Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Swiss man's dream

Last friday, the 13th, saw me heading out into the woods again. It had been a long time, but now there was a special occassion; I was about to show a visitor from Switzerland "some Swedish woods". I figure it should be worthwhile, so I looked for some suitable woods, not your average pineplantation. I ended up finding Fermansbo urskog, a natural reserve about 1,5 hrs drive from here. It is an old forest, protected from logging and with minimal interfering. It is also the on the southern edge of the area where that great forestfire raged 4 years ago, which should also make for some interesting scenery. Little did I know we got more then we bargained for....
Arriving at the right spot caused some confusion, as apparently the accessroad had been changed, but eventually we both found our way in; Pascal coming in from the south and me from the north. Pascal and I initially "met" through the Swedish bushcraftgroup on facebook and now that he visited Sweden we figure it might be a good opportunity to meet face to face..... And so we did at 08:30. It was forecast to be a hot day, so an early start was no excessive luxury.

After the initial introduction we set out to follow a marked track through the reserve, which would take us through both old and firedamaged forest resp. to doubleback toward the parking; all in all about 3km. Figured that would be sufficient in this heat and terrain.
The first part as said went through the old forest. And it was a sight for sore eyes. This is the way forest should be, very unlike the tidy pine-, spruce- or birchplantations one usually finds. Old trees, fallen over ones and a wide variety of undergrowth. The fallen over trees would gradually come to dominate the scene, but for now we enjoy the vibes of old trees. Such a forest has a very different feel to it. We enjoyed ourselves and after having crossed a now almost dry marshland we decided to take a break. Temperatures were rising fast and keeping hydrated was a keyissue!

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit
It was at this point that we came to exchange gifts, after the promised Swiss chocolate bars had already changed hands, and ended up in my cooler box, in the car. I had brought some rather modest ones; a patch and a pair of moose antlers. After Pascal told me he had seen moose, I stuck a pewter moose pin onto his veshmeshok (Russian rucksack) as well.
Picture; Pascal Streit
He had brought me a pair of swiss army pouches, which I hoped would fit my Swedish army cookset. It was then he showed me another item he used and liked, a Russian-style ponch; a plash palatka. His demonstration apparantly made my mouth water and my eyes glisten and he talked me into owning one..... His! A follow up post on those items will come soon. But the best gift was a small item. A small pouch, handmade by him from an old Swiss army wool blanket. I immediately fell in love with it. You probably know how I love wool and the quality and softness of this wool really is Swiss. I love the colour and design too, especially after it turned out that my old army compass fits perfectly!!
We ended up having an early lunch as well and talked about all sorts of things for quite some time too. Really was too bad that there was a complete fireban, since a freshly brewed coffee would have capped the otherwise perfect moment.
But we were to see for ourselves that any form of fire really would be a very bad idea indeed.
On our way we already had come across a substiantal section of the old forest, where the trees clearly had died, but were still standing. many of the trees had been marked with tape and
even more were losing their dark, mainly around the base or first meter up. It was quite a sight seeing all these light patches of wood, but we had not yet made the connection. We figured some disease or infestation at first. But then we came to the part that clearly had been affected by the fire. It was very clear that the fire had caused the damage low to, but mostly under ground. We saw many trees with clear burnmarks, but even more unsettling we found many trees with their roots burnt off. Even the plantmaterial around the roots had gone, exposing the burnt rootstumps, loosely clinging onto the rock underground. It was an ominous sight. Aweinspiring, humbling, sobering and apocalyptic.
The marked path was reestablished after the fire, but many strong winds had since toppled over the dead trees, deprived of their roots. Knowing what I know now I would strongly advise against entering this area under such conditions, since many more trees are clearly just waiting to be blown over.

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit
We kept on following the orange marked path and gradually we made our way out of this scene of carnage, all of a sudden finding ourselves surrounded by green once again. Here the track became different. it looked much older, less well kept and often hard to follow, forcing us to backtrack. However the track became more and more narrow and overgrown and we had to cross a bridge that clearly was in serious disrepair. I had a real sense that we were heading wrong, but the track was still marked orange and we were still roughly heading in the right direction.... generally.
Eventually the track come to a gravelroad and simply ended there. We turned southward, knowing (more hoping) that we would head toward a road that would lead to the gravelroad that would lead us to our parked cars. The sun was still out in force and the temperature out on that gravel road easily exceeded the forecast 26C. We had little option but to keep going, following the road. Going back through where we had come from was a lot less appealling.
We eventually made it back to our cars indeed, after having spent roughly 1,5 hours out in the sun on a course gravel road. However we did take breaks, drank enough and kept an easy pace. Still my feet were quite sore, when we reached our destination. I had been wearing my old, thin soled army boots and these perform good enough on soft forest underground. They are far less comfortable on underground such as mentioned.
Back at the cars, we sat down on a log and talked about this and that for more then an hour. Just sitting there and being there was as good as anything, but all good things come to an end eventually and we had to make our way back home. Mine was 1,5 hour drive northward.

On my way in I had come across a vaste area where next to nothing was standing anymore and I got a feeling of desolation, just driving through it. On my way home I stopped to look and take pictures.
All around me the trees had gone and bare rock had become exposed. Everything had burnt away. There were next to no stumps or tress on the ground left. All gone. Imagine a fire hot and strong enough to completely burn up fully grown trees, pine, spruce and birch. Gone.
A fire consuming the layer of peat and forestsoil, leaving only rock.....
Such force, such devastation.... Despite the heat I felt a shudder.
Yet the vegetation is returning after 4 years. Many trees are sprouting again. Mostly birch, but the occassional pine too and lots of (I think) rallarros/mjölkört (Epilobium angustifolium.
These vast expanses will have erased the scras of fire sooner then the place we visited today.where the trees will lie and decay for many a decade to come. here there hardly is such debris.

This most certainly was a day well spent. Meeting a new friend always makes it worthwhile, but also  otherwise it will be a memorable one.

Thank you Pascal! Thank you for the gifts, but more so for this time well spent.
And I sure do hope we will meet more often! You're always welcome at my place at any rate.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

It's been a while....

More then 3 months since I did the last post. A time during which a number of things happened, but mainly a time during which I battled with a depression. Something I go through every year around the march/april-period, but this year was quite different.
The usual springdepression kicked in rather late this year. I guess due to the lengthy winter, where we had a lot of snow far into april. The severity of the depression was accordingly. And then we went from winter to fullblown summer within a few weeks, not even a month and summer stayed up till now; hot and dry. Extremely hot and extremely dry actually. And I do not do well under such conditions. I become lethargic, tired, listless. This most certainly did not help with my condition and the next blow came at the end of may. I lost my job. Which felt like a real loss, despite it, in hindsight, draining my energy.
I pretty much just caved in..... Having in the meantime found a new pasttime, politics and social issues, really did nothing to make things better. Au contraire.... things just got worse. The dark vortex of doom and gloom once again opened itself up with utter despair looming in the depths of its gaping mouth. However I also found something valuable in all this, Something worth while. Something that, despite all the problems we face today, offered a glimpse of hope as social and political scenes are changing rapidly and profoundly. I also found wisdom and help, whilst browsing the various sites and youtube. I stumbled onto something that has become know as the "Intellectual dark web", a group of free thinkers
But, equally important, I found friends much closer to home. Friends that share a common interest in the outdoors and all things related. During these past few months we met up a few times; twice as a small company and once under the guise of the annual nation bushcraft Sverige meeting. The small meetings were balm to the soul, especialy the one surrounding the experimentation-theme, but I regret to say that the national meeting actually was quite disappointing and appears to have led or is leading to a rift or maybe even a break up between the local group we have and the club in general.

My experiment consisted of natural fabic dyeing. In this case an old Swedish M59 pair of pants, dyed with onionpeels and walnutshells. Rusty metal was use as a mordant. Because of time limits I had to do the 3 steps all in one go, meaning mordant, naterials and pants in the boilingpot.
You can see the outcome, which remains even after washing.

With each colour I added a tuft of wool to show the results more vividly.
From natural to onionpeel to walnut.

As for our homestead, my depression and the following heat and drought has led to a near complete standstill, when it comes to growing crops. We were very late with sowing, an afternoon of strong winds with even stronger gales lead to the premature death of our tunnelgreenhouse. The breaking down of equipment made that I seriously got behind in cutting grass and weeds, thus keeping them in check and right now the claysoil is rockhard, being thoroughly dried and baked. Working the soil is all but impossible.
More problems have occured. The heat made that our chickencoop saw an explosion of some form of infestation. Some form of lice, but these were effectively dealt with using some predatory bugs (Hypoaspis), so now we can enter the coop again without being swarmed by these buggers and feeling itchy all the time afterwards. An addition of diatomaceous earth (kiselgur in Swedish) in their earth/sandbath took care of the rest.
Another one are forestfires! They are popping up all over the place and the firebrigades are kept rather busy. They usually respond fast and adequate, so so far real extensive damage has been prevented, but we had a good scare when one broke out 7km to our north..... with the wind blowing in our direction! Keeping in mind the large forestfires we saw to our south 4 years ago, bug out bags were packed at once. We need not have, but it was a stark reminder and a good drill.
The cause? Someone thought it necessary to still have an open fire, despite a complete fireban in the entire province!! About now wide areas of Sweden actually have implemented a complete ban on any form of open fire.

The location in question
picture; Christoffer Olerås.

But all things eventually come to an end and I can see the end of this downperiod approaching. I am feeling better, less down and angry and motivation to get things done is returning as well. My apetite for reading is back full force and I am also in the process of picking up other hobbies again.
So I feel it maybe is a good time to pick up things here too.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Perpetual winter

At least it feels like that. A winter that is everlasting. April is knocking at our doors, yet outside it still looks and feels like early februari. We set the clock to summertime, but apart from the rapidly increasing hours of daylight, it still looks like midwinter. There's still a whole lot of centimeters of snow on the ground. Some places up to 40 and the night temperatures still drop steeply, only this week down to -18C. But during the days we have sunshine and the snow and ice are melting away ever so slowly at those spots the rays reach the ground and rise the temperatures to just above 0C. It is windy too and these conditions make that we are not being flooded, but that the water melts and evaporates or runs away. But I also know that the bottomlayers of the snow are ice and watersaturated snow and when temperatures do go up, all that water will be released over a short period of time. Many waterflows have their dams and sluises opened, resulting in a very low waterlevel, ready to take on that deluge.
Spring is indeed around the corner. Whooperswans have been coming in, I spotted a male blackbrid the other week as well as the first buzzard, circling over wooded areas. Flies, some mosquitos and even a lost moth showed themselves too. And with all these changes, so my mood changed too. I am once again facing my springdepression and this year it is looking to become pretty bad. So bad that I even saw myself forced to cancel my attendance for the Basic 2 course, run by Bushcraft Sverige. I am very reluctant to face a group of people and see myself being demanded to interact with those round the clock for 2 full days. My job sees to it that all my social energy is being depleted during the week and the weekends I must keep to myself, just to stop me from tipping the balance.
But it will pass. It always does and I still have the national meeting early june to look forward to.

So.... what is keeping me occupied these days then?
Luckily, there's always this pile of books next to my chair. I like to keep it well stocked with titles still to read. Right now I am working my way through Douglas Murray's "Strange death of Europe", a book that, while not being for the novice in English, I would really recommend.... no almost demand for anyone to read. Anyone who has the slightest interest, socially and politically, in what's going on in this continent or the western world at large at present day. Very enlightening, very straight forward and very unliked by the current establishment and it's supporters. So of course it gets labeled "far right", "racist" and all the other labels socalled "lefties" like to stick to folks that do not agree with them. That alone for me is a reason to check these sources out and form my own opinion. One that, I dare say, is mostly much more based on knowledge, facts and information than the average politician or journalist would like or expresses themselves.
Related to that I had a discussion with my family the other day because I felt the need or desire to become more active in a socially/political kind of way by expressing what I had learnt or seen in the way I am most prolific and comfortable with; writing. I thought a blog in which to share information, directly from the source, maybe a book describing my journey and views. Things like that. But my kids forbade me in no uncertain terms to do so! Doing so most likely would affect and damage them. They'd become labeled as "the kids from......." and that would certainly not help them during their further lives as students or employmentseekers. You see, in Sweden discussion when holding any non-conforming or even opposing views from the political left can, and more likely will, have serious, negative consequences.
I wish this was a bad april 1st-joke.

But it is also easter, so I wish you all a happey easter, wherever you are.
This is about as close to easter as I get.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I could tell you about.......

It has been a while since I last wrote something. Somehow the drive to do so has diminished. I guess me working and meeting lots of people now on a daily basis has greatly lessened my need to seek interaction online. It is not that nothing happens anymore.
I could tell you about how we got a lot of snow, about 60cm of it, followed by thaw, followed by another 60 or so. And still snow comes.
I could tell you about how we got a wooden sled for the dogs and how we tried that and ended up frollicking about in the snow with the whole family.
I could tell you about how Rex and Lester had their maiden-run, pulling someone on skis over the white expanses of a frozen lake.
I could tell you about how a flu can seriously cripple you, when trying to live as simple as possible, as I am experiencing right now.
I could tell you about the white wonders we have has and about how tired we are starting to get of it.

                                                   This was our place a month ago...

Ohh.... what the heck. Why not.
Got nothing better to do anyway. Well, I do actually, but I just can not. Even a short walk with the dogs leaves me breathless and fatigued. I have become homebound by a flu or a nasty string of a common cold, which has lodged itself into my airways, with all uncomfortable consequences. And so far only my wife has escaped this misery, our son actually getting downed twice!

But winter has been for real this year!
Like I said we had snow. Lots and lots of snow. It makes for pretty pictures and landscapes, completely transforms the landscape and since it is not really cold, only had one coldsnap down to -24C, it is quite enjoyable too. If you do not take into account all that snowshovelling we've been doing. But that's exercise during the cold months, so to speak. I had actually hoped to learn how to ski, but somehow that did not materialize. Short days, little sunlight, shovelling, heating the house, carrying and splitting wood, taking care of dogs, chickens and household AND a 25hr a week job...... leaves little time or energy to do anything else active. Next winter I will make sure that all the wood is ready cut and split, with a proper supply right next to and inside the house.
I have a feeling that winter will last at least well into march, the forecast showing cold and grey days into the beginning of next month. And I fear that as thaw will come eventually all that snow and ice will start to melt all at once. It'll get messy and wet. Well at least the drought issues will be solved for a while!

The days have been lengthening for 2 months now and spring equinox is only some 4 weeks away! But the absence of sunlight is getting to me, to us. Weather's been grey mostly, not many cold and sunny days. For the first time ever we are reaching for artificial help in the form of vitamin D tablets and these do help. But how we miss the sun!!
The birds hav started to stir. They call and flutter. It is quite noticeable after the silence of winter, but there are a lot less birds than other years. Their numbers and their flocks do not appear as big as previously. We have a couple of crows that has chosen ut garden as their residence. Our roosters keep a close eye on those two, when they come down to "feast" on whatever is left of the chickenfood, but so far the crows appear friendly. I don't mind. I kind of like them, but would have prefered ravens. Those I like even better.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A snowshoeing trip.

Our host Olli
picture; Boel Engkvist
Last saturday saw another meetup f our local bushcraft group. This time the goal was a snowshoeing hikeup the Gyllbergen, a rise in a natural reserve near Borlänge. The weather was hard to forecast, with all the changes, but in the end all went well.
Had some minor snowfall on the way in, deep, fluffy and powdery snow, especially around the top and a touch of sunlight every now and then. Temperature was around -7C with some windchill at the top. Some of us, including me, had never or very scarcely walked on snowshoes and I thought to bring my old (antique) ones for the occasion, accompanied by poles at least as old.
For the occasion I dressed up in my army woolpants, t-shirt, wool sweater and winteranorak. However, in my rush to get away from home I forgot my Finnish winterhat and my mittens, so all I had was a thin knitted hat and fingergloves. A pair of those without the tops with thin knitted ones below that. I had brought my LK35, complete with a thermosflask of hot coffee, an army shovel with snowblade, cookingset, food and 1,5l of water. Of course my winterbelt and my the first aid kit. I had thought of tbringing a fleece blanket, but figured in case of an emergency 2 emergency blankets would suffice.
Olli, who arranged this trip, told us about the history of the reserve and I must say it really was a completely different landscape from when I was here first last year. I had never seen anything like it. Magically transformed by the snow, fairytale-like sculpted trees and snowdrifts. I felt overwhelmed and touched to my core. 
On the way to the top I started experiencing problems with my left snowshoe, because its front strap kept slipping of my foot all the time. The walking on those snowshoes itself felt quite easy actually, but the fact that the rest used narrow, modern ones made the going on my wide duckfeet a bit cumbersome, because I kept stepping on the edge of their trail. As we started to near the first stop, being the cabin, I took off my mine. I was holding up the group too much. I clasped the snowshoes to my chest with the sternumstrap of the lk35 and kept going without them in the trail. The going was pretty tough! Despite the whole group breaking trail before me, I sank down at least 20-30cm with most steps. The flow of those old things was quite good in hindsight!
During the hike the disc of one of the staves came off too and I immediately noticed the difference, becuase the stave just disappeared into the waistdeep snow. I could not find it anymore. Of course.... Panting and sweating I arrived as last at the shelter/cabin. During the rest there Marcus lent me 2 straps, so I could fasten the snowshoes properly and after that the problems were pretty much over. At least until we found a place to "camp".

picture; Marcus Östlin

picture; Marcus Östlin

picture; Boel Engkvist

picture; Boel Engkvist
Our merry group of snowshoe-ers.
picture; Boel Engkvist
picture; Boel Engkvist

picture; Boel Engkvist

At the campsite, some started trampling the snow and 2 of us, including me, broke out the snowshovels and dug a pit, large enough for us to sit around a fire. Here my second gearfailure occured. The steel thermosflask I had brought made clear why it ended up in a secondhand shop for me to buy. It had leaked like a sieve and the coffee was nowhere near warm anymore. Lukewarm at best. Maybe the rubber seal was not attached properly and maybe an axtra insulating layer might have kept the coffee warmer.
Everyone had brough one of two blocks of wood up with them, so plenty if firewood was present. Now that fire did cause some irritation and hilarity..... The wood was not really dry, so it smoked a lot. On top of that it was pinewood, so pretty resinous. And of course I sat on the exact wrong spot! Together with Marcus we got out meat smoked pretty decently. Excessively was more likely. Tears ran down our face and we twisted and turned in every which way, but in the end had to move away just to breath. In desperation I brought out my emergency snowgoggles, a pair of those celluloid foldable ones. They look ridiculous (if the comments and laughter were anything to go by), but they worked at keeping the smoke out of my eyes..... sort of. They actually are intended to prevent snowblindness in case of getting stuck.
The mood was generally merry and the food and campcoffee only enhanced that. There was a deal of clowning around and the ladies provided an even better atmosphere by singing a number of folksongs.

I really like Karin's round bottomed, castiron frying pan.
picture; Jonathan Sälg

picture; Marcus Östlin

smoking a ciga.... sausage?!
I got dubbed Ron Guevara...
picture; Boel Engkvist
The goggles in question
picture; boel Engkvist

There be snowgoblins in them hills!
Travellers beware!!
picture; Olli Niemelä
Then the sun started setting and it was time to pack up
And here it was that the troubling snowshoe failed completely. In an attempt to tighten the straps more, one tore off completely. The straps had become to old and brittle. I was now facing a 1,5km hike downhill in loose snow. But Olli came to the resque! He lent me hios modern snowshoes, so I could carry on. He was used to it anyway, he said, plodding through the deep snow. He's a bit taller then I am as well.
By the time we all were ready to go, my fingers had become real cold. Cold enough that I started worrying and I was eager to start going and get my circulation going. From experience I knew that that would pretty much solve my problem. Standing still would only increase it. Holding metal staves did not make things better, despite the grips, made from natural materials.
The way back was quite something too. At places steep downhill and a number of us got into difficulties, but managed to overcome those using non-standard solutions, so to speak.
It was only a few 100 meters to the skitrack, but it felt much longer. Same as the way in. I know it is wayyy shorter then it felt. Going under these conditions takes a lot, lot longer. The rest of the hike went over skitracks, which did hold a few surprises. Boel stepped into a deep hole and tipped forward. The kind of incident that might just snap your knee to pieces! Luckily she came away smiling. The snow simply gave way, despite the snowshoe.
In the end the parkingarea was reached with everyone in one piece and as far as I know I was the only one having experienced some trouble.

Picture; Magnus Brodén

picture by Olli Niemelä

The whole experience left me with an elated feeling! Not only the scenery and the fresh air, but also the feeling of belonging and of friendship made me feel..... human. It is those later feelings that I had missed those last years, but I really do feel we have a small group of people here that have found each other. Järngänget, as olli described it. The iron group or hard core.
Besides that the afore mentioned magical atmosphere and fairytale-like landscape really made this day special. A memory for life, even if it only lasted a few hours. My heartfelt gratitude toward all those involved and present for making this so!
What I also felt, was my body. Especially the lower half! For days!! Sore muscles, especially the inner thighs and I actually still do; my hipsjoints and right hamstring. A small price to pay, but I am actually less pleased by the gear failures. Those can cause some real problems. I need to go over it all and I have plans to redo the old, broken snowshoe(pair). The staves..... well, they will probably end up as staves when walking the dogs on icy roads.
But on the other hand I was really pleased to once more notice that my clothing-system held up. Despite having sweated a good deal I did not freeze, while others were forced to take off or even replace clothes due to sweating. They were wearing modern day jackets, that apparently had less capacity for ventilation. I was also pleased that the footwraps I tried held up in every way! They were comfortable and kept my feet warm, even during inactivity. And the shovel proved it's weight worth in gold. Not only was the area cleared pretty quick, but by making the blade angle with the handle, thrusting it into the snow and draping my sheepskin over it I had an in promptu seat, removing the necessity of sitting on the snow. Next time I'll bring a small foampad though, since my buttcheeks were a little sore afterwards. But the height is perfect for sitting comfortably!