Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dark, Gentle, Harsh and Beautiful

Yesterday I was reminded of one of the benefits of living in the woods, or the "bush" as we Northerners refer to it. I was out picking ground hemlock (Taxus canadensis) with a couple of friends, we had found a beautiful patch, thick and dark and on even ground! (Hemlock seems to prefer slopes where one has to almost be a mountain goat to pick it) The weather was nice enough that we had shed our coats, it was sunny and I got two big bags picked! The only drawback was the radio that was blasting away. When I pick I prefer to hear nature, so that I can hear any unwelcome thumps, grunts or shuffling that might warn me of a bear or coyote. Both animals are prolific up here, and both have been sniffing around in broad daylight, so it's not unheard of. One of the friends I was picking hemlock with prefers to keep the music loud, and thereby scare off any curious animals bigger than a squirrel. I know her reasoning, and I respect it. So I put up with the loud music all day. At least it was country and not music that makes my skin itch and my teeth grind! All that being said, I had a great day. As I've said, I was pretty productive and I still had time to think.

There are so many people picking in this community that I worry there'll be no hemlock to pick next year. But I've seen quite a bit of hemlock over the last month, so the chance of there being none left is pretty slim. What's the attraction? Generally speaking, it's easy money for the amount of work one does. There's no one looking over your shoulder, you are responsible for how much time you put in, and you can work solo or with someone else, depending on your preference. You want to find branches that are no more than eighteen inches long and no bigger than a number two pencil. A harvester is paid .45 cents per pound, so the more hemlock one has, the more one is paid. The harvesters with trucks and ambition are better off than those of us who do not have trucks or ATV's. While I'd love to have an all terrain vehicle, it's not in the cards right now. So I pick what I can, and pack it out on my back and enjoy the birds while they're still here.

Yesterday, we were reminded of nature's dark side when we came across the remnants of a fox, reduced now to only scraps of fur and a skull. But that's Mother Nature for you. Kind and gentle one minute, and dark and harsh the next.