Pottery Sessions

Every two years, we have invited a local island potter to come and play with our Spring Leaves kids.  Nancy Silo has been working with clay since the 1970’s, and her enthusiasm for sharing her skills with our group is always a special treat for us.  This year, Nancy led us through the steps of making bowls in a very surprising and delightful way.  Photos taken by Kenta Kikuchi beautifully illustrate the two days we spent working on them- first decorating and shaping, and a few weeks later when we glazed the bisque fired bowls.

After rolling out a flat piece of circular clay, the kids decorated their clay with a variety of stamping materials, as well as freehand drawing into the clay.  Then Nancy demonstrated a very surprising and delightful way of making the flat clay into a bowl- by laying the slab on a piece of foam, placing a bowl on top of it (there were two sizes to choose from) and pressing down hard into the foam.  When the bowl was released, the clay slab underneath had been pressed into a ripple edged bowl of varying depth.

A few weeks later, after Nancy took the bowls home and bisque fired them, the kids glazed them with a selection of glazes that Nancy brought in with samples of their finished colour and shine.  When she returned a few weeks later after their last firing, we finally got to see the end result.  Often with pottery, there is a bit of surprise all along the way, as the variations between the elements involved in the process take on their own actions and results.  Thank you, Nancy!  Thanks also to Kenta Kikuchi for taking and sharing the photographs.

finished bowlsdetails

 

 

 

glazed bowlsspring leaves group

Nettle Soup Campfire Style

a basket of stinging nettles

a basket of stinging nettles

Some of the earliest Spring plants that we can gather and harvest as food here on the west coast is the abundantly nourishing stinging nettle.  One of our favorite things to do as a group involves cooking by campfire, so a few weeks ago, when the nettles were still small enough for harvesting, we went down to Limber Lost, built up a nice fire, and went for a walk to collect nettles.  I love the fact that these stingy, rash inducing plants are actually so very tender and full of nutrients, that their seemingly angry stings are in fact so easily persuaded otherwise with a bit of heat or crushing.  There is even a growing understanding that the sting itself can help alleviate internal discomforts- muscle pain, joint pain, arthritis, tendinitis and gout.

Mostly, though, we like to eat it.  So with gloves and clippers and bags and baskets, we came back to the fire and a huge pot of boiling water.  Everyone had brought some veggies and seasonings to add to the soup, so we got them chopped and cooking before adding the nettles at the very end.

It was so delicious!  With everyone helping a little bit, we had a tasty and abundant lunch accompanied by various spontaneous games in the forest.

Snorkeling the Gulf Islands

snorkeling in the gulf islandsOne of the only drawbacks that I have experienced from living in the Gulf Islands is that the water temperature remains, all year round, at a chilly 7 degrees celsius, making it a rather uncomfortable experience for swimming, even on the hottest day of the summer.  Other beaches around Vancouver Island and small islands further north enjoy warm summer swimming in areas of wide sandy beaches, but here, we have lots of rocks and cliffs that dive down deep into fast moving currents.  Apparently, this boasts incredibly well for diving, providing some of the most life abundant waters thriving in the refrigerator that is our local ocean.  It is a frustrating thing to live so close to the ocean and never have the chance to really get in it.  Colin and I have spent many years surfing the West Coast of Vancouver Island, so we have outfitted ourselves with cold water wetsuits for years, but it has only been recently that I realized the simple and beautiful activity of snorkeling around the many bays, inlets, islets, and cliff edges that we are surrounded with.

Pender Penguins snorkeling in January

Pender Penguins snorkeling in January

In January, I put out a call to a few friends, and we started meeting at a local bay to test out wetsuits and snorkel gear, new and old, to see what we had that works and what we need to explore further in comfort and safety.  My 5mm suit with hood, and warm boots and gloves worked quite well with a new snorkel set.  However, while searching for a suit for my daughter, who now is determined to join us in the water, I found a new zipperless Patagonia suit made with 25% merino wool on sale for half price, so I have upgraded from my 15 year old suit.  I figure this will last me the rest of my water-immersed life!5mm wetsuit

We have seen many beautiful things- so many different types of sea stars, anemones, a buffet of seaweeds, crabs, chitons, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and unidentified splendor of all types.  A local diver, Derek Holzapfel, has created a marine species photo database on his website that I have often referred to find out about what I am seeing and what there is to look for.  It is a big learning curve from knowing nothing of what lives below the low tide line, to seeing what thrives by staying deeply submerged.  Getting to swim through swaying bull kelp in sunlit waters has been a dreamy highlight, as well as skimming over shallow rocks covered in feathering barnacles, floating out over a steep drop off of turquoise greenness, then turning to face a wall of life reaching out into the passing fresh currents.

cliffs and kelp beds

cliffs and kelp beds

Every swim is different, even when we visit the same place, and amazing things can be huge or tiny, like the discovery of the giant pink star, (almost 2 feet across!) and sea cucumbers as long as my arm, or the tiny 4cm long white nudibranch tucked in amongst the seaweed jungle.  The visibility has changed as we move into spring, filling the clear winter waters with a “snow” of floating stuff.  Our last swim was down at Drummond Bay, on South Pender, and we had the use of a GoPro camera to swim with.  Joanne, fellow Pender Penguin, has edited the footage into a beautiful video… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VctRs2hHdTg

kids exploringOur snorkel excursions have also created a wonderful afternoon or morning of beach time for the rest of our families and friends who are not in the water.  Our kids spend the time doing what they do best at the beach- exploring.  They often follow us along the shore.  We have taken kayaks with us so they can take turns paddling with other adults.  We have often had a warming beach fire, and food and tea to enjoy.  Coming out from the cold water and the underwater world seems to leave me in another state of being- slower and floaty, present and grateful, calm and joyful, out of body and entirely in body.  It is difficult to finally declare the chill to be great enough to leave the water, but there is also a deep sense of returning to land as being a place of home.  A re-start button gets pressed in my brain while I play and float and breath in the cold water, feeling the gentle push and pull of waves, and the responding push and pull of my body with that of the seaweeds- a floating meditation.

what lives beneath that glassy surface?

what lives beneath that glassy surface?

Discovery Orchard

an orchard visitorLast fall, Colin and I decided to get going with planting an orchard of fruit trees.  Drainage ditches had been put in around our field the previous spring, transforming our sodden and squelchy ground into a walkable and plantable area.  Our ideas of October seemed well in advance of March, so we approached a local fruit growing expert, Bob Duncan, and asked for his suggestions for the varieties of apples to make up a cordon espalier orchard of about 40 trees.  We were interested in early, mid, and late season apples, with cross pollination dates and a variety of uses for the fruit, as well as a handful of pear varieties.  Bob has been growing fruit for 30 years on the Saanich Peninsula, and now has over 300 types of fruit on his property of less than 1 acre.  He specializes in dwarf apple trees, (over 200 heritage varieties of unusual and hard to find varieties), but also has over 80 varieties of pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, figs, grapes, kiwi, quince and medlar, over 30 varieties of citrus, and hardy subtropicals such as pomegranates, persimmons, loquats, feijoa, jujubes, and olives.  We know where to go when we are looking to expand our fruit harvest!

trees coming outBob put together a list for us and said we could pick them up in four months.  By mid February, Colin eyed up a bunch of trees on the perimeter of the orchard space and decided that they would need to come out first- small and unhealthy cedar trees that leach nutrients from the soil, and some fir trees sporting signs of rot.  A week later and the open field was littered with scrambling heaps of green branches, tops of trees, and a variety of thick and rotten trunks.  It was then that we got an email announcing the imminent pick-up dates for our trees, some of which were bare root and would need to be planted right away.

fencing the clearingWe spent the next two days clearing.  Our decision not to burn anything except in a fireplace left us separating all the debris into piles- the greenery and thin branches for the chipper, the thick branches to be cut up with the chop saw for firewood, and the trunks chopped into rounds for more firewood.  Colin picked up the trees, as well as metal fence posts, a roll of wire fencing, bonemeal, dolomite lime, an organic fertilizer blend, tree tags, tree strapping, a box of 16 post saddles, three bags of concrete, and a new shovel.  Luckily, there was a trailer full with two yards of sea soil sitting just down the road waiting to be sold, so we didn’t need to do an extra trip across the water to fill up with composty soil amendment.

post holesColin laid out the four rows, 2.5 feet wide and 35 feet long each, running north south and spaced with 5 feet between them, and began to dig four post holes in each row to support the wires upon which we would train the cordon trees.  We observed that we had about one and a half feet of nice topsoil, then a solid delineation of clay.  It rained quite a bit in the time of all this digging, and it became clear that the water filtering through the topsoil was hitting the clay layer and pooling, rather abundantly, in our holes.  This didn’t bode well for any tree roots that might be planted nearby, so we resolved that we would also need a drainage ditch running across the ends of all the rows and moving any water off to the side.  The gentle slope of the orchard area will help move the water towards the ditch.

We spent another day mixing concrete, filling the post holes and setting the saddles.  We hammered in the perimeter fence posts and ran the wire fencing around the outside of the rows, leaving a measured gap for an old garden gate.  Then we dug some more.  Colin removed the soil from the rows, a foot deep and two feet wide.  I amended the soil in wheelbarrow sized batches with sea soil, one cup of bonemeal and lime, and shoveled it back into the trenches, with a lofty 4 inch berm.  planting bare root treesThe bare root trees went in first- six pears, two peaches, a nectarine and an apricot- three feet apart with the main stems set at a 45 degree angle, pointing north.  (Except for the stone fruit.  These will be grown in a fan shaped espalier at the south end of each row, filling in the space created by the first tree planted at an angle.)  Our choice to train the dwarf trees in a cordon system was based on the understanding that this system results in a high production of fruit in a small space that can be attended to very easily.

apple treesOf all the 30 apple trees, there are 17 different varieties, most of which are a complete mystery to me.  The first apple tree that I picked out of the pile was named Discovery, and as I tucked it in I wondered what a Discovery apple looks like, tastes like, and what time of the season it would be ready to harvest.  In fact, knowing nothing about any of the varieties made me realize that this whole project was going to be one of immense discovery and learning; all the different flavours and timing and uses.  We have apples called Snow and Lodi and Karmijn de Sonneville.  I am familiar with the Gravenstein and Cox, but what will a Vanderpool apple taste like?  From getting these trees planted to pruning them, training them, and generally keeping them alive for the 3-5 years until they are in full production, (and beyond) will be a whole new subject of learning for me and Colin.

We still have posts to put up, and support wire, as well as a plastic roof system that will cover all the trees 2 rows at a time,  with Bob’s recommendation.  He has been struggling for 30 years to organically avoid blight and canker, and has come to the conclusion that it is all related to the high amount of moisture that we receive on the coast.  Adding the clear roof also allows us to put in those more water tender stonefruit trees (apricot, peach, and nectarine).  Bob Duncan can be found at Fruit Trees and More.

 

 

 

Spring Branch

We have a branch on the window sill of our dining table that we seasonally adorn throughout the year, and until recently it still carried the paper snowflakes that we made in the winter.  Last week, the emerging sun of spring engaged us in a morning of fluffy wool and felt, for a branch transformation into spring.  Of course, other ideas sprouted, and soon Cedar had sewn himself a bluebird head band.  Cedar and Taeven also made drawstring pouches from a book he has been thoroughly enjoying, The Boy’s Book of Adventure- The Little Guidebook for Smart and Resourceful Boys.  Over 40 ideas for outdoor activities and fun crafts.  (There is a girls’ book, too, but they are quite interchangeable.  Published by Barron’s.)

The following is an excerpt from Earth Wisdom, by Glennie Kindred.  This book has been on my shelf for many years, and I often refer to it at the times of the yearly changes for inspiration and insights.  It explores some of the Celtic traditions, knowledge and beliefs from Britain and Northern Europe and brings them forward to the present day.

Spring Equinox, Festival of Balance and Potential, March 20-23 (Northern Hemisphere)

“The power of the sun is increasing, the days are lengthening and the nights are shortening. We begin to feel empowered to reach out for what we want and to take risks, strike out on our own, go for walks and connect to the Earth again.

We can use the potential and fertility of this time to create opportunities for positive change in our lives and in the world.  At his point we are poised between opposite forces, light and dark, receptive and active, unconscious and conscious, inner and outer.  These can be united within us so that we are whole and balanced individuals.  This gives birth to actions that come from the heart.

At this time of year we can inspire each other with prophecies of hope, the power of “we” and our willingness and power to bring change into the world as we create opportunities for a bright new future.”  Glennie also offers an awareness of tree energies, and the role of the spirit of trees through Celtic folklore and mythology.

tree offeringsAnother way that we enjoy bringing intentional blessing and joy to the awakening earth is making decorations for branches outside with colourful pieces of wool, yarn, string, beads, bells, shells and whatever else we find that can be crafted into a joyful offering to the efforts of the blossoming plants.  Creations can be hung in the branches of budding fruit trees to bless the fertility of the harvest.  Alder trees, being the 3rd tree in the Celtic Tree Ogham*, represent balance and inspired action, and begin their rebirth in spring by bearing bright red catkins.  Hazelnut trees, bearing clumps of yellow catkins, are associated with creative change and inspiration, and willows are trees of intuition, inspired action, fertility, visions, dreams, and expressed emotions.  These trees all have an energetic commonality in the quick movement of water as a refreshing, spring clean quality, and so adorning these trees with bright celebrations of joy to be caught by the breeze also blesses the water that flows with new nourishment into the life that reaches out all around… including to and from ourselves.

*The Oghams were used by the Druids to classify, memorize, and store information.  The Tree Ogham is a means of communication through each of the 20 Ogham symbols carved into Ogham sticks or staves.  Each symbol, called a fedha or few, represents a tree or shrub and its underlying energy or wisdom.

 

Winter Weaving

saori autumn weaveThis winter, I finally got the chance to try making some warm winter wearables from a few pieces of weavings I have been producing.  Mostly I have been making scarves, but I really wanted to make a more substantial wrap or jacket.  The widest piece I can make on my Saori loom is 42cm (16.5inches), so I made a warp that was the widest possible and the longest possible from my supplies so that I would not run short.

The simplest plans for a poncho seemed to be two strips sewn side by side with an opening in the center for the neck hole.  I had lots of sturdy cotton green warp, and plenty of 100% wool in two shades of blue that came from the local second hand store.  I mixed it up with a multi-coloured merino in blues and greens and yellows, and I occasionally placed a line of light green roving for texture.  Using only these yarns, I experimented with all that can be done with three choices.  It was a new practice for me, especially with such a large piece to fill.  Usually I can’t help adding more and more variety.  Off the loom, I cut the fabric in half and sewed one half of it together down the sides.  I decided to leave the other half open, like a vest poncho.  I may add large buttons on the sides under the arms to keep it more securely closed all around, and who knows, I may decide to sew up the front, too.  I have passed it over to my mother to wear, so it is an open ended project depending on her comfort!

With the second piece, I was looking to make something more with more drape.  I picked up a single, large skein of a fine, almost lace weight merino and wool blend that had long, autumn toned colour changes.  In my buckets, I found two skeins of lace weight alpaca in two shades of green that I hoped would be enough for another wide, long warp.  Without interrupting the weft too much, I added accents and highlights whenever the bobbin and shuttle ran out and there was a slight break in the colour changes.  I had a ball of recycled silk sari yarn, two toned green alpaca, light green roving, blue roving, and some leftover bits of green and orange peace fleece wool from a knitted sweater project.  (Weaving satisfies my need to use up all the little bits of yarn from knitting.  They just can’t be used very easily otherwise!)  I was so happy with the feel and drape that I didn’t want to cut into it at all, and I wanted it to lie flat and simple as a garment  So I folded it once on an angle at the back, letting each side come down straight in the front.  I wove up another section using mostly black linen on the same warp, and added the same accents as in the rest of the piece, and used it across the back, sewing it to the sides and across the back fold of the other piece.  By adding a simple fastener at the front, it can be held together or left open.  For being so light weight, it is so warm!  Thanks to my daughter who took all the modelling photos.  A new role for both of us.

Archipelago- Exploring the Land

In continuing with the Archipelago game that we started with Spring Leaves last year, we have been exploring land formation, compass skills, and simple building, as well as going on the adventurous journey of arriving at our islands.  (Archipelago! and Archipelago Activities)  We have been introducing Archipelago to Lauren, our Spring Leaves facilitator for this year, and she has been excitedly offering some fun ideas and activities as well as joining us and hanging out as we trek around on our island adventures.

In the fall, we picked up with our game by building topographical models of each of the islands that were created on paper last year.  With lots of cardboard collected from the recycling depot, the children worked in their island groups tracing each of the 10 meter layers on to pieces of cardboard, cutting them out, then gluing them together to create the features of the islands.  They were glued on to an ocean piece, and then painted with beaches, lakes, rivers, and rocky peaks.  Everyone was then invited to choose a place on their island where they would imagine building a homestead.  We copied a compass rose on to each island to consider sun exposure, and the arrangement of the islands as a group gave the kids an idea of where their island sits in relation to their neighbors.

Next, we organized a trip to experience “arriving” at the islands.  Those of us who owned boats of some kind hauled them down to a launching point on a chilly but dry January day.  After arranging kids and adults in each boat, which included a canoe, a single kayak, and two row boats, we headed off to explore the coastline and find a suitable landing place in which we would settle our future homestead.  The tides were slack as we rounded a rocky headland, revealing a little bay protected by some outlying rocky islets teeming with inter-tidal life.  Sheltered mud flats housing clams and oysters stretched to the little beach, which helped direct a small forest stream into the ocean.

We hungrily ate our lunches and took in our surroundings a little further.  There was a beautiful clearing just back from the beach that the stream ran through, tumbling down a steep grade of thick, west coast forest.  After lunch we got out compasses to explore the directions, and we found that the beach faced southwest and the uphill slope of forest was to the northeast- a wonderful position for sun light exposure for warmth and plant growth, and a great place for water catchment.  We did some basic skills with the compasses, learning to keep the “red in the bed” while moving in any direction.

fireA few weeks later, we ventured out once again to our favorite outdoor home base, Limberlost- the undeveloped property of one of the Spring Leaves families’.  It was a frigid February day, with bright sunshine and crisp air, made more comforting by a large bonfire and thermoses of tea and soup.  The kids were making simple shelters from the forest- branches, bark, moss, fallen logs, and dry leaves.  Everyone’s was so unique and different, and some worked well and some didn’t, but all made discoveries about the skills, supplies, and teamwork needed to actually protect ourselves from the elements if we needed to spend a night or more outside with nothing from a store.  There was excitement about spending a night in their shelters in the warmer season.  In a second visit two weeks later, shelters were repaired and rebuilt, and new ones were made.  We used the compasses once again to determine the direction of each shelter from the central fire and the distance with counting out paces.  Thanks to Kenta for the shelter building photos!

In our homeschooling journey, being outside in all kinds of weather and using our hands to build and explore and learn appears to be one of the best ways to engage ourselves in a deep level- a level of really experiencing the land that we live on and rely upon even in a world where most of what we need comes from a store.  Especially in a world where what we need comes from a store!  Learning to be discerning about manufactured products in today’s availability of tomorrow’s garbage is important for our next generation.  What we need is inside of us.  What we need is often found in our local community.  What we need may also be bought with gratitude and understanding of where it comes from and who made it.  This is always a great reminder for myself as I move through the journey of life learning with my family and with the family of Spring Leaves.

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