Earth Connection is a school of primitive skills and wilderness survival located in Northern Virginia and North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham area) that has been in existence for over a decade. Our hands-on classes are reasonably priced because we don't believe in big price tags for primitive skills. That's just not natural!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Its Organic Baby!

19 May 2007 marks our very first Organic Gardening Class.

Our vision is to bring basic organic gardening for beginners into our budding self-sufficiency course menu. The EC Organic Gardening class is designed for folks interested in the purest form of producing ones own food. We covered topics like soils and soils structure, soil amendments, organic pest control, composting, disease control, container gardening, and much more... all for the beginning organic gardener, no matter if it is in your backyard or on your balcony.

Keep watching for more classes on self-sufficiency and watch our garden grow.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

2007 Rabies Risk

The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild carnivores (raccoons, skunks, and foxes) and bats, but any mammal can get rabies. Small rodents (such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and chipmunks) and lagomorphs (such as rabbits and hares) are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States. However, from 1985 through 1994, woodchucks accounted for 86% of the 368 cases of rabies among rodents reported to CDC. Exceptions abound in the natural world.

Risk: In the1990's, the number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States was only one or two per year. The precise number of rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatments in the United States is unknown, but is estimated to be approximately 40,000. Therefore, the estimated risk of dying from rabies in the United States is very small.

Although non-bite exposures to rabies are very rare, we put ourselves at risk by handling roadkill animals which we do not know is infected, say in a hide-tanning class. It is possible that our scratches, abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth) could become contaminated with saliva or other potentially infectious material (such as brain tissue) from a rabid animal. Other contact, such as petting a rabid animal or contact with the blood, urine or feces (e.g., guano) of a rabid animal, does not constitute an exposure and is not an indication for prophylaxis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.

Here's the rub... There is no approved treatment for rabies after symptoms of the disease appear. You must determine ahead of time if there is a possible exposure and the need for postexposure prophylaxis. Modern day prophylaxis has proven nearly 100% successful. In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure.

There is a new experimental treatment recently discovered for individuals that do not get the PEP shots in time. This treatment requires a very risky week long or more induced coma to allow the human immune system to catchup with the virus without the brain activated systemic shutdown that normally kills the patient. But, there is only one person who has been treated in this way and it was by chance this treatment was discovered.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fresh Water Fishery Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia Virus (VHSV) Risk

Continuing our Risk Assessment Series...

The viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV), which causes anemia and hemorrhaging in fish, first detected in the Great Lakes in June 2006, has now been identified in 23 species and is approaching epidemic proportions. This could have a devastating impact on sport fishing and aquaculture industries, not to mention our much smaller primitive and wilderness skills community. Fish biologists do not know how the disease is transmitted making it very difficult to prevent. There remains no way to vaccinate fish against this disease, and any measures to control its spread require people to apply procedures that existed prior to the discovery of vaccines, such as monitoring outbreaks and trying to isolate fish so they don't spread the disease.

Three new fish kills have occurred in 2007 in New York waters since the virus was identified in the Great Lakes Basin in 2005. In the St. Lawrence River, hundreds of thousands of round gobies have succumbed to the disease; gizzard shad die-offs from VHSV in Lake Ontario west of Rochester and in Dunkirk Harbor on Lake Erie also have been reported. Adding to concerns about the spread of the virus, walleye in Conesus Lake have tested positive for VHSV. Conesus is the westernmost Finger Lake and is the only New York Lake where VHSV has been found in a body of water other than the contiguous waters of the Great Lakes.

Other species from the Great Lakes Basin area that have tested positive by Cornell include bluegill, rock bass, black crappie, pumpkinseed, smallmouth and largemouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, channel catfish, brown bullhead, white perch, white bass, emerald shiner, bluntnose minnow, freshwater drum, round goby, gizzard shad and burbot.

Risks: The Great Lakes VHSV is not related to the European or Japanese genotypes and poses no health threat to humans. However, as a general rule, people should avoid eating any fish (or game) that appears abnormal or behaves abnormally. Not all infected fish, however, exhibit symptoms. Some may be carriers, and visible signs of the disease may vary from species to species. The virus has been detected in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, District of Columbia or West Virginia water sheds.

Cornell University Cronicle OnLine article by Krishna Ramanujan.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

EC Spring Wild Edible Road Show

Earth Connection (EC) took its popular Spring Edibles Class on the road this spring serving eastern West Virginia and Washington DC areas. Our seasonal Wild Edible Plant courses focus on the different plants and plant uses of each season. Each course is a guided walk through different habitats identifying, collecting and frequently sampling wild plant foods, and pointing out harmful plants to avoid. It covers approximately 40 plants, shrubs and trees of the mid-Atlantic region depending on the biomes available on site. It includes proper identification and use of these plants, whether they are native or introduced, when and where to safely collect plants and conservation techniques.

On 28 April, EC conducted the class at Abram's Creek Retreat and Campground in West Virginia. We covered many spring edibles, but the star of the show was Ramps (Wild Leeks) that abundantly covered the mountain sides. I'll be honest, it was my first experience with Ramps and I am SOLD. They are amazing. I even brought some home to conduct mad culinary experiments.

All leeks belong to the lily family, containing about 325 species, and are close relative of the onion, garlic, shallot and chives. Their genus, Allium, is Latin for garlic which is what their flavor resembles to me rather than onion. Not to mention that there was an enormous quantities available. We harvested mostly a leaf or two from each plant and only a few bulbs to practice good conservation techniques.

Although the weather was initially uncooperative it cleared rapidly and made for a very productive class. EC will teach at Abram's Creek again this year. We can recommend their newly developed campground as pristine and mostly untouched. There is an abundance of flora and fauna, especially wild edibles.

On 5 May, EC conducted a class in Greenbelt Park, Maryland near Washington, DC for Ancestral Knowledge (AK), a 501(c) non-profit educational organization operated by a community of naturalists who specialize in native life skills. We donated our time to the AK mission. The class was small which allowed for more one to one with the instructor.

We even rescued a mud puddle full of tadpoles. Steve, one of the students, commented later, "Thanks again for the guided plant tour down in MD two weeks ago. Adria and I both learned alot. The tadpoles we rescued from that puddle are growing bigger every day."

Greenbelt Park is one of the largest natural sanctuaries of recovering mixed evergreen-deciduous forest located within the metropolitan Washington area. The land that is now Greenbelt Park was roamed before colonial times by the Algonquin Indians and other tribes with whom they competed for the area's natural resources. The arrival of European colonists drastically tipped the balance of nature that the Native Americans had for the most part maintained. Most if not all of the trees fell to open up farmland for the new settlers; the native wildlife and the Indians retreated.

For 150 years, farming was the dominant use of the land. The settlers, however, did not give back to the land as much as they took from it. Farming gradually ceased as soild quality declined and erosion scarred the land. Since the early 1900s, the area has been recovering from this overuse. Its current cover of mixed deciduous and evergreen woods is mute testimony to the land's ability to come back. Within a few decades, as small-scale replica of the original hardwood forest will have fully returned. The pines that now cover a large parcels will have disappeared -- an important toward an eastern climax forest.

See you at the next edibles class!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

2007 West Nile Virus Risk

Third in our Risk Management Series is West Nile virus.

West Nile virus is not a river in Egypt…

West Nile virus (WNV) is established as a seasonal epidemic in North America that flares up in the summer and continues into the fall. WNV is mainly transmitted by the well known blood-feeding arthropod, the mosquito.

The risk of West Nile virus in Virginia is low.

WNV first appeared in North America in 1999, with encephalitis reported in humans and horses. WNV has emerged in recent years in temperate regions of Europe and North America, presenting a threat to public and animal health. The most serious manifestation of WNV infection is fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in humans and horses, as well as mortality in certain domestic and wild birds. Not until early 2002 has WNV been a significant cause of human illness in the United States—only 5 Virginia cases reported in 2006. West Nile virus was first identified in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937 and only became recognized as a cause of severe human meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation of the spinal cord and brain) in elderly patients during an outbreak in Israel in 1957.

  • Arthropod-borne viruses (termed "arboviruses") are viruses that are maintained in nature through biological transmission between susceptible vertebrate hosts by blood-feeding arthropods (mosquitoes, sand flies, ceratopogonids "no-see-ums", and ticks). Vertebrates can become infected when an infected arthropod bites them to take a blood meal.

WNV Symptoms?

People typically develop symptoms between 3 and 14 days after they are bitten by the infected mosquito.

  • Serious Symptoms in a Few People. About one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe illness. The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
  • Milder Symptoms in Some People. Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.
  • No Symptoms in Most People. Approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all.

The easiest and best way to avoid WNV is to prevent mosquito bites.

  • When you are outdoors, use insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient. Follow the directions on the package.
  • Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times or consider staying indoors during these hours.
  • Make sure you have intact screens on your tent windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.

Earth Connection staff will throughout the year attempt to rid the local area of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flowerpots, buckets and barrels. However, there are many small swampy areas, natural cavities and unruly neighbors that might harbor a very significant population of mosquitoes.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

2007 Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI) Risk

Second in the Risk Management Series

Here at Earth Connection (EC) we see a lot of lone star ticks. The "fear factor" talk of the camp is about Lyme disease and how many people they know have had it or suffer from its untreated affects. Accusations directed toward the lone star tick is far from the truth though.

FACT: The lone star tick does not transmit Lyme disease.

However, what causes the confusion is campers bitten by lone star ticks will occasionally develop a circular rash similar to the rash of early Lyme disease. The rash may even be accompanied by fatigue, headache, fever, and muscle and joint pains. The cause of this rash and its early Lyme disease like symptoms has not yet been determined; however, studies have shown that is not caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Instead, this condition has been named southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). In the cases of STARI studied to date, the rash and accompanying symptoms have resolved following treatment with oral antibiotics. STARI has not been linked to any longterm arthritic, neurological, or chronic symptoms like Lyme disease.

The mild 2006-7 winter will bring us lots of these critters this year. I have seen more lone star ticks out at Earth Connection than any other type of tick. Be prepared for an onslaught of insects while attending our classes.

Any tick-borne illness may be prevented by avoiding tick habitat (dense woods and brushy areas), using insect repellents containing DEET or Permethrin, wearing long pants and socks, performing tick checks every 12 hours, and promptly removing ticks after outdoor activity. Persons should monitor their health closely after any tick bite, and should consult their physician if they experience a rash, fever, headache, joint or muscle pains, or swollen lymph nodes with 30 days of a tick bite.