The Doorstep Of Autumn

I spent a lovely 1 1/2 hours with a grandparent and grandkids who I nature mentor. We started our day by tasting some rose petal honey that we’d started in late June. Mmm! Delicious! We imagine that spreading the honey (with the rose petals) on toast will make a delightful treat.

Wild Roses In Late June
Wild Roses In Late June
Making Rose Petal Honey

To make Rose Petal Honey: harvest petals from an area free of toxins of any kind. Layer the petals in a jar with honey. Be sure to entirely cover the petals with honey. Fill to the top, stir, and screw on the lid. It’s good to stir the petals every day or every few days. We left our petals in for about six weeks before tasting, though I know of folks who don’t wait more than a week. You don’t have to strain out the petals–just spread them on with the honey!

Note: Mountain Rose Herbs has a video on how to make herbal honey. They use Lavender in the video, but you can easily substitute rose petals.

After honey tasting, the kids ran outside to a special place in the woods where fairies leave notes. There they discovered a message and a lovely smooth heart stone that the fairies had found on the beach. Whenever the grandchildren visit their grandparents they find notes, gifts, and treasure hunts from the fairies!

Then out we went to the fire circle. We started a “greenfire” (this time made up of the yellow blooms of false dandelion, various grasses and leaves, and charred sticks). We settled in for a story.

I have been telling tales of two children who call themselves Bard Owl (spelling is correct) and Redcedar. Today Bard Owl and Redcedar’s grandmother told them about the maps she used to make of special places in forest and field, with notes about the magical adventures she had in those places. Bard Owl and Redcedar decide to map their special places. A nearby Douglas-fir tree wakes up enough to tell them about Songlines, a way of mapping your wandering into a place–also helpful for finding your way back out …. A Songline is like a series of stories and names that follow one another like beads on a string.

When the story finishes we head out into the woods with the intention of creating a songline, and then using the songline to help begin a map of the land.

Here is an abbreviated version of our songline!

Spiderweb crossing – where we crossed a footbridge and accidently broke through a spiderweb

Compost pile

Tree with eyes (where my older daughter helped clear some blackberry–we ended up discovering several trees in the area with eyes!)

Nettle field–lots of different kinds of deer scat here, of varying consistences. Some seeming fairly fresh, some as if they’d been there a day or two. A lot of speculation about why the scat was different from one another. Different food sources?

Bubbling brook

Blackberries all along the north edge of the land. Yum! Why so many blackberries here? What do they love about the light, soil, and moisture here? Who are their plant companions? Who (animal and plant) lives in their neighborhood?

The Fairy Place–full of huge skunk cabbage and another brook. We left some rose petal honey here for the fairies.

Apple Tree–an old tree with the tiniest apples, and with blackberries ripe interwoven in the branches. More enjoyment of blackberries!

Mountain-Ash (Sorbus scopulina) or Rowan Tree–just vibrant with orange-red berries, and also interwoven with blackberries. I just couldn’t get over the beauty of this tree!

A garter snake glided through the grasses, stitching in and out like a threaded needle.

Ah, a mystery animal gnawed an apple. Smooth rounded bites. From a deer? Probably not from a bird (the marks don’t resemble pecks) or a raccoon …

The sky was deep blue with scads of little clouds, the air, cool. It so feels like the beginning of autumn, just like that!

We headed back along on our songline …. We ended our time by dispersing our greenfire  and looking at maps children had drawn of the forest and field there seven years before. Many names for places are different. A few landmarks are different. What stories do these maps tell?

Time to create maps of our own!

Moon Of Blackberries Ripen

A number of years ago I played with how we might name “Moons” of the year based on what happened locally, here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. Moon Of Blackberries Ripen was one that sprang immediately to mind and to my senses (and taste buds!). The puzzle then–as now–is that Blackberries are just beginning to ripen, here at the Third Quarter. By next Moon cycle the Blackberries will be full on, but perhaps on the wane in a month from now. So, do I consider the next Moon to be Blackberries Ripen?

But by then the Time Of The Spiders will be at hand!

Okay, so the way I dance with the succession of natural events here is not necessarily by “Moons”!

In any case it is time to celebrate! Many of us in the Pacific NW are dismayed by the Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) and its oh-so-vigorous nature (its a Class C noxious weed), but what magic this tenacious herb wields come the Moon of Blackberries Ripen! Already kids are trailing out to pluck berries off the vine and pop them into their mouths. Soon it will be grownups, folks of all ages, harvesting everywhere.

This is one of the gifts of Blackberry–the way it beckons even the most ecophobic to brave thorns and to delight in the pickings! And with the minutes or hours outside comes the expansive embrace of the natural world — the Pacific Northwest when summer and sun finally arrives — come, come! — beckoning us all into our native knowings, and into our cleverness as we devise ways to pick berries from the highest vines, along the steepest slopes. Blackberry gets us into the dirt and into the green.

Blackberry Magic - photo by Jane Valencia

Youch! When Blackberry Bit …

Recently I was with a group helping caretake some land, removing what was basically a Scotch broom forest along a logging road. In levering up a Scotch broom with a nifty tool (we all call it the Scotch broom remover, but I’m sure it has a real name!), a Blackberry vine wrapped around the plant snapped into my face, and a thorn skewered my lip. Youch! Actually, the pain was fleeting, but being that my lip was punctured, the blood kept flowing!

Pressing my fingers to my lips I looked around for some help from plant allies. Amazingly, Plantain (Plantago spp.) was nowhere to be seen. I thought, Yarrow–with its affinity for blood–would be perfect, but I’d never spotted Yarrow in that area, and didn’t now.

As my wound kept bleeding, my thinking shifted: “Well, what I need is an astringent, to tighten my tissues.” Red Alder (Alnus rubra) is not yet in leaf, but catkins dangle like caterpillars. My past experience with Red Alder is that it is powerfully anti-infective, but … I wavered from just mashing a catkin into my wound.

Ah! How about the “hair of the dog that bit me”?! Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) leaf is certainly astringent, as it is often recommended in helping ease diarrhea. So, I plucked a healthy enough Blackberry leaf, chewed it up, then pressed it on my lip, using my mouth to add pressure and hold it down. I changed the poultice a couple of times, then alternated it with a Red Alder catkin sprinkled up. Within ten minutes the bleeding had stopped. I can’t tell you which plant was more effective in staunching the bleeding, but I’m guessing the Red Alder catkin was likely to have been the major powerhouse (I’ve used Red Alder leaf to swift effect in dealing with spider bites).

Among the many things I love about herbs is this–that by learning different principles (such as how certain actions effect tissues), and by knowing your plants, you can leap outside your box when you have to. If you can’t find the plant that is “perfect” for easing whatever ails you, you are likely to actually have just the right plant to help you right on hand–one that you may never have thought of in just those terms.