April 30, 2009

Primitive cooked wild edibles for the Bear Lady

Last week at the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program we ate very well. Day one was spent at the Skykomish river down on a bar, but not a sand bar, a clay bar. This amazing type of soil is created by rivers crushing rocks into very small particles, smaller than that of sand or silt. It adheres and coheres extremely well and acted as a mortar for our stone oven we built and cooked biscuits in. We also dug a steam pit in the clay which we lined with layers (from the bottom up) of hot rocks, ferns, food, ferns, and hot rocks. We would have wrapped the food in Skunk Cabbage leaves, but all we found on public land was aluminum foil. It took a couple hours to cook the food through, but when it finished we ate a large meal of chicken, salmon, potatoes, asparagus and apples.

firing up the stone-clay oven

preparing the steam pit

Karen Sherwood came out on Thursday and we learned about some common spring edibles of the northwest. We also ate these common edibles... a lot of them. We started by processing acorns from Red Oaks, which are harvested in fall, but keep for a long time in the freezer. We made acorn flour and muffins which were scrumptious. Then we made dandelion pesto from the leaves and ate that over pasta. The last part of the day we harvested some stinging nettle shoots along the river road right near campus. While harvesting we munched on Salmonberry shoots and Miner's lettuce. We also found some early morels, which give a hint as to where the tasty morels will shoot up later in spring. Not gonna tell you where... We steamed the nettles and cooked some rice to go with them. They are super good for a spring food when the body needs extra nutrients coming out of a cold winter. High in vitamin A, C, and iron, we felt supercharged as we left class.

bear claw marks on an alder tree

On Friday I felt like a baby. One of the best trackers I have ever met taught our class. Sue Morse, from Keeping Track in Vermont, took us on a hike. One I have been on at least 15 times now. On the way to the bobcat hotspot near bobcat lake she picked out a bunch of trees where black bears and other animals have been leaving marks. She found numerous trees with bear hairs stuck to them and a bunch of teeth and claw marks from climbing males and females. The carnivore research she has done in the field shows in her tracking skill. For example, there is a hemlock sapling with the trunk broken but still connected toward the top. We walk by it all the time, either not seeing it, or assuming the wind or a falling branch broke it. Sue, in the back of the hiking line, made us turn around and walk back to it. We learned that bears will pull on or straddle the tops of these little trailside trees to leave scents of themselves in order to communicate with other bears. This is just one example of the humbling, eye- opening day with Sue, who also taught a Carnivore Tracking Workshop at Alderleaf the weekend after class.

April 28, 2009

Mountain Lion at Alderleaf!

A mountain lion passed by our motion-sensing camera this week! After a great Carnivore Tracking Workshop with Susan Morse, we checked our camera on Monday morning. It was an incredible treat to see an image of the mountain lion, especially after spending the weekend observing carnivore tracks and sign, including mountain lion scat, scrapes, and claw raking! We feel most fortunate to share the land with these awe-inspiring carnivores! The photo was captured only a stone's throw from our classroom!

Interested in learning more about wildlife tracking? Check out our upcoming courses:

Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship

Trailing Workshop with Adriaan Louw

Wildlife Tracking Weekend Course

April 24, 2009

Teaching and Tracking

Last week at the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program was mostly spent at the Track and Sign Evaluation (See Jason's article below) but we began with a lesson in lesson planning with Hawkeye. We got our bow drill fire built thanks to Jason Cameron for busting out a coal. Then Hawkeye taught us about planning lessons for a group of young students. The two points he emphasized most were "know your students" and "know your subject." Pretty straightforward. Sometimes, we learned, the plan just gets abandoned because nature takes over and has far more to teach than any human. We made some primitive pliers and planned a lesson which we shared with the group and got feedback.

April 21, 2009

Congratulations to the Recently Certified Trackers!

Alderleaf hosted Casey McFarland of CyberTracker Conservation to administer the international Track & Sign Evaluation in April 2009. A big congratulations goes out to all who participated. Everyone performed very well and received track & sign certificates, including each of our Wilderness Certification Program students!

A special congratulations goes out to Alderleaf instructor, Filip Tkaczyk, who scored highest in the group, with a 96%, receiving a Track & Sign III Certificate. The rigorous, two-day field test included 80 questions on tracks and sign, ranging from stone flies, to salamanders, northern flickers, river otters, bobcat, mink, and much more.

Stay tuned, Alderleaf will be hosting Adriaan Louw to offer a Trailing Evaluation and a Trailing Workshop in October 2009. You can subscribe to the Alderleaf eNewsletter to be the first to know about dates and availability.

April 20, 2009

Transformations in our little pond

During a quick lunch break today, I sat by the little pond we have here at Alderleaf. Its only about 18-20 feet long by maybe 6 feet wide. But, there is a wealth of life in it.

As I sat there looking into the water, I saw that the tadpoles have hatched and are growing very rapidly. Many of them were hanging out in the warm water of the shallows.

An adult Pacific Treefrog floated in the open water in the middle of the pond, its legs dangling down into the deeper water. It seemed to ponder the strange animal that was sitting there watching it, then decided to dive down and hide.

Suddenly, I noticed a mayfly larva floating up to the surface of the pond. It floated there for a second or two, then started arching and flexing its back rapidly against the water's surface. Within 5 seconds, the larva transformed into a totally different creature. Its body split down the middle and a fully formed, winged adult mayfly was standing over the old shell that once housed the mayflies body. It stood on the surface of the water on spindly legs, wings shimmering in the sun, and double tail arched upward. Not more than 15 seconds after that, it was flying away from the pond on the breeze!

I have never witnessed such a rapid transformation before! It made my jaw drop...

April 14, 2009

Tracking Migrant Atl- Atls

We are participating in a Track and Sign Evaluation next week, so the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program began this week with a review of the mammal, bird, and reptilian tracks of the Pacific Northwest. We trekked down to the Skykomish river banks at a new sandbar filled with awesome track and sign. Jason threw a few practice questions at us down there and everyone learned something new. Species ranged from Stellar's Jay to Opossum. One tricky set really humbled me. These looked like picture perfect otter tracks, right on the bank heading toward a small slough. The only reason I hesitated was that the tracks leading to and coming from the question prints were raccoon tracks in the water. I went with my instinct and it turned out that this particular question required a little further investigation. We consulted a field guide and saw how raccoon prints register when they move at high speeds... like nearly perfect otter tracks.

Thursday we were introduced to some birds that will be migrating to our region this Spring. Some species we have seen and heard on campus already. On our afternoon bird walk we spied a Rufous Hummingbird and an Anna's hummingbird not to mention a Band Tailed pigeon and a Red Tailed Hawk amongst White Crowned Sparrows, which we learned from Filip have only one song they repeat over and over again. He taught us that as territories change amongst this species, their songs vary. We finished the day exercising, first our sense of hearing and feel by leading each other through the woods blindfolded, then by playing one of my favorite games, Eagle Eye. This is a form of hide-n-seek where the seeker has to stay in the "Eagle's nest" and try to spot the prey, which must keep at least one eye on the eagle at all times. My shoes were visible each round, telling me I need to keep my whole body on a lower plane while scouting, not to mention practicing with more natural camoflouge... I wondered why Dark Eyed Junco's have been following me around... to teach me lessons in becoming invisible in the landscape!

Friday was a Fun filled Frank Sherwood day. We learned about numerous primitive hunting methods, as well as ethics and what it takes to become a good hunter. One of these lessons in bow hunting is selective shooting, which is only taking a shot that has a high percentage chance of striking the kill zone, ending the animal's wild and free and good life quickly, with little pain. We got to practice throwing rabbit sticks, bolas and rocks from a sling. I especially like the rabbit stick because of its simplicity. The best part of the day was when we made our own Atl-Atls, a primitive weapon bridging the gap between throwing stick and bow & arrow. A survivalist uses one piece of wood to fire another, but without a string. We all used Alder because it is easy to work and readily available on Alderleaf's land. The handles we made about a foot and a half long, with a near 30 degree branch shooting up nearly two inches with a pivot point on them. The other part of the tool is a 7 foot long spear as straight as can be. Each of us, by the end of the day were at least able to fire them spear point forward in a general direction, but with practice we could be getting us some bunnies next Easter!

April 6, 2009

March Wilderness Survival Course

We had a great weekend Wilderness Survival Course in March! Here are a few photos from the class:
Creating a debris hut shelter

Putting the finishing touches on the shelter

Making fire from a bow drill friction fire kit!

Demonstrating a figure four deadfall trap

Primitive water purification - rock boiling