Eye to eye with the locals of EEC Forest Stewardship
There are two Spring stars of the wildlife corridor trail cam at EEC. Weiss Creek is a thriving wilder space- returning to native nature, the original time capsule of human existence and recognition of surrounding life. Too deep? Well, here’s coyote with haunted holler and bone cracking smile. He/she/it/they/them have been cruising this territory for a long time, and we’re glad to see them from a distance. In the past, these jackals of the west have killed sheep from my flock, and might again still. That’s part of the living covenant between us as predator animals and adaptive opportunists. My most lasting solution to preventing predation is the introduction of our Kangal Livestock Guardian Dog, Gill.
We’ve had no losses since this K9 sheep specialist teamed up with EEC. He’s thriving in his work and the Katahdins trust him. Coyotes who experience Gill’s alert weariness and territorial presence shy away to safer ground. Our trail cam footage is far from the barn, several acres away in the wildlife corridor of the property. Here we support and appreciate the wildness, making space with plans to keep restoring and growing habitat until this land’s ultimate conservation as native forest. Long after Gill’s tenure, and many generations of sheep have come and gone, this land will be coyote’s domain, and hopefully, by then, elk, bears, and even wolves if we give them space. What a wonder it would be to see the great temperate rain-forests, and all they posses in rich diversity of life abundance, returning to this place, their home.
Near the trail cams we sometimes place leftover bones and scrap from animal processing, in small amounts, to focus encounter potential. This is always in the wildlife corridor, so as not to offer any land where sheep are or will be grazing as a meal spot. It prevents scent and territory cross over, and it’s working in our modest 10 acre system. Coyote is the most frequent visitor to the area, at least weekly, sometimes every few days if there are bones to pick at. And the scraps are gone fast. This animal is cousin to the wolf, but much more singular in appearance, sometimes as a pair, but rarely a pack in this area. I’ve heard the cackle of howling group antics nearby, but our cameras have never filmed a pack on this land- yet.
Heading up as our second star of the season, just arriving from a winter over The Cascades or further down the coast in California, our seasonal scavenger expert and forest picker upper of the best kind- TV!
It/He/They/She/Them are so handsome/dapper/depraved?- no really, these iridescent black feathered folks are playing the best role in nature- clean up crew. They are bold brilliant beings on a mission to find and devour bacterial dangers before bad outbreaks related to rotting flesh occur. The neck feather boas on this bird are shear genius in lay and color. If you catch a gimps of them during flight, you’ll see silver tips on the under wing. Bald head bloody wrinkle fest face might be hideous in high fashion, but it’s all the rage in cleanliness. This animal has one main tool for its job, a beak, made to deconstruct corpus putrefactio. These birds also sport a pair of goggles in a protective lens which covers the eyes during a messy meal. I was lucky to catch this optical shift, how cool.
Turkey Vultures had a bad wrap in colonial culture, much like coyote. Ranchers were known to put poison in a dead cow to kill scavengers like these two important ecological players. The TVs are protected now, and most people get what they do any why they need to be respecter in their cleanup role. Coyote, because they will kill a live animal, are still given a lot of shade. The attitude towards predator animals, who are also important workers in the environmental web we all share, will only change when we start reflecting on why mankind feels so threatened.
We’re tilling up some new agricultural restoration space at EEC Forest Stewardship. Our panhandle has been the sight of continual mowing for thirty years. It’s about a quarter acre of some of the best soil on our land. This growing zone is being renewed with a propagation of fresh plantings. Using mostly native species, we’re setting a hedge for added value in vertical vegetation. The plan includes low growing species to prevent any unwanted entanglement with power lines across the road. New introduced plantings include “cranberry tree” Viburnum opulus, which is a rarity in the wild these days. It will be the main species in our hedge, and quite the wildlife attraction, so animals will get a boost of food and shelter. Our other two minor hedge species are a purple snow-berry and yarrow. There’s also a hint of red currant, comfery, and Gaillardia pulchella. In addition to planted species, we broadcasted three different seed mixes for PNW wildflowers. This nearly 300 foot long space will be a pollinator strip for the neighborhood.
We had planned a few more years of sheep grazing as the main agricultural practice for the strip, but we saw an opportunity to take out the sod, removing any need to graze, and are now restoring the land for ecological enhancement and diversity. The south neighbor will have a native plant natural fence to enjoy, north neighbor will receive an attractive boarder hedge set well back from the road. Our selected species can survive well on their own, with little human input, and we’re creating more good wildlife habitat and ventricle vegetation to enhance the landscape biodiversity, water conservation, and so much more.
Most local soil has quite a bit of glacial till, making it rocky and difficult to farm. But this particular strip stretched into what was a shallow lake left after the glaciers retreated further north. There is an abundance of good tilth for growing things, and the older trees left as standards a lifetime ago, testify soil health and water abundance- fertile land. There are a couple of places where water pooled in some tractor compression marks my neighbor left after an unexpected exploration of the freshly tilled soil. It’s a helpful sight map to plant species that can handle occasional standing water during atmospheric river events. The clay count is high in this soil, due in part to years of compression from vehicles driving over it and mowing, which prevented much needed thatch building better soil over time. The clay holds water, but introducing more vegetation and diversification within the soil will create better draw of moisture into the ground, replenishing our groundwater systems drinkable water.
Mulching will be key in keeping up with this initial setting of new growth. Grass will creep back in, but hopefully, once the newly planted vegetation establishes, the change in micro climates will keep grass out of the hedge, and managed with occasional road side trim with the weed wacker or scythe. We’ll move the sheep along it once or twice a year for a good cut of the hedge, and prune annually as needed. Pollinators and other insects are already utilizing the new environment, EEC will maintain it, and mother nature should do the rest.
Today, I went to check on the hive and add fresh sugar syrup. Yes, even with all the flowers out at the peak of spring, honey bees don’t get enough food on their own, and must be supplemented with hundreds of pounds of sugar each year. Even with the extra food, hive raiding happens- this is when one hive of bees comes to another hive and steals food. My bees were known for being very gentle, so much so that I could handle frames bare handed. I really love these gals, and it’s painful to share that the hive has gone silent. There is a very large pile of dead bees in the front of the hive, and a few still struggle to fight off what’s left of an invading colony from some where nearby. I’m crying as I write this, because bees, like people, when there are not enough resources, go to predate upon others to survive. It was a two day all out war, and I had to stand back and watch as my friends fought to the death to defend their home. I know, these are small insects, and I’ve taken a powerful hose to many yellow jacket and wasp colonies in the past- though only those directly in the path of established human habitation here at EEC, but this animal behavior has been hard to comprehend.
Bee colonies do come into conflict, like any living system overlapping another, there is often conflict and struggle for survival. There can be ultimate collaboration, and many living things cohabit together quite successfully, as long as resources remain abundant. In this instance, my hive was left open- quite literally, when the hive cover hatch was not put on tight. Our spring has been wet, and I often crack the lid of the hive to help ventilation. In this case, the hive was left vulnerable, and a neighboring hive, stressed by the cold, damp spring, found an easy food source in the open hive top. It was a hard lesson to learn, and the home colony has sustained heavy losses for my error. That’s one of the hardest lessons in agriculture- that sometimes, humans fail and it costs in lives. Yes, little lives, hundreds- if not thousands of them.
Look closely at the two different strains of bees- my bees are lighter- being of Italian or Russian stock. The invaders are darker, and probably Caucasian or Carolina stock. That’s a very broad guess based purely on color. My hive was a wild caught swarm from Spring 2021. It’s been such a gentle little hive of bees, and quite resilient, having avoided mite infestation thus far. These ladies made it through the winter, and in other blogs, I’ve talked about their early March pollen harvesting, which is a good sign of stability in the hive. I’m still feeding these bees, and will continue to do so through the warmer months. It’s controversial to me in many ways, because it means these animals are not self sufficient at all, and need a high level of care to survive in this cool, damp climate. In the moment I thought the bees had all died, I really decided not to try bees again. It’s hard to support a system that is dependent on major outside inputs that, no matter how many pollination plants are established, will still rely on sugar to survive.
We had a great fruit blossom season, so the bees got a great boost in fresh food earlier in the Spring, now, as our weather remains unusually cool and damp- hey, I’m not complaining- but for bees, this setback in the weather is truly damaging. Where the flowers were out and thriving in April/May, June has seen a drop in overall floral activity due to cold weather delay, spanning about two weeks now. My roses went from beautiful red blossoms, to shrived brown bud bust. My Iris has laid her heads down in the mud, and even the weed flowers are holding back for the sun. This is where the sugar syrup saves the colony from starvation, and it’s part of why the robbers showed up. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Nature can be a rough struggle to survive.
With all the dead bees out front, and no sound of buzzing inside, I was sure the colony was dead. In tears, I called my bee mentor, who, in her wisdom, asked me if I’d actually opened the hive to look inside. I was struck by this simple prompt, yet hesitant to go look, fearing a seen of more carnage within. But my mentor was insistent, pointing out the hive was still my responsibility. Reluctantly, I walked to the hive without a suit on, and began taking off the covers and feeder to peek inside. Sure enough, as I pulled off the inner lid, an agitated bee flew up in my face with a warning. She was still protecting the colony, ready to face down this large threat alone. It was a thrill to see the spirit of this little insect taking off, and I gently side stepped the buzzing bravery to look in. Sure enough, a crowd of shaken bees huddled in the brood super below, buzzing softly at the disruption. I quickly took this video and gave thanks for the bees that lived.
It was such a joy to see the bees still active in the hive. What a roller-coaster of emotion. Still, the hive is not out of the woods, and really never will be. At this stage in honey bee existence, this species is facing slow, but continual collapse. Bee keeping is expensive, heart breaking, and void of much honey- that’s right. Unless you have a lot of hives, you’ll not harvest enough honey to make ends meet. EEC Forest Stewardship is not keeping bees for honey. We might take a single frame this year for personal enjoyment and special gifts, but we’re clear that the bees need all the wild food they can collect. Us taking any of that wild honey puts additional stress on our small colony, so we hold back for the sake of the bees. Instead, we’re focused on planting more perennial pollination species to strengthen the food options for our bees, and all the other important pollinators of our region- from bumble bees to mason bees, there are many native species of pollinators already on the landscape and trying to survive. All the flowers help.
Bee keeping is not for the faint of heart, and even EEC may loose its hive yet in all the struggles. But today, June 15th, our hive is alive, and trying to thrive. We’ll keep tending the colony as best we can, and wait to split this system into more hives for another year. These hard working gals have taught me so much about resiliency, determination, and adaptation, I am so grateful for the relationship with these powerful insects of sweet honey and plant productivity. They remain a special indicator on this landscape, letting me know I need more pollinator plants, prompting more diverse plantings and better seasonal transitions from one type of pollination crop to another throughout the warmer seasons. We’ll also buy another 100lbs of sugar for extra support in feeding our small, but potent wonders.
We took a vacation with family to The Hawaiian Islands to celebrate my 40th and my Mom’s 70th birthdays. It was a wonderful week of Ohana adventure with lots of time in the water appreciating reef ecology. My partner and I invested in full wet suits to avoid sunscreen (which damages reef with chemicals), and brought the camera to share some of our discoveries. Gratitude to the islands, the people, and the unique flora and fauna found in Hawaii. Acknowledgement to pacific cultures and the rich melting pot of these islands, which have a painful history of colonial subjugation- including the forced annexation by The United States in 1898. Though our visit to Hawaii was tourist driven, we recognize a deep cultural history in Hawaii, including hospitality, which is often abused and appropriated by commercial interests. These consumer capitol interests are not in support of native Hawaiians, or their culture, and it is up to us as guests to acknowledge our part in perpetuating these abuses.
A local native of Lanai shared with us that starting your visit as a guest of Hawaii with a native guided oral history tour of special places on the islands is a step in the right direction. He acknowledged that hospitality is now the only way to make a living in Hawaii, and reiterate that the custom of welcome is part of the spirit of Hawaii, but not the exploitation. When we arrived, we spent our first day on Oahu visiting Bishop Museum in Honolulu. This museum is dedicated to the living culture and history of Hawaii and its people. Grounding at this place of history, curated by Hawaiians, helps us become more aware of our impact on Hawaii, and what we as visitors can do to support local culture and custom while contributing positively as guests in this amazing tropical place of wonder.
What brought us to Hawaii in the first place? Well, my Mom’s family has been going to Hawaii since my maternal grandfather served in Guadalcanal during WWII. He fell in love with The Pacific, and became an eager investor in early vacation getaways on Oahu. In 1969, the family flew to Honolulu from Los Angeles on the second commercial 747 airline flight to Hawaii. The late 1960s was early days in long distance commercial flying, but beautiful warm beaches and the swinging Waikiki tourist trade was hot, and my Grandfather bought a timeshare to be part of the action. The whole family lived on Waikiki for a summer and my uncle got a cameo in season two of the original Hawaii Five-0. At this time, commercial tourism was the lifeblood of Hawaii commerce, a trend that continues today.
The Esco family brought back bright floral prints and decorated with Tiki interior design at home, including bamboo furniture. My grandfather cultivated crape myrtle, originally from China and Korea, but a tropical reminder of Pacific beauty in Oklahoma. Mr. Esco kept the love of Hawaii close to his heart. He also developed personal relationship with a resident Japanese family in Honolulu. It was a chance to share condolences after war, and build new bridges in business and commerce. The two families shared close friendship for many years, and our family provided support and a home away from home for their daughter when she attended The University of Oklahoma. Hawaii is home to The King Kamehameha School, which offers college prep education to native Hawaiian students across the islands. The school and scholarships were created by the last royal linage of Hawaii, Princess Pauahi Pākī. Her endowment to her people continues to support education and cultural preservation.
Another similarity between Oklahoma and Hawaii that might have felt like home to my grandfather when he was stationed in The Pacific Theater, was the rich red earth. Though these two states are separated by thousands of miles, they share a similar red dirt, and this familiar site across the landscape is echoed in dry, arid hills in places like Maui and Lanai. Though Hawaii is tropical, it also hosts many arid places where rain is blocked by higher mountain peaks. Hawaii’s red soil is “oxi-soil”, related to tropical environments. In Oklahoma- Mollisols, Entisols, Alfisols deposits- “Central Rolling Red Prairies” are the lands of our Oklahoma family roots. Rolling grasslands and sandy deserts bring an additional lunar landscape to a set of islands more associated with palm trees and jungle depths. The geology spans a million years or more; still, these lands have formed in the same epoch, and that’s a single generation in geological time.
The above photos are both turkey tracks- the left is Hawaii, the right is Oklahoma. Though one landscape is forged by volcanic activity, and the other long extinct shallow seas, these two landscapes share strong connection in our family, and we continue cultivating relationship with the land wherever we travel, in appreciation of place. In this most recent visit, our family spent some time exploring geological features on Lanai, and felt spiritual energy in the landscape. Connection to place is strong, and rooting into a place by acknowledging the land and its vitality grounds a person in any “terra firma” they might encounter. We are all of this earth and will return to the soil again when this life is over. In Hawaii, alohaʻāina embodies relationship to land. Appreciation and respect of place is good stewardship in relationship, both with the land and the people that live there. Our family spent a morning visiting Keahiakawelo, and shared great reverence for these unique formations of stone and sand. Everything in Hawaii has a story of origin which weaves all parts of these islands together. In taking time to hear some of these stories, tourists can better respect and cultivate awareness of their relationship with place- Mahalo!
On our adventure in these amazing islands, we also spent a lot of time in the warm waters of The Pacific Ocean. Taking to the waves and minding shifting currants and stray jelly fish found us awash in color and light beneath the water’s surface. So much life exists where humans cannot live, and our ears could hear the crackling of active life beneath the waves. In Honolulu on Waikiki Beach, viability and vibrancy was scarce, though there was an abundant of juvenile sea life and some unique characters such as a snow flake eel, green turtles, and a few brittle sea stars. My partner brought along an underwater case for his camera and managed to capture some images from the ocean. You’ll notice a marked difference between the snorkeling on Oahu, and Hulopo’e Bay on Lanai. Every morning we took to the waters first thing, giving thanks for the beauty and all life in these sacred places.
Reef health is reflected in biodiversity and water clarity. In Waikiki, the water is stirred up by commercial boats, lots of sunscreen soaked tourists, and algae blooms. The reef consists of lava rock and a lot of sand. Comparatively, Lanai is far less accessible to tourism, and receives far less human activity. Hulop’o Bay is a protected marine sanctuary, so boat traffic and commercial industry is not present. The quality of coral and marine life is far superior. However, we saw less juvenile diversity in Hulop’o, and could not determine the reason. Perhaps nursery reef was somewhere else in the bay. Coming to Lanai, we felt the fish had suddenly supersized themselves- and the size of protected habitat might have played a part in this mature school. We experienced fish schooling in larger numbers, and even witnessed a pod of 60 spinner dolphins moving across the bay on our last morning in the water. It was such a privilege to experience a tropical reef, and especially memorable for my partner, who has cultivated salt water aquarium reefs with living coral in the past, but never experienced the real thing till now.
The fish in Hawaii all have their own unique stories too. The Belnnies, or pao’o are considered ‘aumakua- the embodiment of ancestors- eels share this sacred name too, and remind us that all creatures have important roles in cultural history for the people living with them. Fishing remains a staple in Hawaiian eating, and ancient fishponds are being rebuilt in places like Lanai, to further reconnect people to ancestral larders. Food sovereignty is a major issue in Hawaii today, and sets great precedence for all first nations people working to re-establish cultural practice and connection to the land that supports all life. We did not harvest wild foods while in Hawaii, but did eat many freshly caught fish from sustainable, local sources. Our family has a long tradition of fishing, though in Oklahoma, the harvest comes from freshwater sources. Even here in Washington, I continue to fish for trout and bass in local lakes as a staple of wild food in the home larder.
Visiting Hawaii is such an amazing opportunity, but should be thoroughly researched before you go. Look at where you plan to be and find native run hospitality where possible to support local economy. Many hotels are built on Hawaiian cultural ancestral structures- Lanai Four Seasons is an example of this. When we arrived in that area, a plaque showed where temple ruins lay, but neglected to state that retaining walls and hotel structures incorporated stone from burial mounds. This thoughtless development is typical across most of the islands, and represents the ignorance of tourism for the sake of foreign investors who have no connection to place or respect for cultural history. The staff at this hotel work here because they have no other options on the remote island, and this unhealthy relationship with tourism perpetuates the exploitation we as visitors must become aware of.
It was a marvelous opportunity to rest, relax, and explore the unique biodiversity of a very special archipelago born of fire and water. Our family would love to return some day, but plan to make sure we go as well informed guests with some understanding of etiquette, and invest in locally run native family accommodations, tours, and cultural learning. As one native Hawaiian shared, rather candidly-
“People come to our islands to take selfies, lay on the beach getting drunk, and yelling at us to serve them another Mai Tai. They do not ask about our cultural heritage or listen to our stories. We are tired of marginalization and exploitation in our homeland. Hawaiians want to share our culture in the aloha spirit, not as tourist novelties, but as a proud people with rich cultural roots.”
These words helped me to look deeply at my own footprints in Hawaii, tracing my family’s connection to the islands and knowing it’s up to us and the future generations to see the wrongs of the past and work towards bridging cultural ignorance with open mind and heart. We again acknowledge the past colonial abuse and current exploitation of The Hawaiian People. Continued support of first nation people, specifically Hawaiians, can be found here. Be sure to make a visit to cultural centers when you travel anywhere to get some cultural awareness about place and people. Hawaiians are working hard to develop a better approach to tourism on the islands, we as welcomed guests can do our part to embrace the aloha spirit by listening, learning, and acknowledging.
Working ever after restorative and regenerative living here at EEC Forest Stewardship. Though the evolving challenges facing humanity continue to mount, there are slow, simple changes each and all can step towards to better living through social capital. Please take a moment to at least watch “Exploring the Issues” chapter I have marked above to get the gist of our most complex social dilemma. The reflections of Susan Krumdieck (especially 15:37) were particularly realistic regarding the slow but continued use of fossil fuels in combination with many other energy resources. Diversity continues to be the key, and food systems are at the top for must implement transition for the immediate survival of humankind. To be sure- New Zealand (the focus of this film), is a small island nation, but a case study for the world. This film was made before COVID-19, so add the pandemic into this timeline.
The landscape of EEC continues into Spring abundance from stinging nettle to red currant blossoms- both of which are edible and offer great nutrition and enough quantity to fill the belly. We’re ever expanding the range of these two crops, as they are early food sources in one of the most challenging times to source wild edible plants when you’d need them most. The fruit trees are just budding out, so no pruning this year for the older stands- just not getting to them on top of the other tasks of the land. A reality check for anyone wishing to implement food production systems- know your limitations. The remaining replanting plans for our orchard are on hold until I finish solidifying irrigation setup and save up enough cash to buy the plants and source from appropriate places like logging road edges. A lot of companion species are available on our existing landscape, but not enough to fully replant the whole orchard. To begin moving towards planting, I have an agenda to plant one tree ring this year as an experiment for irrigation design.
Our flock has reached maximum size, and we’ve got deposits on enough animals right now to reduce flock size by half before summer sets in. This is crucial, as alfalfa prices are through the roof already. Feed costs are the biggest limitations EEC faces with livestock systems. We’ve got productive pasture, but in winter, there must be additional hay set aside for the flock. EEC can produce hay, but not hay and pasture at the same time. We feed east side purchased alfalfa, which we buy 3 tons of each fall. Now, prices are so high, we cannot justify the cost of hay at the price we sell our sheep. It means shrinking our herd and planning to produce on a very small scale for just a few friends and family. Our land can sustain two or three sheep year round- and that’s the future outcome of inflation.
In late April 2022, we were given an opportunity to help a young farmer start his herd. Five good ewes went to start a new flock, and one of the gals has already birthed a new lamb. Benito was thrilled to welcome this new generation into his thriving flock. EEC is thrilled to see good stock animals going to support more small farmsteads.
Literally, in the same moment a new lamb from our Katahdins was gracing the world, I was celebrating my 40th birthday and eating lamb from Snoqualmie Valley at a local restaurant I’ve been hoping to grace the table of with my lamb for many years. Well, that night, after an incredible meal, I handed a letter to the chef, and invited the team for a farm tour. It’s a bucket list dream to raise food at a qualiy I believe to be worthy of such presentation, and this year’s lambs have been beautiful examples of quality grass fed sheep. It’s taken four years with this flock, and ten years of livestock husbandry, but the learning goes on in the quest for local food production.
Nature is a finite resource with the strongest constraints on EEC’s productivity, but outside influences like the economy also play a role in production capability. The third strongest influence is personal time and capability. It’s one of the most crucial inputs, and I’ve loved the lifestyle land offers. You have to put in the time- from cultivation to processing, prepping and designing- all these jobs are my full time obligation- and it’s a lifestyle. I love the intimate relationship to place, tending, learning, and cultivating food, medicine, material, and habitat. It also means working hard, and beyond any 9-5 timeline. You have to be your own boss, have little disposable income, and spend most of your time at home.
During the jump-starting of EEC Forest Stewardship almost ten years ago, lots of others gave time to building, designing, and implementing the basic systems that make up our operations today. There is potential to host more people on the land if needed, and the potential for more food production, mostly in the form of gardens. We’re maxed out on livestock systems now, and plan to keep shrinking numbers over time. At any moment, EEC could grow its scale for the needs of the community. Right now, the demand is low, so it’s just me running the systems. If more people were to want food, the land is ready to accommodate more inputs. But without that added help of hands, this lady is at her max and happy with what’s produced. Our Forest Stewardship program will replant many fields, returning them to forest, which in another twenty years, will be the main “product” at EEC. Not in timber resources, but ecologically stable land keeping water, soil, and air clean for a better quality of life for all. That should be a number one goal in all land, but money still talks loudest, so we’re selling ourselves to capitalism. We can’t eat, breath, or drink money. Still, our reliance on paper or digital currency denotes future complete system failures here on earth.
We’ll continue watching the trees grow, planting more, rotating animals around in rhythmic cycles with the seasons to feed the land, the animals, and ourselves. When food becomes a more valued and prioritized input in the community, we’ll be here ready to expand and enhance with that help. In the mean time, EEC keeps sheep, chickens, people, orchards, cats, dogs, wildlife, and forests thriving together in a regenerative design. Slowly, temperate rainforest canopy returns and the landscape heals. Gratitude for this living change, and the passion to support it. Thanks to all who help, have helped, and will help again to cultivate this goal.
Morels are popping up at EEC Forest Stewardship. We’ve been blessed by these wonderful mushroom friends over the years in springtime. What a marvelous signal of returning warmth and sun for the growing season. Abundance to all in this time of regeneration in living beauty.
The mushrooms are a special treat on the land when they choose to appear. We could claim to cultivate them- but rather than imagining any control over spore production EEC attempts to cultivate place for the mushrooms to thrive, inviting opportunity and intention, rather than production on any measurable industrial scale. After years of inoculation and human subjection of woody debris, we’re starting to just make space for the mycology to arrive, but not by force. We simply pile up debris and add a few other amendments to the soil and imagine possibility. Cardboard is pulp wood, mostly poplar, and that’s the best partner to host morels. I hypothesize that the morel spores are in the pulp and that’s how they are sewn into the land here. I literally take produce cardboard boxes, fill them with sod, and then, as they break down through the winter, I sprinkle out wood ash from the stove into the mix. NOTE- we do not burn glazed paper or trash in our stove- that’s apparently a thing in many places. Our wood ash might be acting as a burn signal to the mushroom spore, which loves to bloom in recent forest fire landscapes.
Morels can be commercially produced, but they are usually small. Our mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes, but tend too be larger than the ones commercially grown, but probably far less numerous. Hey, getting a few nice hand fulls out of passive cultivation is already such a gift. If we continue to build the habitat and spread wood ash, I’m confidant the morel will continue to appear as welcome surprises across the landscape. My partner and I love to celebrate living within thirty feet of morels. This year we’ve planted blue elderberry to companion in with native pacific crabapple, lavender, a cultivar crab apple, and cultivar currents. It’s an island of food production right out our front door, and will continue to enrich the ecosystem with fruit, blossoms, soil building, and morels as we add more cardboard, compost, wood ash, and other plantings as the companions evolve.
Morels are prized by many, not just humans. Slugs, pill bugs, and rodents smell out these treasures and begin feasting as soon as they find. As we harvest, many of the caps show sign of predation, but the mycological taste is so primo, we’re happy to “share” the flavor. Always cook your fungus, as you never know who might have been climbing on them before you picked. Inspect the inside of the caps for hidden insects like slugs or pill bugs. You don’t want a stowaway in the meal. Since the entire mushroom is hollow, I cut them in half- they then cook more evenly in the pan. Start with just the mushrooms in the skillet (cast iron), then, after you cook some of the water out, and the cell walls of the mushroom get soft and more transparent, add oil (butter) and brown the morels to taste. I like mine a little crisp. Try a mushroom without any added flavors to experience the full taste of your morel. If you like salt, add to taste. These mushrooms pair well with pasta and white sauce, stir fries, anything really. Morels also stand alone, and make a great meal in themselves. However you enjoy, morels will always offer a special treat from the soil for all.
Our patterning on general versus specific seems to wax and wane collectively with the rest of the living world- from seasons to breath, predictable patterns create stability and abundance. In the current world economy of exponential profit growth, our natural rhythms of survival have been thrown from the tracks, slowly evolving into mindless indulgence.
Our species, the human species, embraces blindly, but quite passionately. We’ve been lead into complete darkness, shown cave paintings of paradise. Outside these dark caves, the seasons keep changing, and life as a whole goes on. Humans have stopped adapting and started consuming. It’s been a slow invasion. Tribal bands roamed (and still do), leave little trace. The light footed symbiotic relationship between people and their home turned into gluttonous indulgence for a few at the cost of everyone, and everything else. Once a people settled in, concrete blocks covered the soil to hold permanent shelter off the ground. Petroleum rivers of asphalt parking, utility meters humming away- as soon as we gave up transience for stability in community, we gave in to governance.
There are so many currents to swim against, political, personal, professional, and fighting drains us like the waters pouring down a slope into churning rivers. When the waters flood over banks and into backyards, we keep fighting, and anger at environment grows. Why sit and suffer the obvious consequences? Perhaps because we the people are taught our wisdom and dominion reign over this earth. Yet we trivialize the very weather, which in this time of great change, rocks the very foundations of our city infrastructure. Should we keep building walls to hold back an ever rising tide? That’s the human model- retrain and pacify the wilds for our organized computing. Our economy wants easy profit, whatever the cost to nature, a bound resource- bought and paid for as object. Human desire compartmentalizes the world into slices of pie, and if we’re playing the scarcity game, there are not enough slices for everyone, which is why we implement laws and armies to oversee these critical resources.
A project much closer to home has recently brought this aggro-control short sighted human flaw to EEC Forest Stewardship. When planning out earthworks at the start of restoration on this land, swales, catchment basins, and a pond were dug, we knew the soil content would not be conducive to holding the water in, as glacial till littered the landscape with gravel and sand. Out pond design was ambitious- 30′ diameter and 15′ depth- large enough to swim in, keep fish, offer fire defense, and retain a large amount of water on the landscape for wildlife. Blue Heron, Kingfisher, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Mallard, and Swallows have used the water feature since implementation. We’ve kept a population of fish and seen them reproducing with success. The water level can drop quite low in summer, but never dries out completely. Seasonal springs and multi-day rain events fill the pond, but it never reached spillover or retaines full volume for long. That’s where the human meddling goes a bit overboard in the quest for linear reduction– simplification.
Our brains have such capability- for better or worse. The environment has been working exponentially, not unlike our primitive computers, but infinitely more complexly. People have refused to accept that we are limited by our environmental controls. Granted, we have inventive adaptation skills, which have recently created some pretty “smart” technology. I’d not want to turn away from our understanding of modern medicine either, but it’s been crippling our relationship to ourselves, each other, and the outside world- the only world that we can successfully live in- even if we do colonize the moon or mars. We have to justify our big brains and reason, which is not a bad or good thing, just a fixation, sometimes distraction, from instinctive survival. Nature runs on instinct, yet people have learned that reptilian response can be negotiated into repressed reaction for the sake of methodical thought. In thinking, we choose less reactionary impulses, which leads to a more peaceful world, with thriving civilization, but at the cost of the natural world which sustains us. What a philosophical merry go round.
Returning to the pond project, it was always the plan to line the hole for optimal water retention. We calculated summer evaporation, slope of the walls for stability and volume, and my designer had built ponds before, so there was general experience all around. Humans assume that if we “master” a technique, or at least claim familiarity- that we know something. We can sit in the driver seat and steer the wheel, no prob! That’s when our thought, the very skill we’re staking sanity and order on, becomes linear. In that moment, we loose sight of the big picture, a necessary step when focusing on one issue or plot line. Good for novels or instruction manuals, not nature and all her complexity. The pond could be a pool for human enjoyment with sightly management, or a hole with water in it, filling and draining along with the rest of the landscape in the ebb and flow of seasonal tides.
We’d already resharpened the landscape to hold more water, and it was, but the look and feel was not cosmetically convenient. The project would only be complete with a liner, landscaping, and a lot of other manufactured controls. Why? To look “good”, to fill a number of other expectations? Yes, that’s what the design implied. However, the implementation becomes one mitigation on top of another, leading to a superficial look without substantive function. Plastic liners were out- not just because of the physical material, but how it would block the springs and divert them down hill beneath the pond- not our goal in digging the hole to slow the flow. We would then have to line the liner edges with a massive importation of stone. Our sandy beach would not hold sand (too much slope)- any beach design has to be flat or the sand will run down hill. My PDC instructor/designer did not get that memo- so even experts can overlook the obvious.
But what about clay? Clay would also block the springs and divert them. We would not be able to wade in the shallows- too mucky with clay, and if you puncture through with your foot, you’ve created a leak. It’s also a lot of mass to have trucked in, but doable. We’d still be topping off the pond in summer from our well. The pond is supposed to be added irrigation bonus if needed, not tapping our well in summer drought. For a decorative water feature, we’d also have to skim leaves and needles off, treat bacteria with a UV filter, and cycle through a pump system to maintain clear depth. Chemical additives are also optional to reduce algae build up. The list of controls for this project start to make the whole idea of an artificial pond lunacy, yet it’s a thriving industry. Here in The Pacific Northwest, water retention ponds are required in large development plans. You have only to visit our local pond lining company to see the breadth and scope of water management options for any building project.
When people come to EEC for our tours and classes, they often remark on the pond and ask when it will be finished. Well, it’s already in full working order on the landscape, catching, slowing, and holding water year round. “Why don’t you line it?” Always comes up- and I hope this writing responds to that simple quandary. Will we line it in future- probably not, a in time, it will continue to hold water, disperse it, and all without any inputs beyond the initial big dig. Rains come and go- the size of the pond fluctuates accordingly. No filters, liners, rockeries, or chemicals needed. That’s keeping to the larger flow of landscape as a whole. The costs that would have gone to lining, rocking, and maintaining a cosmetic pond are saved and put to use in other direct restoration projects- replanting for rewilding. EEC Forest Stewardship continues its slow evolution back to forest, with limited human cultivation in support of ecological restoration. That’s as linear as things get in this place, and it’s spreading like mycelia to strengthen soil health.
In conclusion, how simple can it be? In nature- it already is, and does not need to be. Humans have lost is (single whole) and pivoted to be (me). This slow evolution away from wholeness, because everything is connected and effected by all, tears at our very structure. As people, collective, working together for all, we became something. Then we jumped outside of nature and made ourselves the other. Extract to extend distance from self and each other. Take what already is and stream line it for convenience. Once this implemented simplification takes hold, the rich, complex web of life is reduced to a pale shadow of its former, vibrant self. Nature has been honing her craft for millions of years; human nature has been dismissed as primitive, that people can evolve into higher selves through the exploitation of nature. If instead, we learn to observe natural systems already well established by cooperative evolution, we might yet learn better ways to live within the finite ecosystem that allows for our survival. By restoring, and there by replenishing our ecosystem, we could find ourselves in an abundance of fully regenerative living systems that support and enhance our survival once more.
Springy lambs in late winter melt into fluffy balls of fleece as the flowering fruit trees signal the final step into Spring. Our apple blossoms are peeking out, along with pear and peach. The plumbs are even earlier, now flocked in white like our lambs. As the season for lambing winds down, we hope to also finish seeding our summer gardens with flowers and veggies galore. Since chicken wire came down to curb grass and morning glory habitat, we’ve had a run of bird gleanings through the soil, but now, with seedlings popping up, the ground is vulnerable to bird scratching, so we’re erecting electric mesh as a temporary stay. There will be a lot of electric mesh going back up to protect young plants around the landscape. Developing our rotational grazing system has been an ever evolving process and the land changes. I continue to appreciate the temporary fencing, as it can flex. Sometimes the fencing is keeping animals in, other times, it’s keeping animals out, and it works. We’re establishing living fences around our edges, and many of the young plants rooted seven years ago, are now towering shrubs ready for laying our first hedge. In another ten years, we’ll have living fences for the livestock to brows on, wildlife to nest in, and pollinators to revel around.
Insects play such an important roll in nature- it’s what makes food possible, and could be considered a foundational crop all other crops are based upon. We’re loosing our insect populations exponentially, and the chemical war on pests has become insane. If you farm only one thing, and leave nothing else on the landscape for wildlife (insects are wildlife), the bugs only have the mono-culture to eat on. Humans think better living through chemistry, but they don’t look at the consequences facing our species now. Our food options in America have regressed to a majority corn diet. It’s in everything you pull off the shelf in a grocery store- that and soy. We still like too think that agriculture means plant and animal based production, but it’s actually chemical companies that run agriculture. We abandoned small farms for city industry, and when people left the land, they lost their connection to place, nature, and themselves.
The collaboration of production in small scale agriculture is often underrated and dismissed because of the short sighted commercial aptitude. The USDA idea of small farm is anything making less than $100,000.00 a year. Wow- that’s a heck of a departure from my own small farm, and that of most other small farms I know of. Note this definition revolves around money rather than acreage, numbers of livestock, or anything related to actual food for local community. Commodity crops are still the main farming focus, and this kind of production is about stock market earnings, not feeding people. There is nothing in the language of these commodity products that refers to food- it’s just measurable profit. Where I do see talk of feeding people using small scale agriculture that reflect my own production can be found here. The World Food Program recognizes that most farmers in the world are working 5 acres or less without synthetic inputs or access to large machines. But WFP wants to get fertilizers and tractors into all these small scale farms to improve production and make a difference. It’s all happening in other places- outside the US. Usually, they are focused in “developing” nations.
I’ve talked specifically about chicken factories before, and want to readdress this topic, as chicken is an easy place to start with regards to community driven production and buying local. EEC Forest Stewardship does not produce meat birds, but we do have duel purpose animals that are sold for meat. You’ll not be getting a huge breast or chicken nuggets, but the bone broth and meat offer a decent family meal or multiple small meals for a single person or couple household. If you don’t have access to a local producer, you can look for CSA programs or online distributors who work to connect consumers to producers. Farmers Markets are worthy weekly ventures, and you can freeze fresh chicken for use later in winter, when many farmers markets do not run. If you already have a local chicken source, branch out and seek pork, beef, or lamb. There’s also seafood, but that’s another kettle of fish to unpack.
Coastal communities have oceans of bounty, if the waters off shore are clean. Sadly, in most places, this is not the case, and seafood is sought far from home. City pollution has ruined most coastal fishing around the world. Freshwater fish can pose similar pollution issues, so know the source. Fish farms are not friendly to the fish or ecology nearby. There are some small family run fishing companies that are worthy of community food investment. The other reality facing most of us regarding food is cost and convince. I know, unless you commit to food as a lifestyle theses days, you’re not going to be able to afford or source all things healthy and sustaining. It’s the reality in an age where farming is considered the occupation for food production, and gardening is a hobby. In many other countries, vegetable patches are an important lifeline to cultivate in community. This is where many neighborhoods are missing a grand opportunity to create food safety and security for neighbors and family.
Right now, in April, most places in the lower 48 of our grand states is ready for planting outside. How many of you are planning out your gardens? Seeds are so vital to food production and local food cultivates best from local seeds. I know, the seed catalogues are wonderful, and full of great selections for all your wants and needs in heirloom verities and non-GMO verified. However, the most viable seeds are locally collected, and the production of those seeds will be more predictable than the catalogue seeds from many bioregions away. If you are lucky enough to have a local seed provider near you, that’s wonderful- support them. For those of us not lucky enough to have local seeds, that’s the first issue to address. Our high school hosts a seed swap every spring. People bring mostly locally cultivated seeds, but there are also leftover commercial seed packets and unusual verities from far flung places too. Seed swaps are also a chance for all the local growers to connect and trade success and failure stories. Even if you are not going to plant any seeds at home, you could connect with a local gardener and offer to help. They might even have room for you to plant a few things in their garden to learn.
EEC Forest Stewardship has lots of open garden beds available, and sometimes people use them- especially our tenants. I learned a long time ago that gardening is not my forte. Yet I still put seeds in the ground each year and continue to develop perennial gardens that are hands off where I can. We already grow more than we use, so it’s working, though you won’t see row crops or many typical grocery store favorites on this landscape. I think this is where many people who visit this farmstead are confused. They don’t see crops in the sense they expect, but food abounds across this landscape. Our nettle and dandelion production is active, along with lamb, chicken, egg, and a verity of edible blossoms. Maple flowers are about to bloom, and we’ll have lady fern fiddle heads in the next few weeks.
Mindset with food is another way to cultivate strong community, and often the biggest challenge facing those of us capable of making choice in our dietary consumption. If we are able to pay more for quality, and have access to it, it’s important to invest. If there’s one thing you can do to support local agriculture and ensure you’ll have food available in future, is paying that extra cost and taking the added time to prepare and enjoy healthy eating. You’ll discover a world of flavor and build stronger relationship with your community through local eating. You’ll also be invested in your community and have an idea of where your local food sources can be strengthened and endure through these changing times.
The Katahdin herd here at EEC Forest Stewardship has peaked in production starting 2022. We’re now offering ewes and lambs for sale. If you’re interested in low maintenance fine quality pasture raised meat sheep, these animals provide. Let graze and brows specialists turn vegetation into protein by the pound. Our sheep are born and raised on lush pastures and edge lands at EEC Forest Stewardship. The land receives only natural inputs, like straw and manure. There are no chemicals sprayed on these acres. The sheep’s diet includes some supplements of minerals and salt, along with winter local hay and east side alfalfa, but they also graze year round, having access to fresh vegetation in our evergreen state. When purchasing Katahdin Sheep from EEC, you’re also investing in harvesting and butchering support, so you can experience the full experience of small livestock production. We offer all services on sight, with hands on learning available.
At EEC Forest Stewardship, we believe in small scale production for ourselves and the community. Our own experience in raising, slaughtering, and butchering meat is a life long commitment to local food from the land; ethically raised and humanely handled from birth to death with intention and gratitude. In sharing this connection to place through pastoral herding and food production we become a part of this complex web of life and live fully within it. The covenant of livestock is complex and controversial as we witness a complete breakdown in our larger socioeconomic endeavor to provide enough food at an affordable price, while destroying the land that feeds us, and our own bodies through chemical poisoning. While there is still a possibility to drink clean well water and graze grass into protein rich sustenance, we’ll be raising Katahdins here at EEC.
Not only are Katahdins great veggie to meat converters, they are also light hoof prints on the landscape, less impactful on the slopes our hill farm resides on. The little cloven hoof of a sheep has far less impact than larger animals like cattle and horses. Sheep are also good for the soil and restoration of the land where they are grazed properly- meaning good rotational planning to prevent compaction and ultimate degradation. If we overgrazed our land, it would erode away down the hills to the creek and there would be no topsoil left for any cultivation. Not to mention the detriment to salmon habitat in the waters below. Katahdin sheep are browsers, as well as grazers- meaning they will graze grass but they also love blackberry and creeping buttercup. Not all sheep will brows, but most hair sheep do.
Hair is another great low maintenance quality in this breed, you don’t have to shear. From experience, shearing is a pain in the back, so having animals that naturally shed their winter coats in spring is a welcome trait. The fleece goes to bird nests, ground insect habitat, and calcium for the soil. We use the hair in hugaculture beds for insect habitat, and sometimes hand spin it into cordage. The Katahdin comes in many different coat colors, offering verity and uniqueness among your flock. EEC selects breeding stock based on confirmation, docility, and productivity. Our confirmation focus involves short legs and long backs. Docility means handleable, calm nature- we cull high strung animals, as they are not safe to handle and all domestic stock should be easy going for their own safety and yours. Productivity refers to fertility and carcass quality.
Our Cascade Katahdins are selected for twining, we do not select for triplets and quadruplets as most industrial lambing operations prefer. It is common in commercial lambing operations for the sickly lambs to be sold off as “bottle babies” at a cheap price. Though the industry would argue more lambs mean more profit, and the genetics are always improving towards that goal, the ewes are not happier for it, or healthier. Though our sheep may not drop large litters, two good healthy twins who will each get a live nipple to suckle is what’s most natural and efficient for the animal and her offspring. As an ethical shepherdess, my care is the health of the ewes and the lambs, believing in natural mothering (something Katahdins are renown for), and do not wish to stress her with too many lambs at once, or create more work for me with bottle feeding. I don’t want my ewes to end up with prolapsed uteruses or early mortality because of over-breeding to get maximum output over quality of life for all the animals.
Why are the sheep not registered? This is the question I get often from clients who want papered animals. Our operation is not large enough to justify the cost and receive the benefit of registry. Since we’re also not selecting for commercial standards, our animals would not fit the expectations of competitive high production stock. To be clear- our animals are sound, quality meat sheep, but they are not machines. EEC sheep are great for small systems, like ours, where you are cultivating a home flock with a few extra lambs to sell to cover the cost of hay. This is a renewable system with predictable numbers, the ewes remain healthy and drop wonderful lambs that grow fast on mother’s milk. No substitute bottle formula can offer what a lamb’s own mother provides. This year’s lamb crop has been interesting- our earlier drops were mostly the standard white of their sire from 2021- our St. Croix ram King. His breed is part of the ancestry forming Katahdins, and we wanted to revitalize some of that standard back into our Cascade flock. The second half of our lambing outcome looked very colorful, and not so much like King- but he was the only ram exposed to the ewes this year, so we know it’s his genetics in half of our 2022 lambs. What a handsome confirmation and great gentle nature this ram offered our ewes this year.
Our longer legged lambs will be sold as meat animals. We’ve got a few clients already signed up for weaned lambs in May. If you are interested in purchasing a meat sheep, lamb, or starter flock, EEC Forest Stewardship has Katahdins for sale. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on animals available. Our 2022 lambs will be ready for pickup in May.
There’s been a bit of family time for me in the past month, and it involved getting back on a plane and feeling the great stretch of body and mind through time and space with massive expenditure of fuel and fortune to arrive at cross country destinations. The worthy act of visiting, taking time, and being in the supportive love of kin is priceless. But getting up in the sky has also allowed time to see and comprehend great change across the landscape. Images of polluted atmosphere, degraded soil, and human infrastructure out of balance, reflects a man made world consumed with its self.
Landing in such ecosystems as The Senora Desert or Western Great Plains Grassland offers major departure from Temperate Rainforest ecology. On the day I took off out of Seattle, there was a dusting of snow. I landed in a desert one and a half thousand miles away. Looking down at the landscape of this place, I noted vast green fields of alfalfa on the horizon. Also on that horizon, I could see the canals stretching off into distant mountains. The Central Arizona Project (CAP) has been pumping water out of The Colorado River, and into the dry desert. The finite river resource is currently being used to recharge an overtaxed aquifer in Arizona where cotton and alfalfa, two water demanding crops, have been industrially grown for almost a century.
Water from a river is pumped up hill through a canal, draining the river until it cannot reach the ocean. These are examples of the truly strange times we live in. I’ve already written in other articles about the water restrictions facing small family farms in Southern Arizona, but even with drastic water restriction rules going into effect, the city of Tucson keeps growing, expanding well beyond the limitations of the existing aquifer, adding pressure to an already overtaxed system. The way the canal propaganda sees it, there’s more and more water to be had- but with cuts already enacted on small farming communities, what’s the real agenda for development in Arizona? Not to mention the other southern states, like Utah, who still have more water rights to claim, though development in some towns has halted with the onslaught of worsening drought. There are many studies on The Colorado River to determine long term water forecasts impacted by over consumption of finite resources.
While desert lands are settled and finite hydrology abused, another flight took me to Oklahoma, land of my birth. Much of the family still lives here, and it’s clear to all of us that the ecology is changing fast. Sticking with the water theme- water is life- I reflect on The Ogallala Aquifer and its rapid depletion. Meanwhile, as industrial agriculture drains the aquifer, oil and gas fracking poisons what’s left of the water table and contaminates domestic wells across the state. The famous documentary Gas Land tells a cautionary tale about this devastating practice rampant in a collapsing industry. While visiting family in Western Oklahoma, I again witnessed night time gas flaring from wells eager to pump up oil, which is worth so much on the market today. Though it’s illegal to burn gas as a waste product while drilling, many wells continue to burn, and it’s now obvious when you fly through the state’s atmosphere that gas flaring is compounding the state’s air pollution. I’ve never seen such a grey haze over the state, especially considering the regular winds that push down The Central Plains.
I know the jet I’m flying in is also a great contributor, and it’s navigating this strange modern marvel and recognizing that our family, like so many today, have embraced opportunity across the country and to bring family together, we now fly. This is the largest contribution of annual pollution I’m emitting. The combustion energy madness is woven into a much thicker basket of petrochemical woes- the organic chemistry that is killing us and all other life on earth. Images of this destruction are best viewed from the air.
Flaring and fracking abuse continues without interruption across the industry- and supports getting me to family quickly. It also supports the convenience of my own vehicle, and the ability to drive whenever and wherever I want. But times are changing, and the cost of fuel is at a record high. Will change continue in the petroleum industry, or will the last of our clean drinking water and safe air to breath be a luxury for the powerful few? Right now, in Caddo County Oklahoma, several wells are burning, flaring the glutton of gas on hand to get at the $100 barrel of oil. It’s money over health and safety, done in the darkness, to hid from regulators. From the view up here, we’re heading into some tough times with extreme limitations.
On my way home, I glided over several mountain ranges in the tail end of winter. Snow pack across The Rocky Mountains looked thin in many places. As I flew over more and more brown peaks, I wondered how much longer that snow melt would be feeding cotton fields in Southern Arizona? How much water was left in The Ogallala Aquifer? How much more forest would burn in drought stricken summers? When will this drought bring fires to Western Washington? In time, all these separate places will come together under one great ecological collapse, and we the people will be thrown into chaotic adaptation in our struggle to make do without and restore what’s left.