I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads: “I’d rather be lost in the Sods than found in the city.” A friend introduced me to the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia back when I was in college (and back when few people ever ventured that far outside of Washington, DC), and I have been hiking in the West Virginia mountains ever since. They are truly special in so many respects.
One of the main reasons I consider the WV mountains so special is because of the abundant, and often unique, native plants found on the mountain tops and down in the hollers. I am one of those plant nerds that can’t stop hunting for plants, even while on vacation. (What can I say? It becomes an obsession after a while.) Identifying plants in the wild is entertaining enough, but as an herb gardener…
A druid walks upon a landscape, barren, cold, with trees cut and plants uprooted. Tears in her eyes, she surveys the damage that others have caused: the homes of so many animals disrupted after logging, the wild ramps and ginseng roots damaged, and the remains of the logged trees laying like skeletons on the earth.…
Among the common, the uncommon exists. Learning the uncommon among the common helps us see in new ways what has been in front of us all along.
Take red pine, for instance.
Where I live in western Pennsylvania, red pine (Pinus resinosa) is a common sight. Many county and state parks contain large tracts of land that host nothing but red pine plantations. These plantations, believe it or not, are considered by fundamentalists to be “ecological deserts” — a category that also includes parking lots and golf courses.
Red pine, it seems, can’t catch a break. Because of the bias against its ubiquity and against its purported ecological disservice, it’s no wonder that people rarely take any time to marvel underneath a red pine tree.
But there is something that we should know about red pine. Among the common, the uncommon exists.
Red pine is not common in every context. To provide two examples — “natural” stands of red pine are quite uncommon in my home state of Pennsylvania, and across the entire range of red pine, old growth red pine forests occupy less than 1% of their original range.
What’s more, old growth red pine forests are far from ecological deserts. Researchers consider these forests to be critical for maintaining biodiversity at stand and landscape levels.
To gain some insight on the matter, I decided to visit a “natural” stand of red pine. Not too surprisingly, I did not discover an ecological desert. Instead, I encountered a diverse ecosystem containing red pines that were approximately 250 years old and approaching old growth status.
Speaking of uncommon (or very common, depending on where you live), I recently encountered this melanistic eastern gray squirrel foraging for acorns. The presence of melanism across the range of gray squirrels is really low (less than 1%). In some areas, though, it can be higher than 50%. To learn more about black squirrels, check out the latest Instagram post!Click to view post
Thanks for reading and watching, and thanks for your continued support!
Staghorn Sumac: A tree that teaches us about resilience
Resilience is a term I first learned as a permaculture practitioner–resilient ecosystems are those that are able to withstand hardship, recover quickly when faced with difficulty, and had a capacity to endure. In other words, a resilient ecosystem can withstand drought, flooding, or other difficulties by being adaptable, flexible, and having redundancies. Which of course, is so critical in today’s ever-changing world fraught with climate change and instability. Resilient plants are the often-maligned weeds: those weeds who take every opportunity to grow: who find a crack in the sidewalk and take root, who immediately start to grow after disruption, or who outcompete less resilient plants. They are able to be like weeds or opportunistic species, taking advantage of new opportunities, finding niches, and gracefully adapting to change. Think of the dandelion here, growing up through cracks in the sidewalk. This same…
This animal does not change sex but it does change the way people maneuver through the woods. I recently spotted a few timber rattlesnakes in a Pennsylvania forest. To see photographs and to read more about my encounters, check out the latest Instagram post!Click to view post
Thanks for reading and watching, and thanks for your continued support!
When you think of the term “wild”, what comes to mind? Perhaps wild can be defined by that which is its opposite: civilized, tame, domesticated, and controlled. Wild, on the other hand, is free, unrestricted, unbounded, and sovereign. And while I resist binaries, there does seem to be some truth in the difference between that which is wild and that which is tame–a manicured city street vs. an old-growth forest has a world of difference: in the smell, in the biodiversity present, and in the energy of the space. A wild place is hugely biodiverse and serves the needs of a wide variety of species. A wild space is in a place of ecological balance, where all resources are cycled and used. The human-tamed spaces are most frequently designed for human needs exclusively, and in the modern age, are also prime producers of pollution and waste. There’s, of course…
I’m really excited to announce that my new book through REDFeather / Shiffer Publishing is now availableo! The Book is titled Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year Through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices. I wanted to give you an introduction to the book and the concepts behind the book. If you’ve been reading the blog for any length of time, you’ll see a great deal of familiarity: my explorations and writing on this blog shaped this book, although the book goes well beyond the blog. In a nutshell, Sacred Actions presents a hybridization of nature spirituality, sustainable living, and permaculture practices and ethics. I can’t wait to introduce it to you in today’s post!
Before I share a brand new video with you, I want to provide a reminder that today — Monday, May 24th— is the last day to register for Foraging Wild Mushrooms.
After today, registration will be closed for the season. If you want to learn the skills involved in safely and successfully harvesting wild mushrooms with confidence, Foraging Wild Mushrooms can help you achieve that goal.
Today I wanted to take some time to share some of the updates on the land healing and permaculture practices we are enacting at the Druid’s Garden Homestead. As I’ve shared in earlier posts, when we purchased this land four years ago, the family who owned it just before us selectively logged about 3 acres, leaving the forest an absolute mess. The land otherwise was perfect–we have our own spring, a nice sunny area for gardens….and three acres of land in desperate need of healing. Since land healing is one of my primary forms of spiritual practice, I rolled up my sleeves and purchased the land! As this ongoing land healing project takes shape, I try to check in on the blog every once in a while to share new insights, techniques, and experiences. Today I want to spend some time offering updates…
A path of evergreen mountain laurel at Laurel Hill State Park. Amazing to hike through in the winter, when the understory sings!
As you may have noticed, in the last month or so I’ve been working diligently on my “Sacred Trees in the Americas” series. The truth is, I’ve worked through most of the trees that are well known and form the overstory of most of the forests in the US East Coast. Trees like White Pine, Oak, Hickory, Sugar Maple, Ash, Beech, and Birch are dominant trees. And when you do research on these trees, you find a rich tradition and lore from both the Americas and the Old World. Recently, I’ve moved my attention to lesser-known trees like Ironwood and Devil’s Walking Stick, and have covered others like Witch Hazel (distinct and different from American Hazel) and Spicebush. There is a striking difference between the first group and…