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Welcoming Spring- Part 2

After going home from a fufilling day of plant adventures, there was still another day of fun to look forward to!  On Sunday the sun was shining but there was still a refreshing chill in the air as we all arrived and gravitated to a sun-soaked spot in the field near the trail entrance. We started the day with a circle, a tune about springtime:

Plants there coming out ohhh there coming out, Plants are coming out to feel the sun

I can hear the creek flowing, I can smell the sap boiling, I can feel the sun shininig, drip drip drip

drip drip drip, drippy drippy drip

-adapted from the original by Heidi of the Earth Walk school in Maine

Not long after we wandered into the field looking for flowers! We stumbled upon this basal rosette, and took to the books to figure out who it might be.

We did not find any solid answers, but did get a better sense of some things to look for (what type of leaves, branching patters, entire, toothed or lobed)  and how to use Newcombs Flower guide!

Soon we moved into the forest where we looked up and admired the trees, speaking to their different branching patterns that are helpful for identification.

Alexis pretending to be a oppositely branched tree.

The handy acrynom MADhorse stands for the less common oppositely branched trees: Maple, Ash, Dogwood and Horsechesnut. We can narrow it down in this forest as Dogwood is more shrub-like and smaller, and Horsechesnut is found planted more often in city parks than along the Bruce trail, leaving Ash or Maple as the most likley trees!

We admired the Balsam Poplar tree, with thier alternate branching pattern, and sticky-resin filled buds ! As we practiced fox-walking through the forest Nicola stumbled upon a big fallen Balsam Poplar branch, so we all took some time to collect handfuls of buds in hopes of making Balm of Gilead salve with amazing anti-microbial, and pain/inflamatory relief qualities!

We met the Ironwood tree (Ostrya virginiana) , also sometimes known as Hop Hornbeam, whose name makes alot of sense when you feel how firm and strong the tree feels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We even snacked on some of Ironwood’s rather hard, but tasty-and fat rich seeds

After lunch we tested our sensory skills, feeling and smelling a number of plants and barks as a reminder of the importance of understanding plants with all of our senses!

Check out the wee maple seedlings sprouting out of their seed pods or samaras!

Next we settled into a sunny spot and began to learn about, and process the various inner bark of Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), White Pine and Willow. We collected Black Cherry the day prior, and saved their inner bark to help with cough and colds!

For the White Pine (pinus strobus) and Willow (Salix) we saved the inner back for tinctures.  White Pine’s inner bark is nice to chew on, and is a great survival food, the inner bark is great for coughs and colds too.

White Pine and Willow tincture making!

The inner bark of Willow contains salicylic acid, the same constituents as in Asprin, but in a much smaller dose. We talked about how Willow Bark it is more of a complete medicine, not straining the liver as much as a big dose of Asprin. Willow bark tincture can be used to help with pain, inflammation fevers, arthritis pain and more.

Willow also has a natural rooting hormone, allowing cuttings to be taken from the plant and grow in water, or straight into the ground (ideally in a wet environment). Cuttings of Willow soaked in water for a few days can help you propogate cuttings of other trees such as Elderberry cuttings.

Removing the inner back from Willow, Cherry and White Pine

After a very enjoyable and relaxing session of inner-bark collection, we ventured into a Birch forest, and to the edge of some incredible Cedar, Fern and Moss covered rocky lookout. It was a beautiful moment as we all settled into this stunning lookout spot, and watched in scilence as the Turkey Vultures soared along the cliffs.

The Cedar trees living here are slow growing amongst the rocks, and some of the oldest trees left in Ontario

The lookout

We ended the day with a few more mysteries:

Who’s tooth is this!?

small flower-like mushrooms?!

To top of an amazing day we spotted another Porcupine! This one we had the pleasure of watching walk along the field.

What a beautiful day, and a beautiful weekend! I am grateful for all the plants and people who made it so fun! I can’t wait for many more adventures, all the learning still to come and to get to know this great group of people.

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Welcoming Spring-Part 1

The first weekend of 2018’s Plant Apprenticeship began on a cloudy morning along a special spot on the Bruce Trail near Orangeville. We started the day with a circle where we shared gratitude, our names, goals and some logistics about the  Plant Apprenticeship and all the fun to come!

Soon we left the company of the Black Cherry trees and ventured along, looking for plants high and low!

Here is a visual journey of what we discovered on our first adventure together as a group!
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Algonquin Tracking!

Tracking in Algonquin, February 2018

February’s tracking weekend took place in Algonquin Park. Our focus? The sexy area megafauna: Moose, Wolf, Otter and Marten. Here’s a phrase not often associated with Algonquin: Not much snow! Temperature fluctuations this winter have created a snowpack just a foot deep, most of it melted snow that’s frozen again, covered by a few inches of powder. Fortunately, that meant excellent tracking conditions and no need for snowshoes on the first day. But more on that shortly.

The apprentices met up at the Wildlife Research Station on Saturday morning. It had snowed lightly but constantly since Friday night, and Alexis and Lee had found a fresh trail they wanted to explore. But because most of us had been sitting in cars since very early in the morning, we spent the first part of the day investigating the area around the station.

Lee had seen some tracks just up the road — skinny, draggy tracks that wove through spindly branches. The trail would stop in one place, then start again a foot later. It was made by none other than our friend the Ruffed Grouse, eating Beaked Hazel, and flying through the air so fancy free.

Otter slide

 

But that’s not all! On the same side of the road we discovered a long, curving slide in the snow, interrupted every so often only to resume once more. One went all the way down from the road into the river. It was our first sight of an Otter slide. Friend Otter knew that ice below + powder above = sledding bonanza! It was this trail we followed to as we walked deeper into the trees. Truly the Otter did not put its feet down except to push whenever it lost momentum. When it did, its feet landed in a 3×4 lope, and in places we could see all five toes clearly. Did you know Otters spend 85% of their time on land?

The Otter’s merry jaunt took us from road onto Bat Lake. We saw more grouse tracks and possible Southern Flying Squirrel tracks along the way — southern because of the tiny 2” trail width and boxy track pattern.

Southern Flying Squirrel

In classic tracker fashion, as we were trying to make our way back, we were completely sidetracked by the trail of a Red Fox. Last month’s gait discussion continued: What gait was this? Was it fast or slow? Where were the fronts and the hinds? And so on. As we mulled over these details, we had to ask: Why was this fox running across the shore? Was it running away from something? Intrepid Asian tracker Christina needed to find out more.

Following the trail back into the forest, it went from gallop to lope to side trot to direct register trot. So the fox was speeding up as it left cover. Why? We think these photos tell the story: The Fox was doing its thang when it heard a noise. It stopped and listened, then (1) abruptly turned left. (2) It crept towards the sound in an understep/stalk walk, (3) sat down to listen to where the sound was coming from, and (4) leapt into the air and dove nose-first into the snow! We found the tracks from a David Attenborough nature special, y’all!

Fox 1

Fox 2

Fox 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fox 4    

 

 

So did the fox leave the hunt in a hurry because it was successful or not successful? Discuss among yourselves.  The morning was wearing on, so we hopped into our cars and drove to our next destination: Kearney Lake. Alexis and Lee had seen some wolf tracks they wanted to follow. We did a circle in the parking lot then began investigating this new trail, two wolves travelling side by side through the campground.

From what we could tell, the wolves seemed relaxed. We found the places where they sat and wagged their tails. Maybe this was where they had stopped and howled to the rest of the pack! The pair used the human paths to make their way to the lake, and we split up and followed each one. Like most wild canids, their dominant gait pattern was side trot. Evelyn and Arlene explored how each foot would fall in those tracks.

 Our group trailed the wolves onto a frozen lake, over a spit of land, onto another lake, and then up the shore into some white pines. Alexis was just saying that he had found some beds here a few years ago when the luck of the tracker struck again: We discovered two wolf beds, and tracks leading out of them to roll marks in the snow. Jackpot!

Each bed measured 18” x 15”. The wolves’ body heat had melted the snow down to the pine needle duff, and the apprentices had little difficulty picking out wolf fur from the frozen edges. One bed had a drop of estrus blood in the bottom, and in a flash, we knew that we were tracking the Alpha male and female. Mating season for wolves begins at the end of January and continues throughout February. The pair typically leaves the rest of the pack to socialize solely with each other — kind of like a honeymoon!

Unsure of how fresh the tracks were, the gang stopped for lunch, in case we were pushing the wolves away. Then we followed them inland, onto Kearney Lake, and across the ice. The wolves trotted one right after the other close to shore. Most of the way, we could not tell that there were two animals, or that there were four sets of tracks in each print. Every once in a while, one wolf would break from the pattern and leave a scent mark. It seemed like they were depositing urine every 50 to 100 metres, and the female’s was red with estrus blood. Notably, they went to every single beaver lodge and scent-marked nearby.

On the other side of Kearney, we followed the wolves over a portage to Pond Lake, where we found our first moose sign: spaghetti feeding on maple. We also found a young balsam fir that had been the victim of a moose antler rub. It was completely debarked from top to bottom. No tracks, though.

By the time we got to Pond Lake, it was late in the afternoon and snowing heavily. We would have to turn back soon. Alexis asked if we wanted to stop and do a howl, then a sit, and the apprentices agreed. Each apprentice walked out to a spot on the shore, and our fearless leader led us in a call of the wild, a call to the wild.

In moments like these, I sometimes find myself entering a sort of trance. Time slows. The sky deepens. I feel my heart beat in time with the earth.

Moments later (or was it years?) we gathered again. It was time to go back.

 

Christina Yu

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Sunday Tracking in Grey County

Tracking Apprenticeship Jan 21, 2018

There is so much to learn from our Tracking apprenticeship.

I am still discovering ways in which tracking is teaching me, not just about animals and nature, but about the basics of what is it to be a conscious human being in the world.

It has been years now I have been coming out on these trips, and yet there is always new experiences, and new depth to the experiences.

I do find it a real gift to awake on-site on these excursions, not only because I’m super grateful for not having to commute, but more so for enriching experiences, sharing food, good times and banter with the crew of trackers.

Before heading out for the day, we took some time to go over gaits and trail patterns. Alexis explained how to interpret various gaits and which animals we may see use them, while Evelyn helped us visualize the mechanics of motion via her awesome animal forms display.

We headed out for the day, and didn’t have to go far before we found a plethora of super-sweet trails just around the property.

A quick scan revealed more than half a dozen different kinds creatures passing through over night;

coyotes, cats, crows, and the chickens, squirrels, skunks, voles and more!

 

We were pretty stoked about the clear fresh skunk trails so we took elaborate notes and measurements of some trails, and spent time working on our Tracking Journals.

 

After lunch we head to a forest just down the road where we took a walk along the (thawing) icy edge of the creek.

We soon were in a jungle-gym of interwoven trails of so many creatures it made some of our heads hurt. Creatures like coyotes, shrew, mice, racoons, fishers, mink, short tail weasel, and quite possibly a least weasel. It was a really sweet group wandering – we saw so much in such little time.

The frozen ice above the creek water level was stunning, it made us pause for a moment to appreciate the beauty before us.

To top it off, there was a super sweet raptop track on the frozen icy edge of the creek!

Raptor Track

 

 

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Day of Awesome Discoveries

The fog Sunday morning was heavy and damp, you could hardly see 3 metres ahead.

Circumstances led me to finding a recently-hit snowy owl on road while on my way to our location. It was an amazing blessing, needless to say, I was in shock and awe.

We had such an incredible opportunity to see such a beautiful creature up-close, in such detail. Lee gave us some ID and diagnostic details, this had been a young, very hungry bird.

   The colouring of the feathers was typical of a female, presumably a young adult as the adult colours hadn’t yet become fully defined. After blowing on the bird, you know, like most normal people would in the given situation, Lee showed us the little spot between the breast bones where birds store up their fat – this owl had absolutely none.

It was a pretty sweet gift to start our morning, and the day seem to be full of such awesome discoveries.

As we began our journey in, we called to noticed all the cherry trees along the fence-line. Alexis brought up how the birds, raccoons, and some small rodents like to eat on and around those fence lines so they have certain patterns of distribution of the fruit’s seeds they eat and excrete.

Soon we spooked a grouse who had been very close by, which gave us a better sense of our volume and disturbance levels, and we got to see some super fresh feeding sign.

Sign of the fruit tree bark beetle

In that area, there was some unidentified amber-orange frozen substance that we wondered if it was frozen pee, jelly fungus or cherry sap? Taste could only tell for sure – it was cherry sap.

Lee explained about the bark beetle sign on the cherries, how they lay eggs, the eggs hatch and grow as they feed, then eventually exit. Apparently there are 4 local bark beetles in our area, we looked up which bark beetle this would be – the fruit-tree bark beetle.

Throughout our wander we saw plenty of deer scrapes, rubs, nips and browse along our trails through the landscape.

We found some feeding sign on golden rod gall grubs. Is this sign of a downy or a chickadee, or something else?

We saw deer beds, with signs of hare feeding on the grasses, and pooping in the deers’ beds.

We decided to move slowly, quietly, with intention to potentially see more.

We soon found a fox dig and tracks in some sand, a lot more deer scrapes and rubs, a racoon dig that may have originally been a chipmunk excavation at some point?

We wandered downhill to the springs, and as we were going to begin heading further, we stopped as we hear deer snorting at us nearby. We walked as slow and quietly as we could, hoping to catch a glimpse of the deer.

We made our way down to the river for lunch, where we sat by the water and shared in discussion.

Almost as soon as we began moving again, we came across super-cute sighting of raccoons napping up in a tree! Some of Nature’s sweetest moments…

There were some pretty well-worn deer trails in muddy spots, where we also found some super- texture-defined porcupine tracks, and nearby, coyote tracks, and another fox dig. Following the deer trails, Alexis and Lee warmed their chilled hands over the warm deer scat…

THEN we found a classic bear bite!

THEN, as we were calling it a day, so satisfied by all we had seen, we found on our path, signs of that infamous elusive creature, the BOB CAT! Fairly fresh, figuring not more than a couple days old….

What a day, so jammed full with awesome sightings and discoveries, but also so gentle, quiet and free flowing… Tracking is always such an amazing adventure that brings forth so many opportunities for learning in an experiential way. What an amazing day.

Oh! We also saw tons of Cedar seeds caches,

a large beautiful Mullein growing out of a fallen trees roots,

a wicked huge little room under some old Cedar and Yellow Birch roots,

and one of the largest colonies of Turkey Tail I’ve ever seen.

Amazing.

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