Dog walking, woolly bears and tea picking
Ever since my dog tackled a porcupine in the yard late one night, I have not dared to put him out after dark unless I walk him myself. But since the task is his “toilette,” I would have to walk him out on the road due to this breed’s aversion to using his own territory.
Even though he has an 80’ long run by 30’ wide, he simply will not “use” the area unless there’s finally no alternative. He will hold and hold, waiting for a walk off the property.
I used to do the walks about 4 times a week. In between, I’d put him out one last time late at night. He got the message that there was to be no walk that day and would give in.
But after the night of the quills — he looked like a pin cushion — the pain and waiting for the vet to open — I have not dared let him out after dark. He’s smart enough to know better than to grab the porcupine again. He’s also stubborn enough to do it anyway.
So now he gets a long walk every day, which is as good for me as for him. But I’ve had to increase our number of "favorite" roads to walk on to keep from being bored.
I like the dirt roads the best. Some are worn smooth enough to go barefoot. And we like logging roads — lots of tracks to smell.
Since we’re not in the city, I don’t make him "heel," but let him snuffle along in the grass and bushes along the roadside. A Shiba Inu, he’s trained to hunt small game in the brush and is in his happy-zone with his nose to the ground. He’s "rein" trained to not pull me, to adapt to my pace, whatever that may be from moment to moment, and to sit when a vehicle is coming by. (And I do not have to have a poopy-bag with me. I would not have a dog in the city. I would not have me in the city.)
So walking the roads of Waldo County, I can watch, and smell, the progression of the seasons. I watch the leaves come on in the spring and the cattails from shoots to pollen time, the daises, black eyed Susans, the baby turtles, the empty baby turtle shells that the raccoons have discovered and dug up, the progress of the bird families — especially the Canada geese who mate for life and return to their private nooks on ponds in the spring. For example, one of my favorite ponds — because it has no houses, cabins or docks in sight — has two resident Canada families, each with their own cove. They are downright fierce in protecting their areas until their babies are half grown. Then the two families will get together at a neutral area for visiting and water games. Now, they have left their little pond to join up with hundreds of others in a "gathering pond" in preparation for the day they head south.
And so the spring turns into summer and now the signs of fall are everywhere along the roads. St. John’s Wort, which I gather in July and August to make a skin ointment, good for scratches, burns and such, are gone and the bright yellow goldenrod takes it’s place. It too will soon be gone, but I have gathered some for winter tea.
The poor goldenrod, like the mighty dandelion, gets an undeserved bad rap as a pesky weed. The goldenrod is most often charged with causing hay fever. It’s innocent. Indeed, my theory is that it does just the opposite. I believe it may be nature’s antidote to hay fever, which is caused by rag weed, a look-a-like that blooms at the same time.
Goldenrod makes a mild, sweet tasting tea. I sometimes add a bit of honey although it doesn’t need it. But I think honey may also help with allergies.
Now is time to also pick raspberry and blackberry leaves to dry for tea. And I have picked my bee balm leaves for tea. Bee balm is also known as Oswego Tea. The Indians taught the colonial ladies to use it after Boston Harbor was turned into a giant tea pot in protest to taxes. A member of the mint family, bee balm makes a fine tea and is used in herbal medicine for sore throats, colds and sinuses. I grow this perennial from the dark reds to pinks, mainly for “my” hummingbirds.
I’m also eating and drying my rose hips; Bright red, looking like little apples, they are tasty and chock full of vitamin C, another deterrent to colds etc. (Notice how Ma Nature provides the right plants at the right time?) For a winter supply, I cut the hips in half, dry in the sun — and store in a glass jar. They need to be dried beyond when you think they are dry. Any moisture and they will mold.
Right now, milk weed is getting ready to burst its pods. The milk weed silk, which won’t absorb water, was used during WWII to stuff life vests.
And the king of fall’s harbinger, the woolly bear is now everywhere. This most familiar caterpillar, black on it’s ends with fox-red in the middle, is also called the Banded Woolly Bear. Folk lore says we can tell the severity of the coming winter by counting the bright middle bands that look like tooth brush bristles. Some say the number of these bands correspond with the number of snow months. Some say the opposite. Nobody knows.
The fuzzy little woolly bear is the larvae stage of the Isabella tiger Moth, which he will become one spring. But first, he will live though several winters — frozen. Frozen solid.
First the heart stops — freezes — then the gut, followed by the blood and then the rest of him. It survives by producing a cyroprotectant. This must be where scientists got the idea of freezing people and bringing them back to life in a better time. (Hope Walt Disney, brave soul, makes it. I wonder if he left instructions as to just what years he wants to “come back”.)
Now, it’s a short stretch to winter. I like walking in winter, but I’m a bit apprehensive about "every day." Porcupines don’t hibernate! They like to stay cozy in their dens during bad weather, so maybe on those nights, I could let the dog out? They also, if they have a good food source, tend to stay within an acre of their den during winter. Trouble is, I think they’re still denned up under the barn across the road, where there are also several apples trees. Apple tree bark is a favorite food for them.
Wish me luck.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.