February 25, 2009

Follow-Up to Tracking in Wildlife Science!

A big congratulations to the students in the Wilderness Certification Program! They successfully captured a photo of a bobcat at Alderleaf using a motion-sensing camera! Two weeks ago, as part of our lesson on utilizing tracking skills for wildlife science, we challenged the class to obtain a photograph of a bobcat by using their training in tracks and sign to determine the best location for the camera. They succeeded in less than two weeks! Here's the photo:

Great job everyone!

-Jason Knight
Program Director

February 24, 2009

Pictures from Alderleaf

Here are some photos from around campus this beautiful February weekend.
Cedar cones on snow
What tree did this bark come from?
Underside of oyster mushroom
Douglas squirrel feeding sign on hemlock cones
Deer fern lining the walls of a deep hole

Habitat Restoration, Human Tracking, & Cattail Mats

I feel like we did something good for the planet on Wednesday at the Wilderness Certification Program. We began the day with a short lecture on habitat restoration and enhancement. Since most funding for these projects comes from Federal, State, and local agencies, there are jobs for ecologists, landscapers, and engineers. The process is pretty straight forward. We got to practice restoring habitat in the front of the farm, where a lawn has been for many years. By digging holes in the grass and transplanting 31 native plants and trees, we recreated a biodiverse section of Alderleaf. Some species we put out there: Paper Birch, Evergreen Huckleberry, Salal, Red Alder, Sword fern (to name a few). The placement of each plant was decided based on the plant's height as well as its sun and moisture requirements. The second half of the day we learned about sustainable forestry. It was stressed that the number one goal of forest stewardship is to conserve and maintain biological capacity and diversity. We learned that it is very possible for humans to have an active role in the happenings of the forest and not decimate its health. The final part of our day was spent transplanting baby western red cedars in conifer- lacking areas of Alderleaf's forest.

Thursday was an absolute blast. We studied search and rescue techniques in tracking, as well as tactical criminal tracking. We met up at the Startup Sandbar and built a flint and steel fire in a small cedar grove. Leaving Jason to tend the fire, we went and followed the trail he blazed earlier that morning. We had to interpret his behaviors on top of following his trail to the end marker (a beaver chewed stick). The character Jason played was a portly, drunk fisherman who casted in numerous places along the banks, drank a beer, and excreted in the bushes! None of us smelled the excretion to make sure it was him. After lunch we trailed each other...tactically... armed with super soakers! I was the first tracker to trail Dixie the outlaw. We set up in the basic diamond formation, me leading, Jase and Jason C. the flanks, and Jason K. the controller. The idea is the lead follows the trail while the flanks (only ones with super soakers) keep their eyes up to see the bad guy. In this particular case, the outlaw was too well camoflauged and witty for the trackers. Dixie sprayed me right in the back from a sand bunker twenty feet to the left. My flanker didn't even see her!

On Friday we welcomed back Karen Sherwood, expert ethnobotanist. She taught us how to weave cattail mats, which can be utilized as seats, mattresses, and shelter walls. Cattail leaves are somewhat thick, soft, and pliable. We began by using a basic 3 braid method to weave the edges. After we had two equal length braids, we lined up leaves alternating earth end, sky end, earth end, sky end... We then took our Oceanspray wood weaving needles, tied some sinew to them, and shoved it through the edge of each leaf and the far braid. We did this with a single piece of sinew snaking back and forth down the mat. A very good day with lessons in not only weaving, but patience and the importance of workable, durable materials.

(Cattail mat holding some of my trinkets)

February 23, 2009

Orienteering, weaving, not quite fire breathing

Last week at the Wilderness Certification Program we were presented with a challenge. In groups of two, we set out to find the "treasure" hidden in numerous locations at Lord's Hill Park in South Monroe. We were given maps with X marking the spots. Jase and I trotted like coyotes past Dixie and Jason to search for the first prize. Confused as to where it was, we decided to move along and find it on our way back. We quickly gathered up the next prizes, which were bags full of chocolate and things of the like. We took note of sign we saw along the way(bobcat, deer, river otter scats), but this was an orienteering course with some of the best incentive (candy!) and gave us tunnel vision. We all met up at the last spot and enjoyed some peppermint patties and water. The sun acted as our best directional aid for the day, and we were thankful that the sky was blue. It was a fun day, yet a day with many lessons in map reading, planning, and navigation.

On Thursday we explored alternate primitive fire making techniques. We built two pump drills, a fire plow, and a fire saw. These instruments gave me a new, high respect for the bow drill. I went for a quick plow while the others built the first pump drill. I used a cedar branch I had been drying. The pump drill is like a sprint. It requires a quick, very strong push-pull with one arm while applying downward pressure with the other arm. Ideally dust collects at the front end of the burn groove, but this did not happen in our case. Frustrated and rather parched, I watched Jason bust out a pump drill coal toward the end of the day while enjoying a refreshing canteen of water. The pump drill is a long term tool that would be applied in a wilderness living experience instead of a short term survival situation.

With sore legs from Wednesday's many mile treasure hunt and sore arms from flustered fire starting attempts, our Friday was spent weaving willow withe baskets. We started by weaving god's eyes, then shifting to a traditional twining technique. With a bit of stick-to-it-ness we all had made funtional holding containers. Some are arrow quivers and others are fire kit holders!

February 14, 2009

Orienteering, Fire Gadgets and Willow Baskets

This Week In Pictures

The "Dark Cedar" treasure from Wednesday's orienteering course
What plant's seed is this?
Jason using our home made pump drill fire kit

Finally, some smoke from the cedar plug

The God's eye of a willow quiver

February 11, 2009

Photos from our recent work party!

We had a great work party at Alderleaf Farm on February 7th! We made shakes, beams, and fenceposts out of the western red cedars that had to come down - which will be used for our gardens, outdoor classroom, and permaculture projects:

Photos from the Week

Pictures from Alderleaf

A completed pine needle coil basket
Sweet bee's wax for salve making
Comfrey oil and salves and creams
Calendula petals infusing in oil
Who left this distinctive trail?

Medicinal Salves, Geology, and Tracking in Wildlife Science

Last week kicked off our second semester of the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program. Karen Sherwood came out on Tuesday and taught us how to make medicinal salves, which are similar to lotions. The first salve we made was a cottonwood salve (commonly called Balm of Gilead), which is made by simply heating beeswax and cottonwood bud-infused olive oil to about 130 degrees farenheit. You pour the hot mixture into holding containers and let cool for about 20 minutes. That's all there is to it! The cottonwood salve could also be made by using animal fat in a survival situation. It serves as an anti-microbial and also speeds up healing of blisters, cuts, burns, and bruises. We made other salves as well as some creams with Karen, who always brings great lessons and fun activities to Alderleaf.

Day two was spent learning about geology, the study of the earth. Geology covers everything from the earth's core to weathering and atmospheric conditions. We focused on the earth's crust. This is what we live on and what provides our waters and soils nutrients to grow the wonderful plants that constantly provide us with edible and medicinal goodies. The Earth's crust (in nerd words lithosphere), we learned, is about 40 miles thick, and is made of mostly bedrock. This bedrock breaks down over time due to factors like wind, water, salts, microscopic organisms, freezing, oxidation, and heat. As they break down they combine with organic material to form soil, which houses our beloved plants. Geology has numerous areas of study, and one could easily spend their whole life studying soil and its fertility!

On Friday we learned about how tracking is applied to wildlife science. In the second half of the day we were presented with a challenge. We had to set up a motion sensing camera in a place where we thought a bobcat might pass through. There were three spots in mind. The first spot we checked had a lot of upsides. There were old bobcat scats, a lot of trees to set the camera on, and douglas squirrel caches. Douglas squrrels are an important source of food in the bobcat winter diet. The next place we looked at was named Aplodontia Metropolis. A huge debris pile from logging done back in the 80's is housing numerous aplodontias just off Alderleaf's property. We saw chomped up piles of swordfern just outside their burrow entrances. Aplodontias are often hunted by bobcat as well, but this place had less trees on which to place a camera. It was also farther away and had possibilities of being seen and stolen. We placed the camera in spot 1 before looking at spot 3, the south trail. Walking the trail back to the classroom, we noticed at least three bobcat footprints that were made a few days before... The collective decision was to leave the camera for two weeks, and if there are no bobcat photos, we will move it to spot 3. I hope we catch one on camera!

February 2, 2009

Okanogan Expedition

For our last week of the first semester at the Wilderness Certification Program, we headed northeast to Okanogan country. We camped in the Alkali lakes wilderness on land owned by Chris Kenworthy, wilderness first aid and scout trainer. We pitched our tents and slept in the below freezing temperatures. That first morning I woke up with frost on my sleeping bag!

We went snowshoeing and tracking on day two. Some common species' footprints we saw were mule deer (much larger than the black tailed deer on the west side), snowshoe hare, squirrel (debatable whether red or douglas), grouse and coyote. A new set of tracks showed themselves to us as well. They looked like a pair of two tracks making two to three footlong hops, heading into rodent burrows in the snow. What do you think they were?

We got to work building shelters our third day. We built a snow hut and a snow pit shelter, both of which were quite sturdy and aesthetically pleasing. We harvested cattails for the mattresses and many sticks for the ribbing. I woke up in the middle of the night to pee and heard a great horned owl and a pack of yipping coyotes. A temperature test proved that the snow shelters were much warmer than the tents. It was 13 degrees farenheit outside when I woke up in the snow pit... inside was a toasty 28!

We made a primitive fire and built snowshoes on day four. Our tinder bundle consisted of grasses found underneath sage brush (out of the snow), sage brush bark, river birch bark, an old wasps nest, powdered pine pitch, and suspended dead pine needles. A mixture of materials is always preferred. In the snow, a platform made of green wood and a wind barrier is necessary to start a successful fire. Our platform burned down after 2 to 3 hours, which taught us a good lesson in how high to build fire platforms in snow.

The snowshoes turned out great, especially the "bear claw" style (pictured below in previous blog entry). We made them out of willow suckers because they are bendy and flexible. Snowshoes made from natural materials need maintenance, especially if one plans on using them each year.

We finished up learning outdoor first aid and the importance of carrying first aid kits. We each recieved first aid kits full of good stuff like athletic tape, gauze, scissors, etc.

February 1, 2009

Winter Survival / Snow Tracking Trip Photos!

The Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program spent a week learning winter survival and snow tracking skills in the North Cascades!

Snowshoes constructed from willow branches

Custom-made snow shelter

Fire platform

Making a bow drill fire in the snow