Christmas Chicks 2022

Baby chicks hatched on December 25th! We had a very low success because the temperature shifts froze a lot of the eggs before they were gathered for the incubator. It’s a big winter moral booster to have chicks in the house at the darkest time of year. The sound of peeping and chirping brings smiles and a warm feeling of joy. The little flit and flight of young life scratching around brings a liveliness into the home when most needed. It’s also the best time of year to hatch out chicks for a layer flock. What?!? Yes, by the time these birds reach maturity in mid-summer, they will start laying before the fall. If you let chicks hatch out in the warmer months with a broody hen, your chicks will start laying as winter sets in, and birds slow production in line with the darker times. This means your egg production will not really expand for yet another year.

Though our farm does not work to force maximization for profit, we do find our birds have better success and development if we hatch them at this time. We’re currently incubating a second round, and have a much higher success in fertility this time. Ironically, in a way, we also received a flock of 10 birds needing a re-home. Current flock is at 30. This next hatch out will grow us to 40, and that’s a few too many, so we’ll cull and/or sell some adult birds this Spring. We also donate a few birds to a wilderness survival class at the local nature school nearby each February. EEC Forest Stewardship supports nature education, hands on learning, and slow food. Happy to supply healthy animals providing healthy food to our community.

Our in house setup is modest. We’ve been using Brinsea products, and can’t say enough about how great they are. The brooder has eliminated fire hazard caused by heat lamps- trust me, the heat lamps are serious fire hazards- we experienced this first hand. Out Brinsea brooder remains effective and safe. The incubator is great too, though I will say newer design options have improved. When we’re ready for our next investment, we’re sticking with Brinsea, as it’s worth the price for durability and reliability. Why do we not use hens to brood naturally? Sometimes we do, but to enjoy winter chicks, we use the mechanical devices to improve hatch rate and have the most control over when. This summer, 2022, we did not have a hen raised clutch. It was most likely related to the hot temperatures and smoke. The birds are sensitive to environmental change, and smoke this summer darkened our skies, changing the birds’ rhythms in subtle, but noticeable ways. Egg production this summer was a little below normal rates. I’m purposing the smoke dampening natural light played a role, but I can’t find any studies to back this statement. General stress from hindered breathing would also effect the birds.

Right now, there is no smoke to hinder our flock, and the chicks are developing nicely. The next clutch to hatch will be much larger, and time in the blue bin will be limited by quick development. The three pictured below are still in the bin at this age, only because it’s only 3, and there’s enough room. In a few days, they will be moved to a larger pen in the pole barn to continue growing. At 2 1/2 weeks, they are fully feathered and have enough body mass to keep warm without the brooder. We’ll continue daily monitoring- including feeding and water refresh as they continue to develop. Moving these older chicks out makes room for the new babes to come. Different aged chicks don’t mix well, the older ones will bully and even kill younger birds, which is the nature of survival. By six weeks, the chicks are teenagers- big enough to go in with the adult birds, as long as there’s a good number of them to flock together for safety. A single young bird would be attacked if alone. This trio should be enough ‘bulk” to muster against the older gals once they reach teen hood. By then, the other clutch will need the pole barn enclosure. I’m not particularly happy about having a double clutch happening. Timing is not ideal, as the new chicks will need a lot of space and these three current babes are such a small flock to have the whole barn, but we’ll solve for that when we get there. If we need to make multiple enclosures, we will.

Crepuscular Light

Fire lights up the sky, not like the licking flames from summer, but in that time of year when light grows scares, and the colors of dawn and dusk signal compelling transitions of life. Red alder and black cottonwood shivering in bare branches to reveal impressionistic masterpieces with every dusk and dawn. These are some of my favorite times of day, and usually correlates with animal chores on the farm. Waking and returning to dreams the transition places in life which are starkly marked by the return and removal of light. So much happens in the natural world at these two points in the cycle of our planet’s rotation. Life is compelled, yet in a state of change, vulnerable, and there are opportunities to see, to witness dawn chorus, twilight colors, so many shades within the forest too. You can see in the field, then step into the canopy returning to shadow, yet the golden light still filters through once dawn breaks into day. As night folds her wings of darkness over the land, in winter, through the skeletal frames of some trees, we can see a little more color and brightness bringing comfort in these cold times of dormancy. The heavens never rest, after a parade of stars, another dawn reveals the changing landscape with her rosy reflections. In the cold months, rising mists from moist forests and wetlands crate a tangle of sky and earth. The low clouds obfuscate reality, moving the skyline down into a lake’s reflecting surface, sipping the warm hues of morning as ducks splash down to feed.

We live 30 miles from a large body of water, and 150 miles from The Pacific Ocean to our west. This makes sunsets amazing, and the afterglow lasts after the sun drops behind the horizon, continuing to reflect form vast waters. Often, lavender tucks into peach watercolor flames. Silhouetted evergreen giants lean towards western winds, whispering evening chorus into light’s last symphony.

The gaze is often drawn to warm tones, especially in this place of evergreen moss and dark, wooded groves. Fleeting visions of fiery shrubs and electric green broad leafed ground covers in the garden- even the old tin roof seems to glow with the changing western sunset. Moisture in the air extends the pantomime of color. Clouds spread golden rays out of a late Turner feeling sky. Another spectacular impressionistic sky by Mother Nature. This particular landscape in Western Washington has enough open clearings to offer skyscapes. It’s surprising how often we forget to look up and appreciate the heavens. Often, throughout most of the day out skies remain overcast and grey, but when the clouds part, a cascade of pigments abounds. Dramatic cloudbursts climb over the trees chasing the winds far above. Sunset catches across billowing tops, spilling into forest crowns, gilding them majestic gold. These shows come and go quickly, so take a moment as the day opens, and another at it’s closing to appreciate and applaud natural light at its most active.

At the time of winter solstice 2022, the land is locked in ice and snow. Cold blue sky has only just begun a retreat in the face of first dawn. At it’s most southern point, the sun touches her lowest point, and still erupts in warm glow from the east. Preparing another day though even the shortest of her treks across the sky. Gratitude for each light’s return, and for the amazing color and emotion brought across this landscape with each dawn and dusk.

400 Native Plants

Oxbow Farm in Duvall, WA has supplied EEC Forest Stewardship with gathered wild seed of a number of native wild plants for a major fall replanting project. These babies have been carefully germinated and coaxed through the initial development into plantings stable enough to establish in the wild. There are a number of wetland specific species heading to our salmonid stream and CREP buffer, while others are more suited to savanna grasslands, and will be planted in full sun on well drained hillsides. It’s always a good idea to make sure you’re land has suitable habitat for the species you want to establish. You’ll also want to make sure where you’re planting is safe from predation. Instead of trying to keep deer and rabbits out, I try to over-plant species to create abundance where some of the plants will doge the grazers and survive. Since these species do survive in the wild, they should, en mass, be productive here on a landscape embracing restoration. Still, I did put a few plants near the house in our kitchen gardens for added protection.

For years now, most of our native replanting stock has come from Native Plant sales- usually hosted by our local conservation organizations. But in the past few years, these sales have run out of plants early on, and not offered enough diversity for our restoration ambition. Oxbow was able to source an impressive variety of species- especially ground covers. They could also offer larger bulk numbers, which fits in with my over-planting scheme. This fall’s order was the largest, with about 400 individual plants in 18 species. What a range! Some, like Acer glabrum, Douglas Maple, should be common in our area, but you can never find them in a native plant sale. Others, like Anaphalis margaritacea, can be identified along most logging roads in clear-cuts late summer, but have been quite a challenge to establish. All are nestled safely in for winter, and hopefully we’ll have a lot of new growth at EEC come spring.

Distributing these “plugs” around the landscape took some good mapping of ecology to make sure each species had its correct climate needs. A lot of plants went into our protected CREP area by the creek- wetland species like wild ginger were tucked away in the thick bramble to protect them from deer predation. It was still very dry in the soil in early November, but established species in the wetlands helped identify where new wetland friends would best live. Valley, our Aussie cross lays at the edge of one such planting. See how many verities you can identify- including the ginger. There are three fern types too. The sedge let me know this was a wetland area. Rushes are also helpful guides in finding your wet ground.

Planting directly into stream beds is risky, as winter floods can drastically change a landscape near its banks. A few plugs went into muddy creek bed, but most were put in on seeps on higher ground. I rarely go into the creek wetlands, as that space is heavily impacted by any foot traffic. I’ll try to get back down there in spring to check the plantings, but for the next few months, plants are in and set. It’s a little challenging, not being able to measure progress immediately, but nature cannot be rushed. She’s better left to her own. With a little bit of encouragement, she can repair sooner, and that’s the plan with all the inputs of new vegetation. In ten years, there has not been a lot of diversity without bringing the species in. That’s the challenge with human induces habitat change in these forests. The forests were removed twice, sometimes three times, and bulldozed, burned, then grazed out. Seeds tried to sprout a few times, then failed, and no new seed came. Much of our forest today here in Western Washington has been reduced to mono-culture Douglas fir timber stands. What appears under the industrial lumber is of little concern, so many species are lost.

Weiss Creek, our salmon stream, was also lost during Weyerhaeuser industrialization of the landscape. Erosion filled in the creek with sediment, and it’s flow clogged up, turning the water course into swampland and erasing the fish paths to breeding grounds upland. This is a snapshot of the ecological destruction reeked upon these pristine forests, and the people thriving within them. Legacy is not always good, but can be repaired. That’s the mission at EEC. We’re bringing back lost species and offering a fresh start, in hopes that by the end of this lifetime, we can give back the land better than when we purchased it. We’ve recently contacted The Snoqualmie Tribe to learn more about the possibility of leaving our land to the tribe in trust. They have an Ancestral Lands Movement, which we’re hoping to learn more about in our quest to give land back to the people originally living- and still living there. The Snoqualmie Tribe is part of a greater Lushootseed speaking people in this region who have tended and thrived in the forests and waterways here for thousands of years.

Take a moment to think about where you are right now and who lived there before you. Think of colonial development moving in, for us in North America it’s pretty clear- 1492 onward, that European gluttony drove exploration for wealth and new land to own and exercise dominion over. This often celebrated global grab was directed by short sighted vision and perpetuated cruelty and abuse of the noble savage- both land and people. Cut the trees and burn the ground, drive out the natives and bring in the cows. But there are a lot of great historical reads out there for your education if you don’t know what I’m talking about, or wish to quest for enlightenment. Know place, history, and self. Why are you here and what did you get for it? What will you give? There are only 400 plants today, but 400 tomorrow, another 400 after that, and in a few more decades, my life is done, and another generation will inherit. But it will not be children of mine. My ancestors are back in Europe, and another trail can be followed from there back to Africa, but 40,000 years ago in my ancestry is lost. The Snoqualmie Tribe never left, and continue to thrive here, where I sit now. Land acknowledgment can be enough for some, but knowing how important land is, I cannot ignore that this place, where I sit, was taken long ago, and should be reunited with the people who have tended and celebrated here, always.

I’ll plant, plant, and plant some more. Move some earth to slow the water back into the soil. Roots go down, down, down, into the ground. My lifetime is now rooted here, what privilege, and the gifting back, returning- this is an honorable vision, a righting of wrongs. I did not cut the trees here in 1900, but others like me did, not The Snoqualmie Tribe. The Lushootseed speakers continue to weave their lineage, around all the colonial baggage coming in still. Be proud of ancestry, but also recognize the history you’re woven into so deeply. We’re all in, like the forest, full of many kinds of plants and animals form all over. But the invasives have changed this place forever, and not for the better. Please acknowledge this truth and start the healing. Plant love, seed learning, and harvest understanding through the whole process. Growth takes time. Another swale, more grasses, shoots, and leaves covering bare earth. Scars across our hearts will keep the memories of what was, and what can be again.

As I worked at replanting, this Pacific Tree Frog appeared. The living forest is alive, in small ways, as well as towering trunks and lofty bows. So many layers of complex ecology, with a few surfacing signs that the original people are still there, thriving, adapting, and ready to come back when invited. I plant them in invitation, thanking everything for being present. Even the Japanese Kotweed is telling us something- disturbed soil, too much sun on a ground that should be shrouded in old growth. The same with blackberry- you won’t find it in a deep, dark forest of older stands. Bring back the trees and you have layers, diversity, and balance in the intended ecology. Where the forest thrives, birds sing, bugs hum, and the joyful spirit of nature abounds. Slowly the vibrant colors of life return. Planting, planting, planting love and gratitude with every handful of soil.

Let It Snow

Snow is always a treat here in Western Washington. Our warm ocean climate rarely delivers the right conditions in the Puget Lowlands for a winter wonderland. In November 2022, a winter weather advisory went into affect, and snow began sticking to the road and trees with enthusiasm. In just a few hours, our landscape was blanketed in gauzy white flocking. The animals were tucked away in dry barn and our cats had tucked up on the porch in comfy quilted chairs. I got out the snow shovel to monitored paths and accesses around the property keeping doors and walkways open. Snow can turn from fluff to cement in hours here, so active clearing saved hard labor later. Our driveway remained easily passable with four wheel drive, and no one missed work or play.

At the farm, chickens rebelled against the cold footing and hung out in the covered sheds and barn. The sheep lazed away at their hay and rested in fresh straw bedding. I’ve been forking loose hay from a big round bale, and refreshing my skill with a pitchfork. That same fork helps me clear ice out of the drinking troughs. Cold weather, even with beautiful snow, makes livestock systems more challenging. I could get water heaters, but we get so few truly cold snaps like this, I can handle ice breaking for now. Back in Vermont, I used an ax all winter to crack ice half a foot think. Here in Western Washington, it’s not more than an inch thick. If we drop into the teens, I carry hot water from the house to top off overnight troughs, keeping them from freezing. We’re not there yet this winter- thank goodness! Snow like this does a lot of insulating. It’s helpful for re-hydrating the soil with slow drip too.

The winter splendor of snowy days is charming, so long as you have a warm place waiting your return. Gratitude for home, wood stove heat, and the time to enjoy winter weather, rather than fighting it. There was plenty of extra work brought on by the snow, but it’s playful atmosphere was not lost on humans or furry friends. The dogs were especially frisky and light. Gill seems to use the fresh powder as a sort of bathing while basking enjoyment. He’ll lay down and rub through the snow on his sides and back, rolling and swimming through the frozen water. He could also just be playing around. Maybe a little of both. Valley does this too, only she prefers running, and goads Gill into occasional romps that end with a stalemate. Movements are a little more exaggerated and carefree, but action in snow does take more energy too. We all got a workout running and chasing around the land.

The slow watering snow brings for the ground is greatly needed. Moisture has only reached down a few inches since the fall. Frozen water sits on the surface and then drips into the soil during warmup periods of the day, refreezing in the evening to slow the saturation. It’s brilliant for ground that’s been parched by summer heat and sun. It feels like the future climate for our region will continue to shift in this direction of more extreme climate change. Winters will be colder, with more snow and ice, and summer will be hotter, with less rain and more triple digit highs. Banking water in the soil is the only way to combat these weather stresses on the landscape. Our swale designs support the slow and sink method of tending water.

Rain events here have shifted from weeks of misty sprinkles to afternoon deluges with an inch or more at once. The landscape this year was so dry, the fall rain ran right off the hillsides and into the rivers heading out to sea. At this point, snow was the only way to slow and sink water efficiently. Snow like this in November is as wild as the 90F October days with wildfire smoke this year. I can foresee, in another 5 years, smoke all summer into 90Fs October, burns continuing on the west side, and come November, snow on the ground for months, much like New England. It’s the kind of weather livestock cannot thrive in. We’re keeping that in mind as we plan through the next few years of EEC Forest Stewardship. Tree planting is becoming the next big shift, shrinking the farm production for more forestry restoration. That remains the ultimate goal of this great adventure at EEC Forest Stewardship.

Winter months offer a little more time for reflection, planning, and enjoying the moment. Cold, crisp evenings outside while flickering firelight keeps spirits warm and bright. May all who read these words carry warmth in their hearts, abundance in life, and joy in the days ahead. Happy New Year from EEC Forest Stewardship!

First Bird

Gal’s Turkey Hunt 2022 was a great weekend of tracking and snow sitting with evening feasting, wine, and games. During the early afternoon of the first day out, I spotted a flock of Merriam’s Turkeys from the truck as we were driving to another hunting location in Northeastern Washington. Our mistress of the hunt checked her online mapping ap to make sure the land these birds wandered was public, and indeed, a square of state land surrounded our sighted quarry. We planned a two pronged approach and began a deliberate stalk towards nearby ponderosa pine grove. The trees would offer shelter and hiding from the astute birds. Turkey are difficult to sneak up on, and an ambush setup is often more successful- especially in the fall. Spring turkey season is another routine all together, but back to our hunt. Two of our party were not hunting that day, and took a walk around the power line road to block a potential escape rout for our targeted flock. Then the chaos began.

I’m an experienced deer hunter, and usually approach the hunt quietly, sitting in one spot waiting for the animal to walk by. In theory, turkey are similar, and you scout tracks in the snow during fall hunts to locate high traffic areas the birds are accustomed to. Turkeys love routine, and stick to it, if you avoid disrupting their flow. We had set down in the middle of the birds’ larder, and tracks were scattered everywhere. This was reflected in the flock’s movement, they had already circle around behind us, crossing the power-line road and out maneuvering us. I watched birds running behind our non-hunting “beaters” as they motioned to us where they were heading. We’d reached the grove of pines, but had to retreat back to the truck and road to cross over in pursuit of our flock. Birds were running all around, and it felt like total chaos. It was also the first time I was hunting with a group of people, which meant a lot more communication and distraction.

Our new grove of trees across the power-lines overlooked a hillside covered in kinnikinnick- a ground cover with evergreen leaves and red berries in the fall. The snow was still shallow enough to reveal much of the ground plants, which also invited the turkeys in to feed. Deep snow inhibits the birds’ movement, and the hunter’s. We lucked out that weekend with no fresh snow, but enough on the ground to track, and relatively warm daytime temperatures in the 20s with shining sun. It was heavenly hunting weather, and great foraging for the turkeys too. By now, the flock had regrouped in the thick forest just to our left. We took up sits against trucks and made sure to all be a safe zones of fire from one another. As we sat, my hunting partner began calling the birds in. I call using my own voice, but most people use a calling tool. The call should interest the birds and encourage them to come over and see who’s calling, but it’s no guarantee.

For us, the birds didn’t call back, but the began flocking towards us, seemingly indifferent to our presence. That was strange, as turkey are infamous for being shy and running away from strange changes in their routine. These birds were caught up in the feast of berries, and kept inching towards us without a care. My hunting buddy whispered- “Take the shot if you’ve got one.” Well, I saw a bird coming out of the brush and pulled the trigger. Chaos ensued. Birds exploded up in all directions. My hen popped up too, but came down again and I stood to get another shot off before she could fly. Even then, the turkey got into the air once more and took off towards the thick cover beyond. I followed her flight path with my eyes, noting trees and fallen logs as markers till she was out of sight, then I turned to check in with my hunting partner. “Should I run after it?’ I asked. “Yes.” She answered. It was an important safety check in. Never run out in front of fellow hunters- that would be in violation of your zone of fire.

With renewed tracking drive, I took off towards the direction my bird had flown. Second really did count in getting to where the animal might have landed. My shotgun was empty, so I unloaded the empty shells and picked them up out of the snow as I slowed to enter the brush. The visibility was low, but I put a new load in my gun to make ready in case I came upon my turkey unexpectedly. Approaching steps from behind told me my hunting buddy had caught up. The dense brush went for only a little bit, then I stepped out into what looked like an old logging road. Across the clearing, I could see another line of trees. Heading towards them, I saw my bird moving and raised my gun again. Pulling the trigger, nothing happened. I thought maybe I still had the safety on, no, it was off, so I took aim again- nothing. I was beside myself now, wanting to finish the hunt and claim my bird in a good way. Then my hunting partner was at my side, offering me her gun after watching my struggle from behind. I took her shotgun and took careful aim one last time. The turkey dropped, and I ran to it in gratitude.

As I stood, surrounded by other supportive women in the field, the harvest felt very special in so many ways. It was my first successful bird hunt, my first turkey, and my first ladies hunt. A group dynamic is so different, and great for turkey hunting. I would not like having a group involved with my deer hunt, but without the group support in the turkey pursuit, my success would not have happened. I ended up being the only successful harvest in that two day hunt. Turkey hunting is hard, unpredictable, but a lot of fun and good learning. Turkeys in Washington state are introduced, and out-compete many native species of ground bird like grouse. Hunting them helps to reduce this impact, and graces our table with wild meat. It meant a lot to have the additional support and expertise from my fellow hunters in the field- and an extra gun. Why had my shotgun not fired properly? Well, when I reached in my pocket to grab a new shell, I grabbed one of the empty ones I had just picked up when I unloaded. Classic mistake- and an important lesson not to repeat.

When I got back to the house and plucked the bird, I also took out the crop for a better look and what the turkey had been eating. Sure enough, the organ was full of kinnikinnick berries, which I’ve brought home and planted in my garden. The carcass weighed in at 7 1/2lbs dressed. That was the perfect size for our modest Thanksgiving. What an honor and pleasure to enjoy wild turkey! Brined and baked with so much care and gratitude, the meal was delightful and the turkey sublime. Gratitude to the bird nation and all the gifts and gentle lessons it offers. Grateful still that our hunt was safe and fun, that I received a bird for my work, and that we all shared experience in the field. We’re hoping to make this an annual tradition for women to gather and hunt together sharing love and support in harvesting wild food.

Why I Hunt

There’s a legacy here of ten years in deep relationship, perusing and learning the art of the hunt; accepting so many beautiful lessons, and reaping the rewards of hard work, focus, and vision. Sometimes my sight was clear, and the harvest successful. Other times, my sights remained empty, and I came home without wild food from a crucial source of protein, greatly appreciated in lean times. The abundance of EEC Forest Stewardship, specifically our Cascade Katahdins at Leafhopper Farm, provide additional support to our pantry, stocking the larder with enough diversity to sustain through a few years of missed fertility. This year’s challenges included a large wildfire near our home, driving the deer away for the first week of our limited two week season. Climate change is the single greatest threat to our survival right now, and the scales are tipping.

Through a decade of perusing blacktail deer in Western Washington, I’ve come to love dark, cold, wet predawn silence. Every prick of rain drop sound crashing through the leaf litter and drawing my awareness ever deeper into the edges. Clearcuts are good habitat for deer, if tended as wilderness, where native plants can collect and thrive, with water retention and diverse replanting after a commercial harvest. Repetitive logging over a forest before it ever nears climax, preventing an established ecosystem to replenish the nutrients carried away in timber tonnage, is not good for the deer, or the forest, or any ecology that is balanced and abundant. Spraying treated sewage on the land is also damaging the soil and water, adding perception drugs and heavy metals in concentrate to our hillside catchment basins where the valley rivers come from. Those valleys are full of poison now, which is tainting our crops and livestock food resources and pressuring wildlife.

My first deer hunt, I was in Snoqualmie Tree Farm with my beloved hunting mentor and deer medicine friend. He had coached me through several days of observing deer brows along the roads, then finding the heavily used trails connecting habitat resources. I’d take long sits atop slash piles, watching as still as I could, only moving my eyes along the forest edge, hoping to see a buck walk out into the clearcut. The mind will always try to see what it wants, and my spotting glass focused on many seemingly active movements that emerged as stumps when I focused the gaze. Always have your spotting scope handy, it makes sighting a great sport, and teaches the eye a lot about depth and range. On the evening of October 31st, 2013, after days of spotting, waiting, and learning to sit still, I was atop another slash pile in Snoqualmie Tree Farm, waiting for that buck to wander through before last light of the last day of blacktail season.

It was not too surprising to hear another truck beginning the long haul up from the foot of the foothill I was perched atop. After all, my mentor and I had recently driven up here for a good spot, and we did not own the mountain. It was poor timing really. The driver was road hunting, driving along the roads before dusk hoping to catch a deer on the move. It’s not the most ethical way to hunt, but more successful, and on the last day of the season, understandable, but not mindful of hunters who are having a sit. As the vehicle rounded the switchback and rose into the far right of my field position, I unloaded my gun. There was an active hazard in my field and I deemed the situation unsafe. My gun action clear, I proceeded to step out of the field, knowing the newcomer was unaware of my location. I didn’t want to call out and spook off the potential harvest for anyone. Slowly, I walked up the road and around another switchback, which took me out of firing range and back to my mentor, who was waiting at the truck looking very confused.

We both heard the shot as I reached him. “That was your deer.” he said. “I know,” I replied, “but the shot was not safe for me, I’ll take the karma this time, and hope my other hunts reward this act of kindness.” My mentor was less forgiving, and as we drove by the other hunter, who was busily gutting a nice two point on the road, he shook his head. I was thrilled for the gentleman elbow deep in his excitement. I waved and wished him congratulation on a successful hunt, and I had no other feeling but that in the moment. I could see how my joy would be, the wonder at harvesting wild food, connecting to place and an ancestral legacy. “My first hunt!” Cried the man as he awkwardly embraced the animal. “My first deer!” He announced again, looking back over his shoulder at the driver side of the vehicle where a woman sat proudly. “My wife is here with me, we’re so glad.” My mentor was still shaking his head, but I congratulated the successful hunter again and left him to the hard work still to come, in the dark. At least is was not raining.

My second hunting season was successful. I went on my own, every morning, to the same dead end clear cut where I parked my truck at the head of that dead end and walked in a mile to my sit spot. It was cold, dark, and invigorating. Most predawn times there’s so much energy building up, like a long dormant seed finally quaking to life, just before that explosion of sprouting- germination. I’d sit into first light with the binos on an enormous old growth stump that towered above the slash and muck left by the logging machines. There was a little brook and some lovely green strips on either side about 1,000 feet down the hill from my perch. That morning there had been light rain, and the does were moving in, like that had the past few days, towards the end of my window to harvest a deer. It was the last day again, and I wondered if I would experience what most hunters of this illusive ungulate species experience- an empty tag.

The relationship with this small herd of does had included several encounters at close range. They often entered the clearing from the edge just below my stump. I had chosen that spot for that reason, expecting, then confirming the flow of deer from the edge, down towards the wetland strip, which was a perfect bowl, and safe shooting field with no roads. It was just getting light enough to see down into the wetland where the does were already feeding quietly in the mists. I began spotting each individual animal with my spotting scope, one, two, three, four does, all mature and confidant in their meandering graze across the lush vegetation. It was really a wetland, and should have been part of the greater wild water setback, but with wet soil came abundant growth, and these deer were familiar with the larder zone. My attention was suddenly firmly shaken into focus, as my binoculars revealed another ungulate form emerging from behind the familiar does. A modest set of points flashed, then hid again in the brush as the animal browsed.

I’ve never harvested a deer based on the size of its antlers. The object of hunting blacktail deer for me, is wild food, nature connection, and conservation. In my hunting encounters, taking what is offered is usually a good action. If you take no action when the opportunity presents its self, you may not get another chance for the season. Personally, I also think the deer know, being in a predator/prey covenant with humans for thousands of years, knowing deep in their being, the exchange taking place. I never take a shot at a running animal. The bucks I’ve had the privilege to harvest for food have all been standing broadside, looking at me head on. It’s a magnificent scene to encounter, with powerful intention. Following through the cycle of birth and death, seeing the death of a landscape as the backdrop of this experience, there is a feeling of end, with the last of the light stretching into final harvest before the cold hard times of inward reflection begin.

That cold October morning in 2014, I looked through my scope and took aim at the buck blacktail quietly grazing a thousand feet down the hillside from my stump perch. The rifle scope was close range, and I had to take my time in setting up a good shot. The animal paused, letting the other deer pass him and move ahead. Then he looked up the hill directly at me and I began a deep breath of concentration. Inward draw and the flick of ear, flash of bright eye in the pink light of dawn. An exhale lets finger arch and a light pressure releases one of the most impactful actions a human commits- combustion. This particular explosion sends a lethal projectile at blinding speed to a roughly 4×4 inch vital organ area on the deer’s side. If the shot is correct, the animal will drop to the ground and die very quickly from loss of blood. My buck did indeed fall, collapsing under the sight of my scope, which I’d kept glued to in preparation for a second shot if needed. The buck was not moving, so I unloaded my rifle and plotted my hiked down to the awaiting quarry.

Moving through a recent clearcut is no easy feat, and I knew the real work was now about to begin. When I first approached the deer laying in the slash, my instinct was to move on in search of my deer, which must have run off on down the hillside into deeper cover, because it really could not be that successful a first shot from so far above, but it was, and I had to stop and reassure myself of this incredible moment. I’d just harvested a wild food source of great sustenance for my winter larder. This beautiful food, grown in the forests surrounding my home, this abundance to celibate and be so thankful for was the fruits of my labor and learning. Then, as I later hauled the carcass out of the clearcut, pulling from the antlers in a slow drag up the hill to the truck, the mists and rain began to close in. In a moment of resting to catch my breath, I felt a strong fulfillment in self-sufficiency and personal growth connected to a deep ancestral calling.

To hunt, to gather and harvest wild food, was a crucial part of my identity and drive. I’d come back to these same feelings and experiences with every hunt, every opportunity to connect with the living world in the cycle of life directly. My predation of the deer in line with legal hunting supports a healthy ecosystem in my immediate area, as our encroachment on wilderness de-pleats the habitat animals need to survive, including predator species, some of which have been completely exterminated from our region, thus perpetuating high birthrates in prey species like blacktail deer, which then overtakes the carry capacity of the landscape, ending with population crash and mass die off. Hunters harvest the overflow numbers within a given population of deer to reduce winter kill from starvation, and habitat degradation. Hunting regulations, including harvest limits, are determined by scientific observation and research done in the field by wildlife biologists. So far, no hunted wildlife managed in these scientific methods has gone extinct. Restoration has remained successful in hunted wildlife populations throughout the United States, with numbers continuing to rise and stabilize where carry capacity allows, but human encroachment still remains wildlife’s number one threat.

Hunting remains a personal choice in connecting to wild food, nature, conservation, and personal growth. Each lesson in tracking, sitting, listening, and connecting to place, wilderness, animals and plants forms a tighter relationship to the land and ecology I’m a part of. It’s so rewarding too- harvesting food, gathering abundance from the land in thanksgiving, this is a powerful set of original instructions I’ll continue to follow as long as the privilege allows. It’s also important to give back, and teaching hunter safety certification for my fellow citizens is a way to pass on the knowledge and experience to future generations who wish to peruse their own sacred covenant with the land. Gratitude to all the mentors, teachers, family, and friends who support my hunting journey.

Blacktail Hunt 2022

The woods are lovely dark and deep.

-Robert Frost

This year’s deer season was short and bittersweet, but such learning and reward in experience, no matter how brief. Opening weekend, I was at home preparing for my hunt on Monday at Snoqualmie Tree Farm. I took a walk around my own land wearing hunter orange and carrying a long gun, to avail. It was a red dawn, the sun was orange, never quite lightening to a golden white, and by Monday morning, the air was thick with smoke, and the tree farm was closed indefinitely. The cause- a wildfire between Lake Phillipa and a ridge line just above Lake Calligan. I’d spent that summer fishing trout in Calligan and scouting nearby clear-cuts for my hunt later that fall. The area abuts The Alpine Lake Wilderness, offering a large area to hunt in both private and public land. The fire started opening weekend and ended my first week of hunting season with the worst air quality on the planet for three days straight. The fire is still burning a month later, but at least the forest is now open.

During the last day of the season, October 31st, I had a morning to hunt, and spent it at a neighbor’s property where they had sighed a most unusually marked blacktail buck. He had a white nose, which stood out as a unique identifier in the field. He was beautiful, mature, and a great candidate for harvest, but it was not meant to be. I sat listening to him walk through the woods in the falling leaves, sitting in a golden mantel of maple and cottonwood shed. The heavy rains during the night had driven everyone into shelter, and with the coming light, downpour reduced to trickle, and the deer were up moving to eat. I knew I’d catch my buck on a traverse from one larder to another, so I set up a long sit in the young deciduous grove between two pastures. I had a spot in the crossroads of several game trails. My breathing slowed as the sound of approaching hoof falls drew closer. Then, the wind shifted.

The sudden stamp of a stiff leg shattered my ambition as, in the next seconds, I listened to a new pattern of hoof beats pronking away into thicker cover. The moment of success had slipped away in my scent crossing a most attuned nostril a tip white blazed nose. I didn’t even gimps a tail flash as I stood up from the blind of fallen logs. It could have been mindset preemptively, thinking too hard about the animals movement, sending out energetic rings of pressure, alerting the prey animal’s instinct to check the air. The environment we cannot control, nor how we’re perceived within it. Beyond setting intentions and doing my best to blend in, it was merely a shift in barometric pressure which cost me the element of surprise. Standing up did not help, but I was limited for time, even in the final day of hunting deer for the season. Still, hearing the approach, knowing what caused my premature unveiling, that was a good set of lessons learned.

I also helped teach an hunter education class during the week of fire, thus certifying a few more safe hunters for the field, even if I could not be in it. I also saw a lot of bucks along roadways during the rut. We’ll keep our eyes peeled during these colder months and hope to harvest some roadkill to make up for the missed buck harvest. Late season, which is 3 days in a limited area above snow line, I’ll be with gal pals hunting turkey on the east side. It will be worth it, and a lot more good learning in new hunting pursuit. Gratitude for all the learning and opportunity in hunting this year. The deer got a year off, but next season, I’m committed to deer and elk season without interruption, and hope to have a turkey by the end of this year. Thanks to all who mentor and share the hunt.

First Frost 2022

This morning in early November, we woke to a hard frost spread across the landscape, an icy cloak of wonder. The cold seasonal snap sends shivers up spine and stalk alike. Our garden is letting go the last harvest for a while in wilted chard and kale. Our young grape vine finally turned yellow, but still clings to the broad, serrated sun catchers, leafy sails which will turn to parchment in time and drop to the earth. Plant sacrifices of fertility back to soil are a crucial exchange in equal give and take within an abundant ecosystem. Animals give digested vegetation too, no living thing acting within the lifecycle of our planet can take without giving. Even carnivores give back plants, through the flesh of the grazers they consume. Seasonal cycles dictate much of this recycling in all it’s forms. Though plants are most affected by light, and give up more in the fall, reclaiming the sacrifice in spring with new growth, perpetuated through complex nutrient trades in the soil and through sun, rain, wind, and even fire.

The cold signals nature’s shift into quite rest. Almost all plant growth slows to a stop. This morning, all the livestock water troughs were frozen, water- an element of change that can take any form (solid, liquid, gas), chooses it’s hardest form today, which demands the most work out of my chores. Removing ice, refilling water, and maintaining hydration is challenging, but the elemental change freezing water, and the crust of firm resistance strikes back on bare knuckles, I’ve forgotten my gloves. The animals are restless, no one rushes the troughs, but cold also hinders hydration, which means you should drink a bit more if possible, but the animals are waiting. Food drives all the little feet pacing at hay creches, awaiting fresh field fodder. I’ll let the ladies have a few open days of grazing, now that the vegetation in our zone one spaces are retreating, leaving the last forage before a long put-up in the barn.

This slowing of life into literal ice crystals signals hibernation, inward focus through the dark times in preparation for new spring growth only a few months away. It’s a very fast turning cycle of seasons, though we humans often ignore compelling change. Nature is tuned in, offering so much insight into adaptation, resiliency, and balance. I’m also deeply appreciative for the vivid color, vast landscapes, and vistas of each season’s gifts. Frost is fall’s first real shake up, sending plants into stasis wildlife into hibernation. At home, our hearth is lit, bringing the warmth of wood and comfort of fire light in darker times. Outside, the sheep lay close together for warmth, their fleecy coats offering perfect insulation to winter’s coming cold. Katahdins come from Maine, and handle the cold brilliantly, especially with a warm barn full of hay and straw. Lambing is only a few months away, so the ewes are fat and round, showing off the abundance of our fields and forest browsing.

The gardens are on pause, at least most plants are dormant, but some stragglers hold on, and winterize by slowing down, but not freezing out. We’re still picking kale and chard leaves, though some are a bit wilted. A cold frame will extend our plantings, while others will be left to the elements, including seed shed for next spring. Our most successful garden verities reseed each year without our help. Kale and radish are good cold weather self perpetuating examples every lazy gardener should tend. Under the shelter or our porch, potted wild ginger remains active, and some hollyhock on a south wall garden has leafed out with enthusiasm. It might regret this late arrival in another month of freezing temperatures, but rain is due next week, and the temperatures usually rise above freezing when clouds insulate our region. Western Washington remains temperate when the rains stay.

November tends to be our coldest month, with week long freezes and iced over water troughs. But it’s particularly dry this year. We’ve had little rain this month, and the high pressure system seems to stall out over us, keeping the insulation blanket of cloud cover at bay. This leaves the ground cold and frosty by morning’s first light. The crisp outlines of ice on leaf tips catches like a diamond glaze in golden dawn’s bright glimmer. Autumn color in western Washington can rival any, with fiery Japanese Maple and yellow asparagus sprigs. Even red flowering currant sports a splash of red, green, and gold in a post modern mashup that could hang in The Guggenheim. Add frosting and you have a seasonal festive feel that pushes back against the cold with warm pigment and glossy magic. Later, as the sun’s warming rays melt back Mr. Frost’s touch in coils of rising steam, the change remains palpable, numbing fingertips and reddening cheeks in the delight of fall.

Mechanized Mulching

Adding occasional outside inputs keeps the soil recovery going here at EEC Forest Stewardship. This is organic mulch from a vetted source- proper decomposition timing, weed seed free guarantee, and strictly bark composition. This mulch is a weed suppressant and ground cover, mainly for our trees, and their roots near the surface of the ground. We’re also reinforcing weed prevention and moisture retention for perennials in established beds like our herb spiral and keyhole garden. Mulch is a great way to keep soil and plant roots cool and moist, also insulating the ground from extreme temperature changes. Intact forests produce most of their own mulch and compost, along with the contributions of all the other life contributing within the forest floor, from beetles and mycelia to elk and forest grouse.

Because human development alters the forest composition, though removal of the canopy, compression on roads, and the desire for a clean cut lawn, forest debris is lost as an alarming rate. Here in Western Washington, where a once vibrant temperate rainforest evolved within the environment for thousands of years, the landscape relies on a thickly carpeted forest floor to protect against erosion and provides banking of long term fertility to grow healthy trees and diverse understory ecology. Our panhandle has seen the worst of erosion and compaction from vehicles, so we are focused on that area with mulching to renew topsoil for the long term health of some beautiful trees still surviving on the edge. We’re also putting up physical barriers near the bases of these trees to prevent further compaction and erosion. In future, we’ll also plant more understory companions to strengthen the landscape’s adaptation. Already, the roots of this Douglas Fir and Big Leaf Maple, pictured below, are getting some much needed support to their root structure.

We’ve layered the mulch with some well aged sheep manure and straw to add additional nutrients for the soil. It’s a great way to spread biomass where it’s needed most in rebuilding a thriving forest floor. Leaves are the natural builders of fertility, but people see that debris as litter, and want it cleaned up. This is a tragedy for the forest, as over time, compaction of the roots due to a loss of topsoil will kill the trees. Stressed trees are vulnerable to diseases, which hastens the decline of a tree. Leaf blowers add insult to injury, blowing hot air on the exposed roots and drying out soil which then blows away with the leaves and grass cuttings to expose even more of a tree’s delicate root structure. What should you do? Leave the leaves and grass clippings around the trees! And MULCH! By tending your forest floor in this way, you retain the nutrients, biomass, and organic breakdown process of the living soil, which in tern, offers a balanced soil composition for all the other important, often unseen tree allies, like beneficial insects which will predate upon pests to protect the tree.

Mycological support, which I’ve mentioned in other blogs, can only thrive in decomposition. Without the leaves there to breakdown, the decomposition stalls, and bacteria has to work harder, often developing into infection for the tree. Take a walk in any healthy forest and you’ll feel your feet sink into the soft loam under the leaves. In The Ho Rainforest on our peninsula, many feet of debris lay beneath the canopy. hundreds of years of trees shedding needles, branches, and some fallen trees turned into nurse logs cultivate the health of a forest and allow each tree to mature fully into a giant old growth masterpiece- though you rarely find them in high traffic areas due to compaction.

I know of two accessible hikes where you can find a truly old growth tree right on the trail. Above is a picture of one, a Douglas Fir on West Fork Foss River Trail. This giant is on the edge of the footpath, within a mile of the start of this hike. It’s a great tree to see, and as you take a moment to appreciate the size and age of this wonderful elder, look up to see why this tree stands today. Most stand alone old growth trees found in an otherwise clearcut forest were left because they were already damaged in a way which compromises their timber value, thus making the task of felling them a loss in revenue. The Foss River tree is missing it’s top, common in left behind old growth trees in our region. Other evidence, like this standing dead snag below, show the evidence of a missing top, perhaps already infected with a bracket fungus, and showing signs of heart wood rot 100 years ago when still alive. These are natural ways a tree can fail in time, but cannot be prevented with mulching.

Erosion and root exposure caused by human activity is preventable, both with mulching, and giving a tree more space at it’s base for debris. With enough duff protecting the tree, compaction and erosion will be eliminated all together, allowing a long, healthy life for the tree, and a future forest, if left to seed and grow new young trees, to help restore the ecology of our temperate rainforest home. Bank woody debris around any trees you tend, keep the leaf litter, branches, needles, and twigs to build up future rooting space for a growing network of water retention, mineral exchange, and living soil full of everything a healthy forest needs. With a forward thinking vision of soil production through decomposition, and the help of our fungal friend who break down wood into soil, our forest ecology around the world will thrive.

Forest Mushrooms

Fungal friends are thriving across the landscape at EEC Forest Stewardship. Mushrooms can be found at any time of year here in Western Washington. Western Hemlocks are in evident decline due to extended heat and drought in our once temperate rainforest hillsides. Dead branches, standing snags, and fallen trunks host endless habitat for wildlife and mycological feasts. Bracket fungi, conks- like this Formes fomentarius parasitize stressed trees. It huddles with a Trametes hirsuta? I’m not always sure of specific characteristics, but the orange one is Trametes as much as the grey hoof is Formes. This is mushrooming 101, EEC at the fall equinox, 2022. Our mycological spring is awakening, though these two wood eaters are operating year-round and fruit at any time, many species need cool, damp conditions to bloom out of the forest floor and into our foraging larder. Look to the hills in October after the rains start and you’re sure to see some real mushroom beauty on display. It’s not all culinary, but you’ll be wowed by shape, texture, and color as seasonal wonders of the mushroom spring abound.

Red belted conchs like these, pictured above on a failed western hemlock trunk, are common in the woods throughout all seasons. They feast on dead wood and break down hard wood fibers, hence they themselves are very hard and woody. When they die and begin decomposing, their structure rots like wood, becoming porous and brittle. These beautiful fungi also produce important condensation, which looks like sweat. Fungal exudates conduct minerals and chemicals out of the decomposing wood. Western medicine is studying these liquids for health innovations, such as the treatment of diabetes. Mushrooms hold a lot of medicinal potential within, but the same chemical structures that heal, can, in the wrong amounts, harm. There are also a few deadly toxic species of mushrooms, and countless others that will at the very least, give you terrible digestive upset. This is why mushrooms are best observed, but left to the work they are doing in situ.

Mycology is colonial, communal, social- mycelia is plural in nature. Recognizing the deep interconnected activity of mushrooms in the environment is a model of helpful hints in earth care. Decomposition takes time, and mushrooms are cleaning up forests like other scavengers of the living world. There are fungi which actively harm living trees, and here’s a great webinar on western Washington’s current verities and what role they play. Because of commercial timber mono-cropping, natural cycles of climax and decay over thousands of years is reduced too 40-60 year old continual harvests of young trees. The immune system of the forest is kept working at triage level, weakening the ecology, the complex life systems of nature. Natural protections fade, leaving the young trees vulnerable to disease, and helpless to defend against it. We may have scientific short term solutions, such as more cloning of the trees, but forests, if left to grow and evolve through generations of people, reserve a history of resiliency to protect against infection. Forest products come from logs, the majority of living biomass in a woodland. The majority of the physical biomass, logs, are taken away from the land, and GMO Douglas fir are mass planted for another crop of board feet.

Mushroom personality is often overlooked, and the importance of mycilia networks within the soil of forests are paramount, yet never studied to determine the state of most commercial timber industry stands. Mycological activity within all forests can tell us so much, about nutrient density in the soil and wood, how strong trees’ immune systems are, and what weaknesses they may succumb to. As mentioned above, infected trees are telling more about a larger forest’s health, and in places with continual impact, certain mushrooms cannot survive. In places missing mushrooms, there is less efficient biological breakdown of carbon, less water in the soil, and far less diversity of microbiology in the soil. When soil is less productive, what grows in it will decline, and our pacific northwest temperate rain forests are vanishing. The tree farms are not living forests, they are commercial stands of mono culture. Still, you’ll find mushrooms there.

The language of fungi is still seeking a Rosetta stone for translation, but interest in the properties of fungal chemistry are peaking scientific interest, and as our understanding of mycological complexity grows, we are learning that the mushrooms have much to teach. Our own neurology is plugged into mushrooms, and physiologists are looking into the use of “magic mushrooms” to help heal PTSD, Depression, Eating Disorders, and more. All our medicines come from nature, so it is up to us, as global tenders in deep relation with our world, to see how connected all living things are in sustaining life. Our shortsighted “stewardship” has led to ecological collapse through increasing degradation of natural habitat renamed natural resources, to be extracted for objects. From solar panels to smart phones, our consumption culture will be it’s own downfall. Fungi will be right there with us, though once the forests are gone, we’ll meet them more often in the form of molds.