Out here in Oregon, I enjoy the rough-hewn life of a modern homesteader and mountain woman, weaving outdoor adventures into the fabric of everyday living. Whether tending the homestead hearth or a campfire up in the mountains, I find great enjoyment in the work of a self-sufficient life. Gather around as I share my tales of camping, cooking, handcrafting, wildcrafting, canning, growing food, keeping chickens, and raising twin children. It is my hope to share some ideas and inspiration with other folks, to strengthen our connections with the land and wild places. As my hero, Henry David Thoreau once said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
One of the many things I love about living out in the country where we do, is being near a wildlife area and reservoir that attracts more than 250 species of birds all throughout the year. We drive past it every day on our way into town and see wild geese, pelicans, ducks, redwing blackbirds, and great blue herons. My kids are getting very good at spotting them. In the Fall hundreds of "V's" of geese fly over our house, and this Spring we've had two great blue herons fly overhead. Swallows are everywhere, and I have been seeing birds around our yard I had never seen before. Since my kids are doing Oregon animal reports and dioramas at school (their first report and project!), I decided to take them on a Sunday morning walk around the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area to get a look at some redwing blackbirds, my son's animal subject. We found a trailhead at the South end of the wetlands and walked out along some raised roadbeds surrounded by water and waving grasses.
There were redwing blackbirds everywhere making the most beautiful music. We saw the brown females, and the showy males with their signature flaming red and yellow markings on their wings. My son is so enamoured with them that he has been planning a redwing blackbird sanctuary at our house all spring. He has been digging a pond and planting bull rushes for habitat. We are going to ask our neighbor with the tractor, eventually, to dig us a real pond with his back-hoe in this one area of our field that seems to have standing water all winter. Hopefully we will be able to get cattails to grow and some redwing blackbirds will really come to stay.
Swallows glided and dipped all around us, carrying little bits of grass and mud in their beaks for nest building. It felt like a Spring flurry of movement and song, with all the busy birds singing in the rushes, cattails, and willows. There were several camouflaged duck blinds set up here and there, which fascinated the kids. This wildlife area is managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for a diversity of uses, including hiking, birdwatching, canoeing, fishing, and hunting. I notice lots of hunters out there with their bird dogs in the Fall and Winter. While I realize the idea of hunting may put some folks off, I feel strongly that it is an important part of sustainability for those of us who eat meat. When managed properly, and practiced responsibly and respectfully, I think it's a much better way to go than the meat industry. I have fond memories of duck hunting with my father when we would go to visit my grandparent's farm in the Yakima Valley. For those of you who have never had it, wild duck is delicious. It's much more flavorful than farm raised duck. My hope is that sometime in the near future, my husband will have some spare time to brush up on his bird hunting skills from childhood. With college, then kids, and working to support a family, it's gone by the wayside for a long time. We are fortunate to have some elk meat in our regular diet thanks to my father's annual hunting trip, and I am always thankful to have a meal that lived free in the wild, without using up vast and un-necessary resources for my benefit. I like being more connected to my food.
The marsh grasses were flowering, and I was delighted by all the colors and textures. There were red, purple, yellow and pale green blooms tossing their heads about. There is a lot to love about grasses. In meadows, fields, marshes, hilltops and valleys they create such a dynamic, ever-changing carpet over the earth. The sounds they make are one of my favorite things about them. That soft, whispering, swishing sound when the breezes blow through is delightfully peaceful. I really wish I could let the grasses grow wild and tall all around my house. Someday...
We spied this little bug friend on our walk back. I'm not sure if it's a damselfly or a dragonfly, but it sat there for a good long time so we could get a peek at it. I think it was just happy to rest on this stalk of grass and enjoy the spring sunshine.
The wild Nootka roses were in bloom everywhere. The air was very warm and damp from the past night's rain, so the sweet rose and damp earth smells wafted about and filled our noses with delight. My friend, Jeff, recently told me about wild rose petal jam, and I am thinking this might be my next recipe adventure. We came across some lovely Queen Anne's lace as well. It was a wonderful wetland adventure!
To learn more about our local wetland, check out this link to the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Fern Ridge page. They have lots of information, links, maps, and directions to access points for hiking. My friend, Lizz, at Red Dirt Mother, has been inspiring me with all of her tales of bird sightings on wetland walks. It's a good time of year to get out there!