To the Sugar Bush We Go

It was 20 F when we out to tap the maple trees this year, but the wind wasn’t blowing and the snow didn’t start falling until we were wrapping up. When it warms up in a few weeks, it will be too late-the sap will already be flowing.

Otter tracks on Indian Creek. You never know what you will find in the forest until you go into the forest.

We primarily set taps in silver maple trees. All of the native maples, including black, sugar, silver, and box elder, produce sap that can be boiled down into maple syrup. We just happen to have a large amount of floodplain, and a corresponding large amount of silver maple trees.

The small annual hole we bore in the tree does not siphon out enough sap to damage the tree.

We also tap, to a lesser extent, box elders and sugar maples in the uplands. What difference does it make? Silver maple sap typically has between 1.5%-1.75% sugar in it. Black or sugar maple sap typically has between 2-3% sugar. And box elder sap has 1% sugar.To make syrup, we need to boil the box elder sap twice as long as the the sugar maple sap, and the longer it boils, the darker and richer the caramelization. It boils a long time, because we have to take the sugar concentrations from 1.5% sugar (sap) to 66% sugar (maple syrup).

Maple syrup is the first crop I harvest every year, and tapping the trees for it is my own personal act of faith that spring is about to emerge, in the form of sweet flowing sap from the maple trees.

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The well known path

The sound of the fresh falling snow lures me outside with the alacrity of a five year old. The snow renders the world silent, reduces the color palette to monochrome, refracts light into a million swirling rainbows, and turns even a well-known path into a journey of mystery and wonder.

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I headed for the Baltic labyrinth because I wanted to be totally immersed in the snow experience. The woods can be a very distracting place for me. In the fresh falling snow, with no tracks before me, I am the pioneer and the sole voyager. The sense of the place is subsumed by the sense of the elemental. I become one with the intense solitude, and experience, well, obviously not waldeinsamkeit.  Schneeinsamkeit, perhaps?

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Full Moon Walks 2016

Take a Full Moon Walk in 2016 with a FREE printable trackerDid you walk by the light of a full moon last year?

As a family, we tried to get out each full moon to take a walk. It didn’t always happen…it rained, it snowed, someone had to work late, or had a evening class. But we did try! And having a calendar showing when the full moon would be did help us remember to get outside at night.

Take a Full Moon walk with your family in 2016

Download your free printable full moon walk calendar here.

January’s full moon is the Wolf Moon — leave a comment and share about your walk this month.

Take a walk by the light of the full Wolf Moon this January!

Space.com’s 2016 Full Moon Calendar has more information about the Native American names for the full moons and information on the moon’s phases.

Also, visit EarthSky.org if you’re wondering why there is no blue moon in 2016!

Want even more full moon viewing inspiration? Check out Wilder Child’s Moon Gazing post — hint, she’s got an awesome free color download of all the full moon’s of 2016!

Welcoming 2016

Snow has finally arrived. It has transformed the woods into a magical place full of wonder, and on a more practical note, I haven’t seen a tick in a few days. We’ll ring in the New Year quietly in the forest, celebrating the beautiful natural world around us.

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The clouds are forming.
Bena Brook starts to freeze over.
Bena Brook starts to freeze over.
Windblown snow creates delicate patterns on downed trees.
Windblown snow creates delicate patterns on downed trees.

 

Waldeinsamkeit

Usually I celebrate full moons, eclipses, solstices, and anything else I can think of outside walking with friends, followed by a little fire.

While the browns and greys of tree bark and leaf litter dominate the woodland winterscape, some of the smaller plants stay green all winter in the woods.
While the browns and greys of tree bark and leaf litter dominate the woodland winterscape, some of the smaller plants stay green all winter in the woods.

This season has been unusually hectic between Amazing Space (of which I love every moment, it just takes a lot of moments), the construction of the natural amphitheater, preparing the apiary for 2016, and everything else I normally do.

I've never known it to flood in December before. It is usually a light precipitation month for us, and the precipitation is usually in the form of snow, not rain. But Wood Duck Way and the silver maples in the floodplain are under water, as the Red Cedar River and Indian Creek spill over their banks.
I’ve never known it to flood in December before. It is usually a light precipitation month for us, and the precipitation is usually in the form of snow, not rain. But Wood Duck Way and the silver maples in the floodplain are under water, as the Red Cedar River and Indian Creek spill over their banks.

For this winter solstice, I opted to take a break and enjoy waldeinsamkeit. It literally translates into woodland solitude, and I find it is a beautiful way to connect with myself, and with the natural world around me. I actually had to visit waldeinsamkeit twice, once during the day and once after dark on the solstice. The warm temperatures, moist air, and clouds skittering across the moon were beckoning me back outside. Since English is based on German, why we didn’t we keep that word?

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The unseasonably warm winter and frequent rains are supporting a prolonged mushroom season in the woods.

 

 

Art in Nature

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At our last fire, we decided to make some drawing charcoal. We took dried willow twigs and stripped the bark (stripping the bark should really be done when the willow is green, because it peels very easily then) to make a soft charcoal, and we split some thin strips of cedar to make hard charcoal. Each stick was about 8 inches long.

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We wrapped them tightly in tinfoil. This allows the gas to escape, but prevents oxygen from getting into the sticks and actually combusting them. We tucked them down in the coals, let them sit for an hour and a half, and then fished them back out. 

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A groundnut blossom
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A yellow lady slipper orchid blossom

With everything outside reduced to greys and browns, and the darkness setting in so early, drawing is a great way to experience  and study the wildflowers. Often, the brilliant colors of summer overwhelm me, and I don’t notice the more subtle structure of the flowers themselves. Meanwhile, mother nature has been creating her own artwork.

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The wind draws in the snow with little bluestem
The snow melted, the ground is not yet frozen, and the temperatures are vacillating between warm and chilly. We witnessed a rare phenomenon on some goldenrod stalks. Though the stalk is dead, it is wicking moisture out of the ground. The moisture then freezes in the air, creating an iceflower at the base of the plant.

When a Walk in Nature Goes Wrong

When a Walk in Nature Goes Wrong -- pocketmousepublishing.comHow do you handle it when a walk in nature goes wrong? I don’t mean “Drama in Real Life” wrong. Breathe easy — no cougars attacks, rock slides, or poisonous mushrooms will be featured in this account.

This is about the small frustrations that occur when you’re trying to get yourself and your family away from “the electronic paradise” as the S’More Outdoor podcast so succinctly describes it. This is the red crayon in the dryer, the burned dinner, the waiting in line at the library with a whining toddler to pay the (huge) fine – so you can check out your fifty book stack.

We’ve all had these types of frustrations in our daily lives. And they aren’t absent just because we want to take our children out to experience the joys of nature.

Earlier this week we headed out for a walk with the dog to the woods. I was in high spirits because two of my older children were able to come along – between working and their college/highschool classes, they do not get the same quantity of outdoor time the rest of us do! Off we went, the little didn’t even where a jacket because it was such a spring-like day.

First, I slipped on the wooden walkway leading across a drainage ditch. Initially my knee hurt dreadfully. But after standing up and testing it, I realized it didn’t hurt to walk (much). So on we went, with me and my oldest chatting about the importance of soil and the neat collection of monthly soil activities I found (more on this in a future post!).

We finally arrived at the creek. The 9yo had gone on ahead and was out of sight, but I wasn’t worried, we had a meeting place.

With all the melting snow our little creek was running fast and quite cold, so big brother offered to carry 5yo across.

You know what is coming, right?

When a Nature Walk Goes Wrong - Creek

He slipped and into the icy water she went.

Was she hurt? Not at all.

Did she cry? Not at all.

Was she cold and wet and needing to go home right then? YES! I took off my coat and wrapped her in it, picked her up, instructed the other three to locate 9yo and come home. So much for family time out in glories of nature.

Then I headed home with a bum knee, a shivering 5yo in my arms, and a very unhappy dog who didn’t like her family heading in different directions.

Halfway home, coming down a rather steep hill, the dog stopped and looked back. She wouldn’t budge. Then over the hill came the dejected 9yo. My initial (horrified) thought was he had discovered no one was following him and came back to look for us, somehow missing his siblings…who were now wandering the woods looking for him!

But no, they had found him and were not far behind. He was unhappy because he hadn’t gotten his nature walk.

We all finally arrive home. And swore off walking in the woods forever.

No, actually, we didn’t. Think about those small frustrations. After the crayon in the dryer incident, did you take ALL your family’s dirty clothes to the dry cleaners henceforward? After the burned dinner, did you only eat in restaurants? And have you never returned to the library simply because you were embarrassed by a fine? Of course not!

We move on, we overcome, and maybe we can even laugh about such incidents in the years to come. When the immense bruise on my knee fades, I may laugh.

In the meantime, we’re still walking in the woods and on the paths and to the park…anything to get our daily dose of nature, no matter the weather. It has been 33 days since we started. I think we’re on the way to a habit!

Don’t give up on getting out into nature just because it isn’t idyllic every time you venture out!  Check out this encouraging National Wildlife Federations Health Benefits page and get back out there with your kids!

Do you find getting out into nature with your kids frustrating?  Have you ever had a nature walk go wrong?