Saga of Othala ch. VIII: Forager of the Good Life, Walker of Wild Spaces

This excerpt of the greater saga begins with a similar atmosphere to the previous post, with the Husky a little stouter, and still napping by the fire, and the peaceability of the longhall swollen with zen. I’m raised up to a live edge bar table by a wooden stool I won at the sunset auction, true story. This modern homo sapiens adaptation has allowed me to enjoy several hot meals already without the tasty morcels being stolen off my plate by a hungry wolfdog. As I had not prior had a way to sit down without my dinners on my lap at optimal picking height for a K9. This is also where I am enthroned for my writing process as I can survey the room from a high corner and have easy access to the water filter and woven baskets of snacks like imported avocadoes, papaya, and cacao. I savor the scent of alder smoke when I walk to my outhouse on a gray, grimly veiled day, and the maples have all left my woodbox. Now an hour tipping old alders branches off their witching trunks yields me enough quick burning high btu, sustainably coppiced kitchen wood for roasting a fine brew of Tobique First Nations coffee beans, or cooking some pierogies in a copper bowl of oil. Rain drops fall from thunder clouds with the paradoxical gentleness of ladybugs hitting the fine mesh of your tent then transform into pelting fury. A warm amber light inside matches the hue of my hearts glow for a day done well and a full belly. Life is fine is you know what to look for.

The raw meat of this post taps a whole different vein from the former, as my reporting service to the sugar industry had well… dried its tap, and I steer into other projects and prospects under the banner of a rewilded, and more feral life. At the Praxis land, we are working with fruit tree guilds, as we thin wild day lilies from one neglected roadside watershed, and rehome them in rings around zone hardy arboreal species that will bear storage tolerant reapings in the form of fruit, with the proper preservation methods of course. The Lilies themselves are edible, and to me taste like cucumbers only more flavorable than the flaccid stock provided in the produce section of the grocery store. What’s more is that they are abundant, free, and more beautiful. I planted some of these into reworked and mulched soil alongside lupines, strawberries, and a few volunteer plants, like alfalfa and carrots. The former of which bore impressive nitrogen fixing root nodules all over their striated subterranean parts, the latter being fat, richly colored taproots easily imaginable to be quartered up with some of the local fiddleheads and some amaranth for an awesome veg fry, new brunswick style. More day lilies found new homes in a south facing swale on the land trust field, for my Sister Kaia, a.k.a. earth mother Kaia. My only appointments are now with the trees, berries, herbs and mushrooms, as I continue my loving apprenticeship and rooted partnership with a fantastic woman and her plant allies. Our involvement and integrity has grown new tendrils, and shoots for the furthering of our love life, which also happens to be heavily involved with the spring burst of plant life this time of year, and the greening up of what remained virulent after the winter culls of the botanical world. The Radicle Root apothecary starts to pick up the market train again, and the artisinal crafters come through the woodwork to offer there purveyances. I had the good privelage to assist in making some loose leaf wildcrafted and gardened teas for just one such market. Though I was denied the permission by the staff to stay and vend with the herbwitch herself for inadequate masking, more on that later… or something else entirely.

Dandelion flowers are rearing their manes, as the coltsfoot resides from its spotlight in the sun beams. I’ve been beckoned by a local foraging company in need of these perennial flowers’ leaves and roots to bring them in by the pound for a small cashflow, which will handsomely supplement my other side hustles with the apothecary and permaculture blitzes. I think I’ll do it, and keep an eye on the calendar for the other wild and upcoming species on their inventory checklist that may be able to be harvested ethically, enjoyably and lucratively, in that order. Nettles are next, wild ginger and ramsons, as the Scottish call them. I’ve seen the poisons growing side by side with crisp forest vegetables, the false Hellebore next to the tasty and virile Fiddleheads, and around them the Bloodroot, Cedar fronds and Marsh Horsetail, deep medicines in the right hands, of whom I can name a few. My own garden has remnants of what and who came before, though neglected for so many years, the first intruders have already staked out some prime real estate, the bedstraw and the various grasses. Luckily, they are in a manageable state, and it is not my prerogative for growing a massive garden this year, but rather designing for another. Those specimens that do remain are a joy to watch as they eke out a living on a small footprint of converted hardwood forest into cleared herbal grove; a tall tansy that greets the walker from the west, a line of blackcurrants along the blackened cedar shake wall which gather much reflected heat in their tier 2 state, a wild mint that taste somewhat akin to dish soap (not my favorite for obvious reasons but curious nonetheless), a clump of stinging nettles, and a small army of raspberry canes, an Elderberry shrub (the color of which escapes my mind), numerous uprisings of chives, heal-all (not an FDA approved claim, but very much a real medicinal herb), and soon some haskaps and rhubarb!

Trips beyond the homestead have been marginal yet rich, as the Alaskan and I have wended our into New Brunswicks regrowth forest, and it’s sad clearcut acreage to seek out paths and places for new tramping grounds. One such foray led us on a wild goose chase trying to find Ayers lake. A wrong turn down a logging read stole an afternoon and most of a morning away as my poor PT cruiser maneuvered around splintered deadfall over the roads, puddles that could have swallowed my tires in muck, and pot-holed roads not unlike those in the Western Ghats of India. The undercarriage took quite a rubbing, until I simply could not bear it and went on foot, finding only new evergreen plantations for miles, and more unlikely side roads going where I did not dare. Eventually we met with a bear hunter that had a lot to say, he was out checking his baits, and having a backroad bumble, though he was quite jovial and helpful to my conundrum. “Follow the rubble road down until you see the beaver dam, and steer clear. Then don’t take any sides and you will crest a hill. There’s a skull on a tree and a pair of cross country skis mounted on a trunk, from there you just keep on your direction and you’ll hit the pavement”. Sure enough there was a skull and a pair of skis that I had not noticed before, along with several beer cans on saplings which seemed pretty obvious to be some kind of carlton county technique for following directions. I do remember a neat app he told me about called HuntStand for finding your way on all the atv roads and hunting trails, which I figure would be experiment with next time. The pup and I did eventually find Ayers lake down another lookalike logging trail a few more rolls down the 104, after seeing a young moose with scraggly fur. By this time we were already lost in non-scenic territory for several hours, so my excitement threshold had dwindled pretty low bar, and the lookout for Ayers lake was actually nothing special. Maybe I am spoiled for choice coming from Northern Ontario, where one can climb fire towers and survey hundreds of lakes at once, or the diminutive size and monoculture spruce surrounding this beachless lake left me in the opposite state of awe. A ramble in Howard Brook with friends Spirit, and Seven, and their baby son Ziggy was accompanied by my Husky, their Border Collie and a Chihuahua who understands himself to be at least five times bigger than he actually is. We set on the path least traveled, sometimes you just need to go past the ‘No Trespassing’ signs to find them. This afforded some great sweeping views of the brook itself, which may or may not have been named after a man named Howard, and some findings of wild hairy plant friends, Mullein and Pussy Willow. Later in the same day, hungry for more intrepid local travel, I dissapeared into the alder thickets, and cedar bogs behind my land and walked until I had surpassed the point where I saw a Black Bear last year. A small wild raspberry glade arched through a heath, and in hindsight would have made a great foraging ground for that autumn bear of yesteryear. Fortunately, that berry fattened bear did not appear in his scrawny and gorging state post stupor, because I doubt a 3 month old puppy would have done much harm or served as protection, he doesn’t even bark yet. What I did find was a fen of sphagnum moss, a few forested alleys, and some ravines previously unknown to me.

Training a wild Alaskan husky with sled dog lineage has been a very overloaded can of worms to unpack. Some days I have felt levels of bliss with no bar, at witnessing this talented animal grow, range, and run through middle earth as he explores his new territory and learns not only from me but from the constant feedback of the language of this land. Other days I simply can not shake the feeling of dread, feeling like I have brought home the bastard Fenris wolf, helbent on destroying the world. I must literally stick my arm in his mouth like the god
Tyr, to keep his attention while doing performing the most simple and domestic acts like setting him in his halter, tying up my motorcycle boots, or chopping a piece of kindling. There was a chicken scare recently when he snatched up my partners hen, and ripped out her neck feathers, while his sharp predator teeth clamped shut on the sensitive skin. We managed to pry his jaws open and take him off the bird, but not without some damage to the poor poultry. With these occurrences he can be the bane of my life, though he does subsume an amiable behavior soon after, and I can see in his off colored eyes the reason I willed for him to enter my life, and his important place in it.

From the roots to the flowers, my hands have been worked with planting and caring for some new vegetative allies on the land, and the backs of my palms show the stories in wrinkles and scars of the work with these flora. One of my permaculture mentors and a Sister and I tramped on the edge of the Woolastook riverbank to harvest and thin day lilies, which are an edible flower. Such a practive of eating flowers reminds of me the lizards that guard the Mayan pyramids of Mexico, happily nibbing these succulent delights from the trees or the fallen canopy. The phalanges of my knuckles grip the mandrake like roots of the asparagus to plant in hilled trenches, for their spears to rise sunwards, as the dry tendriled bundles are amended with compost and allayed in a solar pattern. The domestic rituals of raising a few vegetables and making the homestead a little more aesthetically pleasing is enjoyable, especially when there are others around you under the same spell. Pictured is the designer of said garden and loving other, while the curious Alaskan seeks shade and time out of the lens of the reporter.

I remember once in India, sitting back in a three level treehouse in Spice Valley and a posse of Royal Enfield motorbikers came up through the forest to our dwelling as they had booked the camp for the night. I was staying with some European friends here, and they saw us in varying degrees of work and rest, and prompted the question “What is your time pass?” My friend Aum, from France told them, “This is our time pass”, by that he meant, we are just enjoying the creation while passsing them, just chilling out work. I never forgot that sentiment because the bikers seemed a bit baffled that we didn’t answer with something that was consumer based like going to a movie, or some live sports, we were just building rustic bamboo temples in fig trees to live in. I have tried to keep that sentiment alive in my domestic activity, to prevent and stave off being, well… overly domestic. Letting the chore work be a sound way to just pass the time. The time will pass without you watching it, so you may as well reap more contentment from the hustle that you have, whatever that looks like, and let your leisure be free, not bought or sold. It is also one of the reasons I have never worn a watch, and don’t have any clocks in my cabin. To be really free is to stop ‘doing’ things on time, and live in a ‘timeless’ state of BEing. In this season when the work haul swells to gigantic proportions and require Herculean efforts by some, leisure, ritual, exploration, self care, culture and community can diminish. Fortunately I live in a village where I see most members of which everyday, and commonly visit the majority of them throughout the waxing and waning of a week, not only only their ends. We meet for work moots to plaster strawbale walls with clay, plant perrenial vegetables in swale and berm permitecture, visit each others animals, have open air cookouts and bonfires, forage and gather, swim in cool groves or stand in awe of gushing waterfalls. There is a talking circle in a couple weeks, and it has been quite some time since I last sat in the round, at least since the Rainbow gathering in southern Oaxaca, so I reckon this will be a fine time with my new family.

Tonight after a dinner of wild salmon, brown rice and fresh spinach I took a bumble on my motorhorse up one of the Skedaddle trails, seeking nothing, finding not much more, but did so bathe in the gold and amber lights of slanted sun, and snooped in an old cabin with many sentimental relics, country kitschy stuff and hardwares, all guarded over by an anxious pigeon. A few old calendars hung on the way, the most antiquated from 1984, along with faded pictures of the woman who acted as Zelda in the movies, a couple funny metal signs with low brow slogans on them, multi-colored glow sticks, the obligatory playing cards, mugs with bears and penguins on them, a vintage wool jacket with all the padding sloughed and sagging down into the waist by mice, and a postcard with a fox in it with beautiful cursive writing. I think the postcard was my favorite because it seemed to carry the most story. The black flies becoming quite fierce so I put it down and regret not trying to read it all. I suppose it would be a reason to return. I turned the tires back at the lodge, and took the slow plodding trail back downhill on loose gravel with my brakes half depressed. The nighthawk has always been good to me on country roads, but untamped shale and loose rock is not my cup of jo’, and I have been quietly trying to manifest a new beast to saddle up with.

At Othala, everything remains pretty much the same as before, though greener and more inviting. Balmy days have allowed some permittable weather for nude gardening and homesteading, while I use my outdoor kitchen more often for cooking. An addition of a dc freezer has made life a little easier and a ton more satisfying to be able to put away meats, fish, berries, herbs and vegetables, with room to spare for when your lover’s freezer cops out on the same day of my hookup, true story. Some of the more abstract looking mushrooms have cropped up in the duff layer of the forest, Aurelias and false Morels, I never understood what was false about them, but I would not care to eat them. I’ve poured feed sacks of woodchips to make a golden pathway to the outhouse and workshop from my north and south doors, connecting the outbuildings together in a sense. Meanwhile I have enjoyed many mornings and afternoons on my porch, albeit splintered, cracked and somewhat punky, it brings me great satisfaction to wile there over a black brew with a copy of Druthers in hand.

The title of this post is inspired by the late great Euell Gibbons, considered by many to be the godfather of the modern foraging movement, and a rather fun chap to read. I own many of his works, including ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’, ‘Stalking the Blue -Eyed Scallop’, and ‘Stalking the Good Life’, so I rapped on the latter title for an apt preview of what my own life ethos has been about as of late. Though I have found no wild asparagus, I do have ten fine specimens that will soon be trenched down my woodland driveway. The short story being some garden work in the last twenty four hours, digging holes into shaly soil for homing a couple new haskaps, a goji bush, rhubarb stalks, a young brussel sprout, and a beach plum. The weather has been fair for nude gardening, at least until the evening when the black flies start to bite the sensitive parts. My lone oak tree has started to bud out, the apples are starting to bloom, woodpeckers are racketing on my chimney flues and making a natural alarm system, and the cool waters of the Beceguimec, Shiktehawk and Coldstreams have cleansed the dirt and sweat from my skin, at least for a few hours, at least until I apply a new layer. Renovations are moving ahead with the yurt to become more habitable for the traveler, and the love life is redeeming. So I guess you could say my foraging of the good life has gleaned a good harvest, and my pack basket is full,,, I hope you can say that for yourself too!

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