The Green Fields of England

Don’t be fooled. You may think of England’s hills as ‘green and pleasant’ – and they are – but they are also incredibly, and often quite suddenly, steep. They seem even steeper when you’re toiling up them on a touring bike loaded down with far-too-heavy panniers.

I’ve found my limit is a 17% incline, the point at which I can’t push the pedal around just one more time. My speed drops to around 4kms and then that’s it, I’m off the bike and walking, slumping over the handlebars in defeat as I toil up the hill. In Dorset even the local cows were wondering what the heck we were doing as we trudged up a road towards them.

Small Blue Planet Post Cows in Dorset

Curious cows. Photo by Scott

We were nearing the end of an roughly eight hour day, blood sugar crashing as we wolfed down Clif shot bloks, water and chocolate digestives. I didn’t think I had much left in me until I looked up and saw two faces peeking above a hedgerow as if to say ‘what you guys doin’? I started laughing instead of crying, which is what I’d wanted to do a minute before.

Small Blue Planet Post Bike Routes

Sustrans route signs

We cycle toured for just over two weeks often using  Sustrans routes from roughly the South Downs to Dartmoor with a couple of hops on the train, bypassing busy cities to save time. I’ll write in more detail about our trip later but for now the photos give an idea of some of the gorgeous countryside we passed through.

Small Blue Planet Post Distant Hills

Distant hills

Small Blue Planet Post Country Lane

Classic English countryside, with a local hiker.

We landed in England at the beginning of an unusual 30c heatwave and spent the next five days negotiating hills and patches of melting, freshly laid tarmac that stuck to our wheels or was thrown into our faces by passing cars.

Small Blue Planet Post Dorset Roads

Dorset roads. Patches of newly laid tarmac were melting

Small Blue Planet Post Pub Sign

Pubs quenched our thirst of course.

In Devon we were met with cooler temperatures…..

Small Blue Planet Post Devon Lanes

Devon lanes

and sustenance in the form of clotted cream teas….

Small Blue Planet Post Cream Teas

Devon cream tea

What more could you ask for?

Fields of Lavender

‘To make a perfume, take some rose water and wash your hands in it, then take a lavender flower and rub it with your palms, and you will achieve the desired effect.’Leonardo da Vinci

Lavender rows, photo by Scott

…..or if you want to just inhale the gorgeous scent of lavender rub some of the flowers between your palms then inhale through your nose and breathe out of your mouth. That way you’ll not only smell it but taste it. It’s subtle, and delicious.

We’ve visited Sacred Mountain Lavender farm on Salt Spring Island, one of the Gulf Islands in the Georgia Strait, several times over the last couple of years but this is the first time we’ve actually managed to catch the flowers in full bloom. It was a baking hot day; we smelt the lavender before the turnoff for the organic farm after a sweaty bike ride up a steep and curving road.

Lavender in full bloom

The fields were fairly buzzing with bees as we wandered around the lower and higher fields, comparing the differing types of lavender.

Norfolk variety

I asked if we could have a look inside the drying room; Sacred Lavender creates its own products, including lavender oils, soaps, teas and ice creams.

Drying lavender

It was an idyllic way to spend an afternoon, wandering amongst flowers, birds and bees, eating lavender chocolate and ice cream bought from the farm store.

photo by Scott

‘The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration’Claude Monet

Delicious Tarte Tatin

Butter, sugar, puff pastry and apples. That’s all that’s needed for this delicious recipe. Oh and some amazing vanilla ice cream to top it off.

I would seriously encourage anyone to give this tarte tatin recipe a try. It’s categorized as ‘a challenge’ but it’s really not. Well, so long as you watch the sugar to make sure it doesn’t burn, it cooks really fast and I of course thought I could do a couple of other things whilst it was on the stove top. Short cut to smoke filling our tiny kitchen, me panicking and turning cold water onto it, which instantly hardened it (half of which was already down the drain). I had to run a lot of hot water to disintegrate it. I apologised to the sink drain. What else can you do. Scott just looked pained, he’d suggested I keep an eye on it and I rebuffed his concern with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders. Humble pie anyone?

I know my tarte tatin doesn’t look at all like the perfect rendition that is Raymond Blanc’s, but that’s okay, it tasted fantastic. Even my long-suffering friends, on whom I tend to inflict my baking adventures on a regular basis, were supportive – there were some appreciative lip smacking and plate scraping sounds. You have to flip the skillet when the tarte is finished to get the apple right side up. Here’s where I diverge from the recipe, DO NOT wait until the tarte has cooled (at least with a cast iron skillet). Flip it if you can whilst it’s still warm, it’ll come out of the pan way easier that way.

Bon appetit!

Before the flip…..

Successfully flipped tarte tatin. Add ice cream and enjoy.

 

Floods and Winds

A duck and her brood. The bucolic scene belies the flooding and windstorms we ran into when we went camping for a couple of days.

Unable to get away for the Victoria Day holiday weekend in BC, we chose to stay in town until the Monday and take off against the returning traffic for a couple of nights (we have weird work schedules) to camp in the Okanagan. The never-ending watery spring weather, more like winter really, had finally broken and as we headed east the temperature rose exponentially until it hit around 30c. We rolled into our favourite campground, mostly emptied out after the departure of the holiday crowd – if you can ever get away on days when everyone else is working it’s worth it. Lambasted by the unexpected heat we arrived to unexpectedly find half of the campsites sodden, several were even underwater.

Underwater campsites

Brackish water puddled at one end of the campground; a couple of ducks floated across the surface. The base of trees were submerged, their roots soaking in groundwater that had inched up over the last couple of weeks as snowmelt from nearby mountains and hills funneled down into Okanagan Lake and flowed down the Okanagan River, raising water levels throughout the valley. We could see and hear the cresting waves of the river as it flowed past the campground with a kind of dulled roar in contrast to the usual gentle gurgling we were attuned to. Stretching our car-cramped legs on a short walk along the riverbank we were surprised to see a duck and her brood brave the flood; the attentive mother had managed to find a quiet eddy for her offspring.

A mite worried we chatted to the camp host, who agreed it could get worse as the heat added yet more of the incredible snowpack we’ve had this year to the massive volume of water. ‘If you hear a screech horn in the middle of the night, get out!’ were her reassuring words. They’d had to use it late last summer but for different reasons. Smelling smoke one night she’d realized it wasn’t from a campfire and raised the alarm. The side of the mountain behind the campground was ablaze. By the time she’d got everyone out she was driving through flames on the road at the base of the hill. The campground wasn’t touched, nor was the property of friends of ours who live on the other side of the mountain, although they were worriedly watching the wind. For no particular reason that they could fathom the fire spontaneously died. The hillside is lush and green again with little evidence of the conflagration. It’s an extreme but resilient area of the country.

We lounged around for the rest of that day and the next, unable to move much in the heat let alone go for bike rides. Perhaps that’s exactly what we needed, time to slow down, read, drink coffee (which always seems to taste the best when camping). Night reminded us it was still spring as the temperature suddenly dipped, easy to sleep in. The soaking grass surrounding our site was an indicator that there wouldn’t be a campfire ban for a while yet. Our friends dropped by on our first night in the campground and we shared some pasta and wine. P, as we’ll call him, had just got back from some paragliding. We’d spotted the blue and white wing of a paraglider as we drove to our destination and wondered if it was him. ‘That’ll have been B!’ said P. Everyone knows everyone here.

We visited our friends at their home the next evening, retreating inside from the patio as a howling wind suddenly picked up and roiled around the house. P was worried about us: ‘You know there’s a storm coming in, seriously, think about staying with us, there’s going to be strong winds later tonight and there’s big trees in the campground’ (this from a man who once stuck his hand inside a large open wound, sustained on a work site, to staunch the flow of blood and after he was thoroughly stitched up went waterskiing later that same day. He doesn’t get rattled easily is what I’m saying).

I was a bit worried too, we were in a flimsy tent with large trees looming over us, their roots weakened by the water that had been soaking them for days now. The wind had been gusting all day, blowing great clouds of pollen across us; a greenish yellowish dusty film covered the car, tent, camp chairs and cooking gear. Driving back in the pitch dark from the house to the campground the wind died and we thought that just maybe we’d missed the worst of it. The headlights picked out the aftermath of the recent event – branches, twigs, and fir cones lay scattered across the road in patches where powerful gusts had swept through.

Before we retreated into the tent that night we parked the car nearby (I was thinking it might take the brunt of the one tree that we might be in danger from if a northerly picked up again, but I’m not sure it would’ve helped!) and stared up at a perfectly calm, star-filled sky. We finally clambered into our temporary home and like the evening before were lulled to sleep by the sound of cascading water, frogs and the unidentifiable sounds of anonymous night critters.

It was somewhere around midnight or so that we both started awake to an unimaginably loud roar of wind that rolled down the valley and with monstrous force blew through the campground, buffeting the tent full on. I’ve never heard anything like it. Every now and again a momentary ebb in the force of the wind would be followed by a great whoomph. It went on like that for a full two hours or so. Scott and I burrowed down further into our sleeping bags, but for some reason, and very unlike my usual self, I didn’t panic. Perhaps because Scott was alert but calm – if he starts to get stressed I know things are serious. The trees were buffeted relentlessly but I didn’t hear any major creaking, or sudden cracking of tree limbs, the tent fly didn’t take off. I honestly don’t know why not. Whatever the reason, when the wind finally dropped off we fell asleep again pretty quickly to the sound of rain smattering on the tent.

Emerging the next day we found plenty of small twigs and branches that had been ripped from the trees lying around, but no major damage until we drove out on our way home. A single, dried out and not very big tree lay across part of the road. We were lucky, some areas of the valley experienced some real damage. It was all a bit wild and exciting……living in a generally temperate region you can forget all too quickly how forceful nature can be.

We briefly stopped once more to assist a painted turtle valiantly attempting to cross the road, her shell covered in pollen – a gentle reminder of the storm we were all caught out in.

A lone casualty of the storm

 

Great Bear Rainforest

I was ecstatic when I received an email in my inbox from Kickstarter with the latest news from the National Observer on their project ‘State of the Animal’. Their plan to head into the Great Bear Rainforest and report in-depth on the impacts of global warming, trophy hunting and fracking on the wildlife that inhabits this stunning coastal wilderness will go ahead as they raised the necessary funds. Yay! Really looking forward to their eventual and detailed articles. Here are the facebook posts in case you missed this fantastic undertaking. And check out their short film (just click on the photo or Kickstarter link), it’s worth it.

 

Forest Man

I was originally scheduled to write an article about the amazing story of the ‘Forest Man of India’ for Wisdom Pills, a lovely site I’ve written for a few times. The site is currently on hold and I’m hoping one day it will start publishing again. In the meantime  I felt I should share a post about this story. It’s not new, the short documentary film Forest Man was made in 2013, but it may be a new story to many. It’s a lovely film and well worth watching all the way through.

In the northeastern region of India in the state of Assam lies Majuli, one of the largest river islands in the world. A wetland rich in flora and fauna and virtually pollution free, it is also home to around 150,000 people. The island is relatively unknown to tourists although, as a 2015 article in The Guardian revealed, it is slowly being discovered. It is also however being systematically and irrevocably eroded by the ebb and flow of the mighty Brahmaputra river. Exacerbated by climate change, each monsoon more of the island is washed away; the villagers’ homes are literally disappearing from under their feet. Much of Majuli’s riverbank is now made up of barren sandbars.

One man however has been quietly taking on the river since the 1970’s, a sapling at a time, in an effort to stem the erosion and provide a home to indigenous plants and animals. Thirty years later the forest that he has planted, by himself, is often cited as being larger than Central Park. Fabulously the forest is now home to tigers, rhinoceros, elephants, apes, deer and many varieties of birds. It has been named Molai Forest after Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng, the man who single-handedly created it.

Jadav Payeng was only a teenager in 1979 when he witnessed hundreds of snakes washed ashore die on a sandbar in the merciless sun. Clearly a man of deep empathy, he decided to do something about it. With the advice of elders he started to plant tall-growing, shade-giving bamboo, digging holes one at a time with a stick to plant the shoots in. He gradually added in other indigenous seedlings of plants and trees. It was tortuous work, and as the amount of saplings grew he was faced with the difficulty of watering them all by himself.  Ingeniously he devised a method of drip irrigation by balancing water-filled urns with small holes near the base of the new growth.

Payeng has confronted poachers and faced down island inhabitants angry at tigers and elephants making forays into villages for food. His answer to the latter problem was to plant banana trees in the forest, a favourite food of the elephants, encouraging them to stay away from the villages. As the amount of deer in the forest have increased, the number of  visits by tigers to snatch the villagers’ livestock have decreased. Payeng himself has had cattle taken but doesn’t blame the tigers, rather he blames the encroachment on their natural habitat.

A natural-born environmentalist, Payeng has been honored with the fourth highest civilian award in India, the Padma Shri. Local media portrayed Payeng’s work and William D. McMaster’s 2013 documentary introduced an international audience to this incredible story. Even the making of the documentary is inspiring. To complete the venture and bring Payeng’s story to the wider public it was launched as a Kickstarter project, received the funding it needed to complete filming and went on to win the Emerging  Filmmaker Showcase– Best Documentary prize at the American Pavilion in Cannes 2014.

In the chaos of all the assaults on the natural environment Forest Man is a timely reminder that we can all do something to pitch in and attempt to save our planet, one sapling at a time. I love his story, hope you do too.

Sources:

Colossal

UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Kickstarter

Huffington Post

 

Gâteau Breton

Gâteau Breton

I had fun baking a fabulously simple gâteau the other day. I should confess that it was  emphatically not vegan (we’re trying to eat vegan more often than not). Yes, we fell spectacularly off the vegan wagon and landed with a buttery splash onto a vegetarian one. I feel a bit bad about that. But I do have to say this is one delicious gâteau and, well, if you’re going to use butter, then really use butter.

It felt like baking would be a good idea on a rainy, grey day – those warm, comforting aromas that emanate from an oven are like substitute sunshine – and chose a recipe from Mimi Thorisson’s French Country Cooking, her second cookbook. I love her books, they’re full of lovely recipes (no surprise there) and fabulous photographs but also great vignettes of how she and her family bought and renovated a big old house in a small French village and their adventures with their pop-up restaurant. I love how their lifestyle and work has positively affected the local businesses and economy, it’s an inspiring story that she also recounts in her wildly successful blog Manger, which needs no introduction from me.

The amount of butter? 16 tablespoons, or 225g, or approximately 1 cup depending on where you are. And lots of eggs and some dark rum. I can’t repeat the whole recipe I’m sure without permission, but you get the idea. It was delicious. And rich. And a very little goes a long long way. Gratifyingly my gâteau ended up looking very like the photo of the one in the cookbook. This doesn’t always happen, to me at least, so it’s nice when it does.

So after a long day of amazing snowshoeing a little over a week ago (the weather is far from spring here still)…..

It’s really nice to still have a little of the gâteau left to munch on….

Sometimes cooking is a chore, but sometimes, ummm, not so much.

 

An Aromatherapy Book Review

young_lavender

Lavender about to bloom, France

I recently wrote a book review for my aromatherapy association and thought I’d share it on my blog. As with any book, recipe, blog, article or whatever I ever refer to, I don’t receive payment, have an affiliate agreement etc. etc. I just enjoy sharing information that I find interesting or useful and if someone else does too, then that’s great. There’s a lot of really excellent aromatherapy books out there and I’m happy to add this latest resource to my collection. Plus, posting this is an excuse to find a photo of some lavender about to burst into bloom, an antidote to the annoyance I’m feeling as I look at the window and see snow falling, again. Spring isn’t that far away!! We should be noticing daffodils and crocuses and extra frenzied birdsong by now!

The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness by Nerys Purchon and Lora Cantele (2014)

I would hesitate to say that any book on aromatherapy and essential oils is ‘complete’. It’s a bold statement that implies there is no more work to be done. As our understanding of these wonderful essences evolve, so too will printed resources. What The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness manages to do is straddle an interesting midline between introducing aromatherapy to readers who are learning about essential oils for the first time and providing valuable information that professional aromatherapists must surely appreciate, without however diving fully into clinical aromatherapy. I myself hover in that middle ground –  not learning about essential oils for the first time, but certainly not as experienced as the authors of this useful and informative book.

This is clearly a well written and generous (at 480 pages, very generous) handbook on the properties and uses of essential oils, succeeding in its stated aim to provide ‘sound information, based on both tradition and contemporary research’. The authorial pedigree is impressive: trained nurse Nerys Purchon (who passed away in 2011), established Rivendell Farm in Western Australia, studying natural medicine, growing herbs and becoming the country’s first producer of a cruelty-free line of cosmetics.The conducive climate of Australia seemed to inspire her practice with its abundance of therapeutic and perfumed plants. Lora Cantele, registered clinical aromatherapist, aromatherapy educator, lecturer and writer discovered aromatherapy by chance after suffering continual pain following two car accidents. Serendipitous gifts of healing essential oil blends from caring friends appeared to have triggered her commitment to aromatherapy and to spreading the word of this powerful practice.

The book begins with a general introduction to essential oils, explaining what they are, how they are used and safety guidelines to follow, then splits into four parts. Useful ‘tips’ are abundantly scattered throughout while cautions are highlighted in a box with a grey background in the sidebars, cleverly catching the eye to impart crucial safety information and precautions. My only caveat here would be the ‘tip’ p.36 on dosages for ‘children, the elderly and the frail’ which I think would do better highlighted as a ‘caution’.

Part 1: The Oils includes over a hundred detailed descriptions of different oils, including latin names, chemotype if appropriate, uses and precautions. Some interesting new oils, new to me at any rate, are described; Fragonia, Plai and Saro jumped out. Nor does the book shy away from mentioning oils that are not yet clinically evaluated and carry cautions, but which could prove useful such as Kanuka and the aforementioned Fragonia. There are descriptions of hydrolats in this section as well as carrier and infused oils. The latter made for particularly enjoyable reading – infused oils are a cost effective and usually safe way to experience the benefits of helpful plants and the authors provide clear and easy instructions to follow should you feel inspired to make delicious sounding concoctions such as elderflower or passionflower oil.

Part 2: Remedies offers copious recipes for various ailments, in an alphabetic range from abrasions to workplace stress. Specific men’s and women’s issues are covered here as are – and this is where the book also hovers in that middle ground – baby massages, pregnancy, douches, even cancer. In such cases however the authors stress  following professional advice from doctors and aromatherapists who specialize in, for instance, cancer care; following the recipes to the letter, and repeatedly caution the home practitioner to be thoroughly acquainted with any criteria that might prevent treatment.

Part 3: Aromatherapy for Daily Living we move onto frankly delicious sounding recipes for face – Satin Skin Gel springs to mind – hair, and body. (I question the inclusion of Rosewood essential oil in several recipes. In the profile of the oil, having mentioned the threat to the continued existence of the Rosewood tree – from environmental issues and over-harvesting – and the difficulty of sourcing the oil ethically, why indicate its use?). Further recipes include natural cleaning products for the home and the best oils to use for massages.

Part 4: Practicalities.The book rounds up a detailed, enjoyable and instructing trip through the essential oil landscape, offering equipment suggestions, how to measure and store oils and resources from around the world including oil suppliers and aromatherapy organizations.

A valuable and educational addition to any aspiring or current aromatherapists library, The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness is a book that easily communicates the dedication of its authors to the wonderful world of aromatherapy, their generosity of spirit in sharing their expertise and the creative means to pursue a healthier way of life.

 

Once Upon A Time…In New Zealand

Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

……I spent a month or so packing kiwi fruit and another month hiking a few of New Zealand’s famously fabulous trails. I had been travelling for the majority of the time by myself in Australia but rejoined my then boyfriend briefly in NZ.

It’s over twenty years ago now (which explains the quality of the photos a bit) that I was in this slender country, long before I moved to Canada. Once here in British Columbia I felt that I recognized aspects of New Zealand in the landscape and coastline of my new home – and of my old home. Something of the coastline and mountain ranges were echoed in BC while the rolling green hills and ubiquitous sheep reminded me a little of England.

near_fox_glacier

I was rubbish (apparently) at picking out the not-quite-good-enough kiwi fruit from the production line as we packed them in boxes. What I lacked in discernment I made up for in enthusiasm and speed. Instead of being fired I was relegated to marking up the boxes for shipment. I didn’t mind, I was working in the same warehouse as my boyfriend, we were able to pay the rent and buy food and when a month or so was up we left to go hiking on the first multi-day trips I’d ever undertaken.

Those strenuous outings stood me in good stead for living in Canada and all the cycling, snowshoeing and hiking I have done and do here – not just in laying the groundwork for a good fitness base, but also for what not to do. Like not having enough food. To reduce the weight of our gear (sometimes we tented it, if there was room we stayed in one of the trail huts with their excellent wood stoves) we took red lentils, dark rye bread and biscuits. We took or filtered water as we went. That was it. We lost a lot of weight, just not in the right way. And I can’t believe now we didn’t have coffee.

Abel Tasman Track

Abel Tasman Track

Or we failed to pay enough attention to the weather. We hiked the Routeburn and Greenstone Tracks so late in the season that we found ourselves wading through rain-swollen streams and rivers as we traversed a valley floor; water cascaded down the mountainsides. Our boots remained sodden for almost the entire time. As we progressed along our route we noticed fewer and fewer hikers until we were completely alone, everyone else had either turned back or finished their hike already. And the night before we set off on what I think was the Anatoki/Waingaro Ciruit I was so cold thanks to an inadequate sleeping mat that I lay awake shivering uncontrollably until we got up the next morning. Hiking tired isn’t great, I stumbled and sprained my ankle on the first day. Soldiering on we made it to a hut set cosily in a meadow between treed hillsides. It was already inhabited by two fathers and their young sons (we weren’t the only late season hikers) and who thankfully had a roaring fire going. When we woke to a blanketing of snow we decided enough was enough and packed up for the return journey. I still remember looking back as we left the clearing and seeing four faces peering out at us through the window.

Occasionally we badly misjudged our distances. To the point that one long, long day – having decided we could fit two stages of hiking in one – we ended up stumbling down a rocky trail, in the dark (I don’t remember even having a head-lamp) led on by lights from a hut and falling, exhausted, through the door.

We were idiots. But it was a fabulous time, our naivety and ignorance aside. New Zealand is one of the best places, I still think, to hike. The routes are well maintained, the huts handily placed along the way in scenic spots – I recall one right next to a roaring river, the swing bridge conveniently located just moments away – the forests, mountains and ocean outstandingly beautiful. The convivial atmosphere on the trails was lovely and we were met with great kindness by New Zealanders who never failed to help out when they could. The island boasts remarkable birdlife, native fish, lizards and frogs but no bears or mountain lions, poisonous reptiles or vicious insects to think about when you hike.

I think it might be time for a return visit.

cape_foulwind_west_coast

Cape Foulwind, west coast South Island

 

A Little Bit of Spruce

spruce_branch

For the first time in many Sundays, no commitments. It’s snowing again and unusually I’m very happy to be inside in the warmth with a cup of herbal tea at hand – and an embarrassing amount of coloured pencils. I’m not sure if I just drew a spruce, pine or fir branch, I’m think it’s a spruce!