Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Different Perspective

EVERYONE'S heard of watching the clouds, lying on the ground on your back. But it's really amazing what other things you can observe from this prone position. We, who are so used to rushing around on our feet can learn so much from stopping to view life from a different perspective. Emma and I watched leaves float down and the little 'helicopter' seeds whirl right on top of us. Bird silhouettes, when viewed against a bright sky; or underside colours when the lighting allowed. Insects; an enormous butterfly, its wings outspread. And not just things to see. The fresh, earthy smell of grass and faint distinctive scent from mown wild onions. Bird calls, insect chirps and rustling leaves. Pine needles tickling your neck. Astute observations: "That's funny! The wind is blowing my face and the trees but not blowing the clouds."

Then, just when it's getting a little too ethereal, you're reeled back to earth by a grinning toddler dropping his dead weight on your unsuspecting midsection and a slobbery dog trying to give you the kiss of life. All in an afternoon's play.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nature's Playground

After The Rain

Commitment Phobic Weather

THERE'S no greater justification for dressing in layers than weather that just cannot make up its mind! By mid October it was getting consistently chilly enough to switch out summer for winter wardrobes, especially when we had our first night frosts. Definitely coats, hats and gloves in the morning, but now it's warming up to summer temperatures by the afternoon.

It's been so wet and warm, the bale of straw Emma uses to swing from is sprouting! On this particular afternoon, it got super hot and after some heavy gardening and a game of chase, there was nothing for it but to strip off. Weather forecasts call for a cold and wet winter, so we're making the most of this sun!

Roots, Fruits & Leaves

WE'RE deep into an Autumn bounty that spans the gamut from fruits to seeds to leaves to roots, including some late summer crops. In recent weeks we've brought home from the farmers' market: sweet potatoes, apples, turnips, all manner of greens and herbs, beans, field peas, pecans, aubergine, peppers, muscadines, squashes, kohl rabi, pumpkins and more.

Butternut squash soup, wild rice pilaf, Asian garlic greens, sweet potato-lentil casserole, kale and sausage stew, kasha-aubergine patties... aah delicious. We have a new family favourite: roasted apples and sweet potatoes with maple glaze, served with a salad of fresh greens, dried cranberries, chili-toasted pecans and goat cheese with a lime-yoghurt dressing. YUM!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lost in the Flood

NOW that the summer heat is gone, it was time to go back to "our swamp" and see what it looked like. (The humidity and many many spider webs make this an unappealing walk with two little children in the summer.)

We were not prepared for the changes that had taken place since we were last there in May or so. The recent flooding had completely washed out the overgrown path, bathed whole areas in sand and cast branches and other debris into giant beaver dams in random places. We first talked about coming back at the weekend with Papa and some tools to try to restore the path, but then I realised this might be too grand a project for one little family. In the time we were there, we were on a vague path perhaps ten percent of the time. The rest of the time we were hacking through undergrowth, wishing for a machete and hoping we were going in the right general direction. It is a quite surreal feeling to be somewhere you know really well but not recognise anything, not to mention the feeling of awe at the power of water.

There was a silver lining in the cloud of foliage: in an area usually undisturbed by humans, a box turtle sat beneath a tree. Box turtles are the original omnivore: they eat almost any insect, virtually any fruit or berry, mushrooms, a variety of vegetable matter, and even carrion. They must be doing something right, as this diet keeps them alive and kicking on average 25-30 years.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Simpler Times: Making Butter

WE haven't had raw milk for a while, so when we got some this week it seemed to be a good opportunity to make butter. First we had to pour the milk into a wide-mouthed container and let the cream settle. Then we skimmed off the cream and put it in a jar with a lid. Next came the fun part: shake, shake, shake then shake some more. Gradually the butter began to form as a yellow chunk, the buttermilk separating out. After rinsing the butter in cold water, it was ready to be eaten. Hmm, needed a little salt for my taste, but otherwise quite delicious, especially with homemade apple butter.

Next time I'll figure out something inventive to do with the buttermilk, and I've heard that a marble in the jar makes the churning go faster.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Splatter Painting Leaves

AFTER looking for leaves shaped liked stars and hands in nature class last week, we continued our study of leaf shapes in our own back garden. Autumn is so often about the colour of leaves, but having them all around on the ground is such a great opportunity to look at their other attributes! We found leaves with fingers, with noses, with teeth, with holes. Even to me it was quite a revelation to ignore the colours and look at other things. Of course, most leaves were from trees in our own garden, but we found a stray tulip tree leaf and couldn't even identify the source in neighbouring properties. I said it must have floated a long way on a breeze, and Emma contemplated: "Perhaps it heard we were having a Michaelmas Celebration and wanted to come to the party." Perhaps indeed.

With our leaf collection we preserved the shapes by splatter painting all around the edges with old toothbrushes. It took a few tries to get the paint consistency right, but they turned out quite pretty. We'll do some more for our nature table, I think.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Michaelmas Celebration

THE feast of St. Michael celebrates the bravery of the Archangel Michael, who cast out the dragon and delivered the people from darkness. Falling on September 29 near the equinox, the festival is also associated with the beginning of Autumn.

We were honored to host our Waldorf group for this celebration - and what an enjoyable occasion it was! After a circle of seasonal songs and verses, the dragon was released and chased all the children. One by one each child received a golden cape of courage - a silk that the children themselves dyed with turmeric and carrot tops at our last play group. How lovely to see them all running around, climbing trees and swinging, their golden capes flowing in the wind.

Then the children took part in a nature treasure hunt, using images on the Knight's Shield as clues. Their treasures all found, they could then seek green glass dragon tears, hidden throughout the garden.

Finally we gathered for a feast including warming soup, pumpkin bread and cupcakes, toffee apples and two magnificent dragon breads. It was indeed a celebration worthy of a great knight. Thank you to all the families who contributed!