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.
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.
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.