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On the Wolf Trail

                                                                  Wolf Trail through a bog

Tales from the Tracking Trail

This past weekend our Wildlife Tracking Apprentices and I were on the trail of a pair of Algonquin wolves.  One of my favorite places to be during the winter season!  I had first picked up the trail of these two wolves as they crossed the highway.   They had come from the east and  turned to the north as they scent marked a snowbank on the side of the road.   The tracks told me that one of these animals was a little larger than the other and from the blood in the urine (estrus) of one of them,  I was fairly confident that this was a breeding pair of Algonquin Wolves. ​  Were there others from the pack nearby or were these two off on their own during this time in the February mating season?

As these animals moved north along the upper section of the Madawaska river they quickly spread apart as one animal followed the river and the other chose to move in a parallel fashion up the small forestry access road.   Soon both trails came together as these two animals met up and paused for a moment on top of the snowbank overlooking the river where a small creek joined the main section of this waterway.

 There were signs of beaver activity in this area as well as a spot that both mink and otter can easily access the water below the ice.   It was in this location that the wolves had chosen to scent mark both the snowbank again as well as a stump on the far side of the river.  If you have spent time on a wolf trail you will know that they are always quite curious around beaver lodges and dams and quick to check out these locations to potentially catch and eat a fatty and nutritious meal of Castor canadensis.  The beaver makes up a fairly large percentage of the diet of Algonquin wolves along with both deer and moose.

From here the trail led up into a mature white and red pine forest moving in an eastward direction.  At the time I wondered what had caused  these animals to turn 90 degrees to the east and move up through a rocky cliff area into this forest.   Knowing that the tracks were less than 12 hours old and the wind was also coming from that direction it was a good guess that they had caught the scent of something up on that hill.  With the river ice not being safe to cross we went back to the highway and crossed over the river  so that we could pick up this trail again and continue to follow it.  On the way, we came across the ‘boxy’ hopping tracks of a southern flying squirrel.  By the pattern of this trail as well as a trail width of 2″ we were quite sure that it was not the Northern flying squirrel, who also  inhabit this area.   We spent some time investigating this site and saw where this particular squirrel had fed on some cedar seeds and then disappeared into a hole in the snow down into the subnivean.   

It wasn’t long before we picked up the wolf trail again and quickly learned what may have been the cause in their change of direction.  Moose.   In this location we found two moose beds and fairly fresh (1-2 day old) tracks.   These wolves were definitely interested in these animals and appeared to be following their trails as they  moved up to the top of a plateau.   Judging by the size of the beds, scat and urine marks in the snow we could tell that the moose tracks were from a cow and a male calf.   There were also tracks of snowshoe hare in this area.  When tracking single or pairs of wolves in the past, I have often seen them pursuing hares in the dense patches of balsam fir like we were in at this point.  But these wolves seemed much more interested in the moose that had been hanging out in this area.  

This forest and especially the top of this hill was thick with moose sign.  There were dozens of beds in this area along with a lot of browsing (feeding) sign on red maple, hobblebush and balsam fir.   It is hard to tell exactly how many moose had been using this area.  Especially knowing that these animals may get up to feed and then bed down 8-10 times over the course of a day.   Moose are known to eat upwards of 40 lbs of twigs and buds per day in the winter months and generally do not move long distances when there is ample food in a given area.   One thing that we did know, was that this area was thick with sign and scent of moose.   To a wolf, this must have been an ‘olfactory-overload’ to their sense of smell.  I am quite sure that this is what they had originally smelled from about a km away at the river.  

As the wolves moved through this area they moved mostly in a trot while separating and then coming back together for short distances.   After years of tracking wolves I have seen this many times when they are moving across a landscape.  A wolf pack will spread out across a hillside or valley and move through an area trying to push prey towards their kin in hopes of taking one down and feeding the entire pack with the carcass of a large animal such as a deer or moose.  We continued to wonder if there were other members of the pack nearby?  

As with every tracking experience, we ask many questions and make our hypothesis as to what may have happened.  And then we look for evidence that will either substantiate or refute our hypothesis.   Being humble and open to being wrong is crucial in this whole process.  On more than one occasion I have been quite sure of something and made a ‘definite’ statement only to follow the trail a little further to learn that what I had said was not the case and sometimes even completely inaccurate.

Anyways, no, we did not find a spot on this wolf trail where they had taken down a moose or even a snowshoe hare for that matter.   But we did get a chance to peer into and learn a little about these wild animals and experience what it is like to be on their trail.  I am constantly feeling grateful for the lessons that tracking continues to teach me.   It not only helps me to understand more about the biology and behavior of animals and nature.   But it also teaches me a lot about myself and my relationship to the natural world.  Tracking and following the trails of animals  gets me out of my head and into my body and heart.   My thoughts fade away to being fully engaged in the experience of the present moment.  And to me, this is where the beauty and magic lies.   As I said before, following the trails of wolves (or any animal for that matter), is truly one of my favorite places to be.  

Until next time………Happy Tracking

 Alexis

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Sipping Teas, Tasting Syrups & Making Plant Medicines

As I sip my tea, I think about the words that would help me best sum up our last weekend spent at our plants apprenticeship with Alexis. Our course has ended however, our wealth of plant knowledge is abundant and will keep on growing.

Our last weekend was our medicine making time. What a great way to wrap up our time together. We all conglomerated in Alexis’s kitchen and listened intently to the different remedies we were going to make. We made all sorts of rich and important medicines, such as; standardised tinctures, folk method tinctures, cough syrup, elderberry syrup, linements and salves. The smell of herbs, oils and wax bounced off the kitchen walls. As we gathered in different groups, people smiled, told bad jokes and shared good laughter. We also blended amazing herbal teas; some of the herbs Alexis grew and some of them harvested from the wild.

Time flew by and it was time to wrap up. We shared heartfelt stories of great moments spent in this course together and with the plants. Everyone shared their gratitude and as it was time to leave we sang one last song composed by the one and only Kim. This song was taught to her by the plants. That beautiful and calm note of silence after her song left me with chills and soon people trickled out the door to drive back home. The abundance of herbal medicine that we had made was absolutely incredible. We were able to take some of these medicines back home with us.

 

As I sip my hand crafted herbal blended tea, I realise that the chance to reflect on all the cool plants and its related teachings has been awesome. I feel so grateful to have learned so many beautiful things with a group of like-minded people, this plant journey is totally worth it.

-Annie

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Making Medicines – Balms, Salves & Liniments

Story of the Day – January 21st

I had arrived late after having a rough morning in the kitchen of an Airbnb I was staying in.  Blowing up the microwave isn’t exactly the most relaxing way to start your day.  I opened the front door to Alexis’s home and it was quiet minus the faint sound of Alexis’s voice in the living room.  I took off my boots and coat and rushed into the room, apologizing for my lateness.  The vibe was relaxed and I was greeted with warm smiles and welcomes, my stress levels immediately dwindled and I settled into my spot on the floor in front of the wood stove.

We started our day with gratitude, I was so grateful for that space and the feelings that filled me while I was in it.  We moved to talking about the flow of the day, it was our medicine making weekend, a culmination of what we had learned throughout the course and a chance to use our plant knowledge and put it into practical use.  We would be learning to make salves, balms and infused oils this morning.

We started with a demonstration from Alexis, showing us how to make balms using infused oils, coconut oil, vitamin E oil, beeswax and essential oils.  The kitchen was bustling as we divided into groups and started creating our own balms and salves for all types of skin issues, the smell of essential oils filled the air and laughter was all around as we tried to come up with witty names for our products.  Some of the names include, Essench Balm, Auntie Septic, Flower Power, Burrrn & Frankie’s Fester Free Balm to name a few.

After lunch we all learned about Kloss’s liniment and made some as a whole group but then broke off and worked on different projects of our choice, I worked to teach some folks how to make a quick stove top infused oil using the double boiler method.  While we worked to infuse some Oregon Grape into sunflower oil, most of the rest of folks were working to hand blend a mix of organic, home grown and wild-crafted herbs into teas!  Learning together about base herbs, middle herbs and accent herbs, learning to balance a tea blend with different flavors.  Trying to come up with names for the teas became a group effort as did naming most of the herbal preparations that we created over the weekend, The Joint, The Tonic, Easy Teasy, and Hot Harmony are a few of the day’s creations.

At the end of our day together, we prepared the last potluck dinner of our course and enjoyed it together around the wood stove.  We gathered with Bobby, Alexis, Violet and River in the living room ate and chatted about this and that.  When our bellies were full and we were getting really comfy, Alexis set up a slide show that Brenda had put together, it was beautiful.  There were photos from every weekend that we had together, it was so fun to remember the fun times that we had together as well as test ourselves with the plant photos to see if we could guess them.  The day ended and as I lay in my bed, thinking about the day, I felt sad that our apprenticeship would be ending the next day.

-Kelly

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Tree Teachings

December Plants Apprenticeship Weekend 2016

 

We drove up Alexis’ driveway, excited for the weekend ahead of us, a few of our classmates were standing on the lawn, we waved, parked the car and hopped out to give hugs and receive warm welcomes.  As soon as the group arrived, we gathered up and headed out to the forest.  As soon as we arrived, Alexis had us trying to figure out a mystery, this weekend was our tree ID weekend, we examined the buds and leaf scars of the tree and after looking things up in books and discussing, we still couldn’t figure out what it was, so we put the mystery to the side and continued into the forest.  We chatted about a few more trees, black ash, white ash, Elm and Basswood trying to figure out ways to remember how to identify them all, people shared their tips and tricks.  We came upon a part of the forest that was just pine and spruce trees and we took some time to wander while collecting sap for salve making later.  The forest had an odd vibe, it was dark and eerie. As we were inspecting the trees looking up and around, we took a moment for a snack, as we were taking things out of our bags, we looked around and noticed a large animal on the ground a few yards away.  We moved towards it quietly and looked down upon a large dead buck.  It had small unsymmetrical antlers and one broken front leg, it looked as though it had been hit on the road and wandered into the woods to die.  We put some tobacco down and said thank you to the deer as we continued through the forest towards the sound of running water.  

We followed a deer trail down, away from the coniferous forest and moved through cedar trees to a wetland area.  There was a small river running through the space, Joe Pye Weed, Asters and Goldenrod skeletons littered the dried up wetland with animal trails running through them.  It was lunch time so we took this opportunity to warm up with a fire, it was a damp and cold day, the fire was very welcomed.  Collecting cedar for kindling, we built a fire and ate our lunch together as a group, sharing stories, laughing and learning from each other.  When lunch was over, we all had the opportunity to go for a sit spot with some cedar tea.  Annie and I crossed the open wetland, and followed the river towards a cedar grove, finding a comfortable seat at the base of a cedar, we reflected on our day and connected with the trees.  We expressed our gratitude for the trees, closed our eyes and listened to the water as it moved through the space.  When we heard the crow call and it was time to meet the group again, we followed another deer trail through the wetland and met everyone back by the fire.  Alexis had put the fire out and so we stood around the remaining ashes and shared some of the experiences that we had during our sit spots.  

We spent the rest of the day wandering through the wetland and forest, learning to identify the trees that we came across, aspen, beech, tamarack and more, checking out the bark, the branching, the leaf scars and the buds. We also managed to harvest willow branches at the end of our wander. It is astonishing how trees can be created in so many different ways.  At the end of our day together, we all gathered back into our cars and headed back to Alexis’ home where we shared a meal and drank tea while chatting and warming our bodies in front of the wood stove.  

The next day was just as amazing. We delved further into the many teachings of the trees.  We woke up early morning to have our breakfast and started to use the willows that we had harvested the day before to make inviting little homes for the little creatures of the woods. These so called ‘mouse nests’ were made of all natural materials and as Alexis guided us into making them we learned about the value of stewardship and the gift of learning how to give back to the land. We drove back to the same forest we  visited the previous day and as we walked into the woods people naturally spread in all directions to find a perfect place for their ‘mouse nests’. After tucking mine near a mighty warm tree, I pictured the snow blanketing the area and imagined the shelter it would provide for families of critters to stay safe and warm throughout the cold bitter season. We then wandered down towards the river,  along the way we smelt and saw a porcupine up in the tree. Near the river, we took the leftover willow cuttings and found them new homes nearby. This then lead to break into our sit spots. For lunch we headed back to Alexis’s. We spent the rest of the afternoon indoors making pine salves and fire ciders; some valuable medicine for the winter season. By the end of the day, we had many learning moments to be grateful for and to take back home with us which is always invaluable.

  • Kelly & Annie

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Digging Roots

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The usual sounds of the forest were temporarily replaced by the rhythmic sounds of our knives carving the black cherry tree pieces from which we were making our digging sticks.  Most of us had never used a digging stick but the process of carving one helped to slow our minds down so we could contemplate the world below.   How many of us stop to think about what is underneath us?  About that intricate highway of roots weaving in and out img_8206of each other.

Roots are our silent companions, working in darkness underneath the ground turning our mother’s body into food so we can all eat. The strength and medicine they carry is incomparable, they can anchor themselves where they need to, on the side of a cliff, in the muddy depths of a swamp or in the cracks of a sidewalk.  Roots always find a way to make life happen.

Sarsaparilla was first, her long roots weaving back and forth just below the surface of the earth and although we didn’t have to dig deep we still had to work hard to follow her trail that spread in multiple directions.

Burdock shoimg_8196wed up next, he seems to be the complete opposite of Sarsaparilla with his roots reaching deep into the ground.  That digging stick came in very handy as we were elbow deep in the soil trying to reach the end of Burdock’s fibrous roots.

As the day went on we got to see several more plants and their roots.  They were already preparing for next year’s growth, all their energy being put to their new shoots.  On the surface the forest was looking sleepy but we could not deny the amount of work that was going on in the ground.  Just like farmers at harvest time, roots work hard in the fall to prepare for winter.img_8223

All roots grow so differently into the earth.  Makes you wonder what their jobs really are, they are obviously far more than just food and medicine for us.

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