By Janelle Eklund
The grey static clouds that hung over the valley for the last few days evaporated in the cold night air of freezing temperatures. I’ve already hung up snowshoes and skis for the next season. My early morning exercise is now delegated to walking the Old Edgerton. The low rising sun filtered through the trees laying bar code shadows across the gravel road. The more I walked the more I got inspired by the wakening of a beautiful day. So with this inspiration tucked in my brain ideas formed for this writing. My brain seems to be taking a break from plant focus. But I'm sure it will return as the lingering sun casts its magic warmth day after day, gently nudging plants to yawn and stretch into a bright world.
As I walk along sentences form, but without pen and paper, recording those exact thoughts seem to waver away from my brain that is already packed so full from many years of cramming other information in. And the brain is not like a computer where you can delete forever those trivial pieces of information. I used to have one of those little mini pocket recorders for moments of inspiration but it died a long time ago and I haven't replaced it. Anyway, some of the words in those sentences do linger and once I'm at the computer they may just come out in a different configuration.
Early Saturday mornings are quiet and in the forty minutes of vigorous walking the sound of a car is non-existent. On weekday mornings I am greeted by the sounds of the Old Edgerton rush hour traffic, which amounts to about two or three cars. Many times these are pleasant inspiring moments as the occupants, who just happen to be friends and neighbors, take the time to stop and say a few inspiring words and leave their happy smiles.
So on this Saturday morning, without its rush hour traffic, I drank in the subtle sounds and flights of birds, gaining inspiration from them as they greeted the day. I always like the mysterious trill of the thrush inspiring me to stop and listen to its message. This morning a woodpecker was busy pounding a hole in a tree getting a nest ready for its brood. This in turn inspired me to dig in the greenhouse bins readying them for baby plants.
My eyes caught the flutter of something standing on the south snow bank drinking in the morning sun. At the distance I was from it I thought it was maybe an owl. Its wings settled down and as I got closer it was obvious that it was a ruffed grouse. They are pretty much like spruce grouse in that they just hold their stance as you walk by. As I was close to the house at that point, this inspired me to get my camera to see about capturing him on film. I had to walk a bit to the house, change the lens on my camera, put it on the tripod, and walk back out to the road hoping he'd still be there. Sure enough he was but as I crept closer trying to adjust the settings on the camera he turned and walked over the snow bank and into the woods. Oh well, at least I got a good photo in my mind's eye and he gave me inspiration for the start of a good day.
Now I wait with anticipation to hear the wind in the wings of the first snipe returning for the season. Once I hear that and the flapping and honking of swans I know summer is here.
From my light to yours-
By Janelle Eklund
April 13 and the snowshoe trail was still solid for the early morning run, despite around forty degree temps the day before. Even slightly freezing nights kept the snow in check. I thought I would be able to squeeze maybe another week out of the trail but shortly after that the days scooted on up to fifty degrees and night time temps either above freezing or close to. The trail becomes limp and liquidy. So as I hang up my snowshoes for another season I look forward to green things popping through left over bits of snow.
Even on chilly days the warmth of the sun melts those un-shady places and shines its luxury on the body. Pussy willows are busting at the seams in response to the sun. Balsam poplar buds are plumping themselves out, ready to burst when the time is just right. About a month ago on a sunny day when the temperature was freezing, but not so bad as to freeze my fingers, the balsam poplar trees shared their buds with me. A jar of Balm of Gilead has been brewing since then and is just about ready to be strained and receive a little bees wax to make the salve.
A death march has ensued upon the glistening white of winter. Rotten snow creates water pockets of lakes, some large and some small. Slick ice transforms to slush and we are able to shed boot cleats to keep from falling. Some south facing slopes are already bear of the white stuff.
I suspect very soon the first crocus will be showing their pretty purple heads. Spruce trees will start the growth of new tender green tips. I still have some dried ones from last year I put in my tea each morning. Fireweed shoots are squirming in their slowly warming beds and will soon wake to the warmth of a new season. Now I'm dreaming of a succulent fresh salad from the re-born earth.
Along with the dream of wild plants, garden plants are also coming out of the dream state and are a reality. The light table in the basement is full of seedlings. Some of them are squirming to get out of the little cells they were born in and find a bigger home. I'll have to find time this weekend to help them move.
As the earth awakens so do the senses. The wonderful scent of balsam poplar buds lingers on the thin gloves I used while picking. Soon this sweet deliciousness will marry with soil aromas, envelope the air, and make one swoon.
It's a time of transition, a time of re-awakening, a time to celebrate new life.
From my light to yours-
Copper River Record April 2014
By Robin Mayo
It is early in the morning on Saturday, April 5th, at Silver Lake. The air is cold and the lake is a smooth, chilly expanse of white. Far out in the center, some anglers who arrived very early this morning are already fishing. The scene is quiet and cold, but soon that will change.
The first “hot spot” appears near the dock at the West end of the lake, where the crew from Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are setting up for their fifth annual Family Ice Fishing Clinic. A propane stove hisses as it heats an oversized pot of chili, and water for tea, coffee, and cocoa. Dixie cups are filled with bait, and buckets full of short ice fishing poles await eager young anglers. A power auger roars to life, re-opening holes that were drilled the evening before, and a few more for good measure, bringing the total to over 100.
Just as the warmth of the sun begins to be felt through thick winter layers, families start arriving, sledding down the hill from the McCarthy road with camp chairs, coolers, blankets, and bright smiles. They pick up bait, gear, and friendly fishing advice, then head out to find their lucky spot. Before long happy shouts are heard as the first fish are pulled up through the ice, colorful, wriggling rainbow trout.
In a darkened tent, the BLM crew has set up an underwater camera. Apparently the trout are bored and looking for distraction, because soon they are flocking around, bumping their noses against the camera, and nibbling at the bait on lines dropped through a hole drilled next to the camera. Soon a bunch of kids gathered, and tried to catch the hungry fish, but kept losing them as they pulled them up. The tent filled and excitement rose, with fish under the ice jostling for the bait, and the kids in the tent jostling for a turn fishing and a view of the screen. The excitement died down only when the rainbows were so full of shrimp that they could barely move.
Silver Lake was stocked by Alaska Department of Fish and Game with several thousand rainbow trout last summer, so the fishing is lively. A novice fisher dropped a line through the ice for the first time in her life, and pulled up a 25 ½ inch beauty that looked more like a salmon than a trout. Throughout the day, several hundred fish were caught, a significant increase from the total of about twenty last year.
As well as fishing, visitors enjoyed visiting with friends and neighbors while eating a hot lunch provided by WISE, and tried their hand at “firewood bowling” with logs for pins and short rounds for balls. Materials were on hand for the youth to make their own short jigging rods using dowels, screw eyes, and simple tools. BLM Fisheries biologist Tim Sundlov explains: “Ice ﬁshing rods are diﬀerent than ﬁshing rods used during the open water season. A long pole and reel aren’t necessary for ice fishing because there is no casting. The line guides are wide to accommodate water freezing and then ﬁlling up with ice. When a fish is on the line, the angler drops the rod and pulls the line by hand. Moving the stick up and down is referred to as jigging and entices fish to the lure and/or bait.”
At the end of the day awards were given, for the largest and most fish caught, for great attitudes and helping hands, and for the ice bowling high scorers. The largest fish caught by youth were several 17.5 inch Rainbow Trout. But the real catch of the day were the great moments, many caught by photos. Youth bundled in winter clothes enjoying the spring sunshine, and learning a new skill. About a hundred people came to the WISE event, and many more fishers enjoyed the day on Silver Lake and other area waters, then attended the pig roast at Uncle Tom’s Tavern in Chitina. It may be the largest outdoor winter event in the Copper River Basin.
WISE and BLM put on this event as part of their “Take it Outside” youth education initiative. We are grateful for support from National Park Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Chitina Volunteer Ambulance Squad, and many, many volunteers who lend a hand in many ways.
By Janelle Eklund
A light rain landed on bright yellow petals and rich green leaves nourishing this shrubby plant. This bright landing field attracts butterflies and bees who feed off of its sweet nectar. Five petals (cinque meaning five) dance around yellow stamens. This splash of yellow accents its greenery of leaves that house five leaflets.
Potentilla is often sold at nurseries as a showy plant for the yard. I skipped the nursery and started a wild one in my flower bed. It's a little under the eaves so as long as it’s watered it does pretty good. Potentilla is also called tundra rose mimicking another in its family, prickly rose, with its five petals. I planted one of these wild prickly roses next to it in the flower bed. They seem to complement each other - the bright yellow of Potentilla flowers contrasting with pink rose petals and orange rosehips every year.
'Potent' medicinally describes its scientific name, Potentilla. All parts of the plant have strong qualities and can be chopped and dried. Since the plant is astringent, it has been used to reduce inflammation in the gums and tonsils. Making a tea out of it and using it for a week or more (depending on how severe the problem) can increase the healing of esophagus and stomach ulcers and inflammation. Drinking a pot of the tea can also help a fever and diarrhea. The herb can also be prepared as a tincture for long storage.
It is important to use this plant in moderation because of its astringency and the fact that it contains tannic acid which is a gastrointestinal irritant and toxic to the kidneys.
Enjoy the sunny beauty of this three foot tall shrub throughout the summer season.
From my light to yours-
References: Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore; Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.