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.