Take a walk on the range

Guest post by Dawn Again author Doniga Markegard

Just outside my front door there is a field of stinging nettles the size of half a city block. It is the healthiest plot of nettles I have yet to see.

It was not always that way. There was an old barn on the hill above, that once was a milking barn and then held moonshine during prohibition. The activities in the barn helped pay the mortgage on the ranch and supported the growing family of settlers. When my husband arrived on the ranch the barn was falling down, due to lack of maintenance. The new owners made money elsewhere and simply used the ranch as an escape from the modern day stresses and routine.

The barn was bulldozed into the ground. Remnants of the roaring Twenties and a family of farmers making a go at life in California would soon turn to dirt. That dirt would then be fresh breeding ground for seeds that were carried along the coastal winds, dropped by birds as they migrated or a fox as he marked a territory. The seeds that lay in the freshly disturbed earth were not those that dominated the surrounding grasslands. They were seeds that some call the name forbidden to utter in some circles, the dirty word that many groups dedicate themselves to seek out and conquer: Invasive Species.

Poison hemlock, ripgut brome and medusahead all are icing on the cake of the conqueror. As these species drift around the world, looking for an opportunity to propagate, we have a choice to view them as a problem or an opportunity. So when the dirt became home to Italian thistle and poison hemlock, we put in the pigs. In nature, waste equals food, so if we are to mimic nature, everything eats and is eaten. When we want to sculpt our lives and our landscapes, that basic principle can help us avoid dissonance. The pigs did what they do: eat everything. They ate the roots of the plants because we let them stay long enough to feast on the starchy taproots of the thistle. Then we moved them off and let the ground rest and recover from the disturbance.

Winter set in, and soon a diversity of plants began to establish in the pig fertilized and disturbed earth. We did not spread any seeds, just waited and watched as the drifters found a settling place amongst the diversity and chaos. The result is a field of stinging nettle that is so healthy that the top leaves are the size of my hand—despite the drought—rivaling those of the Pacific Northwest, where everything is greener and bigger. So when life brings us stinging nettles, what more are we to do than to eat, a basic behavior we share with all life on earth. The act of gathering, preparing food and then the celebration of eating helps us to tap into that familiar comfort of not only surviving, but thriving.

Each species has a role and once we begin viewing this diversity as something to celebrate rather than select, isolate and destroy, the better off our lives and landscapes will become. The ranches on which our livestock graze support 66 species of birds and 157 species of plants. In all this diversity there is food being grown. How we tend to that food source is up to each and every individual. For our family, in spring, an abundance of stinging nettle means it’s time to make stinging nettle chips!

Recipe: Stinging Nettle Chips

Ingredients:

Top 3 or 4 sets of leaves of the stinging nettle plant before they flower in the early spring

Olive Oil

Apple Cider Vinegar

Nutritional Yeast

Sea Salt

Instructions:

Harvest the nettle, be creative, collect as many as you can. See page 211 of Dawn Again to learn how to harvest without gloves. I also recently worked with my daughter Quince and I held a bag under the plant while she carefully cut the leaves with scissors. Enjoy the adventure of interacting with the plant.

Find a bowl large enough to fit all the nettles. Pour in the olive oil and vinegar about 3 parts oil to one part vinegar. Stir in the nutritional yeast until you have a slurry. Add in a couple pinches of salt to taste. Set all the trimmed leaves of the stinging nettle as well as the top group of leaves that form a bud. With a wooden spoon gently massage the oil mixture into the nettles until they are thoroughly coated. Pour in more oil as needed to coat the nettle. Take your time with this, part of the process is to massage out the stingers. Don’t tear the leaves, just work the oil into the surface. You know when it is ready when you pick up a raw nettle leaf, eat it and it does not sting your tongue. When you taste it, go through a sense meditation before you place the leave on your tongue. Then use your intuition to add more salt, fat or acid to the mix. See page 60 of Dawn Again for sense meditation. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and place the nettles flat on a cookie sheet. Cook for about 20 mins, turning half way through until the leaves are crisp but not burnt.


Cover Story: Designing Dawn Again

 

This fall, we’ll publish Dawn Again: Tracking the Wisdom of the Wild, by Doniga Markegard. It’s a riveting memoir of exploration and survival. As a young girl, Doniga Markegard was thrown from her horse and knocked unconscious. She remembers an out-of-body experience that revealed to her the great mystery at the heart of life. In Dawn Again, she writes of the journey that experience sparked.

At a wilderness immersion school, medicine people and wildlife trackers train her in indigenous ways. Her search for an authentic life takes her hitchhiking across the West and to Alaska, where she falls deeply in love with tracking wolves and the rigors of surviving in the wilderness.

 Doniga seeks a vision and discovers her purpose, only to find herself on a cattle ranch, falling in love and starting a family, and learning a new way to apply the deep, unshakeable lessons of the wild.

We’re really excited about this book and we knew it needed a really special cover. So we turned, as we do, to our incredibly talented designer, Zsofi Koller. She did not disappoint. We took the opportunity to chat with Zsofi about the cover for Dawn Again, and what went into making it.

How do you approach the design of a cover for a new book?

Book cover design is about making an intangible tangible. On one hand, there are endless options. ENDLESS. On the other hand, if you listen to what the book is about—and I mean, listen with ALL your senses—some ideas become clear tracks to follow. And I follow those tracks, and see what happens.

When I’m doing first cover design, the book itself might not be written fully yet, or I might not have access to the full manuscript. So I’ll often get a debrief from the editor or author about the WHAT of the book. Not just the what—also, the spirit and heart of it. And I’ll daydream about it, and I’ll go to the bookstore and roam around thinking about it, and I’ll look at approximately a billion things online to get ideas.

And eventually I start to pile together ideas from my mental toolbox, and often times visual cues from my teammates, and it starts to take shape. And then I run my first concepts by our team, and we take it from there.

You chose not to use a photograph for this cover. Why not?

Well, we did try that idea. Pretty cute, right? (We were still ironing out the subtitle at that point, too, it seems!)

But it wasn’t the right idea for this book. This book isn’t best expressed by a photo. There’s a side of introspection, of spiritual exploration, that is best captured by a slightly more evocative imagery. So the thought of a wolf that embodied a sunrise felt too perfect to not use.

 What were some of the particular challenges in designing this cover?

In total honesty, this cover didn’t feel like it had challenges. It came together pretty seamlessly. There were a lot of different iterations of sunrises and wolves though!

How do you know when you’ve landed on the right design?

When it makes someone on the team cry. And I can just feel it, too. When I come back and look at the design 24 hours later and still love it, I know it’s working. When I want to show it to my husband, it’s working. When I want to sweep everything into the garbage bin and keep working, it’s not right yet. And there’s really no short cut to the process. Sometimes it takes less time, or more time, but it’s always a process.

 What do you most like about this final design?

I love the colour palette. A lot of our covers tend to be quite bold, which I love as well, but I enjoy the softness of the greens, pinks, oranges, and cream in this cover. It certainly feels true to a glorious dawn. I’m also very fond of the fonts we landed upon. A good font for a book is a little gift that keeps giving. I’m so looking forward to the interior design—the pieces have been laid in play so nicely by the cover, it makes the whole design process flow smoothly.