You know spring has truly arrived when the Tamaracks bud out. yesterday green appeared. Along this draw we get to enjoy a far wider variety of trees than much of this part of Montana. We have everything from the very common Ponderosa Pine to Cedar, Cottonwoods to Tamaracks. The shades of green are every shifting through out the year with splashes of orange and yellow flashing out in the fall. I love to watch the changes but spring with the soft tips on the Blue Spruce, the glossy shine on the cedar and the budding Tamaracks are is my favorite time of year.
Having gone to several famers markets of late and found a number of people who are advertising Huckleberries only to find what they have are June Berries, also known as Service Berries or Sarvice Berries. These two plants are very different, from when they ripen to the flavour and availability. I am not going to go into deep detail as few people would remember that anyway but a basic detail of how they differ might help.
Huckleberries grow on low shrubs, in alpine conditions. They are ripen late in the summer, have a glossy shine to them and cluster on the branch. Huckleberries are nearly impossible to grow on your own. They almost refuse to grow if they are tampered with. They often cost $60 or more a pound.
June berries grow on tall bushes, often reaching 15 to 20 feet. They ripen from late June to mid august depending on elevation. They grow from low elevation to high elevation as long as they have water. They have only a few berries together, look almost dusty, and are as common as Choke Cherries. You can find them in many tree nurseries in the Rockies and can be planted for decoration, food, or wind break. June berries are my absolute favourite but cost no more than blue berries at a fair price. I would never pay more then $7 a pound.
If you compare the two side by side you can fee the difference between the leaves, the berry texture as well as the way they grow on the branches. When you are buying or eating wild harvested foods it is important to know what you are picking and what you are eating. It is always wise to double check and ask questions. If you happen to find berries while hiking it is always wise to be certain what you are picking before you eat any. Not all berries are edible and not all berries taste all that good but now and then you can find some of the most wonderful things hidden just off the trail if you know what to look for.
This year we have had record breaking amounts of snow. The snow piled up, buried vehicles, crushed green houses and piled up deeper and deeper on the roves of campers, 5th wheels and homes of all sorts. Metal roofs, without the proper gutters and edges to deal with heavy snow load slip, became dangerous avalanche zones. Snow plows were put to more work than the last ten years combined. One thing after another had to be dug out.
The poles of the green house bent, the plastic tore and from under the banks of snow the floor is flooded. (I tried to take pics but the water is so clean and over a sheet of ice so it does not show in pictures.)
(love my fuzzy pants. Warmer than Long Johns)
I do not recommend the plastic come-in-a-box green houses. For the same amount of money something far more sturdy can be built. If a person has no construction skill or the tools sometimes the buy it from Ace green house is the only option but keep in mid very few will last more than three years. With the weather in the 40’s it feels like spring and I am eager to get a green house built.
This time of year is a good time to walk, to wander and observe how the snow piles, where the water runs, what areas melt faster, where the ice stays the longest. This insight can help you to refine and tweak long term plans. I am eager to go hiking but the snow is still past my knees and now it is so wet its almost like wading.
I have posted so many winter photos Im not sure I want to post more. I am looking forward to seeing he ground again, to being able to touch moss and earth, to being able to walk without slipping on ice or being hip deep in snow. The weather channel tells me that the next ten days the highs will be into the 40’s, even brushing towards 50 with nights barely freezing. Spring is flirting with promises of wonderful things to happen, but this is MT. I have never known a spring to whisper in gently and stay. She is a tease and likely to vanish the moment you think she might stay.
For the last year it seems I have been in an endless round of edits. Books written over 20 years ago have been fighting for the light of day and chapter by chapter have clawed their way from the battered pages of old notebooks and old floppy disks. This last week I have been compiling chapter names, page numbers, title pages and debating dedications. Today I ordered the proof for book 6 in the series and while there is one more book before I step back from this series, to dive into another, I can see the end top of the wall. So forgive me in this blog, (as I have mentioned earlier) if I don’t edit.
As a lover of words, of clever phrases, of well written and clever insights, I have been known to cringe when I look back at some of the rough draft things I have poster. Then again I remind myself that those things I have read that follow strict rules either of formula or grammar laws I find less then enjoyable. This blog is not however supposed to be about writing. It is about the moment after the order notice came back saying my book proof would arrive on the 3rd. I felt my shoulders drop just a little. I noticed my coffee was just on the cool side and it was snowing like the depth of a Narian Winter outside.
The dog looked at me hopefully!
“Yes please!” She seemed to say.
So still in my fuzzy jamma pants I slipped into boots, grabbed my camera and a go mug of fresh hot coffee. Stepping from the warm indoor and away from the computer, away from the music and away from the endless rounds of nit-picking how to say “said” as many way as possible and not sound like a jack ass, I entered another world.
Dashing outside the dog stopped, she looked at the snow fall and back to me to make sure I was seriously going to join her on such a great day.
The snow had been coming down since about 4 am and pushing 1 pm it had all but hidden the knee deep foot paths that criss cross the yard from one point to another. A path around back to the water tanks, another to the fire pit; cutting across to the propane tank, to the green house/storage shed and a twisting trail to the solar panels that need to be kept swept clean.
The fire pit seems lost at this point, only the nearly buried chairs even shows where it hides under the deep blanket of snow.
We waded through the snow to the road with the idea I might hike up tot he spring and try to find the stump I had sat on a month ago to listen to birds and soak in the sun but once on the road looking at the 4 feet of snow on my path and down at my rather unlikely hiking gear I decided to stay to the road. So we walk from one end of the property to the other.
Thankfully more than one of the neighbours on this little road come though and keep it plowed. Even so the snow was past the top of my boots and trying to get down inside. Even so it was hard to turn back.
There is a beauty to winter that can not be grasped from behind the wheel of a car trying to get to work. With such views I can only be grateful I do not have to attempt to wind my way down this road to get to work daily. Editing seems a small price to pay for the option.
It is hard to walk in such a reality and not dream up new stories, eager to be told. A hundred old notebooks whisper at me “remember us? We have such scenery in our pages remember out heroes.”
All the snow on the trees is from today alone. Yesterday sunshine and a gust of breeze now and then had left the trees clear, their limbs and needles clean and lifted upward.
For all my desire to be planting things, to be breaking ground for building and sinking in roots it is impossible to not be caught up by the beauty of a mountain forest draped in winter.
On such a day, in such a deep silence, where the loudest sound is the snow falling, you can almost imagine snow dragons watching from the mountain cliffs above you, of fairies catching snow flakes, or ancient Elves and Druids whispering blessing on the forest and all those who walk among their trees.
There is a place up a narrow gravel road, around a sharp turn and up the mountain side. Tucked in among trees that count time in centuries and stones that count in ages you will find the cabin. Looking like something from a beginning pages of a fairy tale this place is called the Sanctuary.
With neither running water nor electrical this place is as rustic as can be but holds all the charm one might fantasize about.
While some might see only a 100 square feet, like most magical things, the closer you look the more you will see.
Dwelling in this place like a forest guardian is what some might say an old hippie but if you look with the eyes of a child you might just see something else.
Tucked about the yard are works of his hands