Monthly Archives: November 2013

Link

Petition to change NC building code that prohibits pioneer farms

UPDATE: Conway wins with the help of the public and NC state representatives! Turtle Island will re-open just in time for summer camp.

I don’t usually do this but please sign this petition to help Eustace Conway to keep his historical pioneer farm open to the public!

Conway, aka “The Last American Man” (the title of a book about his life by Elizabeth Gilbert), the only true mountain man, and complete badass is having his property closed to the public for violating North Carolina building codes.

This is a egregious, absurd, and malicious affront to all North Americans. He honors our heritage and keeps the knowledge of the settlement era alive with an extensive, fully functioning living pioneer farm museum on 1000 acres. He is an incredible character with astounding accomplishments (for example, the fastest US coast-to-coast horse ride).

Please sign the petition at change.org to defy the building code and allow him to re-open! Everyone has a lot to learn from Eustace Conway.

To see more read this news article: http://www.hcpress.com/news/turtle-island-story.html?fb_action_ids=1392741677631217&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

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Oyster Mushroom Gathering

The rains have finally begun here in the east SF bay area, and you know what all they promise?…. Mushrooms!!! That’s right, from the toxic to tasty, they’re a-springing up everywhere in the dank woods.

Now being from a highly fungophobic culture, no one has ever personally showed me what wild mushrooms are good to eat. Although Chris Hobbs once ID’d some pics I’d taken of a Boletus sp. for me back when we were co-gsi’s for intro bio:

Boletus rubripes

Boletus rubripes – bitter bolete

Boletus rubripes - bitter bolete

Boletus rubripes – bitter bolete

But with All That the Rain Promises and More, plus Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora, perhaps the best field guides ever written on any subjects, I’ve finally gone and collected huge bunches of wild edible oyster mushrooms, and feasted on their tasty flesh!

I was also able to identify some toxic and artistic mushrooms on the same foray!

I love eating mushrooms, and a local market (Monterey Market) sells wild-picked chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, and more, but they cost about an arm a dozen. I splurged a few times, mainly to familiarize myself with these species in hopes of encountering them in the wild.

I also have spent over a year absorbing what I’ve read in the above books by Arora (1986, 1991). All That the Rain Promises and more is pocket-sized and covers mainly bay area and California species, while Mushrooms Demystified covers most of North American mushrooms, excepting mostly southeastern species. Both are also laced with hilarious anectdotes, witticisms, and clever turns of phrase; the author really puts the fun in fungi (see, I stole that from him)!

And no, this doesn’t hinge on magical mushrooms… which are still fully described and appreciated by the book, though he doesn’t have much appreciation of those who only care about such types of mushrooms.

So about my foray yesterday….

I first gathered my ‘shroomin outfit: wet-weather boots and jacket, knife (for digging out mushroom bases for ID and for scraping them clean with the back of the blade), camera and field notebook for recording field observations, collecting bag with a stiff sheet of cardboard to prevent the mushrooms from being crushed, waxpaper and aluminum foil for wrapping my collected specimens (don’t use paper or plastic bags due to moisture issues he says), and don’t forget a cheese sandwich (since I’m always hungry like the author apparently is, who has a little bit more than a fondness for these).

I set out, with a gleam in my eye and spring in my step, but not yet a song in my heart…

At first, I was a little disappointed the woods weren’t exactly burgeoning with mushrooms… but maybe I was a little early. It has been super dry here; I don’t think it’s rained all fall. But the last two days it had dumped and poured and finally just sprinkled the night before last, when I decided it was time to gather.

The first mushrooms I found were small and bright yellow, growing on a dead (unidentifiable, severely decomposed) log in a little ditch leading toward and just near Strawberry Creek. I was pretty excited. I collected some and took pictures. Just next to it, also on a dead log, was an artist’s conk.

Hypholoma fasciculare Naematoloma fasciculare clustered woodlover

Sulfur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) growing on a rotten log

Hypholoma fasciculare Naematoloma fasciculare clustered woodlover

Sulfur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) growing on a rotten log

Hypholoma fasciculare Naematoloma fasciculare clustered woodlover

Sulfer tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) growing on a rotten log

My intuition told me the little yellow guys were toxic, but anyway there weren’t really enough to eat. But I collected a few to take home and ID. It turned out my intuition was correct (bright colors usually equal toxic); these guys were Hypholoma fasciculare  (Naematoloma fasciculare is a synonym), common name sulfer tufts, aka the clustered woodlover, which are poisonous.

The sulfer tufts can be used to make dye though; I’ll try this sometime since they’re so abundant and vibrantly colored.

I wandered around more and soon got occupied collecting California Bay Laurel nuts, which were just overflowing in this one spot under a grand tree (see my post below about this tree species and eating their nuts, and their many other uses).

I kept wandering around, examining dead logs, and under trees looking for “mushrumps” or what Arora (1991) calls humps of leaf litter indicating a newly popping out mushroom. Not much luck.

I found some toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) berries, which I gladly gathered.

Then, while stopping to… ahem “water a tree,” there they were: two huge clumps of oyster mushrooms!

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on dead coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) log

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on dead coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) log

Something like eep-yaaah!! came out along with a little skip-hop. I knew exactly what they were the second I saw those! But my fungophobic heritage made me double-check my field guide right on the spot and later back home I also consulted Mushroms Demystified and both these guides fit the description of what I found perfectly. The most similar appearing and toxic mushrooms to oyster mushrooms were the jack-o-lantern and Clitocybe. So I checked these descriptions and made sure it wasn’t those.

After finding this first two clumps (I only collected the fresher one, leaving the second,larger clump for animals), I kept wandering around, hoping for a feast.

And persistance paid off, because soon enough, I found another huge clump of oysters!

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on standing dead branch of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on standing dead branch of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Oyster mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on standing dead branch of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

I gathered less than half of these, just the fresher ones from which I still had to shoo off some pleasing fungus beetles (actually their common family name), and one big black beetle, (which was not so pleasant-looking), leaving most behind for the animals, or perhaps a more cavalier mushroom hunter than me. Before and after gathering all these mushrooms, I made sure to say a short prayer of thanks to the oyster mushroom, oak tree, and forest spirits, something like: Yes! Thank you mushroom! Thanks Oak! Thanks Forest!

I immediately found another huge clump, but it was under a log and behind some shrubs and looked older (can you find it in the below photo?), so I just left it, feeling satisfied with my haul.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing under dead  log of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing under dead log of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Oh yeah. Now I had that song in my heart. Inspiration struck! I began my ditty: “(high voice) how big is your fungus, say is it humongous? (low voice) Yes my fungus is humongous; there’s enough to share among us!” Some vivacious, Mozart-esque whistling was the refrain. Kept that going with an even springier step and gleamier eye til I cavorted out of the forest, my mushroom bag heavy with delight!

Along the way I found some more artist’s conks, and left a little drawing of the oyster mushrooms on a well-displayed one.

Artist's conk (Ganoderma applanatum) on a CA bay laurel log with drawing of oyster mushrooms

Artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) on a CA bay laurel log with drawing of oyster mushrooms

Back home, I excitedly displayed the day’s (3 hours…) haul to Emily:

Wild plants and mushrooms gathered in a few hours: three large clumps of oyster mushrooms, sulfer tufts (poisonous), toyon berries, peppernuts, bay leaves (for flea repellant)

Wild plants and mushrooms gathered in a few hours: three large clumps of oyster mushrooms, sulfer tufts (poisonous), toyon berries, peppernuts, bay leaves (for flea repellant)

Fungophobic paranoia made me first cook up a few caps from each clump to eat a small amount with Emily to make sure we didn’t have some allergic reaction. We only waited an hour or so, then I decided to cook up all of one of my three large clumps.

I followed the recommendation of Arora (1991, 1986) to cook them. First I cut off the tough, short stalk part, then washed them, allowing them to drip dry a few minutes. Then I dry-pan-fried them on high, finally adding a little butter and olive oil at the end. A pinch of salt… and done!

dry pan frying oyster mushrooms

dry pan frying oyster mushrooms

Dry pan fried oyster mushrooms with a pat of butter and dash of salt added at the end

Dry pan fried oyster mushrooms with a pat of butter and dash of salt added at the end

One of the clumps seemed to taste a little better and more oystery than the other, which didn’t have all too much taste. But I liked the texture of them both. And the fact I just gathered these from the wild, applying my newfound knowledge made them taste soo much better!

Dinner was good that night.

Dinner with a dish of fried wild oyster mushrooms

I can’t wait to go mushroom gathering again!

Beyond being delicious, mushrooms are nutritious. Quoting from Anderson and Lake (2013):

“Today Central Sierra Me-Wuk elder Phyllis Montgomery says, “the willow [oyster] mushrooms [possibly Pleurotus cornucopiae (Paulet) Rolland formerly P. ostreatus] are like a steak —they’re chewy” (Anderson unpublished field notes 2010). Generally, protein concentrations in mushrooms range from 1 to 4% of fresh weight, or about 10–45% of dry weight, a significant amount (Hobbs 1995:54–55). For the amount of crude protein they provide, mushrooms rank below animal meats but well above most other foods, including milk (Chang 2008). Additionally, mushroom protein contains all of the nine essential amino acids required by the body (Cheung 2008). They are high in fats, phosphorus, copper, iron, various trace elements, and such vitamins as B, D, K, thiamine, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, ergosterol, and niacin (Arora 1986; Barros et al. 2008; Cheung 2008).”

Plus, now that I know where to find the oyster mushrooms I can keep going straight back to the same spot after the next rains, and year after year, since this species (species complex) tends to regrow from the same dead logs (Arora 1991). In fact, you can take home a log from which you collect oyster mushrooms and water it occasionally to make it grow more mushrooms (Arora 1991)!

The California Indians were of course well aware of this fact. Quoting again from Anderson and Lake (2013):

“Many kinds of mushrooms, such as sorog (Neolentinus ponderosus (O.K. Mill.) Redhead & Ginns), appear in the same places year after year, arising from the surfaces of rotting wood, dead stumps, snags, or downed logs during the long process of decomposition. Other mushrooms arise from the ground and have long-term associations with trees, shrubs, and grasses (Douhan et al. 2005; Hynes et al. 2010; Plamboeck et al. 2007). Thus, many California Indians have special areas that they repeatedly visit (Anderson 2009; Richards and Creasy 1996). “These sites are hundreds of years old,” said N. Turner Behill, regarding mushroom gathering areas (Anderson unpublished field notes 2006). Tom Carsoner, Central Sierra Me-Wuk, described his mushroom gathering sites as “a garden” because “you always know where to go” (Anderson unpublished field notes 2010).”

Anderson, M. K. and Lake, F. K. 2013. California Indian ethnomycology and associated forest management. Journal of Ethnobiology 33(1): 33-85.

Arora, D. 1986. Mushrooms demystified. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

Arora, D. 1991. All that the rain promises and more… : a hip pocket guide to western mushrooms. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley CA.

Disclaimer: Always be certain of the identity of any mushroom or plant before ingesting. Many mushrooms and plants superficially look very similar, and without expert identification, it is easy to mistake a poisonous and edible species. I assume no responsibility for any harm, injury, or death from information given in this post.

Umbellularia californica

The Useful California Bay Laurel Tree

NAMES AND TAXONOMY

California Bay Laurel

Umbellularia californica (Hooker and Arnott) Nuttall

Also called the bay laurel, bay, California laurel, Oregon myrtle, myrtlewood (name used for wood used in furniture, carvings, and other products), pepperwood, and peppernut (the latter two from the aromatic wood and nuts), and headache tree (from its ability to cause and relieve headache with its aroma).

It is the only member of its genus, which was widespread in the Pliocene.

In the august family Lauraceae – the same family as the commercial avocado, the sweet bay from which comes the commercial cooking spice (commonly sold in whole-leaf form), and the laurel tree common in many mythologies, often featured as a symbol of peace and victory (ancient Olympic games champions were crowned with a laurel wreath, and the pigeon on Noah’s arc returned bearing laurel leaves, indicating the floodwaters had receded and land was nearby). The most gorgeous bird ever, the resplendent quetzal, also feeds exclusively on fruits of lauraceous trees in the neotropics.

HABITAT AND IDENTIFICATION

It is locally dominant in moist soils of mixed forests, redwood forests, and in coastal foothill canyons, slopes, and streambanks. It’s commonly cultivated around its endemic range (coastal mid to northern CA and southern OR). Its understory is often made open by allelopathic leaf litter, being sometimes totally barren of any plants under the main portion of the tree’s canopy.

Its trunk and branches are thick and smooth when young, developing pale low ridges with age; somewhat oak-like. Often it’s single-trunked in cultivated or upland habitat, but more often it’s multi-trunked on steeper slopes or along creeksides where its root tangles form banks.

Its heartwood rot and trunk/branch loss leaves hollows inhabited by small mammals. I’ve seen many trees toppled and killed with the base regrowing into a full, large, multi-trunked tree.

Its epiphytes are often extensive, being laden with thick moss is wetter areas.

It usually grows 40-70′ (max 150′). It has alternate branching, with simple, lanceolate, thick, shiny, dark, paler undersided, ~3.5″ long, and strongly aromatic leaves. It flowers Jan-Mar, in tiny yellowish clusters. Its fruit is avocado-like, green to purple, globular, and ~1″ wide. (Peattie 1950)

 Umbellularia californica

California Bay Laurel fruit on the ground.

 Umbellularia californica

California bay laurel tree roots forming bank of stream in Wildcat Canyon

Umbellularia californica

California bay laurel trees along creek banks in Wildcat Canyon

Umbellularia californica

California bay laurel tree full of holes from dead branches, forming nice animal homes

A TREE OF MANY USES

The tree is really common in the CA bay area and has tons of uses, with edible fruits and nuts, leaves good as a spice, disinfectant / cleaner, flea repellant, de-licing agent, headache reliever (or inducer), toothache reliever,  and more…

CARVING MYRTLEWOOD

The wood is very hard, firm, heavy green, medium-light dry (40.5 lb/ft2), and fine-grained, with mottled heartwood, and thick sapwood. It is often used for bowls and furniture (Peattie 1950).

It is subject to attack by bark beetles, so be sure to cure the wood, ideally with repeated coats of linseed oil and turpentine mixed, and once fully absorbed (waiting several weeks between coats and gradually decreasing the turpentine amount, beginning from 50%), a final coat of beeswax made workable with a little coconut oil.

THE BAY LAUREL FOR MEDICINE

Medicinal uses of the bay tree, especially its leaves, abounded for the CA Indians. The probable active ingredient for most or all of these medicines was umbelliferone, which is the essential oil that gives the tree its spicy, peppery, aromatic, or bitter taste in all its tissues.

These medicinal uses include:

– An infusion of leaves was used as an antimicrobial for washing sores or was drank for colds, sore throats, stomach aches, menstrual cramps, and clotting.

– A poultice of the leaves was applied to the affected tooth for relieving toothaches. Heated leaves were applied as a poultice for rheumatism. Bathing in hot water with the leaves twice a day for two or three days was a cure for rheumatism, causing the skin to smart, which provoked thorough rubbing (Chesnut 1902).

– The nuts were eaten during gorges of clover (Trifolium spp.) to prevent the bloating that would often otherwise occur.

– Fresh leaves were crushed and smelled to relieve headache, which could also induce one. To relieve headache, a piece of the leaf was placed in the nostril, or several leaves were bound to the forehead, or the head was washed with a strong decoction of the leaves (Chesnut 1902). My fiance suffered severe migraines following a severe head injury, and smelling crushed fresh or dried leaves was one of the few things that would relieve her headaches.

– For chronic stomach complaints, a large quantity of leaves was tied around the body for a couple of days (Chesnut 1902). To cure both stomachache and headache, a decoction was sometimes drank (Chesnut 1902). The vapor and smoke from burning boughs and leaves on a slow fire was a cure for many diseases (Chesnut 1902).

– Washing the head with a strong decoction of the leaves also was used to kill lice (Chesnut 1902).

BAY LAUREL LEAVES FOR FLEAS

Fresh boughs and leaves were placed around dwellings repel fleas and insects (Chesnut 1902). I do this at my house to reduce the flea infestation, and when I rub crushed leaves on my cats, I can see the fleas fleeing. An essential oil extract placed on the nape of my cats’ and dogs’ necks repels their fleas.

I boiled up a strong decoction from a large potful of leaves with which to wash my cats. The smell from the boiling pot was so powerful it gave me an instant headache, and I had to open all my windows and turn a fan on. Once the bay leaf decoction was cooled, I added some soap (to enhance penetration) and dipped my cats one by one into it, laving lots of the liquid over their whole bodies till they were totally soaked, while standing in a pot full. They hated it and the one we didn’t have in a mesh bag when we washed them bit the hell out of me and Emily. But I’m sure it was a terrifying headache for them.

Afterwards, I inspected their coats and the fleas were all dead or stunned. Checking later, it was clear that many were just stunned, and were slowly recovering as the cat dried. It was really easy to pick them off at this time, since they were slow, and easy to see in the wet coat. Next time, it will be better to wash the cats in the full tub of soapy water after the bay treatment to wash off the stunned fleas and send them down the drain.

I also used the soapy bay decoction in a spray bottle to totally coat the carpets, floors, and other areas the cats hang out to kill flea eggs.

THE BAY LAUREL FOR EATING

One interesting use I’ve only read about once was that the root bark was used to make a drink by the California Indians in Mendocino Co. (Chesnut 1902).

A few fresh or dried leaves make a great spice for hearty or meaty stews. Substitutable for commercial bay, though using less since it has a stronger flavor. I use about 3 or four mid-sized leaves (usually young leaves since older ones tend to have sooty mold) for about a gallon pot of bean stew or pot roast.

The fruit looks like a mini avocado, about 1-2 in long, with skin ranging from lime green to dark green and often with purple, some even being entirely rich purple. I have not found a relationship between the fruit skin color and the stage of ripeness beyond that when totally unripe they tend to be lighter green, not usually developing purple until ripe, but many ripe fruits are still totally light green.

The fruit, which ripens in the fall, has flesh that is edible, but unripe it is rather bitter. Ripe, it is still somewhat bitter or aromatic, but can often be quite tasty if one finds the right tree. A good ripe fruit tastes oily and like an aromatic avocado. The flesh is about half essential oils and fats. But I’ve found that most sufficiently ripe fruits are partly rotted or eaten or otherwise damaged. Perhaps picking them slightly unripe and allowing them to ripen in a paper bag would be a solution.

COLLECTING BAY LAUREL NUTS TO EAT

The bay laurel has edible nuts that were a common food among the California Indian tribes living within the tree’s range. They parched or roasted the nuts in their thin seed coat shell, which then splits easily, revealing the large kernel.

Some people these days eat bay laurel nuts:

http://paleotechnics.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/baynutting-tips-for-harvesting-storing-and-using-california-bay-nuts/

http://rootedincalifornia.blogspot.com/2011/02/no-snow-and-california-bay-nuts.html

http://bushcraftusa.com/forum/showthread.php/79599-Bay-Nuts-I-eat-my-words!

I collected some bay nuts today, though the surrounding fruit flesh was very rotten on all of them. But that made it easier to squeeze the nuts out. A lot were already out of the flesh, just sitting on the ground in their nekkid seed coat. Close inspection of tooth marks revealed the fox squirrel (and perhaps some birds) was eating the fruit flesh and dropping the nut. Pretty surprising; I would think they’d prefer the nut to the flesh. But it was making my collection easier, so thanks Sciurus niger!

COOKING BAY LAUREL NUTS TO EAT

Raw, the oil-rich kernel is edible but a bit acrid. Cooked, the flavor is pleasantly peppery. A single family of Indians would use 3 or 4 bushels in a year, and even more were kept on supply by many (Chesnut 1902). Indians would eat only one or two dozen per meal (Chesnut 1902). These nuts were carried on long trips or when going a long time without food, being used for their stimulant properties (Chesnut 1902). They were often eaten with clover or were pounded up into a small mass, which being so oily, easily forms a cake of “bread” called pōl’-cum höt’-mil by the Yuki (Chesnut 1902).

Back home after collecting, I thoroughly washed the nuts, then let them them drip-dry a half hour (some were still damp when I put them in the oven). As per recommendation of a fellow flintknapper, Bill, a few weeks back as well as some of the above sites, I roasted my nuts in a convection (regular) oven at 450 degrees F, stirring every 3 or so minutes for a little over 20 mins total, until all the seed coats had cracked open, and the kernels changed from dull lime green to light greenish-brown or creamy brown.

Some were more well-roasted than others, but all of them were pretty good. They didn’t taste too much less bitter than the raw kernels, but I liked those pretty well too. I had to limit myself to only a few tonight since I didn’t want to be up late. I can’t wait to gorge myself on these in the morning and feel the stimulant effects!

I actually enjoy their peppery taste, and don’t expect wild plant foods to taste as bland as food you get in the grocery store. Aren’t things that are really good for you supposed to taste “bad” anyway, like brussel sprouts? A lot of people get turned off from wild foods when they find they taste surprisingly strongly of a flavor they’ve never tasted. But that’s actually one of my favorite things about foraging wild plants. Not to mention knowing those strong flavors are strong plant compounds that are bursting with vitality. Supermarket foods are as dull in taste as they are nutritionally void. I won’t go into the references but lots of studies show that wild plants have way more nutrition; macro and micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, active rna, etc. than what you find in grocery stores. In this respect, organic foods are not much better than conventional foods, and both are a chasm apart from wild foods! This holds for plant as well as animal foods.

UPDATE: After eating more of these and comparing the more to less roasted ones as well as getting feedback from another blogger (see his post http://paleotechnics.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/roasting-baynuts-in-a-popcorn-popper/), it became clear that lots of mine were not well enough roasted. They left a tingling, slight burning sensation in the back of my throat, compared to the well-cooked ones, which still had the same flavor, but without that lingering throat taste. My pictures show the kernels peeking through the seed coat crack that are still greenish and/or beige color… those are the unfinished ones. My main problem was not letting them dry first, or cook long enough. After putting the less cooked ones back in the oven for a few minutes again at 450, I got them all well done, and looking brown (see the above blog again for good pics of well-done nuts). Much better aftertaste for these now! They’re great with a little salt.

UPDATE 2: These are awesome if you grind them up (Emily, whose idea this was, used a blender) and make an infusion of (pour boiling water over) the powder! Smells and tastes like toasty cheerios, with a little bit of that zingy bay flavor. Since it has stimulant properties (though I haven’t felt much after several cups), this is a great coffee substitute!

UPDATE 3: BAY NUT COOKIES

For a recipe to make cookies out of bay nut flour and other CA native plants, acorns and manzanita berries, see my post “Winter Foraging”!

Umbellularia californica

California bay laurel fruits rotten on ground, but the nuts are still great to eat

Umbellularia californica

I collected this handful of California bay laurel nuts in about a minute

Image

Kernel of California bay laurel seed naturally splits in two

 

Umbellularia californica

Bowl of washed fresh California bay laurel nuts

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Washed fresh California bay laurel nuts ready to cook

Umbellularia californica

Cooked tray of California bay laurel nuts

Umbellularia californica

Close-up of bowl of cooked California bay laurel nuts

References:

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Peattie, D. C. 1950. A natural history of western trees. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston MA.

Link

Historical Human Footprint on Modern Tree Species Composition in the Purus-Madeira Interfluve, Central Amazonia

Just as has/is still being discovered in the US, recent research in the Amazon supports the idea that forests worldwide are the product of mutualist interactions with human inhabitants.

Burning, selective harvest, tillage, seed propagation, etc. were skillfully employed by ancient peoples to make their environment an “edible forest.”

Such cultures were the original affluent societies, working only a few hours per day to harvest the forest burgeoning with ultra-healthy wild foods and resources for tools, usually spending more of their time dancing than working (see Chagnon 1983 and Gowdy 1998).

These findings suggest the idea of “preserving” nature, or cordoning off huge tracts of forest to keep it “wild” is nonsensical, and perpetuates the harmful idea that humans are separate from nature. To restore these ecosystems and have humans and other creatures flourish together, we must rediscover ways of living with the forest, becoming the wise stewards our ancestors once were.

Quoting from the abstract (my italics):

“Background

Native Amazonian populations managed forest resources in numerous ways, often creating oligarchic forests dominated by useful trees. The scale and spatial distribution of forest modification beyond pre-Columbian settlements is still unknown, although recent studies propose that human impact away from rivers was minimal. We tested the hypothesis that past human management of the useful tree community decreases with distance from rivers.

Conclusions/Significance

These results strongly suggest that past forest manipulation was not limited to the pre-Columbian settlements along major rivers, but extended over interfluvial areas considered to be primary forest today. The sustainable use of Amazonian forests will be most effective if it considers the degree of past landscape domestication, as human-modified landscapes concentrate useful plants for human sustainable use and management today.”

A good post about this: http://anthropogen.com/2013/10/18/is-amazonian-tree-biodiversity-species-distribution-a-product-of-past-landscape-domestication/

References:

Chagnon, N. A. 1983. Yanomamo: the fierce people (3rd ed.). Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY.

Gowdy, J. M. 1998. Limited wants, unlimited means: a reader on hunter-gatherer economics and the environment. Island Press, Washington, DC.

B. astutus

At first I thought it was another raccoon… then a cat. But as I slowed to pass the crushed body alongside the Capitol of Texas 360 Highway, I realized it was something in between: a ringtail cat. It was the first I’d ever seen. It was dead; blood oozing from crushed eyes, guts splayed on the asphalt.

By now other drivers honked and cursed and glared through their glass domes since I’d slowed to near halt in the busy traffic. I glanced around for pigs, and seeing none, I pulled over into the gravelly shoulder with my flashers on and ratched up my e-brake. For show I propped open my hood then set out back down the median amid knee-high bobbing flowerheads of indian blankets and mexican hats towards the mangled corpse.

My heart sank as my gullet flamed in stifled rage. Sure enough it was a ringtail cat. Sick bastard probably had to swerve to hit it there. Shaky, I knelt, tears welling despite awareness of my spectacle. It needs a proper burial I thought and started back to my car for a plastic grocery bag.

I looked to my right across the street into the thick forest from whence it must’ve crossed, cursing its stupid carelessness while simultaneously regretting the curse. I imagined its mate and brethren looking back from the forest’s edge at that spot. But this vision was real. I halted in vertigo and stared back, finally moving my head and eyes slightly side to side to look at them with my peripheral vision, as if it were night and I couldn’t make out my center view as well. They turned and tucked singlefile under the barbed wire, disappearing into the underbrush.

I nearly ran into traffic then thought of the 17 year old boy from my highschool killed near this same spot a few years back chasing his basketball unthinking into the street, a scene I always associated with a watermelon dropped onto pavement. After that they closed the de facto trailhead to a popular swimming hole here. I waved frantically, instinctively gesticulating my loss of some object from my car on the other side that I was trying to retrieve.

Finally cars slowed enough to let me sprint across towards where the ringtails ducked under. The brush was too thick for me there so I hopped the fence a few yards down and thrashed towards their path. This is crazy, people saw me, even if I did see that they’re long gone now I thought.

Still I kept scrambling low under the snapping dead juniper branches and hit a deer trail. Too dry for tracks. I followed it anyway, already envisioning pigs dismayfully sauntering about my car. Doubtfully I pressed on down the widening path as the junipers made way for live oaks.

Then I came upon an Oak Lord I knew, as always pausing to look upon its magnificence. And there they were. In the canopy, together, as if in conference, looking down upon me.

ringtail looks down

Two burst off in opposite directions, nimbly scampering through the treetips, then gone. The last warily climbed down and when it hopped to the ground it glanced in my eyes, then continued down the same deer trail at a gallop.

Wait, I breathed. Hands and knees I scampered after it through the low brush, just glimpsing the swish of its fine brush. The forest soon opened up into a small grotto with smooth-trunked sycamores and little black walnut treelets wading on thin sandbars amid limestone flags awash with clear springwater. On the other side was an overhang where under thick moss mats and dripping maidenhair boughs glassy black eyes just barely shone.

I crossed the waters with the ninja stealth of a juvenile delinquent with creaky floors in his parents house. It watched. As I neared, it silently turned into the blackness with that provocative tail swish. I pulled out my lighter and flicked it on. There was only one place it could’ve gone; a small hole at the far end of the overhang, where chalky dust caking the floor teemed with various tracks, including fresh ringtail tracks marching straight into the hole.

Even if I could fit through there its gonna bite me when I do I thought. Or something will. Cautiously I brought the flame closer while inspecting the darkness. It went deep, maybe even opened up back there. Thousands of harvestmen pulsed as one above me. It’s spring; it must have come back here worried about its kits or whatever you call baby ringtail cats.

Ringtail cat kit
Ringtail cat kit

I found myself seemingly pulled magnetically into the earth, only realizing my depth when almost fully swallowed. Claustrophobia gripped my heart and throat with cold panic. My head bashed against the hard, cold, wet rock and clay roof. My body length was fully enclosed in the narrow cold stone artery. I was afraid and urged to run but a faint chittering beckoned me irresistibly. My hands pulled me forward, arms straight out, feet and toes pushing.

Then the chamber suddenly widened and I pulled into a small domed room. There was no ringtail cat, or kits, or exit. Some dead juniper branches lay against one wall. Ringtail tracks and sign of other animals were everywhere. Surely somewhere is its flush hole or something, these caves don’t end like this I thought. I frantically scoured the walls, black dread gripping me anew.

Someone has graffitied even here I noticed. But the markings were in no script nor stylistic scribbling recognizable to my eye. Nor were they like those red ochre rock pictographs. Someone had faintly scratched symbols or perhaps diagrams into the soft wet limestone. They appeared fresh.

I stepped back and tried to make sense of the scene, flame flickering the roughness shadows as I traced it along the walls in a search pattern. It was a mural of sorts. A large circle about four feet diameter spanning the dome was punctuated with three smaller circles each about one foot diameter, which if connected with lines would form a triangle. Inside each of these smaller circles were a similar crude drawing of a man and woman. In one, the couple were inside a square, and the line forming the side of the square below their feet extended outward to connect with the edge of the circle. The next circle was the same, except the side of the square above their heads was missing. In the final (or first depending how you saw it) circle, the figures were surrounded by myriad fractal designs.

I stayed there until I had absorbed the design, then caterpillared my way out, barely squeezing through the narrow exit. I retraced my steps, returned to my car, got the plastic bag, and picked up the dead ringtail, I’m sure to the horror of passers-by. I took it to the Oak Lord, and buried it (without the plastic bag) at her feet, covering its grave with a choice limestone flag, whereupon I burned some dead leaves, inhaling it with the trees. Then I left, returned to my car, and drove off.

Ringtail

http://www.arkive.org/ringtail/bassariscus-astutus/

http://www.wtamu.edu/~rmatlack/Mammalogy/Species_accounts_2003/Bassariscus_astutus_account.htm

Native American Dogs

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Belgian Shepherd looking glorious climbing a California bay laurel tree in Wildcat Canyon of the East Bay Hills.

Dog – Canis lupus familiaris

The oldest known records of dogs in the Americas are from over 13,000 years ago in Hell Gap, Colorado, and Agate Basin, Wyoming (Snyder and Leonard 2011). Dogs were used by American Indians for pulling sleds, pulling travois, carrying packs, assisting in hunting, for eating, ritual sacrifice, and for weaving their fur into high-quality blankets (Snyder and Leonard 2011). Dogs were also appreciated by the Indians as companions and sentries. Many dogs have been found buried at archeological sites just as dead humans were buried, sometimes even with offerings (Snyder and Leonard 2011).

American Indians had large, strong, wolf-like dogs, who howled rather than barked (Snyder and Leonard 2011). Genetic analyses suggest there were multiple independent origins of dogs from wolves, and it is likely that back-crossing with wolves, coyotes, and even foxes occurred (Snyder and Leonard 2011). Whether this genetic introgression occurred via intentional breeding, by “accident,” or feralization is unknown (Snyder and Leonard 2011).

Some of the earliest archeological evidence of domesticated dogs being used for a particular purpose is pulling sleds over ice and snow in Siberia and Alaska (Snyder and Leonard 2011). In, fact, dogs probably pulled the sleds that carried the very first humans to populate the Americas! Good doggies! Ten to twenty thousand of their descendents were mercilessly slaughtered as policy by the Canadian police in the mid-1900’s (http://fortheloveofthedogblog.com/news-updates/the-inuit-sled-dog-killings).

An Inuit seal hunter, wife, and dog team cross sea ice in Nanavut, Canada.

Dogs were used to carry packs extensively in the Western Arctic, and were a important fixture of the bison hunting Plains Indians societies, where they pulled travois, especially when moving camps (Snyder and Leonard 2011). Such dogs could pack loads of 40 to 45 pounds and pull loads up to 75 to 100 pounds (Snyder and Leonard 2011). They often carried firewood, meat, tents, and other supplies (Snyder and Leonard 2011).

neps pack2

Belgian Malinois magnanimously carrying backpack full of quartz crystals near Inyo National Forest, CA.

Not all dogs would suffer a load, being too defiant, young, or small, and these “freeloaders” would often gleefully harass the burdened dogs en route (Catlin 1973:43-44). A village of 500 teepees might have several thousand dogs carrying loads, in addition to over a thousand horses (Catlin 1973:43-44). Their travois (simple drag-sleds) were made from two poles about 15 feet long with the thinner ends secured to the dogs’ shoulders and the butts of the poles dragging on the ground (Catlin 1973:43-44). A short bracing pole was tied to both long poles just behind the dog, and a bundle or wallet was secured to these poles behind the dog (Catlin 1973:43-44).

These poles were almost certainly from the lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) that grew in the nearby Rocky Mountains. Such pines supplied the poles for the lodges and teepees of many Plains and Rocky Mountain Indians. Poles were cut from trunks in the winter or early spring while the sap was down, their bark removed, and left to weather until fall, when they were collected for use (Peattie 1950). Such poles were preferred since they were very light, of nearly uniform diameter throughout their length, and extremely hard, stiff, and nearly impossible to split (Peattie 1950). Plains Indians would not use cottonwood or willow, instead they traveled all the way to the Rockies or bartered with Rockies tribes for these poles (Peattie 1950).

Painting of Sioux Indians moving camp, drawn first-hand by George Catlin in the 1830’s (Catlin 1973:Plate 21).

The accounts of Plains Indians’ relationships with dogs came after the introduction of the horse plus the fur and hide trade. Dogs may have been much more important before horses were available. In the later years of the Plains Indians, dogs were reduced to being an emergency food source, no longer being esteemed highly enough to feed and maintain (Snyder and Leonard 2011). Among the Plains indians, women were the chief companions of dogs, using them to gather firewood and other materials, and leading the burdened dogs when moving camp (Snyder and Leonard 2011).

On our recent backpacking adventure at Cache Creek BLM wilderness in CA, Emily’s dog Neptune cheerfully bore our heaviest load: water. That pack must’ve weighed over 40 lbs… what a hoss!

Dogs were used in hunting throughout the Americas, especially in forested areas (Snyder and Leonard 2011). They were not used much for hunting in the Plains (Snyder and Leonard 2011), but they may have been used more there before the introduction of the horse. Eskimos trained their dogs to find seal breathing holes (Snyder and Leonard 2011). Subarctic Indians had dogs assist in hunting bears, beavers, and even musk-ox and polar bears (Snyder and Leonard 2011). The latter two were highly dangerous, and dogs chased and brought them to bay for the Indians to kill (Snyder and Leonard 2011). In heavily wooded areas, dogs were used routinely to hunt turkey, deer, and squirrels (Snyder and Leonard 2011).

Neptorian digging for ground squirrels.

In some areas, dogs (such as the Mexican Hairless) were raised specifically for eating, while in other areas dogs were only eaten as part of certain ritual feasts (Snyder and Leonard 2011). In some areas of the American northwest, dogs were bred for long thick coats that Indians sheared, spun into yarn, and wove into blankets of high status and value (Snyder and Leonard 2011).

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The fur of my dog Kitsune would make for a good blanket. But she’s a terrible pack dog now that she’s learned how to throw her backpack off by running, then suddenly stopping with her head ducked and front legs out front, like the “down dog” stretch pose… that cunning, load-shirking bitch.

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Kitsu in Yosemite after swimming in the chilly waters

No other species has lived alongside humans for as long as the dog, since cats were first domesticated (or more accurately, domesticated themselves) at most ten thousand years ago, when people began to store large amounts of grains that attracted abundant rodent prey of cats. It’s no wonder so many people instinctively feel a kinship and understanding of dogs. Their social structure and hunting methods are very close to humans, making them perfectly suited for companions and assistants. Dogs are the only other species (I know of) besides humans that exhibit cursorial hunting; running after prey for as long as it takes, and finally catching their exhausted quarry since we both have such incredible long distance endurance. The !Kung bushmen in Africa still run down gazelles in this manner that is also displayed in many nature documentaries showing wolves hunt.

So If you’ve got a dog, please use any knowledge I may have given here to reinvigorate the human-dog bond; go running for hours, get it a backpack and have it haul water. Try to understand what makes your dog happy, and it just might infect you!

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Kitsu chasing mirages in Death Valley, CA.

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Kitsu confused by mirages again in the Great Salt Lake, UT.

References:

Catlin, G. 1973. Letters and notes on the manners, customs, and conditions of North American Indians. Dover Publications, Inc. New York, NY.

Peattie, D. C. 1950. A natural history of western trees. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston MA.

Snyder, L. M., and J. A. Leonard. The diversity and origin of American dogs. Ch. 21 In B. D. Smith (Ed.). 2011. The subsistence economies of indigenous North American societies: a handbook. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, Washington, D.C.