October 21, 2008

On the Trail

Week 4 of the certification program was full of surprises. We split into two groups. On Wednesday, the other group trailed elk down in North Bend. Adriaan Louu, a South African tracker was giving a two day workshop on Wednesday and Thursday. The group that went with him trailed two elk all the way into the woods and actually spooked the mom and child from their bedding spot. The group I was in went to Bobcat Lake to harvest cattail leaves which we will use to make sitting mats and walls for shelters. On the way we saw a lot of scats left by coyote, bobcat, and bear. One pile of scat, however, was huge. The largest pile I have seen from a black bear. We also saw a lot of new plants and fungi on the trail, and harvested a good amount of cattail leaves before the rain brought us back to campus.

Day two was our turn to trail. We went up to the Skagit River Valley and started the day by playing hide and seek. Seems elementary rather than college level studies, yet it taught us so much about how to look for and follow a fresh trail. When there is grass pushed down and dew wiped from the grass, something has just moved through there. We then trailed a deer for about one mile, through sand, dirt, shrubs, and forest. We had to stop at the end of the day but all of us felt inspired to keep tracking. The following day Jase and I played hide and seek at the campus.

On Friday we learned a bit more about birds, and were introduced to some common birds in the Pacific Northwest. The Dark Eyed Juncos are some of my favorite birds. Their call sounds like two little stones being batted together. Some other birds we were introduced to were the American Robin, Winter Wren, Spotted Towhee, and Song Sparrow.

Congratulations to Tracker Evaluation Participants!

Alderleaf hosted tracker evaluations in early October. They were facilitated by Casey McFarland, Mark Elbroch, and Adriaan Louw of CyberTracker International. Casey is a former student and colleague who is now working full time as a tracker and evaluator! Mark Elbroch is the lead evaluator in North America and author of Mammal Tracks and Sign. Adriaan Louw (a senior tracker from South Africa) facilitated the trailing evaluations. Congratulations to all who participated - everyone scored well and earned certificates!

The evaulation process tests and certifies competent trackers, helping build greater credibility so that trackers can gain employment in wildlife research and conservation efforts. If you would like more information about the nuts and bolts of tracker evaluations, visit the wildlife trackers website at: http://www.wildlifetrackers.com/evals/

A special congratulations goes out to Brian McConnell, who gained the first senior tracker certificate in North America! Brian is also a former student and has scored 100% on both the Track & Sign Evaluation and Trailing Evaluation.

Stay tuned, we look forward to hosting more evaluations in 2009!

October 19, 2008

Oregon Dunes Trip

This past week the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program took its first field trip of the year. We went down to the Oregon Dunes near Lakeside, Oregon. We spent our time trailing animals (especially porcupines) for miles across the dunes, exploring deflation zones and forest islands and eating tasty mushrooms we found crawling raccoon style across the forest floor. It truly was an amazing trip; we all learned a lot about the environment, tracking and trailing, and each other. Here are a few pictures from the week.

The unforgettable trail of a porcupine

Camouflaged inchworm

Monkey Flower
Fritz, Steve and Jimmy at midnight

European Red Snail on a log

Oregon Dunes Trip

Here are some more pictures from the Dunes.

Red Legged Frog in small forest isalnd
Daddy Long Legs at night
Jimmy trailing by flashlight
Brownish Chroogomphus
View of dunes surrounded by forest

October 11, 2008

More Pics

Western Red Backed Salamander
Crayfish? Trail
Rough Skinned Newt
Spores falling from a wood fern
Raccoon track


Some Common Mycena on a Log
A Banana Slug on Amanita muscaria.
Angel Wings on a Log
King Boletus
Red Cracked Bolete

October 8, 2008

Gifts and Chirps

Last week we had an outdoor, hands-on class on the Skykomish River. We were introduced to different stones such as agate, basalt, and my favorite, obsidian. Frank Sherwood, hunter, naturalist, and teacher, showed us how to create tools from these stones. The gift of stones was generously offered by the river and we were reminded by Frank to thank the river and the valley for providing these stones. We learned about the hertzian cone, or cone of force, which is the direction cracks move in when stones are struck. With our cone of force in mind, we began to bash our stones with larger, heavier hammerstones. A few bloody knuckles and a lot of gravel flakes later, we all had at least one sharp edged "survival knife." We also learned how to percussion flake edges off of rocks to shape them into tools. By the end of the day, each of us had a cutting tool made of natural materials (except for the artificial sinew lashings):

Thursday was an introduction to ethnobotany. This is the study of how people use plants. The three things that plants are utilized for by humans are food, medicine, and utility or craft use. Karen Sherwood, Frank's wife, began the day with a slide show of numerous wild plants in the pacific northwest. She gave us a snack of muffins made from acorn flour topped with Oregon grape jelly. If you've never tried Oregon grape before, beware. It is edible, full of nutrients, and bitter as bitter can be. Luckily Karen used a bunch of sugar in her jelly recipe. The treats were a delight. We then went on a walk and learned about dandelion, dock, thimbleberry, elderberry, and western red cedar. The gift of plants provided by the soils is greatly appreciated by all native peoples. Soils provide all of us with the fruits and vegetables and grains required to sustain our lives, and when you pick the leaf or fruit yourself, you can't help but be thankful. Some other plants around the Alderleaf property:

Cooley's Hedge Nettle (Stachys cooleyae), of the mint family (the square stem a dead giveaway), is utilized as medicine and as a scent depressant. Aboriginal fishermen would wipe their hands and arms with the leaves to decrease their human smell. The rhizomes, or spreading root structures, can be dried, ground up, and made into a tea or tincture to treat migraines, hangover headaches, and internal inflammations.

This is Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), one of my favorite plants. Yes, it's all in the name. This beautiful, common gift is found along roadsides all over western Washington. It has edible roots, leaves (when the plant is young), and stalks (again, in young plants). The buds and flowers can be eaten throughout the summer as well. The bast fibers of the fall stems can be twisted, much like stinging nettle, into cord. The tea from the boiled herb helps to relieve constipation, settle an upset stomach, and diminish a harsh cough. My favorite gift from the fireweed, however, is its down. After flowering, in late summer, the stems become littered with this cotton-like substance that is fluffy, light, and dry. What could this fluff be used for? Like I said, it's all in the name.

Friday was an introduction to bird language. We learned the calls of birds like song sparrows, winter wrens, spotted towhees, and stellars jays. Understanding the language of the birds is important to any hunter, wildlife enthusiast, or tracker. Knowing how to tell the difference between a song, a call, and an alarm will give a person a tremendous advantage in the outdoors. For example, a few weeks ago, on Tiger Mountain, Filip and I heard a Spotted Towhee alarming across the swamp from our trail. Then, a Stellars Jay joined in a bit further up. Soon enough a winter wren alarmed in its machine-gun like fashion a bit further up. Filip and I scurried across the forest floor as quickly and quietly as possible to try to get a visual. We stopped and listened to big, careless footsteps across the swamp moving fairly slow and breaking a lot of sticks. Which one of our animal friends could this have been?

A tremendous third week of class left us inspired and excited to start incorporating wild foods into our diets and investigating areas of multiple bird alarms. The other day we had lentils with dandelion leaves, a chantrelle mushroom quiche, and pot pie made with dock and plantain bread.

October 2, 2008

Teaching, Tracking, and Permaculture

Week 2 of the Certification Program was a blast. There were new mysteries presented, skits performed, and garden beds dug up.

On Wednesday, a man named Hawkeye educated us about education. What makes an effective teacher? There are core values that good nature-based educators have; these range from respect to repetition. One value that must be present in teaching children, we learned, is an animated personality. We learned about dressing the part, feeding off the group, and using heavy body language to not only hold interest but get the children excited to learn. We were assigned random topics to act out in two minute skits. This was a chance for us to animate our personalities, and animated they became. We had Jimmy the growling bear, Fritz the shapeshifting raven, and Dixie the big-eyed nocturnal flying squirrel who came out during the day. There was a lot of laughter and excitement, and I noticed that I retained more information given in these skits than I have from most college lectures I have attended.

Day 2 of Week 2 was a tracking day. We went out to Bob Harman park and tracked along the Snohomish river. On our way out to the sandbar we were fortunate enough to come across a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) cleaning itself high in a snag. It took off and showed us it's flight pattern of flap flap flap glide, flap flap flap glide. These hawks have to fly fast and quiet because their main diet consists of other smaller birds (such as Cedar Waxwings). We got down to the sandbar and saw raccoon, coyote, mink, and beaver tracks. The beavers had some easily identifiable trails that lead into the sloughs near the river. We saw some cottonwood sapling stumps with what I call "tooth stairs." Beavers leave these ridged bite marks on the wood they harvest that look like little stairs. Further along the slough, we were studying some Great Blue Heron tracks near a spotted sandpiper trail when a juvenile bald eagle flew overhead and landed in a cottonwood. He was followed by an alarming Osprey who held a small fish in its talons. Maybe the eagle had come into the osprey's home without permission. The eagle eventually took off and showed off his ginormous wingspan, gliding 25 feet above our heads. We then found some mystery tracks on the sandbar, riverside. We all knew it was a bird, but which bird was it?

Friday was our introduction to permaculture. Adam Rawson, our professor, taught us that in permaculture, anything is possible. Permaculture is defined in many ways, the most blunt being permanent agriculture. This is a sustainable way to grow the crops you need with as little manipulation of the natural world as possible. Adam showed us the map of the property and where him and Jason had planned on putting raised beds, ponds, food forests, and chicken padducks. At the end of the day we all chipped in to take out some grass and till some soil that will soon have some edible plants in it.

A great second week with a lot of new ideas and experiments was very fun. Stay tuned for week 3, which will include stone tools, ethnobotany, and birding.