Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ginseng Hunters

We first noticed them three springs ago. They wore head nets against the blackflies and moved slowly through our bush lot, searching the forest floor for something growing there.
            My wife, always curious about plants, approached one of them. “No English,” he said and the four of them scattered and went back to their car on the highway. We assumed they were gathering fern shoots for cooking, although the ferns in our area are not like the edible and delicious fiddleheads.
Wild ginseng with autumn berries
            They appeared again a year later. And in May this year they were back with their knives and plastic bags. We paid them little attention even though they were trespassing, they were not bothering us or our bush lot.
            Then a neighbour down the highway explained the annual appearance of these people. “Ginseng,” said. “They are after wild ginseng.”
            I had heard about wild ginseng but never imagined it grew on my property. Some research confirmed that it grows in thick, shaded forests. It was used by the Indians and traded as a commodity. The Jesuits are said to have taken it in trade and sold it to the Far East. Its fleshy forked roots are used as an aphrodisiac, muscle relaxant, stimulant and daily health supplement, among other things.
            The market for wild grown ginseng has exploded in recent years. In some places it sells for as much as $250 to $500 a pound.
            Ginseng plants grow 40 to 60 centimetres tall, and are not especially noticeable among the many other forest plants. The most important identifying feature is their single stalk flower head. The flower is greenish white in early summer and produces green berries. In the fall, the berries turn bright red and each berry has two small seeds.
            High prices and increasing demand has caused a decline in natural wild ginseng populations. Now that I know all that, I’ll be less tolerant of the folks with head nets, knives and bags who invade my property each spring.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why Everyone Should Write

   It’s wonderful when you see someone with the determination to put words on paper. We all have interesting and important stories to tell, but too few of us find the determination or time to write them, or record them in some form.
   Jess Murray did. She recently published Son of Barbados: A Canadian Journey, a biography of her late husband Eric Murray. Eric’s story is short, far too short. He died at age 46 of leukaemia, leaving behind Jess, two daughters and many opportunities.
   I worked with Eric at The Canadian Press/Broadcast News. He was one of the most interesting people I ever met. 
   Jess Murray’s book is highly personal and was written to honour Eric’s life. For me, it was reminder of how good people influence our lives without our really knowing it. When he was alive, Eric’s calm style was a reminder to me to be more thoughtful, more compassionate and less quick to shoot from the hip.
   He delivered that message again, through Jess’ book. That’s why people should write. I’m glad that Jess did.

Son of Barbados: A Canadian Journey
Published by Xulon Press (March 28, 2012)
Available at Amazon 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Masked Burglars in the Night

Hmmm. Looks a bit interesting . . . 
   It was the 3 a.m. clattering outside the bedroom window that told me he was back. He was into the recycling box looking for a snack, although the cans and bottles had been rinsed to eliminate tempting odours.
   The next night, high-pitched shrieking and snarling beside the recycle box told me there was more than one. They were fighting over who would be first to check out the box.
   Raccoons are mostly creatures of the night. They usually go about their food forays in the darkness, masked and noisy burglars who give no consideration to people trying to sleep. Some are bold and will appear in daylight and ignore shouting and pot banging displays meant to make them go back to where they belong.
. . . Don't think anyone will mind.

 When a raccoon becomes a true nuisance, we get the wire box trap out.  Nothing gets hurt, except their pride.
   A couple years back we had a persistent raccoon that we named Hector. I would trap him, release him and discover him back a day or so later. Once I took him across the lake and released him. Two days later, we had a raccoon back. He looked like the one that I had brought across the lake, but that was impossible. It was a one mile swim back. Or, a hike of many miles around the lake.
   I trapped him again, spray painted his tail fluorescent orange, then boated him across the lake for release. Two days later, I was startled to see a raccoon standing on the deck and looking in the patio door window. He had an orange tail.
I caught him again and transported him 10 miles to a municipal dump. I released him and told him to go crazy in the compost piles.
   Our latest raccoon has started to appear during the day and has an obsession about the bird feeders. I haven’t been able to see if he has a faded orange tail. If he does, I think I’ll give up the trapping and invite him to stay around as long as he wants. Any critter that persistent deserves a break.