Garden Lifestyle

Wildwoods Walk

Recently, I went on a wild woods walk with naturalist and wildwoodsman, Doug Elliott.

Naturalist Doug Elliott discussing the virtues of yucca (Yucca filamentosa). Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Recently, I went on a wild woods walk with naturalist and wildwoodsman, Doug Elliott. Besides being a man of the great outdoors, he is a consummate storyteller, author and illustrator, as well as a musician. All of these talents and character traits rolled up in one, make Doug one heckuva’ entertainer.

The day was a perfect cool autumn day–clear blue sky against the brilliant colors of fall leaves–crisp, fresh air. It started out cold, most of us gathered, had on layers, hats, scarves and gloves. We assembled at a designated spot, the beginning of a dirt road, which led us into a woods in the suburbs of Greenbelt, Maryland. The group, seemingly from all walks of life, comprised of about half men and half women, varied in age from 20s to 70s, some in full hiking garb, while one had on sandals and carried a picnic basket, and another had a 3-legged stool. I had my day pack on with water, bag lunch, nature guides, magnifying class, notepad and camera as listed on the Ancestral Knowledge web site, which sponsored the event. Many folks took notes, however I decided to shoot photos and enjoy the hike… and never cracked a guidebook in the entire five hours… didn’t need to.

We moved along at a leisurely pace, stopping to gather around a certain shrub or tree or botanical specimen, while Doug told us facts and stories about them. Yucca was one of our first sightings, and Doug showed us how to make cordage with its leaves. He has a handsome pack basket, which he made from bark (tulip poplar if I recall correctly) and he has quite a few different kinds of cordage, which he made hanging in tiers across it–quite impressive. 

The terrain ranged from a boggy-marsh area to flat, open meadows in bright sun to slight slopes in the shady, leaf-strewn woods surrounding a creek, which we crossed back-and-forth a number of times. Doug carefully harvested a large cattail from the boggy area, and someone carried it along until we reached the creek. There, he rinsed it and showed us where the edible parts were–the new sprouts and how to peel the pithy part from the root, in order to eat the tender centers.

Farther along the dirt road, there were lots of grasses, sedges, and typical plants which grow along disturbed roadsides. Doug stopped us here, to inform us how to tell the difference between grasses, sedges and rushes, which at first, passing glance all look rather similar. He peeled back the green, outer covering of a rush to show us its round, white, tubular center. Then we all felt the triangular-shaped, edges of a sedge and looked down the hollow stem of a grass. I love this simple rhyme, that Doug taught us, which will now stay with me when I am out botanizing…

Sedges have edges,

while rushes are round,

grasses are hollow

like a hole in the ground.”


We stopped for lunch in a sunny, protected location, surrounded by many types of trees and most of us peeled off a layer or two of clothing, enjoying the solar warmth. There, Doug discussed a few of the surrounding trees and showed us some wild edible greens. One of them being a wild cress, which launched him into his discourse on Creasy Greens, followed by an impromptu concert on the subject, which I recorded and he allowed me to post on Youtube… here is its debut for your enjoyment:

Let me tell you, there’s no sneaking about like a silent Indian scout who makes no sound with their footsteps, when walking in a group of twenty-something, in ankle-deep leaves. I find the sound of walking through crunchy leaves quite pleasant, however we made a lot of racket with that many feet scuffling through the downed foliage… it was rather fun. 

Although we were in a group of about 20 adventurers, I observed Doug, as he walked and processed the woods around us, before he addressed the group. His movements are slow and thoughtful, one of a being who is familiar with and has spent a lot of time in nature. I have done my fair share of woods walks, alone and with other herbalists, and I must say, I have never seen (or at least noted in detail) another human move in quite the way that Doug does. He is at once, quiet and methodical, constantly alert, and respectful of his surroundings. I appreciate and admire how he dances gracefully with nature.

We walked back the way we came, retracing our steps in the opposite direction. We stopped for anything in or around our path… from animal tracks and scat, wood borers to lichen and funghi, and any tree, shrub or botanical that caught our eye. We arrived back at the parking area, tired yet happy hikers. Doug had some of his books and CDs available for sale in his pickup (I must confess I already own many of them), however I bought a few for gifts. His books are wonderful and his CDs are full of great storytelling interspersed with Doug’s inimitable style and harmonica playing.

Doug Elliott lives in a cabin North Carolina, however if he is ever in your neck of the woods–be sure to go see him! You can go on his site and sign up for his newsletters. Here is a link to his blog on Creasy Greens with the words to his song.






























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