While hiking home from the river last week, I took a little time to search for places to easily harvest cat brier for Emma and Ronnie deer. I have worked hard this year to forage for greens and browse so that their eating experience would be similar to that of fawns in the wild. Gathering acorns has come to an end since the nuts have fallen from the cupules and are now lying in the tall grasses. I am certainly a dedicated deer mother, but I will not crawl around on the ground stirring up insects to look for acorns! So, as a treat for Emma and Ronnie, cat brier will have to do.
With the warm weather continuing into October and November, there are still Siberian elm trees with plenty of green leaves and I have been cutting larger limbs now that Emma and Ronnie are eating more. The state biologist who had come to visit soon after we purchased the pecan orchard, advised us to cut down the Siberian elms because they could become invasive and compete with the pecan trees. It has been a win-win situation for me to utilize them for the deer while also eradicating them from the orchard area.
Cat brier can still be found with the change of season, but often the cascades of vine reach high up in the trees. And, because cat brier vine is terribly thorny, it is not pleasant to harvest. The old part of the vine closest to the ground can be a tough, thick stem with large barb-type thorns, or it might be a more pliable stem with lots of prickly, needle thin spikes. The newer leaves at the end of the cascade high in the trees, however, are thorn-less, and that is always what I hope to find.
So on my hike home, I was pleasantly surprised to find many clusters of cat brier near a place I call “The Land of the Cottonwoods”, an area along the old river channel where there are many beautiful, old cottonwoods. One in particular, is as big around as many of our largest pecan trees. As I crossed the fence to the old river channel, I found even more cat brier, but some of it was surrounded by tall poison ivy plants, and other vines were so entwined in the trees that it would be impossible to harvest. Still, there were many places lower to the ground where I could cut shorter vine. It would not be as easy as taking a long cascade of vine, but it would do. Emma and Ronnie could probably care less if the tasty leaves came from a long or a short vine!
This morning as I traveled to the west end of the property hoping to spot Daisy and her friends, I thought about how my fingers ached from being stabbed and pricked while cutting cat brier along the way. Despite wearing good leather gloves, the thorns and spikes penetrated into my hands and often gouged through the sleeves of my shirt. And, countless times, I had not paid attention to the brier lower to the ground and found myself tangled up at the feet, with stinging barbs penetrating my jeans and slashing at my legs. Like many wild plants, the thorns and spikes carry a toxin that burns for a while. For an hour or so, I would feel the effects of my morning foraging, whereas a real mother deer would have hair and a tough hide to protect her! But I had happily located another nice cascade of brier and cut only half of what I’d pulled down, saving the rest for tomorrow. I used my small, battery-powered chainsaw to cut a limb of Siberian elm from a tree and loaded it on the back of the buggy. Not seeing anything more of interest at the west end, I journeyed on in the electric buggy to the biggest cottonwood tree on the property. There, I exited my ride and climbed over the barbed-wire fence to the old river channel to sit near the water’s edge for a long while. This was my meditative time with nature. As I sat in solitude, an owl swooped low along the waterway, while little chickadees chirped happily nearby. Tiny frogs squealed and sprang into the water. I watched leaves fall gently. This was a lovely place. No wonder I had seen Daisy deer jump the fence to this very area so many times. It was a haven of greens, browse and water. And it was shady, quiet, and cool.
I did not want to leave this special place, but there was much to do at home. Emma and Ronnie would be waiting to see the buggy emerge from the woods with a load of fresh eats! There would be other days to visit the old river channel – for I will be foraging for another couple of months, or as long as the brier is still green and growing. By that time, I will know the Land of Cottonwood and Cat Brier like the back of my scratched and sometimes bleeding hands…
© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…