Copper River Record September 2014
By Janelle Eklund
The day was September 22. Heavy grey clouds hung low in the sky. A small cold drizzle surrounded us educators as we all piled in the Van and headed up the Tok cutoff to Slana School. The further we went the more the drizzle turned in to rain, then sleet, then heavy wet flakes of snow. Eventually the ground turned white. Talk in the warm van turned to should we have the Changing Seasons program inside? The consensus was 'no'. WISE had already prepped the students to dress in layers with warm sweaters, coats, hats, gloves, boots, and rain gear. And thanks to a kind donation from Victor Bailey and Beryl Wardlaw WISE was able to supply rain gear for those without. In essence, we were 'adapting' to the changing season. Upon arrival at the school we were delighted to see no 'white' on the ground but it was still raining and snowing. It was the perfect lead-in to Changing Seasons. Since there was a small group of students we set up two pop-up shelters adjacent to each other and dodged the drips between them and those leaking through worn areas in need of repair.
The other days in Glennallen and Kenny Lake proved to be without precipitation, mostly sunny with crisp fall air. Everyone adapted by putting on and taking off layers.
Weather is one of the first clues that seasons change, as demonstrated on the mountain and valley diorama by Ann Biddle (Kenny Lake Soil and Water Conservation District). Water balloons became heavy clouds bumping against mountain peaks. There seemed to be lots of downpours of rain or snow as one pin prick and the cloud exploded - much to the delight of students. As the weather changes in the fall all the animals, birds, and other critters either hibernate, migrate, or adapt (taught by Marnie Graham, BLM and Glenn Hart, NPS) to compensate for the deep dark cold winter days. Yes, even humans like to either migrate, hibernate or adapt! Fish (taught by Molly McCormick, NPS) also adapt to their different habitats and foods they eat and some even migrate. Sun, soil, water, and air connect all these animals, birds, fish and plants, in the web of life (taught by Janelle Eklund and Lyda Rossi, WISE), playing an important role in migrating, hibernating or adapting.
What will you do this winter - migrate, hibernate or adapt?
Thanks to all the partners, funders and Copper River School District for the eleventh successful year of the Changing Seasons program. Funding for this program was provided by BLM “Take it Outside” initiative, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and generous WISE donors.
By Janelle Eklund
It was June and as I was driving down the McCarthy Road on a sunny summer day when white clusters of flowers on a tall shrub caught my eye. The area was close to about mile 3 where it had been cleared at one time. American Dogwood also like to grow along stream banks and moist woods. I got out my camera and tripod and set it up at eye height to focus in on the little white flowers dotted with orange centers. Reddish to brown soft fuzzy branches held oblong green leaves with deep furrowed veins.
Cornus stolonifera, also known as Red-Osier Dogwood can get up to twelve feet tall. As the plant matures the flowers change their dress into clusters of white bitter berries. The bitterness is a warning that they can induce vomiting and be mildly poisonous. But that doesn't deter bears from making dinner out of it.
The stems of this plant is a favorite delicacy for moose and so is important browse habitat. Being straight and flexible the stems have also been used by Dena'ina natives to fashion into beautiful rims on baskets.
The spring and fall bark and roots of American Dogwood have been thoroughly dried and used for colds and fever, or, being an astringent, used in a steam for oily skin.
This tall shrub is a relative to the much smaller Bunchberry or Dwarf Dogwood.
Enjoy the delicate beauty of this tall shrub.
From my light to yours-
References: Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield; Tanaina Plantlore by Priscilla Russel Kari; Plants of the Western Boreal Forest & Aspen Parkland.
By Janelle Eklund
'It's a blustery day, Winnie the Pooh!' That's what came to mind as I walked down the gravel road and the wind was singing a chorus through the trees. Dark aspen tree branches accented its leaves painted by autumn’s brilliant yellow, with splashes of red here and there. The wind whipped through the leaves releasing those weakened by age and frost. They sailed through the air in a fluttery rush until they reached the ground where the hands of the wind scooted them along like a mother hen hurrying her brood out of harm's way. Gathering speed they joined together and danced in circles, whirling and twirling, until they came to their final resting place where they will nourish the soil for next year. Those that settled on the road after a rain were pressed by passing cars. As their brilliance faded away their perfect imprint was imbedded like a fossil, making pretty leaf patterns on the road.
Further north, above tree line, the tundra painted a different scene. Here the dominate colors of the paintbrush are intense reds and oranges undulating in a mosaic pattern across sweeping vistas spilling from white mountain peaks. Deep blue eyes of lakes reflected the celebration. Blueberry, dwarf birch and bearberry were the main instruments in this autumnal symphony. Splashes of yellow were played by small groups of willow, stunted aspen, or balsam poplar.
As I lay on my tummy picking deep red cranberries and drinking in the pungent aroma of Labrador tea I caught a glimpse of purple out of the corner of my eye. The bonnet of this little tundra flower, Harebell, has the shape of a bluebell. This solitary flower sticks close to the ground, boosting a height of about 2" to 4". It's the little cymbal you see once in awhile in the grand symphony. A white stigma in the center of the flower unfolds into three sections, or lobes, ready to receive pollen. When the flower is just about ready to reach maturity it bends its little head toward the ground. This protects it from animals that might visit the flower but welcomes bees and wasps to enter, dine on its nectar, spend the night, and grab some pollen to carry elsewhere. Its bowed head also protects the pollen from rain.
I usually see this hearty flower after all the other tundra flowers have run their course. Its creeping rhizomes helps it cling to gravelly tundra, alpine meadows and rocky outcrops. As folklore goes, in the Victorian language of flowers, they are said to symbolize gratitude and humility. I can understand that - gratitude for being so tough in a harsh climate and humility for its small solitary stature in a big landscape.
From my light to yours-
References: http://www.flora.dempstercountry.org; Wildflowers of the Yukon Alaska and Northwestern Canada, by John G. Trelawny
By Janelle Eklund
Rain drops hung heavy on yellow chamomile buds and their lacy leaves. Bright and fresh they lured me to their sweet essence. The garden beds were pregnant with the year's supply of nourishment. Chamomile loves the beds and I let it grow here and there to mingle with the planted seeds I sow each spring. Just don't let it grow right next to the radishes - it will shade them too much. It gets along better with other tall plants like potatoes, lettuce, peas, carrots, etc. It doesn't need any encouragement nor transplanting, popping up here and there, and seeming to be happy to grow anywhere around disturbed areas. The nice thing about it is it grows throughout the summer season. With scissors, I clip the tops of yellow buds from a nice patch growing in the compost. The whole plant has value but the best quality is mostly in the yellow-green flower heads. It will dry in a basket, or in the food dryer, and then be stored away for those evenings when I'm ready to relax with a cup of its tea, luring me to sleep.
Some people call the chamomile growing around here Pineapple Weed, as the yellow heads can taste somewhat like pineapple. To me they have a very nice sweet chamomile flavor - and aroma. Matrix part of the latin name means 'mother' and caria means 'dear'. This aromatic plant is not indigenous to the area.
Matricaria has many fine qualities. It is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aromatic bitter, carminative (relieves flatulance), diaphoretic (increases sweating), galactagogue (increases the flow of mother's milk), hypnotic, nervine (calms the nerves), mild sedative, stomachic (promotes appetite or assists digestion), and vermifuge (destroys or expels parasitic worms).
In the Janice Schofield class we made a cold infusion tea with chamomile and it was very tasty. For fresh chamomile tea rinse the herb, chop it finely, put a third of a cup in a glass jar, and cover with two cups of cold water. Let it sit over night. Strain and enjoy. This cold infusion can also be made with ginger and other alkalies such as peppermint to help with indigestion, heartburn, gout, loss of appetite. Make a hot tea of it if you have a cold or flu (steam with it to relieve congestion) or drink before bed time for a good sleep (it has also been known as a remedy for nightmares). When infusing the tea with hot water make sure it is covered to keep all the good qualities of the flowers from evaporating, and then let it steep for 10 minutes. The tea is also nourishing for mothers and their infants. Dena'ina Athabascans have been known to drink the tea after giving birth (and giving a few drops to their infant) to get their milk flowing. In homeopathic form it can be calming for teething and earaches. It helps menstrual cramps and uterine disorders. If you have a rash or skin irritation use the tea on it as a wash.
Used as a poultice Matricaria can relieve aches and pains such as tight muscles, inflammations, headaches and sore eyes. Bathing in a decoction of chamomile can remove weariness and ease pain.
Matricaria is a safe and gentle herb. Janice Schofield's book does caution that "...large frequent quantities are said to cause nausea and vomiting. Some sensitive individuals have experienced skin irritation from handling the herbs".
Drink in the aroma of Matricaria and enjoy the properties of this plant growing around the footprint of our habitat.
From my light to yours-
References: The Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray; A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve; 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.