Mystery Tea

Blue sky on January 28, 2023

The sky could not be more blue than it is today. Spring is in the air. More than five weeks since the winter solstice, the sun is as strong as it is in mid November.

We had freezing temperatures this morning for the first time in quite a while.

Light frost
Needle ice

A light frost touched the grass and leaves. Needle ice pushed icy waves out of the ground. If I had the patience, I’d spend a night out and film needle ice forming.

Garlic shoots

The garlic is popping out of the ground. These shoots poked through the leaves covering the garlic bed. Just how thick a matter could they pierce? This is a great time of year. You can see winter fading and spring arriving. It’s a time of great expectations.

But I never expected to learn what I saw on Japanese TV a few days ago. Even the announcers were surprised to learn about a new, mysterious tea. Takeshi Maruoka, a doctoral student at Kyoto University, studies Chemical Ecology. During his studies he became fascinated with insects. And discovered that the droppings of caterpillars which ate cherry blossom leaves smelled like cherries.

So he made a tea from those caterpillar droppings and was amazed at how delicious it was. Since then, he’s made tea from the droppings of many kinds of caterpillars eating many kinds of plants.

Mr. Maruoka formed a company called Chu-Hi-Cha, which translates to Bug-Mystery-Tea 虫秘茶. He plans on commercializing this mysterious tea and bringing it to market this summer.

According to the clip I saw, tea from the caterpillars which eat chestnut leaves and from caterpillars eating cherry blossom leaves are his favorite.

Someone recorded that clip and here it is. It is in Japanese but you can get an idea of what these caterpillar droppings look like and how to make tea from them.

So is this safe? Caterpillars are doing pretty much the same process that makers of black and Chinese tea use. The caterpillars chew the leaves, ferment the leaves in their bodies, and pop it out as little pellets. They are miniature tea making factories.

Mr. Maruoka had these pellets analyzed for safety, and they have no harmful bacteria. There is no danger of getting food poisoning by drinking tea from the caterpillar droppings.

With tens of thousands of plants eaten by tens of thousands of varieties of caterpillars, the variety of teas that can be made by caterpillars is endless.

But this isn’t new. People have been making tea from caterpillar droppings since the late 1700s in China. In Chéngbù in Hunan, a tea farmer stored tea leaves in a hut. But rain leaked into the hut and moths ate all the leaves, leaving behind just their droppings.

While cleaning up the hut, some to the droppings fell into water and the farmer noticed that the water turned reddish like tea and he saw bits of tea leaves in the water. So he took some of the droppings, added hot water to them, and learned that you could make delicious tea from them.

And if you are curious, search for bug poop tea. It’s a thing.

Cherry Blossom Blizzard

Each year, the blooming cherry puts on a different show. Some years the tree is a cloud of white flowers. Other years the rains knock so many blossoms off, it looks bedraggled. This year it is blooming with a thick carpet of blossoms on the ground below it. A blustery day last week sent a blizzard of flowers falling to the ground. The deep snow underneath the tree is too beautiful to walk on.

With today’s sunshine and tomorrow’s forecast for a sunny day, the tree should be at its peak tomorrow.

Edison Chicken Parade 2020

The 2020 Edison Chicken Parade was yesterday, Sunday, February 23. The parade happens every year at noon on the last Sunday of February. Which means next year’s parade will be on February 28, 2021.

The parade this year was eight minutes long, so I recorded the whole thing, and you can watch it from start to finish on the video below!

[wpvideo PeoHfbfV]

Edison Chicken Parade Route

The parade starts at the south end of Cairns Court, the main street in Edison, WA. The parade proceeds north through the village. If you plan on going, arrive early. By 11:30 parking is hard to find and you may need to park a long way from the parade route. The best parking is at the elementary school on the east end of Edison. From there, it is a short walk to the parade route.

A great alternate is to bike into Edison, or go for breakfast at Tweets and stay for the Chicken Parade.

A Question No More

Until a short time ago the question was, “Will it snow this winter?” That question is now answered. It snowed this winter, a soft, gentle, beautiful snow. I can go ponder other things.

Many of the better things in life are the unplanned things that come along and keep us company, a stray cat, a sad dog that tells us we are its owner. In all the decades I’ve lived, I never once thought of wanting to make kefir. It’s a nearly daily ritual now. Such a simple ritual, just a few minutes of my time in the morning, and yet it’s so satisfying.

Kefir is a food that makes itself. The only thing I need to do is run it through a sieve until a tablespoon of the kefir grains are left.

I pour the strained kefir into little cups for breakfast.

The kefir grains I stir into a glass of milk and set the glass on the counter next to the happy porcelain cat, where it sits until tomorrow morning. All day and through the night, the kefir grains transform the milk into more kefir without me needing to do a thing. As I said, it makes itself.

Making kefir is so simple, when I see it for sale in the store, I think, There’s a con. Why would anyone buy something that makes itself?

Royalty on Display

The Prunus subhirtella is in bloom … delicately. From fall into early spring, this cherry is a pleasant reminder of what spring will bring.

On a warm, sunny, December day, King Richard struts his stuff. Have a few roosters, and you are never far from royalty. Roosters are as vain as any king. They all think they are nature’s gift to any hen. Hens often have a different opinion.

All the Way from Umingmak Nuna

A carpet of fallen leaves greeted me when I went out to the cabin to make tofu this morning. “Whoa!” I said when I stepped through the gate and saw all the leaves, wheelbarrows and wheelbarrows of leaves for the garden. Yesterday’s bluster shook the trees. Leaves fell all day and night.

[wpvideo 0OC8Cynx]

In the cabin the gentle sound of soybeans soaking underneath a trickle of water is so soothing. The beans have come all the way from the other side of the Rocky Mountains to fatten in a cool stream. Maybe someone in Anacortes or down in the valley is feasting on fresh tofu tonight. I’ve adjusted my schedule so that I always have some on hand. If you need any, let me know.

Snow geese by the thousands greet me on my way home from delivering tofu. It’s just in the past two to three years that the flocks are spending a lot of time in the northern part of the Skagit Valley. At times they fly overhead. Unlike other geese and swans which fly in small V-shaped groups, snow geese take to the air en masse, forming ribbons of hundreds and thousands of birds, noisily flying overhead, ribbons that at times stretch for miles.

When you approach a field of snow geese, from a distance, they look like fields of white daffodils, or snow covered fields. And then you get closer and see that they are snow geese from here to the horizon. Their summer homes are in the far, far north, on the arctic sea coast, all the way to tip of Ellesmere Island, Umingmak Nuna, or land of the muskoxen, less than 500 miles from the North Pole. Just a few weeks ago these snow geese were on the tundra, looking down at muskoxen and caribou as they flew. Now they are here, watching cars go by, and flying over houses and freeways. Lucky snow geese, no passports to carry, no border crossings to worry about, just wings to flap and sail over all boundaries. If humans had wings, we never would have dreamed of creating border crossings, or fences, or walls. What would be the point?

Leaves of Peace

Raking leaves is so peaceful. Nothing says peace like a pile of fall leaves. We saw two swans flying over the fields today. Perhaps they arrived this morning. Perhaps they had just flown in off the sea and were looking for their first place to rest their feet. After flying so many days, does it take swans a few days to get their land legs again? I remember as a child crossing the ocean in a boat, and feeling the boat swaying back and forth for days after we got off it. Tomorrow is the first of November, the day I often see our first swans. Seeing the swans reappear was comforting. Not everything has gone completely kaput.

The peaceful pile of leaves is destined for the garlic and shallot beds. In a week, all the beds will be bedded down under a thick blanket of leaves. Underneath the leaves, tiny creatures and earthworms will slowly devour the leaves, taking bits of leaves deeper and deeper into the earth until the leaves become one with the earth. Perhaps by using wheelbarrows of maple leaves, I can flavor the garlic and shallots with a hint of maple. As they say, it’s all about terroir.

First Frost

Frost left a light touch this morning, fringing leaves on the ground with a delicate white fleece. It was winter’s first soft walk through the garden. All the garlic is planted. Some tulips and shallots remain for me to safely bury in the earth before we get a real freeze.

Slurpling and Mooffling

On a misty morning, I hear the snow geese flying overhead. When I’m lucky, the mist parts, and the snow geese flutter across the blue sky.

A generous gift of pine needles from friends makes for nice, soft foot paths between the garlic beds. They make a pleasant place to rest my knees when I plant garlic cloves. Happiness are friends with a gigantic pine tree who don’t know what to do with all the pine needles and pine cones that fall from the tree.

[wpvideo 05Zn0a3J]

The ducks are slurpling through water-soaked grass. Their feeding sounds like a babbling brook. In dry brush and grass they moofle along, filling the air with soft moofles. They chirp, whistle, and grunt too.

Spring in Fall, or How to Sleep Like a Log

It feels like a spring day, not the middle of fall. 124 days from the summer solstice, the sun is as bright as a day in late February. Just two more months and the days start getting longer. The ducks have found a dry, sunny spot in a woodshed to dry and preen their feathers. Watching ducks preen melts all your worries away. It’s cheap therapy.

Bicycling to the post office on a day like today is cheap therapy too. Last week I heard Terri Gross interview sleep scientist Matthew Walker. In the interview she made a comment that made me laugh. When Mr. Walker told her that he tries to get eight hours of sleep every night, she gasped, “Eight hours in bed every night! How in the world do you do it? … Most people don’t have eight hours available to sleep.”

It made me wonder if that is really true, and if it is true, what sort of mad world have we made that most people don’t have enough time to sleep? I am a very sound sleeper. Once as a child, I fell off a top bunk onto a hard wood floor and didn’t wake up. When I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t figure out why I was sleeping in the lower bunk because I knew I went to bed in the upper bunk.

Plant rows of garlic, chop wood, clean out the chicken coop, bicycle to the post office and back, rake leaves, watch the ducks preen themselves, take in the beauty of fall, and you will sleep like a log for eight hours without any effort.