At the beginning of each camp day we – campers and counselors – might share a special or unusual natural happening or event that we experienced the day before. We call these sharings and the actual event or thing, Natural Moments. As we are out and about in our world, which is also the world of nature, there are many opportunities to see, hear, smell or touch something ‘cool’. It’s a moment that might make us just whisper inside ourselves, WOW, which I contend is the acronym for ‘With-Out-Words’. A Natural Moment takes us out of ourselves and makes us feel part of a bigger something.
To increase the chances of Natural Moments, two things have to happen: A) be outdoors and B) pay attention.
A Natural Moment that I recently experienced:
I took my youngest, Nathaniel, to a local mall for a bit of Mother’s Day shopping. When we got out of the car we saw, no, we were in the middle of, waves, close-to-the-ground, of delicate white petals being blown first in one direction and then in another. We just watched for two minutes as the waves of petals scooted across the strip mall parking lot, around cars, some being ‘caught’ in puddles. Nathaniel said it was like snowflakes that never melt. We wondered where the final resting places would be for the petals. Or even it there is such a thing as a ‘final place’.
There is no ‘right’ place for nature, for Natural Moments, for the chance to say WOW. Every place, even the mall parking lot, can be a nature place.
April showers bring May flowers. But what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims! And honeybees. This past Saturday a swarm of bees left one of our hives near the garden and took up temporary residence in a nearby cherry tree, fortunately not too high from the ground. Bill Day, our local bee expert, came with a few volunteers to gather the swarm and give it a home in our apiary (no easy task).
Bill put a hive box underneath the branch where the swarm was gathered, and then cut the slender branch, causing the cluster to fall into the box. There was a lot of intense buzzing in the air with many bees flying all around wondering what had happened. Our hope was that the queen, formerly in the center of the cluster, was in the box, which would draw the other bees to her. To our surprise, many of the bees began to cluster upon the same tree again, making us uncertain whether we had gotten the queen or not. There wasn’t any clear way to tell as there were so many bees in the box and yet so many on the tree. Even the bees seemed unclear about where to go. We waited and waited, and eventually the bees that had clustered on the tree made their way to the box. Bill took the box to his basement so the bees could calm down in the cool and dark environment.
On Sunday this new colony was introduced into its new hive within our apiary and all is well.
One of the things I love most about this month is the appearance of Milkweed plants. These miracles of nature contribute so much to our world that they deserve far more respect than we give them. They are the major food source for the Monarch butterfly. Millions of these majestic little creatures migrate every year between the USA and Mexico. However, so many of the milkweed plants have been killed off in recent years that it has seriously diminished the Monarch population.
For this reason, I am very cautious about harvesting milkweed as food. In May, I harvest the shoots, knowing that the plant will reestablish itself, so long as I leave the root intact. Even then, I am careful not to pick too many. The cooked shoots (with the leaves removed) taste a lot like asparagus. The leaves too can be cooked and eaten, much like spinach.
The next parts of the plant that are edible are the flower buds. Each plant has several clusters of flowers, but I’ll rarely remove more than one bunch from a plant, to ensure there’s enough for it to reproduce. The unopened blossoms can be cooked and used in place of peas or capers, or used to decorate dishes. Once opened, the flowers make a nice addition to salads and soups or a garnish.
Once the flowers have gone, they leave behind seed pods, which are crunchy and delicious. However, after a couple of weeks, they become tough and inedible. I only gather pods when there are a lot of them, as this is the most important part to protect. Once they have ripened and the seeds turn brown, the pods split and allow the seeds to escape on the wind. That is a good time to gather them, if you want to start growing your own plants.
The silky parachutes that carry the seeds, provide a very effective tinder for starting a flame, using flint and steel or a bow drill. The stem of the older plants can be stripped of its outer layer, which can be twisted into twine, and used to make the bow. So, from the time it first appears, until the plant dies off, it can be used in a number of ways, not to mention that the sap is very effective for removing warts.
Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He leads identification walks once a month in our area. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at www.suburbanforagers.com.
Walking up to the farm on a balmy evening in early May, the night is relatively quiet. The only sound besides our feet on the earth is that of a few drops of water, leftover from rain earlier in the day, dripping from new leaves to the ground beneath them. But as we crest the hill, the farm house and cow pasture at the end of the lane ahead of us, we start to hear them, the raucous singers of spring. ‘Peep…eep…PEEP!..Pee..Peep!’
We get closer, and this nighttime chorus becomes so loud we have to raise our voices in speaking to one another in order to hear ourselves talk. The marshy, wooded little pond next to the farm is a home for spring peepers, the tiniest of vernal vocalists emitting their proportionally LOUD mating calls, attracting froggy partners as well as us curious humans.
Garbed with a good pair of boots, flashlights, and a sense of adventure, we’ll be taking our annual pilgrimage to the citadel of springtime, the peeper pond next to Duryea Farm, on Saturday evening, May 3rd, beginning at 7:30 pm. This event is for children with their parents, as the night is dark, the path is brambly, and ‘hunting’ for spring peepers is an endeavor that requires care, patience, and helpful, watchful eyes.
We’ll meet in front of the lower school at Green Meadow, 307 Hungry Hollow Road, in Chestnut Ridge, NY to begin our adventure.
Adventure into the wild with us on our Spring Peeper Hunt!
Sometimes it feels that opportunities for earth art present themselves everywhere. One of these moments will soon be on your lawn or at least somewhere close to your home. You just may go out one day soon, look down, and feel like you have run smack dab into a wall, a sea, an avalanche (you get the point) of yellow! You will see hundreds of golden dandelions just starting to grow, and without much of a stem yet. There will be so many that you won’t feel guilty picking as many as you want. It might feel like you’re holding hands-full of sunlight, or tiny, bite-sized suns.
What to do with them:
You can lay them on the lawn, next to and touching each other, and make a long, meandering yellow chain, or snake, or just a beautiful meandering line of yellow, over hill and dale and rocks. Watch what happens to your art over the next few days.
Make a spiral with them, starting at the base of a tree and spiraling outward.
Rub them on a piece of white paper against a hard surface such as the sidewalk and see why they can be called ‘yellow crayons’.
Wait to pick them until they have a long stem. Peel the stem into 3 or so long pieces, all still attached to the flower end. Dunk the stem pieces into water (submerge them) for a quick one or two second dunk, pull quickly out and hold them in front of you and just watch. If they could shout we would call what they are doing ‘twist and shout’. Or better still, ‘curl and shout’.
Different parts of the dandelion can be used for food, medicine and dye. Read about these usages here, in Paul Tappenden’s dandelion article.
A long time ago people used to pull grass from their lawns to make room for dandelions!
The name ‘dandelion’ comes from the French ‘dent de lion’, which means lion’s tooth. Look at the leaves on the ground directly at the bottom of the stem and you’ll see why. Growl.
Dandelions are not native to this country but came to us from Asia.
The little dandelion seeds on their little white ‘parachutes’ have been known to travel up to five miles!
Look at dandelion plants growing in mostly sunlight and then at those growing mostly in shade. What do you notice that’s different about their leaves?