Tag Archives: Pheasant Creek

Bearberry

I return again and again to the same part of Pheasant Creek, in different seasons, at different times of day. I have learned where the wild bergamot flourishes, where the buffalo berries can be found, where the coyote digs her den, the location of the drumming  log of the ruffed grouse, or the tree that the pair of red tail hawks return to each year. While I know it as well as I know any place, I am constantly being surprised by new discoveries.

I see but I don’t see. Sometimes I amazed by what I have not noticed and what i have missed.

Take the bearberries, for example. I noticed them for a long time before I knew what they were called. I noticed them because they seemed out of place on the prairie hills with their deep green colour and the leathery feel and shiny look of their leaves. They seemed to belong more in a boreal forest.

At some point, I noticed the delicate pink bell shaped flowers that blossom in spring, or the red berries that come in the fall. In fall their leaves turn a deep red, and in early spring you will find patches of faded red bearberry leaves mixed with fresh green growth, as pictured below. Bearberry grows low to the ground as a trailing shrub, often close to stands of aspen or other trees. I usually find it on the coulee and valley hills, but it has a wide range across Canada.

Bearberry, early spring

Once I found out that this plant was called bearberry,  I learned that the leaves were an essential ingredient in kinnnickinick (blended smudging mixture used by many Indigenous peoples, with ingredients varying somewhat depending on locale).

Recently, when I was thinking I might have the beginnings of a bladder infection, I looked up herbs that can help with this. All ten plants listed can be found where I live. Top of the list and  and very plentiful was bearberry!!  I began by making tea with the leaves, but as the leaves are full of tannins, I have made cold water infusions instead (which do not release the tannins). I do this by tearing the leaves up and grinding them and letting them sit in water for 12 hours ( 1 teaspoon of leaves per cup of water). I then drain the water off and drink it through the day. It has a mild but very refreshing taste. This will only work if your urine is alkaline. Drinking a glass of water with a teaspoon of baking soda about an hour before drinking the bearberry water will alkalize your urine. A few cautions: This is not for pregnant women, and limit use to about two weeks.

Other medicinal benefits of bearberries can be found in The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North by Beverly Gray (see below). It is a fantastic resource. You can also find bearberry in health food stores as Uva-Ursi, or in plant nurseries.

Bearberries are aptly named according to Beverly Gray. She writes, “In fall, bears will ingest massive amounts of bearberries, which has a numbing/paralyzing action on the intestine. Bears follow this meal  with Carex, a rough edged sedge that ravels right through their intestines, dragging with it tapeworms  and other parasites paralyzed by the bearberry.”

Source:http://www.herbmuseum.ca/content/bearberry

Sources

Beverly Gray, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North, Whitehorse: Aroma Borealis Press, 2011, pages 51-54

Mary Siisip Geniusz, Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have To Do Is Ask: Anishinabe Botanical Teachings, University of Minnesota Press, 2015. (“How Cedar and Bearberry Came into the World” is well worth reading, pages 33-36)

Kahlee Keane and Dave Howarth, The Standing People: Field Guide of Medicinal Plants for the Prairie Provinces, Self-published, 2003, pages 128- 129

 

 

Friday morning in the coulee

Alas! I set out early Friday morning to paint in the coulee just after the first flush of green! It was not to be – painting that is. The handy dandy yellow bag (pictured below) that holds my water had sprung a leak after many years of such expeditions. I watered the hill instead. Then I wandered the hills. They were  alive with bloom and blossom, with new plants pushing up through dry earth. I ventured from to hill to hill, smartphone in hand, bending low to look at all the amazing growth. Some are pictured below.

the leaky yellow bag and a sketch of

the leaky yellow bag and a sketch of what I think might be Missouri Milk Vetch(unsure)

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Missouri Milk Vetch (maybe). What I love about this wee flower are the leaves, a silver sage that are beautiful just on their own.

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Narrow leafed milk vetch (above) maybe and cushion milk vetch I am pretty sure

A hillside of cushion milk vetch

A hillside of cushion milk vetch

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Ground Plum?? I know I have seen plums on the hills arter flowering… I will keep an eye open.

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Grandfather Rock

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A view from Grandfather Rock

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The Hawthorne (but I didn’t go in) . A tick haven at this time of year!!

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Silver weed just before blooming. Aren’t these leaves amazing???

Silver weed just blooming

Silver weed just blooming

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Bear berry, kinnickinick

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Wild strawberry

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This photo soothes me

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the eye of sister aspen

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pussy toes

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Moss phlox

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A guess: Low Townsendia just before opening?

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Another guess : Plains Cymopterus?

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Guessing again: Sand Bladderpod?

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By the creek close to raccoon tracks

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Hoary Puccoon about to burst

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Creek

 

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“SongLines”, Paper collage and watercolour on watercolour paper, 10″ x 22″

During “Immersed in Nature: A Retreat at Valley View Farm“, a weekend hosted by my friend Debra and I in late August, we considered and explored line, shape and colour. The lines, shapes and colours  that called to us as we explored the natural world.

Much of my preparation for this weekend took place at Pheasant Creek Coulee, a few miles south of our farm. As I sit by the large stone I have come to know as “Grandfather Rock”, I am drawn by the shape of the creek, by the way that it winds and weaves. Again and again, I have drawn or painted or sketched  the creek as it sings and curls its way through the coulee and the hills in which it resides.

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"Pheasant Creek Coulee"

“Pheasant Creek Coulee”

 

 

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During our retreat, I began to play with the shape of the creek, starting with watercolours and eventually adding metallic papers – candy and chocolate wrappers, cigarette foils, origami paper. And there my own simple exploration of line, shape and colour sat for several weeks. I kept thinking “song line”…. it seemed the curves and rhythms of the creek were both outside me and singing deep within my body.

Collage- shape, line

Collage- shape, line, colour

I knew that I wanted the feeling of hills around the creek but not necessarily something representational. I began to play with shapes and contours, with different shades of rusts, browns, coppers, gold…..I wanted to capture the feel of the place, the movement of the hills, the way that this place sings within me, how it feels like  treasure.

Image 6 Image 7Once finished, I took this piece to the place that inspired it to photograph it. Seeing it in the coulee, amidst the rust of the little bluestem grasses, the gold of the aspen leaves, the shadows of the hawthorn and birch seemed somehow right, plus felt incredibly goofy (in a good way) and was just a lot of fun.
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Mornings at the Coulee

I have been thinking back to Julys of years past, a tumble of days at the beach, bonfires at night, gardening, packing and unpacking from camping trips and so much else. Sometimes I would manage just one trip down to the coulee to see the amazing July wildflowers and I would dream of the day that I could spend much more time there in the company of the flowers, and get to know them better.

Unbelievable, but that time has come! With an (almost) empty nest and no faraway trips planned, I have been slipping down to Pheasant Creek Coulee at 6 or 6:30 many mornings and staying for a few hours until the sun gets too hot. I bring a thermos of ginger tea, a knapsack of watercolour supplies, some sage to start with a smudge and not much else. When I am done, I pick wild Saskatoons from the bushes at the top of the hills. It is my version of paradise.

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Prairie Coneflowers

Prairie Coneflowers

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