Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hunting Season

This weekend's family outing was a short and sweet one. A walk, a cup of tea, a squall, some sun peeking through the fast moving clouds.

Hunting season is not my favorite around here. I feel weirdly possessive and protective of the deer that pass through our yard in search of pears: the little bucks with their single-prong-horns, this year's fawns grown but still clinging to their mothers, the mares with more than one year's babies in tow. Whenever I come across a deer in the wild, the trailhead crammed with hunter's trucks, I silently hope they make it through this last week of the season.

I'm not against hunting by any means, most of the folks I know hunt. Subsistence hunting from stable populations is a perfectly sound alternative to buying your meat, or even raising your own.

Hunters are some of the most practical environmentalists and naturalists there are. You have to love being in nature, still and observant, to hunt. It's an art in its own way. Of course it's not practiced as such by many, but a lot of hunters have a great understanding of the inner workings of the areas and eco-systems they hunt in. Sports and trophy hunting, of course, make me sick to my stomach, as does the careless, unthoughtful killing of scarce or unstable populations.

However, on a small, densely populated island, the hunters make me uneasy. As much as I'd like to think that most people with guns also have good sense, I've often found the opposite to be true. The public lands designated for hunting here are small and flanked by houses, as well as being well-used by non-hunters for outdoor recreation.

Walking in these familiar woods always makes me nervous in October. And I'm not the only one. People here have absolute horror stories of strangers traipsing through their yards with guns after an animal they've injured.

Our friends and neighbors know the right places, know to ask permission, to proceed with caution. They know to take from the right population, not just any old deer that pops up. They know how to kill efficiently and swiftly, minimizing unnecessary suffering for the animal. Newbies and strangers with guns worry me.

The deer too, seem to know what's going on. You see them in the most random places all of a sudden, well out of their usual way. Sneaking, hiding, but still too comfortable to walk close by people. For their species they are small and tame here and though the folks at Fish and Game seem to think that we have enough of an abundance of them to merit two tags per hunter, instead of the typical one, most locals have a sense that there are really not that many of them around.

You rarely see an old buck for instance. Only these yearlings with new pointy horns.

The two that we saw on our walk seemed to be conspiring to move away from a hunting party in the woods. We made much noise, quickened our steps as though a bear, or cougar had been seen skulking in the trees, but really, humans can be so much more dangerous.

I'll be glad when the season's over, the pantries stocked with "hillside salmon". Hunter Orange is not my color, guys...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Rose By Any Other Name

Spring is for nettle, fall is for rose. Collecting wild foods and medicines is a damn near year-round pursuit in the mild climate of the PNW, but these two plants really stick out in my mind. Maybe it's because they're abundant both here and in Finland, but they are important to me, plants I look forward to working with.

Last sunday was my rosehip gathering day. Typically, unlike nettles, I only harvest them once or twice in a season, but in quantity. This year's first harvest happened on an unseasonably balmy day, in T-shirt weather, cheekbones to the sun's brightness, of a moment of warmth, the last huzzah of a long, hot summer.

I sat on the hillside drinking tea, watching the seagulls and the eagles float in the mild wind, quiet as a mouse, slowly becoming part of the landscape. One of the many benefits of wildcrafting to me is suddenly becoming closer to nature, being inadvertently lured into the plant's-wiew of the world, still, but always turning towards the sun, bending to he wind, digging minutely into the earth, so as to stay grounder, moving slowly and deliberately.

Occasionally I get requests from readers, both in comments and via email, asking me to share recipes. Which would be a fine pursuit were it not for two things: I cook and make stuff very intuitively and sans measurable quantities and the act of making happens mostly after dark, when there is no light for photos.

That aside, here's some ideas for your roses, both wild and garden variety, both native and not. Always make sure you harvest from clean places, fruits and leaves and flowers of plants you're sure aren't growing in suspicious conditions.

Sometimes the garden variety rosehips can indeed be more wonderful when it comes to rose, because they are so much fleshier than their wild cousins. I still miss those big fat hips ripe for the picking off the overflowing bushes of small houses in the neighborhoods I used to live in back home. Those make grand jam and their seeds are less like rocks than the Nootka Roses around here (or the Dog Roses pictured-thanks Adrienne!).

Most of the time I don't have the time to make the labor-intensive jam and find that the greatest way to reap the many benefits of rose, is simply drying the hips whole for tea. Especially since the rich, glorious vitamin C they contain in abundance, is heat sensitive and should be kept below 70º degrees if possible. Both of my favorite methods do reduce the pure rose essence of vitamin C, but they can be consumed in a bit more quantity to make up for it.

Rosehips are also wonderful for UTIs and general urethra and kidney health, as they are a mild laxative and diuretic and because of their vitamin content and energy-moving qualities. They help with inflammation and have tons of antioxidants, making them a great seasonal remedy to almost anyone in the Western world, which is so rife with autoimmune conditions which often manifest as inflammation.  They contain a lot of vitamin A which makes them a good skin tonic, and you can in fact infuse an oil with the hips (add dry petals of rose for a great skin treatment!). Mainly I like to use them for cold prevention, though.

The basic rosehip-syrup I like to make contains only two ingredients and is easy as-all-get-out, save for the time spent cleaning the fruit.

-For a batch of a five pints of syrup, you will need roughly (no measurements here), about 2.5 pints of raw, organic honey and a gallon (the amount that would fit to a gallon container) of rosehips. Much depends on what kinds of hips you use.

-You'll also need a saucepan, cheese cloth or a thick-mesh strainer, and some sort of food thermometer. I say some sort because I use my meat thermometer (which we never use for meat) for everything from candy, to this, which is not ideal.

-If you live somewhere where it freezes you should definitely collect them after the first frost. Otherwise I recommend getting them after it's been dry for a while, to avoid mold.

-Clean the hips by plucking off both stems on the ends.

-Put them in a sauce pan with a little bit of water (like 1/2 cup to a cup), seeds and all and cover them with a lid. Bring them to a quick boil, the quicker you make it the more of the vitamin C you'll be able to retain. Mush the hips with a fork, until they're mushy and there's liquid. It will congeal, because the seeds have natural pectin in them, resulting a thick syrupy texture.

-Fill a test pint halfway with honey then strain the hip-juice in, mushing and making sure you get every last liquid bit of it. The juice should be warm but not hot. Once you have 1/2 honey, half rose hip juice (which will be thick and oozy, not runny), put the lid on and shake your jar well. You want the two components to emulsify completely. Now you have an idea how much liquid your hips will make and can fill the rest of your jars with honey accordingly.

-Store in a refrigerator if you like, though I've never had a jar go bad, because the honey and the astringency of the hips will help keep it good. Take liberally when you feel a cold coming on, or mix in with warm (not boiling!) water.

Another lovely way to do this is to tincture the hips in alcohol and then mix that with honey. I like whiskey, myself, for a cold emergency hot toddy. Delicious and delirious…

If I had the time and energy, I would love to make the rosehip jam of my native lands though, but in the absence of that, turns out, the medicinal syrup tastes great on pancakes, something we tried this summer  on our camping trip.

I do hope there are roses in your area, but if not, do you have fall rituals around food, or medicine? Pumpkin patches, apple pickins? Something I've never even heard off?

Standard disclaimer: If you're planning to poison yourself by eating the wrong stuff, I'll be so sad, but I won't be held accountable. Okay? Good. You're a grown-up. Whee!

Monday, October 20, 2014

It's here and so are we.

In three weeks since I got back from NYC, I've been just trying to recover from everything that's happened in the last couple of months, which has been a lot. Naturally, I got sick right after I got home and since then have just been playing catch-up. Whether it's mundane everyday things like laundry and sweeping, or bigger seasonal things like canning and drying, or projects joint and my own, there seems to be stuff to do from morning to night.

And now it's fall. Gone are my youthful days of being quick to declare favorites, but as far as seasons go, I love this time of year. It's such a cliche, living in the country, reveling in the abundance of food, the changing light and weather, but the seasons are very tangible and real here, each with their own distinct character and meaning.

We have a new agenda too: every Saturday Charlie and I try to do something fun together. This year has been a year of wild adventures, but it's also been one of work, exciting, but endless. One of the casualties of that schedule has been our time together.

Used to be, we had countless mornings to go on walks and mushroom hunts, but this year, we've stuck our noses to the grindstone. I have to say, as good as that is, I really don't believe in filling every waking moment with doing things. Your brain, relationships, creativity needs empty space and un-clocked time.

So we've decided on this new thing. Of just being together, without much of an agenda. Of doing something, productive or not, together every weekend. Casting aside chores, phone calls, necessary documents waiting to be filled and signed and taking off going outside, the beach, the woods, or as we did last weekend, another island.

I had been planning to check out the local film festival's first year and visit Emmy, whom I haven't seen since spring and at the last minute Charlie decided to join me.

We watched films, got drinks, visited the bookstore, the homestead store, the vintage farm stand, the coffee shop. We tooled around aimlessly.

As much as it's not ideal, physically leaving the house seems to be the way for us to have that space and so that's part of the agenda. A walk, a paddle, a ferry ride, a hike, a picnic.

A change of scenery, a change of pace, some time to talk and walk. That's all we need.

Coming home, we were refreshed, ready to tackle things together and on our own, back on the same page, reacquainted with our current selves and each other.

So we're caving in. Saturday is date-night. But I'm not calling it that. And there will be no candlelight. Unless the power goes out again...

How do you reconnect with your partner best? Or friends for that matter? That's next on my agenda. I have oodles reconnections to make...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Meanwhile, Somewhere In Brooklyn

Just in case you wondered whether I actually saw anything else of New York City except for inside of subway trains, giant paper mache sculptures, Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben and hippies playing trumpets, I'm here to tell you that I did.

Left to my own devices and on a tight schedule, much of what I saw was accidental, serendipitous, but honestly that is kind of how I like my cities. Natural History museums, street art, subway music, random places to eat, random places to see, I'm not big on agendas, or sights, even when I have the time.

My gracious hosts, Demetria and Rebecca were gone most of the time I was there, and I got in late and left early, but it was really wonderful to have a place to stay that had wifi, a teapot and cats.Most nights I just crashed onto the couch with a cup of tea, or played with Rebecca's super sweet, but very suspicious kitties. Winning those cats over became like half my mission in NY.

Unwinding in a nice apartment and getting the little sleep I did and some healthy meals I could cook for myself, really made the difference for me. It was also pretty cool to be in an actual neighborhood and get to see a tiny slice of real New York life.

The time I spent in NYC was by necessity short and sweet, crammed chock full of events and seminars and lots of walking, but I did have two half days off to see the sights. Mostly I walked around Brooklyn, in Park Slope, Gowanus and of course, Williamsburg, which actually really reminded me of Seattle's own Ballard, a once working class place that got hip and then incredibly gentrified with many, many condos going up constantly.

My last day in the city, Demetria and I finally managed to get in a walk and a brunch an endless stream of conversation and ideas, over some food. It was so awesome to get to hang out with her in person, and though we only got to spend a few brief hours together, all in all, it was such quality time, the way it is with likeminded souls.

We talked about books, blogs, the country and the city, about feminism and womanhood and activism and empowerment and style and everything else, it seemed, between heaven and earth. We even wore matching plaid outfits ;)

Incidentally, all through my time in NY I was noticing small signs of "psychic connections" everywhere. Typically, I'm at my most receptive with that sort of stuff, when under-nourished and sleep-deprived...

The thing I love the most about cities, the thing that does seem otherworldly and oddly meaningful, is the amount of tiny, magical co-incidences and secrets that constantly wait for whomever is willing to find them. A city is a little like a never-ending easter-egg-hunt that way. One of those moments in NYC was stopping at the neighborhood's little free book store and finding a Joan Didion book just waiting there, ready for a plane ride home.

I was also lucky enough to convince Demetria give me a tiny tutorial on close-up photography, which was really fun. She's a food photographer who takes these beautiful pictures brimming with mood, the light and the dark and a little feel of the old world, even as they look totally current. Having only recently found my way back to photography and being very much a impatient shooter, it was fascinating to hear a little about how she constructs and image. Everyone should get to get their pointers from professionals sometimes.

And in the true spirit of Psychic Energy and the Fall Equinox, which just happened to be that night, we ventured into a magic shop for some supplies.

We got some lodestones and some citrines, some jadeite, for clear heads, for our true North, for success in our endeavors.

Maybe I was feeling extra sensitive…well I mean, I for sure was, because of the afore-mentioned emotional intensity, and outside stimulus and new thoughts by the barrel, but everything about that afternoon, took on a kind of strange hue of meaning and significance. I walked around as though in a trance.

Later that day, I wandered by myself through the wide, leafy boulevards and small meandering paths of Prospect Park. I watched, in awe, the small strenuous birds and insects and squirrels that populate the grounds, making a life wherever there is room, tenuously pushing against the brownstones and tenements and pavement. Crawling in and out of the tiniest cracks between the disparate universes of nature and manmade.

I won't lie. I hugged some trees. I may have cried a little. It was a wild, wild place to be and I was exhausted.

But something about walking in that park was deeply grounding and healing and helped me integrate everything that had happened in those short four days. As strange and foreign as it was, it reminded me of home.

That night, we told fortunes under the new moon and in the glow of Brooklyn's street lights. They were frighteningly accurate…

ps. Don't forget you've got one more night to win a copy of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything  by commenting here, or here.