Spring Delights

 

Spring in the mountains, what a delightful time! This is truly a favorite time of year, the bare trees of winter are giving birth to new, neon green leaves and buds. Yellows, purples, reds, pinks and many other colors are bursting into the landscape. The sweet sounds of birds and bees, busy squirrels are filling in the silent spaces. As I walk through the forest I notice all the wonderful medicinal and edible plants popping out and of course the mushrooms! Oh the mushrooms, this year has been off to perhaps the best start in my recent memory. When I first moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina I found myself immersed in a wonderland of new and exciting adventures, thirsting for the knowledge of the peoples that came before me. I wanted to know everything related to the forest, what can I eat and use as medicine out here. Being inspired and fascinated by the Native American culture most of my life, I admired the way they lived off the land and used the many treasures of a giving mother earth to survive and thrive in a natural world. Now ten years later I’m doing just that, creating a venture, living a dream of foraging and teaching what I’ve learned. I have been very successful in the world of fungi, able to find and enjoy many different varieties with ease, finding enough to eat and make medicine and even enough extra to be able to sell and share. However the one I never had much luck with is the coveted morel mushroom, this one has always been to me the ghost. I have searched each year for them and over the these ten years I have found perhaps only a dozen or so, each find was so exciting and rewarding but left me wanting more! Well this year is it, this year has been a record year across the country and in our area, they have been popping out everywhere. I see fellow hunters hauling morels by the hundreds and though I am not at that level, I’m so happy to say that I have found many. Discovering new patches and even going onto a friends property to lead a walk that uncovered a huge patch. This is a true joy for me, a full circle kind of feeling, finally I have added the morel to my list of ones that I’m able to sniff out. I have learned some of their preferred environments and feel I know now where to go look. Of coarse like all mushrooms, sometimes they aren’t there and surprise you popping up in places you wouldn’t expect, which is fun and exciting for me, always learning.

 

IMG_02721

Then there is the countless plants. The plant realm is endless and diverse and quite challenging to learn. Every year I add several to my notebook and try and commit to memory. I recently revisited an old friend, a wizard as I see him. When I first moved here I found a man named Joe Hollis, a Chinese herbalist and plant whisperer. He lives deep in the woods and has built (from hand) a gnome wonderland. Green houses, hot houses, solar power, outdoor kitchens, paradise gardens, and ponds. He has yurts that house interns that travel from near and far to come learn from him. There’s a huge library of plant, mushroom, spiritual and medicinal books, a vault of rare and common seeds and walls lined with tinctures, elixirs and potions, and another wall that has many, many jars full of Chinese and  local dried herbs, roots and powders. I used to go to his house almost every weekend and do odd jobs for him in trade of knowledge, I’d learn how to make concoctions, decoctions, tinctures, meade, and teas. I’d learn native plants and how to use them. It was a time in my life I will forever remember fondly. Going back there recently was like going home. I went to his place, Mountain Gardens, for a spring plant walk, in which I added at least twenty new plants to memory bank. I’m excited to share what I learned on my walks this year. In the spirit of learning I’m also learning the fine art of growing mushrooms at home, experimenting with Lions Mane and Reishi.

 

It’s an exciting time to be out here in the mountains. As I dedicate more time to my passion, I feel myself filling up with gratitude and a sense of purpose. It’s yet another evolution, a transformation in my life. I have an overwhelming feeling this year is going to be a big one, for my business venture, for my relationships, for my recovery and for the mushrooms! I plan to be out there in the woods foraging, teaching, and bathing in the wonder and healing of the magical forest.

If your interested in joining me for a plant and mushroom ID walk you can check my other wordpress page http://www.blueridgechagaconnection.com or on facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/ChagaConnection/  or contact me at blueridgechaga@gmail.com

I announce all my walks at these places. Walks range from $25-40 for a 1.5-2 hour tour.

Advertisements

Art 2.0

20190129_144836

As I am always drawing and creating new pieces, felt it may be time for an update. So since last art post I have drawn some pictures for friends and family alike and some memories from trips, some for fun and others looks back.  I love to make custom pieces for people of their trips or memories and look forward to doing more. So here are the latest and cant wait to do more:

 

 

52608884_10213937671580848_9106179065294880768_n

54521762_10214027228299710_1597685206561587200_n.jpg

61595258_10214531795833583_3973334430906318848_n

A journey to South America: Ecuador

48396985_10214050893970720_4052681447733985280_n

Ecuador, the middle of the world as it’s called, mitad del mundo. I returned recently from a two week adventure in Ecuador, an immersion might be more fitting. I traveled with my girlfriend Jill, my son Brendan and our hosts a couple that was born and raised there. We came to meet them by way of tutoring for our local literacy council, teaching english as a second language. This is something we wanted to do as a means to travel and have work but also as a way to be of service in our community, to help people live, communicate and find more equality in a society that can be hard for foreigners. This work is voluntary, we meet 2 hours a week with our students and the wonderful gratitude we get in return is more than any money could ever provide. Jills student, Ana, was one of our hosts, my student is from Guatemala. Jill had gone for a session to teach and that morning Ana said ‘no class today’ and told Jill to invite my son and myself  over for breakfast. It was wonderful, we ate a beautiful meal with her husband, Osho, three sons, Brain, Orlando and Martin and one of her sons daughter. They invited the three of us to go to Ecuador for Christmas with their families for two weeks! That night we looked up tickets and the price was right, we were booked and all to excited. It’s one of those moments in life that makes you stop and be grateful, grateful that in a time of division in the world there’s still examples of unity and there’s still people who see no race or differences. It’s moments like that that remind me sometimes it seems we are put in the path of others to be led to amazing experiences and form amazing bonds. After that morning time seemed to fly by and before we knew it we were all piled into a van on our way to Atlanta airport and then on a plane and leaving the states. There was a good part of me that was all too happy to get out of the US, away from our president, away from the familiar, away from everyday and into a great adventure.

49065996_10214127426243979_2398294718585765888_n

all of us on christmas

The flight was about five hours and we landed in the capital city of Quito. We were greeted by some of the relatives. It was night time and so darkness covered the landscape so we couldn’t see much. We again packed into a van and drove two hours. The roads were steep and twisty mountain passes. We ended up in our first city, Ibarra at Oshos sisters house.  We were greeted warmly and shown to our room. The next morning we had breakfast with many of the family, we don’t speak much spanish and they don’t speak much to any english, so it was interesting. Lucky for us Brain and Martin both speak english and Oshos brother, Angel, who we just met did as well, so the translating began. We got to learn some of the traditions right away such as bread,’pan’, is eaten every morning with your coffee, or cafe. I got my first laughs by pouring salt into my coffee thinking it was sugar, which became a joke on many mornings. Everything was fresh and grown there on their farm, fresh made juice made from oblong tomatoes, fresh fruit like mango and oranges, fresh warmed milk and fresh motay (large, white corn kernels). It was a delight. Right after breakfast I got swept up by the men to drive to the farm to pick up a truck, which I willing rushed along. That morning was amazing, as we drove I got to see the landscape in daylight for the first time and it is spectacular! As we drove through the town I had that giddy, child like feeling of being somewhere distant and new. The mountains are big and reminded me some what of home, except these mountains aren’t quite the same, they seem to have very little trees and more patches of just green fields. I saw the morning street vendors selling fruits by the truck loads and some just people with small stands. The town is nestled in the shadows of two big volcanoes, both inactive but beautiful, one is completely snow capped, ‘volcan Cayambe’ it’s called, apparently the only snow that happens in these parts of Ecuador and even from afar it is quite impressive. Their family farm was down a long dirt road, on the edge of town. Imbabura is one of the volcanoes that sits looming out past their farm. The farm is pretty great, it sits on land that is surrounded by a few other of their families farms and houses and also new places just getting developed. It’s quiet and secluded out there. The house that’s there is unfinished inside, it’s big, many rooms, instantly I thought I could live here in one of these rooms and work the farm. They are raising many chickens and guinea pigs or ‘coy’ (which I found out are a delicacy here), and a few dogs are running around. They are growing many good things, lots of fruits I had not seen before, coffee plants, squash, grapes, limes, oranges, beans, corn, sugar cane, avocado, oblong looking tomatoes, many flowers and more I’m sure I’m leaving out. One thing that stood out to me while visiting was that everyone I met and almost every house I passed had a garden, big, small or in between, food was growing everywhere. I didn’t see anything that looked like a grocery chain or even a large food store in general, instead I saw markets, markets, and more markets. Also many people selling fruits out of wheel barrels on the streets or coming on buses selling small packages of fruits and vegetables.

 

 

Later that day we made our first group venture out. This day we stopped at a few markets of artisans. One town was called Otavalo, which is known for it’s many wood workers. Big statues made of wood filled the town square and here was where the market was. We got our first lesson in the art of the barter. So it’s customary to wheel and deal with the vendors, it’s actually seen as a compliment. Our hosts had us pick some things we were interested in and then would go talk the vendors down. It was intriguing to listen to and watch, even though I couldn’t understand a word of it, except I came to know ‘caunto’ (how much). I would later on try my hand a few times with the barter game, it was fun and I felt pretty awesome after I talked one vendor down from $25 to $23 to finally $20. The crafts were wonderful, many wooden gifts of all kinds, volcano stone objects, jewelry, textiles, clothing, blankets, all in brilliant, bright colors and designs, little souvenir items, shoes and of coarse the hats. I just loved all the hats, Ecuador is famous for their Panama hats, which everywhere you go you’ll find someone making them. Ladies would be walking down the street making them, sitting in shops working on them, in the markets and on and on, it’s really neat to see. Oshos mother, Rosa, the sweetest, old Ecuadorian lady you’ll ever meet made two for Jill while we were there at her house. I wanted a hat while I was there but never found the right one.

 

 

We ate out quite a bit, from little family restaurants, to street food, to little snacks at the markets and we learned quickly that the main courses no matter the meal is lots of rice, chicken, corn and potatoes. Lunch was a soup, usually with chicken and then a big plate of chicken, rice, and motay with homemade hot sauce. It was great at first but after awhile we ended up getting loads of vegetables and making our own creations. I will say the idea of refrigeration is looked at a bit differently there. I spent one whole day pretty sick from eating ‘coy’ twice and it was not a fun experience. I was set on the fact that it was a traditional meal of Inca people and I wanted to be authentic but perhaps my western stomach didn’t agree. Another very frequent thing to see and experience were the street dogs. They were everywhere! All kinds too, they’d bark at night especially and sometimes travel in small packs. Most people simply ignored them, some fed them. You couldn’t go very far without seeing them roaming free all over.

 

 

 

On one of our days spent in the first city we made a trip a sacred lake called, Laguna de Cotacachi. It is an active crater lake. We took a boat ride around the lake and got to witness the many birds that lived there and also the active gas emissions bubbling from below. No fish existed in it. It also is at the base of a volcano. It was a beauty. We did a small hike and saw some ancient sun and lunar dials. Later, I spent about an hour strolling by myself and found a cemetery that I found interesting, the whole place was like little buildings, no one here buried underground. Our wonderful hosts took us our final morning there for a scenic hike up the mountain near the house at 5:45 am. It was fun walking the streets in the dawn hour when no one was really out yet. We got to the top of the trail and it over looked the whole city, quite a sight. It was hard to leave our wonderful hosts, before we did we were gifted some amazing gifts. A very old bowl and two figurines from the Inca people that Oshos sisters husband found while setting up their farm, a hobby of his, I was quite honored. We took a van taxi from there for a few hours back to Quito where we were to catch a flight off to our next city. Before we did we stopped at a true delight, the equator! Here we found the absolute center of the world, latitude 0 degrees, longitude 0 degrees. We checked out a few exhibits there, art, a native village and some equator fun. It was surreal to stand there on the center line knowing we were standing on the center of the earth. The monument was really cool and the most touristy thing we did on our trip.

Next we flew to a neat city called Cuenca. This city is buzzing with activity. We caught a bus to a smaller town called Chordeleg where we’d stay with Oshos mother, Rosa, in a truly rustic, real deal Ecuadorian home. It’s an open air home, everything is concrete, the rooms are pretty opened to the outside, the water is mostly cold, chickens roam around freely, and the living here is simple and pretty much off the grid. At first I wasn’t sure about the comfort level here but after the first day I felt right at home and appreciated the experience. Brendan fell in love with the part street dog, part house dog named Chobo who hung around the house a bunch, he’d feed and love on him everyday, which Oshos mom got a kick out of. Chordeleg is a quint little place where everyone knows everyone. Many family members lived in the town as well so we’d run into them all over town. On this leg of the journey we took many taxis and buses and I have never used the ‘oh shit’ handle in a car so much, they drive fast and take curves like it’s no ones business! While here we’d walk in four parades, pray in church and homes a lot, and sit for many a family meal. It was Christmas after all and the celebrations were in full swing. Baby Jesus was at the center of everything, little baby Jesus dolls would be involved in every parade and taken through the streets. Fire works accompanied every event, home made fireworks at that on bamboo sticks. We rented traditional costumes for two of the parades, which was really fun. The biggest parade featured stories from the bible from creation to the birth of Jesus and the people went all out making elaborate floats on their vehicles. It was huge and tons of good fun.

 

With all the parades came all the parties and the dancing. We got to celebrate Anas grandfathers 82 birthday with a big party.  We danced a lot and we were the hit of the dance floor. Most everyone had the same dance moves but we brought our free styles and got many laughs, many stares and many offers for dance partners. They were so happy we were out there busting a move. Something that took some getting used to were the looks, not from the family but from strangers on the streets. Not many white people (gringos) lived here in this part of the country, actually didn’t see any the whole time. The people here stopped to stare and laugh at us all the time. I know my beard and Jills red hair stuck out for sure, I think Brendan in his beanie 24/7 got some long looks as well. At first it was funny but after a while it was a little uncomfortable. I know they didn’t mean harm or insult. Part of me was happy to be a in place where ‘white people’, Americans, hadn’t touched yet, it was refreshing actually. I’m sure if we stayed longer the looks would pass eventually.  Many Americans lived in the bigger cities and you could spot them a lot, however it’s mostly older, retired folks. I heard something like 8,000 were in Cuenca. I saw it as a unique experience, just a little annoying sometimes. We visited Cuenca a few times, one day spent going to the dentist, who was amazing and fast, it was very affordable compared to the US. One day just walking the city, visiting the markets and buying some really cool ponchos and other things to bring home. We challenged ourselves with communicating, bartering and getting directions. The colors in South America are one of my favorite things, as well as the traditional  dress, especially the woman with their dresses, hats and golden beads. It’s pretty pronounced how short everyone is as well. The language barrier was a tough, so many times we missed out on would be great conversations. We decided when we returned home we’d take some lessons for the future. Some of the family spoke little bits of english and we picked up on some spanish while there, so not all was lost in translation. One of our last experiences was after our last parade we got to sit and witness some traditional dancing, some tribal, some groups, it was fantastic.

 

 

Getting to know the family, which is a really big family, was a real pleasure. We created bonds and friendships I am positive will be for a lifetime. They all were so gracious and giving, constantly checking in to make sure we were okay and fed and happy. And it was extra special blending our little family with theirs, two different cultures and two different races, in perfect harmony. We all got along famously. This was a Christmas I will never forget. A really nice aspect of the holiday there was that there was no real gift exchange, no consumerism or santa or excess, they do love their lights though, lots of blinking, neon lights everywhere. It was a super great trip overall, it was awesome to spend it with my love and my sun. It’s one of my new favorite places…….and I will return one day.

 

 

 

Traveling the Northern tips-Maine-Cape Breton-Nova Scotia

I recently spent 20 days on an adventure to the high North lands of Nova Scotia and it’s something I certainly won’t ever forget. I’ll admit at first I was unsure what I was in for, the pictures looked nice, the ocean is always a cool visit but I asked ‘what’s up there?’, it really didn’t seem like much, but boy was I wrong! I have rarely seen such untouched beauty, pristine landscapes, quaint little harbor villages, wild untamed ocean and exciting, unassuming exploration to be had. The trip started from the mountains of North Carolina, Asheville, where we live, which is always a nice way to start a long drive because it’s quite pretty. That didn’t take long to wear off as we got into the open highway and the typical roadside scenery, luckily for me I was with my sweetheart who is a wonderful road trip companion, we practiced some Spanish for our next big trip to Ecuador, we laughed and talked a lot and one of my favorite car activities, we sang along to a fun playlist that took days to create. 9 states up the coast to land in Portland Maine. Portland is a cool little port city, especially walking along the waterfront. Lots of neat little shops, scarlet brick buildings and of course seafood restaurants, where I got my first taste of Maine Lobster, or shall I say lobsta. The highlight for me here though  was the first two lighthouses of the trip, spring point ledge and Portland headlight. Oh the lighthouses! They captured me right away and it became a treasure hunt to find everyone of them.

While in Portland we also visited a local yoga studio called ‘Yogave’ and had a great class and we both bought shirts from a funky little shop called ‘Mexicalli Blues’. Just outside of Portland we passed a small island called Mackworth Island and made a quick stop, we were able to walk the whole island, it is home to a school for the blind. Here I found my first sight of Maine Chaga on a white birch and also we came across a small patch of forest with a sign that invited guests to build fairy houses and we did (: After leaving there we drove up the coast until night fall and found a church parking lot to stop and sleep in, thank you Little River Church. Our scenario was that we drove a Prius, mind you they look small but the seats drop and I’m 5’11 and had plenty of room to stretch out. In the morning we discovered we ended up in a small town called Belfast, we went to the only place open for breakfast and wouldn’t you know they were famed for the ‘best breakfast on the east coast’, Traceys Diner. Next we were on our way to Bar harbor and discovered a very large bridge that looked like two Washington Memorials and it had an elevator 450 ft up to the top, also it was part of Fort Knox park. Going to the top, observation tower was a bit of a test for me as I get some serious vertigo in high places and this was high up. It was fascinating though to be in a little room surrounded by glass windows and a killer view, you could see all the way to Acadia park where we were headed. Fort Knox was a neat old fort settled along along a big river, it’s a big place with a lot o stroll through. From there we headed to Bangor after somehow stumbling upon the fact that there is a giant Paul Bunyan statue there. I was too excited about this because when I was a kid my father took my sister, brother and myself to one in Crystal Beach and the picture always stood out to me looking back, so that said we had to go! This one was wonderful and I even left a flower and some of my dads ashes there with Paul. Our good fortune had us run into some folks traveling from the south like us and headed to Nova Scotia also surprisingly, what’s more is they told us Stephan Kings house was about ten minutes away. With that we had our next destination. We did find out it’s just one of his houses, but this one seemed fitting with a spider web fence out front. I read some of his books and got quite into them, one of my favorites was ‘Desperation’.

Next came Acadia National park and Bar Harbor. We got our camp site at black woods campground, which is in a nice woodsy setting. After setting up we traveled into Bar Harbor, a very cute little town. We had a big whole lobster dinner with clam chowder, blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream and coffee for dessert, doing it up! Then walked around the shops and did a seaside trail that followed the water, it was neat with lots of historical sign posts to read and rose hip bushes everywhere. Back at camp we started a nice fire and enjoyed about ten minutes of peace before our neighbors arrived. Here’s my problem with campgrounds….people, not all people just the ones that are loud and rude which is what we got. All the same it was great to be there and camping. We got up before the sun and hustled up to Cadillac mountain to catch the sunrise. It’s quite a spectacle, so it’s the first point the sun hits in the US and many people gather here to watch the show. We were early and made some coffee in the jet boil. The colors were incredible! Deep oranges, reds and pinks. A cool fog swept over the water below, it was just a beautiful sight to behold. The following morning was even more amazing but we didn’t even bother to bring our cameras and instead take it in the moment. It was so clear and the sun creeped out from tip to a perfect round burning red star. Having had such an early start to our day we got right into the park,42790992_10213509180868231_7531497205354463232_n  we loaded up the bikes and found what’s called the carriage roads, a series of gravel trails that wind around various parts of the park. We started at a place called Jordan pond and made our way from there. It was a wonderful ride along white birch lined trails, past lakes and great little vistas, I even stopped to gather some Chaga. After our ride we blew up our inflatable kayaks and jumped in eagle lake for a paddle. We did the whole lake, for me it was so great to be in a kayak again. We got to move our camp site to a better more remote spot, funny enough we landed next to a group of twenty somethings who seemed like they were gonna be loud but ended up being really cool and respectful. We made Chaga on the fire and enjoyed the night. The next day was one of discovering the park some more, we checked out sand beach, a gorgeous beach in the mountains, the waves were too fierce to get in sadly, next was a place called thunder hole, a bunch of cliffs and rocks that formed a tunnel like structure were big waves rolled into and created a loud booming thud that you could feel, so neat. We both left some ashes near our camp site before rolling on.

 

Leaving Acadia was hard, it’s such a beautifully special place and I felt as though we were just getting into exploring it, but the road was calling to us and much more adventure was ahead of us. We grabbed a hot shower at a little hut that had laundry, quarter showers, wood and vending machines. We continued our journey ever northbound and came across a small roadside stand called ‘Fundy Farms’ where they had an array of homemade products but most significantly Chaga! I was way too excited to see that on the sign and check out there stuff. We ended up getting some stuff and moving on down the road. Just as we were about to leave Maine we happened upon a big blue geo-dome, it was a giant blueberry.  We loved this place, it is blueberry heaven. Jill and the owner talked VWs, we got blueberry pie with blueberry ice cream, got some blueberry jam and blueberry muffins. Our last Maine treat and onto the border. The crossing was a small one into New Brunswick and naturally we got pulled aside with my last name (Krzyzaniak) and a nice long beard. One of those wonderful moments of feeling the ease of being in recovery, nothing to fear. Once in Canada we stopped in a big port city called St. Johns, seemed like a neat city from the little we saw but very big and busy. Had shepherds pie poutine, soo good. If you don’t know the joys of poutine it simply is french fries covered in gravy and smothered with cheese curd, from there anything can happen, on the trip I tried this one, lobster poutine, steak poutine and maple syrup style. This was a favorite growing up in upstate New York. Once in Canada a very distinctive thing that sticks out right away is the highways made of pink, I loved this. The speed limit changes to kilometers and the city/towns exit signs are painted with colorful scenes. The absolute cleanliness is apparent and the vividness of colors and landscapes stands out visually. Our first destination was the Bay of Fundy, the highest, fastest tide change in the world. The national park was beautiful. We stayed here for a few nights. We hiked some of the trails, including a small waterfall trail. I found Chaga of coarse and we got to walk along the ocean floor, collecting many colorful ocean stones. It seemed like miles of ocean floor by day and then as evening came all we walked was covered by ocean again, seeing the tide change was pretty wild. We actually met some folks from North Carolina that were fleeing a big hurricane that hit home while we were gone, hurricane Florence.

It was really something special being able to witness the changing of the tides and as we were leaving we got a great tip to check out a place called Hopewell Rocks pretty close to the Bay of Fundy. There’s something there called teapot rocks, trees growing on the top of these massively tall stones, when the tide is in they seem to be small islands but when it goes out the stones take on interesting shapes and designs. The park itself was a really, really cool and surreal place. Here there were people from around the globe visiting. From there we stopped at a place called Cape Enrage, a large cape that endures some of the harshest ocean winds that batter it’s shores and coastlines. It is a place you leave the remains of loved ones traditionally, so we did. Going onward we went crossing over onto the island of Nova Scotia. It seemed like an endless drive at first, lots of country side, tiny villages and lots of open road. We passed

by little bright colored houses and were ocean side most of the drive. We ended up sleeping in a church parking lot, here you can park just about anywhere safely and sleep. The small wharfs and harbors were so cute and quaint, I wanted to stop at them all. Also the churches and of coarse the lighthouses! One of our big destinations was the Cabot trail and Cape Breton park that was along the road. Once we reached the Cabot we came across a famous Celtic music center where we stayed for a few songs and then got on a biking trail called Celtic sea trail, that stretched some 70 miles or so, we rode for 15, it is an awesome ride that follows the coast. Next we landed in Pleasant Bay which entered the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This place was awesome! We hiked several trails, some that stuck out were the skyline trail which had amazing views, out croppings, many woodsy sections, here we saw a moose and it finishes with a long staircase that leads to a huge opening to the ocean. We also did a short bog trail that  featured many interesting aquatic plants such as. There was a waterfall called Mary Ann falls which was wonderful and also a jack pine trail that had 350 year old jack pines, and the coastal trail was pretty great also, a long trail that walked the coastline across many beaches made of huge rocks. Besides the moose we saw many tiny red squirrels, eagles and a favorite were the sea lions. There’s a huge Celtic lodge and behind it is middle head trail that was a very nice walk around, lots of Chaga on this trail! There’s so much to see in this park we only got to do about half of what we’d of liked to.

 

While in Pleasant Bay we stopped at one of the best highlights for me, a Buddhist Abbey and stupia, the home of renowned monk Pema Chodron. Down a long, windy dirt road is where this very modest abbey sits. A few small buildings for the residents, monastics, a nice sized garden and some walking trails, one that leads to the stupia of enlightenment. Stupia is very impressive, it’s quite large and has a big encased Buddha on top. Surrounding it are 21 plaques with inscriptions on simple, truthful living. Seven poles of Prayer flags fly behind the stupia. Here we left our tiny miniature stupia, it’s part of a project from a local sangha, instead ours is precious stones, dharma scrolls, ashes of our loved ones and some Chaga. This place was very peaceful. The stupia was a little battered, though not that old, the harsh winds from the ocean and winters has beaten it up a bit. We found a trail that went straight up the mountain, on this day it was cold and very rainy but we braved it. The views were wonderful all the way up and when we reached the top we found a statue of the Buddha of compassion as well as a small hut representing the Shambhala tradition. It was quite awesome and a little puzzling how they got that statue way up this mountain. We camped the night near an old abandoned house on a crazy steep ledge. A bald eagle had it’s nest up there.

It was hard to leave this magical part of our journey. As we did we stopped at an amazing french pastry place to help ease the sadness and it did help because those were some of the finest pastries I’ve ever had. Our next stop was to be meat cove, the very edge of the world or at least most northern tip of Nova Scotia. The road to get there is a bit rough but once there it truly is something to experience. The campground is right on the edge, a small little place with room for about forty or so campers, there’s a small food hut and lots of just beautiful scenery. A small rock beach is down below full of rock towers people have built along the way. There’s also a trail that goes up past the campgrounds and takes you along this huge hill overlooking everything, here we left more ashes. I could of stayed there for weeks it was so beautyful, but we had to keep moving. We found this place called white point which again was another super highlight. The trail rolled along big hills with big white rocks scattered all over them. The unknown sailors grave was here, marking all the sailors lost at sea. We found a spot that the waves crashed into the shoreline with huge splashes and sprays and posted up there awhile just listening to the sounds and enjoying the sun, it was perfect delight. The color of the water was this royal blue and the white surf was bubbly and a wonderful compliment. Also on our route we discovered a most wonderfully amazing surprise…a lighthouse with an ice cream parlor inside!! my two favorite things in one place, I was shocked and so happy. Not to mention on the way into it there were huge stone triangles, my official symbol.

With a lot more to see we strolled on to Lunenburg, one of the most colorful little places I had ever been. The houses were painted in the best oranges, purples, turquoises, yellows, reds and more. One of the favorite churches I seen was here. it was a small port town with chances to jump on a sail boat or whale watch tour. We missed our chance due to a cold and windy day. We walked the town, had lunch and ice cream. The famous racing boat ‘The Blue Nose’ was on display which we got to board her. Next town over we ran into a scarecrow festival, which we walked around for and saw two of my favorites on display, wizard of oz and alice in wonderland. Baddeck was yet another stop, this place is famous for it’s Alexander Graham Bell museum which was rather interesting, many of his inventions were on display. His home we didn’t get to see was pretty close to there. I was pretty delighted to learn he liked and used triangles a lot. One other National park we stopped at was called Kejimkujik, a coastal park. We hiked a nice long way that had us on a long beach for much of it. We saw more sea lions, this time through a telescope. Somewhere in the travels in between we managed to get lost in Halifax for a few hours, now that’s a big place and kind of weird to be in since most of the time we spent in tiny towns and spread out country sides but it was on route to one of our last stops in Nova Scotia which was peggys cove, a woman who survived shipwreck and washed up in this town. The lighthouse in the town was one of the nicest I seen, standing on huge, flat, smooth stones miles long. The town itself was really small but quite cute. Broad cove was another neat little place we stayed at, on a small beach we had all to ourselves we had a fire and saw more sea lions. On our last day we met up with someone Jill knew from a previous trip in Yarmouth and had a sort of dinner together afterwards going to a local secret spot to collect sea glass. We’d be catching a five hour ferry back to the states the next day.

Nova Scotia was so hard to leave. It had been such a great adventure here. The slow pace of life there, the vividness of the landscape, the untouched raw features of the cliffs and hillsides, the friendly people, the great northern vibe, the seafood, the quaint towns, soo much to miss. It was nice to be able to spread the trip out to experience a great deal. This is a place I’m sure I will return to and it’s wonders will stay in my heart and memories. Once on the mainland we had a short drive to my sisters home in Waltham, Massachusetts, where we got to spend two days with the family.  We played with my little niece and nephew and got to pay a visit to Walden pond, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. We saw the site of Henry David Thoreau’s’ cabin and strolled around the whole pond. He is definitely one of my favorite figures in history. Down the east coast we went traveling back home, one last thing we did was stop at endless caverns in Tennessee, a really neat cavern. It was a great journey to the northern tips, healing and filling, unique and special. Certainly my favorite road trip so far! Thank you Canada, I’ll see you again.

 

The year of chicken of the woods and the mushrooms…..

IMG_20180611_10123312039338_10205065102212159_1172590315169363054_n

So this is the year of plentiful mushrooms here in the Blue Ridge Mountain wing of the Appalachians. So far this season I have hunted and foraged over 30 pounds of chicken of the wood mushrooms! Some of my biggest, grandest finds to date as a matter of fact. These are some of the tastiest, most hearty mushrooms in the woods in my opinion and the prettiest by far. So I’ve been looking at the benefits of eating these wonderful gifts from the forest and here’s some of what I found so far: Of coarse it’s loaded with Protein (a great way to substitute for meat)–Vitamins B, C, D and K— Fiber, Calcium and Magnesium. Also it is considered Anti-fungal, Anti-biotic, and has tumor inhabiting proprieties!! Further more I’ve read that eating them regularly helps maintain good health and will defend the body against illness. These are the exciting benefits of a days walk in the woods. For me when I stumble upon a nice flush of these bright orange treasures I become a kid again, sometimes screaming with joy, sometimes wanting to cry because they are so beautiful (: **An important thing to know when hunting is that if you cut chickens correctly, leaving a wedge attached then they will regrow in about a week, also they often come back to the same place every year!** Over the years I have found some great finds of chickens..here’s a few from my early days hunting:

 

 

 

What’s more is that I have been able to share these huge finds with many people. Now I have eaten my share of my finds…sometimes eating too many over weeks and nothing else, which can upset the belly a bit (wild mushrooms can be hard to digest until it becomes part of your diet), but I live in an unique place here in Asheville, North Carolina where it is rather accessible to sell your edible foraging finds to many vegetarian, vegan and wild foods restaurants. It’s amazing what great chefs can do with these mushrooms, making some of the best plates I’ve ever seen. It’s a nice little side income for people like myself trying to make it as an entrepreneur.  Myself I love to play around in the kitchen and have cooked chickens into all kinds of lovely and fun dishes such as tacos, lasagnas, alfredo pastas, stir fries and just straight up sauteed as a side.

IMG_20180611_163117

Here’s one recipe idea you might enjoy:

CHICKEN FRIED CHICKEN OF THE WOODS

Like your typical chicken fried steak, these would be fine with some red-eye gravy, or just a few lemon slices and a green salad for a lighter touch.

Serves 4 people as a main course

Ingredients

  • 8 2oz pieces of young, chicken of the woods, the size of a small fist- this should weigh about 1lb
  • All purpose flour as needed for breading
  • A nice pinch of cayenne pepper and paprika
  • 3 eggs, for breading
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Lemon wedges for serving, optional

Method

  1. Take your pieces of chicken mushrooms and trim off the tough part where the stem starts to attach to the tree. Wash and dry the mushrooms.
  2. Season the flour lightly with salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne to taste. Toss the mushrooms first in flour, then in egg, then in flour again. If your chickens have been in the fridge for a day or two they might be a bit dry, and could have trouble allowing the coating to adhere. If this happens: don’t worry, just repeat the breading process until the are coated nicely, sometimes I have to coat mine twice: flour/egg/flour/egg/flour.
  3. Heat a pan with 1/4 cup cooking oil, as well as 2 tbsp unsalted butter. Add your breaded chicken mushrooms, the crushed clove of garlic, and the thyme. Cook the chicken of the woods until they are golden brown on each side, about 4-5 minutes, adding extra oil if the pan gets dry, then blot the mushrooms on a paper towel quickly to weep excess oil, sprinkle with a little salt and serve immediately.

And perhaps another:

Chickens and pasta

Ingredients:

• 4 tablespoons butter (or vegetable oil), divided
• 1-1/2 pounds young chicken of the woods mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped
• 1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
• 1/4 cup dry white wine or sherry
• 1-1/2 cups milk (vegans can leave this out and double the amount of stock)
• 1-1/2 cups mushroom or vegetable stock
• 3 tablespoons flour
• Several sprigs fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• Salt
• Pepper

Instructions:

1. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet over low heat. Add the mushrooms and shallot and cook, stirring often, until they have first released any liquid and then reabsorbed it, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Combine the milk and stock in a small pot and heat to a simmer.

3. In a separate medium-size pot, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the hot milk/stock mixture a little at a time. (If you dump it all in at once, it will clump.)

4. Add the thyme, and return to the stove and simmer over medium-high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring vigorously and often, until it starts to thicken. Add the mushrooms along with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Serve over any cooked pasta, but fettuccine is especially good here. Go lightly with the grated cheese, if any.

 

Simply sauteing in oil and butter along with some lemon pepper and fresh herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary..along with a little fresh garlic or ramps and some onions, peppers, tomatoes, snap peas, and asparagus usually does the trick real nice.

Here’s two videos you might dig:  stir fry sweet and sour    and omelette style

 

So for me it’s all about the hunt, wondering aimlessly around the forest, following small streams into magical places that I imagine running into small fairies or gnomes or other mythical creatures. Often I imagine being the first person to discover wild places, as if I’m the first to set foot on that particular piece of land. I relate to the native way of life, foraging for my food and medicine and bringing back what I find to my tribe. Getting off the trail and into the unknown. Picking mushrooms has a primal feel, a person of the land to it. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt, turning over leaves or mounds of pine needles, searching for the buried reward. When I first moved here I was fascinated by all the different types of mushrooms, the colors, smells, sizes and shapes, I had a deep, burning desire to know them all! The truest badge of a good hunter is that they are still alive after eating all kinds of mushrooms…just kidding.  After years at it I know at least 30-40 different types that I’m completely comfortable identifying, eating, admiring, staying away from and teaching about. It never loses its rich appeal to me and my thirst to learn more is always growing. It’s something I really enjoy sharing with others interested in this vast world of fungi. The more I research the more I realize that the fungi kingdom is the network of the woods, the woods wide web you might say, trees communicate with one another through long lines of mycelium, mushroom DNA is closely related to that of our own, and these decomposers keep the forest healthy and alive. This year, 2018, seems like it’s gonna be a great year for the mushrooms, follow the rains people and find the shrooms. I can’t wait till tomorrow I say each night to see where my adventures take me and what mushrooms I will find next. I close with images of some of this years finds of chickens so far…enjoy…

 

 

Mindfulness-mediation-recovery in 2018

 

 

2018 is going to be transformative!! That is my intention anyway. The year that just passed away was a wild one for me. My story saw some chapters end, most notably the passing of my father and putting to rest my years of living out of tune, ending my drinking and drugs career. It also saw new, exciting chapters begin. It was a back to school vibe in my recovery, going to rehab, joining both AA and Refuge Recovery communities and going to an IOP (intensive out-patient program)  program, not to mention getting more deeply involved in the local community yoga and mediation sanghas. Each and every one of these groups is filled with ‘spiritual friendships’ as the Buddha himself may have said. Teachers, students, mentors, fellow seekers, peers, new comers, old timers, friends and people I warmly call family. After going ‘all in’ in my recovery I had to start from square one as far as my circle goes. So many friendships I had previously proved to be empty and unsupportive, in short party friends. For the first time in my life I have sought out and found myself surrounded by sober people and it seems these are ‘my people’, we are all very different but very similar as well, we understand and relate to one another and also possess a gratefulness like no other people I have encountered. The other component of these communities I have taken refuge within  that has created a learning environment for me has been the focus on mindfulness. I am about to turn 40 years young and I have just begun to use mindfulness in my life. I began learning this skill in my rehab and it it showed up time and time again in my recovery ever since, in my IOP and Refuge Recovery groups. Mindfulness has been described to me as paying attention on purpose, investigating thoughts and emotions in real time, sitting with feelings, being present, living in the moment. Every one of those descriptions resonate with me, all too often in my past I ran from painful emotions, tried to escape unpleasant thoughts or situations, and very much ruminated on past mistakes, punishing myself in cruel and unusual ways. The first move was to recognize that. Having to be in a controlled place was the perfect place to start, no phone, no one around I knew, and my schedule made for me. I began to reflect on what got me there, years, 24 to be exact of abusing drugs and alcohol and stuck in one way of thinking. I realized I often made up stories in my mind of what I thought reality was, stories of how people looked at me, stories of why I had an excuse to get drunk that day. I’ve since learned that repetitive craving is a major reason for addiction, add to that repetitive negative thoughts and low self esteem issues and I was deep in the grips. Enter mediation, I began trying it about a year ago, however being in active addiction made it not very effective, I often got high or drank before I’d mediate. So take the distraction of substances out of the equation and I was left with only my mind. There is an AA group on my street that mediates together every morning of the year and there I have made a home. Mediating with them as well as an insight mediation group and discovering Refuge Recovery I began the investigation. Mediation gave me the opportunity to quiet my surroundings, quiet my mind, and feel every sensation that came up. For me it didn’t come hard, it felt natural and I easily relaxed into the stillness. If thoughts of using came into me mediation quickly took them away, if irritation was rising in me mediation made it vanish. The more I learn about it and practice it, the more useful it becomes in combating the unpleasantness that life can throw at me. Mediation and mindfulness go hand in hand completely complimenting one another. As I slow my mind down through mediation I become more aware of the thoughts and actions I don’t like about myself, that don’t serve me or anyone else in a positive way. For instance I was a very judgmental person at times in my past, in sobriety and using mindfulness I now recognize it when it shows up and drop the judgment. I remind myself in the exact moment it happens not to be judgmental. Since I’ve been practicing I have noticed that I do it a lot less and it almost has become nonexistent, though we strive for perfection none of us ever reach it completely and that is ok. Another key component of mindfulness is having compassion for ourselves, just knowing that I’m not perfect and having a slip in thinking or acting happens and I don’t have to have a negative reaction to it, instead having compassion, being mindful, aware and then changing the thought or action. It is life changing it really is. So many destructive thoughts and actions I once found refuge in have been identified and changed and replaced with things like kindness, compassion and peace. I have rebuilt my self confidence, that literally was on the floor, squished under my foot and shattered in several pieces. I have focused on service and what I can do to help others and have been able to combat stressful situations and painful thoughts with mediation and mindfulness and move on with my day in a positive, productive way.

 

 

 

When I look at one of the biggest differences I have experienced through mediation and mindfulness, it can summed up in one word, reaction. I love that I can say back in the day, so back in the day I was a fast, instant reactor, when something came into my mind that made me uncomfortable, anxious or bothered I would usually react in a compulsive, negative way. I had a lot more anger, self hatred, judgment, lack of patience, and stubbornness. The longer I sit and mediate when situations arise the better my reaction becomes. It gives me the space to evaluate my options, to see clearly where my thoughts are coming from and time to let negative feelings fade, as they say every emotion lasts only ninety seconds! In AA they describe it as finding the space between your impulse and your action. This is so important in battling cravings for instance. They can come on strong but with just a small pause they can lessen and vanish in just a few minutes time. The more I am mindful of my behaviors and reactions the more I am willing to change. I want to be the best, highest version of myself and through these practices I am on my way!

Let me speak about Refuge Recovery for a moment. This recovery program was started by Noah Levine three and a half years ago. It is a Buddhist approach to recovery using mindfulness, mediation and the eight fold path as it’s core principals. Not only is it a new, alternative approach to recovery but it also offers a map to a more compassionate, loving lifestyle than that most of us knew in addiction. This program has certainly changed, saved and reshaped my life completely. Open to addictions of all kinds from drugs and alcohol to process addictions such as eating disorders, screen addictions and codependency. This brings many different viewpoints and insights, which for me hearing about how others cope with their addictions that are different from mine can be really helpful. Refuge is certainly moving with the modern times more than any other approach and the book itself brings newer language and experience with it. I’ve found the community to be warmer and safer than others with solution based formats, the people seem to share on what keeps them sober more than telling old war stories. The eight fold path lays out a new way to live, recovering from addiction I had to learn how to live over again in a lot of aspects, had to make new friends, try many new activities and learn new thinking patterns. On the path I’m learning how to use right speech, being mindful of how I talk and how it might effect others and not lying which was huge in my addiction. Learning right effort and energy which takes the form of doing service work in my community, volunteering, helping others. Using different meditations in different ways, for example I have used forgiveness mediation to help me heal with past resentments such as the deeply painful feelings I felt were never completely resolved between my father (who passed away) and I, but also using it to forgive myself for my mistakes instead of lingering on them and letting guilt grow into shame. Loving kindness mediation to send just that to those I love but to those I struggle with. Concentration mediation to focus my mind on a single object which for me is my mantra which I follow my mala beads in repeating 108 times and if my mind wonders, and it does, bringing it back to my mantra. So my mantra goes like this…right thought, right view, right speech, right heart, right intention, right action and right practice. I’m learning right livelihood which brought me to quit my job in a head shop warehouse where they sold glass pieces like bongs and pipes, vaporizers and glorified beer and party items. I didn’t want to be in that environment with people who got high all day while working but also didn’t want to be a part of spreading addiction which is the core of this part of the path, having a job that causes no harm. Living a life that includes service is so key to my recovery, volunteering in the community has been huge for me, it’s losing selfishness and giving of yourself to others. This brings me such true joy, the appreciation I receive for helping is so much more than I ever received at a job but that’s just the perk because helping others just feels great and it’s without exception of getting anything in return. I was a selfish person for some time and turning the tables on that has been amazing.              Besides the eight fold path learning Buddhism has been enlightening, no fun intended. It can a be such a simple way to live, with mindfulness and compassion and non attachment. I’m understanding impermanence and how emotions don’t last, hard situations pass, cravings come and go, death finds us all and is part of life, letting go can equal freedom and liberation, and the middle way is better than an extreme one way or the other. There’s so much to learn and dive deeper into and for the first time in my life I’m sure I’m on the right path and developing a way of living that fits, feels great and is opening doors I never knew existed in my mind, all while clear and sober! I’ve begun to work with others on a mentoring level and it’s added such depth to my recovery. It is the service I’ve looked forward to and it really does keep me motivated to stay sober, guiding others along the same path, working together and sharing the experience. I’ve found my home as I’m leaving the home I’ve had the last six years, funny how that works out, moving to a little house with my love Jill and starting fresh. I’m leaving behind a place that saw the ugliest parts of my life, the heights of my addiction, the people I used to know, all my shame, darkness and going towards the light. I found my home with a family built in in my recovery community, my sangha, my people. As I continue to deepen my mindfulness practice, lengthen and expand my meditations and keep on keepin on the recovery path, I stand on firm ground realizing realities and experiencing them instead of running from them. I’m going all in at last with my dream of working for myself with my chaga business. I’m finding freedom from addiction, samsara (the cycle of suffering),  and from letting emotions rule my life as I can now sit with anything in acceptance and understanding. Lovin life and livin right……….stay tuned spring is on it’s way and with it lots of mushroom hunting!!

 

Waterfallin

This is one of my favorite subject matters (: Waterfalls!!! I so happen to live in a part of the country where there is waterfalls galore. As far back as I can recall I loved hanging out at a waterfall. In the hometown I grew up in we had a little local falls called Talcott falls and in the summers that was my escape, many times I went there to sit under it. Fast forward many years to 2010 when I first moved to Asheville, North Carolina, it was here the hunting began. It became the thing for my sun, Brendan, and I to do. We went all over to find us a waterfall to peep out, swim in and enjoy. It became the thing to do any time anyone came to visit. To me there’s nothing more majestic than the magnificence and power of a beautiful waterfall. Besides being a fun hobby to seek them out, they also represent a near death experience for me. About two years ago I was having one of those days spending my morning drinking whiskey, first mistake, and needed to get out and see something beautiful. I drove to a local waterfall called catawba falls, one of true favorites in this area. With a troubled mind and alcohol in my veins I hiked the 3 miles to the base of the falls, from there it’s a challenging climb up a rocky terrain, using ropes to climb up some parts, to the top where down another trail is a hidden gem, a second falls. I hung there alittle while before climbing to the middle of the falls. There a young guy was sitting mediating and burning sage (which may have blessed my fall) on the ledge blocking the skinny walkway over to the falls. I had to sneak behind him to get past and as I did I stepped on a piece of wet moss, it’s been my experience moss can be soft and easy to step on. In this case it was slippery and I lost my traction, in a split second I found myself flying off the ledge falling backwards 25 feet or so off upper catawba falls! The young guy said he saw me grabbing for anything I could but there was nothing. I did a flip on the way down, hit my head, blacked out a moment, saw flowing water, and landed on my side surrounded by sharp rocks. I lived! Everything hurt, I had some scraps and pains but managed to not break, sprain or seriously mangle anything. What a miracle. I realized my life could of ended in a few seconds time, no time to have any flashbacks to good times, nothing, just gone. There was several people at the falls, including a family with little kids who may still be traumatized. Among them was an off duty ems worker and a nurse visiting from Boston, how lucky. They checked me out for major injuries and bandaged me up some. They were my saving grace and they all helped me hike, or hobble rather back down the trail to my car where a friend came to get me and take me to the er. At the hospital they told me waterfall and rock climbers were some of the most frequent visitors and one of the top causes of death around here. For many years I was comfortable and adventurous around falls, climbing them and messing around on them. After that event I learned my lesson, to respect the power of nature! I often get vertigo near them and in high places now. It’s no joke, many people die every year falling off waterfalls. At that very waterfall this past year a twenty year old fell to his death. I respect the signs and warnings and simply enjoy the beauty from the sidelines.

So there’s that story…..needless to say I gave up the bottle for good and play safe in the woods. Now if you ever find yourself in my neck of the woods let me let you in some great waterfalls out here. There’s a town here called Brevard, known as land of the waterfalls in Transylvania county. There’s a road, US-276 that will lead you to some highlights. Among them is looking glass falls, moore cove falls, courthouse falls and sliding rock falls (a natural waterslide). There’s also great primitive camping and official campgrounds off this road. There’s a trail that leads to looking glass rock with amazing views from the top where you can see mountains for miles and miles. It’s a neat town and wonderful hiking and exploring. Catawba falls, that I fell from is in a town called Old Fort, about 15 minutes from Asheville. Not far from Brevard is an experimental forest, waterfall playground known as Dupont forest  , where you’ll find at least 5 or six awesome, impressive waterfalls…triple falls, high falls, hooker falls, bridal veil falls and grassy ridge falls. This is an awesome place to take in multiple falls in one hike, but plan on spending the whole day here. In a place called Panthertown valley in a town called Cashiers you’ll find great hiking and some waterfalls, among them is schoolhouse falls and frolictown creek falls. Not too far from panthertown, in a hidden location is my favorite falls called paradise falls , definitely worth the journey! There’s a state park near the South Carolina/North Carolina border called Gorges state park that has nice waterfalls called turtle back falls and rainbow falls. Real close to that park is a huge waterfall called whitewater falls , which is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. Another beauty is linville falls in the town of Linville. That one is part of a great hiking area known as linville gorge that president Roosevelt set aside as an area to preserve and protect. These are all amazing spots and just breathtaking waterfalls. I feel so very fortunate and blessed to live in such a beautyful spot. I encourage you to click on those links and get your adventure on!!! Enjoy some of my pictures (: Thanks for stopping by y’all……

Late summer, early fall finds

As summer comes to an end and the fall trees begin to burst into beautyful colors of red, yellow, orange, and purple, the mushroom season continues to be in wonderful bloom. Recently I went out and found some beauties! In the picture above is a nice find of hen of the woods or Maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms, also known as the king of the fall mushrooms. This is one of my favorites to eat and forage for. They are a sort of ghost mushroom for me, they often blend in to the forest floor and can be challenging to spot. They grow often at the base of oak or maple trees. They grow in large clusters like the one I fetched. They have high medicinal value including being high in vitamin D, boosting the immune system, great for diabetes, antioxidants and they are studying it in the battle against cancer. It’s a special mushroom indeed.

20170922_140250   Next up is honey mushrooms (armillaria), also one of my favorites to cook and enjoy. They can found in large groups like this find. They taste really good, some of the best parts being the stringy stems. These need caution when foraging as they do have a close look alike that’s not good called galerina marginata or funeral bell mushrooms. There is some distinct differences and should be closely examined or run by an expert but once you get to know the honeys they are easy to decipher. It was a great honey season here in the western North Carolina mountains.

These two friends are pretty great in their own right. On the left are puffballs (calvatia gigantea). They are tasty but cook down really small, which is ok as they grow in numerous clusters. I find them often near the honeys and usually always on tree stumps. Crack them open, they should be white on the inside and not gray. I love their taste personally. There is a variety called giant puffballs, which are truly giants growing quite large and fun to find. I’ve two of those ever but I was pretty happy. The one on the right is a birch polypore (Pitptoporus betulinus). This is a good one used as a Immune tonic, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-parasitic, anti-septic, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and styptic. It is edible when young and fresh. It can be thrown in your bonfire to keep it burning longer (: It shot to fame after it was found on the body of Ötzi’, a 5300 year old mummy found preserved in the ice in the Italian Alps. It’s a special mushroom for sure, I encourage you to read about it if your into mushroom hunting, it’s a fascinating one….click that link above!

Here are some great medicinal plants they are out and about as well. First to the far left is one called jewel weed or spotted touch me not. It is hollow stemmed and juicy, the juice is super good for your skin in general. A special quality is that juice is key in treating poison ivy, many people use the stems and leaves raw and simply rub it all over any ivy spots. It is often added into soap making or ice cubes in treatment of ivy rashes. Besides that it’s leaves are proven to have anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties. The second to the left is stinging nettle. This plant is hard to handle as it has stingers that can be irritating, wearing gloves when handling helps. Those stingers are actually good and the leaves can be used topically to relieve joint pains. It can be made into a tasty tea or around these parts nettle soup is rather good and popular. It’s benefits include being used as a natural allergy reliever, benefits skin, bone and urinary health as well. You gotta make sure you cook it right to get rid of those stingers! Next in line is Indian pipe or ghost plant. It’s my absolute favorite to look at and enjoy, it is rare so not to over harvest. It’s known for being used to treat pain and neurological disruptions, such as seizures, convulsions, insomnia, extreme mental states, and regular muscular spasming. Best as a tincture, it turns purple and tastes of mocha. Lastly is smart weed or knot weed.  The leaves are beneficial for chronic ulcers and haemorrhoids, in tympanitis and flatulent colic, and as a wash in chronic inflammatory erysipelas. The tiny flowers are edible and nutty tasting, a nice little trail treat.

As you see there are many treasures out growing in the forest backyard right now. Lots of good eating and medicines for us to enjoy and use. I love this time of year, getting out to soak up the fall color and weather is refreshing and fills up my soul and senses! Hope you click on the links and learn some good information. Happy foraging and hiking y’all…..until next time with many more adventures to come, I’ll be out in the forest……

My Art

FullSizeR1_07My art is my release, it is a most special passion, and has been quite healing. Art started for me as a sort of peaceful meditation, using it as a means to wind down and clear my mind. To give you the truest beginnings and my history with drawing, the story goes like this….I had surgery on my right knee at the age of 31, where I tore my ACL playing volleyball with some middle school kids. This resulted in me being laid up for a few months while recovering. So, while having to sit that whole time, I needed something to occupy my mind. I then took up two activities; playing piano and drawing. I’m not exactly sure where my colorful style came from, but the format of adding several pictures into one bigger picture came from sitting in front of a huge, blank piece of white paper and wanting to fill the entire thing up. It is a trademark of mine to not leave any space unfilled. From there, as each picture progressed it became a timeline of my life put together as pieces to a puzzle. I can tell exactly what was happening at that point in my life and the places I had been. Every picture begins with a tree, which represents the wisdom of the forest, where I go to gather my inspiration and explore the natural universe. You will find many symbols, animals, plants, flowers, and many other things hidden in each picture. I only create originals (though I have been considering making prints) with the idea each piece is it’s own and the only one of it’s kind. It takes several weeks to months to finish one picture and the time from start to finish becomes it’s own journey. Besides drawing inspiration from nature, my own life, and places I’ve been, ideas come from study of religions, others art, and browsing the infinite world wide web. While in rehab, drawing became a place to escape and I believe that has carried over to everyday life. Taking your mind to a place of imagination and creativity can open new doors and passage ways in the brain, promoting healing, connecting and learning. Art is often used in therapy and studied in sciences.

Some of my favorite artists that I admire are: Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollack, Salvador Dali, Leo da Vinci, Bansky, Frida Kahlo, and Edvard Munch to name a few.  I love Native American, Asian, and Buddhist styles and it goes without saying that my style falls in the abstract realm. An interesting, fun tidbit is that my work can be viewed in 3-D. I discovered this by accident, doing an outdoor art/music show, there was a guy who excitedly was checking out my stuff and suggested we run to his place nearby where he had 3-D glasses, upon return, sure enough my pictures popped out perfectly! That has added a special element and interest; I even got commissioned by a local boutique store to do a piece that was gonna be made into a 3-D tapestry. Unfortunately, that never happened but they did buy the piece. (see above, the step by step pictures).  I discovered the secret to creating the 3-D effect is in the outlining, dark outlines and light colors inside really create that effect. Color, color, color, what to say about color?  Other than it’s freakin awesome (: I have much fun figuring out what colors to use and where. Bright colors especially are my jam and get the compliments. Throughout my time drawing I have done several custom pieces for people, I work with pictures they share of their memories and go off their interests. These are especially fun and challenging for me. Notably I did a piece for a good friend whose wife passed away; another for a friend and his girlfriend fusing their lives into one collective; one for a local hip hop artist which I finished drawing live at his show; one for a teacher that wanted to display it in her classroom; and one for my sister using mostly her art and transforming it into my abstract style. Doing these projects are so rewarding for me personally and when I get nice feedback it really makes me feel great. I have written two published books of poetry and have written since I was 16, which I like to add a piece of my poetry to the back of all my pictures. Mixing art and poetry brings together two of favorite passions. I’ve been lucky enough to display my art in a few restaurants, at a few outdoor music shows and art walks in my city of Asheville. It is a dream come true to make and share my art with many people whether it is in person or through social media. It’s an honor to know out in the world my art hangs on strangers, loved ones, and friends walls. Drawing will always be a part of my life, it’s added color, creativity and pleasure to all aspects of an already beautiful world….thanks for checking it out! A good deal of my art is on my instagram page …….keep in mind the colors and sharpness are much better than pictures can convey online (:

 

Hunting for chaga…the diamond of the forest….

 

 

 

So where to begin here… well chaga is my soul mushroom (: I’ve always enjoyed hiking to a ridiculous level however when I discovered chaga mushroom and hunting for it the fun and enjoyment was taken to new heights. I believe it is part of my lifes purpose to forage it, drink it everyday and bring it to the masses! What is chaga you may ask…well chaga or  Inonotus obliquus as it’s known in the scientific world is a highly medicinal mushroom most commonly found only on the birch tree. You might notice it’s name sounds like ‘I no notice’ which couldn’t be more true, it goes easily unnoticed on the tree often mistaken for burl or simply a knot on the tree, which makes the hunt that much more fun and rewarding. I myself have been foraging, using, teaching about it and selling chaga for seven years in total. Lets get into the facts….

Here are a few useful, informative links to check out….chaga info–click —chaga info–click —-chaga info click it! These sites will give you some real insight on how special this medicinal mushroom really is. Here’s what I can tell you…chaga is a big black mushroom that typically grows high up on the the birch tree and is unlike most typical mushrooms you see growing on the ground. They say the cure looks like the disease and in this case it rings true as chaga is being studied for cancer treatments and is known to reduce tumors which is just what it looks like. It is dark black and crumbly on the outside but golden colored and spongy on the inside, all parts are useful. Chaga actually kills the tree from the core out, it bursts out of a bruise or cut in the tree. In essence taking the chaga is actually saving the tree. For foraging purposes leaving some chaga on the tree is helpful as it will regrow out of the same spot many times over. It’s an extremely slow grower taking several years to reach maturity. Once you’ve gotten it off the tree you can use the whole chunk in a large batch however I use a big mallet to smash it up into small chunks or grind it down to a fine powder, seems to stretch much further this way. Chaga is primarily used as a tea or tincture but can be eaten in small sprinkles over salad and such. I myself drink it as a cold tea everyday blending it with things like ginger root, mint and cinnamon as a few ideas and found a nice hot chaga chai is delightful. There are many combinations you can discover, many use it as a coffee substitute mixing it with milk and honey, but it can be blended with coffee as well. It is an immune booster and great for the respiratory system as a whole. It’s super high in anti-oxidants, more so than blueberries and goji berries. It’s anti-flammatory and reduces swelling and aches related to such. It is highly valued as a detoxifier and purifier and contains zero toxins. The people in Siberia and Russia have used it in folk medicine for centuries and in some parts of eastern Europe the cancer rates are almost nonexistent. Chaga has a high level of melanin that protects DNA and fights radiation by activating the pineal gland. Chaga is a calmer of the nervous system. Chaga helps to reduce blood sugar and fight diabetes. So there are some top facts on it’s total value as a medicinal herb. The process of creating a tincture allows more of the nutrients from the chaga to soak into the liquid, this helps to synthesize the most powerful parts. Making both teas and tinctures is an easy process you can find it here—chaga prep.

Recently I found 16 pounds of chaga in the blueridge mountains. My largest find in one day was 24 pounds, hell of a day that was (: There has been much debate about harvesting wild chaga, it’s availability and how much is really out there. My experience is that it is very abundant and has the ability to regrow. It was put here for a reason like all herbs and natural medicine, to heal us and use. I’ve seen time and again chaga that went bad and fell off the tree, never to be used and gone to waste. It’s not about gaining money out of foraging for me. I enjoy teaching about it, taking others out so they can find their own and knowing that by selling it to small health food stores and individuals that I’m playing a sort of medicine man and healer. It’s been quite fulfilling for me to add this passion to one of my favorite activities, hiking. I can’t say enough the benefit I’ve gotten from chaga, drinking and hunting it. The health benefits speak for themselves and I hope the medical community begins to embrace it as a valuable and necessary resource in treating cancer and other ailments in the future. I have a link on this page to my facebook page called blueridge chaga connection…check it out and get you some (: Thanks for reading as always, makes me happy to share my passion for the wild and it’s many gifts….