By Janelle Eklund
I stepped into the morning filled with awakening. The lingering twilight of an arctic sun faded into a distant memory as its bulbous glow rose higher in the sky. The signal of its light roused birds to forage for food and plants to yawn and spread their arms. I walked out onto the deck of the cabin drinking in the calmness of Silver Lake. Dew drops sparkled on the green of summer. Drops that mingled making soothing scents of plant essences riding the still morning air.
I began my walk down the damp gravel road passing ponds filled with life. Ducks waded searching for a delectable breakfast. Water plants were beginning to emerge in their summer beds. A beaver lodge made a solitary mound of sticks emerging from the stillness of the pond. Snow covered mountain peaks reflected in the pond like twin bookends.
Just beyond the pond on the opposite side of the road a shimmering glow of pink in a marshy area caught my eye. The bushes were full of delicately small pretty pink dangly buds. Some had their mouths open as if they were kissing the warmth of the sun. Each bud grew from a pink cane in a cluster at the top of the plant. Below the cluster on this woody shrub grew elongated leaves looking much like - you guessed it - rosemary leaves. Bog Rosemary leaves also mimic Labrador Tea leaves except the undersides are smooth and that of Labrador Tea are wooly.
Despite the prettiness of Bog Rosemary it is very poisonous. It contains a substance called andromedotoxin which can cause low blood pressure, breathing difficulty, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps.
The botanist, Linnaeus named this plant Andromeda after a mythological Ethiopian princess. And they do look like beautiful princesses! Linnaeus wrote that the plant 'is always fixed on some turfy hillock in the midst of the swamps, as Andromeda herself was chained to a rock in the sea, which bathed her feet as the fresh water does the roots of the plant'.
The best way to celebrate this plant is to meditate on its spirit essence.
From my light to yours-
References: Plants of the Western Boreal Forest & Aspen Parkland by Johnson, Kershaw, MacKinnon, Pojar; Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territores by Eric Hultén; Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield.
By Janelle Eklund
I rushed around the house getting ready to spend three days at Silver Lake. It’s exhausting getting ready to play – hah!
The sunny blue sky day followed me to the lake. After a relaxing dinner we took a ride down the McCarthy road with cameras ready for any inspiring scene. As we drove by a marshy area I spotted tall plants with white flowers emerging from the water, their long stems blowing in the breeze. I’d probably seen it before but didn’t recognize it as Menyanthes trifoliate or Buckbean. Rooty type stems at the base came up from shallow water depths. From the surface of the water the stems grew tall ending with three clustered deep green leaves pointing toward the sky. A separate stem grew just as tall ending in furry white clusters of flowers. Pink buds at the top sat like the tip of a paintbrush ready to spread its color. The tips of each five petaled snow white flowers kept a hint of the pink from the paintbrush. Each petal was graced with white furry protrusions. Five stately stamens dotted in brown grew from the tiny yellow center of the flower.
There are other common names for this plant but I prefer the scientific name. Buckbean just doesn’t sound elegant enough for this beauty. The flowers transform into bean looking shapes, thus the common name. Menyanthes is Greek meaning “month flower” of which there is debate on whether this means the length of time it is flowering or a tea from it giving relief from menstrual pain.
When the plant is in flower the leaves provide for some good medicinal uses but it’s important to dry the leaves thoroughly before using - if used fresh they can make you vomit. A tea made of the dry leaves – one tablespoon of leaves to a cup of boiling water and steeped – and drunk over the course of a day provides relief from a variety of maladies. This brew is high in vitamin C, iron and iodine so is good for scurvy and tiredness. It will stimulate your appetite, get your digestive juices flowing, relieve water retention, and can act as a laxative. Use in moderation as large doses can induce that vomiting and give diarrhea. Infusing the dried leaves into salves helps with skin sores and sore muscles.
This plant is somewhat scarce so if using, only pick from big patches and then be frugal in what you do pick.
Sit with the plants before harvesting, ingest their essences and ask for permission to pick.
From my light to yours-
References: Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield. See her book for more details.
Art in the Forest
By Janelle Eklund
It was a sunny warm blue sky kinda day on June 5. The leaves had magically changed into their shiny dark green dress, the perfume of the plants wafted to the senses, a kaleidoscope of wildflowers dotted the landscape - the whole atmosphere shouting ‘IT’S SUMMER!’
Seventeen kids and ten adults gathered at the Copper Center School in anticipation of a short walk through the forest to learn a new water color painting technique. A splash of dandelions paved the way and seemed to carry the group as they crossed the field heading to the entrance of the forest trail. The entrance arbor looked like a tunnel welcoming curious souls to explore an enchanted land. Eager youngsters and adults funneled down the trail in a dancing clip ready to experience all that lay before them. Our destination was the campfire circle where a lesson was given on watercolor painting using an easy technique that was creative and enjoyable for any age.
Everyone took a seat on one of the many benches that surrounded the fire circle. The instructor showed the group a beautiful water color painting of aspen in a kaleidoscope of colors and proceeded to tell us that we would be creating our own similar watercolor - no matter what age we were. I think the youngest there was one year old and the oldest - well - probably yours truly. The first two tools handed out were water color paper and a pen. The pen was to write your name on your paper. The next tool was pieces of masking tape that you were instructed to rip in half lengthwise and stick them, smooth sides together, on the artist paper from one side to the other. Once that was done a palette, small paint brush, toothbrush, and spray bottle of water was handed out. The instructor came around and put a dab of green in one of the indentations on the palette. You were to squirt three sprays of water on the paint and mix it with the paint brush. Then dab the toothbrush with the color and use your finger to flick it onto the art paper creating tiny dots. Next color was orange. Then came a deeper shade of orange, then red. After all the splashing of colors a straw was handed out to each person and brown paint added to the palette. A dot of brown paint was placed on the edge of the tape and then you got down real low and positioned the end of the straw next to the dab of paint. From the other end you blew. It was exciting to see the brown paint spread in a line magically forming branches. You could direct the 'branches' to go up or down as if they were broken. It took me awhile to get the hang of it and many of my branches were broken - hah! Once your branches were in place and the paint had dried the tape was taken off revealing trunks of aspen trees. Then you could take the paintbrush and make lines and dots representing tree knots. Bualah! You had a picture beautiful enough to frame.
It was wonderful watching everyone make their creations. They all had the same colors and technique but their personalities reflected the unique inspiration of each one. I think I heard whisperings of using winter scenes for this same technique.
I was glad I didn't miss out on this wonderful Art in the Forest day sponsored by WISE and Bureau of Land Management.
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.
Wrangell Institute for Science & Environment
WISE is a