Friday, July 31, 2009

Ethnobotany 101: Yellow Dye

I sent a note to Julia the Ethnobotanist asking what local plant around here I could use for a yellow dye for wool or cotton. Just to see what she said. Mind you, I don't actually have anything to dye at the moment.


She said that I should pick some off the ground and soak them. Several species around here make good yellow dyes. But of course, she didn't have her dye notebook at hand to give me more specifics.

This woman is a walking encyclopedia of plant uses. I might just have to build an extra cabin on the homestead so as to house her and her husband while I pick their brains about wild mushrooms.

The Homestead Frame of Mind…

This is going to be a long entry. Feel free to grab a cup of coffee now so as to help keep those eyelids open...

My friend Kristin of Reclaiming the Home (and the group by that name on Ravelry) posed a question to the group this morning: "Just curious if anyone here homesteads or has plans to try to?"

I'm sure most of you know my answer to that question. I don't need to bring up Alaska again, do I?

I was listening to a podcast the other night from the folks at Self-sufficient Homestead. While I found some of the content to be a bit rambling, some of what was said prompted me to think:

Is my dwelling purely a consumer or does it also produce? What can I do to produce more of what I need? The show I was listening to discussed the fruit trees and berry bushes on a homestead and how they produce for the homesteaders. My nearby berry brambles will hopefully produce quarts and pints of berries for me to both can and freeze this year. If I’m lucky enough to catch the Yakima valley farmers’ markets at the right time in August, I’m hoping to pick up cucumbers for pickling as well. I just love spicy bread and butter pickles!!

On a side note, I’m hoping my friend Julia, a local master of ethnobotany, will help me learn to forage for the best wild mushrooms of the Cascades this fall. I remember the cabin in Fairbanks and how many mushrooms grew around there after a good rain that August. My friend David tried, at the time, to show me exactly how much was edible. I gave him the good ones, letting a bit of fear of poisonous mushrooms take over. But now, two years later, David’s still alive and I’m just a bit jealous if his knowledge. This fall, I’m hoping to not let another such opportunity pass me by.

Getting back to the basics: Getting back to doing stuff yourself…

Most of you know that one of my other loves in life is baking. I have been stocking my freezer the past few months with - and eating! - homemade bagels and loaves of sourdough bread. Everyone (including the current roommate) seems to eat up everything I leave on the kitchen counter or bring to the office. I recently was made aware of a recipe by Gale Gand for Milan Cookies (thanks MountainMama!). This is my next sweets experiment – but I think I might make the ganache a mint chocolate or white chocolate ganache. Of course, chocolate in any form is always *ahem* welcome.

On the trail to the office today, I saw the wierdest orange mushroom coming up. I'm really curious to see what it is. I'll have to take a picture and send it to Julia for ID...

More about doing things for myself in future entries. For now, anyone have any comments?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ethnobotany 101: Bear Grass

Xerophyllum tenax

Bear grass is unmistakeable in the Cascades. Clumps of grass-like leaves arching outward with tall flower stalks holding the showy white flowers (shown above) can be seen everywhere along roads and trails in Mt. Rainier National Park. It is generally found in the upper montane and lower sub-alpine ecosystems, where drier soils exist. Although some horticulturalists have tried to cultivate it for the nursery trade, it is better left alone in the wild where it can grow naturally.

For centuries, Native Americans have used the leaves, weaving them together, to form baskets and mats. Bears eat the fleshy bases of the leaves (thus the name).


Ethnobotany: The study of the interaction between plants and people, with a particular emphasis on traditional tribal cultures. Ethnobotany is a branch of botany, the study of plants, and is closely related to cultural anthropology, the study of human societies.
[Source: Encarta Encyclopedia]

Most of you know that I'm a big fan of wildflowers. Plant taxonomy and Ethnobotany are both related fields that draw me in. Perhaps some day, I'll write the perfect field guide for those around me who love flowers but don't have the scientific background that (sometimes) is required to read many modern field guides.

Anyone know a good publisher?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Where did the week go??

I spent much of the past 7 days with Hannah, exploring flowers and rocks around Mount Rainier National Park - with a side trip to Mt. St. Helens. It was refreshing to see how the littlest detail could capture a child's imagination.
Folks, get your kids outside!!!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hannah Arrives Tonight!

Yes, one of the Infamous Smith Girls is flying from Denver to Seattle tonight to visit MissSilly. This next week will be fun. Sadly, I have some work obligations to attend to during her visit. However, I should get a few hours of hiking and wildflower hunting in as well. Woohoo!!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Slippers

Just in time for the fall, I FINALLY finished my new pair of felted wool slippers on Saturday. It really was a productive weekend this weekend, even if I didn't get my blog updated. ;) (Sorry BethanyG!)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Little Bit of Everything...

Let's see... Yet another week has escaped my grip.

1) We have been hosting a workshop this week, teaching middle and high school teachers about volcanoes, geology and the USGS/NPS sites around here dealing with volcanoes and geology. I haven't been keeping up with email, mail or anything else because of this.

2) I'm house- and dog-sitting again this weekend for those adorable 75-lb. huskies. I love those dogs. I'm hoping to get a bit of quiet time away from the park just to knit, sleep, do (free) laundry and play with the doggies.

3) Next week, my young friend Hannah flies in for a visit. No visiting grandparents this summer. She's visiting me. :)

4) My truck officially has a problem... We think an oxygen sensor is dead. Thankfully, the truck doesn't need to get inspected to renew the tags this year. Therefore, this doesn't need to get fixed in the immediate future. And I don't have to drive it every day. Not every day, that is, except for the next two weeks - in which case, I'll need it every day. Argh. I have such great timing!

5) I got an email today from my former roommate from the cabin in Fairbanks. She'll be in WA next month and wants to get together. How fun! Hopefully, I'll still have a vehicle by then...\


I have like 3 other blog posts that I'd like to get up. We'll see if I can get them up this weekend. I'm hopeful (but don't hold me to it).

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Limits of Time and Space

I have begun several projects the past few weeks. And like my friend MountainMama often jokes, I seem to suffer at the moment from startitis. A new pair of socks. A nice lace scarf. I still haven't felted the lunch sack I finished knitting last weekend.

And don't ask about the sweater I wanted to get finished in time for last Christmas' dinner with the family.

My most recent UFO? The flower beds around the Ed. center where I work.

When I make sufficient progress, I'll post the before and after pictures. You'll see how this project fights the limits of time and space.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Another Volcano

On Saturday, I drove down to Mt. St. Helens. It's amazing to see both the destruction and the plant communities moving back in. It's taken almost 30 years for this much plant growth. The view from the trail at the observatory:

Paintbrush and Penstemon:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A few new pictures...

A view of the Niqually Glacier and resulting river

Avalanche lillies are blooming at Paradise!

Cameron, me, Mark, Don and Everett at one of the nearly-melted-out overlooks on the Nisqually Vista trail. This looks so different than it has looked the past few months!