Alpine Lady

Honoring the natural world through prose, poetry, music, sounds, photographs and musings.


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Pleurotus djamor, the Love Mushroom

This summer’s warm and gusty breezes shook loose the detritus languishing in the rose bushes, bordering fields, and hedgerow trees. It lifted the fluffy seeds of oyster plants, Canadian thistles and dandelions, strewing them along with red rose petals, tan-colored twigs, and bits of dried fern fronds onto the dry, brittle grasses of my pathway. The grasses were now worn short by daily foot traffic to and from the ramshackle enclosure currently housing the vermiculture compost, lettuce pots and mushroom bin where I had come to do early afternoon chores. After depositing the kitchen compostables into the worm bin, I turned the mixture of rotting debris and slithering red wiggler worms with the spading fork, being careful to avoid jarring the little Pacific chorus treefrog that lived in one corner of the bin. Then I watered the lettuce pots. The lettuce growing in these pots had been resurrected from summer’s heat by planting in pure worm compost and became sweet and tasty with no hint of bitterness. I picked the largest leaves for a dinner salad before turning my attention to the mushrooms.

The enclosure where the mushrooms, lettuce ad worms live. Also known as my potting are.

The enclosure where the mushrooms, lettuce ad worms live. Also known as my potting area.

This was my second visit of the day to the enclosure. Already I had opened the mushroom bin a crack to allow some fresh air to flow over the spawn-strewn sacks that were beginning to set a second flush of pink oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus djamor. By now the spray bottle of water I’d positioned in the sun had warmed sufficiently to mist the emerging clusters or primordia which were maturing into the fruiting body of the love mushroom. The passionately pink mushrooms grow quickly at this stage and I’ve found paying fairly close attention to their needs as they emerge will mean greater survival rates.

Pleurotus djamor primordia beginning to emerge.

Pleurotus djamor primordia beginning to emerge.

Growing the salmon-colored oyster mushrooms was a new experience for us. We’ve grown the blue and white cap oyster mushrooms before which are classed as chriophilic, preferring cooler growing conditions. Michael and I attended classes in early spring a few years ago with Lowell Dietz, a local grower. He showed us how to seed the spawn, sterilize the straw, and strew the spawn throughout the straw before packing it into large, clear plastic bags and poking holes through the plastic with a sterilized screwdriver. It was through these small holes that the mushrooms would emerge.

Packing blue cap oysters (Pleurotus columbinus) spawn-strewn straw into clear plastic bags.

Packing blue cap oysters (Pleurotus columbinus) spawn-strewn straw into clear plastic bags.

The excitement of daily watching the fine white lines of the blue and white cap hyphae emerging from the mycelium spread out and grow through the golden straw, before finally begin exiting one of the holes and form into an edible-sized fruiting body, was quite the journey of wonder and discovery for us.

Blue cap oysters grown in the spring season.

Blue cap oysters grown in the spring season.

Although meatier and tougher in texture than most mushroom varieties, chriophilic oysters have a pleasant flavor which we enjoyed. Sauteed with garlic and onions in either butter or olive oil to which a dollop of pesto has been added, they gave texture and richness to our morning omelets. They are also awesomely tasty on pizzas. I like to cook them with onions and garlic slices before adding them to the pizza topping.

Gills of blue cap are decurrent. They descend down the stem

Gills of blue cap are decurrent. They descend down the stem

The oysters, diced and tossed into soups and stews, impart their inherent protein, vitamins, fiber, and minerals. One of the substances found in them is germanium which helps enhance the oxygen efficiency of the body. Oyster mushrooms, including the pinks, can aid in the removal of artery plaque, activate the immune system, produce enzymes, can assist in the treatment of cancer, and are considered anti-bacterial. They help combat anemia, high blood pressure, and aid in relieving constipation among other medicinal capabilities.

Blue cap oysters saute in coconut oil.

Blue cap oysters saute in coconut oil and butter.

The stunning pink coloration on the pink oyster mushrooms has captivated mushroom lovers for centuries. Native to the tropics, they are considered thermo-tolerant preferring a warmer climate, and aggressively thrive with minimal care at higher humidities as would be found around the equator. They are a mushroom known for having multiple uses. Besides producing nutrition-packed edible fruiting bodies, and because they are a rapid grower, they have caught the attention of those doing environmental bioremediation work with toxic spills since they contain enzymes that break down hydrocarbons. The expired substrate, in our case the straw, also makes good cattle feed.

Sexy pink oyster mushrooms growing in straw-packed bags.

Immature pink oyster mushrooms growing in straw-packed bags.

It was by happenstance that Michael and I got into growing the pink oysters. After the Sequim Lavender Festival in mid-July, Lowell Dietz had extra spawn-strewn sacks available on special so Michael and I decided to try our hand at growing two sacks of pink oysters. All we had to do was place them in a warm, stable environment, and make sure they didn’t get too hot or dry out.

Lowell Dietz with customer amid the pink oysters in his mushroom-growing room.

Lowell Dietz with customer amid the pink oysters in his mushroom-growing room.

Within a matter of days, we watched the pink primordia form and bulge out the plastic. Pink mushroom ears poked their way out through the holes punched into the bags and within a short time we harvested the first flush. A few days later, they had stopped producing and we set the bags aside to rest. Rather than having them remain indoors taking up space in our workshop, we placed them inside a large gray plastic storage bin in the outside enclosure housing my worms and pots of lettuce. Here they would be safe from marauding raccoons.

Mature pink oyster mushrooms ready to be plucked off the bag.

Mature pink oyster mushrooms ready to be plucked off the bag.

The pinks rested for about a month in the bin and I was careful to give light spritzes of water every few days judging by the water droplets inside the bag if they were too dry or too moist. One morning, I got the distinct impression they didn’t like the cool water I had been using and to let the water warm up first. After all, they were tropical in origin. Another impression I got was that they liked growing in the filtered light and fresh air I was giving them as would be found in the tropics. They didn’t like it too hot nor too bright. This I easily accomplished by adjusting the lid of the bin so there was no direct sunlight or wind affecting their growth.

Within days  after the warm spritzes began, primordia appeared  I adjusted the positions of the bags and bin lid so the primordia got exposed to some fresh air and shade each day.The lid was never closed tightly but kept slightly ajar even at night. They rapidly grew and it wasn’t long before I was picking off light pink to flamingo pink mushroom clusters.

Large storage bin in which the pink oysters were grown in late summer's heat.

Large storage bin in which the pink oysters were grown in the heat of late summer.

I’ve developed a rapport with the vermiculture compost, sensing when to turn the compost to adjust the temperature and to make sure the worms get evenly distributed and exposed to new feeds. I have grown accustomed to adjusting their diet of fats when the weather started to cool or become particularly wet, at times adding sweet foods in the form of fruit skins just before they started into their active reproductive stage, adding extra soil or coconut coir to soak up excess moisture, and shredding greenery, etc. when it seemed appropriate. I’ve been doing this for many years and sometimes, it make rational sense and other times I just go ahead with my  gut instinct. One of the reasons I’m careful, is that if the conditions are not prime, the earthworms will migrate out of the bin especially if the weather is wet and they feel they can slither to richer hunting grounds. You truly want to encourage optimum growing conditions within your container. The pay off has been a rich, composted soil and prolific, well-fed worms, and this summer a happy-to-hang-around Pacific treefrog mascot. Of course, sometimes I misjudge and realize that I have more to learn.

I’m sensing I could develop a similar rapport with my mushroom growing adventure but I’m not sure I want to grow them again in this manner. We have talked, though, about strewing spawn in sawdust and seeing how that venture works.

Gills on the underside of pink oyster mushrooms. Their spore print is a lovely, creamy peach.

Gills on the underside of pink oyster mushrooms. Their spore print is a lovely, creamy peach.

Watching all the mushrooms grow has made me stop and ponder about how regular earthworms tunnel, enhancing the oxygen capacity and aeration of the soils, leaving behind, literally, highly nutritious soil amendments throughout the garden which they’ve extracted from the particles they’ve ingested. Mushroom mycelia and hyphae perform a similar task of ferrying nutrients and water throughout the substrate they live within and besides ferrying the worms’ soil enhancements, some actually utilize the tunneling system established by the earthworms. I find this all fascinating and am eagerly researching any similarity between the moon’s affect on both worm and mushroom activity.

What I find difficult about the Pleurotus djamor is defining its aromatics and flavor. Sometimes the sexy pink mushroom smells like the aroma you’d experience stepping into a seafood market making me wonder if  Pleurotus puta would have been a better nomenclature. At other times, the mushroom smells smoky with hints of bacon. Its flavor is similar, sometimes fishy and other times smoky. Even though it has thin flesh, it is meatier and tougher than you’d expect so cooking time must be allotted to allow for it becoming tender.

Pink oyster with caps rolled out and almost straightened upward, ready to harvest.

Pink oyster with caps rolled out and almost straightened upward, ready to harvest.

In addition to enjoying them with eggs, I also like to make a smoked salmon chowder, capitalizing on the the mushroom’s inherent smoky aroma and seafood flavor. First off, to diced celery, carrots, onions, and yellow summer squash, I add fresh basil, tarragon and thyme, parsley, a couple of freshly expressed garlic cloves, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. This mixture is sauteed briefly in coconut oil in a large iron dutch oven before I use a scissors to finely cut thin slices of mushroom, adding them to absorb the flavorful mixture of veggies and herbs. You might want to cut out the meaty mushroom stipe or attachment bulge first as it is often very tough and chewy.  Add some tomato sauce or salsa, shredded smoked salmon and enough water to cover. Cook until veggies and mushrooms are the consistency you prefer, adding more water or rice milk to your liking. Adjust the seasonings and serve over freshly-steamed rice to which garlic, parsley and butter have been added.

Our favorite way to enjoy the oyster and shiitake mushrooms, finding it particularly tasty with the pink oysters, is to braise them with a pig’s heart in coconut oil. I have a special one quart cast iron pot that is the perfect size for braising small organ meats such as chicken hearts and livers as well as pig hearts. After sauteing together garlic, onions and thinly sliced oyster mushrooms, I remove the veggies and brown the heart.

Garlic, onions, herbs, and finely sliced pink oysters ready to be sauteed in coconut oil.

Garlic, onions, herbs, and finely sliced pink oysters ready to be sauteed in coconut oil.

When it is sufficiently browned on all sides, I return the veggie mixture, add salt and pepper, dried basil, a twig of fresh thyme, tarragon and rosemary. Then I cover and braise until tender. Rarely do I remove it from the braising pan but we enjoy cutting off bits, dipping them into the surrounding warm and thick aujus, and snacking until it’s all eaten. Finger lickin’ good is a description that comes to mind.

Like I’ve already mentioned, whether we’d grow pinks or any mushrooms again is a matter of conjecture. It was by fluke we got into the adventure with the pinks, and truly, we enjoy scouting out wild mushrooms more than growing them. Traipsing along in the outdoors, following feelings of instinctual discovery is more appealing to the both of us. However, I’d certainly recommend for a beginning grower to try your hand at growing the love mushroom and see how your relationship develops with this hot pink beauty.

My offering to the fae for the opportunity to grow Pleurotus djamor.

My offering to the fae for the opportunity to grow Pleurotus djamor.

Until next time and our next journey, take care and safe travels. ~P

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Musings with Hawthorn Berry, from Blossom to Brew

Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglassi) Flowers

Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglassi) blossom clusters

The Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) or western thorn apple is a Pacific northwest native tree that as a child growing up in northern Idaho I stayed away from because of its thorny branches and it being host in late summer to the small, but prolific and slimy larval stage of the sawfly. Known as the pear slug, the sawfly larvae felt and moved over the foliage much like miniature slugs, all the while skeletonizing the leaves of hawthorn and pear trees. Since I spent a great deal of time in the lowland fields and orchards on my childhood turf, I was well-acquainted with the sharp thorns and “slimy slugs” as I crawled and scrambled about. However, I loved the hawthorn blossoming time coming in mid-May and the abundant bee populations that buzzed about pollinating its flower clusters. Little did I know at the time the sawfly is a small, stingless wasp that helps to pollinate its musky-smelling blossoms. 

Hawthorn with its flowers, leaves and haws is one of the most important medicinal plants in our herbal apothecary. Beginning with its verdant, tender leaves unfurling in the spring when I like to gather them for a lemony-like green tea or as a salad green, and then into the blossoming stage when the flower clusters are collected for teas and tinctures and on to harvesting of the hawthorn haws or berries for tinctures, and infused honeys, shrubs and tonic syrups, the hawthorn provides a cornucopia of health. Some herbalists and aficionados also collect twigs, thorns and bark, adding them to their preparations. Hawthorn has a myriad of healing capabilities but perhaps is best known in the western herbal tradition for its use as a slow and gentle-acting heart tonic. Quoting herbalist Michael Moore, from his book “Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West” (1993), …”In recent years, the berries have been used increasingly in syrup or tea for strengthening connective tissue that has been weakened by excessive inflammation (because hawthorn contains a ) high level of flavonoids particularly in the darker-colored species…”

Haws or Black Hawthorn Berries

Haws or black hawthorn berries

On the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, there are two species of hawthorn which we use medicinally: the common hawthorn aka red hawthorn or one-seeded hawthorn (C. monogyna), a species native to Europe which often naturalizes. The other is the black hawthorn, (C. douglasii) a native North American species with which we are more acquainted and thus favor its haws for their familiar flavor even though they contain more seeds than the red, one-seeded common hawthorn. Fortunately on the Peninsula, neither host the pear slug although both have wicked thorns which sometimes make harvesting a mindful challenge. 

Our closest wild hawthorn tree grows in a hedgerow that borders a nearby field. Hedgerows are dynamic communities providing food and homes to an abundance of wildlife including birds, small rodents, feral cats, snakes, insects of all manner and those drawn to feast on the animals, insects, and plants that live there such as hawks who sit in the upper branches of the hawthorn and coyotes that scout the holes and tunnels along the borders. One day I did a count of plant species in the quarter mile of hedgerow and came up with over sixty! Many of these species have medicinal qualities and can be considered forage foods as well, among them chickweed and stinging nettles, blackberry and blue elderberry.

Common or One-seeded Hawthorn Tree

Common or one-seeded hawthorn tree

Within that hedgerow grows a red or one-seeded common hawthorn, about twenty-five feet tall. One mid-May day when it was in full blossom, I stopped and stuck my head into the tree’s interior and was transfixed by the sound of buzzing insects, such aliveness and vitality I had never felt so viscerally before, truly taking me into a space I struggled to return from. Throughout the summer, this tree holds its branches wide for robins and spotted towhee families who dash in and out from hidden nests; it provides roosting spots for flickers, chickadees, American gold finches and even hummingbirds who warm themselves out of their stupors in the early morning sun. Later this fall or early next spring, it will play host to flocks of cedar wax-wings who along with the robins, eat the ripened red haws scattering abundant waste on the ground for mice, quail and chipmunks.

Already this year it’s provided us with tender green leaves and abundant flower clusters for medicinal teas. In a few more weeks as we stroll the adjacent lane, we’ll eat its red berries out of hand; however we’ll travel to another lowland spot where several C. douglassi already bearing richly-colored ripe pomes grow, as we prefer the black hawthorn berries for preserving as food and medicine. Spring leaves and flower clusters from either red or black species are used medicinally.

I treasure hawthorn as a lovely connection to the spring season, a tonic for the heart, an aid to strengthening connective tissues, and as an herb steeped in magic. We’ll consider the magical aspects in the next musing of Alpine Lady.

Join me now in making:

 Hawthorn Berry Tonic Syrup

Making the syrup requires patience and attention much like the picking of its fruit. Mindful harvesting and mindful medicine-making are inherent in honoring the weaving of its magical qualities, its medicinal virtues.

This recipe has been inspired by Dr. John Christopher’s original “Hawthorn Berry Heart Syrup” and Gail Faith Edwards’ s “Hawthorn Berry Syrup.” I, being a recipe tweaker and intuitional cook, have added a few variables for personal taste which will not reduce the effectiveness of their recipes.

Black hawthorn berries or haws

Black hawthorn berries or haws

For this recipe, I gathered two quarts of fresh black hawthorn (Crataegus douglassi) haws or berries, the apple-like pomes that mature in late summer. The common or red hawthorn fruit also makes excellent syrup although as stated previously, we’re more familiar with the flavor of the black. After harvesting, I like to leave the berries outside overnight in shallow boxes to let the spiders and other critters find new homes. Rolling the haws over a towel or blanket removes loose debris. Since these berries had recently been thoroughly drenched with rain water, I didn’t wash but if dusty it’s a prudent step.

Ingredients:

Fresh, frozen or dried hawthorn berries

Filtered water

Organic honey

Everclear grain alcohol or similar spirit

Celtic salt

Berries slowly simmering

Berries slowly simmering

Use a pot large enough to hold your berries with additional head space of two or more inches. Cover your harvested berries with at least an inch of filtered water, place a cover on the pot and slowly bring to a low simmer. (DO NOT BOIL!) Simmer continuously for 20 minutes. Remove and set hot mixture aside for at least 20 minutes if not longer.

Mashing the berries

Mashing the berries

Strain off the liquid infusion and return berries to pot. Mash them thoroughly and cover over with another inch of fresh, filtered water. Repeat the simmering process making sure you don’t boil the berries for the boiling process removes some medicinal qualities. Strain thoroughly, pressing with the back of a big spoon to maximize the amount of infusion recovered.

Add the two strained liquids together and carefully measure and record before putting infusion into a stainless steel pot. I’m sure this process could all be done in a crock pot and hopefully will do so with the next batch.

Beginning the final simmering or rendering process

Beginning the final simmering or rendering process

Now the real time-consuming part: “A watched pot never boils!” and “Patience is a virtue” are sayings that will become quite evident as you finish up which only adds to the quality and flavor of your healthy, tonic syrup.

Slowly simmer the hawthorn infusion down to approximately 1/3 (one-third) of its original volume. I started out with close to 10 cups of infusion and after about four hours, it had reduced to 3 1/4 cups. By then it was a nice rich, deep purple decoction. To this I added 1/3 of the remaining liquid as an equal amount of mild-tasting honey which amounted to approximately 1 cup of honey. I also added a pinch of Celtic salt, a lesson from my mother in how to bring out additional flavors in such recipes.

Decoction, grain alcohol, honey and Celtic salt

Decoction, grain alcohol, honey and Celtic salt

When the infusion, salt and honey have been thoroughly mixed together, I added 1/6 of the original rendered decoction as Everclear grain alcohol or approximately 4 oz or (1/2 cup). I ended up with 36 ounces of finished product which we poured into amber round medicine bottles. We keep a four-ounce bottle handy and the rest is tucked away in a deep corner of the refrigerator among the refrigerator pickles and infused oils. Usually Michael steers away from sweet syrups but this one spoke to him on first taste and has become part of his morning routine. Dosage is 1-2 teaspoons per day.

Black hawthorn berry tonic syrup

Black hawthorn berry tonic syrup

Until next journey, stay healthy! Thank you, Michael, for your patience.


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The Virtue of Spring Nettles as Food

With the coming of spring, nettles takes its place as our dominant foraging food. Full of vitamins and minerals, it is an excellent revitalizing tonic with many beneficial uses for both men and women: boosting energy levels, replenishing minerals, reducing allergy symptoms, assisting adrenal, kidney and lung function, relieving gouty symptoms, tonifying arteries, nourishing hair and skin plus a host of other actions.

According to herbalist Ryan Drum, “Young nettles are especially rich in proteins, minerals and secondary metabolites, and, ‘free amino acids’. These are uncommitted amino acids in nettle sap, waiting for anticipated rapid growth in response to either temperature or sunshine sudden increases. When we consume fresh live (or barely steamed, 5-7 minutes) nettles we get those amino acids for our own protein repairs and replacement. Eat young nettles to enhance post-traumatic healing from wounds, auto collisions, surgery, and radiation treatments.”

Freshly emerging nettles

Freshly emerging nettles

We’re fortunate to live in an area where they grow profusely and as soon as we’ve noticed their purple-tinged leaves pushing aside the debris, exposing a few inches to the elements, I’m donning long-sleeves and leather gloves to harvest their tender stalks. A quick snap of the wrist usually suffices to break off the stalk in the tender, young plants. Sometimes the rhizome (root) comes up which I usually break off and bury back in the duff unless collecting the roots for medicine. I place the harvested stalks on their sides in a carrying bag; and if I collect into a plastic bag, I can store my bounty in the refrigerator right from the field.

Although a few caterpillars thrive on nettles this early in the spring, it’s an easy plant to clean. Ours usually only require a few shakes to remove a few of last year’s fibers, stray grasses or bits of dust and debris. If I use them right after harvesting, I will wear a pair of kitchen rubber gloves to grasp the stalk while I slice and dice because the stings can still be quite irritating; and if the harvest is left in the refrigerator for a few days, the stinging affect is lessened. With young plants, I use stalk, stem and leaf so there is no waste.

My favorite ways of preparing spring nettles and absorbing their nutrients as food are as an ingredient in frittatas, omelettes, leek & potato soup, nettle lasagna, in quiches, plus young nettles are an excellent green, simply steamed. They’re also easy to freeze and when it’s smoothie time, plopping in a chunk of frozen nettles is a tasty way to incorporate their vibrancy. It’s an ingredient you’ll undoubtedly find additional ways to include in your diet both fresh, frozen or dried. I’ve included a few recipes but since I’m such a recipe tweaker, for some I’ll mainly give you ingredients, you provide your own guidelines for quantity depending on your tastes.

Nettle omelette

Nettle omelette

Nettle Frittata/Omelette: saute red onions, mushrooms in season, grated carrot, finely sliced broccoli spears and minced chickweed together in olive oil until wilted. Add a handful of minced young nettle stalk and leaves on top, cover and let steam until nettles wilt. Meanwhile, prepare a mixture of eggs, minced parsley, dried basil and stir well. For a frittata, pour egg mixture over the steaming veggies, place a cover on the pan and wait until eggs set. You can also flip it over until it’s well done if you wish. For an omelette, saute egg mixture in a separate pan, flip and then when done, fold and fill with your nettle, veggie mixture and serve. Both meals are delicious as is or with salsa or pesto.

Leek and Nettle Soup: saute chopped leeks, celery and crushed garlic cloves in olive oil until soft; add diced potatoes (I use Russets or Yukon Golds). Add minced chickweed, nettles, parsley, dried basil, turmeric, salt and perhaps a bit more oil or butter.  Saute a few minutes longer, mixing all the ingredients well to blend the flavors.  Cover with stock or water and simmer until everything is tender. Other veggies can be added such as tomatoes, grated carrots…perhaps a tin of salmon added at the end for even more variety. Unlike most Leek and Potato Soup recipes, I do not use milk or cream as an ingredient nor do I find a need to puree if the ingredients are diced small enough as everything seems to meld together just fine.

Nettle Lasagna: Any spinach lasagna recipe will do for nettle lasagna with the obvious substitution of sauteed or steamed young nettles. If you make your own noodles, toss a spoonful of dried, nettle powder into your flour mixture for added nutrition or into your homemade tomato sauce.

Nettle Quiche: Again, there are countless recipes for making quiches. My favorite is from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen. Since I make my own crusts, sometimes I’ll throw in a tablespoon of dried nettle powder with my flours. For the filling, I use a large handful of chopped and steamed nettles, along with sauteed onions, mushrooms in season, chopped broccoli, and an assortment of fresh and dried herbs laid on a bed of feta and shredded raw cheddar cheeses. Over that goes an egg and milk mixture to which I may mix in an additional tablespoon of flour depending on how moist the mix of ingredients. Place dollops of tomato sauce and pesto and a sprinkling of pecorino romano cheese on top if you’d like. Place in a 350-375 degree oven for about 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

So I hope I’ve wetted your appetite for the versatile, youthful nettle. Here’s to our good health!


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Looking for the Ruby Red

This adventure to collect the ruby red took place over the course of several years in the early springtime a decade or more ago. Events have changed the character of the setting but it still remains vivid in my memory.

North Idaho is where I grew up and return to in-between adventures to other lands. The Panhandle with its many mountains and lakes is beautiful and I’ve spent many hours being nurtured by its wild environment. I’ve enjoyed swimming, fishing, and boating on Lake Pend ‘d Oreille, just 60 miles south of the Canadian border. This jewel of a lake drains west down the Ponderay River past the community of Sandpoint. I’ve searched its shorelines for arrowheads and found a few but I’ve had more luck finding shards of vintage china and colored glass. Some early settlers dumped their rubbish into the river and over time, remnants of it reappear when the flood gates are opened at Albani Falls Dam and the lake level is lowered for the winter season. Exposed to the action of rain and snow, freezing and thawing, pieces of dishware and rusty iron scraps surface from under the sand and silty clay come springtime.

Also along the river’s shoreline, just downriver from the water treatment plant on the outskirts of the town, is an old graveyard. Bearing the headstones of pioneer families and the founding citizens of Sandpoint, Lakeview Cemetery is situated with a glorious view of the river. The granite and marble grave markers glow green in damp weather, covered with numerous species of moss and etched by lichen. The growing roots of large trees have tumbled many of the markers and the stones await resetting. Old climbing rose bushes sprawl over the graves of a few individuals as if spreading comforting cloaks of floral protection.

When walking along the northern shoreline of the river, you can easily spot the cemetery by the pile of rusting, antique car chassis that help stabilize the bank along its boundary. This is also the location of an old dump spot and has provided me with some of my nicest decorated pieces of broken china. Towering Black Cottonwood trees have also chosen this protected spot to sink roots deep into the riverbank. It is because of the swollen spring buds on the cottonwood trees that I am drawn to Lakeview for they are the source of the ruby red I am seeking.

Some of the trees’ roots are exposed to the action of the river and show they are integral to the jumble of auto bodies, brambles, willows and trashed plastic flowers. I’ve often found wind-downed budded twigs and branches atop this pile which required extra caution to extricate from the mishmash of vegetation. Above on the level of the graveyard, the lowest, overhanging cottonwood branches are at a perfect height for me to stand and pluck a few of their swollen buds. My selection of buds is judicious for I do not wish deplete my future supply. I prefer finding branches knocked down by the winds.

Perching overhead in the bare branches or nearby in the Douglas fir trees, bald eagles often keep me company. They are watching for the opportune moment to attack waterfowl sunning on the river’s shore or shoved against the icy bank by a stiff breeze.

Eagle-eyed Eagle in Black Cottonwood Tree

Eagle-eyed Eagle in Black Cottonwood Tree

The buds of Populus balsamifera spp.trichocarpa need several periods of deep freezing followed by thawing, sunny days to enliven the resin content in the buds. There have been years when the weather has been too mild to make a good, robust oil. Fortunately this is usually not the case and I am able to fill several jars with sticky, aromatic buds from around the community. They are then covered with a choice, organic olive oil and kept warm until, through the alchemy of extraction, the green liquid transforms into a fragrant and beautiful ruby red oil. At this point, the oil is called Balm of Gilead. We usually let it mature a few weeks longer before the final decanting.

The ruby red, ambrosial oil is used as the main ingredient in Michael’s salves for minor skin irritations and muscle complaints, just in time for early spring gardening activities. I make a whipped body butter from a small amount of the infused oil mixed in with wild rose petal-infused coconut oil, shea butter, grapeseed oil and a few drops of lavender essential oil. It smells divine and is rapidly absorbed into the skin, leaving it soft and silky, especially after a shower or bath.

The rituals of collecting, honoring ancestral connections, communing with the eagles, and mindful making of the oils, salves and body butters become part of their healing magic.

As the spring season progresses, the ice thaws, the dam gates on the river lower, the lake level inches upward, the eagles return to the river and scour the waters for fish and the Populus trichocarpa buds mature, releasing their cottony seeds to drift through the graveyard. Spring turns into summer.