The sky turned white and it snowed (sideways) for 36 hours this weekend.
With the return of feels-like-January weather, I can feel that I have a severe case of cabin fever (it’s a real thing).
noun (informal) irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms resulting from long confinement or isolation indoors during the winter.
Yes, that’s what I feel—listlessness. A complete lack of interest in doing anything. I have no energy to engage in any of my usual modes of entertainment: reading, going outside, garden planning, conversing with others. Instead, I have spent a substantial amount of time napping and doing essentially nothing.
This afternoon the sun came out and we did go for a short ski, but didn’t stay out too long on account of strong winds.
In retrospect, I wish we’d have bundled up better, taken the snowshoes, and spent more time outside.
Last week I was in Massachusetts, where the weather was comparatively more spring-like. I made a quick trip to a nature area that I’d been to last year, also in late March. There was no snow, open water, and ducks and geese. I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear the familiar quacks of a mallards and to see waterfowl swimming through flooded forest.
It will be another month before we have ducks floating through our flooded woods, and today the wait feels like forever!
Hi everyone! I’m trying something a bit different today. We’ve been fortunate to have sunny and gorgeous weather around here the past few days, which means that it’s time to tap maple trees for sugaring.
This is the fifth year that we’ll be making maple syrup as part of a community effort that involves three properties, nine core households, and a fair number of visitors. We tap 32 sugar maples that surround our house.
While we use traditional metal spiles (taps) and buckets in the neighbors’ woods, we have a cheap-and-easy set up at our house using a lot of free and borrowed materials: plastic spiles and short segments of tubing lead to 4-gallon buckets placed on the ground. It doesn’t get much easier than this:
We’ll be tapping the remaining trees this weekend and collecting sap for the next month or so. This is always one of my favorite times of year because it gives us something to do and a reason to be outside during that last bit of winter that can so easily lead to cabin fever. Stay tuned for updates!
The trout lilies are blooming! This is a good sign that spring is really here, and a great time to go out in the woods and check out all the spring ephemerals before the mosquitoes come out.
Trout lilies also provide a great opportunity to do a little bit of citizen science. The Trout Lily Project is collecting basic data on some plant characteristics where you live to answer questions about plant-to-plant variation and pollen trails.
All you have to do is go outside and take a look at the trout lilies nearest you and see whether they have red or yellow anthers (don’t worry— it’s easy to tell!). You’ll make a few observations (detailed on the site if you have questions) on the following:
Date of observation
Number of flowers observed
Presence of yellow anthers
Presence of red-orange anthers
Estimated percent of anthers that are yellow
Once you do that, you enter your observations through the CitSci.org website. And then… you automatically become A SCIENTIST!!!
Please go look, post your data, and then tell us what you found!
Foraging is something I’ve said that I want to do more of this year. I keep waiting and waiting, but it’s still early spring. Even a week ago we had enough snow to cover the ground.
The forest is just starting to wake up for spring. And, in this case, waking up seems to be more like the prolonged lingering one does on a weekend morning when you really don’t want to get out of bed. The earth is sleeping in, and won’t wake up and get going until it has to.
This makes me extra grateful for leeks (aka ramps, aka Allium tricoccum). The leeks started to emerge a few weeks ago, just after the silver maple began to bud out and the geese started to come back. Now the leeks have grown to their full height and are found in large patches in the woods near our property.
I’ve been going out to collect leeks in the woods. I don’t collect the ones nearest to us; instead, I make sure to go a little farther into the woods and find areas where they are especially dense.
Often I’ll just use a scissors to cut of the green leaves, removing a handful here and there to thin out the patches. I figure that this only temporarily sets back the plants and doesn’t disturb the soil. Most the time the leaves are enough anyway, adding just a bit of onion-garlic taste to a dish.
One day I went out with a digging fork to dig up entire plants, and I suspect that I’ll do this more in later spring as the leaves start to decline and the bulbs grow. The digging fork is preferable to a shovel, as it helps lift and break apart the soil so that it is easier to grab individual plants without breaking them. Just like when I cut the tops off, I only disturb a small number of plants in any one place. I dig up a forkful on one location and then move several feet away to a new place to minimize disturbance on the site.
There are still seeds on many of the leek plants left over from last year. I’ve been gathering some of these and placing them in the hole as I replace the disturbed soil. If the seeds are still viable, hopefully they’ll grow new plants for next year. When I cut the roots off of the plants to cook them, I dig a hole in the right type of soil and bury them close to the cottage, hoping some of those might manage to grow into new plants as well. And perhaps I’ll gather some seeds and plant those as well.
Cooking with Leeks
I’m still gathering and playing with recipes for leeks, but here are a few that have caught my eye and my imagination:
Wild & Wonderful Ramp Chowder (via Health Starts in the Kitchen) — I made this simple chowder for dinner and it worked really well. Not being one to ever follow a recipe as written, I only used about half the cream and cheese that the recipe called for and instead cooked about a quarter of a cauliflower and creamed it with an immersion blender to get the thick, creamy consistency.
Ramp Pesto (via Hunter Angler Gardener Cook) — To be honest, I didn’t follow this recipe too closely at all, and I borrowed a lot of ideas from this simpler one that omits the fancy cheese and uses sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts. In this case, the recipe mash-up was important because the first one described the importance of blanching the leek leaves in order to keep the pesto from turning that yucky brown color. The result from the recipe mash-up was amazing.
31 Days of Nature is a challenge to spend every day of May 2017 outdoors. All you have to do is spend at least 30 minutes outdoors each day. In order to make the 30 minutes count, you have to get your hands or feet on the earth in some way, shape, or form.
I’m going to play along, even though I’m a little nervous about being able to pull it off. I’m especially nervous about May 1, given the forecast for 40 degrees, rain, and strong wind.
I’m good at getting outside when the weather is nice and when my schedule allows, but I still wimp out a lot more than I’d like to when it’s not as easy to go out. This should be a good opportunity to see when and where I run into resistance and experiment with getting over it.
I hope you’ll do the challenge too!
Here are a few ideas for what to do this May to spend time outside:
April has flown by, and I can’t believe that it’s been over a month since I last posted. It’s not like anything too out of the ordinary has happened—there was work travel at the beginning of the month, maple sugaring on the weekends, and a lot of time getting our cottage up and running for spring—but I’ve been pulled in more directions than normal the past month and not able to write.
The weather has been yo-yoing between nice and not-so-nice. We’ll occasionally have a beautiful spring day, which will invariably be followed by days of cold, rainy weather.
When I looked at the weather forecast this week, Tuesday was supposed to be the best day of the week and so I planned to meet Sara at Silver Mountain to go for a hike and deliver some gardening goods. The “mountain” (which is only about 250 feel tall) in only about a half hour from my house, so it’s someplace that I seem to go about once a year. Usually I go there in the fall to see how the colors are shaping up; I don’t know if I’ve ever been there in the spring.
It was a gorgeous early spring day, with the temperature warm and near 70 degrees. The trail was pretty dry, and we meandered around the top of the mountain catching up on everything that was new since we last talked in the fall. The scenic views aren’t particularly exciting this time of year since the trees are only just starting to bud out. The real action this time of year is in the forest understory, where plants are just starting to pop up and flower.
As we walked along, Sara told me how Silver Mountain is amazing because its made out of the lava that used to be the center of a volcano. She told me this repeatedly, and each time we’d stop and try to imagine how where we were standing would have been somewhere inside of a volcano. Later on, we hit an area where the rock was smooth and undulating, almost like waves on water. A small sign tacked on a tree said ‘glacial striations’ to point out this phenomenon. I couldn’t help think that Glacial Striations would be a really good band name, and imagined a group of gray-haired individuals strumming guitars and signing upbeat oldies music
We kept meandering and found a trail that seemed to lead down the mountain on the south side. Neither of us had ever been that way before, so we decided to go that way since it would be a slower route back and give us more time to be outside. We worked our way down the mountain, from rock outcrop through oak and pine and down to the bottom of the mountain, which is northern hardwood forest.
The spring ephemerals are just starting to come out, which is always exciting. These plants are visible for just a little while, popping up around the end of April or early May and only sticking around for a few weeks. I’ve been seeing wild leeks starting to come up since mid-April, but it’s only now that the other plants are starting to show and flower.
The trail we were on wound around the south side of the mountain and then curled northward back toward the parking area. It was not far from the parking area that we encountered a stretch of sheer cliffs. I’d heard that there were some cliffs on the mountain, but never seen them. A friend just recently mentioned that the area is becoming more popular for rock climbing, and I could immediately see why after seeing this clean, rock wall.
I feel a little silly that I’d never seen this part of the mountain before, even though I’ve probably hiked to the summit about 15 times in as many years and these cliff faces are not more than a quarter mile from the parking area. It’s a good reminder to explore places a bit more and not be in such a rush to get to the top. And, also, to revisit familiar places at different times of the year since a different season will make it a different place.
I have a lot of questions. Many of these are of the existential what-does-it-all-mean variety that I suspect I’ll never have answers to.
But, for the purposes of this blog, I generally have two big questions that I’m trying to learn more about:
1) What are the ways that nature can enhance our health and happiness?
I think we generally have intuitive sense that nature is good for us, that it’s good to get fresh air, to go for a walk, to get a way from it all. As I dig more deeply into this subject, it’s amazing to learn just how good spending time in nature is for people and for entire communities. In many ways, it’s the perfect antidote to our many of our modern problems, including stress, busyness, and disconnection. Time with nature can reduce anxiety, improve creativity, and boost immunity to diseases like cancer. It can lead to longer lifespans and provide inspiration and a sense of belonging.
2) What are some practical ways to spend more time with nature?
With all of those benefits, it seems clear that many of us could benefit from spending more time with nature. But how to we realistically do that when we feel busy and overstretched? Where do we find time in the day to go outside when the rest of the world is increasingly inside? I struggle with this as much as anybody—even living rurally and being a moderately outdoorsy person, I still have plenty of days where I don’t spend any time outside or connected to nature. This is why I’m interested in finding ways to experience ordinary, everyday nature as I am in planning big, wild adventures.
That’s where my mind is these days, so I hope that you’ll come back and learn more with me!
Admission: I avoided snowshoeing for the longest time. It always seemed so slow and boring compared to cross country skiing. My thinking was: Why plod when you can race?!?! But I changed my tune this winter and have been snowshoeing a lot, to visit the cottage, to find chaga, to gather water (more on that in a future post).
I contributed a post to the Hike Like a Woman site that went live today (and we still have snow here!). It’s called “Winter is for Snowshoeing,” and you should read it and check out the posts by other Hike Like a Woman contributors and ambassadors. Read it now!