Story of the Day for May 11 2019, Orangeville Pits

Overcast and windy for most of the day until around 2:45ish when a light rain began. 8-10°C

Waxing Crescent 44%


We began the day with an opening circle on the sidewalk across the road from some newly constructed and in the midst of constructed houses, edging on to an old sandy quarry and mixed Cedar forest. It seems sometimes like this might be the wrong place to be tracking, but life exists everywhere so off we went, and almost as soon as we stepped into the construction site we discovered some tracks.

First thing we noticed was that the claws were pretty far out in front from the toes and there appeared to be 5 toes in the tracks, at least the clear ones. Some of the tracks showed a faint rear track in front of a front track, and the stride measured in at around 16.5 cm (6 ½ in). Some thoughts were quickly thrown around and then finally we settled on Mephitis mephitis moving at an overstep walk. Can you see the hind foot landing in front of the front foot in the photo?

Nearby we also noticed a couple of potential Vulpes vulpes tracks. There was a thought to peel the top layer of mud off but it seemed like the track wouldn’t lift so it was left to it’s own to fade to time.


We took a sandy path further away from the newly built homes, passing Sylvilagus floridanus chews and Canis latrans twisted hair-filled scats and came across a hole, a deep hole, a 35.5 cm (14 in) deep hole nearly straight down into the sand right in the middle of a heavily used path. Who could it be? There were measurements and estimates, more measurements and guestimates, but no conclusions from the group, even after we saw a small track – 7.62 cm (3” in) x 6.35 cm (2.5” in ) – just off to the right of the hole. Tamias striatus, or Tamiasciurus hudsonicus..  We just couldn’t tell. Can you? 


Pellets seemed to be falling from the sky today. We may have found 5 today. Big ones, little ones. Skulls, jaws, mammalian bones, bird bones, all over the Pits.


Next we moved on to look at some Odocoileus virginianus tracks, and we talked about the dew claws and how on one set, the fronts or the rears, the dew claws are closer to the two hooves in front of them. We also noted that the dew claws which were closer to the hooves were used for traction, to help the animal “steer” better. These closer dew claws also tended to be fatter yet not as splayed out or wider set than the others… Do you remember which dew claws are closer to the hooves used more often to help “steer” this animal as they move?

As we moved through the sand we noted many more animals making their ways through. More Canis latrans, more Odocoileus virginianus, but we took some time to examine the Meleagris gallopavo tracks, and especially the remaining sign. We examined the scat left behind, and how the scat will be in different forms depending on the sex; there will be longer and tubular, perhaps even slightly “J” shaped for one sex, while the other’s scat will be globular, rounded and clumpy. Whose is clumpy? Whose is tubular?

It was fun to notice how when they nip the grass they are leaving a pretty straight, flat, even cut across the top, which eventually dries, withers slightly and changes colour, from green to a pale yellowy white. Lagomorphs and rodents will bite the grass off at a 45° angle, deer will be a little ragged, and dogs and cats even more so.


We continued on, looking at gaits of domestic dog and remembering that this is a practice, a skill which will take a lifetime of practice and study. We will learn to see the tracks and the gaits the animals are using. We will learn to know these gaits by heart, and perhaps even imagine seeing the animals in our minds moving across the land as look at these tracks left behind. The science may developing into a profound intellectual knowing which may help us to develop our instinct and our gut knowing, and someday, with lots of study and practice begin to sense from seeing how the tracks land across the substrate, a deeper connection with these animals we are tracking. I look forward to a time when I know and understand the science in a deep enough way, that I can read the signs with a little more instinct and a little less intellect.


Afterwards we broke out on our own for a discovering a bird kill site, a larger rodentish skull, and some old honeycomb at the base of a Tsuga canadensis full of holes. Then, after regrouping and slowly making our way through sheltered forest of Thuja occidentalis, Populus tremuloides, Prunus serotina, and Betula alleghaniensis, we found another pile of bones! This time a bird.

We examined the carpometacarpus, the ilium, the femurs and the skull! We tried to look up the skull in Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks book “Bird Tracks and Sign” but we couldn’t decide in the end who this bird was. We had some approximations, but no certainties.. Do you know whose skull this is?


We closed out the day with a closing circle, sheltered from the wind and rain sharing our gratitude for the animals, for the forest beside the subdivision, for the skulls we found, for the comradery of our crew, for the sand pits full of tracks, and for the chance to reconnect with land. All left looking forward to next month.

Written By:  Byron Murray – 2nd year Tracking Apprentice


Twas December 2nd

Twas December 2nd

Written by Tamara Anderson


‘Twas December 2nd, when all through the house

Plant apprentices made medicines, some with calendula flowers.

The salves were made on the stove top with care,

In hopes that there would be plenty to share;


We learned about the folk method for making tinctures

And the standardized calculation for herbalist thinkers.

With guidance from Alexis, so lively and quick,

“Almost there!”, the cough drop liquid was becoming thick.







When out in the kitchen there arose such a chatter,

Fire Cider was being made with plant-based batter;

Turmeric, cloves, ginger, garlic, white pine and horseradish;

Onion, jalapeño, cayenne pepper, rosemary and lemon zest.

What to our wondering eyes should appear on the counter;

But many tiny jars of salves, syrups, and balms to prepare for winter.

The secret planta gifts were gathered on the table,

The gifts were plant-based, like syrup from maples;

Or small zines about winter weeds made from paper.


And then, in a twinkling, the weekend was done.

Hugs and well wishes to all for making it fun.

Hearts filled with love and gratitude

For the many plants that we used;

And for the people who harvested and prepared them;

May our paths cross again!

Herbal cough drop recipe:



Kitchen Fun, Medicine Making Day 1

This weekend was all about warmth! We received a warm welcome from Bobbi, Alexis,  River and Violet when we arrived. Throughout the weekend I felt the warmth of being surrounded by friends and warmth in the cozy farm house and hanging around the woodstove.

The heart of the weekend was in the kitchen, were we all got our hands oily from making infused oils balms and salves!

We dived right in, spending the morning straining sun-infused oils, and admiring their various colours.

Red St. Johns Wort oil and Yellow Red Clover oil

Straining Calendula Oil

Next we tried our hand at infusing herbs into oil on the stove and used the newly infused oil to make balms and salves

Cayenne oil, for a muscle pain relief salve

Making salve is messy! Alexis shared his helpful practice of having one set of utensils set aside especially for this greasy, waxy work.

We got to work, with some teams making different balms and slaves, a labeling crew and Nicola + Tanya working to prepare Elderberries for cough drops and Elderberry syrup.


Here are some of the balm’s and salves we made:

Winter Sun= Calendula infused olive oil, coconut oil, vitiman e oil,  peppermint essential oil, beeswax

Calendulime= Calendula infused oil, Lime essential oil, vitiman E oil and beeswax

Universalve= Plantain, Calenduala and St. John’s Wort infused oil with vitiman E oil and beeswax

Barefoot Fix= Calendula , Oregon Grape, Yarrow infused oil with vitiman E oil and beeswax

Hot! Burn Salve= Lavander and Bergamot infused oil, with coconut oil, vitiman e oil and beeswax

Simultaneously Tamara, Daniella, Maddy and Tim got serious about cough-drop making! It was a collective learning adventure, as it was everyones first time making lozenges. This team really devoted their care and patience to the task! First they simmered a blend of healing herbs (cinnamon, elecampane, calendula, elderberries)  in water .

This mixture was reduced, and honey was added, then slowly heated

It took a while…. lots of testing, tasting, then finally the mixture (now the most stunning gold colour) was ready to cool!

It was all hands on deck to form the small candies before the mixture got too cold and no-longer pliable.

We coated the cough candies in slippery elm powder for extra-soothing action!

Phew! Just in time!

Over dinner the last of the days creations simmered away: 

Elderberry syrup with Rosemary, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Cloves and Honey, Yum!

Thanks for a bustling day full of so many herbal creations, great conversations and laughs!


Deep roots, green goldfish and wolf flatulence

Hemlock Tea Drinking, November 2018

On Saturday, November 3rd, 2018, the Earth Tracks plant apprentices met at the Mono Forest Tract – one of fourteen Dufferin County Forest tracts located across Dufferin County. Alexis recommended using all of our senses when harvesting roots. He reminded everyone that we are often taking the life of the plants when we harvest the roots. We shared gratitude for the plants to start our day.

To start, we headed over to a patch of Sarsaparilla and learned from Alexis that this plant is also called “rabbit root” because the rabbits munch on it. We looked at the growth rings (or cups) on the plant roots. When I harvested some sarsaparilla root from under an elderberry plant, I counted nine cups or nine years of growth. This plant was used as a source of energy for First Nations’ runners. The root can also be used to make root beer.

Sarsaparilla Root

Next, it was time to harvest Burdock root. Burdock is known as a blood purifier because it stimulates the liver to function more efficiently. It contains iron, minerals and vitamins A, C, D and E. It may also have antioxidant properties. Burdock is a biennial plant with a deep tap root. Alexis shared that when the root dies back, it creates a water channel, insect channel and air channel into the earth. These channels are beneficial to the health of the soil and the creatures/plants that live there. The roots bring macro and micronutrients up from the deeper soil layers. When burdock leaves die back, they return the nutrients to the soil.

Note: A few days later, I harvested some burdock roots to share at a potluck and had a feeling to put the leaves from the harvested plants back on the surface of the soil where I took the roots. I did not think more on this until writing up the notes from the weekend. Maybe the burdock was communicating with me about the necessity of returning those nutrients to the soil and nearby plants that need it. The natural world is amazing!

A few people harvested some mullein roots next. Mullein is one of the earth-regenerators. It has a long taproot that helps control soil erosion and break up compacted soil. A tincture made with the fresh roots can be used for urinary incontinence. We continued to wander along deer trails and mountain bike trails in a mixed forest of beeches, maples and conifers. The undergrowth revealed bright red Canada Mayflower berries and some delicious Common Sorrel leaves which looked like green goldfish crackers. Michelle and Tim recommend this yummy edible.

Green Goldfish: Common Sorrel

Deer tracks and scrapes were observed on the trail. Within moments, some of the group spotted deer moving through the deciduous forest ahead. We took a break for lunch, sheltered from the wind by the trees. Tanya shared some yummy horehound candies from Britain. Horehound is an expectorant, useful for relieving dry coughs. It is also a bitter, to help with digestion.

A ruby crowned kinglet made an appearance as the group headed towards the edge of the forest bordering Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. We harvested some hemlock needles and Alexis prepared nutritious Hemlock tea. He shared that Hemlock helps bind to heavy metals and remove them from the body.

We talked about reciprocity and how humans can help disperse plant seeds. We collected some Blue Cohosh seeds to plant in other areas of the forest. Alexis talked about how heavier seeds, like Blue Cohosh (that are not wind dispersed) need help taking root in new places. Seed dispersal is one form of caretaking that humans have traditionally helped with in the natural world.

Lycoperdon (Puffballs) roughly translates to “wolf flatulence”

Fungi were aplenty in the forest. We observed some puffballs with the genus name Lycoperdon which roughly translates to “wolf fart” referring to the brown puff of spores that these mushrooms release when rain falls on the spore sac. Daniella touched the spores and commented that her finger felt warm afterwards – possibly an intriguing affirmation of the name “wolf fart”?

Alexis pointed out a carrion flower plant and shared a story about an encounter with the plant’s stinky, “smells like dog scat” flowers. In the afternoon, Sammy showed some of the apprentices the extrafloral nectaries on cherry leaves (red floral glands at the base of the leaves). This part of the plant attracts pollinators. So cool! Alexis pointed out a spikenard plant and a little patch of violets. We looked closely at the “blind flowers” or “underground flowers” of the violet and saw little seed pods. There was a whole ecosystem in the violet patch – camouflaged beige millipedes (matched the colour of the seed pods) and snails hiding among the plant stems.

To wrap up this blog post, “What type of plant do you get when you plant kisses?” Tulips!


Roots- Part 2

The weekend’s adventures continued after a day full of fun frolicking, digging roots and wolf farts (the translation of the latin name Lycoperdon pyriforme, for the pear shaped puffball mushroom)!

We had the pleasure of spending the day in and around High Hill Farm and getting to visit some of the Horses there.

We ventured across the road and onto a part of the Bruce trail, that overlooks the Boyne Valley! Though the forest we wandered, finding plenty of Raspberries and Blackberries. We wondered why there might be SO MANY brambles, and so few understory shrubs and small trees.

As we came to an old fence row we found a patch of Beautiful Beech Trees, unfortunaley some had Beech Bark Disease. Alexis pointed out how the old fence rows are great wildlife corridors and are often great places to find fruit and nut trees that have been planted from birds, racoons and other creatures spreading their seeds!

We also laughed at all the apples hiding around the forest! We found the teeth marks of the squirrels who we guessed are preserving some fruit for later.

Can you spot the plant nerds?
After soaking in the sun and looking out on the Boyne Valley, we too gathered some apples and had a cozy lunch along the hillside.

 On our way back to the farm Tamara pointed out these AMAZING bark bettle “galleries”
When we got back to the farm we processed the many roots collected Saturday, and roots Alexis gathered from the herb farm, like these Echinacea angustifolia roots!

We washed away, then lay all the roots out

We ended the day all gathered in the Hay loft away from the wind. Here we processed the roots into many different tincture combinations! Valerian, Elecampane+Nettle+Marshmallow, Cherry Bark+Elecampane and many more blends! 

Feeling so much gratitude for the plants, their roots and my own roots that grow ever deeper as I begin to know the plants in so many different ways. Thanks to Alexis, Margie and all Wild Plant Apprenticeship pals for the fun-tastic weekend!

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