By Robin Mayo
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This quote from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry neatly sums up the Wild Plants Weekend we recently hosted at Kenny Lake Community Hall. Eighteen wild plants enthusiasts, some local and some from across Alaska, foraged in local gardens, fields, and woods, then concocted a wide variety of foods and medicinal preparations from our harvest.
Many of the plants we used were humble ones, commonly considered weeds, nuisances, or even dangerous. At this time of year most gardens are not yet producing much food, but in at a Chitina home we harvested abundant chickweed, lambsquarter, fireweed, and mint. Devils Club is common in the temperate rainforest south of the Chugach, but a few plants can be found in the Chitina area, and we harvested that as well.
Janice Schofield, who led the workshop, learned to wildcraft foods while living in a remote area of the Kenai Peninsula. Gardening proved to be challenging, but she found in her dooryard, the surrounding forest, and the beaches a multitude of friendly plants. In 1989 Janice published “Discovering Wild Plants” which is considered by many to be the bible for Alaskan wildcrafting. She now lives in New Zealand, but visits Alaska often to teach, learn from local traditions, and revisit her old stomping grounds. Her work includes wisdom from Alaska Native traditions.
At the end of the weekend we shared an abundant feast, including chiming bell spring rolls, dandelion fritters, and spruce tip salsa. Students also made insect repellant, salves, lotions, tinctures, and decoctions. In this case, what was essential was under our feet, just waiting to be discovered.
Photo on Left- Janice Schofield explains the benefits of Arnica, which is abundant this year in the area.
Photo on Right- Michael Moody, Cynthia Buchanan, and Darlene Wright and Darlene write work on processing a tableful of locally harvested wild plants
Copper River Record June 2017
By Robin Mayo
Now that summer has finally arrived, there is so much for kids of all ages to do and learn outdoors. Research has shown that time outdoors is essential to all of us, for our mental and physical health. A family walk can combine exercise, together time, and hands-on learning. Weather exploring one of our local trails, public lands, or your own backyard, here are some ideas for your next outing.
Adopt a Tree Choose an individual tree to identify and get to know. With just seven kinds of indigenous trees in the Copper Basin (White Spruce, Black Spruce, Balsam Poplar, Quaking Aspen, Birch, Alder, and several species of Willow,) learning to identify them is not hard. A handy online guide can be found at http://www.alaska.org/expert-advice/trees. Kids love to give trees silly names, inspect bark and leaves with magnifying glasses, hug them, climb them, and return to watch their friend change with the seasons and the years.
Forest Perfume Bring along small cups for each explorer to collect small bits of aromatic plants, creating their own distinctive forest perfume. Spruce needles, yarrow, and balsam poplar leaves are a good start. Crush the leaves or needles between your fingers to release the scent, then mix your favorite flavors in the cup.
Egg Carton Collection Very young children like to sort their tiny forest finds into the cups of an egg carton. For readers, write descriptive words such as shiny, prickly, smelly, and fuzzy on small pieces of paper and put them in the egg cups, then challenge your explorer to find something for each description.
Temporary Art Projects Collect and arrange natural objects into temporary art installations. Stones, leaves, flowers, cones, and other found natural objects can be rearranged where you find them. Draw in the dirt or sand with sticks, sculpt with mud. You can also paint with water on dry rocks, using a paintbrush or just your fingertips, enjoying how the masterpiece fades before your eyes. For a more permanent but still natural painting, use different colors of mud, berry juice, crushed leaves, and whatever else you can find. Take a picture of the creations, then scatter them, or leave behind to gently blend back into the landscape.
Tiny Houses When my kids were small they would create tiny houses, towns, zoos, and gardens using what they found on the forest floor. At home, they would be elaborate masterpieces that were carefully tended all summer. Kids like to leave their mark on the world, and this is a non-destructive way to channel that energy when hiking or camping. And who knows, perhaps a lucky vole or spider will find shelter in the custom home.
Group Poems At a rest stop, ask each member of the group to describe something they can see, hear, smell, or feel. Write down the phrases, then arrange into a poem to read back to the group later.
Be safe and enjoy every moment of our sweet, short summer. The schedule of summer WISE activities is at www.wise-edu.org.
Fifteen People Floating on the Water
-Group Poem by WISE/BLM Aquatic Ecology Camp 2016-
Silver Lake with silver water
Tippy aluminum boat
See the texture of the dirt on a boot
Hear the rushing of the water
Fish flashing and splashing
Smell the old that lives within a life jacket
Taste the saltiness
And leftover flavors of a breakfast burrito
Curious Grey Jays playing hide and seek
See and feel the calm water
The emptiness of this place
Sweet reflections whisper adventure
A temporary art project which was created at a lunch stop with natural materials.
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.