Call for Submissions: The Nature Zine, issue 3

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It’s that time of year, well, a bit past due but I was lucky enough to be doing field research for an extra 5 weeks this year. I’m looking for your submissions for issue 3 of The Nature Zine: (re)connecting with the natural world.

Get creative! Send your poems, stories, thoughts, illustrations, paintings, photos to be submitted in the next issue. Topics can include but are not limited to: favorite hikes, backcountry recipes (vegan only please), foraging tips, trail reviews, adventure stories, bike touring, species descriptions/identification tips, collages, places in the city to appreciate the natural world, permaculture, primitive skills,  fears of the natural world, train hopping, attempts to balance city and wilderness, essays, book reviews. I think you get the idea.

There will be a limited edition tape release with issue 3!

Thanks to everyone who has submitted to and supported the Nature Zine in the past and continue to do so. Issues 1 & 2 are still available, but there may be a delay on shipping as I need to focus on getting Issue 3 together for now. If you are in Chicago or New York City, you can pick up a copy at Quimby’s Bookstore or Bluestockings Bookstore.

Send submissions to batsnbikes at gmail dot com by December 1, 2014. If you prefer to snail mail your copy, please email for an address.

Thanks!!!

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The Nature Zine, Issue 2

Completed!

I can’t believe it’s been a year since the first issue of The Nature Zine. Now I have a whole new collection for you to enjoy!

NatureZineIssue2

Issue 2 is packed full of intense stories, thoughts, poems, art, photos and an ‘interview’ from multiple contributors. I’m thrilled to share with you this next run of submissions- they are all quite inspiring. People share their fears, passion, and thoughts on exploring, connecting with and studying nature. The beautiful ruffed grouse on the cover was painted by Jay Dowd, owner and tattoo artist at Consolidated Tattoo Parlor and Barber Shop in Flint, Michigan. Jay and I have gone on a LOTS of outdoor adventures together and he spends any moment that he can out in the wilderness, so of course it was a pleasure to include his painting. I really enjoy receiving submissions from all over the states (and Canada!), so please keep them coming.

My friend Matt and I collaborated on a piece together for issue 2- never too late- as we had once discussed writing of our 6 month adventure (much of which has been described here, but we now we were able to reflect on our journey and share new aspects of it all). We essentially interview ourselves- as in we came up with a few questions and then separately wrote our responses. We waited to share them until we both completed our pieces. I then meshed them together, leaving them as they were- not letting our answers influence one another.

If you are interested in a copy, I’ll send you one for free, trade or a $1-$3 donation.  Donations just help to cover the cost of copies and shipping. Plus allow me to keep up with this very enjoyable project. I’m on a student budget so anything helps. Just use the the paypal button below or email me for other options, batsnbikes [at] gmail [dot] com

Donate for a copy of The Nature Zine

Much thanks to everyone who has contributed to this project! I’m keeping Issue One in print as well, so let me know if you are interested. Both a creative outlet and a way to share our thoughts on connecting with nature, The Nature Zine will continue on with more issues.  If you are interested in contributing, please send your stories, thoughts, and art to me or contact me for more information:  batsnbikes [at] gmail [dot] com

p.s. wondering what a zine is? This should help.

Pond Mountain Wilderness

We try to control our surroundings everyday.  We hide in rooms where we control the temperature.  We attempt to control the sounds around us by drowning them out with headphones or closing our windows.  We turn dials in our vehicles to create sounds we want to hear and to cool or warm ourselves.  We turn on lights when the sun fades.  The door to our house latches shut, an attempt to keep out what we don’t want in our homes.

We shut out the natural world everyday, and yet we constantly try to manipulate it.  Our actions and daily routines have impacted our climate, but we cannot control the weather.  Everyday that I work outside I am reminded of this- and I respect this constant awareness.  Sure, I’ll admit that this summer has been full of frustrations as it has stormed and rained almost every single day.  We take the risk of setting everything up to catch bats for the night, only to have a storm rush in ruining our chances at a full night of bat surveys.  Rain is only a reminder that I’m not working in a controlled environment-  I am exposed to the rain, wind, humidity, heat, cold, insects…. I have no control, nor do I want to control the wilderness.

—–

We could see lightning off in the distance, perhaps too close, but we heard no thunder.  We keep the nets open, stretched out across the old gravel road, between two metal poles- 20 feet tall.  The lighting becomes brighter, more frequent and the rain is quick to follow.  We close up for the night, but by the time our gear is packed my clothes are soaked, plastered to my body, and my hair is heavy with rain.

We’re out at Dennis Cove, near the pond and the Appalachian Trail crosses our site.  My crew departs for home, but Kyle and I make our way through the field and into the tent.  The rain continues for hours, and when it finally lets up I catch the sounds of bullfrogs and spring peepers scattered through the moments that I awake through the night.

I’d hardly had time to even think about where we could hike the next day- my first true day off since the field season began.  I browsed over a map in a region I knew we’d have to work- immediately attracted to the Pond Mountain Wilderness.  The trail climbs up a ridge and we can walk to the trail head from my work site plus it deposits us back into civilization at Watauga Lake- a jump into the lake after our hike.  A quick internet search, revealed little information about Pond Mountain Trail- most of what I found of the Pond Mountain Wilderness was in regards to the portion of the AT that cuts at an angle across the western portion.  I wanted to avoid the clutter of people, a wilderness trail is always more intriguing.  All I knew was that it was 4.5 miles long and runs along the ridge top, seems easy enough.  I only took a quick glance at the topographic map.  Hey, why not add on a bit more- just a quick, easy hike before starting the Pond Mountain Trail.  Laurel Fork Trail (39) next to Dennis Cove Campground would lead us south, where we would connect with FS-50F to head back North.  It would end where FS-50 crosses, and on the opposite side is where Pond Mountain Trail (40) begins.

Nine creek crossings followed by a 2.2 mile hike up a winding gravel forest service road was my definition of a “quick, easy hike.”  Well, it was actually easy but the whole taking our boots and socks off to cross 9 portions of the creek within a couple of miles- surveying each crossing for the least sketchy area to cross- made things not so quick.  The rain left the creek high, hiding any rocks that may have once been available for scurrying across with our boots on.  Other crossings found the creek to be up to my thighs.  With each crossing, we became more careless.  Looking at the topo maps now, it’s so clear to see that the trail crosses the creek many times- perhaps when it’s not a summer full of rain, a shoeless entry may not be required.

Trail 39 and 50F meet up near an open field- we filter water and what we had hoped to be our final creek session knowing that finding a water source on the ridge would be unlikely.  As we reach FS road 50F, the clouds begin to darken but only a small amount of rain finds its way down to us.  We pass the only two people we see on the trails, as they casually stroll through our last creek crossing with their fancy boot gaiters.  The next couple of miles were drowned out by the sound of gravel crunching under our boots with each step, our pace steady as we followed the road that would take us up along Rough Ridge and to Pond Mountain Trail.

We reach an open gate, 50F ends at FS-50, I point directly across the road, “That’s our trail.”  Kyle is doubtful as he looks across the gravel into the forest, no evidence of a trail to be found.  We look again at the map, Pond Mountain Trail should be directly in front of us.  It’s a wilderness trail, so I’m not really surprised that as we look ahead we see only vegetation- we hike in.  Maybe I saw a faint blue blaze, but soon enough we come across a post confirming that we are on the right path.  Suddenly it’s quite obvious, as we are on an old timber road, faded into a two track- the clearest portion of the trail.  It’s, of course, in the easiest portion of the trail that I trip over a downed tree sending myself flying through the air and slamming into the damp but still hard ground.  The fall is only a reminder that we skipped lunch, my head feels light but I’m laughing at my fall. Handfuls of almonds, pecans and some dried fruit allow me to regain my energy.

The trail narrows as it climbs the ridge.  We hike through rhododendron tunnels along the sloping slides, the path is relatively clear, the blue blazes are solid and bright but as we ascend both the blaze and the path begins to fade.  The steepness of the trail is suddenly a slap in the face as we bear right with a clear view of what lies ahead.  There are no switchbacks.  We climb the steep grade, our steps slipping on the forest floor full of decaying leaves that have absorbed weeks worth of rain.

Kyle pauses above me, periodically to wait for me to catch up to his pace.  We continuously check to make sure we are still on some sort of trail but all of a sudden we are on these large bolders, covered with lichen and surrounded by brambles with a few trees that have managed to squeeze life between rock.

The blazes are gone, there is no path.

Continue reading

Call for Submissions- Issue #2

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Issue One of The Nature Zine is still going strong and I’m looking to put issue 2 together by September.  Please send me your stories, poems, hiking tips, backpackinging food recipes, thoughts on exploring the outdoors, your photos, your illustrations, trail reviews, escaping the city….. I could go on-  you get it.

Much thanks to my rad friends for their previous contributions, touring with my zines, adding them to their distro and spreading the word.  If you are in Chicago or NYC you can also pick up the Nature Zine at Quimby’s and Blue Stockings –  much thanks to them as well for keeping The Nature Zine in stock.

Looking forward to adding your stories and art to the next issue!  Please share widely.

Nerd Adventures

As I wonder if each snow fall will be the last of the season, my need to return back into the field grows.  I have spent the winter knowing that my job will continue onto the next season, all the while I have been patiently waiting on news for a possible new adventure.  Perhaps the grandest of them all…. thus far.  And finally my future adventures have been confirmed.

I have fed my cravings for nature with random hikes in nearby state parks.  Some to Raccoon Creek State Park to trudge through inches of snow on the trails and admire the layered icicles of the frozen mineral springs.  Another trip on that off day where the snow melted as the temperature rose to a warm 60 degrees in the midst of winter.  None of this has been quite enough to battle the 40+ hours a week of working in front of the computer.  Even now I feel guilty as I type this, as it only means that I am yet again, in front of my computer.  But then I cough uncontrollably for a moment, a reminder of the fatigue this bronchitis has caused- cough attacks are constant, and increasing as I breath in the cold air- making hiking next to impossible. But the cough will fade and hopefully it will be replaced with an increase of energy and ambition.

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Next weekend I will return to the forest, as our searches for bat and bird carcasses will soon begin.  My return will also mark 1 year in Pennsylvania.  My time in Pennsylvania has been balanced with 2/3 of my time in the forest and a 1/3 of my time in Braddock.  Through the winter in Braddock, friendships have grown.  We’ve shared vegan meals, some large potlucks and many last minute dinners and lunches in one house or the next.  Laughter over cartoons while eating cookies, candy and breakfast anytime of the day.  Hikes through the forest and around the city.  Long talks with cats in our laps.  Bowls of popcorn and mugs of tea.  Punk shows in the city and in the warehouse with the sounds of skateboards between sets.  Lifting weights and holding planks.  Friendships that will last even though I have to add this place to the long list of places I have once lived.

Ready for a new chapter in my life.  One that I have dreamed of reaching since a very young age and now I have the opportunity.  The opportunity to earn a PhD in biology.  My field research begins in May.  Summer adventures (research!) in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee in search of Indiana bats and then to Terre Haute, Indiana in August to study at Indiana State University under the advisement of Dr. Joy O’Keefe.  I have really missed academia since graduating with my master’s in 2010 and am looking forward to the challenges ahead.  More details soon, but this next month is going to be a busy one with moving around and training the new PA wind energy crew before I depart.  I am quite excited about all of this!

Vegan Backpacking Food

Being vegan makes sense on so many levels, but for now I’ll focus on the ease of being vegan and backpacking, bike touring and camping.  I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite items that are often in my pack.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll recognize some of these.  I’m not a super lightweight backpacker but I haven’t yet done anything too epic.  These are just some suggestions that I thought some may find useful.

  1. Powdered Soy Milk  changed my backpacking life, so much so that I found myself using this stuff even while at home.  It’s a lot less packaging, cheaper and it’s nice to have on hand for baking or when I don’t feel like going to the store.  I first discovered powdered soy milk while backpacking in Guatemala for a month and really wanting to have cereal for breakfast. Browsing the aisles, the only non-dairy milk I could find was a powdered version.  I loved it and since coming back to the states, realized it was perfect for backpacking in the forest and bike touring as well.  Better Than Milk Vegan Soy Powder (Original) is my favorite and I think it actually tastes great, although some of my friends may tell you otherwise.  You don’t have to use it in your cold cereal/granola, but it’s nice as an added protein source to oatmeal and excellent for mac and not-cheese.  It can be found on the shelves of many health food stores.
  2. Nutritional Yeast: If you are vegan, there is a good chance that you are addicted to this stuff already.  Nutritional yeast  is used to add flavor to various vegan dishes, and is really popular in mac and not-cheese dishes.  Some say it has a “cheesy” or nutty flavor.  It’s high in B-vitamins and  also adds deliciousness to any meal.  You can find nutritional yeast in the bulk section of health food stores and sometimes in with the spices / cooking products in a shaker.  It’s cheapest to buy in bulk.  I keep it on hand to add to pasta or anything I make really.
  3. Dehydrated Beans:  I stumbled upon the joy of dehydrated beans while collecting some  foods for camping in the bulk section of a health food store.    It’s kind of hit or miss to find them in bulk, and since I’ve actually special ordered bulk bags of them from local shops if they didn’t have it in stock.  I’ve always went with the black beans but for the most recent bike tour, neither Jason nor I could find them in stock, but they found dehydrated refried beans instead, also delicious.  Fantastic World Foods offer a lot of dehydrated food options, including beans and are easy to find in lots of grocery stores.  Simple and fast backcountry meal ideas:  Boil water, add couscous or quinoa then add dehydrated beans a few minutes later.  Add in spices/bouillon cube while cooking or any garlic/onions/peppers if you happen to have those.  As a bonus, if I feel like carrying it with me, I’ll pick up a pouch of enchilada sauce or a spice packet.
  4. Couscous / Quinoa:  Maybe you never heard of these items, but growing up with middle eastern grandma, couscous was common for me and a favorite veg dish as a kid.  You can find couscous at most grocery stores, it’s lightweight and cooks quickly.  It’s also a good way to get some carbs and protein for hiking.  Quinoa isn’t quite as common but it’s becoming more popular, it’s not actually a grain but is used in meals similar to how rice is used.  It’s delicious, lightweight, cooks quickly and full of protein and vitamins.  You can find it in the bulk section of any health food store, and it’s starting to appear in more grocery stores as well- packaged in a box on the shelf with grains usually.

    Matt making some black bean quinoa enchilada stew for our xmas dinner while bike touring.

    Matt making some black bean quinoa enchilada stew for our xmas dinner while bike touring.

  5. TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein):  TVP is a quick way to add protein to any meal and helps to fill you up after hiking or biking all day.  Perfect to add to noodle soups, mix with couscous, make vegan sloppy joes, add to spagetti and so many more options.  While cooking, add spices or a bouillon cube to the pot so the TVP will absorb the flavor.  It’s fairly common and as like other items already listed, it can be bought in bulk or packaged.  I’ve found it in health food stores and your traditional market, even in small towns and it’s somewhat common in Central and South America as well.  Really light weight and cooks quickly.
  6. Dried Fruits and Nuts:  That should seem obvious enough.  But seriously, don’t ever forget these.  My favorites are almonds, dates, raisins and mango slices.  I once had a dream that the world had pretty much ended but a few of us survived and someone asked me what food I was able to bring with me.  I thought I had grabbed a bag of raisins but when I looked in my hand I realized I was clutching fresh grapes instead.  Needless to say, I was bummed.  Even in my sleep I worry about survival food.  Dates are a perfect way to sweeten up oatmeal and to give you a burst of energy.  If it’s not summer, as a treat, bring some vegan dark chocolate chips to add to your trail mix.  Try to get the fruits and nuts raw without added oils and salts and other weird crap.  Your best bet is buying them in bulk from health food stores.  But if you are in rural areas, you can still find peanuts and raisins and any grocery store / market in the middle of nowhere.
  7. Oatmeal / Granola:  Another obvious one, but sometimes people forget how many things out there are vegan.  I seem to find myself outside on adventures during cold weather and oatmeal is always perfect for warming up.  On summer adventures, I usually just mix some granola with soymilk (yay powdered soymilk!).
  8. Nutbutters:  I don’t usually take peanut butter with me when backpacking, but it’s been nice to have on bike tours when splitting the food weight with another person.  I don’t have to tell you how great this stuff is.
  9. Mac and “Cheese”:  I can’t even tell you how excited I have been to have a nice pot of hot vegan mac and “cheese” after hiking or biking all day.  I have no trouble devouring the box myself.  It cooks pretty quickly, since you just have to cook the pasta and you’ll be ecstatic that you have the powdered soy milk.  Road’s End Organics make some delicious boxed Mac & Chreese found at any health food store, and I’ve also had enjoyed Leahey Gardens brand Mac and “Cheese” but it’s harder to find.  Or you can be not fancy, just make some pasta, add a bunch of nutritional yeast, soy milk and spices to it and it’ll still taste good if you’ve been out hiking for days.  If you have any dehydrated veggies, throw those in, too.

    Vegan mac n chz- plus powdered soymilk is the best for backpacking.

    Vegan mac n chz- plus powdered soymilk is the best for backpacking.

  10. Rice Noodle Soups or Ramen:  There are a wide variety of rice noodle/ramen noodle soups out there that are vegan.  Many contain tofu and dehydrated veggies in them already.  But it’s great to add TVP to them while they cook.  We all know how great the ease of throwing a soup packet into boiling water is.  Lightweight, cooks quickly and easy to find in stores.  If you are bike touring through small towns you may not be able to find a spice packet that’s vegan but the noodles usually are, so in desperate times just use the vegan noodles and add your own spices with TVP.

    Add some TVP for extra protein.

    Add some TVP for extra protein.

  11. Vegetable Bouillon Cubes / Spices:   I always keep a couple of vegan bouillon (broth) cubes in with my gear.  I often just shave some of it off and add it to the hot water for the couscous.  It’s a simple way to add flavor to your food.  I love spicy food and I love to cook.  I have a hard time thriving without cayenne and other spices so I also carry some spices with me and love these silly spice containers.  I sometimes just take one that holds two spices, it’s not necessary, but kind of nice to have.

Also, if you aren’t on a tight budget or if you find them on sale, Mary Jane Farm Organics has a line of backcountry foods with lots of vegan options.  They are labeled as vegan and very lightweight but not cheap.  I got a couple a packs on clearance once and they were delicious.

Please add your vegan suggestions in the comments!  I’d love to hear them.  I’ll also make sure to add a link to any additional vegan food suggestions that I write about in the future to the comments section.  There are plenty of options out there, but these are some of my go-to items when getting things together for an adventure.  Hope this helps!

Keeping With New Tradition

The smell of adventure still lingers, as I let down my hair I catch the fragrance of a campfire- the smell of smoke tangled in my curls.  The smell is faint, as I returned to Braddock this afternoon and stood under the hot shower rinsing away the scents of my last 24 hours, the humidity and smell of smoke mixing together, filling the room.

Two years ago, I found myself at Caddo Lake State Park in Texas with Matt.  My knee destroyed, we spent 3 nights there, overlapping xmas and realizing how wonderful it is to avoid the mass consumerism of the holidays, the stress of families, the guilt of not doing (“buying”) enough-  all of that is forgotten when you are camping and on a bike tour.  It didn’t matter that the temperature ranged from 20-40F and that it sleeted on us- we had a camp fire, delicious hot dinners and nature surrounding us.  I promised myself that I would spend every xmas after this one camping.

Last year I failed to camp, and I felt disappointed in myself.  This year was different.  I needed to camp.  I needed to hike in the forest.  I needed to breath in the crisp cold air and eat a hot meal perched next to a fire.  Most people tell you that it’s too cold or that you are crazy but Alex was thrilled on the idea of winter camping with me, as was I that she would join me on this adventure.

Arriving in Raccoon Creek State Park, sleet steadily falling, we expressed excitement that a thin layer of snow blanketed the area- a coat of white with bits of greens and browns bursting through.  We caught glimpses of icicles hanging over the edges of moss covered rocks and as the pavement turned to gravel we noted that we were the only ones camping in the park.  We wouldn’t see anyone else until the next morning, driving out of the park.

Armed with waterproof jackets and layers of warmth, we assembled the tent as quickly as possible to keep the rain out.  Before the sun set we were able to go on a quick hike and assemble our fortress against the rain that would allow us to keep dry on the picnic table and enjoy dinner and conversation next to the fire during the rain/sleet/snow.  With my hatchet we chopped apart a small downed tree- tying the parts to the picnic table after scraping off the snow we draped a tarp over the logs to create our shelter.  We felt accomplished and satisfied with our work, minus the few times when the wind would shift blowing the smoke directly into our little fortress.

It took more time that I had hoped it would, but soon enough we had a fire to keep us warm (in the 30F night) and it would also provide us with our dinner for the evening:  hobo pie pizzas (pizza sauce, daiya “cheese”, onions, garlic and fresh basil) followed by vegan s’mores.  A few steps away from the fire and within seconds you’d realize just how cold your surroundings were, so we spent the evening hovered around the fire snacking and enjoying being away from the city.  Around 10pm the rain had given up, leaving behind a fog covered forest- the moon was shrouded in this fog but its light illuminated, reflecting off the moisture, creating light in the evening that made us question if we had just stayed up all night until it was 6am.  We checked our watches doubting the time of day, I stood up away from the fire, mesmerized that I could see everything around me without my headlamp when earlier I had to use my light to reach for something a few feet away- the outlines of trees, the tent, even the trail head off in the distance was visible.  It was beautiful and gave me a sudden burst of energy-  I wanted to go for a hike, yet the chance of more rain and the comfort of the fire brought me back to a mode of relaxation.

In the tent and burrowed into our sleeping bags, we could see our breath, hear a barred owl calling,  and struggled to find ways to keep our feet warm.  Tying our jackets around the foot of the sleeping bags offered a bit of a shield but with my poor circulation, it’s never enough.  We awoke around 3am to our bladders screaming at us to brave the cold, dashing outside kept us awake for another hour or so before we drifted into our second sleep.  Waking up in a tent, bundled against the cold on any morning brings a smile to my face.  We had tea, oatmeal and a hike to look forward to before departing the forest.  Opening the rain fly of my tent and entering the forest is better than any present that I could open under an xmas tree.