Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In prelude to the hike

My send off date is presently set for May 10th. This is the day after my final gathering with my homeschool classes (in which the kids will do a presentation for parents/teachers/and fellow classmates about the plants that they learned during our 12 weeks together - you want to get inspired to learn your plants and look at the plant world with new eyes, just teach some 4th and 6th graders!) And so as this date nears, my urgency to prepare and bone up on as many plants as possible increases.

Since December, I have been meticulously referencing all the plants that I think I may encounter throughout the state. Wildman Steve Brill's book, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants, has thus far been my main resource. For clarity of botanical clues and edible preparation, Samuel Thayer's books have been helpful, and for interesting tidbits, Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons. My main field guides have been Newcomb's Wildflower Guide and A Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of the Southern Appalachians by Robert Swanson, and for it's nice color pictures, Peterson's Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, as well as many a random wikipedia search. And now, as the days have warmed and the plants have begun to send their green slender shoots from the cold ground, I have begun to get out and truly meet these fellow celebrants of spring. Spending many a day outside and in the woods, I have most certainly glanced and grazed many of these plants before, however, I tell you, after spending months reading in detail about all their fine botanical attributes, committing their formal names and family relationships to memory, and wandering through their literary folklore, I am seeing them in a whole new light.

Since the first purple henbit flower appeared on the lawn along the edge of the Montford Recreational Center in Asheville, a sort of glimmer has shone from the natural spaces around me. A glimmer that I've always known to be there, but that comes and goes on its own accord. I believe it is directly tied to my own awareness. It's seeming elusiveness only a resulting condition of full days and a full head, leaving no room for connecting to the greater world. But I'm tuned in and as I begin hiking, that should only increase. It did when I was on the AT, even when I hiked at the brisk pace of 20 miles/day. It came from directly interacting with the natural world, simplicity of action, and the space in which to watch my thoughts.

But I digress.

As I've been getting out, I've been snapping lots of pictures in the hopes of seeing many of these plants through their different stages, out of mere appreciation of their form, and also as a handy reference I can use later if I have yet to identify it. Many of these plants I expect to come across in my travels, and many of which I have already spotted on the MST while on dayhikes, or at least on nearby trails in the area. Also, quite a few of these plants, also found on my lawn, have given their lives to delicious and artful salads, stir-fries, and quiches.

So, what I hope to do in the weeks before setting out for my hike, is share with you some of these plants, as there really is no reason to wait to start talking about the plants now is there?

From you, I welcome stories of your own experiences with these plants or any further knowledge you'd like to share. Again, I hope this blog to be a learning space. I will also be posting some pictures of plants unknown to me in hopes that you can help me identify them.

All the plant glimmer coming soon....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a 1000 mile trail that travels from the Smokey Mountains in Western North Carolina to Jockey's Ridge on the Outer Banks. This trail traverses rocky mountaintops, dense forests, rich farmland, open roads, and sandy dunes. It includes both the tallest mountain and the tallest sand dune east of the Mississippi. However that which intrigues me most about the trail, what keeps me up at night with circling thoughts, colors my dreams, keeps my nose deep in a field guide, and my feet wandering the sections closest to my home on a daily basis...are its inhabitants, the plants.

There are parts of this trail that see enormous foot travel by day hikers, section hikers, and runners, whereas other parts are largely untraveled. However, more notably, a mere 20 people have actually hiked this trail from one end to the other, and how many of them in one continuous journey, I do not know (the Appalachian Trail has seen 1000's of thru-hikers). The reason for this most likely stems from the fact that only about 500miles of the trail are completed, traveling on established trail. The other roughly 500miles travel on country road, down sidewalk, and through urban areas. Compared to other long trails, the MST is also in its infancy, only established as a trail in '1980's. Thus the MST has not yet attracted the crowds or publicity of say the AT. However, this is its beauty. I thruhiked the AT in 2008 and the wilderness, kindness, comraderie, beauty, and pain afforded me proved previously inconceivable. However, the MST I do believe will prove to be a different animal, er trail, and one that has been little explored in its entirety.

However, what makes this hike for me, vastly different from my thru-hike on the AT is my purpose. On the AT I sought to hike. On the MST I seek to discover plants. I will walk the entire trail, including its roads, which many bike or skip altogther, for the reason that walking will allow me ample time to take in the plants that grow at my feet, sway overhead, and whose fragrances waft by my nostrils. I want to walk this trail across the varied landscape of North Carolina to see not only the beauty it has to offer, but also its food and medicine. My hope in doing so, is to increase others' awareness of the useful plants sitting (literally) right outside their doors, as well as foster a respect and appreciation for them.

I do not wish for those who follow this blog to go out the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and squander her trail edges and woods, taking the plants without heed. But rather, to use the trail as a means to get to know these plants, identify them in their own yards, woods, and other places more conducive to harvest, and put them to use. I do not advocate picking plants illegally nor mindless wildcrafting. However, I do wholey advocate embracing what abundance nature has to offer us, instead of needlessly cultivating less nutritious plants that don't really want to grow where they've been put, or spending all day at the office only to go to a grocery store in the evening and hope you can fit a hike in on the weekend. Learning about wild edible and medicinal plants can offer great practicality, self-sustainability, and opportunity for communion with nature.

So, I ask you to join me.

Join me as I share stories, pictures, and herbal knowledge from the trail. I encourage you to hike the MST and other trails or wild places by day, and read deeper by night. Let this place, both my blog and the trail, be a forum for learning about the plants, igniting curiosity, and brightening our days on this beautiful planet.