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Cyman: Mud season birds, trees, and berries

Mud Season in Grand County brings wild fluctuations in weather, often snow and snow melt simultaneously. The extreme variations in altitude (over 7,000 feet in some cases) mean you can often fish the Colorado and ski Winter Park the same day. These conditions make outdoor pursuits challenging. Undaunted, I don several layers of appropriate attire and head out. My front yard, perched in the hills overlooking Snow Mountain Ranch, is just waking up. Daffodils are budding and the stems of alliums such as garlic, shallots and chives are peeking through the snow. I am eager to work the dirt. This is actually a good time to plant some cold hardy annuals: kale, lettuce, arugula, radish, parsnips and turnips come to mind. I broadcast the seed and gently rake them in, counting on the intermittent rain, snow and sun to promote germination.

Let’s face it; there is not much color this time of year. Returning bluebirds and evening grosbeaks squawking in the lodgepoles behind my house provide most of the spring splash. However, willows line the streams with brilliant displays of red and yellow. Willows (Salix spp. or Salicaceae) are useful plants. They cleanse the water and make an excellent rooting solution. Willow contains salicylic acid, the basis for aspirin. The bark has long been used for similar purposes.

There is spring fever among the evergreens. Spruce and pine are putting out new growth. These tips were traditionally brewed into a tea high in Vitamin C. Spruce beer, once a popular fermented beverage, is enjoying renewed interest. We have two types of spruce here, the Blue (Picea pungens) and the Englemann (Picea engelmannii). I found some along the Fraser River Trail dripping sap. Traditionally it has uses as a chewing gum and medicine. I tried a bit. The taste was refreshing, the texture sticky. One local makes a soothing salve from the pitch of the pinyon tree. While not common at our higher elevations, the Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis) is a popular Colorado native.

Junipers are offering up ripening berries. Squeeze the purple ones between your fingers and inhale the pungent fragrance. The green ones need more time. They make a wonderful addition to soups and stews. The distinctive flavor is the basis for gin.

Evergreen succulents provide some color in the garden. There are over forty varieties of Sempervivums (always alive, forever green) known also as “hens and chicks”. Sedums and stonecrops overwinter as well and many are edible.

Note: If you choose to explore nature’s garden, collect knowledgably and responsibly.

Trish Cyman has worked as a chef and educator and holds several certifications in permaculture design. She shares her home with her dog Maggie and the myriad plants, animals and microorganisms that comprise nature’s garden.