Musings from the Piney Woods

Crocus, Deer and Other Spring Signals

Katherine TurcotteThe deer amble slowly through the woods, stopping every so often to nibble the tender new growth of the briars.
They are still indulging themselves on the rations of corn I leave them. I find offerings of great tufts of snow white fur left for me by the "spirit deer," and I gather them to place on my nature altar.
These spirit deer will indeed lift spirits

As spring draws near I watch the subtle changes in the woods. First, the cat briars turn from brown to a misty shade of green. Snowdrops pop up in what seems to be overnight - spring bulbs start to push their way up through the hardened soil, the crocus makes her grand appearance with daffodils, tulips and hyacinths to follow soon after. The jewel tones of them are a treat to the eyes.
Colorful crocus has made its grand appearance

The world seems a happier place with spring on the horizon. All the wonderful sights and sounds we miss all winter long slowly reappear, as does our hope.
The appearance of snowdrops signals the beginning of spring
Mornings are once again punctuated by cheery birdsong. A red-headed woodpecker taps incessantly on a tree. Squirrels are once again busy scrambling through the thicket or rustling in the treetops putting the finishing touches to their nests. Pairs of squirrels are everywhere dancing their ritual dance of mating and the occasional battle of not-so-nice squirrel banter ensues, followed by a chase until the trespassing culprit leaves. In the early evening I hear the chorus from the bogs - the peepers have returned. Oh what a blissful sound that is to my winter weary ears! A winter that seemed unending now shows the promise of spring and renewal. All at once, I am happy and thankful to be alive.
Kathy has this country cabin in Piney Woods from which to draw her observations

Outside my cabin the white deer gather. They are at ease with my presence - their tails tucked neatly down. Soon, as the forest greens, they will have little need for my handouts. That I can get this close to them still holds me in awe. Every year new deer are born (usually twins), most of them mutations and not true albinos, for they lack pink eyes. Nonetheless unless you have seen one of them close-up you have missed their magnificent flawless beauty. Graceful and agile, they careen through the forest with swiftness, never missing a step.

It is a lazy day, unseasonably warm. A day made for dreaming of warmer days ahead. It feels more like early June than mid March. Two cats flank the steps to the cabin like bookends, content to lie and watch scampering squirrels vying with an array of birds for the much coveted sunflower seeds. Watching them, I feel the daily tensions slip from my body; my shoulders relax, my mind ceases to race. On a day such as this, winter seems long gone but we know that is not true - this day, this late winter teaser has lured us like long-slumbering bears from our dens. But that is okay, next week the calendar marks the true arrival of spring and this gal will gladly take a cool fifty degrees over those winter, frigid temps any day. So, bring it on winter, get in your last blows, you can't go on forever!
Postscript -

Today is the first day of spring, a day we have all waited for - but as I sit here writing I am watching the most spectacular and unexpected snowfall! Large, downy flakes drift down steadily, covering the mounds of green honeysuckle that have remained over the winter. The tree branches are frosted with downy snow. The sky is leaden gray and it doesn’t appear that it will be stopping anytime soon.
Jodi perched by the window, enjoying the snowfall.My cat Jodi sits at the window, mesmerized like I am by the falling flakes. The bluejays and a myriad of other birds fill the morning with a chorus of birdsong. They don’t seem the least bit upset by the snow.
To those of us that may be uttering curse words right now, I like to imagine that this may very well be the last snowfall I will ever see - and I can’t begrudge the ethereal beauty of it! Nature is full of surprises and She never lets us forget who is boss.
In my heart of hearts, I am hoping this beauty will last all day but deep down inside, I know even if it does, it won't be for long. The memory of this last snowfall will surely be conjured up mid-August when we are sweltering from the dog days of summer. Right now, I am content to sit here in silence with my cat, mesmerized by Nature's surprise.

Happy Spring everyone!

To Weed or Not to Weed

Katherine TurcotteSpring brings the arrival of many joyful sounds and sights. The return of birdsong in the morning, the cheery sound of the peepers in the valley, and the bulbs and flowers that faithfully return year after year. And, let’s not forget … the weeds. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” And I couldn’t agree with him more!

Pulling weeds should be a simple thing, and for most gardeners it is. Not much thought goes in to yanking out the dandelions, tugging out the chickweed or eradicating a stubborn patch of ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea (which by the way is a wonderful ground cover and will help keep soil from eroding). If you have ever mowed over ground ivy, aka Gill-over-the-Ground, you will enjoy its minty type scent. Weeding is a natural response to get rid of the predator that threatens to invade our orderly gardens. Not!

When it comes to gardening by no means am I overly frugal. But when I see what most people consider “weeds” – I see possibilities. Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a nutritious treat fresh from the ground. My chickens enjoy it every bit as much as I do, and I know my eggs will taste all the better for it. I love finding the first big patch and eagerly munch on it fresh from the ground, sharing it with my goat, Billy Bahh Bahh. It has a most green taste and is not in the least unpleasant.


A wonderful addition to a fresh garden salad it is also useful to help curb the appetite. Nourishing and tonifying it is an excellent source of Vitamin C, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc and magnesium. It is a great herb to help with digestion and word has it that it has been helpful for people with rheumatic conditions.

Chickweed is excellent to use for skin eruptions, itching, irritations and rashes. I have even used it with success as a hot compress for an abscess on one of my cats. Chickweed infused in olive oil for four to six weeks is a wonderful base for a soothing salve. It is an excellent emollient as well as being soothing and astringent. Once you start making herbal salves, I promise you, you will look at “weeds” in a whole new light.

In the spring my yard is literally covered with wood violets. A virtual sea of green and deep purple, it grows more lush with each passing year. In the deeper and more shady recesses of my yard, it boasts lovely white flowers with tinges of lavender. I covet the beauty of the ever persistent wood violet. I look at the deep green heart-shaped leaves and the delicate flowers and have to stop.

Throughout history, violets were often the ingredients in many syrups for coughs, sore throats and swollen glands. The green leaves of the wild violet Viola odorata are another excellent choice in your salad – but use in moderation as they can have a slight laxative effect. An interesting fact I recently read is that violets are being researched as an herb for the treatment of cancer. They have been used as a tincture to take internally and as a poultice for breast lumps. Wouldn’t it just be amazing if the cure for cancer was something as common as a wood violet?

Wood violets

Instead of plucking out the excess violets I’ll gather them to make an infused oil, perhaps adding some dandelion flower infused oil or some lavender oil. Wood violets have an affinity for the breasts and will make a nourishing and soothing breast massage oil that smells perfectly heavenly.

So, before you go and start weeding, take heed. You have an abundance of healthful herbs at your fingertips and the makings of some very simple herbal remedies. I am sure your family and friends will be delighted to try out all of your salves and herbal goodies!

Simple Chickweed Salve

2 handfuls of fresh chickweed – leaves, stems and flowers
1 small handful of lemon balm leaves (optional)
Virgin cold-pressed olive oil (enough to cover herbs)
2-3 capsules of Vitamin E (acts as a preservative)
3-4 tablespoons of grated beeswax
Tea Tree essential oil

Ingredients in Chickweed Salve

You will also need a sterilized/clean canning jar with lid (I use a two cup one), or other empty suitable glass jar, cheesecloth or unbleached coffee filter, chopstick or Popsicle stick, small bowl and mesh strainer (you will line with cheesecloth or an unbleached coffee filter), small double boiler or you can improvise and use a bowl over a pan of hot water. Several new cosmetic tins to put your salve in.

Gather chickweed that has not been sprayed. Rinse with water any dirt that may be on it and pat it dry with paper towel. Do the same with lemon balm leaves if you are using them. Place herbs in glass jar and pack down, but not too tightly. Cover the herbs with olive oil making sure all plant material is completely covered. Puncture and squeeze the contents of 2-3 vitamin E capsules into the mixture. Be sure to leave some head space between oil and top of jar. Go around the inside of jar with Popsicle or chopstick to remove any air that may be trapped inside. Place a small piece of cheesecloth cut into a circle or square between the top of the jar and lid. Tighten lid on.

Place the jar out of direct light in a dark and warm place such as the inside of a kitchen cabinet for at least four weeks. Check mixture daily to make sure that the plant material remains below the level of the oil. If any plant material turns black, remove it, otherwise just push the plant pieces back beneath oil. You can add more olive oil if needed but be sure to leave some space between the oil and the lid.

After at least four weeks (you can leave a few weeks longer for a stronger mixture), strain out the plant material and put the infused oil into a clean bowl. Stain through a mesh strainer (lined with either cheesecloth or an unbleached coffee filter). Be sure to squeeze out all the oil from the herbs. Discard the used plant material.

Put the herbal oil in the top of a small double boiler and heat over a low flame. Make sure that the mixture does not boil. Slowly add the grated beeswax (a tablespoon at a time) to the mixture stirring well until the beeswax has melted.

You can check the consistency of your salve by taking out a tiny amount of oil (¼ teaspoon) by putting it on the surface of a cup of room temperature water. The mixture will float on the top of the water. Feel the mixture between your fingers. If you will want a thicker salve, add more beeswax to the oil mixture. If you want a thinner salve, add more olive oil.

Remove mixture from heat and add 4-8 drops of Tea Tree essential oil. Stir well. Spoon salve into individual tins - 2 oz. tins work well. Let salve sit uncovered until it has completely set. Cover tins and label. Store out of direct light and heat.

Makes approximately six to eight 2-ounce tins of salve.