Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sweetwater and th' Gang pt.2

Th' Gang's all Here!
maple sap

(all names have been changed to protect th' guilty)

"Th' Hessers just called," says Beth, "They wanna go rompin and stompin in th' woods with us."
"Great" I say, "We'll go check th' taps together. See what's goin on out there. Fynn, you ready to go drink some sweetwater?"
"Yeah!" He says, with bright eyes.

Th' gang's all here

Th' day is overcast but not so cold. It's a few days after we set th' taps. We haven't had that freezing night and warm day since we set them, but we do love playing in th' woods. 

Th' driftwood and th' willows welcome us. Th' beavers let us know that this is their home. We see that, and will try to be respectful.

sign of th' beaver

Willow with beaver teeth marks
Marley finds th' first jug and shouts "Over here! I found one." And we all gather 'round.

Add caption

"Looks like there's sap in there" I say. As I pull th' jug from th' tree, I am filled with that sensation of the unknown lying right at your fingertips. I've never tasted maple sap before, yet I hold th' jug in my hand. 

I lift th' jug, let my nose observe the aroma, then pass th' jug to Beth for th' first tasting. 

first taste of maple sap
 "Wow" she says, "it tastes just like maple syrup, it's maple water. I thought it would be sticky and sappy. Yum." 
She hands th' jug to me. I have a taste. "Wow" I say as well "it's good. That's th' best water filter on th' planet. Pure water, with a little sweetness added. Who's next?" 
We pass th' jug around, and everyone gets a taste. 

Fynn's first maple water


and Mayah

  "Ok," I tell th' gang, "there's two more out here, and we've got ten more taps at home. Every one look closely at th' bark, and then we'll find ten more trees to tap."
The kids pick up on th' maples quick, and are soon finding them scattered throughout th' river valley.
For awhile we all run around exploring, picking up driftwood, throwing sticks and stones in th' water, looking for signs of spring.

primitive trampoline
Fynn finds a bouncy log. "Is that a trampoline." He says. Everyone is happy, playing, and looking content. 

On Guard!

Avi and Josiah

look over there!
Danny watches our families with a smile of content, and Beth sits and let's th' kids run around. It is good to be close to the earth.

After a bit of playing, we've found ten more trees. Maples are like gold out here. I'm proud of th' kids for their identification skills. I know many adults who couldn't pick out a maple or a box elder in th' winter woods, but these kids did great.  We have a look at another tap, it's dripping as we speak. This time th' kids just stick their mouths under and open wide. 

We feel really good. I'll be out here soon setting th' rest of th' taps, and we'll all come collecting again. We take home about a half gallon of sweetwater, not enough to boil down, but enough to satisfy us. This time th' wood imparts it's peace to two families, instead of just one. True love is not containable, it pours upon you, rises through you, fills you and overflows to those around you. 

Th' gang.

pure maple sap, in a suitable container.
"Wait!" Danny says, as we're leaving, "I have to throw this log in th' river."

to be continued...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thoughts on civilization and wilderness

Some thoughts on civilization and wilderness

We all stand here broken and torn,
we long to get back to what's real-
back to the open fields
back to the rolling hills
back to the running burn...

Dougie Maclean

     When I finally discover a long sought plant, I always experience a thrill of pleasure and gratitude. I understand the feelings of those old medicine men, who, when seeking medicinal herbs, would not pluck the first specimen found, but would sit down by it, bury a little tobacco by its roots as a thank offering, then meditate awhile and go on until they found other plants of the same species to collect and use. They believed that finding an abundant supply of the herb they were seeking depended upon faithfully following this ritual with the first specimen encountered. This was not the unreasoning superstition it sounds, and I have found they were right.
     Meditating on the first plant that is new to me opens my eyes and sharpens my awareness until other plants of the same species become visible, standing out from the green background in an abundance that was always there, but which I was unprepared to see until I had gazed deeply at a single specimen. When I collect such plants, take them into my kitchen, and transform then with my own hands into some fragrant or savory seasoning, a delicious dish, or a benign remedy, it has a totally different meaning from using a commercial product. A remedy in which both nature and I have entered deeply does something for my soul as well as my body.
     I know there are people for whom wild plants don't invoke the same kind of response that they do in me. Some are merely indifferent- they couldn't care less whether those green things have values they could use or not- but others are actively antipathetic to the whole notion of making friends with these wildings. They are a little frightened by a plant that grows where man did not will it to grow, indeed, where he may have tried to eradicate it. We spray our roadsides with deadly herbicides, giving them the appearance of having been struck by an ugly blight; we rip out the natural growth and replace it with familiar and "safe" domestic plants; we clear away the thickets, mow the open places, level off the hills, and fill the swamps, without ever asking the name or nature of the plants that we are destroying. 
     There are those who think that the history of civilization is the story of man's conquest of nature, and they are not about to make friends with the untamed and unconquered remnants of the ancient enemy. Our artificial environment causes a one sided development. If we live only on our civilized side, then contact with untamed nature becomes traumatic. It arouses feelings of insecurity, and we rush with relief back to a man-controlled environment. We become so dependent on the comfort and security of our artificial world that the continued existence of wild things, not under the ordering of man, seems a threat. We retaliate against this wild flora by name calling, labeling it "weeds," "brush," or "briers."
     The thought of really getting acquainted with wild plants, eating them, and taking them as medicine arouses an unconscious, primitive fear in some people, or a primitive fascination. Even in modern civilized man there is buried an element that is atavistic and untamed. We will never be whole men until we have learned to accept, and even to love, these primitive aspects of ourselves, and to see their counterparts and their fulfillment in the elements of nature itself that grow with no aid from the hand of man. 

~Euell Gibbons
Exerpt from Stalking the Healthful Herbs

What do ya think?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sweetwater and th' Gang pt.1

"You've got to read Little House in th' Big Woods" she said.
"I already have" I told her. "When we lived in Chicago, remember."
"Actually," she reminded me "I read it to you. And you fell asleep through most of it."
"I know," I say, "it was a good book."
"It talks all about how they make maple syrup, and maple sugar. Oh how I wished that we could do that. My whole life I've wished it."
"Well," I say "let's give it a shot."

It was one of those days in February. You know, th' kind where th' sun is shining on th' snow lying all around. Temperature's rising, snow balls a flyin. You remember days like this in th' past when you had actually dug holes through th' snow to plant some of your cold weather crops. Because you knew spring was coming. But you'll not do that again. Such was th' day when Beth came out and said "Oh it's a beautiful day. We should go set some taps and romp around in th' woods."
"Yeah!" says Fynn, "let's go on an adventure."
"That's a great idea," I say "I'll whip us up some taps right now."
"Papa look out!" Fynn giggles, as one last snow ball explodes in my face.

whittlin a bamboo tap

I make us three simple taps from some bamboo we harvested last year, pack up a tool box with all the essentials, drill bits, drill, mallet, hatchet, and a copy of Backyard Sugarin, we grab a few orange juice jugs and soon we're in th' woods, knee deep in snow.

essentials kit

"This is so nice." says Beth, "I was feeling a bit crazy this morning. I already feel much better. Oh how I love th' woods."

th' peace of th' winter woods
Beth ploughs th' trail, with Fynn frolicking behind, or rather, all around her. I'm off in every direction looking for maples.

knee deep for a four year old
"Are you sure you can tell which ones are maple?" she asks.
"Yep." I say.
 All summer long I rode around town learning to identify trees by their bark. I'd just ride with my head down, looking at th' base of th' tree, make my best guess, then check th' foliage for the answer.
"I've got maples down pat. And box elder too. Look, there's one right here."

poudre river silver maple
"See th' silver bark, and how it sits on th' tree in layers. And up near th' top, th' new growth, th' bark is smooth, and very silvery. This is th' wood I made Fynn's spoon out of. We'll have to collect some more for carving while we're out here. That last wind storm did some good trimming. There's green wood laying all over th' place."

Fynn runs all around th' forest, exploring, squealing, sliding in th' snow.

I get out th' drill and get to work. We've only brought three taps with us. We've never done this before. Better to start small, see what happens. During th' tapping Fynn gets interested and comes on over to pay closer attention. He's a smart boy.

drilling into th' tree

rounding off th' corners of th' bamboo

settin th' tap with a wooden mallet

he'll know how to do this from a young age
Th' hole is drilled about two inches. It smells like freshly cut grass. Th' tap is set with a wooden mallet, and it looks really nice on th' tree.

note the end of th' tap

"Our water jugs are almost invisible in th' snow." says Beth. "If they didn't have a blue top and a yellow label, no one would even see them."
"Well," I say, "we can peel th' label off. Besides, people hardly notice what's around them anyway."
I cut a small hole near th' top of th' jug, so it'll hang on th' tap. We place it on th' tree. Beth smiles. It's th' beginning of a dream come true. Sure we live in Colorado. Sure there's no sugar maples around here. But we've got to be resourceful. We've got to be creative. We'll never know what could've been done if we don't try. Besides, I'd tap driftwood if it would get me out into th' woods for a few hours.

cut a small hole near th' top

and hang it on th' tap

now that's a happy camper
All th' while th' river rushes on. We can hear it nearby, and with our first tree tapped, we set off to find it. Fynn gives some driftwood another chance to make it a little further downstream, while me and Beth sit and watch him play, watch th' river flow.

poudre river in February

"This is just th' beginning." I say to Beth. "There's more taps coming. More trees to find. More adventures to go on. More snow in our boots."
"More rocks to throw!" adds Fynn.
"Yes. And snowballs too!" I say as I quickly form one and splatter him with it.
He squeals "Heeeeeeeeeeeee!" And then I'm facing a torrent of snow and laughter.  We play for a while, tap a couple more trees and then move on.

Th' cold air fills our lungs. The calm, our spirits. And I've a mind to read that book.

 As we leave, th' woods are quiet.

They are silent in our absence.