Posted on | November 28, 2013 | 1 Comment
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
Posted on | November 21, 2013 | No Comments
Every year, when visiting my mother in Boynton Beach, Florida we make the short trek to Wakodahatchee, which is a wetlands that processes the human “waste” for all of Boynton Beach proper. The collection of wildlife that congregates at the wetlands is extravagant and glorious to behold. Photos taken by my ten year old daughter with the observational eye of an artist!
Posted on | November 15, 2013 | 1 Comment
Posted on | November 7, 2013 | 1 Comment
The maple trees in Vermont are dying. The price of pure Vermont maple syrup has shot up considerably. It takes a lot of sap to brew a quart of maple syrup, and it only happens one time a year. Some of the larger trees are simply collapsing, falling over, even in New York towns bordering Vermont. Chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease. Kind of makes one wonder. Real Vermont maple syrup, but the maple is a prolific tree of many species growing to massive proportions in a variety of habitats. “Yeah, but Canadian maple syrup isn’t pure Vermont”, you say? Hey, what’s in a name? Anyway, syrup is not the maple’s only claim to fame. Beauty and utility combine to make the maple an extraordinarily lofty being.
The three most prolific maples (acer spp), the red, silver and sugar maples, grow from the Northeast U.S. and southern Canada south to West Virginia and Kentucky, and west beyond the Great Lakes. Maples average between 70 and 120 feet height, and thirty inches in diameter at the trunk. They can grow to large dimensions and spread branches, when not obstructed by other trees, to great lengths. The five-lobed leaf is a familiar sight. The leaves grow in pairs with whirligig, paired seeds emerging from leaf axils. These are called samaras. Depending on species, samaras appear either in the fall or spring. Other varieties of maple include the Norway, striped, big leaf, and the one species in the Western U.S., the Rocky Mountain maple. Several Oriental varieties are mainstays of American gardens, especially the red leafed maples that add such a deeply luscious maroon color to many garden plots. In autumn, these maroon leaves turn a brilliant scarlet, contrasting exquisitely with the oranges and yellows of other maples.
Flowers precede leaves in spring, red clusters on red maples, pendant yellows on Rocky Mountain maples, greenish-yellow on vine maples. The most unique of all the maples is the boxelder, or ashleaf maple (acer negundo), whose leaves are compound (similar to ash and various nut trees), irregularly lobed and toothed. Boxelders are prolific along swamps, waterways, and they are, in many cases, pioneer trees in the Western U.S.
Maple wood, used for woodworking, is close or straight-grained, quilted, wavy, or bird’s eye in texture, white to red, hard or soft, and it is found on everything from dance floors to butcher block counter tops.
Squirrels and chipmunks strip the seeds of wings and eat them or cache many for winter store. Birds build nests from seed or leaf stalks. Many birds prefer the maple as a nesting site. Grosbeaks, chickadees, finches, and nuthatches cruise the maple for seeds, buds and flowers. Porcupine, black bear, rabbit, raccoon, eat bark, twigs, seeds and flowers. Small rodents prefer the seeds. Deer, elk, and moose browse twigs and foliage. Aphids eat maple leaves and excrete a sweet dew digestate that coats leaves with a varnish. Maple leaves, in general, have tough sheaths around them, and they contain tannins that tend to limit ingestion by insects to very few species, although box-elder rollers, larval insects, roll leaf edges around themselves for protection while feeding on boxelder leaves.
Maple bark, although not containing as much tannin as oak, is astringent and is used, in decoction, as an all purpose skin wash for irritated skin and sore eyes. Boxelder inner bark is emetic, and the inner bark of other maples is used for coughs, diarrhea, kidney infections, colds, bronchitis, and as a blood purifier. The pure, watery sap is a spring tonic, and leaf and twig tea can allay nausea.
I have eaten maple flower blossoms in the spring as a trailside nibble, but the most well know food extracted from maples is maple syrup. Although thirty to forty gallons of sap is required to produce one quart of syrup, it is well worth the effort. From January to April spiles (tubes) are inserted into the tree, with bucket beneath, and the raw sap is collected. It is boiled to a thick consistency and readied for the breakfast table.
Maple sap is an important survival water source when stream, pond, or ground water is not easily accessible. Other trees, such as birch and sycamore can also be tapped for sap. Grapevines, when sliced a few feet above the ground, yield a flow of moisture for mouth or container.
The line of boxelders, maybe eight altogether, grew from the pond up the embankment, past the garage and shop and out beyond the barn. It appeared that this line of trees was growing on a water vein that kept their thirst at bay and gave them plenty of the nutrients they would need. Around the farm, red, striped, silver, and sugar maples thrived. One brisk, clear spring morning, three of us walked outside, responding to grunts and a peculiar assortment of barks, screams and whining. The boxelder near the barn contained one very large raccoon. The staring match commenced. We were delighted. Whether he was or not, is another story. All day long he sat in that boxelder and stared. I had used many branches from that tree to make spindles for bow drill fires. And the local opossum frequented that same tree. Popular spot. By nightfall the raccoon still sat and watched us watching him, not moving a muscle. We watched him, he watched us. We got tired, went into the farmhouse, went to sleep. The next morning he was gone. Two days later I was wandering, somewhat drunk on spring, amongst the red maples in the woods surrounding the farm, when I heard a branch crack overhead. Looking up, I spotted a raccoon eating maple blossoms. When he saw me, he stopped. I sought out my two observant friends. The staring match began. It lasted most of the day. Not a muscle moved, not a sound uttered. I guess the moral of this story is: when you see a raccoon in your boxelder tree, do not expect much. And, two, days later, when the same raccoon shows up in your red maple tree do not expect much. Just sit quietly, watch, listen and be still.
Posted on | October 29, 2013 | No Comments
Posted on | October 26, 2013 | 1 Comment
It is difficult to drive down America’s highways without seeing tall stalks of mullein on almost every embankment. At times I have gotten so mesmerized with this plant that not even the person behind me blowing their horn and screaming loudly can get me to move any faster. The yellow blossoms at the top of the spike are the main attraction. When they begin to bloom in late spring I am a goner. I could not begin to count all the times I’ve pulled over to the shoulder of the road to sit next to the mullein plant. The velvetleaf rosettes climb the stalk until a burst of scintillating yellow grabs your attention, rivets you there. And when you finally come to, and take a look down at the embankment, and there’s a state trooper, light’s flashing, checking out your car (and you), you quickly pull a leaf from the mullein, rumble down to the highway, and present your treasure to the trooper (with a big, toothful smile, of course). After all, why do you think state troopers are constantly pulling people over? It is not to give tickets. No. It is simply to get a closer view of the mullein. Right?
Common mullein (verbascum Thapsus), also called velvetleaf, flannel leaf, Aaron’s rod, Jacob’s staff, and a variety of very descriptive titles, was originally brought here form Europe, becoming well established by the 1700’s. Mullein is biennial, producing a rosette of wooly leaves the first year, a tall stalk (up to six feet), topped by clusters of five-petal, sessile yellow flowers, the second. The leaves spiral up the stalk. 150,000 seeds are produced each second year and some of them can lie dormant for as many as one hundred years or reproduce immediately. Many bugs and beetles lay eggs and feed on mullein, especially within the middle of the first year leaf rosettes, and in the flowers. The yellow flowers bloom from June through September, and the stalks stand tall through the winter. The low-lying rosettes stay green through cold weather and snow.
Of all herbs used to treat respiratory infections and congestion, mullein is one of the foremost. It tones the mucous membranes and facilitates expectoration. Its demulcent qualities soothe soar throat and inflammation. Bronchitis, catarrh, hoarseness are all treated with mullein. This can be done with an infusion of the leaves or the dried leaves can be smoked. The leaves are a mild sedative, and they will help cleanse an overburdened digestive tract. A tea of the more astringent root helps stop diarrhea and bleeding, and is used as a wash for eye soreness. The leaves are also poulticed on sores, cuts, and skin inflammations. The whole leaf is wrapped around a sprain to ease pain and bring good circulation to the injured site.
A tea is made from the seeds of mullein is poured into a pond to stupify fish, for easy harvest.
The stalk is the preferred drill for making friction fire by hand. The brown stalk is taken, stripped of old dry leaves, shaved with a knife-edge and rounded off. This stalk is twirled between the hands on a notched fireboard, creating heat and a powdered residue that will soon, when hot enough, produce a coal to be dropped into a tinder nest for ignition.
I have made some fairly straight flying arrows from mullein stalks, but to get the right size, straightness, and proper weight is very difficult.
We used to laugh standing near mullein plants, thinking about the leaves as “survival” toilet paper or “primitive” halter-tops. And yet, this strong and powerful plant keeps us in awe. The mullein, naked on a hillside, withstands scorching summer sun and sub-zero winter winds. The beautiful, velvet, leaves must act as insulation against the cold. Yet, another possible use of mullein for us also.keep looking »