Sunday, September 20, 2020

A weekend of learning by doing and sharing

Last weekend was one for the books! It was an all around pleasant weekend, with some hick ups, because some vitally important things were taught and learned, but most of all because we spend a lot of quality time together as a family. Unfortunately out youngest daughter spend the entire weekend cooped up in her room. She really is struggling with early teens female issues and is quite unwell because of that.

However it was actually she who had initiated the weekend! She had suggested we had our first seasonal movie night together. It is now sufficiently dark earlier in the evenig, which makes for cosier movie watching. So we did. We watched a movie with the 5 of us, something that really is qute hard to achieve, since each has their own very special preferences!

She also requested that we'd do a real breakfast together on saturday morning with made up table, small breads, toast, coffee.... the works. And again all joined in! No muttering about sleeping long or getting up "that early in the weekend".....

My oldest 2 were with me slaughtering our cockerels. My son passed a milestone and killed them both, a first for him that did not leave him untouched. Actually my daughter should have done one, but because of emotional instability due to certain female issues, she declined. There's wisdom there!

Hearing artillery pounding in the distance while plucking the cocks certainly gave the whole thing a different ambience and I jokingly said that the time might come, where we would get used to that. Or was I...??

We ended up leaving the cockerels to the fox and other critters. For one there was very little meat on them, hardly enough to feed our family. It would take both of plus side dishes. Another reason was emotional fatigue. We all agreed that killing an animal is emotionally draining, especially when done for the first time, hands on. Pulling the trigger is one thing, cutting the throat or the head and holding down the animal while it dies under your hands is another. You can feel the life draining away with the blood. While we were plucking, a tedious and drawn out exercise, we philosophized on why that is. The trigger pulling creates a distance, so the kill "doesn't touch you" physically. The other was that when killing in a fight for instance, there's anger involved or self defense, so a whole set of motivating and pushing emotions and hormones kick in. Cutting the throat of a cock for food has none. There is just the utter unpleasantness of it all and nothing to dull that with. 

Since this is a family friendly blog I'll leave out the more gruesome pictures....

But that same evening we were on our way to get a new chieftain for our feathered clan! I named him Speckles and he is a son of one of our previous cockerels, Sirius, that we sold to friends of ours some years ago. He hatched this spring, so I take it that he will become quite impressive, when he has fully grown!

I just had to include the next picture.....

Sunday saw us heading up to our kiln. It had been opened up on saturday and today the packing of the charcoal was to be done. We actually went there for social reasons, not being able to really actively participate. This years kiln turned out to be a fiery one with exceptionally much glow and heat still left in the bottom, despite being dormant for 2 weeks instead of 1! 

After all coal was packed, we got 277 bags this year, a group was being kept busy dousing the place where the kiln had been. All the water that was left over, several 100 liters, were being poured into the leftover pit.

We had lunch there and did our social thing, talked, cracked a few jokes but after all was done a silence fell. Those having worked there this weekend were clearly beat. The average age is higher than my own, I suspect. Time to pack up and head home, since we had other plans still!

My kids, and especially my son again, wanted me to show them (again) how to take care of knives. They had neglected their own these past years and wanted to pick up on it again. Some knives had gotten rusty, others dull. And I must confess that I too had been negligent of a handful of mine. Another plan was to carve some more wooden butter knives and marmalade scoops. So we collected what we needed and gathered around our fireplace. Here I tried a first; lighting a fire with flint & steel! I gathered some birch bark, scraped the surface into a powder and very thin strips, took the charcloth I had made at the kiln, struck..... and the first sparks took! I quickly transferred the cloth onto the bark and blew.... and blew.... A fierce glow erupted, smoke escaping the birch bark roll. I blew some more. More smoke..... and then the cloth had burnt up.

So I made a second roll, but this time with much more thin bark and no scraping. I took a larger swath of cloth, struck and again the sparks took. Same procedure; blowing, into the bark roll, more blowing, little more still.... smoke forming.... more blowing, prolonged this time. Again a fierce glow.... More, longer and focused blowing...! More glow and then... *poof*.... it erupted in flames! The sense of achievement was quite something!!

We kept the fire going, settled around it and started carving, sharpening, sanding and oiling. And we spent pretty much the entire afternoon that way; both our oldest kids, the Mrs. and me... Our youngest one had curled up on the sofa in the livingroom, but her absence was noticed. Yet I can not blame her.

For the carving we had saved 2 pieces of juniper wood, which I cut and split up, again showing the youngsters how to do that. Pretty quickly everyone settled into their routines and we fell silent. 

No words need to be said.....

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Smoke and peace

 Lately we have been and are experiencing some extremely stressful times here at home, so it was nut just good to get out for even just one night, but very, very needed too.

Last weekend saw me at our local charcoal kiln again. It has been 3 years since the last time, since I can not actually do much there anymore. And because I felt I would only get in the way, I stopped participating.
However this year they were dealing with a lot of issues in getting the schedule for watching the kiln covered. It has to be a 24/7 watch the first week after lighting it, so my wife and I volunteered to take the last 24hr pass. That usually is the least physically demanding one, which in effect means sitting near a fire, drinking coffee, meeting the people who come to visit, explain what charcoal burning is and means... is essence be a tourist guide.
So last saturday was our turn, from 22:00 until sunday evening 22:00. We showed up at 20:45... and were greeted by the "guardian" and her sons..... and an enormous mess! There was junk, leftover packaging and food, cans etc everywhere! One week of garbage seemed to have been piled all around the shelter. Not a nice way to start. But we gritted our teeth (I really hate such a mess and want to start cleaning it up right away), sat down and chatted for about an hour until the others left. As soon as they had we stoked the fire, put on our headlights and started cleaning, putting away the worst of it all; the food leftovers.
Don't want any animals to start ransacking the place during the night.
After that we could enjoy the crackling fire, still night, the darkness and the rising moon in peace.

We also had to do some cleaning in the coaler's cabin. Here too all sorts of stuff was piled up, mainly of the table, but also firewood was strewn on the floor. And it was hot in there!! They had kept a fire going 24/7 in there too for the past week! Felt like a sauna! So we opened the cabin door and left it open all through the night.

Sunday morning saw us rise early, but the night had not been entirely peaceful.
First of all we were startled out of our bunks at around 00:30, when we heard a car coming up the gravelroad! Since it by no means is a coming road to take, it meant the someone was deliberately coming here. At this hour. We shot into our cloths and were greeted by a young man, clearly being tanked up, beer bottle in hand. Behind him was a ramshackle Volvo with a young woman behind the wheel, who, for reasons unknown, would not leave the car.
We asked him what his business was, but he was unable to give us a convincing story. However he turned rather quickly and they left. Sleep however eluded us for a while after that.
I was also kept awake by some rather noisy neighbours. Clearly a nest of scurrying critters was located in the wall right next to me. But eventually I fell asleep too, awakening again at about 06:30.
The air was fresh, moisture laden with a distinct hint of a fire gone out, but without the scent of charcoal...

 My wife stoked the fire again and while she started making breakfast I opened up all the air inlets around the base of the kiln to get the process going again and get the bottom to char up as well.

 After a lengthy breakfast, no rushing that out there, she would have to leave. Some friends of ours needed help and since kiln was slow and peaceful ( they can be temperamental at first) I would remain here by myself. That would give me some hours alone, especially if the weather would remain overcast. But before she left I could do some early morning gymnastics to get the nourishment pumping through my system; axe throwing!
My first throw landed smack in the middle! By sheer accident and luck, I assure you. The second landed right next to it.....

I actually am quite normal, really....


It didn't take long though before I had to lay down the toys. We packed all that I would no longer need during the day into the car and she left me and my mind to our own.
After she had gone I cleaned up the place thoroughly. I can not and will not stand a mess or chaos around the place.

I had brought something to do during the hours of solitude. Something to work on myself and some skills to practice: flint & steel, charcloth making and my nemesis.... knots!!

However I found myself having a hard time focusing as I sat there, mind wondering off and going quiet.
The sky started to clear, the sun came out and quite soon the first people started to show up. Gone was the silence. First it was filled by some senior tourists, who had all sorts of questions, only to be followed by families with young kids around lunchtime, as I had anticipated.
Around 14:00 my scheduled fellow coaler showed up and people kept coming and going. Until the sky darkened and rain started to fall at around 15:00.
Initially we had planned on closing down the kiln at 20:00, so that she could be laid to rest. (It is always a she! And she always gets a female name, coupled to one of the coalers. Doing otherwise brings bad luck and trouble!) But we closed her up earlier, at 18:00. That means closing any and all vents and holes, compacting the cover over the coal, packing away any gear no longer needed.

Now she will lay there for another week, cooling down, maybe simmer a bit on some last pieces of not fully charred wood. Come saturday she will be opened up, the coal spread to cool over nigh, which then will get packed on sunday.

It was good to be out there....
I felt I left a slightly better man than I was when I entered the place.


Monday, August 17, 2020

How conversations around campfires came to be

 August came and with it the heat returned. And if that wasn't bad enough both brought with them humidity... Urgghh.... That pretty killed any and all outdoorbuzz. But soon the time of night frosts will be upon us again and I for one can not wait.

So in the meantime I will just repost some articles I came across, mostly via the BCUSA forum.

The first is one by Robin I. M. Dunbar.

Fire and conversation are two things that have been of crucial importance for our evolutionary story, yet they have received only rather casual attention. Yes, we know that fire was used for cooking (probably casually at first, but later as a matter of regularity), and, yes, we know that language evolved at some point and has been important for human culture. However, there has been a longstanding tendency to take these two phenomena for granted as something self-evidently useful and hence presumably of ancient origin. In PNAS, Wiessner (1) brings these two phenomena together in a way that has significant implications for our understanding of both why they evolved and when they did so. In the first such study of its kind, she recorded the topics of conversation during the day and around the campfire at night among a group of Ju’/hoansi (or !Kung) Bushman in Botswana, a people whose living hunter-gatherer ecology is similar to that which characterized most of our evolutionary history. In this sample, most daytime conversations were functional (discussions of land rights, economic matters, norm regulation), but most evening conversations were social (more than 80% were stories). Stories are important in all societies because they provide the framework that holds the community together: we share this a set of cultural knowledge because we are who we are, and that is why we are different from the folks that live over the hill.

The longstanding assumption, dating back at least a century, has been to assume that language evolved to facilitate the transmission of technical knowledge (“this is how you make an arrowhead”), a view that has been generalized more recently to encompass the social transmission of cultural knowledge (again, mainly with a directly ecological purpose) (2, 3). An alternative view has been that language evolved, at least in the first instance, to facilitate community bonding (to allow more effective communal solutions to ecological problems) (4). Similarly, control of fire has often been assumed to have been driven by ecology and the need to cook food to render it more digestible (5) or to keep warm at night. These were largely unrelated phenomena, connected only by virtue of being part of the grand scheme of human culture.

In fact, Wiessner’s data suggest that fire and language may be more closely related than conventional views assume. Whatever may have been the original reason why humans acquired control over fire, it seems that it came to play a central role in two crucial respects. First, it effectively extended the active day (6). Monkeys and apes are forced to be inactive at night because their relatively poor nighttime vision renders them (and us) especially susceptible to predators at night (all of the major predators of terrestrial primates, including humans, are nocturnal) (79). Fire potentially allowed us to remain active into the evening, thus adding as much as 4 h to the working day. Second, it provided a venue in which social interaction, and pretty much only social interaction, could take place. Those extra evening hours could not be used for foraging, and the lighting isn’t that good for making tools; although the evening can be used for cooking and eating, these only take up the whole evening on very special occasions (feasts). There is considerable “empty” time that can only be devoted to conversation (dyadic bonding) and storytelling (communal bonding) or other social bonding activities such as singing and dancing (10).

The scale of the problem faced by later Homo is illustrated in Fig. 1. This plots the number of hours of social time required to bond the social groups of different hominin species, given a 12-h tropical day. The estimates are based on a generic equation linking required social time to group size for monkeys and apes (11) and group sizes predicted by their cranial volumes using the generic social brain equation for apes (4, 12). The increase in social time is purely a reflection of each taxon’s increasing community size, as predicted by its brain size. A time budget model for australopithecines that takes their value into consideration along with predicted requirements for feeding, moving, and resting given their habitat-specific climatic parameters (13) shows that their time budgets were at their limit in all habitats (i.e., they had no spare capacity to devote to increases in social time), so the difference between australopithecine social time requirements (Fig. 1: on average 1.3 h, solid line) and that for fossil anatomically modern humans (AMHs; 4.4 h, dashed line) represents the time budget deficit that later hominins were under if they were to maintain coherent social groups of the size predicted by their brains and still balance their time budgets during a 12-h day. The difference for early Homo is modest and likely easily achievable by savings elsewhere. However, those for archaic Homo (2.3 h/d) and AMH (3.1 h/d) are too large. The only way they could possibly have coped is by extending day length into the evening. Increasing the length of the active day by 2–3 h would have instantly solved their time budget crisis.

Fig. 1.

Median (±50% and 95% ranges) required social time for individual hominin species. Required social time is determined from a generic equation for monkeys and apes relating grooming time to group size (10), with group (i.e., community) size for hominins calculated from mean population cranial capacity (16) using the ape regression equation relating social group size to neocortex volume (4, 17). A population is defined as all of the fossils at a particular location dated to within a 50,000-y time span. Neanderthal community sizes are corrected to take account of the effect of latitude on their visual system, following ref. 18. “Modern humans” refers to fossil populations of anatomically modern humans. A, australopithecines; H, Homo.

However, it is all very well having extra time: the issue is what you do with it. Social interaction is unique among the elements of a time budget in being the one thing you can do at night. [Resting time demand is driven by daytime temperatures and heat load (14), so using the evening to absorb a heavy resting time demand is not an option.] Shifting one’s social bonding time to the evening frees off the whole of the day for foraging, thereby greatly increasing the time available for food-finding. Language provides the perfect medium because speech can be heard across the hearth, or even the whole camp, without necessarily being able to see the speaker. The popular suggestion that language evolved from some form of gesture-based communicationWiessner's data suggest that fire and language may be more closely related than conventional views assume. (3) would be much less practical: for gestural conversations, you need to be able to see the speaker face to face, and the lighting from fires is both imperfect and very limited in its range. Audiences for stories would of necessity be tiny. With speech, a single storyteller can hold court with a lecture hall even in dim lighting.

Wiessner’s findings contribute directly to this debate in three important respects. First, she shows that social conversations (those essentially about community building as opposed to more immediate practical concerns) are almost entirely confined to the evening hours. Ju’/hoansi conversations around the campfire contain little information about the environment or matters of economic relevance. This is compelling evidence as to why language and hearths might have coevolved, thereby neatly filling the gap that has been overlooked for so long. Second, her analysis of story content reveals that these often involve accounts of neighbors or religious experiences, stories of the ancestors, myths and folktales—just the kinds of topics that create a sense of community and bind individuals into a functional social group (15). One significant feature of such stories was accounts of travel to distant exchange partners, allowing other band members to learn about the extended community on the tribal scale whom one is otherwise likely to meet only very occasionally. Such information becomes crucial in knowing how to deal with, and more importantly whether or not to trust, the strangers one meets. Third, and most intriguingly, it provides direct evidence for the importance of charismatic storytellers—those skilled in the art of entertainment—as core foci around whom community bonding revolves.


  • Author contributions: R.I.M.D. wrote the paper.

  • The author declares no conflict of interest.

  • See companion article on page 14027.

Friday, August 14, 2020

A French gasmask bag for a Swedish messkit

I have been looking for a while in order to find a solution for carrying my Swedish M/40 or M/44 messkit, the first being aluminium, the latter stainless steel.
I had made a pouch myself, but found that quite fiddly to handle. I made it a bit tight, which especially in colder conditions, with frozen fingers of mittens on, is a real issue when trying to get the kit into the pouch.
But lo and behold.... I found another pouch in my spares stash! A French canvas gasmask pouch, ones repurposed to make a backpack for my youngest daughter back in april 2011, then being barely knee high. See that post here: converting French gasmaskbag to backpack by the way is an excellent site for looking up old miltarygear and denominations from all over the world. Check it out here;

Webbingbabel French army gasmask-bag m/63

webbingbabel Swedish army trangia-set enmanskok

So anyway.... the correct name for the gasmask bag appears to be ANP 51/53, sac de Mle 63 Fond Renforcé, due to the plastic reinforced bottom.

I removed all the straps, except for the closing ones and stuffed my Swedish messkit inside. Fits like a charm! What was annoying though was that the lid does not automatically cover the top opening, leaving small gaps on each side that had to be tucked under. It was also a nuisance getting the pouch out of the backpack, so I figured a grip might be needed. Looking at the construction of the pouch I dreaded the operation. Everything is double or triple stitched and tearing up and resewing that....mmno.

So I went for a Russian solution! Meaning simple, cheap yet effective; a piece of string, a closure and some beads. That drew together the top and by leading it under the sidepocket lids I can also use it as a grip to pull the pouch out of the bag. 2 minute solution instead of an entire evening sewing.

The pouch contains:

Messkit, contents and burner in the center compartment, a minor cutting board/plate in the small compartment at the back, enough coffee for 4x2 servings of coffee in a tin, a Swedish army cutlery set and a folding mug in the right outer pocket, a filled bottle of fuel in the left outer pocket. A tin (the golden one, which came with my Beard care package) fits perfectly in the compartment under the lid, which contains pepper, salt, matches and toothpicks.

And I have room to spare!! There are a number of smaller pockets in the rear, where probably a folding knife will end up and another one for a bic lighter. There is room for food as well, both inside and outside of the messkit. I think I can get 24 hrs worth of food in there.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Seeking solace in higher places

After my cave adventure and a nice, quiet gathering with some of our "local" group, I figured I had found peace of mind again or at least some of it, but then..... Things happened and my stress levels skyrocketed again. This summer is proving to be one of the least relaxed and pleasurable ones so far. So I once again had to find some peace and this time I searched for some of that in a higher place.

 As for the saturday, we were supposed to meet up with a group of up to 10 or so, but during the week one after another declined. So we ended up being 5. I went to the predestined location to not only find Marcus, who had spent the night there, but also a ravaged piece of forest. Or what was left of it. The place had been clear cut in typical Swedish fashion.
Marcus had not anticipated me so early, but we spent the rest of the morning till way past lunchtime talking or just sitting quietly. I spent quote some time looking at some wasps working away at their nest, right above our heads. You could actually hear them working by making soft rasping noises.
Later Martin joined us and later still Mikael and Beatrice. Early in the evening I left for home and left my backpackbasket behind. Bea just loved it, so I ended up just giving it to her.
For me it had served its purposed; being busy fixing it and I got to use it twice. That meant that for me it was done and it felt good to hand it over to someone enjoying it.

So today I headed out again, wanting to revisit a place I had not been to for years; the nature reserve of the Bispbergs Klack.
The hike I had in mind is not all that long; 5km all in all, I guess, but the terrain is not really easy. When I arrived at the parkinglot at the foot of the massive, I saw that I was not the only one having had this idea. Should've known...
But I set out undeterred, first heading towards one of the neighbouring "peaks", the Jätteklack. On my way in I could see that the area has suffered from recent storms; many trees were down and the needles were still fresh. You would also think that being a nature reserve would mean that it would be left alone, not clear cut. Not so in this place... It does give some variety in scenery and nice views in directions otherwise not seen, though.

Having reached the first "peak" I settled down for a drink, taking in the scenery and the view. Unfortunately around this time of year the entire south facing cliffs are off limits, due to protected birdspecies having their nests and raising their young there.
I had brought my binoculars, but did not see any of them. However in one occasion I could hear them, just over the edge and down to the right; calls of a bird of prey. A falcon, I think.

The hike in itself was quite uneventful, except for one near miss, where I stumbled over a root, descending, almost making me tumble down the path I was following. Not a good place to break some bones. I started meeting people, which I could hear coming a mile away, disturbing the silence and drowning out the sound of the birds. These were not the first, nor the last I would meet.
Up here there were many downed and hanging trees too, but these appeared to be a lot older. The constant creaking of trees rubbing against each other, forced me to focus a lot of my attention upward as well as downward, so the going was not fast.

Slowly, but surely I made my way toward the summit. It was warmer then I had thought, yet there was a stiff breeze all the time. Up there I would be quite exposed, so I had brought an jacket. I had planned to be up there around lunch and I made it in good time.... only to find I was not alone.
More people were up there, some with dogs. So much for a quiet lunch with nice views. So I looked for a place off the beaten track and I did not even bother unpacking my messkit to make coffee. Just a quick lunch, snapped some pictures and headed down another trail..... that lead me straight onto a second parking lot, near the mine area. Now I had 2 options; follow the boring gravel road going around and down the hill or back up again and take the main trail down to where my car was.
I went for option nr.2; back up. Up top there now was a shelter, but I feared the state it would be in. And unfortunately I was proven right. The place was a mess! The entire interior was covered in all sort of graffity, both sprayed and written in charcoal. The area was littered with junk and everything covered with ashes and half burnt pieces of wood. Up to and including the benches and table.

I was back at the car about an hour later, having met still more people on their way up. I had hoped for less company, but should have known better. This is quite a popular destination and especially now that many are forced to stay home during summer.
The best time would be early autumn, I guess, when people are back at work. On a weekday, when the weather is not as nice as it was today. Same as the last time I was here. Then you'd have the mountain all to yourself.
However, it still was worth my while. Just getting out, nose in the air, sun on my face and a few hours of physical exercise lessen the effects of constant worry and stress. A lot!