Forage Friday #23 Willow

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “The Builder” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article. I have chosen the image of a red-winged blackbird as the feature image because he’s using the twigs as nesting material and willow is a builder’s tree.

I have returned to the marsh on Muddelty Creek off and on throughout the season to look for interesting photos and to check up on the red-winged blackbirds that seem to thrive there. When I noticed the amount of willow trees in the area I knew that I would be doing a Forage Friday post featuring willow. But I also wanted to expand the concept of foraging for my readers a bit.

Typically when we speak about willow trees in the foraging realm we are referring to the traditional uses for aspirin. Aspirin was originally madr from the inner bark of black willow. Small twigs were gathered and stripped out. Once the inner bark was free from wood and cork it is steeped in hot water and sipped slowly. (Please remember that I make no claims of being an expert on herbalism or medicine. Forage Friday is only intended to be a conversation starter. ) Back in the old days you couldn’t just run down to the corner store and grab a bottle of pills. In fact most people who lived in Appalachia just getting out of the “holler” was a major feat. Families needed to be able to fabricate the necessities of life.

Aside from pain killer and fever medicines willow was one of those trees that came with a variety of uses.

The small twigs can be baked in a low oxygen environment and converted into charcoal. Those charcoal sticks are still highly prized by artists today. At the time of this writing the top result on Google was selling a canister of 144 willow sticks for over $50.00. However the next supplier was less than $10.00.

Willow was also popular for construction. The long flexible branches were used in a technique called “Wattle and Daub. In the wattle and daub the willow branches are woven through the framework of the sstructure and a mixture of “cob” is uesed as plaster coating for the wall.

Willow is found worldwide and at one time it was actually farmed by a practice known as coppicing. The branches would be cut back every year or so leaving a bare stump. The new shoots that grew from the stumps were straiter and more flexible. The harvested shoots were used for baskets and fish traps. The Welsh used them to make a shield shaped boat called a Coracle. While a Coracle was a flatwater boat it was capable of supporting a tremendous load. Native Americans in Alaska used willow to make kayaks and bows.

In the Spring willow produces a downy seed that is carried on the wind.

Willow is also both a pioneer species and a stabilizing force on streams. The tree grows on the edge of the water and acts as a buffer to slow down flood waters and it’s roots help hold the soil in place. In 2016 my area was hit by what was said to be the worst flooding in 1000 years. I credit the willows and other trees that grow on my property with preventing my yard from being washed out during the flood.

I’m certain that I’ve left a few tidbits out but if you happen to have access to willow trees then you might want to try making a basket or charcoal stick as a small project.

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Daydreams Of A Legend

About tonight’s feature image, this is the same clump of willow trees that I have been photographing in different seasons for almost a year. I processed several versions of the photos but decided that the blue of the selenium filter gave the best feeling of a cold winter day. The image title is simply “The Wading Willows In January“.

The spray from Kanawha Falls seems to freeze in the air on this cold January morning. The wading willows seem to be wandering out of the mists as if they are on their way back to shore. The scene takes on an otherworldly feel that’s right out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. If not for the soft whine of the turbines belonging to the hydroelectric dam it would be easy to forget that Route 60 was just a few steps away. Still, I have to wonder if there’s a monster lurking in the icy depths below. Not some “Devil Fish” of folklore with tenticals such but a real world monster. Every body of water has a legendary fish that’s more than just the one that got away. In my area it’s usually a catfish that’s large enough to swallow a man whole that live at the base of dams and bridges. Occasionally someone sees a V shape in the water or spots one near the surface. I’ve met at least one person who showed me an expensive fishing pole designed for fishing the ocean surf that was snapped off at the base and the hook was pulled out straight. They say that when the water is up that the really big ones come looking for new hunting grounds around the stumps and logs that are inaccessible otherwise. It would be great to rig up a big fishing pole with just the right bait on a day like this. Perhaps I could build a small fire to keep warm and settle the monster catfish issue once and for all. However, the real world need to be on time for my day job pulls me away from the quest and the really big one gets away again.

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Return To Wading Willows

The sound of the rippling water lapping at the shore combined with song birds brings a sense of peaceful joy. I approached the wading willows as if greeting old friends. The willows seem to dance ever so slightly in the river’s currents and it feels as though they are listening to the songs of nature themselves. In the distance the osprey soars across the sky looking for a pearch stunned by falls. Dragonflies skim the waters surface as they hunt occasionally leaving little ripples of their own and the evening sun reflected in the tiny waves produces a light show that only God himself could engineer. The breeze coming off of Kanawha Falls is cool and gently stirs in and around the small park. I take a deep breath and release the stress of the workday into the river so that it will carry away the cares of the outside world. I thank God for choosing to place this natural sanctuary here for me. I take a few minutes to tell him about my day and seek his wisdom. But most importantly I listen. I listen to voice of peace spoken by God and echoed by the moving water. The conversation isn’t long and with my peace renewed I climb back up into the big blue truck and head for home.

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Chasing Eagles And Morning Coffee

The cool morning air glides gently off of mountain and pools over the water’s surface. The only sounds I hear are chirps of dawn chorus as song birds wake from their perches and greet the day. An ancient mud turtle leaves his nest on the bank and swims to a sandbar and begins to sun himself. I drop the tailgate of my big blue truck and carry my camera in one hand and my coffee cup in the other. I only have a few minutes to soak in the peaceful morning but I only need a frame or two. I keep an eye out for the eagle that I spotted a while back. I’m hoping that God has ordained another meeting for us. I really want a good shot of him catching his breakfast. I have played out the scene in my imagination nearly every day but so far he’s managed to avoid being captured by my lens. There’s been a near misses where he’s just a fuzzy dot in the sky. Perseverance will pay off eventually. These are the thoughts I was having with my morning coffee when I noticed how gracefully the willow bent over to touch the water. The branches seemed to bounce playfully as the river lapped at the twigs. With the eagle successfully eluding the camera and the coffee running out I decided that the willow would be my subject of the day. I think that sometimes God allows us to have a goal that’s just outside of reach so that we will stretch ourselves. After all, it’s the moment that we rise to the challenge that we become more than we were yesterday. It’s more about the effort than the success. I believe that eventually I’ll take a great photo of that eagle. It will be a bittersweet moment for me because I have truly enjoyed the chase.