Sunday, November 23, 2014

Harbor Pollock Centerpiece of Foraged Meals in Winter


Wild Plants And Wooly Bears


       
Cold, windy and snowy. That’s the way things look from now on. And yet, foraging continues, in a way. While foraging for wild plants is pretty much out, I have contented myself with catching and eating harbor pollock and when the opportunity presents itself, brook trout and brown trout.

While trout fishing opportunities are limited now, given that only a few streams are open this time of year, pollock fishing is permitted anytime, anywhere. There is one rule, though, and that’s a daily bag limit of 12 fish. And truthfully, I wouldn’t want to clean more than 12 pollock.

These plentiful fish are available around piers, floats and breakwaters for most of the fall and into winter. Really, the only thing that stops me from catching them in midwinter is the extreme cold.

It aggravates me to have to buy fish when there are so many underutilized species out there that few people bother with. Which explains my fascination for pollock and other less-than-glamorous species.

I like to skin and fillet my pollock. These fish have been running about 12 inches and weighing close to one pound, so each fish gives two, hefty fillets.

Sometimes I’ll use my fresh pollock fillets in conjunction with preserved, wild edible plants to make a wholly-foraged meal. Home-canned goosetongue and frozen dandelions go well with ocean fish. Other times I’ll mix and match homegrown vegetables such as carrots and squash to make not a foraged meal, but a combination of foraged and homegrown.


So even during the gray, cold days of early winter, we can still enjoy our foraged foods. It just takes a bit more work. But it’s worth it. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tom Digs Dandelions Ahead of Season's First Nor'easter

It’s November 1, opening day of firearms season on deer and I’m sitting inside by the woodstove. But a stiff north wind blows, carrying a cold rain, and my tolerance for such adverse conditions declines with each passing year.

Besides that, I have plenty food even without a deer. With the summer bounty of homegrown and foraged foods, my pantry bulges at the seams. Even so, it was hard to resist the young dandelions growing in my garden beds and so I went out this morning and dug a mess.

We’ve had several hard frosts here in Waldo and dandelions lose their bitterness after undergoing several good freezes. So if readers have an interest in some late-season foraging, now is the time to go out and do it. Snow is predicted for this weekend and even after it melts, which it must, more snow will certainly follow in the not-too-distant future.

In addition to dandelions, I still have kale, good-king-Henry and even eggplant growing in my unheated greenhouse. The eggplant can’t last much longer, but as long as it continues to grow, I’ll continue to water and nurture it.

Sitting here writing and watching the smoke from my chimney sweeping down toward the ground as a result of the low-pressure system moving in, I think back to years past and how the season’s first Nor'easter always seems a bittersweet event. Bitter, because it signals an unofficial start to winter. Sweet, because it feels so cozy and comfortable to sit in a warm house and watch the fir trees sweep around, buffeted by the wind.


There’s nothing we can do about bad weather, so we may as well sit back and enjoy it to whatever extent we can. It’s all part of nature, after all. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Foraging Season Draws To An End

After two heavy frosts, most of the plants that we foragers seek have withered and died. The season, sadly, draws to an end. But a few plants continue to offer their bounty, particularly those plants near or right on the coast.

One plant, an old familiar one that grows nearly everywhere is the dandelion, Taraxacum officinalis. But aren’t dandelions too bitter now for eating? Well, they became bitter immediately upon flowering and remained so until right now. But after a heavy frost, dandelions lose their bitterness. And in Waldo where I live, dandelions have since become palatable once again.

So if you yearn for some wild foods before they go by for the year, and you live in a region that has had a frost or two, try digging some dandelions. It’s a fall bonus that all dandelion lovers ought to take advantage of.

Another tenacious wild plant, curled dock, Rumex crispus, has the determination of a Timex watch; it keeps ticking when the others begin quitting. Specifically, curled dock pretty much dies back in mid-to late summer, but then in the cool of fall, starts putting out new growth. This it does until constant freezing temperatures put an end to new vegetative growth.

Tree nuts are a perennial fall favorite, but nut-bearing trees are widely scattered and therefore, not a dependable food source, at least here in Maine. If you have access to shagbark hickory, American chestnut or butternut trees, be thankful for your good fortune. Beechnuts, a common mast crop in Maine and liked by animals as well as people, are notoriously coquettish and for the last several years, I have not found any beechnuts to harvest.


A number of wild plants remain, plants that, like curled dock, experience a second shot of growth. What you find and where you find it depends upon serendipity and a bit of luck. But since we have so little time left before a hard freeze and even snow puts a finality to our foraging days afield, I suggest you get out now and have a season’s-end fling. It’s a long winter and the shorter you can make it the better. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Farewell To Summer




My summer of teaching foraging throughout the State of Maine draws to a close. This brings at once a sense of melancholy as well as an invitation to a quieter, easier time to come. As per my personal foraging, mushrooms make up the bulk of it, as well as such seasonal delicacies as Jerusalem artichokes and late-lingering garden “weeds” such as lamb’s quarters.

Garden produce takes up a big part of my time now. Canning, drying herbs and to a much lesser extent, freezing, have become regular activities. But all this has its own rewards past the enjoyment of knowing that I’m providing for my future. I know I’m taking part in an age-old practice, something that inexorably ties me to my ancestors.

Here’s an observation for you to consider. Writing this in late August, I’m thinking that society rushes the season. Advertisements for fall clothes, firewood and all sorts of fall and winter-related items bombard the airwaves. But it’s still summer and will be until September 23. So why is everyone in such a rush to bid farewell to the warm season?

Well, much to my chagrin, something happens just around the last few days of August. Changes in nature become noticeable. Colors, scents, sensations, no longer have that “summer” feel. Skies lose their summertime milkiness, water in lakes, ponds and streams takes on a marked clarity and the air, while still warm and congenial, acquires a different feel.

But this should come as no surprise. As I frequently point out, we in Maine have a short growing season. Plants change their physical appearance from week-to-week and even the stars and deep-space objects in the heavens reflect the ever-revolving wheel of time. In other words, every week brings change…sometimes subtle, or as in right now, quite pronounced.

So relish those fresh, green things. Soon, they’ll be gone and we’ll have to wait for next year to enjoy them again.

The year, botanically-speaking, draws to a close. And with it, we have a chance to ponder and reflect upon those things that we can’t buy with money, but are worth more than diamonds and gold.

Enjoy the late summer and embrace autumn. We’re all on a merry-go-round ride on the great wheel of changing seasons. Enjoy that ride.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Last Workshops Coming Up - A Bit About Invasive Plants

Summer goes by so fast and now it’s more than half over. But some summer events remain and one
Garlic Mustard
of them is the free wild plant workshops I put on at Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor.

My last two workshops take place on Tuesday, August 19 and Tuesday, August 26. All a visitor need do is register at the front desk. Workshops run from 1:30 to 3:00 in the afternoon.

As an interesting note, this marks the third consecutive season I have taught at the inn and only this year, did I find garlic mustard growing there. How it arrived at the edge of the sea on a steep overlook remains a mystery. But it’s there and has already dropped seed.

The State of Maine lists garlic mustard as an invasive plant and suggests ways to combat it. The state list of locales having garlic mustard is now incomplete, since I have found it in a number of non-listed places and it’s for sure that it has spread farther than anyone might imagine.

The good news is that garlic mustard is a culinary plant of some value. It has a heady, garlic flavor, making it useful in all kinds of dishes. I can envision using the leaves in various ferments. Brined green beans, with garlic mustard, should make a nice combination.

We have more and more invasive species each year showing up around Maine. Many of them have culinary uses, so it only makes sense to use them.

Some time I plan on doing a special presentation on invasive plants. I may work on it this winter. But my presentation will differ from other invasive plant presentations because I will also include native invasives. To most people, a plant must be an alien in order to be considered invasive. Not so. For instance, groundnuts are a highly-invasive plant that once established are impossible to get rid of.

Groundnuts are edible tubers that send up long, weak-stemmed vines. These look much like pea vines and have twinned, opposite leaves. The vines depend upon other plants for support and in twining around the support plant, often end up strangling the plant to death. I have see groundnut vines kill Japanese knotweed.

Groundnuts, along with other wild edibles, are carving out a niche for themselves and as such, were offered last year by the Waldo County Soil & Water Conservation District in their annual plant sale.

But no one has mentioned anything about the plant’s invasive habits. That’s because groundnuts are a native plant. Cattails are another invasive native plant, but that’s another story for another time.

So much for invasives.

Back to plant workshops, perhaps I’ll see some of you at my workshops in Boothbay at Spruce Point Inn. It’ll be fall before you know it and then our wild plants will have been killed by frost, not to return until next growing season.

Happy foraging.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Goosetongue

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Goosetongue


I’m just now finishing up the last of the goosetongue, Plantago juncoides, that I picked almost two weeks ago. I got so much of it that I home-canned 13 jars, gave a copious amount to a neighbor and had enough left for daily eating for several weeks. Goosetongue keeps well in the refrigerator for a long time. To use, just rinse in cold water to freshen the leaves.

Hitting goosetongue just right is key to easy cleaning. By that I mean harvesting the leaves just before the seedstalks appear. After that, separating the leaves from seedstalks becomes quite tedious.

But today, on July 4th, I see that other plants are coming along nicely. Weeding my garden now always means lots of meals of great, fresh green vegetables. Lamb’s quarters, amaranth and quickweed, or Galinsoga, are all of a size to be useful now. And they all taste more or less like spinach.

I must add that I have a new “wild” plant that I started from seed last winter. Hundreds of years ago, the English cultivated a wild member of the goosefoot tribe called Good King Henry. The botanical name, Chenopodium bonus-henricus, says it all. It’s a Chenopodium, just like lamb’s quarters. And it tastes something like it. This has been an important experiment for me, since GKH is a perennial. And as such, it can be relied upon to provide food year after year.

But having never tasted the plant, it was a gamble devoting garden space to it. Now I see that it was a good bet indeed. Next year I plan on adding another row of GKH.

The season progresses quickly and it’s hard to grasp that we are in midsummer now. And with that, my time at Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor begins anew. I’m there teaching wild plants every Tuesday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Although these sessions are aimed at clients of the inn, the public is invited, at no charge. So if you would like to partake of a casual, and hopefully informative discussion and plant walk, feel free to show up at the inn by 1:30 every Tuesday from now until the end of August.


For now, enjoy your summer and don’t forget the insect repellent. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cold, Wet Spring No Problem For Foragers

For most of this spring, I have had to continually remind myself that the sun is still there; we just can’t see it.

To make matters worse, I’m drawn to flipping through my personal copy of Tom Seymour’s Forager’s Notebook. Entries there indicate that in 2012, I had planted all of my garden beds by now. This year, the soil in my raised beds is wet and cold and not even ready for tilling. That would only compact it and make it harder to deal with later.

Also on this date in 2012, dame’s rocket was in full bloom, hummingbirds had returned nearly one week prior and jewelweed was ripe for picking. Today, only one of these annual events has occurred. A hummingbird came buzzing around the greenhouse looking for its sugar feeder.

And on Saturday, May 26, 2012, the first June bugs (May beetles) had come buzzing and crashing into my porch light.

Will everything come out alright in the end? Well, sure. Wild plants will do just fine. They’re programmed to endure tough and changeable conditions. It’s the cultivated stuff that has me worried. Everything depends upon the first frost date. If, for instance, tomatoes haven’t ripened by that time, they will need to be picked and taken inside to ripen. And house-ripened tomatoes are never as good as the vine-ripened variety.

So everything depends upon getting our crops in the ground and growing so that they can germinate and mature before the first frost. There’s still time, but it’s growing shorter and shorter.

This is a good lesson for those who would compare a totally agrarian society to that of hunter-gatherers. The agrarian types raise all their own food and eschew wild things. But weather, climate, disease and a host of other factors often disrupt the system, plunging this entire class into chaos. That ultimately leads to famine and possibly death from starvation, which in turn dictates population migration.

On the other hand, the hunter-gatherers just put on an extra jacket and hunker down by the campfire. The wild plants, fish and animals they seek remain unchanged. “Ho-hum. It’s cold. Better throw another log on the fire.”

Of course we here in America are no longer hunter-gatherers. But we are an agrarian society, or at least our food comes by that means.

However, remainders of the hunter-gatherer society still exist in the form of modern-day foragers. These individuals glean what is best from every source. This gives foragers a leg up on those who totally depend upon supermarkets for their sustenance.

In 2009, the weather was so wet and cold that all my crops failed. I managed to get a few pallid stalks of Swiss chard from inside my greenhouse. But everything else died from standing in water and lack of sunlight. However, I harvested enough wild food so that I could home-can and freeze enough to last me through the winter. This was in addition to eating fresh, albeit wild, vegetables all summer, too.


So if this year turns out to be another one like 2009, it’s not the end of the world…at least not for foragers. It won’t be fun, but it won’t be a disaster either.

Friday, April 25, 2014

You Can Go Home Again


Brook trout and dandelion greens, quintessential components of late April in Maine, are finally available. I dug the first mess of dandelions last week and at the same time, caught several brook trout.

My meal that night was completely foraged and home-grown. The one non-foraged item was some of my home-grown and home-canned corn, a real treat that I save for special occasions. In partaking of this, I knew that the winter had officially passed and spring was here in truth and deed.

I have a little anecdote to share today. This warmed my heart and I hope it touches readers in the same way.

This morning saw me upstream on a local brook, by a little waterfall, happily catching and releasing 8- to 10-inch brook trout. I kept two for dinner. On my way back, nearly to where my car was parked, I saw two youngsters fishing. These boys were probably 10 years old, give or take a year. They had caught nothing and neither would they, since the place they were fishing held no trout. I knew that because I had tried it earlier.

I greeted them in passing and one of the boys politely asked, “Mister, do you know where we can catch some trout?” This was the kind of question I wait for people to ask, especially youngsters.

Pulling the bigger of my two trout from my creel, I held it up and said, “I sure do.” The boy’s eyes grew as big as saucers. They were that excited over the prospect of catching a few brook trout.

I told them exactly where to go and how to go about it. With all the ambition, hopes and dreams that 10-year old boys have for trout fishing, the two began running to the appointed location. There, I’m certain, they made lasting memories, catching handsomely-appointed brook trout.

But there’s more to this than just my satisfaction of directing two youngsters to a productive trout hole. The boy who asked me if I could tell him where to catch some fish somehow reminded me of myself when I was about his age. Many years ago, when I was 10 or 12, I had a trout fishing buddy and we two would walk for miles in search of trout. Distance and time meant nothing to us. We only cared for the sound, smell and ambiance of the stream, and the trout that it held.

There was the essence of magic for us in the quest for trout. Along the way, of course, we learned many things, not just regarding trout. We saw nature because we encountered it firsthand. It’s amazing what a person can see by walking, rather than driving. Our trout fishing times were part of our early education.

The boys today had no way of knowing how they had helped something in me to come full circle. But they fulfilled an important task. They allowed me to see myself…myself and my buddy Dan, as we were so very long ago.


Who says you can’t go home again? 

Here's a note to Don from Enfield. I answered your comment. Just go to the April 15 blog post to see it. Sorry I missed it earlier. Tom. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sears Island Plant Tour

I’m happy to announce that on June 21, I’ll conduct a wild plant tour on Sears Island. The island is a 940-acre, publicly-owned, undeveloped (for now) island with access via a causeway, in Searsport, Maine.

This is a step in a new direction for me, since up until now, all my classes and seminars were for groups or organizations. Now, I’m going to organize and conduct an event all on my own.

I chose Sears Island because it contains a wide variety of plant types, typical of different parts of Maine. From edible plants of the seashore to those more typical of far inland, Sears Island is the perfect vehicle for discovering new plants and learning something about them.

Planning a trip to the island requires some thought, since part of the route follows the seashore, meaning that section of walk must be accomplished during a cooperative tide. On June 21, 2013, low tide occurs at 12:45 a.m.

And so we will meet at the island end of the causeway on the Sears Island Road, just across from the Maine DOT facility on Route 1 just east of Searsport. We’ll gather at 10 a.m. for introductions and a brief outline of what we’ll do and where we will go. Beginning at this time means that we’ll be following an outgoing tide for the beginning of our walk. And by the time we reach the far end of the island and start our walk back to the trailhead, the tide will still be near dead-low.

In addition to identifying and discussing wild plants, I’ll note some of the historical features of Sears Island. All in all, this looks to be a fun and informative trip.

I would ask that participants sign up ahead of time so that I can monitor the number of people. Call or email me so I can jot your name down on my signup list. My phone is (207) 338-9746 and my email address is tomgseymour@gmail.com

Ideally, I would like at most, 10 participants. That way, I can give everyone close attention. If, given sufficient interest, the list fills in quickly, I will host another trip the next day, Sunday, June 22, same time, same place.

The trip will take at least two hours and may run over by a half-hour or so. The fee per person is $75. We’ll go rain or shine, with the exception of thunderstorms, with danger of lightning strikes present. If weather looks dangerously bad, please call me the evening before or early on the morning of the trip.


 
Woodland Scene, Sears Island
West Shore, Sears Island

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beginnings

The natural world awakes and changes come quickly, one atop the other. The ground continues to thaw, heaving areas where snow cover was shoveled or plowed, allowing frost to penetrate deeply. But soon, all frost will have left and the tortured, frost-heaved landscape will become level once again.

Plants respond to lengthening hours of daylight and warmer temperatures. Now, for those fortunate enough to have a good crop close at hand, is time for to harvest wild evening primrose, Oenothera biennis. The carrot-like, whitish root, with its strawberry-colored crown, is an excellent root vegetable. The foliage, which at this time appears as a basal rosette (leaves radiating out from a central point and spread flat on the ground), makes a fine potherb and the very young, tender leaves add spice to salads.

Dandelions, Taraxacum officinalis, appear on lawns and in gardens. The little first-of-the-year plants are yet too small to bother harvesting, but a week of decent temperatures and some sunshine will change that.

Common chickweed, Stella media, a perennial groundcover that persists over the winter, makes a good vegetable dish now when slightly steamed.

A friend who lives in Freeport writes me, telling of having pulled a number of rootstalks of cattails and taking the white, starch-laden shoots. These work fine rinsed and eaten raw or chopped in salads or even in stir-fry dishes.

There are other wild edible plants available now in addition to those I’ve mentioned here. Suffice it to say, anyone with a good ration of determination could conceivably go out and gather enough wild plants for a meal.


Basal rosette of evening primrose
So it has begun. From now on, the pace will only increase as other plants begin showing. And until next fall’s first killing frost puts an end to our bounty, we foragers have the world by the tail. Here’s to another season. Enjoy.
New shoot of common cattail
 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Welcome To RFD Maine


RFD Maine is a newspaper column that I wrote for the Republican Journal, a weekly newspaper in Waldo County, Maine. It appeared on the opinion page and was highly popular among readers. But the editorial staff wished for the opinion, or editorial page, to carry politically-oriented material rather than the folksy, down-home country stuff that I wrote. So they decided to drop it and replace it with a political column. When they told me of this, I put in my bid as writer for the political column and it was accepted. So I still have work, but not the kind I began with. I miss writing RFD Maine.

In the less-than-one month that RFD Maine has been absent from the paper, countless readers have called and written me, asking what happened. Of course I have no control over what a newspaper does. But it appears as though the editors and publisher don't have an ear to the ground regarding what the readers want, either. In fact, when I found out that the editorial page was going political, the editor mentioned that he had never read RFD Maine. 

However, it was the most popular column that paper had had in many years, and I have written for it since 1986. I'm wanting to peddle RFD Maine to some other paper, since I see that it "has legs." But in the meantime, I'll offer past columns to readers of my blog. If you, my readers, enjoy it as much as readers of The Republican Journal say they do, then I'll have more incentive to try and either get it back with TRJ, or else find another home for it. 

Meanwhile, here is my first installment of RFD Maine. It gives details of rural life throughout the seasons. I hope you all like it and please, do leave comments. 

Best wishes, and happy spring. 

Tom




A Circle Of Seasons

          For me living in RFD Maine, signs of a past or soon-to-arrive season are always close at hand. This topic came to my attention when I noticed a vase of pussy willows atop my refrigerator.
          In perhaps one more month, the silky-gray catkins of  pussy willows will appear. Pussy willows fall into that fuzzy category of plants sandwiched somewhere between large shrubs and small trees. The still-naked twigs and branches, with their crop of furry catkins, are a time-honored symbol of spring. And as such, we revere them. If pussy willow catkins came on in summer, we would pay them no homage. But in late March and early April, we cherish our pussy willows.
Four Seasons
          Winter-weary souls go out in early spring in search of the first catkin-bearing pussy willows. Successful pussy-willow hunters usually cut a handful or two to take home and put in a vase. First-timers often make the mistake of placing their fresh-cut pussy willow sticks in a water-filled vase. That’s a mistake, because the branches continue to grow and become covered with pollen. Leave them in water long enough and they’ll set roots. Seasoned pussy willow fans know to put their prize in a dry vase, that way the display will remain intact until the following spring, when it’s time to go on another pussy willow foray.
          After considering pussy willows, I turned around and observed the old-time Mason jar with it’s bouquet of tansy sitting on a shelf above my television. The golden-yellow buttons (flower discs) have faded a bit, but there’s no help for it, because they are destined to remain there until late next summer, when they’ll be replenished with a new batch of cuttings.
          Besides the tansy, little wisps of the summer season remain in plain view on my back deck in the form of a folding lawn chair leaning against the house and of course, my barbecue grill.
          In my house, autumn, the fall of the year, is represented by several deer antlers adorning a wall, plus the “fan,” or tailfeathers of a particularly handsome partridge, or ruffed grouse, that I shot last year.
          Winter, my least favorite season, has no reigning ambassador at my place, at least not one I have expressly invited. But even the cold season gets passing notice at different times of year, because of my fondness for Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi. His trademark work, The Four Seasons, is something I play frequently. This four-part concerto is appropriately enough broken down into Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. So even when listening to this timeless work in spring and summer, I’m reminded of winter.
Lesser Lights
          Reminders of the different seasons are visible in other places, too. These “lesser lights” are often in my way, only to get moved from where they are stored when their own season arrives and I dust them off and use them for their intended purpose.
          For instance, I keep my air conditioner in the greenhouse over the winter. The AC is heavy and the greenhouse is the closest outbuilding to the house. Besides that, my barn is very small and fully populated with outdoor equipment. So the greenhouse wins, or loses, by default.
          Even the woodshed shows signs of different times of year. Just the other day, I nearly tripped on one of the boards that I use at the bottom of each row of firewood. These serve the purpose of keeping my firewood from freezing to the ground. And by the time spring, or something like it arrives, the boards are free of piled wood and ready to serve yet another purpose. Now, they become walking boards.
          Mud season creates the need for long boards across low areas along the path between my house and car and house and barn. When genuine spring finally arrives and these vernal pools dry up, the boards go into storage back in the woodshed.
          Right now, inside the house, my humidifier works hard to keep indoor humidity levels at somewhere near the 50 mark. But when spring arrives and outdoor relative humidity rises far above winter’s desert-like state, and the woodstove goes to sleep for another season, the humidifier gets sent to the woodshed…literally.
          Even the food I eat is representative of the different seasons. For example, I’ve had a hankering for dandelions as of late, so to satiate my desire, I’ve been digging into my lode of home-canned dandelions. It’s impossible for me to feast on a meal of dandelions, even canned ones, and not think back upon the season and the circumstances from which they came.
          I just ate the last of the trout that I vacuum-packed and froze last summer. This not only brought to mind the joys of open-water fishing, it made me yearn for the upcoming spring, when open-water fishing on brooks and streams resumes. Eating that trout fillet also reminded me of the trout I raise in my farm pond, and the fun I have sitting by the pond in evening twilight, sipping ale and watching my fish rise to the floating trout pellets I throw out to them each evening.
Kodak Moment
          Well, it’s not really a “Kodak Moment,” but all the same the background on my desktop computer screen is always pleasing to me. I constantly change the background photo, choosing from the large crop of digital images stored on my computer. Currently, in view of and as a respite from cold, snow, more cold and more snow, I have a summertime photo for my desktop background.
          This photo shows a pastoral scene, a gentle hill, covered with hayscented ferns in the foreground and mature maple and white ash trees in the background. In this photo, everything is green. Gazing at it, I can almost smell the sweet fragrance of the ferns, coupled with just a hint of spruce gum. The photo was taken in an inland section of Sears Island, one of my favorite summertime haunts. And yes, the island abounds in spruce trees and the spicy aroma of spruce sap wafts about inland areas, toying with the senses and making each visit that much more enjoyable.
          I visit Sears Island regularly, from spring through fall, and am familiar with most of the plant life there. But now, in winter, I’d just as soon sit in my office by the woodstove and stare at the delightful summertime photo on my computer screen.
          Soon, it’ll come time to change my desktop background. I’m thinking of putting up a picture of springtime flowers, perhaps crocus or hyacinth. By the time the real crocus comes into bloom, I’ll switch photos and post one of me holding up a fresh-caught trout, taken along one of my favorite trout brooks.
          I suppose this circle of seasons awareness is an inherited trait, something from deep inside, reaching out over the millennia. And, thinking along those lines, I kind of pity people who live where there is no change of seasons. To someone from RFD Maine, even the most congenial climate would become old if taken in too-large doses.
         

         
         


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Opening Day A Bust




Today, April 1, 2014, marks another opening day of trout fishing in brooks and streams. As per tradition, I arose before sunrise, had a cup of coffee and headed out fishing. But what awaited me was something totally unexpected. Everything was frozen.

Streams that are normally productive on this day were locked up in a thick coating of ice. The few that I did find open had shelf ice on the edges, making it tricky if not dangerous to venture out and take a cast.

Streamsides and banks were treacherous because of snow and ice. I slipped while climbing a wet, snowy hillside on my way back from a stream. Another place saw me breaking through the snowcrust up to my knees at every other step. This was where old cattail stalks stuck up only a foot or so above the snow. Had I thought, I would have realized that cattail stalks, even old, brown dead ones, are taller than one foot.

Every time I broke through, it would knock the wind out of me. In short, this old body endured a virtual marathon of physical demands. And the at most, I’m just a little tired right now, but that might be mostly a result of tossing and turning last night, sleepless, like a youngster on the night before Christmas.

As per results, not a trout moved. Nary a bite. This marks the first opening day in many, many years that I have gone fishless. Well, not exactly. My plans for fish for supper being dashed, I stopped by the store on the way home and bought a fresh Atlantic salmon fillet.

Usually on April I, a few wild plants are in evidence. This year the only plant I saw was a toxic one, buttercups. These had overwintered on a wet, sunny hillside. But as per useful plants, it looks as though we’ll need to wait just a bit longer for spring to arrive in earnest.



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Marooned By Mud


Tuesday is April 1, opening day of trout fishing in brooks and streams. I’ve not missed an opening day for the 60-some years that I’ve been fishing. And if possible, I don’t plan on missing this one. But it’s going to be rough.

I’ve always boasted that it would take a lot to keep me from going fishing on this traditional date and now it looks as though nature has called my bluff. Specifically, I live one mile from the nearest paved road, on a strip of dead sand and mud called East Waldo Road. And as of yesterday, East Waldo Road is impassable to motor vehicles. I’m marooned at home.

It doesn’t appear as if the town can do anything about current road conditions, since rain is forecast for the rest of today and into Monday. Even if they wanted to, which I’m not certain they do, it doesn’t look as though a gravel truck could reach the worst parts of this miserable excuse for a road.

So Tuesday morning, I will have to try and walk from my house down to the paved section of road. My driveway, not exactly a great feat of engineering in and of itself (I built it) is pretty bad. A dammed-up seasonal stream has broken out from confinement and now runs like a river across my driveway. But I can probably ford it.

Walking on the main road, though, will be problematic. Ruts, some several feet deep, weave this way and that up and down the road. So pedestrians (me) will need to walk on top of the snowbanks on the roadside.

Walking one mile in summer would be a trifling matter, something accomplished without thought. But this is different. However, despite a winter pretty much stuck indoors because of ice and snow, I’m still in pretty good shape. I should make it.

One thing’s for sure. When I reach the end of the mud gauntlet, my buddy in his waiting van will be a welcome sight indeed.

Meanwhile, if anyone has access to a private helicopter, I could use supplies. Topping the list is broccoli, lettuce, potatoes and beer or ale. If the other stuff is unavailable, just send ale. Food for the spirit is more important at this point. Besides that, I’ve got lots of canned goosetongue, Swiss chard, dandelions and green beans to hold me over.

It’s going to be a long mud season, by the looks of it.




Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Winter Has Lasted Way Too Long


Last January was warm enough for this orpine to begin growing
We all know someone who remains stuck in an earlier time. I knew someone who was stuck in the 1950s. He combed his hair, dressed and spoke as if it were 1958. His music, too, reflected that period of time. I haven’t seen this guy for many years and I wonder if he has ever seen fit to accept the passing of time and act accordingly.

Our climate lately reminds me of my good-time rock-‘n-roller friend. It’s stuck in January. The vernal equinox has come and gone and the sun has approximately the same strength that it exhibited in September. But these miserable arctic blasts, intrusions of super-chilled air from the north, keep bringing us January conditions in late March.

April 1 is the opening day of fishing in brooks and streams in Maine. This has no basis in practical fisheries management and is solely rooted in tradition; that’s how it’s always been.

I caught my first trout at age 4 and have been at it ever since. I have never, ever, missed an opening day of trout season. Some years I’ve had to contend with snow, other years just plain cold temperatures and sometimes rain. But never, ever, in my 62 years of fishing, have I seen prolonged cold such as what we are experiencing now.

As always, I’ve been doing my pre-season scouting. Usually, I am able to spot trout finning in bright, clear pools. But not this year. All the pools are frozen, locked in ice. Waterfalls are frozen. Everything is frozen, including the tidal river near my house. So my biggest challenge this coming opening day will be finding open water to drop a line in.

Foragers, too, have been dealt a difficult hand. In fact, I’ve got my first field trip of the year scheduled for April 23. It’s going to have to get awfully warm between now and then for us to find any plants at all.

By now, we in Maine should be feasting on the young leaves of wild evening primrose and cooking the parsnip-like primrose roots. I would ordinarily have pulled some of last year’s cattail clumps and harvested the young, white sprouts that would later become this years cattails. But I can’t because the ponds are frozen, the swamps are frozen and the cattails lie beneath a thick coating of ice and snow.

People have long-since tapped their maple trees in order to harvest the sweet sap used for making maple syrup. But the sap lines have frozen. It doesn’t get up above freezing during the day and the sap can’t flow. This will likely go down as the poorest maple syrup year of all time. Expect a price increase for maple syrup.

By now, I would ordinarily have planted lettuce and other early greens in my solar-heated greenhouse. But I can’t, because the greenhouse beds are frozen solid.

And now, another blizzard is forecast to smash into coastal Maine. Just what we need, another blizzard.


I cannot remember a year with a colder spring than this and as I said, I’ve been around quite a long time. When spring finally breaks and we get a steady diet of above-freezing days, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief. And here’s one thing more. Like everyone else, I often complain about the weather. I’m complaining now, for sure. But you will never again hear me complain about it being too warm. Let it get hot, I don’t mind. All I’ll need to do if the heat becomes a tad uncomfortable will be to remember the spring of 2014 and that will put an end to any dissatisfaction regarding heat. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

First Day Of Spring, Kind Of


Knowing that today, the official arrival of spring, would be snowy and otherwise nasty, I took a ride yesterday, looking for signs of spring. Normally, snow would be mostly gone and buds on willows and certain shrubs would be visibly swollen. Some years, pussy willow catkins are out by now. But not this year.

This year, deep snow covers the ground and it doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. And trees and shrubs exhibit no signs of spring. As far as annual plants and herbaceous perennials, they may as well be on the far side of the moon, for all the good they do us, hidden as they are beneath snow and ice.

Even our streams and rivers remain locked in winter’s unrelenting grip. The Passagassawaukeag River, a tidal river near my house, is covered with ice. A large waterfall on the “Passy” is frozen solid. Imagine, a frozen waterfall. And small streams are totally frozen and covered with snow, offering little hope for anxious anglers waiting to get out and wet a line on April 1, opening day of fishing season.

I did find one, little ray of hope. A steep bank on the south-facing side of the Passy River was peppered with not-quite-open coltsfoot blossoms. These are by and far the earliest wildflower to appear and the sight of them cheered me greatly. On the other hand, the coltsfoot bloomed in February last year.

So happy spring…I guess.

In other news, I got an email yesterday from someone representing Conde Nast, wanting photos of my wild plant tours and some high-resolution photos of the wild plants. I had never heard of Conde Nast and so thought I was being scammed. I didn’t just fall off the hay wagon yesterday, you know. I wrote back asking for some kind of explanation, only to find out, much to my chagrin, that Conde Nast is the publisher of Gourmet, Bon App├ętit and Epicurious magazines and they are creating a special issue magazine with a directory of foragers from around the country. And they are going to include me. 

I sent them the plant photos. Luckily, my friend and publisher Nancy Randolph had some photos of me on field trips with groups, so we satisfied Conde Nast’s request. Nancy mentioned to me later that after the magazine comes out, I may get calls from some big-time New York papers and if that happens, I shouldn’t accuse the caller of not really being who they say they are.

But what can I say? I’m from Waldo Maine. I don’t get out much.

Keep the faith. Spring, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, must eventually arrive. The sun has made its trek north and casts its light on earth from a more direct, powerful angle.

Oh, one other thing. I’m including a photo here and it has three captions. They are: Tom’s place on the first day of fall, Tom’s place on the first day of winter and Tom’s place on the first day of spring. I may or may not include the one other season we have here in Waldo, Maine, the Fourth of July.








Friday, March 14, 2014

Tom's Seminar Schedule For Spring - Summer 2014


My 2014 season schedule is shaping up nicely and I have a number of presentations planned around the State of Maine. Here is my schedule, effective as of March 14, 2014. I’ll update this list as more dates get firmed up. I’d love to see some readers of my blog at one of my sessions.

March 29. Digital presentation and question-and-answer session for University of Maine Extension’s Rural Living Days held at Mt. View High School in Thorndike. My class time is 10:45 to 12:15.

April 23. Next, I’m doing a digital presentation and plant walk for Jackson Memorial Library in Tenant’s Harbor, beginning with the indoor part at 12 noon, followed by a plant walk on local nature trails. For more info, contact Hanna Tannebring at (207) 594-9209.

May 3. Digital presentation of springtime plants at Merryspring, Camden, followed by a plant walk. Class from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

May 17. Plant presentation for Adult Education group at MSAD 40 in Union. Indoor presentation in Union School at 10 a.m. followed by plant walk at Rain Tree Farm in Union.

June 8, 9. Two-day session for hosted by Lynn Howe at Harpswell. For more information, call Lynn at (207) 725-7437.

June 12-13. Woodie Wheaton Land Trust, Forest City on East Grand Lake. Evening digital presentation followed by 9: a.m. plant walk the next morning. Contact Patty A. Michaud at (207) 448-3250 or email her at info@woodiewheaton.org for more information.

July 8, 15, 22, 29. Every Tuesday classes at Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor. The public is welcome. Contact the Inn at (207) 633-4152 for more information or to sign up. There is no charge.

July 19. Plant walk at Holbrook Island State Park in Brooksville. This off-the-beaten-path state park is a true undiscovered gem in the state’s park system. Few visitors, lots of room both inland (even has their own little mountain, complete with trails to the peak), freshwater marsh and lots of shore land. No reservation needed. Just arrive on or before 1 p.m. and we’ll walk about this excellent spot and find wild plants.

July 20. Another session with Lynn Howe in Harpswell. Specifics not yet available, but call Lynn and she’ll be able to help.

August 5, 12, 19, 26. Tuesdays at Spruce Point Inn. See July schedule for more info.

August 22. Plant presentation and walk for Cobscook Community Learning Center in Lubec. For more information, contact Valerie Lawson, Program Manager, at (207) 733-2233. Sounds like a good time to me. I plan on doing some fishing from Lubec Breakwater after the session.

August 23. Evening presentation for Downeast Lakes Land Trust, followed by plant walk the next morning. For more information, contact Tanya at (207) 796-2100 for more information.










Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Material In The Works Include Springtime Plant Seminar, Urban Foraging Walks



It’s snowing and I’m stuck inside. It being mid-March, my thoughts have turned to harvesting wild edible plants. I’m currently working on handouts for my upcoming plant classes and even have a brand-new wild plant presentation almost ready to show.

This consists of digital images of various wild edible plants available in springtime. Prior to this, my presentations have included plants from all seasons, but now I’m concentrating upon each season separately. I also am working on a special “garden weeds of summer” presentation. I feel that all these separate groups of plants, each in their own season, deserve special attention.

Also, and I've toyed with this idea for several years, but this year will definitely make it ready. This project will require lots of legwork on my part...literally. I'm speaking of an “urban foraging walk” and will take place in Belfast, Maine.

Often, while waiting for my car to be serviced, I’ll stroll through residential sections of Belfast and to my amazement, I find useful wild plants everywhere. Even such places as the ditches between commercial buildings hold their share of great plants.

My walk will be somewhat taxing, since it will incorporate several miles of Belfast’s geography. But I’m thinking that what we find in and around Belfast will be representative of plants found in other urban locations throughout Maine. Anyone who accompanies me on one of my Belfast walks will be well-situated to do some urban foraging in other towns and cities.

So maybe it’s a good thing that it’s snowing and that winter continues to hold us in its icy grip. It’s given me a severe case of cabin fever and my only relief comes from planning plant trips and seminars for this spring and summer.


There’s a lot to see, do and talk about in the wide world of foraging for edible wild plants, and I plan on doing all that I possibly can along those lines. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Unique Job Opportunity


Every once in awhile I come upon an interesting topic not directly related to foraging or wild plants. I believe this is something that may interest someone among my readers, and so I’ll post it here.

Linda Bean seeks a team to operate Camp Wapiti, a 100-plus-year-old camp in Patten, Maine, near Shin Pond. Linda needs a “talented superwoman and husband to continue the camp’s history as a place where licensed Maine guides take guests into successful experiences of lake fishing and game hunting: the L.L. Bean way.”

Camp Wapiti offers stunning views of Mt. Katahdin. The camp sits 20 minutes from the north entrance to Baxter State Park. Linda would like to hear from someone interested in running Camp Wapiti for her this summer, fall and next winter and spring. She says that if the new team and she “click,” this could be an ongoing opportunity.

If you are interested or know someone who is, send an email to Linda Bean, owner, Linda L. Bean Camps LLC, at Linda@LindaBeansPerfectMaine.com.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pine Needle Tea


This unusually cold and long-lasting winter has me down. And I suspect that it has taken its toll on you, too. I’m scouring my shelves for wild foods that I have preserved and though I still have plenty of dandelions and goosetongue on hand, they are only a substitute for fresh, wild green things.

With ankle-deep snow on the ground and nighttime temperatures well below zero (it was minus-6 last night), the possibility of some early-season foraging seems quite remote. But there is something we can harvest right now and in fact, it was available all winter. Tree tea.

Some conifers offer a delicious and healthful (vitamin C) tea. The needles (leaves) are picked fresh, chopped up, covered with boiling water and steeped. White pine is my favorite source of tree tea. It has a pleasant scent that relaxes me. Any pine is suitable for tea-making purposes, though.

So I will go out today and break my way through the snow crust to the nearest white pine, gather a handful of needles and bring them back inside for a nice, hot cup of white pine tea.

In other news, my schedule is filling up for summertime field trips and seminars. I might mention to anyone looking for a fun few hours this summer, that I’m at Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor every Tuesday, beginning on July 8 and continuing through August 26. I believe my sessions begin at 12:30 p.m. and last until 2:p.m., but the exact time is yet to be determined. Nonetheless, I mention this for the following reason.

Spruce Point Inn hires me for the benefit of their clients. We walk the grounds and I identify different wild plants and explain their uses. The inn owners kindly allow non-clients to participate as well. So if any readers of this blog would like to have a fun, relaxing time some Tuesday afternoon this summer, just come to Spruce Point Inn and join my plant walk.

I’ll post the exact date as the season nears, but with so many people “thinking spring” at this point, I wanted to reiterate the offer of coming to Boothbay Harbor and walking around the grounds of this scenic peninsula, searching for wild plants.

Readers may feel free to contact me about this any time. You have my contact information on the bio portion of this blog.


Meanwhile, take heart. The cold may try and convince us that winter will never leave, but the nighttime sky tells a different story. The springtime constellation Leo the Lion is coming up now and the sun grows stronger with each passing day. Spring will come. It’s just a matter of time.