By Janelle Eklund
Fringed Sagebrush dotted the south facing hill side accented by lingering snow halos. The river below was slowly being released from winter’s grip of ice. Drop by drop the flow of water let go of the icy bank and hurried on its way to complete its cycle - winding and dropping way below, defying nourishment to the roots of this hearty plant.
When one thinks of sage it brings to mind desert scenes and usually one thinks of a desert as hot and dry. But in this part of Alaska it's a cold and arid climate that encourages the sage to make this its home. It doesn't necessarily long for that river water way below its home because its roots are pretty adaptable. The tap root will grow deep where there is little water but if the water is easy to get at it will grow lots of surface roots. So that is why it can survive droughts.
Wildlife use this plant for forage and habitat.
I bent low to get an up close look see that new life was emerging and breathed in the essence of sage. The pleasant aroma has been used by Native Americans to get rid of bad odors and even was used as toilet paper. They would also masticate it by chewing and putting it on wounds and then bandaging. Some would make a salve, mixing it with bear fat and putting it on skin sores. They would also use the leaves like a toothbrush and rub it over their teeth and gums. A hot poultice of the leaves can also be applied to treat a toothache. And like yarrow, the leaves can be used to stop bleeding.
Sage has volatile oils and tannins which can dry up perspiration, and is a powerful antioxidant. Thus making it an herb of choice, by making a tea of the leaves, for hot flashes and night sweats. The tea is also good for menstruating or irregular menstruating in women. These oils also help in treating sore throats and colds and getting rid of worms from the system.
Sage can be made into smudge sticks (take a bunch of sage, wrap it with twine and dry). The dried smudge is burnt to impart its smokey aroma in a room and cleanse the air, acting as a disinfectant.
Are you getting forgetful, feeling mentally exhausted, and/or not able to concentrate? Sage leaf tea can be beneficial to these maladies.
While you are out in the summer battling the mosquitoes and you come upon some Artemisia frigida take a bunch of leaves and rub them on your skin to deter them. Or bring your smudge stick and use its smoke to keep them away.
Enjoy Fringed Sagebrush for its many uses.
From my light to yours-
References: US Forest Service web site; Natural Medicinal Herbs web site; The Little Herb Encyclopedia book, by Jack Ritchason, N.D.
By Janelle Eklund
It was mid-day and the snow lay deep on the ground and thick on the trees. Snowshoes strapped on, I headed for the entrance to the packed trail near the woodshed. Head down, I noticed large dog like tracks. No dogs had been around and these were pretty large tracks, indicating wolf. I followed the story of its journey. It used my tracks as solid surface for travel. Across the field and through the woods to the next field.
Some smaller trees, burdened with the last couple inches of snow, gave homage to the weight and gracefully arced over the trail. The thick layer of snow outlining the branches of spruce trees hid their dark forms. In their dark recesses I could imagine chickadees and spruce grouse hunkered down in its protective cape. Being Christmas bird count day, of course they sent the word out - I'm sure the night before. Therefore nary a bird was to be seen. Looking up, straining to see some sort of avian movement in the trees, my neck started to tighten. Remember balance class, look up with your eyes, not your head. That works pretty good except when you are right close to very tall trees. Then you have to cheat a little.
Through the woods the wolf track encountered hare tracks, both tracks mingling in a scurf. No other evidence of blood or fur in this story. Who knows the demise of the hare - carried away intact for a special treat later - or escapement. The wolf tracks diverted off the trail and crossed the deep snow in the next field. Its journey continues in my imagination.
As I meandered along the packed trail through another part of the forest I marveled at the beauty of the trees; the strength to hold the weight of heavy snow; the naked branches where ribbons of snow clung and drooped, creating fairy snow swings throughout the forest.
Many different kinds of trees are used as Christmas trees and spruce is one of the favorite. In interior Alaska finding a good spruce that's just the right size and diameter is a journey in itself. Most spruce like the company of each other and grow close together. You find what you think is a very 'full' limbed tree, and just the right size. But once you take it away from its fellow trees you find it’s a one sided branched tree. It didn't need any branches on one side because it had the protection of its relatives surrounding it. And Christmas size spruce in this part of Alaska have branches that are a bit far and few between. But, in a good sense, they are a typical 'Charlie Brown' tree. Their beauty is in the mind’s eye. A sort of wabi-sabi. (wabi-sabi is a Japanese term for finding beauty in something that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete).
Many years ago we had a small LONE spruce tree outside our living room window. It was the perfect Christmas tree. It had room to grow many branches all around. But it was too perfect to cut. So we decorated it with real clip on Christmas Tree candles and enjoyed it from the warmth of the living room. The tree has now way outgrown its small Christmas size.
Now, for an indoor tree, each Christmas I christen our ficus tree to be a Christmas tree for a few weeks. This tree is also getting very big. It loves its home at the end of the kitchen counter and is encroaching closer to the dining room table. We brush it every time we walk by and I think it likes to be touched. It's very healthy. It only gets water once a week, sometimes plain and sometimes egg shell soaked. It gets moved by the front door at Christmas to be decorated. I also think it enjoys the decorations. And I enjoy decorating it with ornaments that bring back lots of memories - ones my mom made, some my sisters made, some I made years ago, and other special ones given by friends and family. That is what makes Christmas special - being with family and/or friends, sharing love, friendship, and the light, hope and joy of a Christmas tree.
From my light to yours-
By Janelle Eklund
We put our rafts in the Gulkana River at the highway bridge next to Gulkana Village. It was a nice sunny day with some puffy white clouds lingering about. The river wound its way back and forth cutting a snake like path through the boreal forest. Bald eagles stood watch along the banks giving us their wary eye from the tops of spruce trees and exposed bluffs. We let the river take us on its journey to marry with the Copper River. The Copper has many brides, including the Slana, Gakona, Tazlina, Klutina, Tonsina Rivers and many more. All these rivers bring a nutrient dense dowry to its marriage with the Copper. The shoulders of the mighty Copper teem with plants and wildlife. We made camp on one of its sandy shoulders where flowers and grasses bobbed their heads in acknowledgment of the rivers breath.
Foxtail barley was adorned in its beautiful pinkish-red glossy flowing dress. Such a stunning grass in its prime, but looks don't account for the hidden roughness of this prolific plant. Before it flowers it is palatable to animals. But once the seeds develop - watch out! The seeds are about 1/4" long and have barbs that are pointed backward and are very sharp. When something like an animal or human brushes against it those tricky barbs catch on fur or clothing and are very irritating. Imagine fishhook, only much smaller. On humans they are annoying as they can catch on clothing. But animals don't have the advantage of clothing and foxtail can be very irritating, especially around the soft tissues of their eyes, nose, mouth and intestine if ingested. If swallowed it can eventually be fatal to the animal.
The leaves of this plant are covered in short dense hairs that are rough rather than soft. So even though they look soft in their graceful flowing dance they can be irritating when touched. Foxtail barely sucks up and stores a lot of salt in its leaves and roots. So it can tolerate saline soils thereby lowering soil salinity. Its root system is shallow, it can be very prolific, and a nuisance to farmers.
As the plant matures it loses its pinkish-red color to a grassy tan, spreads its leaves wide open, and drops its summer beauty, putting on its wabi-sabi decomposing dress.
I was able to capture the beauty of this plant in the evening sun as we lounged on the river's edge enjoying the evening sky, the colorful splash of wildflowers, birds communicating, the rush of wings overhead. The river is a sanctuary to my spirit. The next day was our second and last to be one with the river. A sad day to leave but a renewed spirit to take with.
I'd like to share the poem "Advice From a River by Ilan Shamir:
Dear friend, Go with the flow
Be thoughtful of those downstream
Slow down and meander
Follow the path of least resistance for rapid success
Immerse yourself in nature, trickling streams, roaring waterfalls, sparkles of light dancing on water
Delight in life's adventures around every bend
Let difficulties stream away
Live simply and gracefully in your own true nature moving, flowing, allowing, serene and on course
It takes time to carve the beauty of the canyon
Rough waters become smooth
Go around the obstacles
The beauty is in the journey!
From my light to yours-
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.