As we begin our warm-cold dance & windy journey toward spring you will inevitably notice periods of time when the weather is so fine and fair that our bees can be seen flying about in search of sustenance. I’ve already noticed them on our warm days sipping on the resin of wood that I’ve been cutting while I work outside, doing their best to seek whatever they can during this ‘fallow’ time in the plant world before buds break open in Spring. What are the early foods that our bees can eat to sustain themselves at this time of the year?
Willow, one our earliest budding shrubs, will open their catkins or ‘pussy’ buds at the end of February to early March, displaying delicious pollen for our bees to sup on. Beekeepers will often place their hives of bees near stands of willow for early foraging and for the health and wellness of their hives.
Let’s take a wee look at the willow who so kindly buds early for our bees. The term “pussy willow” refers to several species of willows that get furry gray catkins. Generally, the first spring “pussy” buds, often have a lovely silken, soft grey fur about them – like a cat or a rabbit. Later, the fur disappears and is replaced by either male or female flowers, depending on which type of plant you have. Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are both male and female trees. Although only the male flowers produce pollen, both sexes produce nectar.
In New Mexico we have a common willow known locally as ‘Coyote willow’ or ‘Sandbar Willow’ (Salix exigua). You have most likely seen, played with and hidden coyote willow along ditches, riverbanks, and historically, underneath cottonwood trees around Santa Fe and other parts of New Mexico.
Children at Mountain Kids! will have interacted with coyote willow at the Upper Canyon Road Preserve and along the Santa Fe river.
Coyote willow is a special habitat for many critters, one being the Willow Fly Catcher. It is also browsed avidly by deer throughout the winter, and to some extent by sheep, goat, rabbit and cattle, in summer and early fall. Beaver also eats the trunks of willow, along with those of cottonwood, gnawing the inner bark or cambium as food, and placing the sticks as parts of dams or lodges.
Coyote willow roots freely from cuttings when put straight in water or into damp soil. I like to carefully and considerately cut a few new shoots with tight buds on them in early February, place them in a vase or jar and observe the buds opening in my warm home earlier than they would outside. Keep your eyes out for these special, soft buds, and for the bees that rely on them!
Tsankawi is an amazing winter hike, only 40 minutes from Santa Fe. In fact, Tsankawi is great any time of year, but can be hot without cloud cover during summer months.
Tsankawi is a part of Bandelier Nationl Monument, but without handrails, concrete ramps and steps. At Tsankawi you can pretend you are explorer discovering this place for the first time, with waist deep grooves in the paths and a myriad of caves to explore.
The rock here was created when the Valles Caldera blew it’s top, and ash and lava flowed down to form what is now called volcanic tuff. It is a soft rock that the pueblo people dug into to make the cavates. Cavates are human made caves that were a part of the pueblo peoples settlement. There are many intriguing cavates to be explored on this hike.
The 1.6 mile loop trail involves three ladders, so be prepared to navigate these. The first one is short (and can actually be avoided if you prefer), while the second can be missed entirely by taking a slot trail, and the third, at the far end of the mesa, is the longest, and unavoidable.
I like to do the trail “backwards” with younger kids so they
can climb up the long ladder instead
of down which seems easier for
them. To do it this way, stay right and
walk along the edge when the arrow points up to the left. You will also avoid
the second ladder this way. There is a drop-off on one side, but the path is
wide enough to avoid heart-palpitations, for the most part.
Once you reach the caves, be sure to stop and sit in one together. (Be careful to tread lightly, as it is easy to kick up dust in there, which makes sitting inside no fun.) In the cave, have a snack, tell a story, break out your long lost flute or recorder, or just imagine what life would have been like for the kids who lived here. Ask your kids what it would be like to live here. What would they do for fun? Would they work in the fields? These are fun ideas to ponder with your kids and can provoke conversations for days and weeks to come. Next time you take away their screen time, they can pretend they live in a cave and need to find their own fun. Just imagine…
Take 285 North to Pojoaque. Take Hwy 502 West toward Los Alamos. Take Hwy 4 toward White Rock. The trailhead is on the left just before the first stop light you see. Park here and grab a ticket at the kiosk to put in your car which is your entrance fee ($25/car). Pick up a map for $1 at the entrance to learn more while you hike.
‘Piglet was busy digging a small hole in the ground outside his house. “Hallo Piglet”, said Pooh. “What are you doing?” “I’m planting a haycorn, Pooh, so that it can grow up into an oak tree, and I’ll have lots of haycorns just outside my front door, instead of having to walk miles and miles. Do you see, Pooh?” “Supposing it doesn’t grow up into an oak tree with lots of haycorns?” said Pooh. “It will, because Christopher a robin says it will, so that’s why I’m planting it.” Piglet put the haycorn in the hole he had made, covered it with earth and jumped up and down on it.’ – From The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne, originally published 1928.
It was an early beginning to acorn season here in Pacheco Canyon.
The monsoon rains didn’t come as strongly and frequently as in previous years
and so, our plants have been moving through their fruiting phase swiftly so as
to send the nutrients they do have back down into their roots, where they’ll hold
them until more moisture comes. Instead of rains, the fires came through the
lands around where I live but we have beautiful big acorns still for gathering.
Amazingly, here in the desert we have a variety of oak trees!
Unlike the grand oaks of the east coast or Europe, ours are generally smaller
and so may be passed by more easily by you until you get a feel for them!
Generally in Northern New Mexico and around Santa Fe we most
commonly find Gamble Oak (Quercus gambeli), Shrub Live Oak (Quercus
turbinella), Grey Oak (Quercus grisea) and Wavyleaf Oak (Quercus x pauciloba). Botanically
speaking Oaks are in the ’Fagaceae’ family of plants (the Beech Family). ‘Quercus’
is the ‘genus’ or specific line of that family and the word that comes after
‘Quercus’ gives a description of the species or specific type of oak.
Oak trees are divided into two groups – the first group are the ‘black
oaks’. These trees have pointy or toothed leaves and small hairs on the
inside of the acorn shell when it is cracked open. (Shrub Live Oak is in the
Black Oak side of the family.)
The second group is that of the ‘white oaks’. These can be
determined by their lobed leaves (rounded edges) and the lack of hair found on
the inside of the acorn shell. (Gamble oak, Grey Oak and Wavyleaf Oak are all
in the White Oak side of the family.)
The following botanical drawings are by a wonderful botanist
Robert DeWitt Ivey, from his thick plant identification book ‘Flowering Plants
of New Mexico’. These pictures will give you a beginning identification for the
oaks you see around you.
Oak trees are well known for their beneficial insect-plant
relationships. Have you ever seen an ‘oak apple’? It’s an insect (wasp) nest
laid on an oak leaf that swells to accommodate the small wasp larva who grow
within it. These insects are given accommodation by the oak as they pollinate
the oak, which in turn forms acorns. Check out this link for a bit more
information about oak apples and the galls they make when they harden: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_apple
Below is a photo I took when out on a walk this summer. Most oak
trees will have oak apples on them somewhere, so take time to have a treasure
hunt and look for the oak apples as you come across oak trees.
Acorns are one of the most important foods in human history,
really and TRULY! Why don’t we eat them still? Acorns (and the whole part of
the oak tree) contain tannins that are extremely bitter and when eaten in
excess can a cause upset stomachs and diarrhea. However, with a little effort,
we can ‘leach’ the tannins out in water (they’re water soluble) and then
happily these protein rich, oil rich and carbohydrate rich nuts either as a
flour in baked goods or as ground nuts in a burger, casserole or stew.
Before we go further, I want to mention that although tannins are
extremely bitter, they are also astringent (drying, tightening and toning) and
can be used very effectively as a medicine taken in appropriate amounts
internally or applied topically for specific conditions such as diarrhea, as a
mouthwash and poultice for inflamed gums or to sooth sore throats (although I
prefer marshmallow root for sore throats). For external or topical use a
decoction/tea can be made of the leaves, inner bark, unleached acorns or oak
galls and placed on second degree burns. This application seals the burns and
stops them from weeping and possible infection.
How do we LEACH acorns, then, so we can eat them?
While I was attending Winter Count Primitive Skills gathering* this year, I was fortunate to catch a fascinating class on acorn processing by an exceptional bioregional herbalist of the southwest desert region, called John Slattery. John took a large crowd of us through the steps of processing acorns (that have already been gathered and dried) into flour. We then made an incredibly delicious and moist sweet acorn bread. Here is John’s blog post on acorn processing – it’s well written and should give you a clear step by step understanding of how to gather, dry and prepare acorns to eat! And they’re worth eating!!!
John does give a few recipes to try out at the
bottom of the blog post and here is a simple recipe (I have slightly modified)
to entice you into acorn eating!
ACORN PANCAKES from Sharon Hendricks (Slightly
modified by me!)
Break an egg into a bowl. Add:
1 teaspoon avocado/coconut oil
1 teaspoon of honey or sugar
1/2 cup of ground and leached acorns
1/2 cup of corn meal
1/2 cup of whole wheat, white, spelt, or gluten-free flour
2 teaspoons of double action baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of milk
Beat all together. If the batter is too thick to pour, thin it with milk. Pour pancakes into a hot, greased griddle and cook slowly until brown on both sides.
Serve with butter and syrup or wild blackberry jam. Delicious!!
Just to round this blog post out….here’s a little more from Pooh
Bear in The House Around the Corner…
I thought Tiggers were smaller than that.” Said Piglet “Not the big ones,” said Tigger. “They like haycorns,” said Pooh, “so that’s what we’ve come for, because poor Tigger hasn’t had any breakfast yet.” Piglet pushed the bowl of haycorns towards Tigger, and said: “Help yourself,” and then got close up to Pooh and felt much braver, and said, “So you’re Tigger? Well, well!” in a careless sort of voice. But Tigger said nothing because his mouth was full of haycorns. After a long munching noise he said: “Ee-ers o i a-ors.“ And when Pooh and Piglet said “What?” he said “skoos ee,” and went outside for a moment. When he came back he said firmly: “Tiggers don’t like haycorns.” “But you said they liked everything except honey,” said Pooh.” “Everything except honey and haycorns,” explained Tigger.
The Diablo Canyon Recreation Area is a wonderland of black rocks, dramatic cliffs and sand. It is worth the bumpy drive along the washboard road to get there.
Directions are below. You will see the towering rock faces as you get near. As you begin your walk, you might see some little dots on the sheer rock cliff face above you. These dots are people who climb this massive rock: remarkable and inspiring, and for those who prefer to stay close to the ground, downright scary. Luckily, you will be on solid ground, and it makes climbing the big black boulders below seem very safe by comparison.
With little ones you will prefer to stay in the sandy, beach-like wash that navigates between the sheer face on your right and the pile of boulders on your left. The canyon narrows and then opens up, widening and eventually reaching the Rio Grande. You can walk down as far as you desire, which is often not too far with kids who love to create their own games and play, jumping off the big rocks. There is usually spring of water seeping up from the sand which makes for a fun play spot.
If your kids are a little older and you have confidence scrambling over big rocks with them, you can walk up the black rocks on your left and go as far as you feel comfortable. I have been to the tippy-top of the mesa with some confident climbers in the 9-12 year-old range. If this is your cup of tea, it’s a blast: inspiring confidence and memorable moments. If you are a nervous mom or dad, you may want to keep the kids on the down low.
I have seen rattlesnakes here in the summer, so do keep your eyes peeled and don’t stick your hands into dark places. Winter should not be an issue, but it is getting warm, so look for them sunning themselves. They will not bother you if you don’t disturb them.
How to Get There: Take Highway 599, get off at Camino La Tierra (Las Campanas exit), and then drive until you see Old Buckman Road on the right. Take the right and you will see a trailhead and parking area after seemingly endless miles of washboard road. You will pass some of our city wells along the way, which in interesting to point out to the kids, and talk about where our water comes from. Total drive from downtown is about 45 minutes or so.
Our Saturday Wildside group had a blast this past week hiking along the Santa Fe River.
We started the day finding north and orienteering for treasure; it turns out kids can use their spidey senses to find treasure (apples and oranges), rather than compasses. 😉 We also used a stick compass to find north and all four directions, so easy and useful.
We were challenged in some physical agility; walking across logs, climbing and descending muddy slopes, and playing King of the Log; where one person tries to bounce an opponent off a log without touching them. A fun new game!
The rope swing was another fun-filled challenge, with some giddy swinging and Tarzan whoops filling the warm winter day. Only two kids took to the river for a wee splash and were none the worse for wear. Plastic bags and extra socks sure come in handy for wet feet on a winter day outside.
We hiked down the river through towering cottonwoods, in awe of the beauty, and the two hawks we encountered, who were just as interested in watching us as we were them.
We finished our day with a lesson on how to harvest willow and used our kitchen peelers to take the medicine rich bark from the plant. Each Mountain Kid went home with a paper sack of bark to make tea as a remedy for fever, diarrhea or sunburn.
What a beautiful winter day to wander and play along the Santa Fe river.
What better way to start an adventure than by making a pouch to place all of your treasures in! On Monday we began our week by setting up a felting station in Hyde Park Campground, from where we played games, took a hike to a waterfall nearby and got wet and soapy. The smell of wet wool and lanolin was an interesting experience for the children. We learned that heat, water and friction together create an effective felting technique.
On Tuesday we had a go at needle felting a picture each. This is a fun art project to do – painting through color and form with felt onto a flat piece of felted fabric. These pictures were completed the following morning as we had a hike to make and some old-style camp shirts to turn into handy shopping/gear bags! We did this in the field down from Big Tesuque after lunch by cutting the sleeves and neck off the t-shirts, cutting one inch sections along the bottom part of the shirt and then knotting these together in pairs – Et Voila! A bag with a Mountain Kids Logo and design!
Games, of course, are a most important piece of our days together – tail Tag was voted as a number one experience this week, and Eagle Eye was also liberally enjoyed!
On Wednesday we went to Los Golondrinas for a day of learning about the times gone by and their life styles. The school room was tiny, our children looked well fed and way too big to stay seated and work at those desks! There was a little something interesting for each child there, but we sure were tired on our return!
Thursday saw the completion of the felted pouches at a second felting station by the river at the Ski Basin. We made a quick pot of Osage Orange bark to dye our cotton yarn for to make finger knit handles with, then left these to dry and settle while we took a hike down to the meadow below. Two female cows and their calves were in the middle of the trail at some point but we navigated the protective parents and this sweet scene with ease and frolicked in and over a river lined with wildflowers, clover and big mushrooms.
It sure was a busy and productive week with a lot fun to be had while crafting our way through!
Monday morning greeted the Mountain Kids with the chance to harvest apples at the beaver ponds, which of course included some tree climbing for those who felt called to do so!
The Eagles were very successful in the apple hunt, picking more than 200 apples in a short amount of time! They did most of the coring and slicing of apples to make apple sauce for everyone to take home. (The Hummers would have their turn on Thursday with the peaches!)
On Tuesday morning we sliced and strung apples to dry them for a lovely dried fruit snack.
The remainder of the day was spent hiking at Tsankawi,
part of Bandelier National Monument. The children learned about how the Ancestral Pueblo people once lived. While enjoying lunch in a wonderfully cool cave dwelling. Mountain Kids learned of the many different types of food and animals in the local area and the ways in which the Native peoples would have gone about harvesting and hunting them for food.
On Wednesday, we headed out to Rio en Medio, where we were able to gather fallen acorns and experience the sweet taste of freshly plucked red currant berries and a few raspberries along the trail.
The heat of the afternoon was spent splashing about the crisp river water, creating dams and building boats from nature to sail down the river. On our travels back to Santa Fe, the Mountain Kids spotted a couple of beautiful fruit trees full of apricots and apples, which they harvested for a juicy afternoon snack! Foraging sure is fun, and tasty. 🙂
The Eagles hiked to the Rio en Medio waterfall, crossing the river many times, an adventure in itself. It was a challenge if you wanted to keep your feet dry! We and had a blast getting wet and exploring the frigid waterfall at the end of the hike.
That afternoon the Eagles headed to Chupadero for our Cooking Adventure Campout. We roasted our dinner in the ground (Chicken, sweet potatoes, and corn), learned how to use a handdrill and bowdrill to start a fire, and pitched a large shade structure to provide respite from the hot sun.
We enjoyed time around the campfire roasting apples, apricots and telling stories. A quick rainstorm didn’t deter us from a fun evening under the stars.
Thursday morning started with an early trip to the Tesuque Pueblo, where the Hummingbirds and the Eagles joined together to pick peaches for the Pueblo people.
In return for the hard work gathering the fruit, we were able to pick our own peaches to enjoy and take home. Soon after we found our way to Chupadero where we spent the afternoon slicing peaches for a fruit compote and practicing archery.
Everyone got to take home fresh peaches that afternoon. YUM!!
With our bellies full of sweet fruit, it was nice to spend Friday playing in the woods and exploring our creative side. The Mountain Kids headed up and into the mountains where we spent the afternoon building shelters at Aspen Vista, creating hand made bows, arrows, and spears (from sticks, rocks, and yarn). It was a ‘sweet’ end to a super sweet and tasty week of foraging, eating, camping and archery! What an awesome end to an amazing summer 2019! Thank you families for being a part of it! 🙂
It’s been another muddy good week with the Mountain Kids! It all began with an adventure to Deer Creek, where the Hummingbirds and the Eagles discovered several puddles of mud, camouflaged themselves from head to toe, and cooled down with an afternoon spent playing in the flowing water. While the Hummingbirds played in the stream much closer to the trailhead, the Eagles enjoyed a lengthier hike up to the ‘swimming pools’, where they practiced their [what felt to be] cold plunge and admired the beauty of the waterfall!
Tuesday, the two teams parted for different adventures. While the Eagles explored their way up the Santa Fe river, from Patrick Smith Park, the Hummingbirds took a sweet little adventure to Glorieta, where they gathered local clay, before heading back to the park due to incoming weather. While the adventures in Glorieta were short lived, the two teams enjoyed the opportunity to recombine at the park and spend an afternoon sculpting sweet pieces of art with our freshly harvested clay.
Wednesday morning started with a fun craft which showed the Mountain Kids how to create paintbrushes from yucca and painting pigments from different crushed up elements and stones. Before long, both teams were on their way to Abiquiu Lake, where the Mountain Kids found ample amounts of mud, dug through the dirt, sand, mud, and clay, and made a splash for several hours in the lake.
The Eagles and Hummingbirds headed up to the Big Tesuqe Trail for their Thursday adventures. While the two teams participated in separate hikes, both, the Eagles and Hummingbirds were able to practice their camouflage skills through games such as Eagle Eye” and “Pig”. Of course there was plenty of time, too, for the kids play in the water as they wished! Several of the Eagles competed in a dam building competition and used their wild imaginative creativity in order to build fairy houses along the river.
Friday found both teams exploring the Santa Fe River with an adventure up to the nearby tire swing. During our hike up the River, the Mountain Kids found several different berries and plants which we broke down into vibrant body paints. The afternoon was filled with much fun, playing at the Cerro Gordo Park, in the river, and on the tire swing! Our day was finished with a sweet little treat and a lovely lesson on bee keeping. One of our Hummingbird campers is a local bee keeper and brought a jar of his recently harvested honey to share with us, in addition to showing us his gear and talking us through the process of beekeeping. It wasn’t long after our lesson on bees that each Mountain Kid began running around and involving themselves in a massive water fight to end an exciting week!