By Janelle Eklund
While walking through the field behind my house I encountered an old looking plant staring up at me. The yellow eye of the flower was surrounded by petals of disheveled looking white hair. Long slender leaves surrounded the base with some smaller ones climbing up the stem. The lower part of the leaves, the stems, and the bracts surrounding the flower head were covered with scattered short unshaven beard-like white hairs. Fleabane, looking like a 90 year old, was actually in its prime.
The scientific name is derived from Greek. 'Eri' means early and 'geron' means aged person, both referring to the 'worn out' look of the plant. Supposedly the common name 'Fleabane' got its name because it was believed to drive away fleas, plus its small seeds resemble fleas.
Fleabane is in the Aster family, blooming in spring and lasting most of the summer. I have also seen it growing in a gravelly area near Silver Lake on the McCarthy Road. There are many species of fleabane. I didn't take a real close look and compare to figure out the species, but the one at Silver Lake was shorter than the one in the field by my house.
According to the referenced web site below the properties of the fleabane "contain a bitter extractive, tannic and gallic acids and a volatile oil. It acts as an astringent, diuretic tonic. It is considered useful in gravel, diabetes, dropsy and many kidney diseases and is also used to alleviate diarrhea and dysentery.... It was once also used to alleviate inflamed tonsils and sore throats."
Find beauty even in disheveled worn out looking plants.
From my light to yours-
By Janelle Eklund
Vast rolling alpine meadows create a kaleidoscope of colorful plants during summers reign. The Copper Basin is like a gigantic basin with four mountain ranges making up its sides - Alaska, Wrangell, Chugach, and Talkeetna. The high alpine slopes of these mountains are painted with a summer collage that can take your breath away. Standing in one of these meadows affords one a most joyful experience. Many colors, many different plants, all with exuberant cheerful faces.
Cassiope tetragona grows low to the ground, appearing like a mat on the tundra floor with its thick sturdy leaf stems somewhat resembling scales. Close to the top of each scaly leaf branch emerge at least two red to yellow stems with white bell shaped bonnets on the end. Nodding in the breeze they seem to be singing the Hallelujah chorus.
One summer we drove the Dempster Highway to Inuvik in Canada's Northwest Territories. This area is part of the circumpolar region and houses many of the same plants we see here in our alpine areas. While there we visited the Inuvialuit Arts and Crafts Shop where I found a wonderful book - Inuvialuit Nautchiangit Relationships Between People and Plants. It says that these native people have used Cassiope tetragona for several different comforts. They usually use driftwood for their fires but if they walk inland where there are no trees, Cassiope has been utilized. It has a high content of resin making it a dry plant and therefore excellent 'firewood'. Because of this high resin content it still burns in wet conditions. In early times these natives have even dug under the snow to access it in winter. They were careful to cut the stems only, leaving the roots for more to grow.
Long ago they used this plant for heating their homes and cooking meals. If driftwood was not available they used it to smoke their meat or fish - mainly to keep the flies away as it doesn't add any flavor. They have harvested the plant on the open tundra for flooring and bedding. It made a soft mattress with the addition of a sealskin on top or as stuffing in-between two seal skins sewn together, providing a layer of insulation and warmth with an added bonus of a pleasant scent.
The stems of Cassiope were placed on a hot stove surface to emit a nice incense that helped take the odor out of tents and snow houses. Smoldering small pieces of dried stem can deter insects. The plant will also give a pleasant scent in its fresh state rubbed between the palms of the hands.
Immerse yourself in the splendor and joy of plants.
From my light to yours-
References: Inuvialuit Nautchiangit relationships between people and plants, by Inuvialuit elders with Robert W. Bandringa
Copper River Record 2015
By Hazel Underwood
“This...is life. This is tasting the pain, the sweat, the raw intense beauty of life. Living as a wild human, in the dirt and the stars. I love it. I hate it. It's wonderful. It's hard. But it's beyond amazing."
Words can hardly convey the vast depth of the experiences I had on my semester in the Baja peninsula with the National Outdoor Leadership School, but that paragraph begins to. It was November when I wrote that; I had just climbed out of a kayak in the harbor of Santa Rosalia on the Baja Peninsula alongside my eight expedition mates. Draped in well-worn clothes and colorful sarongs, with salt-caked skin and hair approaching dreadlock status, we Gringo children must have been quite a sight to the local Mexicans in that town. We dragged our fleet of kayaks up onto the cracked concrete and wandered into town in search of Nutella and chances to experiment with our broken Spanish.
How did I get here? Months before as I filled out the application, I looked out at the gray Alaskan spring and found it difficult to imagine myself in an adventure like that. Being accepted to the school felt akin to signing up for bungee jumping. But at the same time, it was much more than that- I knew that this opportunity was more like a doorway, and, waiting for me on the other side, was a fresh and unique perspective on this life. I was right.
However, adequately explaining to everyone exactly what I had gotten myself into proved to be a challenge. Those who knew about the school were excited and ready to share stories and advice. Those who didn’t listened eagerly, but I am not sure I explained it well enough for them to truly understand. The phrase “sailing in Baja” conjured up images of bikinis and margaritas - when in reality there were no margaritas, and instead green tea in Nalgene bottles.
This quote the National Outdoor Leadership School’s website sums up their philosophy on experiential outdoor education: “ We believe positive, ethical leaders change the world. Founded in 1965, NOLS takes students of all ages on remote wilderness expeditions and teaches them technical outdoor skills, leadership, and environmental ethics. What NOLS teaches cannot be learned in a traditional classroom or on a city street. It takes practice to learn skills and time to develop leadership....We believe living in untouched places like our classrooms will teach students responsibility for all that surrounds us.” Growing up in Alaska has given me eighteen beautiful years in the beautiful outdoors. Thanks to friends, family, and WISE, I have had all sorts of unique experiences in the wilderness. But other members of my expedition were not so lucky. For some of them, the semester was their first time ever sleeping under the stars. By the end of the trip, we had all transformed into tough, tan adventurers who now felt uncomfortable under an actual roof.
Looking back on my experience with the National Outdoor Leadership School, I can only encourage every young person to consider taking part in it. It is a perfect way to begin a college career - yes, I actually earned sixteen college credits as I sat on a beach and counted hermit crabs. The school is generous with financial aid, and runs expeditions all over the world - India, Alaska, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Chile. Learn to kayak in wild rivers or on the ocean; become a salty sailor fluent in nautical jargon; scale the cliffs of your dreams; and so much more. But honestly, the technical skills taught paled in comparison to the interpersonal and worldly skills that we experienced firsthand. You don’t truly know someone until you have camped, cooked, hiked, swam, and worked with them for eighty uninterrupted days. And thus are born some of the strongest relationships you’ll ever know, as well as the ability to swallow your pride and jump headfirst into new experiences, no matter how strange or daunting they may seem.
At the casual graduation ceremony, held on a torchlit stone patio, my instructors told us that we would spend the rest of our lives thinking about what we had done; that we wouldn’t realize the greatest lessons until months, even years, later. Every day I’m finding this to be more and more accurate. I could go anywhere from here.
Season is Changing - Already!
Copper River Record September 2015
By Janelle Eklund
It never ceases to amaze me how time flies. Why is it that when you are a kid time seems to go slow but as we age it seems to speed up? Is it because when we are young we are more of a free spirit: playing - running - jumping - absorbing - observing - having fun - not many concerns - life is pretty easy? And as we age we gain a lot of knowledge - ideas - thoughts - fears - joys - concerns - schedules filling our brains - our days are more focused - there is an urgency to get things done and never enough hours in the day? Curious to find out more, on the internet, I Googled 'why is time slow as a kid and fast as an adult. On one blog web site Neuroscientist David Eagleman describes it this way: "When our brains receive new information, it doesn’t necessarily come in the proper order. This information needs to be reorganized and presented to us in a form we understand. When familiar information is processed, this doesn’t take much time at all. New information, however, is a bit slower and makes time feel elongated."
So when we are a kid we are learning a lot of new information which takes awhile for our brain to process. As we age we have already processed a lot of information and our brain doesn't have to work very hard so it's processing time faster. But if we learn new things that the brain has to process it will help our perception of time slow down.
Summer seemed to have gone fast. Us adults use a lot of information we have already processed - growing seeds, planting the garden, getting firewood, harvesting, hunting, berry picking, our jobs, etc. This blog web site offers ways of getting your brain to perceive a slowing of time: keep learning, visit new places (could be in your own back yard), meet new people, try new activities, be spontaneous.
With that, WISE is planning new activities for the upcoming second and third grade Changing Seasons program. This program focuses on changes in wildlife adaptations, weather, plants, observation, web of life, fall gathering, and fish. Four of these are presented each year, with the other four being presented the next year so when second graders become third graders they are learning something new. The adults teaching the presentations may change the curriculum but still use the same subject. Since, for the most part, the same adults present each year this change helps their brains to learn and teach something new. For example, as a presenter, I just worked with my partner presenter on coming up with a new idea for the microscope observation station. This took awhile and time slowed down as we processed new information.
This year Changing Seasons will be at the Glennallen school on September 15, Slana school on September 16 and Kenny Lake school on September 23. Starting time is usually 10:00am. Each station is about 30 minutes, with an hour for lunch. Time schedules will be adjusted for each school. Homeschooled 2nd and 3rd graders are welcome to attend and can sign up by calling Robin Mayo at 822-3575 or 259-3575; or if you are connected with Copper River School District Upstream Learning contact Ramona Henspeter at 822-3234 ext 226. This year stations will focus on Fall gathering, birds, boreal forest, and observations. Parents are welcome to come as a chaperone or observer and learn something new!
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