Monday, June 28, 2010

Clear away hemlock grove and cut down all walnuts that are in the way of the future garden, CHECK

Well, the clearing that was to be done on the land is done. It took 17 hours of LC and JC (with their track hoe), 8 hours of chainsaw work by the fabulous and ever working Eduard*, and about 20 hours of me being there- working some, thinking some, "supervising" some, and keeping a close eye on the enormous burn piles of hemlocks that were going. The only clearing left to do is for the house site, which as of now is undecided. The place looks so big and open now that the bulk of the clearing is done. I would say there are close to 2 acres cleared total, leaving 18 acres of precious woods. Even though I didn't do much physical labor today, I feel pretty exhausted from the process of thinking, being out in the heat, and decision making that will have long term effects on the land and on my life. Does anyone have a decent riding mower that you want to sell to me?

* Eduard has been one of the (if not the top) most enthusiastic and supportive friends in this process since I moved down into the holler into the Airstream. He first helped me set up gutters and a rainwater collection system for Airstream living, then he came to all the work parties to date, and today he came out and did some kick arse chainsaw work in the heat. Thank god and daniel boone for Belgium work horses who pose as humans.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

heliolotry: word of the week

Did you know that at this here approximate latitude, the sun is around 30 degrees above the horizon at midday on the winter solstice? Did you know that on that day the sun rises approximately 73 degrees east of due south and sets about 73 degrees west of due south? On the spring and fall equinoxes, the sun is about 54 degrees above the horizon and it rises 91 degrees east of due south (and sets 91 degrees west of due south.) On the summer solstice, the fiery ball shines 78 degrees above the horizon and rises 110 degrees east of due south, setting 110 degrees west of due south. Here in the mountains, with the land's countless rises and falls, knolls and hollers, coves and ridges, it can be pretty tricky to find the perfect little nook to place a new house. The path of the sun across the sky through the seasons is a phenomenon to be observed with the utmost respect. The sun, the ultimate elemental representation of fire here on out little planet, is an entity to cater to, if not worship.
I wasn't in church this Sunday worshipping the son, but rather you could find me out in the woods dappling in a little heliolotry of sorts. I spent the morning gathering some basic props- a compass, a protractor, a level, a yard stick and my shotgun. By this afternoon I was up in the hills checking what the angle of the sun will be in the middle of winter at each of my three top potential house sites. I decided the best way to see if the mountains would be in the way of precious winter sun was this method:
1) Take a stump and mark it with north, south, east and west. Also, using the compass, mark it with the degrees east and west of due south that the sun will rise and set on the solstices and equinoxes.
2) Use the level to set the stump at level on the highest end of the house site (the uphill side).
3) Set the protractor in the center of the stump and set the arm to 30 degrees, facing due south.
4) Use the yard stick (propped up by the handle of a garden fork) to reach out from the center of the stump at 30 degrees- to the southern sky.
5) Lay the shotgun flat against the yard stick and look out and up the barrel (lining up the beads) to see if I am looking at a mountain or the sky. (A rifle with a scope would have worked much better.)
The result was enlightening (ha) and somewhat challenging. I don't want to build on to top where the spring flows underground; I don't want to build on really steep land; I don't want the sun to fry me in the summer; But I do want some good warm sunlight and warmth to keep me praying in the winter. I am thinking it might be a west facing house (with a windowy side to the south) which is up a bit on the hill, offset from the likeliest place the spring is under and with a nice view down below of the meadow. The idea is likely to change again tomorrow. There are so many factors. But one won't change- the sun will be honored and praised and damn near worshipped (and sometimes god forgive me daniel boone cursed) throughout the whole process.
Ideas, thoughts and opinions about this matter are welcome...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ground breaking of sorts

Bull dozer work in preparation for the house building and homesteading began yesterday up at my place. I say "bull dozing" loosely because the clearing of yesterday was in fact executed by a two toned purple track hoe. The task begun was clearing about an acre of hemlocks. "LC" and his son "JC" cleared and burned over half of the lot yesterday, in the heat, with me looking on and trying to help.

***Note (Let me explain the burning. I (and friendly helpers) have already gone through the grove and selectively cut and stacked all the trees with sizable logs for future construction of an outbuilding. I have also already stacked quite a bit of hemlock wood for future bonfires. It is also likely that in the near future I will be doing a day of chipping of some of the hemlocks. I decided to go ahead and burn the day's clearing to just get rid of it and keep the site clean for the next few weeks of work. It was not a perfect option, but I feel a reasonable compromise for efficiency of upcoming work.)

But back to the track hoe work. I was pretty nervous about it, being a decision that could not be undone and being an act of destruction and all. I am quite confident in the dozer man, "LC," but I was still edgy about the whole of it. I called Mom and told her she should come out and see me (which she did for a few minutes in the early afternoon with Dad), and I made a call up to the Mechos to say that one of the females of the house should come up just so I wasn't the only girl on the scene. I just wanted the moral support I guess. Well, it was a hot day and nobody wanted to be out there in the sun with a massive burn pile going, but God bless Mom and Dad and God bless Bean, who walked up late in the afternoon for some good old fashioned girl time with the big Dane (that's me). Bean had just dyed her hair extra purple and was sporting a darling purple dress to go with it. I made her get up on the track hoe for a most fantastic and sneaky feeling photo shoot (which she seemed to thoroughly enjoy too, once she surrendered to the idea).

After that we hung out up there for a good while, chewing the fat and laughing and carrying on. We were discussing favorite colors- Bean's is (big surprise) purple, and I was looking around to find an appropriately salmon colored item to demonstrate my favorite color, when I spotted a lovely orange mushroom, which Bean identifyed as chicken of the woods. God bless 14 year olds who help me with mushroom ID. I ate it for dinner tonight. It tasted like chicken. It is not quite my favorite color but almost.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Moments of Interest

Extremely delicious brie baked with butter, honey and figs (by Beth Trigg) and chilled hibiscus mead made by Beth and Christopher of Red Wing Farm

The moment it finally cooled off yesterday at Red Wing Farm (Swannanoa River Valley)

Deceased Indigo Bunting close up

Deceased indigo bunting with reishi mushroom and key

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Don't mind me, I'm just over here chopping some reishi with an ulu...

A couple weeks ago I house sat in Weaverville on a Friday night. Since I was so close I decided to go down to the North Asheville farmers' market first thing Saturday to check the scene and score some fresh stuff. I got there and became completely overwhlemed by all the people and activity early in the morning. Luckily, I immediately found an old buddy, Galen from Green Toe Ground Farm, and he was kind enough to let me sit on his tailgate for a while to just acclimate. After a while of chit-chat with him (and Frank Teneralli of Let it Grow on the side), I was ready to join the crowd. Good move, Dana. I found Carol Dreiling, who showcased a collection of some absolutely GORGEOUS mushrooms that she grew at her place. She kindly assembled me a sampler bag of various colors of oyster mushrooms and also something called lion's mane. Then I went for the gold and bought a stunningly beautiful reishi (Ganoderma) from her. I am doing some reading and getting pretty jazzed about the reishi. (It turns out that The Girl in an Apron's husband, JB- great guy- is into the mushrooms and loaned me a couple books!) Not only is it one of the prettiest things my eyes have ever beheld, it sounds like a real winner of a tonic medicine. I got 2 more reishis the next Saturday and I am hopefully getting a couple more today for the Nagle sister trial tincture.
Donna Price (Head Hoe) gave me her ulu to use for my herbal chopping. It proved perfect for the job of chopping the reishi, which had started to turn a little tough after a couple days on the counter. By the way, I think the ulu is gorgeous too- the shape is bitchin' and it showed those reishi what time it was!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Zoe's find

Zoe found this. It is an azalea branch with these tiny little dots attached long the stem. It is some sort of feature of nature. Anyone?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Linden Harvest

I read once that in parts of France they used to close schools when the lindens bloomed so that the whole families could get out there and harvest the sweet flowers, which could be made into tea, medicine and perfume. Well, it is not France and here in America school is already out, but a certain SR and I make it a habit to drop things and head to our special little grove of lindens (Tilia cordata) each June when the trees bloom. We have a ritual that involves meeting in the grove and listening to a certain soundtrack (which we play from the car stereo) and harvesting baskets of righteous blossoms for various potions and concoctions, and this year- mead. I went ahead and picked up a gallon of local wildflower honey Friday morning. Friday evening we had our big harvest. We had to wait through a couple of thunderstorms, and we didn't have our usual music, but we went with the flow and harvest a huge basket of perfectly ripe flowers.

SR and I decided to make a weekend of it. Saturday we enjoyed the Bluff Mountain Music festival here in Hot Springs, and caught angelic whiffs of basswood flowers (Tilia americana- our native linden) from the grandmother tree which is on the grounds of the Hot Springs spa, where the festival was held. Old time music and old time floral scents- a perfect summery combination. Saturday evening we collected 5 gallons of spring water from the Hot Springs themselves and let it cool off. We then cold infused our linden blossoms in the water overnight. During all this I enjoyed a new drink, named a Linden Twist by Donna Price, which is gin infused with fresh linden flowers and tonic with a twist of lime. So good. Oh, soooo good. Do it.

Sunday morning we strained the potent cold infused linden tea and heated the gallon of honey.

We then incorporated all the tea and honey, let it cool to a little warmer than lukewarm, siphoned it into 2- 3 gallon carboys, and added champagne yeast and airlocks. Gorgeous. I think this is gonna be a good batch. I haven't made a good home brew in a while, and I think this one is coming just on time. Come over and drink it with me in a few months. Or if you can't wait that long, come over and drink some of the (quite good) strawberry wine or peach wine that I emptied out of the carboys from several years ago to make room for the new batch.

Praises to the glories of summertime! If you haven't already, I suggest getting out there and finding some linden or basswood and getting in on some of that.

Check out my new collaboration with Aimee Fabre!

I am doing a collaborative blog with my friend Aimee from work. It's an artistic effort to expand our vocabulary through photography (Aimee) and writing (me). It's called the Big Word Project.

Here's a link

Also, check out Aimee's new photojournal style blog, souvenir. Here's a link

Enjoy and thank you for reading!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cold Hard Pimpin'

My shoe broke at work the other day. I tried to duck tape it together, but on account of the dirt, the rain, and the cheapened quality of today's duck tape, the repair job didn't really hold up so well. After 2 long hot days of wearing my steel toed work boots on a steep bank and nearly wearing the ends of my toes off, I decided I needed an interim pair of work shoes until I have the time to go shopping for proper foot wear. I headed off to Roses Wednesday night for a $12.50 pair of Jonathan Youngs. They are a men's size 9 and the ugliest shoes to ever walk the streets (or yards as it were) of Asheville. If you have never been to a Roses, I would say consider yourself lucky. I happen to get a huge kick out of the place, but it is, after all, a dying enterprise and is therefore dirty, smelly, and extremely weird. The stuff is cheap and random, the store is oddly lit, and there is always very bad and never heard before background music playing.
I wore my Jonathan Youngs to work these past 2 days, and thank God for them because it was hotter than a pile of dirty hoisery outside and we needed something to talk about to pass the time. I would say to anyone I care about: Do not buy a pair of Jonathan Youngs from Roses and wear them to work unless you have a rather high tolerance for both weirdness and teasing. I decided to deflect some of negative qualities of the JYs by beginning to write a rap about them. So far I have:

(Background ladies, high pitch) Gonna have fun
Gonna have fun,
Gonna have fun in my
Jonathan Youngs

(My voice, regular pitch) Cold hard pimpin in my Jonathan Youngs
Livin it up in my Jonathan Youngs
Walkin around in my Jonathan Youngs
You don't know sh*t about my Jonathan Youngs

Yo Jonathan Young why you so white
When you rollin in the mud all day and night
Yo Jonathan Young why you so blue
You gotta dirty hoe walkin over you

Anyways, the possibilites for this rap are vast. Please feel free to write verse suggestions in the comment box. I know my verses are kind of lame (not unlike the shoes), but I had to get a little something started.

***Thanks to Rachel (Girl in an Apron) for the photos of my JYs!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Marc Williams, Ethnobotanist, comes to the holler!

Monday evening found about 12 of us plant lovers gathered at my place to meet with Marc Williams (ethnobotanist and real sweet feller) and walk on the land to check out plants. In true holler fashion, we gathered and chilled out for a while first, enjoying beverages and snacks and plentiful conversation. When Marc arrived, we were off into the woods.

We walked for about 2 hours, stopping to examine various plants and trees, listen to Marc's seemingly endless information and history and stories about the plants and their families, taste and smell various wild foods and medicines, and ask questions of Marc and each other about plants. It was fantastic to have a community of people whacking their way through the woods and the vines and fallen down trees (and some poison ivy) happily, in the pursuit of deepening their knowledge of the plant world. I was of course just tickled pink and found lots of little moments of humor. For example, Marc told us that bears sometimes will use "bear corn" (Conopholis americana) to help loosen and release their winter "sphinctor plugs," Susie thought he meant the bears would back right up to the plant and use it manually in their anuses to get the plugs out. (Rather, he really meant that they would eat it as roughage and perhaps some kind of laxative to make them go number 2 after a long winter of not.) That was pretty funny, and yes I did wake up at 4:45 the next morning laughing out loud in the bed over it ...
All participants (mostly neighborhood folks) were completely engaged and game to learn as much as possible.

Marc was a truly magnificent leader, with his calm but totally alert and focused demeanor and so much information about plant families, plant history, human relationships to various plants (food and medicine) and interspecies dependence and connectedness. I have known Marc for years now, but this was my first plant walk with him and I was thoroughly impressed. I would like to hearby recommend all of you dear readers to check out his website in progress, which is
I was excited to learn about the one of the predominant plants in the meadow area of my place- it grows all over the place but I didn't know what it was. Green-headed coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) is an edible green which is called So chane in Cherokee. Here is a picture.

I learned that spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is in the avocado family and is an Appalachian relic of the tropics. Spicebush is one of the predominant species of my place. I also learned that cleavers are in the same family as coffee. I actually am commencing an online course led by Marc Williams in which I will be learning about the characteristics of the main plant families, so hopefully by this time next year I will not be surprised by family business...

Here is a cool shagbark hickory (Carya ovata):

This is Iliana checking out a lycopodium:

Thanks Marc and neighbors for a great evening!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Early Morning Swim

On account of it being JUNE, I decided it is high time to take advantage of the free exercise facility which is steps away from my current back door. I got up for an early morning swim with the trusty ole kickboard this morning before work. The Spring Creek water was rather chilly, but I did it anyways. It's a great time of day to be in the water- lots of bird activity and not much human activity going on. The louisiana waterthrush who has taken residence for the time being on the opposite side of the creek was singing its little dawn song, and the sun rose over the hazy horizon as I finished my little workout. The beavers were hiding in their muddy lair.