Sunday, October 7, 2012

Turning of the Year

The view from my south porch has changed dramatically since I took this picture three days ago. Now there are fewer leaves on the trees, and they are not as bright, whereas the ground is thick with a cushion of yellow and red. Some folks thought we would not have a beautiful autumn show because of the drought, but it has been quite lovely here. Two nights of freezing temperatures several weeks ago ended the season for tender plants, but the hardy ones are still enjoying the crisp clear weather.

Still we are in drought conditions. Even though autumn is often dry here in Iowa, we've not recovered from the lack of rain in the summer. So I have been watering both gardens. The well here on the farm seems just fine yet, and the old red pump, seated in the center of the comfrey above, has been working overtime this past week.

It is interesting to see what plants survive despite drought conditions. The yellow beets (below) were a big surprise! They did not get particular care this summer, nor much watering. Yet they produced huge roots that are tender and sweet. And some large turnips that should have been harvested months ago also surprised me with a sweet smooth texture and flavor. I am grateful!

I have stayed home today with a virus of some sort, and it has slowed me down. Though I don't like to be sick, it is good to slow down. I have just finished watching the movie "I Am" and I am hoping that those who read this blog will find it and watch it too. For those of us who are concerned about the way the world is going, this film is a good prescription. It shows how we've gone astray, but also shows that built into our DNA is the ability to bring us around. I most emphatically recommend it!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Do You Want to Make Plant Medicine? Here's how!

Medicine from Plants:
Tincture-Making Workshop
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Wapsinonoc Farm, West Branch, Iowa

At this workshop you will:
  • Learn about the healing properties of a variety of medicinal plants growing in Wapsinonoc Gardens.
  • Choose one or more plants suited to your own needs.
  • Tour the medicinal gardens
  • Harvest your chosen plants, clean, prepare and fill tincture jars to take home.
  • Handouts of medicinal plant descriptions and uses, & instructions on tincturing
  • Lots of individual attention as you choose your plants and make your tinctures
  • Medicinal plants
  • Large and small jars for tincturing
  • Small dosage dropper bottle
  • 100 proof vodka
  • Snack
Cost: $50 per person. Please register early as workshop is limited to ten people.

Contact Info: Nan Fawcett, 2039 Eureka Avenue, West Branch, IA 52358,

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Finally, when our hopes had diminished and we were well into crisis mode, the rain came. At first it was hard to believe. So often we had been disappointed. Clouds can look so full of promise, and yet a few scattered raindrops only serve to accentuate the desperate need for moisture. This time, though, the rain came hard, a real downpour, blown in by wind from the west. I stopped what I was doing. Nothing mattered as much as witnessing this event. I went out onto the south porch and created a little nest from which to watch. The rain drenched me to the skin, and still I sat there, giving thanks to the universe.

I hope you can see the raindrops on the leaves in the pictures above. At the time, it seemed a miracle, the dust all washed away and the plants reaching up in gratitude, or so it seemed. Still, of course, it was too late for many things. Whole crops had died or been stunted, and the fate of long-living friends like the trees was still in question. One rain would not be enough. But it was a start.

And then it rained again, and later again. The ground is still dry if you dig down several inches, but shallow-rooted things are in a rush to catch up. Lawns are green again. Perennials whose growth died early are now making a come-back. Nature is rebounding and it is even easy to occasionally forget that our earth at this local level went through a crisis so recently. Nature is showing her resiliency, and it is inspiring. But she needs increasing resiliency these days of climate change and ecosystem destruction. She needs all the support she can get.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


It is hard to be inspired to write anything on the blog during this record-breaking drought. I have no beautiful photo to grace this entry. A photo of the gardens would only be depressing. Sometimes we boast about an impressive statistic. But this one leaves only a dismal and hopeless feeling. In mid-summer the gardens and fields are usually lush with produce here. Yet today when you walk outside, the grass crackles and breaks under foot, the plants are shriveled and stunted. And each time clouds cover the sky, you wait, hoping, praying for rain. It has been so long since it rained that it is hard to remember that beautiful sound on the roof, on the trees. Surely it will rain again, but when the clouds have passed us by so many times, one begins to wonder if this absence of life-giving water will ever end. The last prediction I heard was that it will be October before we get real rain, far too late to rescue any crops. Can the trees survive this, I wonder? Do they have ways of hunkering down, preserving energy, minimizing output? I imagine that Nature does have  a wealth of strategies when it responds to a crisis such as this. And I would like to learn those ways.

If this is a trend, if we are looking at a shift in the climate here, our lives are going to change in dramatic ways very soon. Conservation will become a necessity. Simplicity will allow survival. Even though I am grieving for the plants, for all of nature outside, I hope I have space in myself to also learn from this experience so that I can be better prepared for the future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Weeders needed!

I have been doing trades all year: weeding for massage sessions or plants. And now that it has rained (hooray), there is more weeding to be done. If you are interested and live nearby, please send me an email at and we can set up a time. It is fun to weed together. Good conversation can happen and more gets done!


I had given up offering another tincture workshop this summer because of the drought. Although the second and third year perennials were holding their own, they were vulnerable because of the lack of rainfall for the last two or three months. And the new plantings were just hanging in there, those of them that survived. But hallelujah, we had a good rain on Saturday evening and it has given everything a new lease on life. Although there is no rain in the forecast for awhile, I am hopeful that the gardens will recover now. And so I've scheduled another tincture workshop for July 8th. The post immediately before this has a notice about this workshop, though I don't know why it is in color. I hope you can read it.

Making tinctures is so satisfying! And the wonderful thing about tinctures, once they're made, is that they last for years. So you can have a set of various remedies that wait in your medicine cabinet until you  need them.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Here's your chance to make some plant medicine!

Tincture-Making Workshop
Sunday, May 27, 1-5:00 p.m.
Wapsinonoc Farm, West Branch, IA

At this workshop you will:
         Learn about healing properties of medicinal plants growing in Wapsinonoc Gardens
         Choose one or more plants that you would like to tincture
         Tour the medicinal gardens
         Harvest your chosen plants, clean, prepare, and fill tincture jars to take home

         Handouts of medicinal plant descriptions and uses, & instructions on tincturing
         Lots of individual attention as you choose your plants and make your tinctures
         Medicinal plants
         Large and small jars for tincturing
         One small dosage dropper bottle
         100 proof vodka

Cost: $50 per person. Please register early as workshop is limited to ten people

Contact info: Nan Fawcett, 2039 Eureka Avenue, West Branch, IA 52358 or 319-643-3342.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Medicinals Planted in 2012

Here is a list of the seeds that I planted this winter and spring here at Wapsinonoc Gardens. At this point, they are in various stages of their growth. As long as numbers last, most if not all of them will be available for purchase this year. And many more medicinals already growing in the gardens here are available for harvest during tincture workshops. The first tincture workshop this spring will be on May 27th. More about this in a separate post.

Medicinal Herbs Planted in 2012:

  • Lomatium dissectum
  • Wild Geranium
  • Rhodeola, Scandinavian
  • Rhodiola, Russian
  • Rhodiola, Alps
  • Devil's Club
  • Shining Angelica
  • Garden Myrrh
  • Giant Solomon's Seal
  • Agrimony
  • Bearsfoot
  • Cowslip
  • False Unicorn (Helonias Root)
  • Black Cohosh
  • Schisandra (Wa-wei-zi)
  • Zhi-mu
  • Japanese Angelica Tree
  • Black Elderberry
  • Hawthorne, Wild Form
  • Spicebush
  • Witch Hazel
  • St. Johnswort, Topas
  • Horehound
  • Purple Foxglove
  • Pennyroyal
  • Betony
  • Lady's Mantle
  • Vincenza Blue Lavender
  • Silver Sagebrush
  • White Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Lemonbalm
  • Blue Vervain
  • Broadleaf Sage
  • Ashwaganda
  • Blue Flax
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Balloon Flower
  • Andrographis
  • Lovage
  • Chaste Tree
  • Empress Tree
  • Costmary
  • Figwort
  • White Yarrow
  • Catnip
  • Boneset
  • Gayfeather
  • Meadowsweet
  • Maralroot
  • Siberian Motherwort
  • Rupturewort
  • Bugleweed
  • Wormwood
  • Tansy
  • Hyssop
  • Feverfew
  • Celandine
  • Codonopsis (Dang-shen)
  • Dianthus, Fringed Pink
  • Self-Heal
  • Indian Lemongrass
  • Rue
  • Ox-Eye Daisy
  • Giant Purple Angelica
  • Alum Root
  • Wood Betony
  • Sacred Basil
  • Beach Silvertop (Glennia liltoralis)
  • Valerian
  • Chinese Hawthorne
  • Sweet Woodrull
  • Turkey Rhubarb
  • Great Blue Lobelia
  • Navajo Tea
  • Kashmir Sage
  • Nirgundi (Vitex negundo)
  • Fireweed
  • Greek Mullein
  • Chinese Motherwort
  • Mexican Tarragon
  • Lyre Leaf Sage
  • Sheep Sorrel
  • Wald Dagga
  • Elecampane
  • High Desert Four O'Clock
  • Japanese Catnip
  • Maiden's Tears
  • Ku Shen
  • Gogi
  • Resina Calendula
  • German Chamomile
  • Borage
  • Nigella

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ready for next Iowa City Farmers Market

Many 4-pack seedlings of herbs and veggies will be for sale at the next Iowa City Farmers Market at Grant Wood School. 4-packs are $3 (since these are all organically grown, this is a good deal indeed!):

Culinary Herbs:
Sweet Basil
Curly Parsley
Italian Parsley
Bouquet Dill
Mammoth Dill
Curled Chervil
Sacred Basil
German Chamomile

Redbor Kale
Champion Collards
Baby Bok Choy
Bloomsdale Spinach
Zefa Fino Fennel
Winterbor Kale
Blushed Butter Cos Lettuce
Red-earred Butterheart Lettuce
Speckled Amish Bibb Lettuce
Buttercrunch Bibb Lettuce
Gardiner's Delight Cherry Tomato
Oxheart Giantissimo Tomato
Argenta Swiss Chard
Peacevine Cherry Tomato
Jubilee Tomato
Principe Borghese Tomato
Ida Gold Yellow Tomato
Pink Brandywine Tomato
Soldacki Tomato
Amish Paste Tomato
Ruby Gold Bicolor Tomato
Blues Chinese Cabbage
Slicing Cucumbers
Pickline Cucumbers

All the above plants are annuals, and therefore are quick to grow and need to be planted in good time this spring. In addition, I will always have an assortment of perennial medicinal herbs which can be planted ANY time and will be with you for years to come!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two Miracle Workers

I learned about plantain and comfrey many years ago when my children were small. Our family was homesteading in the mountains of North Carolina, and there were others like us living nearby, often people who had escaped from the ratrace of the city and were looking for a quiet and natural lifestyle. The community included quite a few people skilled in healing herbs, and I was an avid learner. It was from Susun Weed's books that I learned how to make plantain salve, and it soon became a popular item with some of my friends. Over the years I've experimented with different additions to the salve: comfrey, calendula and chamomile. And though these good medicinals lend their own great qualities to the mix, the truth is that plantain is the real miracle-worker. It is a humble plant, growing at our feet, especially where we walk frequently. It seems to prefer compacted soil, and Indians used to call it "white man's footsteps" (it was inadvertantly brought over from Europe with the first settlers). The seed head is the psyllium seed that we so commonly use in preparations for "regularity". But it is the leaves that I treasure. You can use them if you're on a walk in the woods and get stung by a bee, or by nettle: just pick a leaf, chew it up a little, and then put the mushy paste on the sore spot. Or if you get a cut or scratch, do the same. I use it in the salve pictured above, and it is by far my best-seller at farmers markets. People come to the market just to buy this! I am so proud of the plantain when this happens; it is like the Frodo of the plant world, small and humble yet so very important to us.

The last time I bought labels for my salves, my doctor recommended that I put something like "for external use only" on it somewhere. So I thought this is what I had included in my order. How surprising to notice, when the labels came in the mail, that I had writen "for internal use only!"  I got a chuckle imagining people buying these jars, getting home with them, reading the label, and beginning to eat the salve! So I put a dark mark through the ridiculous misprint. Next I'll have to think of a snappier name than Herbal Healing Salve. Any suggestions?

With all this praise for plantain, I should not forget comfrey. It is a regular ingredient in my salves because it is a master healer. Just recently I tore the miniscus in my left knee, and nothing seemed to be helping it. I finally realized that I should try a comfrey poultice. I picked several comfrey leaves (comfrey is quite large by now, as you can see from the above picture taken a few minutes ago), put them in the blender for a few seconds with a bit of water, and then put the mush into a washcloth and held it on my knee while I watched Miss Marple on TV. Although I didn't feel much difference that evening, by the next day my knee was almost back to normal, and it has stayed that way unless I give it too much of a workout. Comfrey is famous for knitting tissues and even bones at a rapid rate, and now it would seem that I have personal experience of this.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Amazing Flower Remedies

Have you had the experience of suddenly discovering something amazing and new, and  wondering why everyone wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops? I felt like that on the summer day in England when I first saw a crop circle. I couldn’t believe that all the world’s newspapers weren’t running front page headlines on this incredible phenomenon. I also felt this way when I took my first class on flower essences. These exquisite creations of nature, flowers, are all around us. And not only do they grace our lives with beauty and play a crucial role in attracting insects to propagate their species. They are also potent remedies for emotional and spiritual well-being! What a concept! The flower essence workshop that I took in the 1980’s opened my eyes to a new kind of plant medicine. Since then I have used flower remedies myself and often helped friends decide what ones will benefit them most.

Over the ages, flowers have been used for healing in a variety of ways. But it was Edward Bach, an English physician in the 1930’s, who began to do research on the effect of flower essences on some of his patients with emotional and tough-to-treat physical and attitudinal difficulties. He eventually developed 38 flower essences, addressing many human patterns that get in the way of emotional, spiritual and physical health. For example, Agrimony helps with self-worth, Chicory with inter-personal love, Hornbeam with strength to carry out personal intention, Scleranthus with balance and stability, and the list goes on. Bach Flower Remedies are used worldwide today by millions of people.

In the past twenty or thirty years, other folks have developed their own lines of flower remedies, treating a broader range of human challenges than the Bach remedies addressed.  There are fascinating books on the uses of flower essences in medicine, psychotherapy, social work, crisis care, aging, developmental transitions, child care, and pet care, just to name a few. But what I like is that you can experiment with these gentle helpers, with no fear of an ill effect. This is what is known as vibrational medicine, and there is very little, if any, of the actual flower in the final mix. You make a flower essence with the clean petals from a particular flower, clear pure water, and the sun.

Making Flower Essences is one of the new workshops that we’ll be offering at Wapsinonoc Gardens this summer, once there are a variety of flowers blooming here. Stay tuned for the date.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dandelions! My Favorite Breakfast!

As I was walking to the mailbox this morning, I almost tripped over this healthy dandelion, amazingly growing right in the middle of my gravel driveway! Although my favorite spring food is dandelion leaves, spring has come so astonishingly early this year that I hadn't thought about looking for dandelions yet. But there it was, this intrepid plant, right in my path. And I immediately looked around at my garden's edge and found wonderful lush dandelion growth:
I picked a good handful of the leaves, being careful to choose from a variety of plants rather than depriving any one plant of all its leaves. (Even though this area will eventually be mowed, it feels important to honor the plant this way, being grateful for its nourishment and not taking too much.) A few feet to the north, I saw a stand of bunching onions (one of the first things ready for harvest in the spring in my garden), and pulled several of them to add to the mix:

Now I had the makings for a wonderful breakfast, just what my body yearns for in the spring:

Pick a good handful of dandelion leaves and several bunching onions (you can use regular onions, chives, or green onions instead).
Cut these up in fine pieces and gently stir-fry in olive oil for a minute or two.
Add two beaten eggs to the pan of greens and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until done.
You can add salt, pepper, hot sauce, or grated cheese. Or you can eat it without embellishments like I do.
Yum, yum!

Facts about Dandelions:
Rosemary Gladstar calls Dandelion one of the great tonic herbs of all time, and I agree. Every part of the plant is important to humans. The root is a digestive bitter, nourishing the liver and kidneys. The leaves are extremely high in vitamins and minerals. And the flowers are used in wines and jellies (and children will tell you that holding a dandelion under your chin will predict whether you like butter!). The best thing about dandelions is that they grow everywhere. Now is the best time to harvest the leaves, for they are mild and tender. It you don't at first see any outside, just get closer to the ground and let your eyes scan for those jagged green leaves curling up from the ground. Usually there are more of them around than you think.

Another wild herb that is suddenly coming up and ready for harvest is the nettle plant:
The taste of nettle is not one of my favorites. In fact, I try to disguise the taste with other better-tasting things. In the winter, I make a strong decoction of nettle leaves, oatstraw, and licorice root, chill it, and drink a glass or two a day. Now, though, I can go out with gloves and scissors, and pick enough nettle to add to stirfry, or to make tea. Like dandelion, it is chock full of vitamins and minerals.  It is good for the metabolism, for the reproductive system, the kidneys, for helping with PMS and menopause, and it is a great energy booster.

Note: Yes, this is the stinging nettle that we are taught to avoid. That's why you need to wear gloves and long pants when harvesting. Just bring a large bowl or bag and a pair of scissors with you. Hold the bowl underneath the plant and clip the young tops into the bowl. If you have a stand of nettles nearby, it is good to keep them trimmed throughout the season so that you have a constant supply of young tops for harvest.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Finally, pictures of my newest friend

I have seen the frog three times since my post of a couple weeks ago. The first time I snapped many pictures, but somehow they didn't register on the camera. Maybe this was a frog who didn't want his picture taken! But this morning, there he was on a flat of germinating seeds, and this time the pictures came out fine. He likes the relative warmth of this flat, since it has a warming pad underneath.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plant Helper for coughs and colds

The farmers market is a great place to get fresh healthy vegetables, fruits and herbs. The photo above is my grandson, Henry, tending the Wapsinonoc Gardens stand at the Iowa City market last summer. This winter we have experimented with a farmers market inside a school gym, open every other week. Although sales are not as brisk as in the warm seasons, I have been a vendor at most of these inside markets, selling herbal products like healing salves, medicinal tinctures, eye pillows and shoulder/neck pillows. Last week, one of the other venders (an Hispanic woman who embroiders exquisite and colorful clothes and bags) asked me if I had anything to help her son. He had a cough and congestion that seemed never-ending. After looking through the tinctures on my table, I traded this worried mother a bottle of elecampane tincture for an embroidered hair clasp, and hoped that her son would agree to take a few drops three times a day. Then I forgot about it. 

A few days later, I got a call from another Hispanic woman who wanted some elecampane tincture too! Evidently the first woman’s son was improving on the elecampane, and good news travels fast! These transplanted women were accustomed to using herbs for healing in their native countries, and they were reluctant to take their children to the doctor for every sickness. Yet they were far away from the herb women they grew up with. It felt good to be able to be there when they needed a more natural remedy.

The best news is that herbs do heal. And not only can you grow your own. You can also easily make medicine from them. Elecampane, when it’s blooming, draws all the attention in my north garden. It is a giant of a plant, and its sunflower-like blooms are cheerful and sunny. Some folks might grow it just because it looks attractive, but I grow it for its roots. After the plant’s second or third year, the roots are big enough to dig up, and they are a wonderful helper for chest ailments: coughs, bronchitis, asthma, even tuberculosis! Although you can make a strong tea (or decoction) from the roots, it doesn’t taste very good. So I usually tincture it and have it ready for anyone who needs it.

Directions for making elecampane tincture:
Dig the plant up during the warm season, cut off the top, and wash the root well, using a brush and forceful water. Then dry it thoroughly. This might mean letting it sit out in the sun or in the house for a day to make sure that the excess water has evaporated.  Then cut the root up in small pieces with a sharp knife. The smaller the pieces, the more surface area will be in contact with the vodka. Fill a jar with the pieces of root, and then pour in 100 proof vodka to the top. Put a lid on the jar and label it with the date and the contents. Let it sit for at least six weeks, shaking or stirring occasionally. If vodka is absorbed by the root pieces, add more vodka to cover. When you are ready to decant the tincture, put cheesecloth or some other similar cloth over a bowl and pour the tincture through the cloth, letting the bowl catch the infused vodka. Then pull the sides of the cloth up together and twist and twist, getting every last drop of the precious medicine out and into the bowl. Once you’ve gotten all you can, discard the roots and pour the decanted tincture into dosage bottles or a larger bottle for storage. Keep in a relatively dark place until needed. Tinctures will last for many years.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meet My Newest Friend

I wish I could include a picture here of my newest friend, but I have only seen him twice and didn’t think to grab a camera. The first time was one morning in my kitchen near the stove. I was heading toward the skillet with my scrambled eggs when I noticed something on the floor. It didn’t look like an animal, more like a piece of trash. But when I knelt down to get a better look, here was a living thing, its sides moving in and out. At first I didn’t know what this creature was. It looked emaciated, covered in cobwebs and dust, skinny. But it had the rough shape of a toad or frog (in my house? in the middle of winter?). Even though I live on a farm, I’d never seen a frog in my house, even in warmer seasons. Where did this fellow come from? And how had he survived this long? Assuming that he was in trouble, what could I do but try to help him?

My first thought was to take him outside where he belonged. Then I realized that he would freeze. The temperature was in the teens, the ground was frozen, and he would have no chance out there. So I filled a largish plastic lid with water, and went to the windows looking for flies. Aha, a spider was crawling into a corner and I gently caught him and brought him to what I had decided was a frog, not a toad. He showed no interest. Not even a flick of the tongue. OK, I thought, I’ll just leave him alone for now (I assumed without any evidence that this was a he-frog). I left the water and the spider, and went on with my day. Later I came back to check on the dusty creature and I was delighted to see that he had gotten in the water (it had scum and dust and cobwebs floating on the top) and had hopped off to wherever he lived. I loved it! We had connected, this wild creature and I.

I cleaned out the lid and filled it with fresh water before going to bed that night, and the next morning there was more scum floating on the top. Not only that, but the frog was again sitting by his plastic jar-lid, hanging out in the open. I found a fly and a boxelder bug to offer him, but he was not interested. This seemed to be a self-sufficient sort of frog with a good supply of his favorite insects in residence. (What does this say about my housekeeping, I wonder?)

And so for more than a week, I kept the lid filled with fresh water each night, and each morning there would be evidence that the frog had jumped in and out of it. I never saw him again, but somehow this tentative connection with another life form was a sweet one for me.

And then I had to go away for nine days. Oh my, I thought. What would happen to my frog? (I’m sure HE didn’t think he was my frog, but I had bonded with him and in my mind he was part of my family now.) When I finally got back from my trip, of course the water had all evaporated from the lid, and there was no evidence of the frog. I was sad. Yet I did fill the lid again and put it on the floor before I went to bed. Why not? Stranger things have happened than a frog appearing again after nine days, right?

The next morning I went into the kitchen and turned on the light. Was that scum in the lid? Yes! He was still there, in spite of my absence! I marveled at the feeling of elation that rushed over me, all because of a tentative relationship with a little wild thing. But you take your joy wherever you can get it. And this unexpected alliance between person and frog had caught my imagination and touched my heart. 

I haven’t actually seen my new friend since I got back, just the scummy evidence of his activity in the water each morning. And I forgot to fill the lid last night. But tonight I will remember, and now I know he is not dependent upon me. He is just fine without me, I think, but his life is a little more comfortable and cleaner with my small contribution. And I feel somehow honored to have this slim bond with a wild creature.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Turning of the Year

Tree Relatives

Outside my window
bare bones of maples
stretching in seven-degree air
the same as yesterday,
alive still
despite cold and drought,
my honored companions
standing like sentinels,
stalwart brown angels
seen through glass,
easing my spirit,
these dark days of winter.

My greenhouse is standing open and empty, gathering all the cold weather to itself. For several months it has grown me a wealth of greens: lettuce, spinach, arugula, beets, and kale, as well as the bonus of chickweed when I want a vitamin-rich volunteer. But it is important to let the greenhouse rest and get purged with deep cold for several weeks before I fill it with spring starts. So now my refrigerator is full of bulging bags of harvested greens that should last me until the end of March, and the greenhouse is exposed to Iowa cold. Already there have been several nights with single digit temperatures, and that's just what I was hoping for. Eggs from the aphids that started to get a hold in there last fall should succumb to the deep freeze.

During a warm spell in January, I planted 21 kinds of perennial medicinal seeds, plants that need a period of cold to germinate. More than a hundred large gallon pots are lined up in a sheltered place behind the garage, full of soil and an exciting variety of seeds. Some of the pots are planted with tree and shrub seeds: Elderberry, Witch Hazel, Spicebush, Hawthorne, Tree Angelica, Paw Paw, all offering valuable medicinal qualities. And then there is Agrimony (from which I hope to make one of my favorite flower remedies), Black Cohosh (such a powerful healer), Myrrh (I can't wait to see what this looks like!), Bearsfoot (a new giant plant that promises to be a good salve-making ingredient), and three kinds of Rhodiola - Scandinavian, Russian and Alps (loaded with immune boosting qualities).

I sit here with cold and snow outside and imagine some morning in April when I will go out to check on the planted pots and catch the first sprouts venturing into the sun and warm air. Patience is hard in February, letting nature take its time as the year turns toward spring.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Foggy Morning

Here's what it looked like from my front window this morning, mysterious and beautiful. It drew me outside with my camera. Even the smallest, finest fibers were coated with frost crystals, old spider webs suddenly alive with beauty, dead weed stalks taking on grace. The chickens stood quietly among the white-coated brush, the horse motionless in the mist-filled barnyard. Everything seemed in slow-motion, meditative, hushed amidst such a whitened landscape. Here are some more pictures:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February 1st - A New Calendar Page

When your life is primarily defined by the growing season, winter can be a time of waiting. But indoors begins to feel cramped and isolating by the end of January. So I am turning a page and beginning to focus again on the outdoors. The first real month of deep winter is over, and even though we have had some exceptionally mild days, thanks no doubt to climate change, the gradual lengthening of daylight hours has  not changed from one decade to the next. We are coming into a lighter season, and I am glad.

Because of a sore knee today, I could not take my usual vigorous walk on the road. Instead, I decided to slowly amble through the old pasture to the east of my house. At first it seemed drab and lifeless, the tan hummocks of dead grass and the bare tree trunks dominating the landscape. But with the slow pace, I finally began noticing things. I remember playing an environmental game, Signs of Life, with my students years ago, and this morning I was playing that game again. Although I saw no birds, insects or animals, all around me and under my feet were signs of life. First there were animal paths curving through the grass, easier to see in the winter than the summer, leading sometimes to the creek, sometimes to a hole in a fallen tree. And on these paths were piles of various scat: deer, rabbit, raccoon, and some unidentifiable scat (wildcat? beaver?). The only footprints I saw were on top of the scat, and were of raccoon and deer. There was a tuft of absolutely white fur lying on the dark earth, and nearby were the feathered remains of a bird who made someone's lunch.

As I walked through the valley beside the stream (Wapsinonoc Creek), I was surrounded by nature run wild, old fallen trees covering the ground in some places while strong giant oaks ruled the near-sky. I found that someone long ago had protected several trees by a squared off wooden fence, and these trees are thriving now, having survived the pasture years when grazing cows might have damaged their bark and branches. There is a stand of sumac at the far corner of the pasture, the dark seedheads from last fall still clinging to the branches. And several rows of hardwoods planted ten years ago are thriving, hundreds of young trees forming a riparian zone to protect the creek from run-off farming chemicals.

At the far edge of the old pasture, I turned and walked to the top of the hill, going back toward the house along the perimeter of the cornfield. Obviously the deer and raccoon like this route as well, and our tracks made a real thoroughfare across the land. On my right were big trees, low-growing brush, and nature taking its own course; on my left a harvested field with cornstalks mixed into the black earth. I had a rush of gratitude that this old pasture land has been allowed to remain as it is, unplowed, ungrazed, having a life of its own with little intrusion. These animal paths have not felt human footsteps for months. But now that I have taken inventory on this first day of February, I intend to walk there often and watch the changes manifesting as the light grows and as the end of winter finally ushers in warmer winds.