A Harvest of Wild Nuts

by Michael J. Caduto

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Gathering wild nuts is a longstanding tradition among Western Abenaki. Historically, when garden soil became depleted and villages were moved to new ground, piles of acorns, butternuts, chestnuts, black walnuts, hazelnuts and others were placed around the new home site. Squirrels gathered and buried the nuts in secret caches. Stores that were forgotten grew orchard-like groves of “wild” nuts around the lodges.

 

The large number of squirrels foraging this year’s abundant nut crop show that this is an excellent year to gather. Eating wild nuts will also decrease your carbon nutprint*, especially considering the energy required to grow cultivated varieties, the fuel needed for transport, and the heavy use of packaging.

 

Butternut is used in everything from cakes to fudge. The Latin genus, Juglans, means “Jove” or “Jupiter” acorns, after the Roman god of the sky. Colonists boiled husks to render a yellow-orange dye for wool. Butternut grows in open fields, hedgerows, and young woodlots and bears oblong fruits. Although a canker (fungal disease) has stricken many of our butternut trees, some stalwart survivors still bear nuts, with sticky green husks covered with short brown hairs. Inside each husk is a stubborn shell that requires a nutcracker, hammer or rock. I once met a man who folded the nuts into a sheet and ran them over with his car. Nutmeats can be boiled to extract the oil. Butternut meal also makes a rich-tasting flour.

 

Squirrels, birds and deer devour beechnuts almost as soon as they ripen, or stash them in stonewalls, holes or hollow logs in anticipation of winter. Beech comes the Anglo-Saxon boc, meaning “word” or “letter,” and from which “book” is derived. Prior to papyrus, beech bark was used as a writing tablet. A stylus pushed over the bark tracked along the flow of grain, so circlular shapes had to be formed as a graduated series of corners. Thus, Gothic writing evolved as letters composed of angles, rather than curves.

 

American beech bears nuts annually, setting a heavy crop every third year. Two to three, 3/4-inch, triangular nuts nestle inside each bristle-covered husk. Nuts can be roasted and eaten out of hand, pressed to obtain the oil or dried and ground into flour.

 

Hickory nuts yield more meat than beechnuts. The sweetest nuts come from shagbark hickory—named after its peeling plates of bark. Each tough, four-parted husk encloses a thick shell around a tasty nut that can be eaten out of hand or substituted for walnuts when cooking.

 

Oak trees commonly grow alongside hickories. But all acorns are not created equal. Those from the white oak group—including white oak, swamp oak and chestnut oak—have white meats that are best for eating. The leaves of white oaks have rounded lobes and tips. Trees in the black oak group—such as black oak, red oak and scarlet oak—have sharp-tipped leaves and acorns that contain too much bitter tannin to eat without excessive boiling.

 

Gather white oak acorns soon after they drop, remove the shells and boil until the water turns brown. Drain and repeat, then put the nuts in a well-ventilated place to dry. Nuts can then be roasted and eaten plain or ground into a flour-like meal, molded and cooked into bread. Acorn bread is still baked in southern Italy and many cultures use acorns for high-protein fodder.

 

Filberts (hazelnuts) are also popular in Europe. Swedish folklore says anyone holding a hazelnut rod becomes invisible. Colonial women coming of age named each hazelnut after a desirable young male acquaintance. When these nuts were thrown onto the glowing coals of the hearth, the name associated with the hazelnut that flared brightest was that woman’s “fate” in marriage. We still say someone “holds a flame” for the object of their affection.

 

Wild American Hazelnut grows to 8 feet in hedgerows and moist woodlands. Beaked Hazelnut, which ranges farther north, sports a protuberance at the top of the husk. Ripe nuts have thin shells and sweet meats that can be eaten raw, roasted, or ground into flour. For a rich cookie treat, find a recipe for “pecan sandies” and substitute ground hazelnuts in place of pecan meal.

 

Add wild nuts to your repertoire and you’ll enjoy a rich gustatory tradition of living close to the land.

 

*carbon nutprint: A small portion of a nut-eater’s carbon footprint.

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Article adapted with permission from “Through a Naturalist’s Eyes: Exploring the Nature of New England” by Michael J. Caduto (University Press of New England, 2016)

 

What to do with your household hazardous waste?

by Amanda Kuhnert

Every week we place our trash and recyclables on the curb for pickup or deposit them at the town transfer station. But what about our household hazardous waste? According to the EPA, the average home can accumulate up to 100 pounds of hazardous waste. Improper disposal of these materials poses serious health, safety, and environmental risks.

What does this include? Medicines, chemicals, paints, lightbulbs, spray cans, fertilizer and pesticide containers, batteries, automotive products, and shoe polish. When these items end up in a landfill, they eventually seep into the environment, contaminating our air, water, and food.

There are steps you can take to reduce toxic chemicals in your home and limit the negative impact of hazardous waste on the natural world. Here are some ideas:

  1. Limit your purchase of products with hazardous ingredients. For example, opt for a plunger or plumber’s snake instead of drain cleaner. Use natural cleaning products like diluted vinegar and lemon juice for glass, countertops, and furniture. This site has some great recipes for homemade household cleaners: www.naturallivingideas.com/homemade-cleaning-products.
  2. Use eco-friendly fertilizers and biopesticides, derived from animals, plants, bacteria, fungi, and minerals. You can pull weeds by hand, use food-grade diatomaceous earth to get rid of insects, and ward off bugs with garden fabric and row covers.
  3. Choose water-based paints and polishes that contain no or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These products are better for your health and the environment, and they’re easier to recycle. Info: earth911.com/recycling-guide/how-to-recycle-paint.
  4. Wash your clothes with a “green” laundry detergent. One of the major threats to marine life is nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), byproducts of a common ingredient found in many laundry detergents. Thankfully, there are a number of NPE-free detergents available.
  5. Dispose of auto products safely. Never pour motor oil, antifreeze, or gasoline down the drain, where it can contaminate fish and water supplies. To learn how to properly dispose of these materials: www.earth911.com/recycling-guide/how-to-recycle-automotive-fluids.
  6. Don’t put batteries in the garbage. Mercury and cadmium in batteries can be dangerous to humans and the environment, and car batteries placed in landfills release lead and sulfuric acid into the earth and water. Join the Vermont Battery Collection Challenge: call2recycle.org/vermont.
  7. Recycle energy-efficient lightbulbs, such as CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs, which can release mercury when they end up in a landfill or incinerator. There are other materials in the bulbs that can be re-used. To find out where to recycle bulbs: earth911.com/recycling-guide/how-to-recycle-cfls.
  8. Bring your toxic products to a household hazardous waste collection and drop-off day in your community. See this page for information about an upcoming event in Woodstock.

Another household product you’re wondering about? The website Earth911 (www.earth911.com) is an extensive recycling database listing about 350 products and how to dispose of them properly. You simply type in the material you’d like to recycle and your zip code to find recycling locations near you. You can also call 1-800-CLEANUP for the same information.

BOX:

HED: Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day
The Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District (GUV) will hold its last household hazardous waste collection of the year on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Woodstock Town Highway Garage, 2576 West Woodstock Road. The event is open to all residents of the GUV District and the Town of Hartford. Businesses of any size are required to call in advance and pre-register. For more info call 674-4474 or email hgillett@swcrpc.org.

DO JUST ONE THING: Read product labels for disposal directions or visit Earth911 to find out how and where to recycle hazardous materials.

Sources: epa.gov, earth911.com

The Power of Place

By Amanda Kuhnert

PHOTO: by Amanda Kuhnert

One of my favorite roads near Woodstock during fall foliage.

One of my favorite roads near Woodstock during fall foliage.

We are drawn to certain places. Not just as enticing vacation spots, but a deep, emotional pull that begins before we arrive and continues long after we’ve left. There also are places we have an aversion to. Two hours there and we’re feeling uneasy and maybe even a little down.

For me, “the power of place” is more than just an interesting concept. It’s a serious condition with serious symptoms.

Here’s an example: Admiring the vast expanse of the Rocky Mountains, I find myself fighting off a sense of loneliness, bordering on despair. Although I can appreciate the grandeur of the landscape, I feel disconnected from it. Meanwhile, the person right next to me is having a spiritual experience.

Or this: Visiting friends in the sprawling suburbs (who happen to love where they live), I feel like I could take a nap; I’m unusually tired and listless. And forget the desert. I’m completely depressed in the desert.

But give me a dramatic, rocky coastline, some green rolling hills, and the sweet smell of a dairy farm, and I’m filled with an indescribable sense of wellbeing. My energy and creativity soar. I am in my element.

SUBHED: Why this deep connection to certain places?

Although I was born and raised in the South, I felt at home the moment I put my big toe in New England nearly 25 years ago. When I left, I experienced a deep sense of emptiness and a longing to return.

After college, I lived in the mountains of New Hampshire for a year before moving away again. The homesickness returned, along with something I can only describe as sensory deprivation. I yearned for the fragrance of pine and wood smoke, the squeak-squeak of the snow on a sub-zero morning, the brisk waters of lakes and streams. From a wider lens, I missed the culture: the intimacy of New England villages, the seasonal celebrations, the sense of history and tradition.

It took another 10 years before I would make a permanent move to Vermont. In the meantime, I lived in and visited many beautiful places, but they weren’t home.

I’m not alone in this experience. I’ve met many people from “away” who have come “home” to Vermont.

Every year publications release their “best places to live” lists, based entirely on statistics and polls. I find these reports amusing. Just because a place looks good on paper and other people love living there doesn’t mean that you will too. Unfortunately, a lot of people discover this the hard way.

Several years ago our family embarked on a three-week road trip out west. We saw remarkable things during our travels, and spent time in areas some people consider optimal places to live. They’re drawn to these places in much the same way I’m drawn to the Northeast, specifically Vermont. Although I took 600 photos of spectacular scenery over the course of our travels, I did not come across one spot where I thought I might want to live.

There are many magnificent places in this world. I hope to visit more of them. But it takes more than a beautiful landscape, good schools, nice weather, and a wealth of cultural opportunities to make a place feel like home.

The field of ecopsychology, which studies the relationship between humans and the natural world, offers interesting possibilities as we seek to understand our seemingly innate “draw” to certain environments. As I continue to dig into this fascinating topic, I look forward to sharing my thoughts and findings with you here.

Whatever the reason, the power of place is very real. It moves, defines, and shapes us. It also affects our attitudes about sustainability. Research shows that when we feel connected to a location, particularly natural environments, we’re more likely to engage in actions of sustainability. To care for the place we love.

Is the Woodstock area “home” for you?

 

Amanda Kuhnert serves on the board of Sustainable Woodstock. She writes regularly on her blog ourmerryway.com.

 

DO JUST ONE THING: Take a walk along your favorite road or trail. What draws you to that particular place?

 

Sustainable Woodstock announces new executive director

By Amanda Kuhnert

Caduto sitting (Greg Nesbit Photography 2011) cropped

This has been an exciting month at Sustainable Woodstock. We enter a new chapter in our organization’s history, as we bid farewell to Sally Miller, our executive director for the past nine years, and welcome Michael Caduto, our incoming executive director.

Sally has been the director of Sustainable Woodstock since its founding in 2009. We would not be where we are today without her steady leadership, hard work, and passion for the mission of Sustainable Woodstock. In honor of her many years of leadership, the board of Sustainable Woodstock will contribute to the East End Park development fund. Trees will be planted in Sally’s honor, a lasting reminder of her commitment to the East End project and to all of the organization’s work over the years.

Sally announced in April that she would be moving on to another opportunity. A hiring committee was formed, and a candidate was put forward at a special board meeting in late June. The board voted to take the committee’s recommendation and hire Michael Caduto as our new executive director.

Michael comes to Sustainable Woodstock with nearly 30 years of experience as an environmental advocate and educator, as well as a strong background in nonprofit leadership. He has devoted his life to bringing people closer to the natural world and helping others better understand the role that we all play in its stewardship.

An author, environmental educator, community organizer, storyteller, and ecologist — Michael is perhaps best known as the creator and co-author of the “Keepers of the Earth” series, as well as a number of other environmental books. His feature stories and op-eds have been published in major newspapers and magazines, including Reuters International.

He is the founder and director of PEACE (Programs for Environmental Awareness & Cultural Exchange), which offers a wide range of programs related to sustainability, natural history, ecology, and world cultural traditions. Most recently, he held the position of director of the Friends of the Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont. He and his wife, Marie, live on a small farm in Reading.

“I am thrilled and honored to be Sustainable Woodstock’s new executive director,” he said, “and I really look forward to meeting people throughout town and hearing everyone’s ideas and visions for living sustainably.”

You can meet Michael in person at Bookstock on Sunday, July 29. At 1 p.m., he will present a family program based on his recently published children’s book, “The Garden of Wisdom: Earth Tales from the Middle East.” The talk will take place at the Forest Center in Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

SUBHED: Our past and future

At the board’ regular board meeting in early July, we sat around the table with our outgoing and incoming executive directors and talked about the past and future of our organization. There was a collective feeling of deep appreciation for Sally’s leadership throughout our first decade and excitement for the opportunities that lie ahead.

“Over the last nine years, Sustainable Woodstock has evolved into an important community organization,” Sally said. “It has been very rewarding to see how discussions about sustainability have become part of our local culture and how residents have supported our efforts. I like to think that we have made a difference. I look forward to seeing how Michael brings his own skills and ideas to Sustainable Woodstock.”

Michael and Sally will work together in the coming weeks to make the transition as seamless as possible.

“In the past nine years, Sally’s steady and hardworking leadership has resulted in a resilient and thriving organization,” said Pieter Bohen, chairperson of Sustainable Woodstock. “We have been blessed with her leadership, and we are blessed yet again with Michael arriving as our new executive director.”

SUBHED: Next up in our film series

Join us for a free screening of the documentary “Burned” on Tuesday, July 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre. “Burned” tells the story of the accelerating destruction of our forests for energy generation, and probes the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant greenwashing of the burgeoning biomass power industry. Following the screening, there will be a discussion with Co-Producer/Co-Directors Lisa Merton and Alan Dater and Associate Producer Chris Hardee.

The event is free and open to the public. Admission is by donation to support Pentangle Arts.

DO ONE THING: Take a walk in the woods and appreciate the role our forests play in climate-change mitigation.

 

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