26 April 2011

Monday forest photo: April 25, 2011

2:45pm 17C overcast

From this distance, things look much the same this week as last, but spring is definitely springing. We had some terrible icy weather since last Monday, but we've had some lovely mild and sunny days, too.

In the last couple of days, the Trout Lilies have started to emerge. I found this description at Andy's Northern Ontario Wildflowers (a wonderful resource!):
Forms a colony of 1-leaved sterile shoots with no flowers and a few 2-leaved fertile plants with flowers. The mottled leaves resemble the skin pattern of a brook trout. The Trout Lily is pollinated by ants, and after a seed is planted, it takes up to seven years for a mature plant to grow and flower. Trout Lily has a fascinating seed dispersal mechanism - its seeds are dispersed by ants through a process called myrmecochory (pronounced "mirme ko ko re"). Attached to the outside of the seeds is a fleshy structure called an elaiosome. The elaiosome is rich in oils and proteins. Ants carry the seed to their nest and feed the elaiosome to their larvae. The remaining seed is discarded in the ant's nutrient-rich waste pile. This symbiotic relationship benefits the ant, which gets a food source, and benefits the plant because the seed is dispersed, is protected from rodents, and is placed in a nutrient rich area in the ants nest where the seed has a greater likelihood of growing.

21 April 2011

I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now

Today is the first day of my 46th trip around the sun. When this picture was taken, I was 10 or 11, and it was around this time that I begged my mother to let me quit school. I figured that I knew enough reading, writing and arithmetic so that I could take it from there myself. I guess I was a natural born unschooler. My mother was not.

I've learned and unlearned and forgotten a lot of things since then. Every year I learn a bunch of new things and discover a bunch of other stuff I thought I knew, I didn't. My catalogue of uncertainties is growing all the time. Which is completely ok by me. I figure I've got a few more trips in me yet, and I wouldn't want to get bored. 

19 April 2011

Monday forest photo: April 19, 2011

2:30 pm 7C clear
 I completely forgot the forest photo yesterday. I was completely distracted by our company, but today was a nicer day for picture-taking anyway. Tomorrow's forecast is for freezing rain and ice pellets so winter is not quite done with us yet.

These little beauties are the first spring flowers I've seen in the forest this year. I noticed them beside the trail this afternoon and google tells me they are Round Leafed Hepatica (anemone americana). I looked for more blossoms but found no other flowers than this little bunch.

15 April 2011

Wild for wild leeks

Yesterday, I noticed green sprouts peeking through the leaf litter all over the open forest. Today on my walk, they were much larger and I was very happy to discover that they are wild leeks. It's easy to tell because the leaves smell and taste like garlic scapes, except fresher and even more delicious. The entire plant is edible and the bulb is much like a garlic clove.

Some of the plants flower later in the summer and their seeds are a bright shiny black. The plants with flowers are best left to grow on, because, as with so many spring ephemerals, there aren't any flowers until the root is several years old. Wild leeks are considered threatened in Quebec because of excessive harvesting and there are strict limits on the amounts one can pick there. Ontario has no such restrictions that I know of and some of the over-picking has apparently spilled over the border into eastern Ontario. I will pick some wild leeks, but I know that I wil be the only picker on my property and I will follow sustainable picking practices. Unfortunately, even folks who pick a small percentage of wild leeks in a given area can still contribute to a problem if there are other pickers doing likewise.

I will be spending some time finding recipes for wild leeks in preparation for harvesting some in a few weeks. This is our first spring on this property and this is a very pleasant discovery!

13 April 2011

I fell in love with some bees

I'm all fired up about bees. I took an amazing workshop on Saturday, called The Art and Craft of Sustainable Beekeeping, put on by Gord and Greg at Seldom Fools Apiculture. It was a fabulous day and the weather was good enough that we were able to go and see some real life bees from a hive that had overwintered. Gord and Greg are proponents of natural, chemical-free beekeeping using top-bar hives instead of the traditional Langstroth hives. Here's what they say on their website:
Sustainable practices are at the heart of all we do. By using good husbandry principles, no chemicals to prop up weak genetics and hives, the benefits are healthy and thriving bee colonies with more bees to pollinate local plants, gardens and crops – which means we all win.

A couple of years ago, I took another intro to beekeeping course which convinced me that I was not interested in the expense, trouble or heartbreak of conventional beekeeping. I encourage anyone who may have been similarly discouraged to check out top bar hives or natural beekeeping online and try to find a copy of the book The Barefoot Beekeeper by Phil Chandler. And if you live anywhere within range of Kingston, Ontario, do try to take a course with Gord and Greg.

I've decided that instead of scrambling to find bees for this year, I will build (or more likely, have hubby build) a hive (or two), take whatever beekeeping workshops or courses I can find, and follow the Natural Beekeeping forums online. Of course, I hope to have the opportunity to get hands on with bees at some point during the year as well. I will get my bee order in good and early, and be ready to go next May or June when the bees are. Can't wait!

11 April 2011

Monday forest photo: April 11, 2011

12:15pm 21C cloudy
Glorious spring! The picture does not capture the warm humid air and the narcotic smell of the balsam fir. Farther along the trail in the cedar grove there is still some snow and the trail is icy, but that doesn't matter today. We saw a garter snake on our walk and heard the spring peepers in full song.

04 April 2011

Monday forest photo: April 4, 2011

12:10pm 2C light rain
I had hoped the snow would be all gone by now, but this is a pretty typical spring melt for around here. It's nice to see the ground again and smell the soil. Hopefully by next week the ground will have thawed in the garden enough to play around in.

01 April 2011

A bit of a brag and a request for advice

Reach For The Top is a Canadian quiz show for teams of high school students that has been around in one form or another since 1961 (And Alex Trebek was Quizmaster from 1969-1973!). The teams are composed of the best and brightest from participating schools. I'll admit that back in the day I was not one of the best or brightest from my school. My daughter Madeleine, on the other hand, is in grade 9 and is already competing with senior students on her school's Reach team. Not that I needed more evidence, but I take this as proof that she's a real smarty pants. I'm not a huge fan of the public education system, so Madeleine and I unschooled (a fancy word for not doing almost nothing that looks like school) for what would have been her middle school years, but she felt very strongly that she wanted to go to high school and so she did. Academically, she's thriving there, which is pretty good for a grade 6 dropout, but it makes me wonder what the other kids were doing while Madeleine was watching The Simpsons for two years. All this to say that I think, like most parents, that my kid is pretty special.

Quite often, Miss Smarty Pants and I will talk about life after high school and beyond. Miss Pants is interested in pursuing a PhD in some kind of science and that makes perfect sense given her interests and intelligence. As long as things remain sort of the same as they have been for the last couple of decades it seems like a good plan. The problem is, I don't really see the next decades playing out that way. Instead of increasing prosperity and consumption, I see society bumping up against hard limits of energy, climate and economics and a resulting overall decrease in wealth. I don't even know if it makes any difference, as people have sought higher education during all kinds of turmoil. I am concerned that being in school for many years will result in high levels of student debt that will sentence her to wage slavery for many more years afterward.

There's a bit of a theme in doomer circles to suggest that the only careers that have any future are organic farming and emergency medical technicians. I'm certain this isn't true, but there are jobs that don't make sense in a lower energy world. I wouldn't suggest commissioned SeaDoo sales, for example. Dmitry Orlov makes a good point in his blog today. He says that most of us are stuck thinking we will have financial security by having or keeping more money, when what we really ought to be doing is needing less. Voluntary poverty will be a lot easier than involuntary. Given that, probably the best advice I can come up with is to do whatever you would do for free, and keep your needs simple so you can do it even if there are hard times. Unfortunately, student debt is a great way to ensure that your income requirements remain high for a long time.

What would you tell Madeleine on the subject of preparing for life in an uncertain future? I'm interested to know what other peak aware folks tell their kids.


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