Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

what I call love

When you believe so whole heartedly in a place, you will do almost anything. Waking up in freezing cold snowy weather to greet the pitch black (save for the stars), don a down jacket and rubber boots, commence to hauling water by 8am, searching for cinder blocks hiding under the snow, standing outside with a cup of steaming coffee watching a 55 gallon drum of water heat up while the sun rises in the sky; this is not far from a deep entrenchment of love. This was the second workshop that G and I offered at the Nature Center on growing oyster mushrooms, the only difference is this time we went through the fairly intensive process in the heart of winter. After spending exorbitant amounts of money to ship the spawn the previous year, I decided on carrying the 15lbs of oyster spawn from Oregon through the airport. Equipped with letters from lab managers, tariff codes and an extra hour of time intended for delays, I was ready to defend my stock against perplexed security officials.  Here is where I would insert the comical security story but to my amazement I walked through scanners, beepers, the officials unstopped and arrived to the ERNC with a two beautiful fully myceliated bags of Pleurotus ostreatus spawn. Chosen for cultivation temperature (requiring the lower end of the spectrum for oyster mushrooms) the hope is for successful flushes of nicely clustered blue hued oysters in these first time Alaskan homes. Re-routing the workshop to inside the nature center after realizing the added chaos that the venture to yurt in the deep snow with 20 people was going to be, we moved furniture, laid out tarps, and sterilized tables.  The center took on an earthy organic smell with the mixing of grain with warm pasteurized straw and was filled with inquisitive minds and amazing questions. It felt good to be back.

Monday, November 1, 2010

beaten paths and conk discoveries

A conk mushroom T found while walking in the backyard
October finished itself out with a week of rain. The Oregon that I was anticipating has finally showed face. The days over this last month busy, long, unstructured- with always something more that could be done. I'd had forgotten how learning new things can consume you, what it felt like to spend hours studying, that reading takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to textbooks. I'm amazed at what it feels like to be around so many people again. I found my way out of town this afternoon, to a mountain that overlooks the entire area. Expecting to find a spectacular view, instead I found the peak shrouded in a heavy mist, damp enough that I felt in on my skin. Instead of a view i found exactly what I was looking for. Nothing and no one. I wandered my way around a mountainside that my feet had never walked before. Leaving the path as quick as I could, I had forgotten the joy that I find in straying the beaten ground. For about an hour I wandered and watched.  On the ground,  up toward the the sky, the mist that obscured the forest. I watched the clouds move about the trees. I still find myself alert to the crunching of steps, to sounds that may indicate there is a bear standing with me. Only here it's not the bears I need to listen for, no I suppose I should be listening for the hunters instead. My heart still wants my ears to listen for the bears. Eventually finding my way back to my solo car in the parking lot, the mist had deepened into a heavier condensation but still sat content as a cloud moving with the wind  rather than falling from the sky. I made my way slowly back to my civilization, another month of this year comes to a close.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

benches make good observing spots

considering the concept (or feeling) of home these last few days; I realized today marks one month ago that I arrived to this west coast town. Am I established? I'd venture to say not. I'm still in the honeymoon stage. Home, I believe grows on you over time. Sure there are the moments when you walk into a place and it feels good, almost as though you belong, but I think the feeling of establishment is something much further. It comes with connect to community; to understanding those around you- finding like minds and like souls. I believe home is driven by connect to the land, to an understanding of the climate, of the boundaries and the surroundings. There is reassurance in familiarity. This past weekend spent in Seattle, I was given the opportunity to witness some interesting aspects of community. L and I ventured to a neighborhood farmers market on Saturday morning; umbrellas and reusable bags in tow. The saunter of this particular market (L observed) so strikingly different from other markets around the world. What dictates the pace of a market, that I'm not sure. I would however reach to say that community in market place is reasonably similar where ever you travel. This is a place for bartering, for exchanging information, for visually absorbing the surroundings. A place where communication is opened and hard work is recognized. Market takes a dirt field, a asphalt pad, a covered building and gives it life with community. I have to think I'll make a great old man on a bench (well I guess old woman) one of these days. What a treasure when you can just sit and watch  

Why the spider- because I really like this picture.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Volcanoes and Evergreen Relics

A sunny weekend spent in the cascades of Oregon, hiking to the base of Three Fingered Jack, a formation of volcanic horns in the heart of Santiam Pass. The pass burned in 2003, leaving relics of a once dense evergreen forest. New vegetation slowly making a appearance. In the background- mt. Jefferson cloaked in low lying clouds.    

when the autumn months bring the beauty of red, yellow and orange
The green in leaves is known as chlorophyll, a pigment which assists plants in photosynthesis (the process of manufacturing sugar.) During the growing months, chlorophyll is needed to produce food for the plant. Other pigments are present at this time, but because of the high levels of chlorophyll, our eyes detect only the green hue. As sunlight begins to lessen in intensity and duration during the autumn months, chlorophyll production slows until eventually the chlorophyll breaks down in the leaves making way for other pigments to be detected by our eyes. Carotenoids in leaves are responsible for the yellows, oranges and brown hues. Anthocyanin, another type of pigment, is responsible for the bright reds, purples and crimson colors. During this first week of October, we wandered into a meadow that highlighted this impressive show of color change. M and blueberry plants.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

local flavor

Spending the first weekend of fall at a appropriately named Septembeer fest, I witnessed not only the collection of tasty local brews but also the appeal of family, friends and enjoyment. A pack of children found entertainment for hours in the company of a rope.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mushroom season

A small stand of Emetic Russula mushrooms brighten the forest floor. A non-edible mushroom that offers a bit of bliss for the eyes instead of the tongue. Autumn is a savory month for the senses. It brings out the abundance of forest smells, sights, taste and sounds. For me the crisp chill of the morning is a welcomed event after months of summer sun. The air and the light change during this time of year.  There always seems to be the day that you just know autumn has arrived. This year my ventures have followed autumn down the coast; first meeting it in Alaska and now further south in Oregon. Food is abundant, but only for a few more weeks. Frost will come soon and will end the feast that exists all around. My gathering instinct strong; collecting and preserving the bounty.
Ripening Blackberries

Birds Nest Fungi- Do you seen the eggs in the nest?? The "eggs" actually contain the spores for this fungus and are called peridioles. The "nest" acts as a splash cup. As rain falls it catches the droplets sending the peridioles flying out of the nest. Peridioles of certain birds nest fungi have a sticky trail of thread that wraps around twigs during flight and will help the peridiole swing and wrap around the piece of wood. The spores can then germinate and start the life cycle over again. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Along the road

Cannon Beach in Oregon- one of many beaches hiding along hwy 101

The Remaining Giants - the largest sitka spruce tree on earth

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

sleeping caterpillars

The morning sky put on a fierce show. The sun appeared just as we departed the quiet passage town of Wrangell, illuminating every shape in its path. The assorted colored sleeping caterpillars atop their lawn chairs on the deck of the ferry stirred, some break free from their cocoon but most only peeked out with tired eyes and curl back down for a few more hours. The butterflies will emerge at a more reasonable hour. I left my yellow enclosure to venture out to the railing where the morning breeze bit at my newly awakened skin. The water still except for the wake trailing behind the boat. The clouds hanging low over the sea, breaking only when they meet a solitary island.

warm waters

I compare hot springs to treasure; they are nothing less. To find a place in the mountains or along the rivers where warm water pours out of the earth, not much beats the experience. I have recently been notified of my visitor center junkie status- undenied; but even more than the braking for national park visitor centers, I drive out of my way for hot springs. The best hot springs of all are the ones with broken down signs, found only in guide books or lost all together save for the word of mouth. These are the waters in which you find the hot springs junkies; the ones that have been coming to that very spring for 20 years because they know the secret of the place. Springs make sense to me, my body is at peace. I can sip coffee and let the new sun of the day light my skin or drink wine under the stars- this is the treasure of the springs. Geothermal activity is responsible for the warm waters, heated by magma deep inside the earth. The ground water picks up minerals present in the rocks or surrounding soils to make each spring unique. Where there is volcanic activity or plate tectonic motion there is bound to be a spring. Some hot springs have been developed, meaning turned into pools or soaking areas that are privately maintained and operated. Undeveloped springs are tended to only by the visitors that frequent their waters and are often times a shallow pool formed from strategically placed rock.

I can not take credit for the find on the Takhini hot springs; my eyes tired after a 400 mile stretch across the Yukon I never saw the posting. Fortunately my mother possesses the radar for hot springs, spotting the sign as I blew by at 60 miles in hour. Sometimes these signs are a bust, but we took our chances and drifted 20 miles off course down a bumpy dirt road just outside of Whitehorse. We were rewarded by warm waters to wash away the miles, a place to pitch a tent and second morning soak before continuing down the road. The goodness of the springs.


Left at Glenallen. The trucks pulling trailers and boats are lined up waiting a turn at the $4.00 a gallon gas pumps. No more gasoline until Tok. The weather has begun to change at a rapid pace over the last month; autumn is here. The sun’s path lower each day in the sky. The air is brisk and dew settles in the early mornings. The birds begin the migration. Life is south. Closing chapters and open new ones. My years scattered with snow and starry nights only to be followed a few months later by dark-less skies. I have never in my life seen the stars more brilliant than at 20 below in the depths of the Eagle River Valley in the dead of winter. The mossy grounds and evergreen trees. Fireweed flowers; did you know they will tell you when summer is over? Bears and native villages. Science and Imagination. Extra tuff boots and down jackets. Boats and bush planes, wild food, sled dogs and beards, mountains that touch the sea, My Alaska.
When autumn comes to the north, the earth takes on a new smell, maybe it is the smell of tired, or maybe just that last kick before rest. This is the smell that comes with the falling of the leaves, of moving salmon, of color change, of berries just after their prime, it is the smell of rain that is at the brink of freezing.

My heart has taken on the consistency of emotional gumbo. Gratitude for the experiences, the places, the people, the lifestyle. Pain for what I am leaving behind and curiosity and anxiety about what lay beyond. Alaska received my whimsical quest for the unknown and proved far from disappointment. Alaska is this (words taken from my leo observer): It is more than a place, it is the giant when you speak to an Alaskan. At the bar, you better leave a stool for Alaska, it takes up a large one. Have not one beer waiting for Alaska, you should always have three. Alaska in not Alaska it is ALASKA. This is the place that you come to visit and never leave. A place so rich in life and wilds that it I hard to imagine being anywhere else. Those actually FROM ALASKA are of rare breed, but some of the best people I will ever meet. As for the rest of us, life is counted in terms of winters. My count is two, I am still a tenderfoot. Up here, only 3 real places exist in the U.S; Alaska, Hawaii and the lower 48. What else would matter? Life is simpler here, maybe a bit slower pace. People walk to their own beat- Where else would your neighbor build a giant Noah’s Ark out of an old fishing boat? Where else do directions only depend upon two roads; the glenn and the seward. Where else do avalanches block every possible road out only to provide the most amazing ski day. Where the northern lights dance in the sky. Where March brings out the show of fur hats, barking dogs, and breaking of ice under sled. There are probably other places that these things happen but not quite like they happen here.
Alaska received my pace of life without challenge, it chewed me up and left me yearning for more. A sense of unfinished. The realization that I could spend a lifetime in a single place and still never truly scratch the surface of my exploration desires; this to me is astounding. A place where meeting another human soul in the woods is startling, yet the presence of eagles or squirrels or bears and birds is nothing but the norm. This is Alaska.
“Change brings tears, but in order to grow we need that change; with it comes heartache and knowledge” Words from my mother. Mothers always seem to know what to say when you need it most. I leave taking with me the importance of this place.

Bitter Wild Blueberry Jam

6 Cups of Wild blueberries

Large Handful of fireweed blossoms, chopped

1 Cup of water

1 Cup of honey

1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

1 Packet of no sugar pectin

In a small pot, combine the water and the honey, warm over the stove until the honey dissolves in the water. do not boil. One all the honey has been added, combine in the fireweed blossoms. Allow the blossoms to infuse into the water mixture for about 5 minutes at a simmer over the stove. Use a spoon to strain out the blossoms. Add the lemon juice to the water mixture.
Wash the blueberries and put them into a good size soup pot. Use a potato masher to crush down the blueberries. Add the pot to the stove and over medium heat add the water/honey mixture to the berries. Give the mixture a good stir. Add the pectin to the pot and increase the heat. Allow the mixture to come to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat and ladle jam into jars while still hot. Process the jars in a canner if desired or refrigerate.