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One Mountain Ash Tree, Tai and I

In today’s blog, Tai and I go through the exploratory process of learning from the beautiful mountain ash tree, and make some nifty stuff along the way. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

I have a little buddy named Tai. I have known Tai since he was born, but really, Tai and I have become friends more so in the last few years. You see, once I left the teaching profession at RLDHS, the door opened for opportunities to teach children at my home studio, also known as The Milk Carton. Luckily for me, Tai was one of those people.

Tai is showcasing is BB8 tattoo and holding a new BB8 stuffie he just received for his birthday.

Tai started to take art classes with me in 2016.

My approach to teaching Tai has been child-guided, inquiry based learning. Basically, whatever Tai asks about, or we have a conversation about, we explore. Sometimes it leads to a short Google search and we move on,having our curiosity satiated, and sometimes it leads to full throttle learning that walks through the whole creative process from a spark to a final art project and reflection. In the last 4 years, Tai has glued, painted, drawn, collaged, sculpted, sewed, stamped, blopped, splatted, cut and then some with art supplies ranging from bingo dabbers to glitter, to fur and fabric paints. (Oh, and there has also been a lot of blueberries with yogurt and hot chocolate added into the mix as well. haha) We have truly explored so many interesting thoughts and the ideas just keep on going!

One time, Tai and I went through the process of making paper from scratch, just like the Egyptians (without the papyrus), colouring the paper and adding heiroglyphic messages!

So this fall, when we started up year 4 of our time together we decided that we would like our projects to have a natural element to it; kind of like bringing nature school indoors to the studio in a unique way. It just happened that the mountain ash were absolutely loaded with berries when Tai and I were wondering what to create, and it became the catalyst for a full on exploration of mountain ash in a uniquely creative, and as you will see, delicious way!

These berries became the catalyst for creativity!

It started by just examining the tree itself. It had beautiful compound leaves in a variety of green and golden hues. And the berries! I am not sure about you and your location, but here in Red Lake, the berries were prolific this year! I was able to fill my freezer this year with strawberries, saskatoons, and raspberries solely picked in our little yard! The berries on the mountain ash tree were weighing the tree down so much that some branches were quite literally grazing the grass. We knew we just had to do something with these beautiful things.

So we did what any artist would do. We picked some leaves, and we picked some berries, and we smashed them with hammers, and ripped them up, and boiled them and smeared them on paper and mixed them with powder paint and mixed them with glue and discussed our discoveries. Nope, these berries don’t stain material very well. Oh yuck…this doesn’t look very nice when mixed with white paint. Oh, but this does! Neat! Questions and queries tickle our minds as we wonder what other leaves would be like and how paint is made and where pigment comes from and what natural plant life gives the best pigment of them all. We wondered how paint is made and how we can preserve pigment so it doesn’t fade. BIG QUESTIONS lead to more exploration and more research and more conversation and ultimately more learning.

See that hammer in the foreground? Tai is excited to smash things with it! lol

Then we took or paint smeared watercolour paper and wondered what we could possibly make with them. We brainstormed a list of what one could possibly do with a piece of painted paper and then went from there… the end, we decided that we would make a mobile; an homage to deciduous trees if you will. We went back outside and picked leaves from various trees in the yard. Turns out, I have ten different types of deciduous trees and shrubs in my yard. We covered the leaves with packing tape to laminate them. Then we cut the paper with scissors and paper punches to create organic shapes that have negative space in them for visual interest. We attached the leaves to string and then beaded the strings. Finally, we found a wire framework in the studio and used that as our base for tying our items to, and a mobile was created.

On this day, Tai had sprained his ankle, so as he iced his ankle on the couch, we laminated leaves galore!

But we were not finished with our mountain ash exploration, because before the berries were all fermented and eaten by drunken ravens , we picked a bowl full. We made sure to only pick berries that were bent down and not easily reachable for birds. (Take a close look at mountain ash bushes next fall and winter. You will see that the berries at the bottom of the tree are usually untouched by birds. ) We stuck those berries in the freezer while we worked on the mobile (which took many sessions to complete!)

But our timing was perfect, because Christmas time was coming, and Tai and I usually spend our last couple of sessions before the holidays making a creative gift for his family. This year, it was a no brainer. We were going to make mountain ash jelly. I know, I know. Your first thought is probably, “yuck”. Tai and I thought the same thing. Eventhough eating a copious amount of raw mountain ash berries is very bad for your tummy, we decided that we should test one. We cut it in half and gave a half of a mountain ash berry a quick chomp of the molars and a even more quick swish over the tongue. Gross. These berries are ridiculously bitter and plecky. Yep. They make you say PLECK!

That’s a whole lot of frozen yucky right there.

So I went to my trusty homesteading groups on Facebook and inquired about whether people do actually eat mountain ash berries. I was given a barrage of answers from people begging me not to steal food from the birds, to people adamently encouraging me to taste this unique berry in a variety of ways from jelly to wine. Supposedly, it is very common to eat mountain ash berries in Newfoundland. There, they are called rowan berries or dog berries. Who knew?

So jelly it is. We can do jelly. I have never made jelly before. Jam, yes. But jelly? No.

I gathered up the supplies needed, and Tai and I had a two day in a row, jelly making session that left us wondering what we had done. I will spare you the details here, but I have written out the whole recipe for you if you’d like it. I will just give you the head’s up that we certainly did not follow the recipe as it was laid out for us. As is always the way with recipes, it became my own recipe pretty quickly. You see, when it came to day two and turning the drained fruit juice into jelly, we really were not certain whether this was a good idea. Then I came up with a solution: add more sugar. You just can’t go wrong when you add more sugar! So something questionable turned into something quite delicious and was a fantastic learning experience not only for Tai, but for me as well. By the way, if you’re curious about how to make your own mountain ash jelly a la Rhonda and Tai, check out the recipe I posted in my resource library!

When all else fails, add more sugar!

Tai and I made enough jars of mountain ash jelly to last his family a good solid year! And you know what? I think it will become a regular thing in my home every year as well. I love trying new things and having unique pallet experiences along with my unique educational experiences and this was definitely one of those times. So if you’re curious about the taste, head over to my resource library to get the recipe for yourself, and if you’re a subscriber to my blog, there’s just a chance that you might have an opportunity to taste some of your own! 😉

This will probably be my last blog until the new year, so from our home to yours, may you have a lovely, relaxing holiday full of delicious jellies as well. Brad, Alex, Willow and I wish you health and happiness in the new year.

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