexis’s library holds a wealth of information about plants and as we wrapped up this activity, we had the chance to share our new findings in our group. This was a great opportunity to learn a wealth of information within our community of plant enthusiast.

Of course the most memorable components of this day to many of us was the speedy moving clouds that shadowed us throughout the day. When the dark shadows appeared overhead this invited strong winds, thunder, rain and hail to pour down on us. We were well prepared to watch this from Alexis’s green house or porch. It was a beautiful and powerful scene to witness. Our rainy and sunny day was filled with amazing activities and ideas on caretaking and stewardship; multiple perspectives and stories taught me the importance to think on a deeper level about our caretaking and stewardship roles in relationship to nature.

We familiarised ourselves with Tamarack and its medicinal properties. Then proceeded, with instructions from Alexis, to make a tamarack tincture. This tincture provides energy and was helpful as an immuno-stimulant. We also made mouse nests from willow branches, leaf litter and pine needles. We carpooled over to a nearby forest to place these little homes in a much needed space for our wild friends. In the forest and when the rain grew heavy Alexis found a safe spot to plant some bloodroot seeds he had saved. We also did some tree Id and ended our time in the forest with sit spots.

This weekend introduced us to thinking about our roles as caretakers of the land. It is a conversation that is much required in our lives these days and I’m glad that I can begin to take action on a small scale and in simple ways.

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