Forage Friday #33 Oaks

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “White Oak In Crimson” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Oak is a wild edible plant that I have not actually ever gotten around to trying with one I’ll fated exception that’s covered in the article. All of the information about it’s food and medicine value comes from years of reading and listening to other people who have shared their knowledge with me. As always, I only intend to give you an interesting conversation starter and recommend that you do further research before trying any wild edible plants.

The young warrior moved cautiously between the boles in the early days of Fall. He hadn’t really perceived any danger but stealth had become a way of life. It wasn’t for him enough to remain unseen and unheard but instead he had to be a ghost. That meant that he had to move without leaving any signs of his passing. As he crept along the deer path he placed a hand on the corky bark and gently rubbed off the powdery dust from the ridges. The twigs ended in crown-like clusters of buds and the few leaves that were still on the tree had rounded lobes without any burs at the tip of lobes. He gently raked back the leaf litter to find the nuts. Many of them have already sprouted but he also saw that the woody caps covered more than half of the shell. These were white oak acorns and that was why he braved entering a forbidden grove. From under his tunic he produced a coarsely woven bag and began to gather the nuts. Before he gathered the second handful he felt knobby end of a staff touch his shoulder with just enough force to get his attention. He dropped the bag and rose to his feet to see his master’s grinning face. The game was a training exercise. If the young warrior had been able to gather the bag of acorns without being caught it would have meant that he’d mastered the art of stealthily crossing enemy territory. But today’s failure meant that he’d have to scrub out the cooking pots again after the acorns had been made into the morning meal.

Anyone familiar with myths and legends of Northern Europe knows that the oak was a significant tree. It’s said that the title of “Druid” means “he who knows the oaks” and while I’m not certain of how accurate that is I do know that the oak is important to every culture that has access to them.

Today the oak is mostly known for it’s wood. It’s generally considered to be among the strongest lumbers. In my opinion the red oak has the most beautiful grain in the wood but is actually slightly less rot resistant than the white oak. That’s because the white oak has a tendency to be found in wetter conditions than the red oak and so the vessels hat transport water throughout the tree tend to be smaller and tighter to lock out fungus.

White Oak was also preferred for bending. The classic examples are bent wood furniture and tools like hay forks. White Oak wood is heated until it gets limber like a noodle and then it’s placed in a form until it cools down and holds the desired shape.

Oak bark is the source of cork. There’s entire plantations of cork oak. The outer bark is stripped away and processed into flooring, bulletin boards and if course wine corks. The stripping doesn’t harm the tree. It’s akin to getting a haircut and the bark regeneration sequesters carbon dioxide.

The inner bark has been used by herbalists for washing wounds and poison ivy rash. One of my guide books suggests that a strong tea made from oak bark us used as a mouthwash to treat bleeding gums. The medicine comes from the tannins in the bark. Now I’m of the opinion that an oak based mouthwash is the act of a desperate person. And here’s why. When I first started reading up on foraging for food and medicine I read that acorns were edible. And I love nuts. Plus, I live in a forest that’s full of oak. So one day I found some beautiful acorns. They big too! So I pulled out my pliers and cracked the nut open and popped the nut meat into my mouth. Not only was that nut astringent but it was bitter and that awful taste was in my mouth for hours. Even after a lot of coffee, vanilla extract, and even hot chillies! But I had all of the experts rave about acorns. What I had missed was the leeching process. All of the bad flavor was from the tannins but, those tannins are water soluble. Removing the tannins would have been as easy as soaking the nuts in water for several days until the water no longer changes color. A strong solution of the tannins can be used to tan leathers but that’s something that we’ll cover some other time. The other method to remove the tannins is to simply tie them up in a porous sack and toss it into moving water for a few days. A modern method is to use a food processor to chop the nuts into a fine powder ( after shelling) and place the powder in a nylon stocking before leeching out the tannins. Because this increases for the water to act on it makes for less time leeching.

Main thing acorns are used for today is acorn bread. There’s plenty of recipes online but basically you’re substituting the acorn flour for wheat flour and some people mix the two.

Tonight’s feature image is a white oak. Don’t let the color of Fall leaf fool you. That’s not genetic it’s a result of the wavelength of light. Red oak can have a yellow leaf and vice versa. But red oak leaves are usually more pointed in the lobe and they tend to have a little needle-like bur at the tip.

Even though this article went a little longer than normal I’m certain that I’ve overlooked some little bit of information or trivia so I do encourage you to take a look online if you think you want to try acorns.

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Forage Friday #32 The Dogwood family.

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Dogwood Berries 91519” and was taken specifically for this article. All of the photos found on my blog are my original work and are available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Note to new readers. I’m pretty lose with my definition of foraging and often include uses for a plant that are not food or medicine. Tonight’s article is no exception.

One of my favorite trees is the Dogwood. Maybe that’s because it’s one of the first trees that I learnedto identify. Maybe it’s the heartwarming bloom that I get to enjoy in the Spring. The interesting texture of the bark, the crooked limbs and the bright red berries all things that I love about it. Aside from the beauty that Dogwood brings into our lives it does have some usefulness. The wood is normally gnarled and twisted making it unsuitable for construction but awesome for novelties. The wood has a reddish hue when treated properly. It’s strong and tight grained and rot resistant. When a Dogwood tree dies in the forest it can remain standing for decades and will be strong enough to make a heavy but strong hiking staff. The rot is usually localized at ground level and the dead tree can easily be felled by simply leaning into it. I have made several walking sticks by pushing over a dead Dogwood that’s only an inch or two think. Before I was allowed to have things like axes I’d wedge the small dead Dogwood between two large trees and be able to break it to the right length by pushing and pulling until it broke in just the right spot.

The wood and bark will yield a purple dye when soaked in water and when working with fresh Dogwood wood this watercolor can be used to stain the wood itself to give you colorful stock to work with. In my experience the bark yields the best color and you might have to boil it down a bit to get a strong tone.

The curing the wood for tool handles and walking sticks is pretty simple. Cut it a little longer than your finished product and coat the ends with wax. Then hang it in a dark but dry place. This technique is pretty much the same for any small stock. The hanging time will vary depending on the thickness of the wood and how dry or damp your local environment is. The slower the wood cures the more stable it will be and that’s why we coat the ends with wax. It only takes a thin coating. I have also made walking sticks with relatively green Dogwood by giving it a couple of coats of polyurethane with no major problems.

Traditionally Dogwood twigs are used to make chewing sticks. Because of the way the fibers are bundled in a green Dogwood twig a natural toothbrush was made by macerating one end until it formed a brush. The origin of this is said to be either slaves or Native Americans but I’ve seen it cited as both. Either way, the trick is still taught in survival schools today.

Now for the berries. The native Dogwood berries are edible but they are drupes. They have a single large seed in the center that’s nearly as large as the berry itself. That means that there’s a lot of seed and very little fruit for the effort it takes to consume them but they are edible. A better option that’s still a Dogwood is the Cornelian Cherry. Cornelian Cherry is native to southern Europe and Southwest Asia but it was brought to North America as an ornamental and has escaped in some places. The berries are large enough to make them worth the effort to eat but you still have watch out the rock hard seed in the center. The texture is kinda like a grape and the flesh of the fruit is sour but tastes pretty good when fully ripe. Traditionally it’s used in making sauces and jams. If you have access to Cornelian Cherry it might be worth an internet search for a recipe. Wikipedia mentions that oranges are used in the preparation. At the time that I had access to Cornelian Cherry I was only interested in the survival food aspects of the berries and never progressed beyond nibbling a handful of the sour fruits but when I became aware of the concept of edible landscapes it was one of the first trees that came to mind.

During the American Civil War a strong tea made from the roots of the flowing Dogwood was used as a quinine substitute for treating malaria. (I’m not a doctor or certified herbalist and cannot endorse the medical value of any plant. Reference to the medicinal qualities of any plant is strictly to further the conversation and spur interest in the subject. Please seek out a professional for any medical conditions.) Peterson’s Field Guide also makes references to members of the Dogwood family as being used for external ulcers and that the berries were soaked in brandy for digestive issues.

Of course with this being posted deep in the fall I should also mention the color of the fall leaves. Each tree is a little different depending on genetics, soil type and lighting conditions but the Dogwood tree out on the edge of the parking lot of my day job has the most beautiful leaves that I have seen. They are almost purple.

The deep red Dogwood leaves are awesome this year.

So if you’re looking at that bare spot out by the fence and wanting something that will provide both beauty and usefulness you might want to consider a Dogwood tree.

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Forage Friday #31 Juniper Berries

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is Juniper Berries On Eastern Red Cedar. The photos in this post were taken just for Forage Friday. All of the photos are my original work and are available as prints by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

DISCLAIMER : Juniper Berries are one of the plants that I have not actually used. I have done some research for the article but since I’ve not used it myself I’m strongly urging you to double check all information for accuracy. The Web MD article on Juniper Berries lists them as possibly safe. Therefore I wanted to point out that there are some cautions. With that said, we’ll also see that there’s also some traditional uses that would indicate that they’re relatively safe.

One of the more common plants that I have grown up with is the Eastern Red Cedar. It’s an evergreen that’s fairly common in the Appalachian Mountains and because it gets timber sized it’s often mistaken for a type of pine tree. But pine trees have true needles where the juniper has leaves that are more like scales. The eastern red cedar is a beautiful tree that’s often planted as an ornamental if the right soil is available. As kids we always thought of them as Christmas Trees because of the pyramid shape they have.

I have always thought of the red cedar as a utility tree. That’s one who’s properties are more useful as a non-food / medicine. The bicolor wood is absolutely beautiful when polished. It has a creamy colored sapwood and red heartwood that’s pleasing to the eye and wonderful spicy aroma. Because of smell red cedar is traditionally used to make cabinetry. The smell keeps pests like moths from infesting natural fiber clothing and cedar panels are sold for closets. Cedar chips can be purchased by the bale as pet bedding. Early in my life as an artist and craftsman I was commissioned to create a cedar bed frame. I saved as many scraps and as much sawdust as could scrape up to make air fresheners. When I was a kid most #2 yellow pencils were made out of cedar. Even as I write this I can slell the smell of the old fashioned hand cranked pencil sharpener in my third grade classroom.

The wood is usually pretty stable and I could fill the whole post with lists of things you might use it for but this is a #ForageFriday post so lets move on to the food and medicine.

As I stated that the disclaimer there are some reasons for caution. For example, Juniper is known to cause miscarriages and diabetes are cautioned to consult with a medical professional due to the risk of kidney damage. Even a healthy person shouldn’t consume the berries in large quantities or for an extended period. But the berries are used to flavor gin.

The key seems to be moderate use as a spice on wild meats. There seems to be plenty of recipes online calling for small amounts of juniper berries and one marinade I saw called for a total of 3 berries in the mix.

Anyone can have an unknown allergy but juniper allergy is a known thing so keep that in mind.

I’m not really the kind of person who uses a lot of cologne but in the 90s I did have a favorite scent that was made from juniper berries so if you’re the kind of person who has a talent for making scents juniper is one that you might try to craft from wildcrafted berries.

The last little tid-bit that I have tonight is that even though we call it a berry it’s actually a cone that encases a single seed. The part we call a berry is actually scales. And, the white powdery substance that coats the “berry” is a wild yeast that us probably what lead to it’s use in making gin.

A closer look at the berries showing the wild yeast.

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Forage Friday #30. Hickory

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image was taken specifically for this article. All of the photos are my original work and are available as prints by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

The hickory tree behind my grandfather’s house was always one of my favorite places. The tree was always a haven for the squirrels who would scamper and play in it all year but in the Fall they really came out. My first wildlife tracking experience was observing tiny claw marks on this tree and realizing that they were made by the squirrels.

The tree produces a high volume of hickory nuts. So much so that I can remember slipping on them as a child. It was like a field of wooden ball bearings directly under the tree.

Since this is a #ForageFriday post let’s start with the food aspects. Hickory is a close relative of both pecans and black walnuts. The tree I’ve chosen as an example isn’t really one of the sweeter varieties and that’s important because they can be really astringent. If you’ve ever eaten black walnuts then you’re familiar with the odd aftertaste and hickory nuts can have that too.

The squirrels have been cutting on the hickory nuts.

The rule of thumb is that the thicker a hickory nut’s outer shell is the sweeter the nut inside will be. There’s a few varieties of hickory nuts and some of them can be fairly bitter. We never foraged on this one because my grandfather told us this kind wasn’t really good to eat. The shell is kinda thin so we just assumed it was bitter. In my limited time I wasn’t really able to get out and find some of the sweeter ones for an example but you’d be looking for a husk that’s about 9mm thick. These would be the shagbark group. My online research suggests that the flavor of hickory nuts is improved by toasting them. Some people say that they prefer a sweet hickory to a pecan but in my opinion a pecan is hard to beat. However, pecan trees don’t really do well at this altitude and soil type.

Like the beech, hickory produces a high quality oil that’s used in cooking. Like any other food source that’s just outside of the mainstream the internet is full of articles claiming health benefits of hickory oil and some of them are probably true but I’m going to recommend that you do further research of your own.

Something that even the bitter varieties provide in spades is in providing the smokey flavor of meats like bacon. Nothing beats a well done hickory barbecue!

Any nuts that on the ground should be checked for worms.

Nuts that are on the ground should be checked for worms. Nut weevils are pretty quick to bore holes into the shell and feast on the nut.

One of the more obscure things that hickory provides is salt. It’s a bit of work but a few years ago I learned that in the early days of Appalachia salt was hard to obtain. There was few salt mines in operation and the steep mountains here meant that it was hard to get outside resources into the more isolated communities. Hickory must be able to concentrate salt because the instructions say to cop or crush the roots and boil them. The roots are strained out and the liquid is boiled down until it evaporates leaving the salt behind. Hickory salt is dark colored and is sold as a specialty product today.

The rough bark of a hickory

The shellbark hickory has large scales of lose bark similar to the image but much more pronounced. Believe it or not shellbark hickory plays an important part in controlling mosquitoes and other insects. All trees are natural water pumps that help stabilize the water cycles and can even effect the weather as well regulate ground heat but hickory and in particular the shellbark group is the natural roost for bats. The long strips of lose bark that forms on a shellbark hickory is a natural bathouse. Local species of Little Brown Bats will even hibernate under the bark. A Little Brown Bat will eat about 1000 mosquitoes per hour over the course of it’s 40 years in the forest. We normally associate bats with caves thanks to pop culture. And they do use the caves too but when you look at the design of a bathouse it doesn’t really mimic a cave and we had the bats before there was attics and abandoned buildings to roost in. The bat house mimics lose bark. Which is a good reason to use hickory for land rehabilitation.

I have only given a brief overview to show the potential of hickory. As always my #ForageFriday posts are designed to be a conversation starter and give you a starting point for further research. And since I wasn’t really able to provide good examples of the more useful hickory nuts I’mgoing to include a link to How To Identify Hickory Nuts on Wikihow. I found the guide there to be pretty easy to follow.

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Forage Friday #29 American Beech

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is untitled and was taken specifically for this article. All of the photos are my original work and are available as prints by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

When I started doing the Forage Friday posts I was concerned about finding enough plants that qualified as something one might forage. What shouldn’t have been a surprise was just how bountiful the wilderness of Appalachia is. The mountains are absolutely loaded with the American Beech. And a mature beech tree is capable of producing a huge amount of beech nuts. A few years ago when bio- diesel was a hot topic there was a lot of concern about converting crops into fuel and what that might mean for the food supply. At the time, I remembered reading in a survival book about people in the past substituting beechnut oil for lamp oil and the idea hit me that with the vast amount of beech nuts in the forest that perhaps a program to convert it into a fuel crop would be beneficial. I never really perused the idea but I never forget it either. The amount of eeffort it would take to do this even if it were only supplying energy for one household would make it impractical. But still, a little bit of beechnut oil has some interesting potential. The nuts themselves are edible but it’s not really a good idea to eat them raw in larger quantities due to a mild toxin called fagin. Fagin is found in the skin of nut itself and it’s said that roasting them makes it easier to remove the skin. ( similar to the skin found on chestnuts. ) The nuts are also a little astringent. As a kid I remember hoping that they would be like eating a raw chestnut and bit into one. I was pretty disappointed. Enough so that I gave up on them and spit it out almost immediately. But the oil is said to be quite different. The fagin is not present in the oil and neither is the tannins that make the nut astringent and slightly bitter. ( Tannins are water soluble and are removed by leeching in water. )

Last Friday I talked to you about how there’s actually a commercial market for Tiger Nuts and after posting the article I saw that the top Google results for Tiger Nuts was around $13.00 Per pound and the average yield was about 300 pounds per acre. But beech nut oil’ s top Google results was only one supplier at a whopping $75.00 for an 8 ounce bottle of cold pressed beech nut oil. I didn’t find enough hits to give me an idea of market demand for it but I did find srveral websites proclaiming health benefits of beech nut oil which makes it worthy of more research.

The unripe bur waiting for just the right moment to drop from the tree.

The nuts are born in burs and each bur contains 3 triangle shaped nuts. The shape of nut reminds me a bodkin style arrowhead. The nuts are also tiny. About the size of a large sunflower seed. The ground beneath the tree in my parent’s yard was so full of beech nuts that it was like walking in the pebbles near the edge of river. That’s even with a horde of squirrles carrying the nuts away as fast as they can. Beech nut trees don’t really bear fruit until they are about 40 years old but by the time they’re 60 years old they really make up for lost time.

From a foraging point of view beech trees also offer a few other things. The buds are also edible in early Spring although the papery shealth makes them a little awkward to consume. I have also tried the new leaves which aren’t too bad. The guide books say that the inner bark is also edible but if it’s like some of the other inner barks it requires a lot of work to process.

The wood of beech is sold as Maple and often has a beautiful grain that shows a lot of ray fleck.

As you look out of windows and see the bright yellow yellow leaves this fall some of them are going to be beech. It just might be worth a trek out to mark the spot of this very useful tree.

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Forage Friday #28 Chufa Or Nutsedge

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Chufa 82019”. The photos in this post were taken specifically for this article. All of the photos on my blog are my original work and are available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Every so often I encounter a wild edible plant that has real potential to bbecome a cash crop in the right hands. As the world population grows and as urban sprawl puts pressure on wilderness the demand for high quality nutrition becomes more intense. Many people ( and I am one of them ) believe that the solution is to move away from agriculture ( The tending of fields ) to horticulture ( The tending of plants ). Rather than go into a long time consuming explanation I’ll just say that it’s better to have a decentralized system. And plants like Chufa lend themselves very easily to the broad range of conditions a decentralized system would require.

The part that is harvested is a marble sized tuber called Tiger Nuts. The tuber is collected in November and December and an individual plant is capable of producing around 2000 nuts in lifetime. Being a perennial plant, Chufa doesn’t need to be planted every year. Like a potato, it be required to save some of nuts to replenish with but unless you destroy the plant during harvest it will come back by itself for multiple years.

So, when I decided to write about Chufa my knowledge of the plant came mostly from old dusty books on my shelf. I knew it was a wild edible plant and that it produced an underground nut that you could eat. But, I never took the time to actually gather it and try use it any meaningful way. But after learning a little more and recognizing the potential I thought that I would simply step out onto my property and collect enough to do a presentation. The next image shows my entire harvest.

Today’s harvest was rather sad.

In fact the entire root system of the second plant was devoid of tubers.

None of the plants had tubers for me.

I collected a total of 1 tuber that was about 6 millimeters in diameter. I just sat there asking myself how this could have ever been a staple crop 4000 years ago in Egypt.

Even today it’s grown commercially in the Mediterranean. More research gave me the answer. The nut doesn’t form until after the top dies off. I am actually about 6 weeks too early to harvest the nuts. They have only just started to form. But in the harvest season for Tiger Nuts the ground is often frozen here. And that’s where the solution for harvest intersects with the techniques of urban farming. Chufa adapts very well to a container garden. And because it seems to like wet soil aquaponics would seem to be the best way to bring this plant out of the wild and back into the garden.

I mentioned that it was a staple crop. The ancient Egyptians kept it and so did Native Americans. The nuts were used to make flour, and they are the main ingredient for Spanish horchata which is a drink similar to almond milk. In fact while researching for this article I encountered a lot of comparisons between Chufa and Almonds.

Recently, the consumption of almonds have come under fire because they require so much water to be diverted into a plantation in an area that’s naturally prone to drought. But here in the Eastern Woodlands a Chufa substitute can easily be grown and a harvest extracted in far less time. Plus, these aquaponics systems can be set up in any number of empty industrial buildings that are scattered throughout the rust belt.

But, if you want to try this unique food on a decentralized scale by growing it yourself then I recommend a simple flower pot and decent potting soil. I have seen the plant growing in shade, open fields, rich bottom lands and old strip mines so it will adapt to almost any environment.

Since I wasn’t able to provide an example of how to use Chufa myself I’ll end this post with a link to a very well done video of how to make horchata.

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Forage Friday #27 Tule

Hello friends!Tonight’s feature image is titled “Tule 82019”. All of the photos are my original work and are available as prints by following the instructions at the bottom of the article. Tonight’s photo was taken specifically for this article.

One of the first survival plants that I learned about was Tule. When I was a kid we always called it Bullrush and I had visions of baby Moses floating around the Nile river in a basket made from Tule. And with good reason, Tule has a history of being used to make rafts and the ropes that bind them together. Native Americans from all over the New World used Tule to make nets, duck decoys, rafts, twine and and just about anything that you can imagine. Even today it’s used to cane seats. The name Tule covers a lot species in the same genera and there’s some minor differences between them but to the best of my knowledge they all have the same properties and the same general look. Tule is often planted near water features in the south and there it is huge. I have seen that type gst to be somewhere in the neighborhood of eight feet tall with a thick base. Where as our local variety maxes out at about six feet tall and remains slender. Most often I see it less than four feet tall. All of Tule that I’ve encountered has a similar seed cluster at the top and it’s always found close to water.

It’s also a food source of course and hence it’s inclusion in a Forage Friday post. According to the Paiute tribe Tule is the food of giants! If you’re a fan of the arcane then you’re probably already aware of the Si-Te-Cah. The Paiute name for a race of red haired giants translates into “The Tule Eaters”. The legend also says they were cannibals but we can look at that topic some other day. The point is that Tule was an important enough part of Native American Culture that it made it into their mythology. From what I’ve read they used the whole plant. Seeds were used for grain. The young shoots are a cooked green. The base of the stem is a vegetable and the roots were boiled and mashed like potatoes. The mashed roots could also be processed into sugar. The process is similar to making molasses. The root starch and pollen is made into flour.

Aside from food uses it’s also mentioned that the stems were used to treat abscesses and snake bites. ( presented as historical reference only. If you’re bitten by a venomous snake please seek a medical professional!)

Plants like Tule are considered to be nothing more than a weed today. But in the days before big agribusiness they were the main food source.

Hello Friends and thank you for your support of my page. If you have enjoyed the photos or the writings please let me know by commenting and sharing my work on your social media. I also want to invite you to Follow Lloyds Lens Photography on Facebook

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https://lloydslensphotographyllc.com/

Click here to visithttps://lloydslensphotographyllc.com/

Did you know that I also do portraits by appointment? If you’re interested in a portrait session either message me on Facebook or Use the Contact form. The YouTube link below takes you one of my slideshows.

https://youtu.be/FDcrY6w8oY8

Have you checked out the Zazzle Store?

I’m now using Zazzle to fulfil orders. What this means for you is a secure way to place an order, discount codes & a broader product selection! Simply message me on Facebook oruse the contact form on my websiteand tell me which image you want and I’ll reply with a direct link to where you can place the order.

Clicking on the photo takes you tohttps://www.zazzle.com/lloydslensphotos?rf=238248269630914251

Lastly, all of the photos and writings are my original work unless otherwise specified and are not to be copied or reproduced without expressed written permission from the photographer.

Thank you again for your support of my page!❤