Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seeing Trees

I am reading, nay absorbing a wonderful book right now.

This book is a celebration of the incredible beauty of the parts of trees that very often go unnoticed, like a new leaf unfurling, bark texture, flowers and tell-tale leaf scars on twigs.

Author Nancy Ross Hugo and photographer Robert Llewellyn are advocates for 'intimate tree viewing'. "To my mind, the biggest reward of intimate tree watching is learning to appreciate the vitality of trees. Because trees are big and essentially stationary, there is tendency to view them almost like monuments- impressive but inanimate... Not so when you are actively observing growing buds, flowers, fruits and other tree traits that take less time than a trunk to develop."

This kind of close watching allows the viewer to develop a very deep, personal understanding of the trees around them, like getting to know an old friend or lover over the years. One sees the inner workings, habits and traits of the trees and it's impossible to be left unmoved or untouched.

"Look carefully, for example, at the hair, veins, pores and other wildly vivifying tree characteristics captured in the photographs in this book, and you'll never see a tree in the same way again." And it's true, the photographs are just stunning. I can't get enough of them. The video at the end of the post details the techniques used to achieve the exceptional clarity and quality of the photos.

One of the assignments for my permaculture course was a nature awareness exercise. I had to choose a spot in nature and regularly visit that spot, spending 15 minutes each time observing the space and then recording my observations in a formal journal entry. I picked one of the catalpas growing in the park behind my house.

After the first few observations I wondered if I should have picked a larger area rather than just one tree. But as I circled the tree I kept getting closer and closer to it and looking at smaller and smaller details. I noticed the velvety hairs on the underside of the leaves and which parts of the trunk got wet or stayed dry in the rain. I noticed all the insects on the bark- mostly ants and ladybugs. Finally, on one of my last observations I watched a wasp as it slowly settled into one of the deep grooves in the bark. Following up on my observation, I learned that queen wasps will leave the colony in the fall and find a place to overwinter, often in the bark of trees.

I can't tell you how magical it felt to witness that scene and gain that little piece of understanding. Something that I already generally knew: trees are homes to creatures, took on a new meaning for me. Bark is shelter.

Hugo and Llewellyn write that their "goal in creating the book was to get people outdoors searching for tree phenomena like the ones we observed, because what is startling in Bob's photographs is infinitely more inspiring outdoors, where it can be appreciated in context and with all the senses. And it is in the process of discovering these phenomena in nature that the real joy of tree-watching resides."


Thursday, February 23, 2012

For the next six weeks...

...I will be busy with this course.

This was the agenda for the first session last night.

It's kind of pee-in-your-pants exciting!

(Don't worry, I managed to keep all my pee where it belongs. In the compost of course.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Going to the Extremities

Here are my two most recent craft projects.

These used to be my favourite pair of knee socks. I darned the holes in them devotedly and stretched their life as long as possible, until finally the holes just couldn't be patched anymore. So I cut the feet out and crocheted onto the ends, creating long, fingerless gloves that go all the way up to my elbow.

I picked up this white sweater at a thrift store and was sad when I got a rust stain on it that wouldn't come out.

I cut the sleeves off at the seam, chopped off some extra material I didn't need, cut the collar out of the top of the sweater, chopped the collar in half and sewed a half on to each sleeve to create a cuff and ended up with a pair of Fame-worthy leg warmers (and immediately gained 80's super powers of being able to frizz people's bangs and working 'like totally for sure!' into conversations).

After performing a vigorous and sweaty dance routine in a big warehouse space, I did yoga in them this morning.

What I really like about these projects is that they add an extra layer of warmth to my extremities. When it comes to cutting back on heating use I believe one of the most efficient things you can do is heat the person, rather than the space, and the simple addition of these two items of clothing do a surprisingly good job of just that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More Mending Please!

I've finished all my mending! This is unfortunate because one of the clients at the clinic where I work, gifted me with the DVD series of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, North and South, Wives and Daughters and the first two seasons of Downton Abbey. I'm in the throes of British period drama ecstasy, but running out of reasons to affix myself to the couch cushions for hours at a time. I'm repurposing an old sweater with a stain that won't come out, by turning the sleeves into legwarmers (which apparently are back in style with the kids) and all I've left to do is sew a cuff on the second one and that's it for sewing projects. I'm seriously considering ripping out a few seams here and there to keep me going! As for wishing for an early spring? Not a chance. Anyone got any buttons that need reattaching?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Well now, that's handy!

I just finished reading this book by Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing fame and Make Magazine. While it seems that he approaches DIY and maker culture from a different perspective and perhaps with other motivations than say the Transitioners, permies, peak oilers and zombie apocalypse preppers among us, he treads a lot of common ground and the end result is the same, namely, a greater sense of resilience and control over one's life, a better appreciation for the resources used and waste produced by consuming 'stuff' and "a deeper connection and more rewarding sense of involvement with the world around us."

One of his main goals is "to improve my family's home life by taking an active role in the things that feed, clothe, educate, maintain and entertain us", and to that end he takes on a number of DIY projects, some of which include planting a garden, raising chickens, keeping bees and fermenting sauerkraut. He encourages people to not fear making mistakes, but rather see them as an essential part of the process. He frames everything within the context of a busy family life, raising two small children. And he focuses an articulate, critical lens on a consumer culture that is overly saturated with designed-for-the-dump, low quality goods.

He also profiles some really great DIYers, some familiar and many new to me, and shares stories of their projects and expertise. I loved the list of Mister Jalopy's Maker's Bill of Rights, which includes things like:
  • cases shall be easy to open
  • special tools are allowed only for darn good reasons
  • if it snaps shut, it shall snap open
  • screws are better than glues
  • ease of repair shall be a design ideal, not an afterthought

At the end, Frauenfelder reflects on his DIY adventures, musing, "Now that I am making and fixing some of my own things, I've developed a more meaningful connection to the human-made objects and systems I use...The small degree of autonomy I've attained as a DIYer has had a big payoff...I like knowing I can make something that way I want it to be."

This was a fun and informative read. Well worth a trip to the library!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Winter or Expand Your Wardrobe For Free!

This post will probably be a let down after that long winded title, but onwards anyway!

So as stated, I have indeed learned to love winter. You know how people say they learned to love winter by taking up winter activities like skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and the like? Yeah, that's not the case with me. I mean, I do like being outdoors in the winter. I enjoy hiking and snowshoeing and I try to get fresh air and exercise most days. But winter for me is really about indulging my inner lazy bones and tendency to enjoy deep rest and relaxation. I love taking the time to slow down and stay in, all cosy under blankets and being a real homebody.

I know that as soon as the days begin to warm up and things start growing, I'll be spending most of my free time outdoors, and on those impossibly long summer days, that can sometimes mean being outside until near 10pm. By the time I come in from a day like that, I'm ready for bed.

So in winter I like to work on all the projects and tasks that are well suited to the indoors. I organise paperwork and clean (slightly) more regularly. It's a good time for continuing education too and this winter I'm working my way through an online botany course and I'm starting an online anatomy course next month. I love reading all year long, but it's in winter that I really settle in and go through one book after another, reading in great chunks of time rather than catching a few minutes here or there. Handwork is another pleasurable activity that I do much more of in the winter.

And this, my dears, is the secret to expanding your wardrobe for free. I pulled out all my mending that had piled up over the last year and started in on it. For a few pleasant hours of easy work while watching episodes of the Victorian Kitchen Garden, I put back into action 3 tank tops, 2 pairs of pyjama bottoms, 1 3/4 length tee, 1 short sleeve, button up blouse and I turned a pair of beyond repair knee socks into elbow length fingerless gloves. And the best part about it is: I can watch 'my programs' online guilt free and not feel like a couch potato, because I'm being productive at the same time.

Then again, sometimes on the dreariest, coldest, darkest of days I say screw productivity, screw 'educational' online viewing. I'm not doing anything except watching back to back episodes of Shameless and Happy Endings until I pass out and start to drool. 'Cause that's what winter's for and I love it! Spring and its To Do list will be here soon enough. I'm happy to wait.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hee Hee!

"God the compost smells amazaing today." Ok, yes, I'm guilty of that one!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Winter Weed Walk

From the moment my love affair with plants began, a favourite past time of mine has been IDing plants in the winter. Well, I should clarify that. I'm not keying out and IDing plants that are new and unknown to me, rather I am recognising familiar and beloved plants in their winter dress.

With a growing passion for plant medicine and wild foods, I really value getting to know the plants in every stage of their growth, in all the seasons. For example, knowing the difference between the first and second year growth of a biennial plant and what the season is, determines whether or not the plant can be harvested. Recognising seedlings in the spring with their adorable cotyledon leaves and tiny first set of true leaves is exciting and full of anticipation. The lushness and riot of colour of plants in the summer engages all of the senses until you're drunk on the sights and scents around you.

But plants in the winter have a special magic and mystique too. They often show parts of themselves that are difficult to see at any other time. They add a wonderful architecture to the winter landscape, and sometimes even a splash of colour. I find the yellow of delicate willow branches so cheerful on grey days and the dark red of red osier dogwood against a backdrop of snow makes for a nice contrast.

Winter plants also serve an essential function in the eco-system providing food and shelter for birds and animals, like the galls on goldenrods that house two species of cold-hardy insect larvae. I can't help but have respect for all the stalks and stems that remain stoic in the face of buffeting winds, freezing temperatures and icy conditions.

When IDing plants in the winter, I find it helpful to already have an idea of where certain plants are growing. I found this boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) plant while out for a walk at my dad's place, because I've observed boneset growing along that stretch of road for a few years.

Knowing the unique features of a particular plant can help with ID as well. Boneset has perfoliate leaves, which means that the leaf is united around the stem and appears to be pierced by the stem. It's a bit difficult to tell in the photo (clicking to enlarge the photo might help), but I could clearly see the perfoliate leaf, and so I knew that I found boneset.
I don't usually like to stand around for too long, especially when the temperatures are really cold, so I'll often bring a specimen home where it's warm, where I can take a closer look, with a mug of hot tea. I could clearly see the sepals on this boneset, now that the flowers had all died back.
The umbels of Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota), and its distinctive bird's nest shape, make this an easy plant to spot in winter.
The seeds are covered in hooked, bristly hairs.

The flat-topped corymb of this yarrow (Achillea millefolium) plant looks completely different in the winter, than when it is in flower, and I might not have recognised it were it not for the few remaining, feathery leaves on the stalk.
Burdock is one of those plants that you can identify from a vehicle going 100kms an hour, it's so obvious in the landscape.
A closeup of the burrs reveals the hooks which inspired the invention of Velcro, and is the bane of dog owners everywhere.
Finding rose hips in the winter landscape is a special treat. Pick the best looking, plumpest ones and bring them home to make a wonderfully tart tea. Be sure to leave some for wildlife though. They need all the help they can get at this lean time of year.
I have yet to figure out what this fruiting shrub is, but the horizontal marks on the bark make me think it might be in the Prunus genus.
My winter walks have taken on a whole new dimension of wonder and exploration. It's no longer a time of stark, barrenness that leaves me longing for spring. Each outing offers something new to observe, and to me, the plants are just as beautiful in their winter dress as they are in their summer finery.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

An Exquisite Mind

I just inhaled this book. What a life! What an adventurer. I can't help but look at the natural world with fresh new eyes after reading this.

If you have an interest in sailing, 17th and 18th century exploration, natural history, intrigue on the high seas, buccaneering, plundering Spanish galleons for pieces of eight, mutiny, marooning, navigation, salty dogs, scurvy, rum and eating rats, then arrr matey!* this book about the life of William Dampier is for you.

*Hollywood style pirate language does not actually appear in the book, however mention of talking parrots kept by sailors as pets, does.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tales From the Green Valley

Oh my goodness you guys!!! Guess what? Before there was the Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm, there was Tales from the Green Valley!

There's hedge laying, plant medicine making, wattle and daubing and all kind of 17th century farm intrigue and excitement. So pour yourself a mug of ale or make yourself a posset and enjoy!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Urine For a Real Treat!

I know you all know this already but I just had to share this article that popped up in my FB newsfeed this morning. It's official folks, your wee is good for the garden! Science says so.

"Allotment growers can enrich the soil and therefore their plants using their own wee, according to a new study...

...Report author Surenda Pradhen said the findings could lead to a new source of cheap fertiliser without the need to use potentially dangerous chemicals.

'The results suggest that urine with or without wood ash can be used as a substitute for mineral fertiliser to increase the yields of tomato without posing any microbial or chemical risks,' she concluded."

Those scientists sure are real whizzes!