Friday, January 5, 2018

Photo Update 2017 Part 7: On the News

Before moving to the woods, I've never had a journalist show any interest in me. In the last 2 years, I've been on a few TV programs and talked with journalists and authors who come to visit for a little while.

A few folks from NBC came out this fall and made a little video about the place and people at Wild Roots. They don't focus on projects much. Their videography is way better than my photography though, so maybe it's a nice complement to my photo updates.

A few minor comments I'd make: usually there're more people at Wild Roots than shown in the video, but it was winding down in the cold season when they visited. Also, I say in the video I miss my friends from my life in northern Virginia. I do, and I didn't mean to imply that I don't have any new friends - I don't live isolated in the woods with just 4 other people and 2 dogs! I also feel really grateful for many rich new friendships I've made. Oh yeah, and these days I go by Whippoorwill, or Whip for short.

That's all for my 2017 photo update. Thanks for reading.


This is part of a series of posts describing my living situation (Wild Roots) and projects this summer and fall 2017:

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Photo Update 2017 Part 6: Kamana and Healing

The Pounding Mill stream that flows through my sit spot, a place a visited almost daily while at Wild Roots.


In 2014, when I transitioned out of northern Virginia to the southern Appalachians here, I knew fear was a driving motivator: fear of a deteriorating natural environment with species loss, climate change, and farming soil loss, fear of social instability and anti-social government and corporate behavior, and fear that the money I was earning wasn't always going to be able to protect me from all these problems.

I knew that fear was driving me away from a way of life I didn't like, and I wanted to feel drawn towards something beautiful, a way of life I felt excited to embrace each day. I didn't know what that 'something beautiful' was, nor how to feel spontaneously drawn towards it so that fear would not be motivating everything I did. Maybe that's been one of my big quests of the last few years.

Kamana has helped me find that something beautiful and helped me feel deeply drawn to that beauty each day.

Kamana is a guided self-study program created by Jon Young and others of the Wilderness Awareness School. I got the Kamana workbook and a big ol' stack of field guides, and their promise is that if I give a little time each day and follow the program outlined in the workbook, I will learn to “See through native eyes”: see the living world with all the richness, love, and deep understanding that a native does.

Each day I visit a sit-spot, a place where I go and just sit and listen and feel and watch and smell. I go at different times of day, in different weather and get to know that place more intimately than anywhere I've ever been. Each time when I visit, I pause and feel gratitude for the space, for the plants and stream and wind and mushrooms and birds. This sense of gratitude has helped me so much: I calm down, the running inner mind (what the Buddhists call the “Judging mind”, the Sufis call it the “Commanding Mind”) disappears, and there's no mental garbage between me and the sensual experience of being part of the land for a little while. The ego fades, and I notice so much more and feel so free.

The bathing space we made in the Pounding Mill, at the edge of the sit spot area.
One of Kamana's many suggested practices is to learn to 'listen between the sounds': do not focus on the loudest birds or insects, but keep seeking to hear softer and softer sounds. In this way, I become oriented to the space where I'm sitting so much better: I could tell you more about which birds are active where, where the insects are active and when, where the water flows and the where the wind rustles the trees.

Instead of living 'in the mind', living life often as a series of tasks and being oriented to the human world of obligations and often-unhealthy social norms, I just get to be me, hanging out in the woods with a bunch of plants and animals just being themselves too, also with no laws, obligations, or unhealthy social norms like racism or sexism to deal with. And from that place of having no obligations to each other, we get to decide in each moment how to relate to each other. The plants don't generally run away, but the ground-birds usually flee as I approach, and then I get to learn how long the birds will wait before deciding I'm safe to be around (and which birds get comfortable soonest!).

And the birds will tell me if I'm feeling tensed or anxious, if I have that running mind, 'cause they vamoose and won't return! But when I relax and feel that gratitude and inner calm, often they'll eventually come back, and maybe even come pretty close.

My sit spot was basically the valley at the bottom of Wild Roots, which had the stream running through it and steep hills on most of the South, West, and East sides. In the middle was mostly thick underbrush and some tall trees, including basswood, buckeye, hemlock, tulip poplar, and others.
I learn to recognize the wisdom in all the animals and plants, each living so intelligently according to its needs, body form, and so on, and it's working my empathy skills big time. Recognizing the birds as neighbors and asking how they're feeling, what they're saying with a particular bird song, and what's going on when they seem to express fear or curiosity: this attitude of empathy and caring carries over well into the human world, and I feel like I'm learning to relate with people in a much healthier way too. I observe other people more carefully and listen better. I don't rush to judgment.

This is making a big difference in my life now. I feel a deeper respect for the challenges of people who live very differently, not because I fantasize about their different life experience, but because I observe them carefully, consider the whole context of their lives, and ask meaningful questions. Single mothers, people with no college education, people who've never made more than minimum wage, people with a background of sexual trauma or who've faced police and corporate violence in support of a meaningful cause or for no apparent reason. All these and other life paths seem different than mine, and I'm finding that as I calm the running mind and learn to breathe deeply and listen, these differences present fewer and fewer barriers to understanding and to having a joyful, intimate friendship.

With this change, my romantic and friend relationships have become much richer. When I don't shame people for things they're used to being shamed for, or when I show interest or gratitude where others commonly don't, I get to hear really intimate stories of what challenges they face and what their life is really like. What's it like to be a woman married to a man who doesn't care about her sexual pleasure, but only his? What's it like being a single mother and hearing negative judgments about your mothering from others, including people who aren't themselves parents? What's it like being both black and latino and not being accepted in either community where you live? And how do white people treat you where you live?

The practices and attitudes suggested by the Kamana program, along with others I've picked up, are really helping me feel at home outside and more connected with the people around me. I feel pretty grateful for that!


The Kamana and self-healing practices clearly blend together! In addition to Kamana, I've studied a few radical psychotherapy practices developed in the early 20th century, particularly the body-based therapy developed by Wilhelm Reich and Gestalt therapy. A few highly recommended books from this research: The Function of the Orgasm by Wilhelm Reich, Gestalt Therapy, Excitement and Growth in the Human Organism by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, and Reichian Therapy, The Techniques for Home Use by Jack Willis (available free here). I found the Willis book through this Reichian site, another helpful resource. The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, which I wrote about here, along with others and my studies of native cultures, really laid the groundwork for how I appreciated these books.

Their basic premise is that human children are born wild and, in civilized cultures, they're domesticated as they grow up. In this process, they start out sensing their needs and feelings in their whole body with great clarity and energy. In undomesticated cultures, they learn to sense internally and externally with ever more clarity and learn to take care of each of their needs independently of adults more or less as soon as they're physically able, including bringing in food and medicine, making fire and their own home, sensing their own body rhythms and so on.

In domesticated cultures, over time, children go through traumas where their needs aren't met: maybe a need for parental touch, or to explore a rich living environment, or to move energetically and laugh joyfully or to learn to meet their own food and shelter needs without parental support. Instead of loving mentoring or support, many people receive shame or punishment for experiencing sexual feelings as they grow up, expressing certain feelings like anger or dissatisfaction, or for basic bodily functions like pooping or menstruating. And when the need goes unmet for long enough, with no end of the frustration in sight, the kids develop coping mechanisms where they learn to disassociate from the frustrated feeling: first they suppress it (ignoring it), then they repress it (forgetting that they ignore the feeling, so that they're unaware that they even have the feeling or need – though it's still there!). Other coping mechanisms are possible too, but that's a simple mental model I've found valuable.

"I won't grow up. In me is the little child of my early days." I saw this message on a fence while walking through Raleigh, NC. July 2017.

Imagine you're a kid...

Here's an of such a frustrating situation: Imagine being a 7 year old, full of vibrant life energy. You're curious to explore the streams and woods where you live, to play with friends, to contribute meaningfully to your family, to run around to exhaustion and then rest deeply. Now imagine that you're sent to a school where the teacher shows no interest in your feelings and desires, but demands that you sit still and quietly, while you must learn all sorts of abstract ideas and skills that do not respond to your felt needs. Your curiosity is shut down, as you're forced to show interest in things that don't matter to your sensed needs. You must ignore what you deeply want to do if you want to avoid punishment and retain your parents' love and stay in their good graces. Perhaps you're shamed or punished for feeling angry, humiliated, or scared at being ordered around constantly and having your needs ignored.

Now the question is: how do kids actually obey in these life situations? No one ever tells the kid HOW to sit still when they want to move, day after day, year after year. And so each kid must figure out for themselves how to cope with this. One common way is to learn to breath poorly: constrict the throat and the upper chest and lower belly. Many learn to slouch. For analogy, imagine a kid's life energy is like a fire. If the fire needs to die down (if the kid needs to feel less energetic every day so they can sit still), then you can reduce the fire intensity by cutting off oxygen to it. Likewise, children learn to reduce their own metabolism – reduce their own vital life energy – by inhibiting their own breathing. I believe that children are born with a bright spark in their eye, full of wonder and curiosity and love, and then many lose that spark over time as they cope with these sorts of traumas. They learn to become duller, to not sense their own needs and instead respond to the needs of the authoritarian figures in their lives (i.e. adults who do not take the child's felt needs into account when supporting the child in growing up, imposing instead what the adult believes are the child's needs).

My experience with body-based therapies

I found the Reichian Therapy Home Book eye-opening when I learned how many different ways people respond to these traumas. One of Reich's big discoveries was that people develop chronic muscular tension as a physical embodiment of emotional trauma: developing the chronic tension is a coping mechanism and, therapeutically, it's where the emotional tension lives. And so that home-therapy book gives a program for working to recognize and release all of these chronic tensions that represent our own personal coping mechanisms we've developed over our life. And I learned to appreciate how commonly, due to these traumas and coping mechanisms, people learn to walk poorly, to breathe poorly, to make love poorly, to feel poorly, sleep poorly, see and hear and smell and taste and remember poorly.

I'm learning slowly to release the tensions and feel more emotionally and physically capable and flexible. The Willis book makes some strange claims: as you release the tension around the eyes and forehead, for example, you will notice changes in the color intensity you perceive, your depth perception, your taste in music, and your focus and concentration. I can actually attest to all these from the self-work I've done. Recognizing and releasing the chronic tensions feels like powerful work.

The Gestalt Therapy book takes a different tack which I've also found very helpful. Half of the book outlines their theory of human neuroses: how they happen, why, and so on. Some parts in the theory section I found pretty dense and unhelpful, and other parts extremely illuminating. The section on 'abnormal anthropology', a description of the evolution of neurotic behaviors and how different cultures encourage or discourage them, was pretty eye-opening.

The other half of the Gestalt book gives a series of personal experiments you can do to recognize and heal your neurotic behaviors. With these, I'm learning to answer questions like: how do you respond, physically and emotionally (and I'm learning those are not so separate) under stressful situations of different kinds? When do you begin to feel tension or disassociate from your present experience? What happens next: do you try to dominate the situation, escape, go along? Do you breathe shallowly, tense the eyes or throat, and slouch or lean to one side? Do you fantasize only to realize you haven't been paying attention to your surroundings for some time?

The Gestalt practices are geared towards helping a person build awareness of those repressed feelings: feelings we learned as young children (and maybe later in life too) that it wasn't ok to feel. As I build self-awareness of these feelings, I decide consciously how I want to respond, instead of responding from unconscious fear or anxiety.

As an example: In the past I've struggled to have difficult conversations with a romantic partner, conversations where I sensed a possibility that she might want to end the relationship or might feel disappointed in me. I may want to have the conversation, and yet I'll have poor self-awareness and poor composure: maybe I'll disassociate and zone-out from fear or stress, or I'll respond with frustration or just try to please her without considering my own needs and whether I agree with her perspective. Often, many years ago, I responded without expressing how I felt at all, just trying to use logic and so-called rational explanations to clarify what I perceived as misunderstandings.

It's been a long process, but I'm learning to notice quickly when a feel constricted and when my breathing gets shallower, which are for me the muscular manifestations of emotional 'shutting down'. I sense more quickly when I feel fear or anger and then respond to it consciously: maybe I take 10 minutes or a day of alone time and then resume the conversation. I consciously breath deeper and more slowly. Often, in difficult conversations, I just tell the other person what feelings are coming up for me, not in an attacking way but just so they know what I'm experiencing in the moment. That openness and deep heart-sharing inevitably brings us closer together, whatever the other issues: it's a sign that I trust her, and helps her know what's going on for me so she need not guess (and feel stressed about guessing wrong about what's going on within me). I  don't turn off or ignore the logical / rational thinking ability, I just integrate it as part of a whole-body way of understanding and responding to my own needs and another person's.

Over time I've grown so that I feel much less tension in such difficult conversations, and so I recognize those anxieties much sooner after they arise – maybe even as they arise! I'm learning to trust my friend or partner to hear how I'm feeling so that I don't need to cover it up or pretend to be stoic and unfeeling. All this also means others can trust me to hear how they're really feeling, knowing I won't judge them as good or bad, make assumptions about them, or respond from my own anxieties. We trust each other to respond to the other as they really are and how they're really feeling. And from that place of trust and mutual understanding, we can work through whatever the conflict is. Of course I don't trust everyone with all my feelings, but I'm conscious in each relationship and each moment what I feel comfortable sharing, and whether the relationship still feels rich enough with such limitations to continue. If not, I change or end the relationship.

As another example: I've learned to notice when I develop tension anywhere within me, including the shoulders. I read a book on strength training recently called Naked Warrior which references a Karate expert who notes that hunching the shoulders up or forward dramatically reduces striking power; it's a position of weakness. Seek a position of strength by pulling the shoulders down and back. And so my self-therapy is tying in with  my strength and self defense training to help me find postures of comfort and strength. When I'm sitting with friends, or waiting for a ride, or whatever, I check my posture and ask: is this a position of strength or weakness? Am I blocking the windpipe by bending my head forward as I read at night, reducing air and the life force it represents within me? Am I tensing the throat too as I lean forward? In these ways, "spiritual" or 'energetic' practices don't seem esoteric or abstract, but rather very concrete and sensual - very feel-able. And as I learn to care about my tensions, the breathing, the corresponding senses of safety and strength, I find that feeds back into my self-confidence, ability to feel composed and present with others and set personal boundaries. It affects my ability to communicate clearly, and seek joyful or enriching experiences and avoid dulling ones.

I've found lots more benefits besides from these healing practices, but I hope this short explanation gives you a small taste of them. The foundational practices are self-awareness and self-love. Self-awareness means sensing continuously what I feel and desire in each moment, recognizing any tensions, breathing changes, or feelings as they arise. In this context, self-love just means believing that however I feel is ok, and I don't need to ignore any feelings. With awareness, I can choose to respond consciously to what I'm feeling: to move around, say yes or no, begin or end or change relationships as I desire, and so on.

Kamana and healing: integrated together

So you can see how the Kamana and healing work have seemed like an integrated practice at times: both combine a focus on awareness and empathy for living creatures of all sorts, including for me! In both, I learn to feel gratitude for the good things around and within, to calm down and sense what brings me pleasure. The phyplay [LINK] practice has also felt closely related: after years of feeling stiff and unrhythmic (especially dancing), I'm loosening up, moving more gracefully, feeling more purpose, feeling stronger and more physically capable and more relaxed in this body and with my relationships.  I'm also feeling more comfortable setting personal boundaries, saying no when I feel like it, and expressing how I feel even when I'm pretty sure it's not how the other person wants me to feel.

The short name for all this that my friends and I use is 'dealing with my shit'. I feel very happy that I've found and developed practices for dealing with… at least some of my shit. And life's feeling really fun right too. Not a coincidence, methinks.

This is part of a series of posts describing my living situation (Wild Roots) and projects this summer and fall 2017:

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Photo Update 2017 Part 5: Hide Tanning

Deer, coons, and a groundhog I'm vegetable-tanning. In the background is one of our horseradish patches.

Hide Tanning

In 2016] I lived amongst hide-tanners and had very few of my own hides... and I felt really sad. So I stored up hides for this year and started tanning... but not like at a tan salon. Coons, groundhog, and possum were roadkill, the bearhide came from hunters, and deer mostly from deer processing facilities, and also friends.

Bark / Vegetable Tanning

I know of two main kinds of hide tanning. One is called bark or vegetable tanning, where I use tannins in Eastern Hemlock tree bark, Winged Sumac leaf, or other plant parts to preserve the hide for long-term use.

To veg-tan a hide, you moisten it if dry, and then put it in a tannin solution. What is a tannin solution?

You find plant matter that contains lots of tannins, then get those tannins into water somehow, then put the hide into that tannic water solution until its tanned.

The first way I learned was to find fresh Eastern Hemlock tree bark from a dead tree, pound it into powder+small chunks, and then boil the pounded bark. I pounded the bark with unpowered hand tools, but you could use a bark shredder. Here's what a bark boil looks like: 

A tanning bark-boil: each pot is stainless steel, as iron in mild steel seems to react with tannins to reduce the strength of the solution.
The total capacity of those 3 pots is ~15 gallons, and I'd boil each amount of bark 3 times, which would yield "first boil" solution, the strongest, "second boil," medium-strength, and "third boil," the weakest.

I won't give a whole how-to on vegetable tanning, but the summary is that I soak the hides in the solution until the tannins penetrate all the way to the middle of the hide. 

Here are some pictures:

The above and below pictures are of a raccoon. I dried it on my truck hood, not nailed to a wall, so it's not very flat and I found it hard to get a good picture.

When I get a fresh hide and I'm not ready to tan, I dry the hide like above. Either way, when it's time to bark or veg-tan, the hides start to look like this:

A raccoon hide, still moist from the tanning solution. It's resting on a deer hide.

 Here's my bark-tan hide collection on display: at my peak tanning period this year, I had 3 deer hides, 2 raccoons, and a groundhog tanning simultaneously. Each tans at a different rate, and none of them tan at a constant rate anyway. I inspected and worked each hide for a few minutes every day. I've been talking with others tanners to figure out less time-intensive practices, but this is what I did:

For each hide, each day I would first taste the tanning solution and estimate how astringent it was - this would tell me how much tannin the hide had soaked up the previous day, and how soon I would need to make new solution to continue the tanning process.

Then, I'd remove the hide from the container, hand-squeeze solution out of the hide, and lay the hide over the table (not with the other hides around as shown in the photo). Then I'd use the triangular scraping tool shown to squeeze solution out, which also removes some of the membrane, a layer on animal hides which blocks tannin penetration.

The hide lower in the image there comes from a groundhog. Underneath it, visible at the top of the picture, is the underside of a raccoon hide, hair-down.
I kept the hides in tannin solution 'til tannins had moved all the way through the hide, then I removed them and oiled them until they were totally dry - finito! I have no pictures of oiling, 'cause oiling and picture-taking do not go well together.

Piss Poor

Here's a fun hide-oiling cultural reference I learned:

Centuries ago, tanneries would pay people for their urine because they could use it to help remove excess oil from hides. What sort of people would piss in a bucket and sell it to tanneries? The poor, of course - and that's where the phrase 'piss poor' came from. I piss in buckets to help with tanning, but I don't sell it... I probably would if someone were still paying for it though.

The pictures above and below show a finished bark-tanned raccoon hide. I didn't skin the face. The hairless spot is the neck, a notoriously difficult but not impossible spot to keep the hair on during the tanning process.

Brain tanning

Brain-tanning deer hides yield "buckskin," the soft leather that makes such wonderful clothing. If you ever wondered why we call dollars "bucks," it dates back to when buckskin leather was a big product and export of American-British colonies.

I don't have pictures of all the various stages: drying (optional), bucking, graining, neutralizing, acidifying, membraning, oiling, softening, smoking.

But I have a few pictures: drying, dried, and the final product!

 This is a deer hide which I soaked in ash solution for a few days, then gently removed the hair from. I nailed it to an outhouse wall to dry. Sometimes I just throw the hide on a roof to dry, but it doesn't stretch out as well and doesn't lay as flat, making it take up more space in storage. Stretching it out is the way to go!

A dried deer hide. I use a cleaned-out 55 gallon gasket-sealing metal barrel to store my hides in. It's the red barrel the hide is resting on. The green one in the foreground I use to store winter gear throughout the year so it doesn't get moldy.

Here are two finished buckskins. The difference in color comes from smoking one side much longer than the other - each hide shown above has one heavily-smoked side and one less heavily smoked side.

Tanners smoke hides to preserve their softness even when they get wet. Long-time tanners have told me differing things: some say once the color changes during tanning, it's fully smoked and you can stop. Others say you want to really smoke it dark so it stays smoked and water-repellent for a long time. They tell me folks who say otherwise learned from natives who lived in dry areas and didn't deal with much moisture.

As with many efforts to learn from the natives' wisdom, I'm having to ask the same question many times and then experiment heavily as I figure out what works for me now and here.

I decided to put off crafting with my new hides to winter, since fall was so busy.

This is part of a series of posts describing my living situation (Wild Roots) and projects this summer and fall 2017:

Photo Update 2017 Part 4: Phyplay and Truck Care


"Phyplay" is a term I invented to mean "physically exhausting play." For years I didn't get exhausted much, and most adults I meet rarely play and never get exhausted. When I started working full-time after college, I feared that would be my future too if I didn't take care.

I want to feel more in general, and I want to find deep pleasure in movement. I have these little flashes of pleasure sometimes when I release the deliberateness and the self-control and just move spontaneously.

So over time, my phyplay practice has turned into a combination of solo dancing, especially free-form and belly-dancing, calisthenics, and whatever else I feel like, often wrestling/sparring and tree-climbing. Sometimes, as with dancing, it's free-form, and other things like the calisthenics are more structured, but always I emphasize sensual movement and greater self-awareness without self-consciousness.

I've found some calisthenics guides I really really like:

"Convict Conditioning" and "Explosive Calisthenics" are books by Paul Wade, a person who spent years in prison and learned how people with no access to equipment or money become strong and/or, explosively powerful. He emphasizes lots of techniques and attitudes I really value, for example:
  • Use no or minimal equipment, instead use bodyweight techniques. This saves on cost and storage, and makes it really easy to practice wherever I'm at - including deep in the woods. It also minimizes injury and builds functional strength.
  • Seek body-awareness and body-wisdom so you can self-train without a coach, knowing when to push hard and when to rest
  • Recognize that the body is what does the healing when you get injured. Others, including doctors and your own ego-self, merely help or hinder the healing abilities of the body.
  • Use progressions to move from easier to harder exercises over time to maintain motivation and progress
  • Move through those progressions slowly to minimize injury and allow the entire body, including little muscles, tendons and bones, to strengthen together. Don't just focus on the big muscles. Wade still suggests working super hard, and also respecting the rest time and savoring the current moment and exercise rather than desiring to move to more difficult movements too soon.
  • Use compound, natural body movements to grow stronger as a complete, functional body-unit, not exercising muscles in isolation or in ways that inflame or irritate and risk injury. 
  • Use a journal to reflect on the next biggest improvement in form, breathing, focus, etc that you could make to progress further and ensure you actually  make those improvements!
There's a lot more wisdom scattered about the pages, some of which I'm applying to other endeavors too.

As an example of one calisthenics progression, the author has students do a series of push-up variants. Step 1 starts with the student standing up and pushing against a wall. Eventually you move to step 5 with a classic push-up on the ground, ending eventually at step 10 with a 1-handed push-up on the ground. Pull-ups take students from pulling against a tree or vertical post while standing (stage 1) to a classic pull-up (stage 5) to a one-handed pull-up (stage 10).

The first book focuses on brute strength - lifting, pushing, pulling, and so on. The Explosive Calisthenics book focuses on powerful movements: vertical jumping, forward and back flips, kip-ups, and so on.

There's a lot more to these books, and I don't intend to write a book review here. But I've followed the strength and a few of the explosives progressions for much of this year, and I feel like I've become substantially stronger compared to just a year ago - and I'd already been living outdoors full time by then! I feel really healthy, have very little body fat and weigh what I did in high school (I wouldn't mind putting on some muscle weight, actually). I run for as long as I feel like it, work hard all day when I feel like it, lift and move what I feel like (though sometimes I wish I could lift and move my truck a few inches, and I can't do that), and I feel way more flexible than I used to - super handy when I'm wrestling!

I really value Wade's perspectives:increase self-awareness and body wisdom rather than relying solely on others for healing (doctors) or training (coaches) or one-size-fits-all rules - and have the wisdom to know when to approach those folks for help. Don't get suckered into spending money on gear and exercises you don't need, but instead do what the best athletes have done for millennia or longer - progressive compound bodyweight exercises. I'm learning to rely on money as little as possible, which means minimal access to equipment, doctors, and trainers, and I'm finding the Convict Conditioning series super helpful for physical conditioning in the woods.

So several days a week, I'm dancing and moving as an animal and doing calisthenics and journaling about it. For much of my life I couldn't do a single pull-up, and a few months ago I made up a challenge and did 100 in a day - and when I called it quits at 100, I felt like I had a few more pull-ups I could have done if I'd wanted. I feel so excited to be moving in ways that felt intimidating and impossible 10-15 years ago; I've cried a few times this fall reading my training journal and considering how much I do now with ease that seemed unthinkable as I grew up.

No matter how many hours I spent in the gym 10 years ago, I moved and felt like I had a desk job. Now I move and feel differently. Besides the phyplay, my way of living demands tiring movement, walking up and down hills, carrying heavy loads, and so on. All this leads to a healthier, more vibrant feeling. Here, I'm bow-drilling a coal to start the breakfast fire.

I'm also continuing to self-train in self-defense, focusing on Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I find training partners where I can...

Doing Laundry

I don't pay for gym membership or mentors, so when I skip a workout or don't push hard, no one notices. Likewise if my form's poor, or I'm not warming up well, no one tells me. I feel strongly I don't want to depend on others to set the container in which I do the things I care about. Said another way: I want motivation from within, not from without. I plan to find a self-defense mentor next spring, and by then I want to already have a many months-old solo training practice.

Maintaining all these movement practices has been such a discovery in self-awareness and self-love. I learned years ago something which keeps coming up: the urge to procrastinate is never unhealthy! It's a signal that something you think you want to do doesn't meet your needs now, either because something else is higher priority, or because something about the task itself concerns you in a way you're mentally unaware.

I used to respond to procrastination by avoiding the concerning task and trying not to think about it (i.e. playing video games instead of doing homework). This avoidance and ignoring one's felt-needs are the unhealthy part of procrastination.

Now, I'm learning to sit alone, breath deeply, and sense what I'm feeling about the task I think I want to do.

As it got quite cold and snowy recently, I felt a major urge to procrastinate on phyplay, and though I danced some, I skipped a few days of my calisthenics. Then I started feeling frustration with me for not wanting to do the workouts, and then fear that I wouldn't keep progressing the way I've been enjoying.

But instead of continuing to feel anxious and upset with me, I checked in and felt through my resistance, and I discovered: I felt fear of sweating all over my clothes, since I only have 2 shirts, and if they both get sweaty when it's snowing heavily out, that's bad news. I hadn't done laundry in my new location and didn't know how to clean clothes here. So above and below are pictures of laundry day in my hut, boiling a few changes of water, wringing clothes out, and letting them dry over the stove.

Presto, as soon as I took care of my laundry the first time, I no longer felt anxious about sweating into my clothes, and I've felt excited for the calisthenics again. This kind of procrastination has happened  a few times: I wasn't warming up well because I was having trouble running outside when it snowed heavily, so I researched small-space endurance and warm-up drills (some I found in the books above, and I found some I really like from other sources). Now when I'm snowed in, I'm totally ready to rock in a 5'x8' space (the floor space excluding my furniture).

Sometimes, as everyone knows, if you want to get stronger and more physically powerful, you've just got to train hard even on days you don't feel like it. But since I don't have a mentor, team, or even consistent training partner, when I don't feel like training, I've got to figure out if I'm in a short-term funk that a hard session will alleviate, or whether I'm ignoring a meaningful obstacle to working out hard. So... all this is quite the exercise in self-awareness and self-love in addition to learning to move with grace and power. I'll write more about this self-awareness and self-love in the post on healing.

Truck Maintenance and Upgrades

In mid-2016 I bought a used pickup. It's a hybrid - but not that kind of hybrid!

A previous owner made some major modifications and hinted at them with the hood ornaments. Can you tell what kind of hybrid it is?

This picture shows a 1982 Mercedes 300 turbo diesel engine inside a 1994 Toyota pickup. You also get to see part of a secondary fuel system that got added after the engine conversion so it runs on diesel and vegetable oil. The wool sweaters insulate the veggie oil fuel lines so that the fuel moves smoothly to the injectors. I've never gotten the fabric caught in the belts, and I hear you really really don't want to.

The truck's really nice to have when large amounts of wild food beckon:
~180 gallons was my peak apple haul this year. A 4x4 truck comes in most handy.

Over the last year, I've gone from not knowing shit about trucks to knowing a tiny but useful amount. I live with a friend with some informal mechanic and metal working experience who gave good pointers, but when my truck wouldn't work several times this year, I pretty much just stood in front of the engine compartment 'til I figured it out. Internet access would have helped a lot! Is the electrical system not working, or only intermittently (my favorite)? Are there air bubbles in the fuel lines? Am I leaking coolant, or is my engine temperature spiking unexpectedly? All these troubles necessitated deep dives into different truck systems, learning about electricity and blowing a few fuses (ok, a lot of fuses), and learning lots and lots of patience.

I also revamped my veggie system, replacing metal tubing in the tank and changing how I heat the fuel lines. It's not photogenic so I've got little to show, but I replaced copper tubing with stainless steel, as the copper would react with veggie oil to create cruft which ruined my fuel filters quickly. As I kept working to improve the fuel system, I found design elements that made simple inspection (i.e. adding gauges) and adjustments unnecessarily difficult, so I got to do my first ever truck mechanic-ing design work.

I felt a lot of stress sometimes, because when my truck broke down, it wouldn't work unless I figured it out and resolved the underlying problem(s). I really want to be able to care for the tools and gear I rely on, and that included the truck. Sometimes when it broke I pulled over to the roadside and fixed it. Once I had a friend tow me home and I spent a week messing around diagnosing the trouble and fixing the it (bubbles in the diesel fuel system, I think due to a blockage in part of the line), and I was stuck at home the whole time. I had few fixed-time obligations for much of the year, a way of life I intentionally set so that I could have this kind of flexibility. And with truck mechanics charging $80/hour, it felt worth it to learn to take care of my maintenance needs on my own.


This is part of a series of posts describing my living situation (Wild Roots) and projects this summer and fall 2017:
This post may read like a sales pitch for the books, but I don't actually make any money from recommending them. I'm just a big fan of books that teach empowering attitudes and practices.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Photo Update 2017 Part 3: Gardening


Volunteer grape-sized tomatoes that grow abundantly with no human help at Wild Roots.


Wild Roots was logged to oblivion about 15 years ago, just before it was purchased by the woman who now owns it and lets us live there as we do (thanks!). I've seen aerial photos of it from the time, full of mud slides on steep rocky cliffs.

It's still quite steep and rocky, full of rhododendron and mountain laurel and dog hobble that hold soil in place so the tulip poplars, oaks, and others could get established over time. I can tell where gardeners have been and what they have done and not done, and it's taught me a lot.

My gardening

Here's some garlic drying which I planted end-November 2016

Here's what I did to harvest the garlic:
  • Late November 2016: 
    • brought up 2 buckets of soil from compost space and laid them over a terraced garden bed
    • placed garlic into soil
    • covered with leaves
    • hauled 8 gallons of water up the hill, watered the bed
  • Early June 2016:
    • harvested the garlic scapes
  • Late June 2016:
    • harvested the garlic in great abundance
To me, this demonstrated the maxim: feed the soil to feed the plants. We compost religiously at Wild Roots, and years of layering healthy compost upon healthy soil has built up our garden beds from shale-rock to a few thin inches of garden soil. It showed me that humans don't have to work hard to eat - we do need to take care of the land, though.

I planted a few more beds in late August 2017, and had mixed results. Squash grew abundantly but didn't fruit before the frost; I got some daikon radishes; only one onion sprouted - the bulbs I planted had been too exposed to the weather for 2 years between purchase and planting. The radishes didn't do great; I think I didn't mulch them sufficiently, especially given the erosion challenges of gardening on a hillside (and I didn't want to redo the terracing half-way into the fall gardening season - another lesson). Plus Wild Roots is very high in the mountains, so planting recommendations based on expectations of hours-of-sun-per-day, date of first frost, etc don't apply to us the same as they do to lower-elevation places just a few dozen miles away.

We also had a period of drought in September/October that hit the gardened and wild plants pretty hard. For weeks, I took water from the rain barrels and dutifully watered all the beds, and when the rain barrels went dry, I had a decision: I could haul water up a steep, long, windy trail from the stream every day, or I could let the plants fare as they will.

Many locals believe the conservative politics about climate change (it supposedly ain't happening) but they also believe what they see with their eyes: they tell me that streams are about 1/3 as wide as they were in living memory. We're simply getting less water in this region, and I decided I want to learn to garden with resilient plants that don't need much human help, that can fend through droughts and floods and hot and cold and still produce food I can count on. Furthermore, I want to be able to leave for months or years and return to an abundantly food-producing space.

On a larger scale, when I die, I want to leave an abundant food space to whoever follows, whether they recognize it or knew me or not.

So I now recognize three kinds of gardening. When you're dead and gone, or just gone, you...
  1. Leave the earth worse than you found it. Possibilities: make the land less bio-diverse, harder to garden, more toxic, etc
  2. Leave things neutral (2 years later, no one will know you'd been there)
  3. Leave things better than you found it. Possibilities: leave it more bio-diverse, more food-producing, less toxic, more drought-resistent, etc.
A woman, T, lived at Wild Roots for about 10 years and left right before I arrived in early 2016. She did much of the gardening during that time, and I found examples of all three kinds of gardening from her time.

I'd like to show you some examples:

Gardening - Neutral
In neutral gardening, you work hard and do a lot, and maybe you even get lots of food, but if you totally disengage with the land for a year or two, you leave no sign that you were ever there:

The pictures above and below show some gardening spaces that have gotten so overgrown in the last 2 years, you wouldn't know they'd been garden spaces unless someone told you. Other garden spaces aren't quite so overgrown.

Certainly, there may still be positive long-term effects: the neutral gardener may still enrich the soil (though she may withdraw the nutrients when harvesting the crop, so this may equal out). If this was how all humans related to the earth, it'd still be a huge step up!

Gardening - Negative
I don't see any signs that previous gardeners used toxic chemicals or soil supplements. The worst actions I saw were wanton tree girdling: 

When you remove the inner bark, you kill the tree, as the tree moves nutrients through this bark and not the inner wood. All girdled trees that remain are at risk of falling at anytime, making them a safety hazard we have to keep an eye on. 

We felled some of the trees T girdled before she left, but some still stand - and as far as I know, there's no reason for them to be girdled unless there's an urgent need to take them down. So this is an example of negative gardening - leaving a space worse off after your absence than if you hadn't been there.

Gardening - Positive

This is where it's at! In positive gardening, you encourage plants that will continue to live happily without intense human support. These are often the weeds gardening books warn against, the ones that spread aggressively, tolerate wide ranges of heat and cold and moisture and dry, and don't fit into conventional diets and recipes. They're the plants you find in wild-food foraging books! T was also instrumental in introducing and encouraging these plants.

My favorite leafy green at Wild Roots is stinging nettle:
Stinging Nettle: Mega-nutritional, and gentle enough that many herbalists recommended even for pregnant women. Also a source of fiber/cordage material, and the seeds are edible too.
Each year we mulch this bed, and that's it - it not only produces abundantly, it will spread if we don't hold it back. That's how I like to garden: I want to have to restrain my food from spreading into the path! Hold on food, stay in your home. Or at least spread in that direction over there please! No weeding, no store-bought soil supplements or testing, no plastic covers when the temperature drops below freezing. Just feed the soil in thanks for the nutrients you receive through harvesting the food, and let the cycle continue.

Here're some volunteer grape tomatoes:
The tomatoes fruits are hidden in this photo, but all the foreground greens are tomatoes, and they're just a small fraction of all the tomato plants at Wild Roots that grow abundantly with zero human effort.

The background green to the left of the cob chicken coop in the above picture is lambs-quarter, another volunteer and source of edible greens and seeds.
Look closer, and the plants are full of these lovely tomatos!

A major horseradish patch next to the stinging nettles! Leaves are spicy, and the roots delicious in fall-time krauts. This also gets no tending except a yearly mulching.

Above is a che-fruit tree. I don't think it even gets mulched. Maybe we'd be wise to do that. Below is a close-up of the fruits.

Che-fruits close up. Another abundant-producer with no human labor needed. It's a happy tree.

So the gardener T left Wild Roots, and what happened? A few tea herbs remain, the nettles remain producing abundantly, tomatoes,  horseradish, che-fruit, and some others remain producing abundantly - a true gift to the future residents, even ones like me she never met.

That's how I want to garden, leaving behind a richer world for whomever comes. Generosity towards the soil and plants and people, all at once - and if we're wise, we needn't work farmer-hard doing it, from sun-up to sun-down keeping nature from taking over our little plot. Instead I want to encourage nature to take over, and I'll just give a little nudge to the particular plant and mushroom and animal and microbe communities I most value.

I learned that the natives who lived in western North Carolina pre-Cherokee relied especially on lambs-quarters, a close relative of quinoa, and jerusalem artichoke, a plant similar to a sunflower that produces edible roots in massive abundance: the farmers I know want it uprooted at all costs so it won't spread, and the foragers I know lust to find it in unpoisoned areas. Some friends who know it well, and who are considering what to plant in their garden, considered planting it but discussed how to firewall it from the rest of their land. They even discussed putting metal sheets 3-4 feet into the ground to keep this incredible food plant from spreading too aggressively.

That's how I want to relate to my food garden - "Hold up food! Don't spread so fast. That's the herb patch you're gunning for, and I want room for them too." And then I want to extend that to whole forests, too, encouraging abundant food producing plants to spread and live happily without constant human effort tending and weeding and worrying and spending and plastic-covering...

And when I leave, or die, those mushroom-plant-animal-microbe communities will happily carry on, and any people who come later will benefit - no legal action, no written word, no human awareness at all will be needed for the beneficial results to remain, and perhaps even spread.

I feel grateful to the Cherokee for demonstrating this attitude in their tending of the wild blueberries. As I mentioned in my post on wild food this fall, they tended many many square acres (square miles?) of blueberries that grew so happily that they continue to grow abundantly today, centuries after the Europeans evicted Cherokees from those spaces

Next Year
This fall and winter I'm gathering resources to continue this garden-positive relationship next year. I'm going to spread lambs quarters and jerusalem artichoke, as well as a few others like amaranth that many people consider aggressive weeds, and then I'll just keep feeding the soil and help them establish. Then I'll observe how they do! Between the wild food-producing plants within a mile walk of Wild Roots (like wood nettle) and these plants I want to introduce, I hope to be able to harvest many gallons of grain and carbohydrate-root crop someday, a complement to the fruit, dried greens, and meat/broth/fat we already gather each fall.

And someday I'll leave and perhaps come back years later, or perhaps others will come, and the only thing we'll have to do to enjoy abundant, nutritious, free, non-toxic food is recognize it!

This is part of a series of posts describing my living situation (Wild Roots) and projects this summer and fall 2017:

Photo Update 2017 part 2: Wild & Intentional Foods

My pickup containing ~180 gallons of non-toxic, nutritious, free apples harvested from an untended orchard nearby with owner's permission. Me and 2 friends had a blast laughing, climbing, and playing in the orchard. We also ate, threw, and occasionally harvested lots and lots of apples. This was about 3 hours' work (and play).

 Wild and Intentional Food

Years ago, when I lived in suburbia, I felt really frustrated that I constantly learned of poisonous new ingredients, food processing practices, wrapping materials, sprays, farming practices, and so on in processed and raw grocery store foods. It seemed a never-ending battle to learn what to avoid, which brands to trust and for how long, and so on. So now I'm avoiding all that and learning to gather food from the wild, the garden, and trusted organic farms, with an emphasis on foods not tended by people. I love doing it with friends when there's energy, otherwise I like gathering food alone too.

Why wild food? Because I find it much easier and cheaper to accept food that's already present than to buy land and farm. Plus I get to feel grateful for the wild plants that sustain me, rather than feel a need to control and dominate a land space in order to force it to meet my food needs.

I'll share more about this attitude in the post on my gardening this year, but here's an example: native Cherokee tended blueberry patches that spread over whole mountains SE of present-day Asheville, and the plants were so hardy and happy there that they continue to produce abundantly today, centuries after the local human culture stopped giving them much attention - that's where I gathered about 1/2 of my blueberries this year. I felt gratitude to the Cherokee and also the blueberries, and I experienced firsthand that I didn't need a controlling attitude towards land in order to eat well. Rather, I consider what human-edible plants will grow aggressively and abundantly, and I merely encourage them along, and adjust my diet to suit. I'll share more in the post on gardening, because I definitely want to emulate the Cherokee's attitudes and practices as well as I can understand them.


I started working part-time on an organic farm nearby, and I got to take home the 'seconds', or super-nutritious non-toxic food with a minor blemish, odd shape, or other issue that makes it unsellable. This picture shows a bunch of food I got just in one day - daikon radishes, sweet peppers, many raddishes, and various other things. I spent about 7 hours, with a little help from friends and neighbors, washing and chopping and salting and pounding it into its final shape in the fermentation vessel:

First kraut batch in a crockpot. For many years crocks like this were made with lead  (or painted with lead?) so I recommend checking which year your crock was made. I feel more comfortable using food-grade buckets than lead-lined crocks. To keep the vegetables below the liquid level, I weigh the food down with a rock. $9.99 at your local brewery shop (kidding).
I added a bunch of plants from where I live, some wild and some from our garden: toothwort, garlic, horseradish, and wild ginger. I've done three of these projects now for a total of around 12 gallons of kraut.

The same crock covered with a shirt donated by a visitor. It says, "I'm tired of busting my butt. I'm going camping!" Indeed.

I had three large kraut-making parties this year with food I got from the farm or wild-crafted. I called them parties, but mostly it was me and a large pile of food, with a little help from some friends on the first 2 batches. I ended up with about 12-13 gallons of all-organic/wild-crafted kimchi/sauerkraut.
Now, during fermentation a little mold will commonly form on the liquid surface. If I'm going to eat the kraut, I'll just stir the mold into the food and carry on. Otherwise, if I plan to give the kraut away, I'll scoop the mold off every few days as I taste the fermentation progress.

Another batch of kraut. The bucket wall only gets crusty where the liquid meets the air. This mold did something I'd never seen: it caught the gas emitted during fermentation and formed mold-bubbles on the surface. Cool!

The mold scraped into a bowl. I will eat almost anything, and if someone asked me, I'd probably try it out. It doesn't look very appetizing though.

I made sure to spread the goodness around, sharing a few gallons with a bunch of friends and neighbors, including the folks at the farm, and saving the rest for my winter food use. I don't want to have to buy any food this winter, and this kraut's a big part of that plan!

Apples and Cider
Folks where I live know of several untended orchards or wild fruit trees where the owners are happy for us to come take as many apples as we want... and so we do.

I'm salivating seeing this again. I averaged eating about 10 apples/day for the next week.

Two friends and I loaded into my pickup and in a few hours brought home ~160 gallons of prime, non-toxic apples for free. YES. And this was about 1/3 of our total fall harvest. Processing took various forms...


We took ~1/3 of our apples and made ~110 gallons of cider. We don't have our own cider press, and it's common in this area to take apples to a friend with the press, and the press owner gets 1/3 of the juice.
The buckets are 6 gallon carboys (alcohol fermentation vessels), the glass jugs are 5 gallon, and we have more not shown. The dog Early is in the bottom right. The sheets you see bulging are full of chestnuts, pears, apples, and winged sumac leaf. I think at this stage these were my personal projects and we'd finished our group drying efforts. Winged sumac leaf is full of astringent tannins that help tan hides. It doesn't add much to a meal though.

Drying Apples and other Things

Picture from uphill, looking down on a few buildings we use for drying - here you see fresh apples cut that day (on grates), apples from previous days on sheets, and other things like chestnuts).

A roof full of drying goodies.

These grates are mostly scrounged and scavenged. This one on the lower-left is hand-made with 'waste' pallet wood and stainless steel mesh. The right is a thrown-away BBQ grill grate.

I scored ~40 free organic bananas and decided to try making banana chips. It didn't work - maybe if I'd dried them on a grate. I just got a big gooey sugary mess that went into some really tasty pancake batter. The other trays are wild honey mushrooms I gathered from the woods nearby.

I'm cutting up honey mushrooms to dry here.

Another picture of our sheet-holding space. Overnight, dew will gather on any sheets left on the floor, undoing previous drying efforts. So we stack our sheets of drying food on our unused stove, benches, chairs... anywhere we can find space! This is an inside picture of a cob structure we call Rathaven.

Without electricity, sheets-on-the-roof is our main way of drying things. I dried a few gallons of greens this way, folding half the sheet on top and half below the herbs to prevent direct sunlight from destroying volatile oils and other nutrients. Roofs also help dry animal hides.

I collected a bunch of grapes this fall too...

I initially wanted to make wine, but I struggled to separate the grape pulp from the juice (again, no electricity and limited tool and work space).  Here's what I got:

This is how I begin wild alcohol fermentations - instead of adding store-bought yeast, I let it yeast in the air land on the food through a cloth that keeps flies and other bugs out.
The grape wine experiment didn't yield wine, but I ended up making raisins out of them and a little red wine vinegar too.

Cool side story on the grapes: I found a rich chestnut grove on some strangers' land a few miles away. I went up to their home and asked if I could gather chestnuts. Not only did they say yes, but they came out and helped me! And afterwards, one of them asked if I'd like some grapes. Sure, I said, and so they took me to a grape patch maybe 1/2 an acre big and three of us picked and filled a bucket for a long time, munching here and there too.

They were adamant about not spraying any poisons on their plants or putting any chemicals in their cows. I spent an hour with two grandparents and their kid who herself was a mother. This mother, perhaps in her late 30s, told me her daughter of 12 looks about 17 years old, and she attributes it to her eating so much meat from animals fed huge amounts of growth hormones. I never met the daughter, but the family felt really strongly about having untainted food - good neighbors to know! I felt very grateful for the nuts, grapes, and personal stories.


In July I went to California to visit family. I decided to see how much seaweed I could gather in a week at Morro Bay with no special equipment, including no boat. I lucked out and found a rocky spot where I could gather seaweed that wasn't full of sand from washing ashore.

The most common kind by far was giant kelp. Each morning, I'd go down to the rocky shore and fill 1 or 2 five-gallon buckets. Then I set them up to dry:

I kept gathering and gathering, and the seaweed multiplied:

Eventually I had about 15 different drying spaces behind the house! Unfortunately, it stayed foggy much of the day at Morro Bay, so my seaweed never fully dried there. I packed it up and when I returned to Bakersfield with my grandmother, I put it all out to dry in her retirement community. It completely dried in about 3 hours, thanks to the baking sun and no moisture.

Seaweed shrinks a LOT as it dries. This was about 7-8 gallons dry, and maybe... 35-50 gallons wet?
Seaweed's super nutritious, so I feel excited that I can gather and process it in such quantity.

A little about seaweed cleanliness: the oceans are pretty polluted indeed. The water off the west coast tends to flow south, so it gets more polluted the further south you are. Morro Bay, where I harvested, lies half way between LA and San Francisco, so not great, but here's the thing: I don't want to be cleaner than the environment I live in. I'd have to live in a bubble to do that. I just don't want any more toxins than average in the environment in my diet and dwelling. My rough goals are a) to clean up the environment as much as I can and b) learn to live with toxins, including learning how to purge or neutralize them in various ways.

The seaweed grew protected from the main ocean inside a bay and sandbar with minimal industrial activity nearby. It's as clean as I can imagine anything growing off the west coast of the US being, so I feel grateful for it and comfortable sharing it with friends.

Other side note: while I stayed with my grandmother in California, she tried both seaweed and prickly pear cactus fruit! Super cool.  I was totally unprepared for how mucilaginous the pears were, so that was about the stickiest meal I've had in a long time. I mean like Winnie the Pooh sticky. Maybe if I learn to prepare it better, she'll give it another try...

Food Experiments

Often, I want to learn to process/store food in ways that I can't find books to learn from, so I end up experimenting. One of my favorite foods is chestnuts, and processing them to remove / kill the grubs is key so they don't eat the nuts over the winter. Normally I've pounded the nuts to bits, then dried them on sheets on hot days and removed grubs+shells by hand.

Here I'm trying something different....
I'm heating chestnuts in water not to boiling, but just hot enough to kill the grubs.

That light sliver-looking thing is a chestnut grub! Super tasty, full of fat and protein, and sadly not welcome in my winter chestnut store.
I heard that I could heat the chestnuts in water to kill the grubs, dry them in the shell, and store them. However, enough water got inside the shell that they didn't dry well, and I ended up pounding them and drying them as I did the other rounds of chestnuts.

Wood Nettle Experiments
Sometimes delicious food's abundant nearby, but none of my friends or books have info on how to gather, process, store, or cook it well. European-descended culture didn't take much interest in preserving knowledge of native practices until 100-150 years ago, so many native practices weren't studied or recorded before Euro-descended people wiped out natives in this region. And so we experiment. Interesting aside: for all I learned about the year 1776 in grade school, I never learned that was a major year in the war against the Cherokee in this region, and rebel Americans were fighting a multi-front war. 

A very abundant plant here is wood nettle, Laportea canadensis. I found just one scant reference to the seed being edible, but no advice on processing (thanks Sam Thayer). So I watched the nettle every day to learn when it was harvest-ready. Day by day, week after week, not knowing when the seed was ready, what color it would be, what size.

And then it rained and all the seeds dropped to the ground! Bahh.

But two weeks later a new bunch of seeds began to darken at the tops of the plants. In just a few more days, I had my first harvest:

Wood nettle produces female flowers on top of the plant and male flowers in the middle. I chopped off the female portions when they seemed full of seed.

To separate the seed from the plant, I dried them in brown paper bags, but that didn't go fast enough. Then I used these scavenged cooking trays and it went pretty fast.
I don't have a picture of the next steps. Basically I rubbed handfulls of dried seed heads together which gave me a bunch of seeds and green plant matter in a pile. Then I experimented with water in different ways, finding that if I put the whole mess in water and stirred it, the seeds dropped to the bottom and the rest floated. I could pour off the top, dry the seeds, and store'em!

I didn't end up eating them, so no report on that. I only wanted to learn how to gather and process them in bulk so I could be ready to gather vast amounts next year. Next August I will be ready!

Meads, Ciders, and Other Alcohol Ferments
I want to learn to make really delicious, nutritious alcoholic drinks, so drinking isn't a poisonous vice, but rather a healthy fun time.

I like to brew meads in 1-gallon jugs. These are reused apple juice jugs from grocery stores. 5 of them are mine.

When we run out of airlocks, we improvise. Sometimes the yeast are active and make lots of gas, and sometimes they aren't active, and the condom slumps down. What's really great is giving a tour to a visitor as the yeast wake up and start making gas quickly.
To make the mead, I mix good honey (not filtered or pasteurized or other nonsense) with a strong herbal infusion. A few of my batches were wildflower meads: elder flower, goldenrod, purple clover, ox-eye daisy, and so on. My favorite was a super strong infusion of wood nettle and stinging nettle leaves, which made a dark green mead. Super nutritious and tasty.

I like to do wild ferments, so I gather yeast in a bucket as I did with the grape project above, stirring the honey+infusion mixture a few times a day. When it starts to bubble, I move the juice to a carboy with an airlock which allows air to escape but not enter. This prevents the alcohol from turning to vinegar. After a few months, you're done: and you get to decide how sweet or dry you like it.

Then I bottle, label, and share with friends over the next year.

The cider again. Some friends added honey and herbs to some to make ceizers, a major taste improvement in my opinion.

Wild + Intentional Foods 2017
Here's a list of foods I gathered and preserved this fall (excluding wild/untended foods I gathered and ate right away). It'll form my diet over the winter, as I hope not to buy any food:
  • Nuts:
    • acorns (pounded, dried w/shell)
    • chestnuts (pounded, dried, shelled)
    • walnuts (hulled, curing in shell)
  • Fruits
    • blueberries (dried)
    • concord grapes (dried into raisins, some juice fermented to red wine vinegar)
    • apples (various: some slice+dried, some pressed to cider, some canned for applesauce)
    • pears (slice+dried)
  • Mushrooms
    • Shiitakes (slice+dry)
    • Honey mushrooms (slice+dry)
  • Vegetables (roots, leafy greens, etc):
    • organic leftover farm produce (squash, radishes, potatoes, etc) (left in airy space above freezing temps)
    • homemade kraut (organic bok choi, baby bok, radishes, turnips, daikons, cabbage, fennel, and others from the farm, toothwort, garlic, horseradish, and wild ginger from Wild Roots) (lacto-ferment)
    • giant kelp seaweed (dried)
    • stinging nettle leaves (dried)
    • biden leaves (dried)
    • garlic
    • horseradish
  • Animals:
    • bear meat, broth, and fat in large quantities
  • Alcohol ferments
    • meads (honey+herbal infusion of wildflowers, nettles, etc)
    • cider/ceizer
For many of these, like stinging nettles, apples, pears, bears, and others, I did several batches each, so it was a busy time!

In addition, I have some leftover organic lentils, oats, and brown rice I bulk-purchased last fall, plus a few other foods I've received as gifts or scavenged and saved for the winter.

I wanted to gather stinging nettle seed, but we kept gathering greens too late in the year, and combined with a few long periods of no rain, it didn't go to seed this fall. A few other bulk-wild-food projects didn't work out or I chose to drop/postpone 'til next year: groundbean, deer, and a few others. I'll look forward to them next year.

Damn, I'm water-fasting today as I write this part of the post. I feel hungry!

In coming post(s):
Feel free to get in touch if you want to catch up. I feel bummed I haven't been in better touch with friends I haven't seen in a long time. I don't mean for this post to substitute for staying in contact. More like, it'll help show what the heck I'm talking about when we do finally talk or meet up!