Spring is prairie burn season.
And up and down our quiet valley, you’re bound to smell smoke most evenings.
There are many restored prairies (or in-process restorations) in our neighborhood. Most are an endangered ecosystem known as “goat prairies”. In the absence of fire, these small, steep, dry, and largely south-facing prairies are readily overtaken by juniper trees.
When this occurs, the rare herbaceous, reptilian, and invertebrate occupants are shaded into scarcity.
But with the help of fire, we can (perhaps counterintuitively) help coax them back to life.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s terrifying.
Inherently so. Because, of course, you are intentionally creating a leaping wall of fire surrounded on all sides by dry grass and tinder forests. Something that in normal life we do our best to avoid.
But it is also terrifying because the first time we had a prescribed burn, some six years ago, that fire jumped the break and raced across dry grasslands that we never intended to burn.
It was one of the more terrifying experiences of my life.
I didn’t talk about it here when it happened because it was too raw and I felt too vulnerable, and the what-ifs kept rolling through my mind.
What if someone had been hurt? What if it damaged a neighboring farm, cabin, or house? What if we hadn’t been able to bring it back under control? Acres burned, and the half-dozen or so volunteers who were there for the burn worked tirelessly to extinguish it, literally stomping the last flames as the fire trucks arrived.
I can still picture Sage, then ten, beating out flames with his jacket, his face like stone, his eyes flashing with primal fear.
As one friend put it, we call them “controlled burns”, but that’s a little arrogant. It’s fire. So they’re never completely under our control.
But that was six years ago. This year (and honestly, every year since that first burn), it went off without a hitch. If you look closely at photos above and below, you can see my family (and one neighbor) illuminated in the firelight. We’ve mostly worked through the fear that took root after that first fire gone awry.
We’re providing what the prairie needs to continue to thrive.
While it is terrifying, it’s also exhilarating.
This year so far we have two burns under our belts, plus two more for Pete. The first was on adjoining restored prairies that we share with one neighbor; the second with an adjoining restoration in the other direction.
Since the burns have extinguished and the hillsides cooled, we (and much of Wisconsin/Minnesota) have been hit by a spring storm that is tearing down power poles and uprooting ancient trees, coating interstates and backroads in ice, and generally being moody and unpleasant.
Indeed, we lost a tree of our own early in the morning of the storm. I heard it fall in the still darkness of early morning, sounding something like snow sliding off of a metal roof, and landing with a “whoof” on the ground.
Sage came into the room and asked if I saw it fall. He happened to look outside just as it went down.
But there’s more to that story as well.
You see, we have dozens of trees around our yard, barn, and home, and hundreds more in our woods. Yet last week, walking by the box elder that frames our house, I felt something. I paused, and laid my hands on its trunk.
Pete came around the corner and saw me standing there, listening to the tree. He raised one eyebrow. “The tree wants you to know that it looks healthy, but it’s going to fall soon. And it doesn’t want to fall on our house. And it wants you to know that it’s okay if you cut it down instead,” I told him. “Okay. We should do that,” he replied, somehow rolling with my bizarre and unexpected tree whispering.
One week later it fell.
Unaware of our conversation about this tree, Sage told me that in the night before it fell he woke and looked out his window. He wondered what would happen if that tree fell. Would it hit his bedroom? Then he looked out in the early morning darkness just in time to see it fall. It landed away from the house, thankfully.
I miss that tree already. It was “just” a box elder, sure. But one that I was fond of. It’s been here since long before we moved in, and there’s a hole with it gone. We will use the branches and trunk as a base for a few new permaculture (huglekultur) garden beds that we’re building in the next few weeks. Then this tree that whispered to us can nourish our family as well.
When it fell, it landed squarely on my greatest garden love, a hedge of elderberries that I planted three years ago from cuttings started by a friend. All things considered, the elder looks pretty good, but a few plants were lost to the blow that the storm and tree dealt.
After a friend requested cuttings, I realized that it was a perfect opportunity to transform this two-fold loss into something magical. So this morning I gathered all the broken branches I could find, and made cuttings to root, plant, and share.
As the old saying goes, “When life gives you a downed tree and damaged elder bushes, make garden beds and propagate medicine.”
Or something like that.
Well, hello there!
I’ve been scarce, I know. I haven’t been blogging lately for All of the Reasons, and wanted to reconnect, to say hello.
My excuses for being away are many, primarily my book coming out into the world. It’s been calling on more of my creative energy than I anticipated, as I plan events and promotions and classes, and make sure people are aware that it’s out there in the world. Because it’s the season! Spring and foraging and all things wild and wonderful.
Alongside that, I’m digging in on some big, exciting projects for LüSa Organics–including a menstruation welcome kit for teens/preteens, and some major sustainability efforts that I am absolutely thrilled to breathe into life.
Add to these that I’m in the midst of planning not one, but two epic trips! (A return visit to Maine, mentioned in this post, and another big trip that I’ll tell you more about soon.)
I know. It’s madness.
But of the very best sort.
Life is full, life is rich, and I’m grateful.
You know what else it is? It’s also this fact that my kids are g r o w i n g u p.
And I’ve shared that journey with you, before, but really can’t anymore. It’s not my story anymore. You understand. We’ve talked about this before.
Sage turns 17 this summer, and for me at least, I feel like I spend enough time on my laptop as it is, running a business and working on my book and homeschooling. So blogging takes the backseat again. When I do have a moment to sit down, I feel more present for my family with a book or a knitting project in hand then a screen.
I’m guessing you understand that, too.
But the biggest factor in my non-blogging was indeed the lamest of all. It’s even a little embarrassing to admit. You see when I moved my blog to this new platform, it didn’t take me long to learn the ropes. I liked the way the new site functioned, and was rolling with uploading photos and text. But then I accidentally updated the editing software for my blog and it was awful. I had to load photographs one at a time (through some six clicks per image), and it took hours to prepare an ordinary post.
I reverted to the old editor, but it refused to work. So I threw in the towel. I just quit posting.
I know. So lame.
But things have been happening! From fun field trips to big plans, and I’ve been sharing none of it, except slivers here and there on social media.
And then today (on an utter whim) I reached out to my blog host for help with this issue and–lo and behold!–there was a profoundly helpful technician on the other end of the line and they fixed it. They fixed it! I can blog again. (At least when time allows.)
All that to say, hello! I live and breathe. And I’ve missed you.
I’ll see what I can do to get back into the groove a bit, but let’s start with this: a simple, Sunday field trip at sunrise to a beaver pond just up the road.
An adventure for just Lupine and I, mason jars of tulsi tea in hand and possibly still wearing our pajamas, with the sun rising behind the hills. We even saw the beavers, swimming contentedly beneath the water.
Such magic. Such simple, slow magic.
And with that, I’m off once again. But I plan to be back so soon, with more stories and more magic from this scruffy farm in the arms of these lovely hills. Will you join me?
The slow return of spring in our region takes many forms. For me (and many others who live in more extreme climes, I suspect), the first hint of spring comes with the return of migratory birds.
All in one day last week, I saw (or heard) my first robins, redwing black birds, cranes, and geese of the season. What a lineup for one afternoon! There was no denying: despite the temperatures we have weathered this year, winter will eventually end. It was the first truly warm day we have had, and the sun was shining on melting snow.
And with those slowly warming days came our first taste of spring, as well. That taste, of course, is of maple sap.
We’ve tapped every year for as long as I can remember. First a neighbor’s silver maple in town, and eventually our own here on the farm. This year (like most), we tapped only the four maples in our yard, ignoring the many sugar maples that pepper our wooded hillsides. We could never wrap our head around the logistics of tapping in the woods, then lugging tanks or pails of sap across the rushing creek or down the steep hillsides. Honestly, we don’t need another big hobby or business venture.
Simplicity for the win.
We normally are able to manage to boil enough syrup for our family for the year, though not always. If we’re lucky and the weather is right, we nail it, tapping just these four trees, a total of ten pails. Last year we put by 4 gallons or so, this season may be less generous and more brief, if the weather forecast is any indicator.
That’s part of the magic. You never really know how long the season will be. A week? Six? And whatever you manage to boil down is a gift. We opened our very last jar of last year’s syrup three weeks ago, and we still have 1/4 cup or so left in the fridge. It’s perfect timing.
After tapping, we headed across a 100+ yard-long expanse of ice (affectionately referred to as “our own private glacier”) and down to the creek. Truly, shuffling here across the ice and the snow, it still felt like winter and I was wishing I had donned a few extra layers, but it was sunny and cheerful and continuing to promise spring.
There we wiled away the afternoon doing nothing at all, and returned to the house, to the yard, to the “plink, plink, plink” of the maple taps. We filled our enamel mugs with fresh, cold sap to bring inside, then tucked into a big pot of warming, homegrown beef stew.
This day. It was pretty close to perfection in my book. Welcome back, spring. We’ve missed you so.
If you’ve been around for a while, you might already know my propensity to load our car with gear, grab my kids, and hit the road for a month full of adventures.
We sometimes call it “roadschooling” (as in: homeschooling on the road) but really it’s just a beautiful, adventuresome piece of our life.
We took our first epic road trip in a VW Beetle when the kids were just 3 and 7. That autumn we spent a month wandering our way nearly 3,000 miles across the country to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and back again.
I’m not sure what inspired me to pack up such young kids for such an epic solo-parenting adventure, but I’m grateful that I did.
Roadtrips (as you likely already know) aren’t all picture perfect sunsets and smooth sailing. But even the turbulence is part of the adventure.
On our first month-long road trip, the tent that we borrowed from friends before we embarked broke to bits in a wind storm the very first time we set it up.
Fun? No. Memorable? Most definitely.
Indeed, there are always bumps out there on the road. But despite the inevitable hiccups, this journey (and the many that followed) was an unforgettable one. On that first trip were supported by old friends and new all along our route who offered hot meals, places to sleep, laundry facilities, showers and baths, and–yes–even a loaner tent for our month-long adventure. (Thanks, Tony and Nettie!) We had a team to call on, despite being so very far from home.
And the journey, of course, was transformational.
As a mother, as kids, as citizens of this country and of the world.
Our second big trip took place when Sage and Lupine were 8 and 13. The three of us embarked for another month away, heading this time to Vermont and Maine, visiting old and new friends along the way.
Since then Pete has joined us on a couple of two, three, and four week journeys, including a month road tripping around Ireland (talk about a life-changer!) a year and a half ago, and trips to Canada, Northern Minnesota, and Cayo Costa, Florida.
The kids and I are eager to do it all again.
Seeing as they won’t concede with staying the age they are now forever, and instead insist on continuing to grow, it’s now or never. In a heartbeat Sage will be an adult, off on his own adventures. So I’m seizing the heck out of this moment. Because we homeschool; because we’re self-employed.
Because we can.
And because I might not get another chance.
The trip we’re planning now will carry us eastward again. We have a few destinations in mind–namely getting my 16 year old back to the Atlantic (a place where his heart finds such ease).
We all fell hard for Maine when we visited a few years ago, and have been itching to get back, to visit old and new friends there and (hopefully!) spend a little time promoting my book along the way.
And on our return trip, I’ll be attending (and vending, books and other goodies) at the International Herb Symposium in Norton, MA.
We’re thinking four weeks should do the trick.
With that in mind, I turn to you, my friends! We are currently accepting hot tips for places to visit and things to do in upstate NY, costal Maine, Cape Cod, and possibly Montreal (as well as places between).
Bonus points if your suggestions are nature-centered, free/affordable, or have anything to do with Tesla, Norse history and mythology, blacksmithing, or sword work. (I’m joking on that last set, but only half joking, as Sage would love anything you might throw his way on those subjects.)
For my friends between here and the Atlantic: we hope to see you along the way!
The kids and I slipped away for a little “Camp Hygge” time beside the river this week. We embarked last Friday for one week away: our small car piled high with too many books, too much food, and more knitting projects than we could complete in a year. And, of course, three sets of snowshoes and cross-country skis.
We brought board games and sourdough starter; art supplies and wool socks; read-aloud books and bags of yarn. Everything we’d need for a hyggely week away from home, snuggled down in the northwoods at my parent’s cabin.
While it has been a snowy winter, we honestly had no idea how much snow would greet us upon our arrival. I can’t recall the last time we’ve had so much snow! Thigh deep! (And I’m nearly 6′ tall.) So much show, like all of my childhood winter dreams come true.
Needless to say, we’ve spent much of each day outside–snowshoeing, skiing, making ‘camp’ in the woods, and building a quinzhee (our favorite sort of snow fort).
Then back inside we would go, for hot tea, comfort food, and time thawing out by the fire.
Each night, our sleep was long, well-earned, and deep.
On one favorite day, we packed up a can of baked beans, some cold sausages, and a few oatmeal cookies. We added matches, a hand saw, and pocket knives, then strapped into our old woven snowshoes and headed into my family’s woods.
We walked atop of the knee- to thigh-deep snow for some time, then, finding a sunny clearing in the balsams and hemlocks, we set to work clearing snow, gathering firewood, and making camp.
It was only a day camp, but cozy and homey nonetheless.
After a spell, our fire crackled, and our lunch sizzled.
We spent the day in our makeshift camp before extinguishing our fire, packing up, and returning home. We rolled back inside cold and damp, but well fed and contentedly tired, then warmed ourselves with tea and a fire in the fireplace.
After a full, delicious week away, we stumbled back home to the Driftless last night. So happy to reunite with Pete (this is a trip that just the kids and I take each year), Moose and Grandpa (the dogs), the barn cats, and this quiet valley we call home.
We returned much changed.
We are more sore and more fit; more fed and relaxed. We are simultaneously more tired and more rested than we’ve been in a very long while.
And all of it felt just right.
Back home, unpacking our cooler and our car, another adventure is behind and within us; another hyggely winter week enjoyed.
The scent of woodsmoke lingers in our hair, a memento from our magical time away.
I posted a video on Instagram earlier this week that caused a bit of a buzz! Shot by Sage, it showed me throwing a pot of just boiled water into the air, the liquid flashing into a cloud upon making contact with the cold air.
Indeed, it was magic.
So when a friend posted his own video of this cold weather experiment, his version backlit by the sun, I knew we had to give it another go.
On the coldest day I can remember in 46 Wisconsin years.
So this morning I encourage my sweet family to bundle up and head out into the the -30 F/-34 C morning as the sun crested the hills, for the sake of some winter fun and some photos.
Here are the results:
A necessary postscript, because, safety: You can burn yourself terribly while doing this if it’s not properly executed. Because really. You are literally pitching hot water into the wind.
The water does not cool instantly, and if thrown poorly can easily rain down scalding water onto your head. If you try this at home, be safe and start slow. Notice how in the photos of my kids (versus my husband) they are throwing small quantities carefully away from themselves, not overhead. And mind the wind!
Also, this was simply hot tap water. (Possibly not even hot by the time we hiked to the marsh.) It worked brilliantly because, well, -30 F. If you’re using hotter water be careful for goodness sake.
Also, cold this intense can cause frost bite within minutes. We made two brief trips outside to capture the shots above.
A HUGE shout out to Pete, Sage, and Lupine for indulging me with this foray into the cold, and to our friends and Driftless-neighbors Mary G. and Joseph F. for the sunrise inspiration.
What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?
Stay cozy, dear ones!
This week we are hitting record cold temperatures here in the midwest. As I type this, the temp is approaching -30 F (-35 C) in my neighborhood. With windchill, it’s supposed to reach around -60 F or colder. I don’t even know what that means. That will break my face.
And then a friend reminded me about all the people (like her partner, a postal carrier) who still have to get out in it. Who don’t get a snow day or an ungodly-cold-day, as it were.
Last week when the cold just began inching in, Lupine and I left a Go Macro bar in our mailbox with a note that read: “For our mail carrier–stay cozy!” It felt good to us, and I’m certain it did for her, too.
Knowing that people see your work matters. Kindness matters.
And it occurred to me that the KonMari craze and this bitter cold snap might be the happiest recipe to random acts of kindness ever. Stick with me.
What about if–during this week of surreal cold–we become radical in our kindness? What if we do a mash-up of our shared obsession with the KonMari method along with the kindness that the world so desperately needs, and we spread all the joy and warmth we can?
It works like this—as you sort through your outerwear and winter gear, set aside the hats, mittens, and scarves that don’t spark joy. Throw them in a bag and keep them in your car if you’re out and about. Then keep an eye out for anyone outside with exposed skin, or looking miserable in this supremely cold weather. Then give those warm things away with a smile and a “stay cozy!” to the passing stranger in need.
Or go through your kitchen for travel cups and thermos jars that no longer get much love, and leave a serving of cocoa or hot herbal tea for your mail carrier or UPS driver along with a note thanking them for braving the elements for the sake of their work. We left a snack bar last week along with a note, but tomorrow… brownies and cocoa, I think.
Not everyone has the luxury of hunkering down for this intense stretch cold. Not everyone has the luxury of home.
So let’s each do our part to spread all the warmth and kindness that we can. What do you say?
Postscript: thankfully, the USPS has cancelled mail delivery for today in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Small blessings! Than means you have today to prepare for tomorrow’s kindness. Stay warm, dear ones.
Nurturing sick ones when we’re already feeling stretched or depleted can be challenging, can’t it? Yet it’s a frequent theme of motherhood—to give the things that we most need.
I’ve been feeling pulled in too many directions these past few weeks. Spread too thin, I have been desperate for some hard to come by solo time to simply nurture my own thoughts and dreams and desires. How grateful I was to carve out an hour last week for a much needed coffee date with a friend. It refilled my cup, and left me with some space to breathe during this brimful season.
And then last week Sage started feeling under the weather, and ended up with the flu. Needles to say, it’s been an intense week of parenting in that ways that illness or injury always area. That’s life, that’s motherhood, but I’m tired.
These ordinary bumps in the journey of having loved ones under the weather are just that–ordinary. Yet they’re awfully trying, too. I think we sometimes negate the feeling that bubble up around these ordinary hiccups of motherhood and life.
What might shift if we instead honored these messy feelings, and ourselves along with them?
So I’m reaching for balance as best as I’m able. Knowing when to say no, when to dial in my expectations, and when to rest. To sleep as long as I’m able, to pause for tea or to knit a row when I can, to steal away for a long, quiet soak in a hot bath. To remember that I, too, matter. And that I can’t nurture others without first taking care of myself.
It’s something many of us struggle to honor.
My self-care game has never been strong. But during these moments of need, it’s imperative I do better.
And so I will.
To all of the mamas out there, just struggling to get through this day or this season for whatever reason: I see you, I feel you; you’re not alone. You’ve got this.
One piece of my keep-it-together medicine is to get outside everyday, no matter what. Alone, with dogs, or with family, it’s keeping me sane. Fresh air, the light on the hills, the weather varying wildly day after day.
Yesterday Lupine and I headed out for white pine needles (Pinus strobus) from the tree in the yard for tea for Sage’s cough, and it was restorative just to feel the cold air on my skin. It wasn’t even a walk, but it was still a pause.
Back inside she chopped the needles and brewed tea for her brother, I organized the herb cabinet, and we strained tinctures, elixirs, and oxymels together. It felt like order in the chaos. It felt like an exhale.
We’re keeping the tea and bone broth and hot toddies flowing, and we’re keeping our sanity, day after day. I’m grateful.
As his illness moves its way toward closure, and the rest of us are doing our best to stay well in this small house full of abundant germs.
We’re all taking daily doses of elderberry and echinacea to shore up our immune systems and keep the crud at bay, sipping lots of herb-spiked teas and broths, and Sage continues to take elderberry, chaga, and other herbs as the symptoms call for.
Wild Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) and ginger-sage tea for sore throat and chills, yarrow and elderflower for fever, white pine and elecampane for cough, etc., etc. I even offered him a little rose elixir last night for his (emotional) heart, which is so weary of all this time in bed, feeling miserable.
Since the flu has largely settled out at this stage as throat discomfort and cough, Lupine and I crafted two types of throat lozenges for him yesterday as a part of our homeschooling day. Unlike the sugar- or rice syrup-based candy-like throat lozenges, these are crafted only of powdered herbs, raw honey, and an optional few drops of herbal tinctures or elixirs. Intuitively, they feel much more nourishing than a sugar-based remedy.
The herbal pastilles we made were based off of this recipe. We modified the formulation based on Sage’s symptoms and the herbs we are most called to use.
Our first version (shown at right) we crafted from homegrown marshmallow root powder (in place of the slippery elm), homegrown garden sage, powdered rose petals, homemade wild rose elixir, and a pinch of ginger root powder.
In our second version we substituted Monarda (wild bee balm) for the sage, omitted the ginger we added to the first batch, and added some elderberry tincture for good measure.
As we rolled these little herbal throat balls in slippery elm and marshmallow powder, Lupine popped one in her moth to test our formula. “These are amazing!” she said. Amazing little herb balls.
So there you go. We made Amaze Balls.
And if nothing else, there will always be humor to get us through!
Happy holidays, dear ones!
I hope you are enjoying a joyous holiday season, however and whatever you choose to celebrate.
As many of you already know, our family’s big, annual celebration is the Winter Solstice. While we both grew up celebrating Christmas, Solstice always felt like a wonderful match for our family, and in the past 20-some years, we have woven our own traditions around this celebration of the returning light.
The four of us gather and celebrate the longest night beside the fire, spending our time playing board games, often dipping candles, and exchanging small handmade gifts with one another.
I look forward to our quiet, meaningful, joyful celebration all year.
This year (like last) we spent our holiday at my parent’s cabin alongside the Wolf River. It added so much to our celebration, to step away from the day-to-day of laundry and to-do lists (and Wifi!) and just sink into the silence of the long, dark nights.
This cabin was built by my grandfather’s and my great grandfather’s hands. Even the smell upon unlocking the door each time we visit is as familiar as home.
This river, where I learned to navigated sharp rocks and swift currents; where I learned to tie on a hook and cast for trout is familiar as well. I know which rocks offer safe purchase, and which ones wobble, which are slippery and which will safely hold my feet. My parents and grandparents before me knew the same, and my children have unlocked many of her secrets as well. This river where we spread my grandma’s ashes, and where Pete and I–both clad in leaky chest waders–became engaged, and later married (arguably better dressed on that latter date).
It’s the river from whom we borrowed our name, and the place where we return again and again.
And so, for Solstice, we returned once more.
To rest, to celebrate, to savor. While this place isn’t home, it really is (if that makes sense).
We arrived at the cabin a couple of days before Solstice, allowing us time to finish gifts and preparations for the holiday. On Lupine’s request we didn’t cut a scraggly balsam from my parent’s woods as we have before (and as is always my first choice), but instead visited a nearby tree farm to purchase something fuller and, well, a little less “Charlie Brown”. Lupine was over the moon, of course, and I was happy to accommodate.
Back at the cabin strung up twinkle lights, hung our favorite homemade ornaments on the tree (some made by me, and others by my grandmother decades ago just for me, and right next door to where they now were displayed), and we set to work baking cookies and gingerbread for the coming dark, and wrapped up gifts to exchange throughout the day.
The gifts we exchange are small and simple: Lupine knitted a cowl for Pete, and I made him a hat; he is carving me a wooden kuksa cup. The kids got a windfall of mama-made Totoro creations on their request (t-shirts, hand knits, and ornaments).
One stand-out handmade gift was the gorgeous burl wood shawl pin that Sage carved for me, after hearing me express my wish for one for years. So thoughtful, so beautiful.
We played board games and nibbled cookies and gathered by the fire long into the night.
It was a lovely celebration.
After Solstice we packed up and headed to visit my parents for Christmas eve.
More handmade and thoughtfully chosen gifts were exchanged (like the towels my sister printed for my mom and I, below–gah!–), too many cookies were eaten, and lots of time was spent knitting and visiting beside the wood stove in my childhood home.
And now? We’re home again.
And after a busy season and a full week away, there has never been a cozier sight than that of our farm. This hardworking, scrappy, weathered home—messy floors, worn paint, and all.
And no where else feels better than that.
Wishing you and yours a joyful winter season, filled with peace and patience, self-love, and kindness for all.