Monday, June 5, 2017

No Limits

Or no boundaries.
No rules.

Nobody telling you your beard is too long. OK, so sometimes people you love tell you your beard is too long, but you love them and you love yourself anyway - and your beard. Because it's just the way it is. And you quietly tell your wife you might always have had a beard except in the beginning you just felt you *had* to cut it. Then you grew up and discovered such rules were not for you.

No limits is nobody saying you can't take your kids out of school to help you at work. Or your kids never had the obligation to go to school in the first place. In fact you've become increasingly uncertain where the line is between work and play and school and projects and love and rest. And that's OK because you've also become increasingly likely to find similar-minded people whose boundaries have gotten so fuzzy there may be no boundaries at all.

No limits on life and love. Like when you think you might play accordion out on the boardwalk and earn a few dollars, and you just play whatever the hell comes out of your growing fingertips (yes seriously - at 15 his fingertips are growing!) and behold there's nobody stopping to suggest you stop making stuff up and play a song everybody knows. Anyway even though you're improvising, some people seem to sing along... with no hesitation. More people with no boundaries. They're everywhere!

Because you're so obviously that open-minded kind of soul who accepts people in all their stripes and colours, because you've been brought up to believe that everyone deserves freedom. And there are no limits on freedom.

That is unschooling, to me.

No limits means that even little kids, like the youngest I'm currently teaching in the Wild Art program, have to learn to set their own limits, because I don't do it for them. This can be a very challenging prospect, both for me as a teacher to kids who aren't all unschooled, and to those kids who find themselves lost without imposed limits. But it's going to have to happen sooner or later, so why not now?

No limits means more danger, more risks, more problems, and... more solving problems. It means more discovery, more tears, and more compassion. It means feral children doing mysterious things in the woods with no recorded outcome, and no expectations. It means freedom. It means these kids aren't going to have to wait until they're in their thirties to discover that shaving was optional; that what they do with their own minds and bodies always was theirs to decide. And the responsibility for creating this beautiful world individually and with their peers is also theirs.

I am always overjoyed to discover how quickly people of all ages step up to the plate, given the simple and terrifying gift of no limits.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Resting Space

It's about 30 hours before installation day for my show, and the first properly sunny weekend of the year, which means we all worked very hard all day with art and gardening. And then we got word that Markus' grandmother has died.

I only met Omi twice, but she welcomed me warmly, even making sure I tried handkase, which I will never do again! And Markus adored her. As I learned recently from my cousin, the egg that became him developed in Omi's body. It's hard for Markus also to know his mother is grieving and to feel so helpless.

So today when we were all worn out from work and feeling, we went to the beach and had a fire, played with sparks and water and sang a bunch of songs to the fire and the night air, and a goose who happened along. Other than the goose, we had the beach to ourselves and it felt nourishing. Markus says it feels like the end of a chapter of his life.

It's good to have a space of time and place to just be, and to mark the time passing with those we love.

Friday, April 21, 2017

too much

Today I spent hours trying to make sense of the snarl of information pertaining to my son's science pursuits. Between the many university options, the many routes to get there, and the many ways of getting to those routes, there are thousands of options. And I became overwhelmed. When my brain felt like it was the size of a pea, and I couldn't continue, I found myself near tears, and closed my eyes. When I opened them again I made a list of my current five jobs:
  • homemaking (cooking, cleaning, organizing, shopping, book-keeping, etc.)
  • the yard and garden (it's soil-preparation and sprouting season!)
  • managing the kids' education (a complicated assortment of activities and prospects)
  • my art career (currently 3 weeks out from an installation and performance in the city)
  • my wilderness/art teaching career (a busy spring as usual)

What the hell?!

How did I get so many jobs?!

It suddenly hit me that my time, body and mind is stretched in so many directions that I can barely breathe. And yet... there isn't a single one of them I'm not passionate about. So, instead of falling asleep, which my body seemed to be heading for, and without any apparent solution to my situation, I made myself a cup of green tea, opened a tab to Youtube, and clicked something that looked distracting. This is what I watched:

OK... So actually I watched four videos of this beautiful woman cooking for her family. I couldn't stop watching her hands slowly squishing the food; her grand-children slowly cutting and peeling ingredients on the upright knife. Her food slowly cooking. Her great-grandchildren lazily enjoying the food she made. It was the slowness that captivated me. I am craving slowness.

What has happened to us? How is it that every hour of every day is packed full of plans and activity, so that, although the sun is shining on the bursting spring, we sit inside answering emails and planning our next moves, or, when necessary, rush out to use machines to turn the earth and fill it with food-production as quickly as possible? Why am I afraid to sit in the sun and watch the pond, for fear that someone will see me and think I'm lazy? Why, when I make dal, do I get the work done with the end of a big spoon in less than 1/2 an hour, and then rush off to accomplish other tasks while it cooks? Why do I plop it on my children's plates, consume my own, and find things to fill the time with if they don't finish quickly enough? How did I become afraid to enjoy the time spent cooking and eating?

And what am I doing to my children in leading them in this manic race? The lyrics to the 21 Pilots song my son often sings around the house these days are:

Wish we could turn back time
to the good old days
when our mama sang us to sleep
but now we're stressed out

What does that tell you about his generation and the life we're living?

I want to feel my food with my hands; I want to take a whole hour for dinner and not feel pressured to get moving. I want to spend twenty minutes just feeling the warm dirt and not worrying that the time is passing. I want to think more about life than about productivity. I want to think more about the present than about the future.

I don't know how to move forward to the life I imagine; none of the five jobs I have is something I can give up. This isn't a have-answers-will-share sort of post, it's just a yearning. I'm posting to my blog to help me think. Somehow something has to change, not just with me but with all of us and the way we've come to measure our worth by busy-ness.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

beach life

Just some fun hanging out at the beach this fine rainy April!
Markus has been testing various logs to see if there's anything he can use on the house or on his boat. He's especially hoping to find some yellow cedar, but no luck yet.

Tali also played us some kelp-didg.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Wild Food Spotlight 7: Spring Greens

This is the seventh (and final) in a series of foraging-related articles I'm writing for our local bulletin. Re-posted from the Artisan Office Bulletin.
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western bitter cress
Spring is here! The ice has broken up the soil and the rain is soaking it, and now it's a rich nursery for fresh spring greens.Wild greens are one of the easiest foods to forage during this time of year, and it's possible to create quite a variety of wild salads from around our community.

Where to harvest: Wild greens, growing mostly in clearings and along roads and trails as they like to do, are very susceptible to contamination from boots and our local bounty of dog poop. I like to harvest from areas that are either remote (like bluffs, deep forest clearings, etc.) or from yards that are relatively clean. Vertical surfaces like rocks and moss-covered logs are also a little safer. Just inspect the area you're harvesting from and be cautious.

How to harvest: We are now a culture of excess. But the wilderness doesn't work that way. Harvesting wild greens should be a frugal endeavour: just take enough to satisfy your need, and make sure you leave plenty to grow. In fact, if you try to leave enough of the youngest leaves on any single plant, that plant will hopefully continue to produce for you.

field mustard (rape seed)
What to harvest: The best way to become familiar with wild greens is to spend a lot of time exploring wild areas. Go out at least once a week and try to identify things. A good guide book that focuses on our specific area can be very helpful, as well. And when you're feeling comfortable, start eating! These are some of the easier local wild greens to spot and identify:

Mustards are very common here - especially Western Bitter Cress and Penny Cress. These begin as a radial of delicate-looking leaves, and eventually send up a stalk of flowers which, as they finish blooming, become conspicuous seed pods along the stalk. I used to think that the seeds would be wonderful, being in the mustard family, but alas they have nearly no flavour at all. The leaves, however, and to some extent the flowers, are delicious. I like them best in salads or chopped up with cream cheese and cucumber in sandwiches.

Next you should try Siberian Miner's Lettuce. Yum! Being a purslane, its stems and leaves are fleshy and juicy, and really very satisfying as a salad. The pink and white flowers are also edible, so it's easy to snip quite a bit in a hurry.

siberian miner's lettuce
Another delicious treat is sheep sorrel, which grows all over, especially in pastures, open bluffs, and ditches. It's sour and slightly fleshy, like the larger garden sorrels we grow, but being so much smaller you'll have to gather more of it to build your salad.

Blossoms: flowering currant, salmonberry blossoms, oregon grape blossoms, and dandelions are wonderful salad additions. In the case of salmonberries, pinch only a couple of petals from each blossom, to ensure that the pollinators still find it so you can have berries, later. Dandelions are not only wonderful in salad, but also make a great addition to baked goods like scones, biscuits, and bread. Just pick a basketful of dandelion blossoms, then pull out the petals and fill a clean bowl. Then mix them into the flour for your recipe. Experiment with how many petals to use - it will likely be more than you expect!

I began this foraging series last year at the end of maple blossom season, so I think it's just great to end the series with another maple food: Cotyledons!

oregon grape blossoms
Cotyledons are the pair of embryonic leaves that first appear out of a seed. Think of bean sprouts. Those are cotyledons, too. The second set of leaves to appear on a bean seedling are much tougher and differently-shaped than those first little round leaves, and not something you'd generally eat. But the sprouts are tender and delicious. And the same goes for maple sprouts!

These are some of the earliest and most bountiful spring greens we have here. Just head out in the early spring and look under or near maple trees. You'll likely find hundreds or thousands of them speckling the forest floor. Snip them off near the ground, collect them up and enjoy them fresh as a salad or tossed into a stir-fry.

sheep sorrel
This will be my last bulletin article for now. I've enjoyed sharing some of the island's natural treasures with my community, and will continue to do so in the workshops I lead through Thank you, Margaret, for the opportunity, and I hope we'll all find time to enjoy our wilderness.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Big Skookum Adventure

Our kids love Minecraft, much to my constant annoyance, and they also love surprises. Sooo... we concocted a little (OK - EPIC) surprise for them. I've been spending a couple of hours a week, on average, since December, creating a "quest" in their Minecraft world. They like the idea because it gets me involved in their life, so they carefully stayed away from the area I was working in these whole long months I spent working on it. They had no idea how fabulous this quest was...

I'm proud of myself, so here's a little montage of some of the quest:

The quest led through all kinds of places, a sunken city, a secret squid cult, a dog island with vet and doggie spa, a love triangle, a swampy maze and a human board game. And in most places there seemed to be odd references to a place called Skookumchuck? Or was that Skooky Chunk? Kookum's Chunky? It depended who you talked to...

But eventually they came to a place called A Dream Come True Cottage, where they found a cake on the table (rather similar to our usual cake: nut cake with cream and berries), a hot tub, and... a little guide book to Skookumchuck Narrows.

Then out behind the cottage was a trail to "Skookumchuck Narrows", where boats were available to hurl themselves down the flow. At the end was a little dock on a small island, with final instructions asking the finder to pack various things in their real backpack, turn off Minecraft and get ready to go. Waiting in the kids' real-world backpacks was some information Markus had printed about the real-world Dream Come True Cottage we had rented, and the real-world Skookumchuck Narrows.


Bag packing.

We brought the book we're currently reading as a family...

...and sailed over to the Sunshine Coast in the early evening.

The words Skookum and Chuck come from a local trade-language (Chinook). Skookum means 'great', and chuck is pretty much the sea (I always thought it was waves). So the Skookumchuck Narrows is the narrow passage where the tides hurry through from the Jervis Inlet to the Sechelt Inlet and back again. This isn't the time of year for the 9ft waves, but it was pretty skookum anyway.

The hour-long walk out through the mossy forest is beautiful already.

And then the actual narrows is a lovely place to sit and watch the (aquatic) world go by. There was some sealife to photograph, so the kids did:

...barnacles feeding in the tidal wash.

On the way back up the trail we experienced a great crashing hailstorm that sounded like a waterfall hitting a tin ocean. Markus says hail stings your head if you don't have any hair to protect you!

Rhiannon enjoys geocaching, and we found this one outside the historic graveyard in Gibsons.

It's chilly up there, and once the weather took a turn for rainier times, we treated ourselves to a cup of tea, stopped to find a geocache, and went home to our own dear little house and warm woodstove.

Now I get to take a little break from Minecrafting. (Maybe for a couple of years or indefinitely!!) But the work (and my steep learning curve) was so worth it to see the kids' pleasure and excitement. I guess it mattered to them that I met them in their space on their terms. But mostly it was just great to get away, hike around, have some silly fun, and remember our bond as a family.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Wild Clay Harvesting and Separating

Recently one of my teen groups took an interest in harvesting wild clay, and decided to try refining it.

When we dig up the clay, it's not only quite crumbly, but also full of rocks, dirt, forest detritus and sand.

So over a period of a few weeks, these teens processed some of our local clay into a lovely smooth sculpting medium, and I thought I'd share the simple method they used.

We have easily-accessible clay all over our island, appearing in creeks and gullies, and dumped in shiny blue mountains when we excavate for wells and the like. This clay came from a very small creek. The group found mostly green clay, with a few pockets of a gorgeous pale blue-grey clay that was quite pure already. They used spoons, stones, a trowel and shovels to scrape their harvest from just above the water level, and found various benefits to each. It seems that the best way to collect the clay is to scrape it gently, dragging the side of a spoon, rock, or shovel along as you might drag your hand across bed linens to smooth them. The reason for this is that any digging into the clay removes chunks of crumbly clay that are quite difficult to grind or squish into a smooth lump. Scraping not only pushes water into the top layer, but pulls off such a small wet layer at a time that the resulting clay is much softer and doesn't require grinding or squishing to render it moldable.

Much of what the group collected was in fact crumbling and needed grinding, so once they had nearly half a bucket full, they used hands, a potato masher, and a shovel to grind it up until it was a nice heavy sludge. Some rocks and twigs were already coming out of it, and they removed those right away.

Then they left the clay slop in the bucket, undisturbed, where it settled out. After a week, we returned to find the rocks settled to the bottom, the sandiest clay above that, the smoother clay slip above that, and the water on top. At this point the group poured the water off the top, and the cleanest slip (about forty or fifty pounds worth) they poured into an old pillow case and hung up over the creek to settle again, and dry.

When we returned after another week, the clay hadn't dried as much as we hoped it would in the pillow case, but had settled nicely again, a layer of heavy sandy clay on the bottom, smooth sloppy clay in the middle, and slip on top. We easily scooped the best quality clay from the top of that in the bag and divided it among us.

Most of the group chose to use their sloppy clay to paint with, but some of us brought some home, where it will dry a little more (on a cloth-covered board) until it's a good working consistency.

Although this activity was, as usual, conceived by the group, I delighted in facilitating, and in seeing so many positive learning outcomes of the process. Most obviously, group working skills were developed, but so too were skills of problem-solving, improvisation, and process development. Working hands-on promotes a deeper understanding of the nature of this ecosystem, its constituents, and its changeability. When you separate out the layers of the forest floor you become familiar with it in a way that is deeper than mere description and images can convey. History, ecology, and engineering are integrated. And of course, when you're doing this exploratively, you are engaged through the process of genuine discovery. This activity was also a great opportunity to change a material that we regularly walk over without concern through a process of very simple refinement into a material that many people purchase in plastic bags. I think this not only strengthens our connection to wilderness, but also to our own ingenuity. Together these are part of what makes us human.

Tools for Improvisational Play

Sometimes I bring tools into the wilderness for play. Sometimes the tools are conventional, like a shovel and buckets for harvesting clay, but sometimes they're strange. And invariably, it seems that the strangest tools bring out the most creativity!

Yesterday, during a free-range exploration that ended up in a creek with a wonderful sandbar, I offered the following:
  • a whisk
  • a pillowcase
  • a tin can (opened in such a way that it had no sharp edges)
  • a steak knife
  • string
The whisk, knife and string, despite being initially the most enticing tools, were actually abandoned in the first few minutes. Using mostly the pillowcase and tin can, along with whatever they found in the wild, the group of six pre-teens worked collaboratively to conceive and create a very functional bridge over moving water, and to separate the sandbar into two islands.

The sandbar cleft was hard work, and they improvised fantastically, using the pillowcase (with various combinations of sand, mud and water) as a bucket, battering ram, and scraper-shovel. The can was useful for digging, prying, scooping, and throwing water.

The bridge-building was very challenging, since the flow of the creek washed out most of the sand, mud, and wood they threw in. But after much experimentation, the group succeeded in securing a large rotten log with sticks, so that the water could easily flow underneath while not disturbing the positioning of the log. They stabilized both ends of the log using bark, mud, sticks, and pillowcase-fulls of sand. After many crossings, the bridge became increasingly stable, and the kids were mightily proud of their work.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Romance for the Whole Family

These beautiful bulbs from my friend gave us weeks of joy.
I come from a family where Valentines day was all about the family. Some of my earliest treasured memories were a heart-shaped box full of chocolate almond bark and a white rose from my Pappa (and a red one for my Mum), beautiful Valentines dinners and loving messages in cards from my Mum, the funniest valentine ever from my brother, the comedy of which has lasted into our adulthood, and special heart-shaped cards from my Dad, who saved them for as long as it took for me to visit him again after Valentines. Except when he mailed them.

Due to some losses in our family, as well as big life-changes and living in a construction site, my household has lost its romance in the last few years, and it's been easy to slip out of the habits that once kept us tight and together. I woke up a couple of weeks ago and realized the only music we'd been hearing for a year or so was our daughter's pop music. The only candles we lit were during power outages, and the only time we celebrated each other was in the presence of others. A special evening with just the four of us was often more riddled with frustration and bickering than with joy. Is it because my kids are teens now? Is it because I've lost the ability to hold the family in love? Have we all just lost our joie de vivre?

So we began reading to each other again. My pair of teens loved the idea of sharing their favourite books with us, and it's been pleasant. We all climb in the big bed and take turns reading (except when tired parents fall asleep... apparently this doesn't change as the kids get older). But the beauty of that evening commune hasn't spread into the rest of our days. So one day I asked my husband to put on some nice music. His music. He put on the soundtrack to the Mission. The kids were perplexed, but they did seem happier. I put a candle on the table and my son lit it joyfully. It took so little to bring our dinnertime back to a loving place. But there it was. Four of us sitting in a shared romantic moment again. Bickering begone!

Sometimes the romance comes in a shared cup of tea; a little outing in the wind or rain or snow or sunshine, or some roasted campfire potatoes and simply laughing at the silliness of life.

It's not a permanent solution. The emotional lives of teens are turbulent, regardless, and we're still living in a constant state of upheaval. But the injection of a little romance into our daily lives does seem to be helping. Even just lighting a candle and having a bath by myself has helped. It allows me to emerge from the tub feeling much more pleasant than when I entered it, and most importantly, that pleasantness is reflected back from my children.

I used to be happier, and my children remember that time. They nostalgically remind me of the times I used to wear skirts and dance and sing in the house. They long for candlelit dinners and beach fires. Despite being teens now, with their own agendas and busy lives, they are longing for the romance we have lost.

Romance is part of what keeps us engaged in our relationships. And it's like a water wheel. The water falls in from the top, pushing the thing to keep going and to power everything else. But you have to keep dropping a little in from the top, or it will slow to a stop, and everything that's powered by that wheel will stop too.

Here are some of the little things that used to keep the romance going for our family, and which we'll try to get back into again:

Walks in the wilderness: Obviously this is the most life-giving treat you can give to yourself and your loved-ones. Even if you can't find time to do it as a family, just going with a friend or alone is so nourishing. I have been joining my Mum on her dog-walks sometimes recently, and no matter what I have given up to spend that time with her, I have always returned feeling the shared walk was worth it.

Flowers in the house: For the inevitable times when you can't be in the wilderness, bring some inside! Whether beautiful bulbs like those my friend gave me (photo above), some fresh-cut budding branches from outside, or a fortuitously-blossoming houseplant, flowers bring both colour and a feeling of life into our living space.

Music: Play it, sing it, listen to it, or go out and experience it in a group. Just let it feed your family's soul. Music allows us to open our hearts even when they have been closed for years.

Fire: Candles on the table, a lantern in the bathroom, a bonfire in the back yard or a late night beach fire with friends; in the middle of winter roast treats on skewers in front of an open wood stove or over a candle! Fire has a way of warming our hearts and making it easier to give and accept love.

Decorate! Similar to bringing flowers inside, having small visual treats in the house (or car or yard or even your child's lunch) infuses joy into our minds' wandering as we notice them. And, like the water wheel, it's important to keep feeding it. Some people have a seasonal table or a shelf or wall whose decorations get refreshed. All romance needs refreshing once in a while!

Food: I'm not always up for making a fancy meal, but I try to make our meal beautiful at least once a week. I figure if we're happy just looking at the food, we'll be more open to its nourishment, and to enjoy the time we spend eating it together.

Happy Valentines Day! May every day of the year be infused with some romance, may your waterwheel keep spinning and the love you give keep coming back to you.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Mystery by the Creek - Solved!

On a nearly-sunny January afternoon, I and a group of Wild Art kids stumbled upon something we'd never seen before: About twenty little round calciferous half-spheres, deposited a few meters away from a creek. Not exactly uniform but almost, the little things were approximately 8mm diameter, and seemed similar to sand dollar skeletons. They looked a little like covered buttons. However, when we broke one open, the inside appeared to be solid, comprised of pinkish calcium carbonate. As for other clues in the area, the half-spheres were found on a bit of pristine forest floor, surrounded by needles and cones, about a meter or so above the flood-level of the creek. The only other item of note in the area was the claw of a signal crayfish. We puzzled about it for quite a while, and took a few home to research.

The most obvious thing to do was to consult Sue Ellen Fast and Will Husby of Ecoleaders, who are extremely knowledgeable about freshwater ecosystems. In addition to being some of the kindest people I know, they are also my neighbours, so I took some of the little half-spheres by their house and Will had a good look. Will has easily cleared up some previous Wild Art mysteries, such as the identification of our local signal crayfish, freshwater sponges and freshwater fingernail clams. However, on examining these little half-spheres, he was stumped.

So off to our local facebook forum, where I could easily post a photo of our mysterious find, and get some responses. I also personally emailed the photo to a few other knowledgeable locals and the curator of marine invertebrates at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. Understandably, most people looking at the photo thought they looked like mushrooms or seeds, however Sue Ellen had done a vinegar test and confirmed they were indeed calcium carbonate, so mushrooms or seeds seemed out of the question. Other suggestions ranged from urchins to discarded candies or drugs, fossilized berries, concretions from garbage left in the park, or tiny geodes. We all see through the lens of our own experience!

And then, unexpectedly, the answer appeared in my email. Will had come through, after all, having followed a hunch, based on my finding of a crayfish claw, nearby. What we have found are gastroliths! Will says “they are found in freshwater crayfish (and) are part of a system for conserving calcium used in making their exoskeletons.” He speculates that they were part of an otter's poop, which was left on the creek bank before being eroded by rain and leaving only the gastroliths behind.

Andrew Hosie of the Western Australian Museum explains on his blog that “the calcium provides strength to the exoskeleton so that it can support the animal’s body, give the claws their pinching power and to protect it from predators. As crayfish (indeed all crustaceans) grow bigger, they must periodically shed the exoskeleton and form a new one. To start a new exoskeleton from scratch would require large amounts of new calcium. The hormones that drive moulting (referred to as ecdysis) trigger calcium carbonate to be removed from the exoskeleton and starts forming a pair of these gastroliths in the stomach. After the crayfish has moulted, the gastroliths are reabsorbed and used in the strengthening of the new exoskeleton. Only freshwater crustaceans form gastroliths because unlike seawater, freshwater has very little dissolved calcium salts, so in an effort to retain calcium, crayfish form these little gastroliths, or even eat the old exoskeleton.” He also tells us that “pharmaceutical companies are actively researching the use of gastroliths to treat osteoporosis related conditions.”

Isn't it wonderful how one mysterious discovery can bring people together and open our minds?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Wild Food Spotlight 6: Licorice Fern

This is the sixth in a series of foraging-related articles I'm writing for our local bulletin.
Re-posted from the Artisan Office Bulletin.
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The ice is retreating from the shores of our lakes; the sky pelts us with droplets instead of crystalline flakes. And as we creep out into the nascent spring, recovering from the viruses of winter, the skin of the maple trees is coming back to life, as well. The many things that make their home in and on this fertile skin, long withered from the summer's drought and winter's frigid wind, are soaking up the rains and growing, again.

If you look up on almost any bigleaf maple around here, you'll discover haphazard forests of ferns, growing from the moss, there. These are licorice ferns. Find some you can reach, dig your fingers into the soft moss, and feel along the root until you find the end. You can feel where the root is hard and dry, and where the newer growth begins, all smooth and round and fresh. Break off a couple of inches or so of this newer root – it will be enough for a snack or a couple of cups of tea – but be sure not to rip off the moss. This moss is part of our rich ecosystem, and benefits both the tree and the many things that live on it. If you leave most of the fern growing in the moss, you can come back again to harvest later.

Sometimes you can find licorice ferns growing on mossy bluffs or logs, as well. They're still fine to eat, and easy to identify. It's OK to take a fern frond once in a while, too, especially if this is your first time harvesting and you want to examine it!

Now look at the fern. You'll notice it has a stem, leaflets, and spores like other ferns do, but the leaflets are fully attached to the stem. If you compare it to a sword fern frond, you'll see that each sword fern leaflet is attached by a tiny point of a stem. Not so with the licorice fern! Another obvious difference between the two is the taste and smell of the root. It's called licorice fern for a reason, and no other fern in our area has a root that smells like that of licorice fern.

So what to do with this tasty root now? Actually, tasty is a matter of opinion. I've seen more than one person spit it out in disgust. But licorice is not for everyone, and some of us love it. Also, the bitter taste it has when freshly picked pretty much disappears when it's brewed into tea.

Tea is probably the easiest and most effective way to use licorice fern. If you like it you can harvest a lot of it in the early- to mid-spring, chop it up and simply dry it in a basket or sieve on your counter. Keep the dried roots in a jar and use it like you would any other tea. If you want your harvest to go further, crush the dried roots before steeping to help release the oils.

Licorice fern tea has some well-known medicinal properties. It's used to calm a sore throat and cough, to relieve gas and to aid recovery from chest infections.

Most importantly, I feel like licorice fern is a reminder of our integrated ecosystem. All over this island you can find maples, and most of them carry a garden of moss and licorice ferns. This garden is home to a host of other species, and every time we see it we can remember how complex our world is, how important each member of our community is to the well-being of us all, and how we depend upon each other for life.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wild Art Exploration: One Clear Day

Such a rich and wonderful day with two groups of Wild Art kids today, that I thought I'd share it as a photo montage.

The teen group went to check out the old dump site along the Dump Road, and we saw a shimmering orange puddle where rust and oil leaches out from the dump pile.

From there we headed up to Everhard Creek, where we used spoons to harvest some clay. That was about all we had time for today, but we've hatched a plan to return next week with a bucket, and try filtering the clay.

The younger group returned to the forest village they'd begun making the week before, and carried on creating things to sell at their shops and restaurants. One group led a tour to a beaver lodge, and later became petty criminals, robbing the shops and calling the 'police' on each other. We discovered some as-yet-unidentified little calciferous things (photo included), and returned very wet and muddy - the perfect ending to a great adventure!

That's the robber escaping on the left, and his 'boss' sitting carving a stick in the shop the two of them created.
These are the unidentified little calciferous semi-spheres we found on the forest floor.

A 'fire pit'.
An abandoned cedar crown.

Cedar crowns for sale at one of the shops.
Unidentified (maybe heron?) prints.

The beaver lodge! Entrances are barely visible on the left and centre-right, behind a few large sticks.