Tuesday, January 31, 2012

OUT - My first experiences 2010-08 to 2010-10 Sweden

My first "serious" experiences with outdoorliving, or bushcraft as I called it than, began during a visit to my wife's parents, who moved to Sweden.

While I was there, I wanted to try and learn a few things and that I did on august, 20th.
My first lesson was to try and build a shelter from natural materials, something that would keep me out of the wind, sun and, if possible, out of the rain, too.
First I neede a suitable location and, given the copious amounts of rain the last few days, finding a dry spot was not easy. Eventually I found a little mount, probably a large rock, covered with vegetation and some small firtrees. That looked promissing!


This way any water would be below me. The surrounding trees provided a windbreak and several rocks and fallen trees gave natural cover. First I cut some small trees with my kukri machete to make a domelike sceleton. The machete performed well and the broad tip made it easy to dig small depressions for the poles to be set up in.


I than covered the whole ting with branches and leaves, first a layer of birchbranches with leaves attached, than a layer of fernleaves, a layer of dea leaves and a layer of firbranches to keep everything in place. I also cut willowbranches, the thing long ones, and weaved them through the sceletonpoles, which gave the shelter stability.
The result after about 3 hours of work;

The shelter had a halfround shape and the weight of the roof kept everything well in place. It was large enough to double as a place to sleep in with room enough for a large backpack, too.
The location dictated the shelter being build with the open end due west, so I added a windbreaking "wall" between 2 trees right next to the shelter, by weaving it with firbranches.

On many occassions I take my kids with me, so they are outside too and maybe might learn something along the way.

My youngest daughter was there ,too and together we managed to tread inside a nest of these "sweeties";
I think I was lucky for being dressed in camouflage and greens, but she was wearing a bright pink jacket with yellow flowers on it. I figured I could keep a better eye on her, while being busy in the woods that way. Appearantly these bright colours acted as a magnet on these insects, because within seconds I had to remove up to 8 of these wasps from her!! Her bright blonde hair proved to be atractive too, as I found some of them in her hair.
We really had to run for it!! After about 30 meters we were safe and I could asses the damage, both stung only once! She had a stinger with pumping venompouch in the skin on top of her head, which did not cause her much pain, but I got one straight into the inside of my right wrist. That hurt!! And it kept doing that for quite some time. These suckers are far worse than the average Dutch wasps! My other 2 kids were smart enough to take the long way around after dashing off in the opposite direction.
We dared not go back to finish the shelter though.....

The next day I went back, alone. I wonder why....
I wanted to try some of my wetweathergear, since sunny days were limited....
One of the first things I wanted/needed to do, was get some cover from the rain, so I tried to setup my poncho as a tarp. Lacking any experience with that, it should prove to be a usefull lesson. I used a Dutch army poncho and 4 1 meter bungees. After quite some time and a lot of adjusting I ended up with this;

The poncho is nice and taught, but what I didn't like was the underside; the stuffsack, hood and strings dangling in front of my face! I also found the colours to be a little on the bright side, just to put it mildly...


I also had a nethammock with me. I am a grounddweller, but I bought this inexpensive item as an emergencymeasure. It proved to be totally inadequate!! It was far too small and too narrow. I could not get into it! With the help of my mini SAS-book I managed to get some decent knots to tie the ropes to the trees, but with 1,5 meters each, these were too short, too!
I could make nothing more of it than an luggagenet and I put in my gear to show how small it was...



Finally my bathroom in the field;
There's a bar of ecological soap in there, toothpaste and -brush, some painkillers, insectrepellant and something against diarrea.

The next day I went back again, because after that the weather would turn pretty bad....
So I worked some more on the shelter and since I wanted a cup of coffee I used an old discarded can as a stove and made myself a brew....

The red tin is my firetin. It contains a lighter, 2 tealights and a few tampons (manmade tinder)


The rest of our stay was drenched in rain, so not much going out.
When I came back on october 15th I checked my shelter and this is what I found;


On this trip I had brought with me one of my (new) books on bushcraft, which later would come in handy and if the weather turned bad, I'd have something to read;

The next day I took my oldest daughter with me for a morningwalk. She's the one that's just as crazy about the outdoors as I am, but we both had to get used to having frosty temperatures in october!




I love those colours!!

Inspired by mr. Mears' book and motivated by my daughter's begging we took to the woods behind the house again in the afternoon to build shelters.
She wanted to make her own and I wanted to try a design I read about;
the frame


By using forked branches there was no need for any cordage. The weight of the wood was enough to firmly keep everyting in place.
I did not want to destro the forrests and trees in the area (I'm always a bit hesitant to start cutting and chopping when there's no real need for it), I decided that covering the shelter enough to close it was enough. If I were to go all the way than at least an extra foot of branches and other material would be needed.



View on the setting sun from the entrance

This gives you a bit of an idea about dimension; about 1,4 meters high and about 3 meters long.
A few days later I had to show the shelter to the rest of the family offcourse. They wanted to know what I had been doing. A great opportunity for some outdoorlunch, too!!
Here's me carrying all that is needed in a second hand backpack, which cost me SEK30!
It was pretty cold, though.... -6. That's what we would have in the middle of a Dutch winter.... if we were lucky.... or not so lucky. Depends on your point of view...

that bright coloured can would be transformed into a stove, later

ahhh bacon & eggs and coffee....

My gang!

how to remove a hot can with dito saucages from the fire

press and lift!

Is this the reason Swedish cups are shaped so odd??

I'm a happy camper!!
Candycan to woodstove transformation!!




Later during our stay I tried another shelterdesign; this time a 6 personversion.
I failed in doing that for several reasons; 1) doing it alone is quite hard and quite a lot of work, 2) it requires a great amount of material and I did not want to use any more than I already had and 3) I made it too small.....



But I had some food and hot coffee out of the freezing wind, though...

In the beginning.....

Here's an early sighting of the Trying Woodsman in his natural habitat, taken late summer 2009 in Sweden. A very "conspicuous" creature indeed...


Checking if the berries are ripe, yet.

Only the pants are military surplus, actually. Standard Britsh DPM. The rest is civilian, which gives away the rest of my wardrobe a bit; greens, browns, sands or other subdued colours...
Given half the chance I would be running around in milsurp and similar stuff all day every day, but thanks to the Mss. I stay dressed in a socially acceptable manor, too.

The observer observed....

Monday, January 30, 2012

An introduction follow up....

Well, most likely you read my intro, so you know a little bit about me and my background.

I want to tell a little bit more about me and how I got into the outdoorhobby and how this has influenced..... no, changed my life and my vision of the world...

As I said, I started out in the army in the very early '90's and was loving the time in the field. I loved sleeping in a tent and sleepingbag, cooking in my messtins, using esbitburners and eating MRE's..... But I liked it even more when we had to improvise, make our own shelters, build our own ovens and prepare raw food.
I loved tactical movements, especially at night, when we had to be quiet and alert, although I must admit a lot of the time I was watching other things than "the enemy"... Being the squad MG-gunner had its advantages. I had a nightvisionscope on it and that was great for watching wildlife!!

Later on, as a civilian, I took up camping again and, because a lot of it was done on a motorcycle, I bought the standard light weight, manmade material-gear; plastics, nylon, aluminium etc.... In those days I thought nothing of it....

After that came the decade of career, kids and trouble, so motorcycle, camping and outdoors went out the window. Within this periode, the second half mostly, there was a profound change within me. I never was a real peopleperson, liking small groups with close contacts, but I turned into someone generally not liking humans at all. I felt more at home in the plantworld. I also opened my eyes and saw the horrible, wastefull and disrespectfull ways of humans toward fellow humans, enviroment and planet, which deepend my disliking even more.... Within me grew the desire to disconnect from the modern world, going back to the days of simple life without consumerism, polution, missuse of natural resources and general disrespect for the world we live in. I knew also that that would not be possible or wise, since we had children and they needed the connection to the world around them in order to fit in and have a future. But we also started to teach them to see things differently.....
In that period an Englisg gentleman by the name of Ray Mears first started to appear on TV (yes, we did have one.... but just one!) and this man showed me that I wasn't the only one with thoughts like that! He turned out to become one of my main inspirators in those days and I was fascinated by the things he did and showed, but was also struck by his calmness, his gentleness.... Not your average yelling, screaming, up and down running tv-celebraty. Not a loudmouth bragging about his skills and overdramatising them....
My interest in the outdoorworld was refueled again, but I looked at it with a whole new way of seeing things... I found several forums about this new thing "bushcraft" and I started to buy outdoorgear. No fancy, new expensive stuff.... I could not afford that and even if I could I wouldn't.... Why should I? There was enough surplus around, which meant saving on money, but also saving on resources and waste. If I bought second hand, it would get a second life, thus not ending up as waste and there would be no need to use resources to proiduce new gear. To me a win-win-win-situation, as it is so popularly called... I started out with military surplus, which nowadays is all in synthetics and in camouflage patterns. At that time I thought it would be perfect. It was cheap, reliable, easily replaced and I could have a very low profile if I did not want to be seen, keeping in  mind some sort of doomscenario....
In those days we, as a family, started to visit Sweden on a very regular basis; at least once or twice a year. I was struck by an awe for the nature in the country. I saw it with new eyes and lost my heart to it.. Offcourse it wasn't long befor I put my new hobby and my renewed love of the outdoors into practice there, too.
After a short while I noticed some more change within me. That modern surplus gear, made of manmade fibres was not what I really wanted.... I did not want to use synthetics anymore at all! And so I started selling and swapping it. Out went the plastics and nylons, in came the leather, cotton, canvas, wood and steel. This changed mindset still goes on today and has even extended into our home and everyday life. Where ever and when ever possible the changes are made.
With this change of heart also came new interests; the desire to make things myself out of natural materials or the reuse of materials. I started to make things myself and learned how to use leather and wood; leather pouches, moccasins, a scabbard for a machete.... I restored old hatchets and knives, worked on kuksa's and discovered woodworking.
All this fired up another desire of me; selfsufficiancy. We had taken our first steps down this path by growing our own vegetables and fruits a few years back, but were "driven away" by our gardening neighbours, who contineously used to spray their crops with all kinds of chemicals and, more often than not, did our patch of land, too, because it was "messy" and "overgrown with weeds". They didn't care for natural gardening. They were only interested in getting maximal harvests...

And now.... well, I used to call myself a bushcrafter at first, but have since realised that I am not.... I think I am more of a woodsman, if I even have to give it a name.
I can not sustain myself by living of the land, which is what bushcraft is to me, not by a long shot. Maybe one day I might, but not now... I have never even killed, dressed or skinned an animal!
What I do know is that my skills and understanding about the use of natural resources to accomodate everyday life out there is growing, bit by bit.
For now I see myself more as a 20th century cityboy, who has to become reconnected with our natural world, befor I can even begin to make it my home.
So... there you have it....
This is me and the way I stand in this world.... Now enough of the talk. I'll start showing you what I did and how I did it, next...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

An introduction....

Why this blog??

Well, this is an excellent way of keeping track of where I came from, what I did, what I learned, experienced, thought, felt..... and it is a great way of sharing that with others, who might give me feedback on it, so there's a mutual learning, too.

It all started when I was a young boy in the late '70's to early '80's. There was a group of us, running around in old woolen Dutch army military surplus gear, acting as soldiers, but more and more starting to build shelters and fires, using small pocketknives and watching birds and small wildlife. We gathered food from the fields and cooked them, picked berries and even had our "own" small spring with chrystal clear water. We were always outside; summer and winter, rain, sun or snow... It didn't matter and I can still remember the names of my friends, the feeling of those itchy uniforms and my first pocket kniefe...
Than came the teens and all of this was exchanged for an interest in all sorts of motorised transportation, girls, hardrock, intoxicating beverages and other bad habits. (Gave up smoking years ago, thank God). Ahh, those glorious rebellious years.... A feature that never quite left, I might add... By the time I started to become a young adult I was drafted and served in the infantry. I was reintroduced to the outdoors again. How I enjoyed the training, the obstaclecourse and the fieldexercises, putting up tents, living and eating in the outdoors and enjoyed that even more as the temperatures were low. (I very much dislike high temperatures) I managed to loose a few pounds and become fit again! After my drafttime I signed up for more, but that turned out to be a disappointment. After the vigorous advanced basics I left, because I could not comply with the changing politics of those days. The Cold War was definitively over, the Iron Curtain was gone and I did not sign up to be deployed anywhere some politician saw fit...
After that I got caught up in being mature... or at least tried to be... and "make something" of my life and career. I could never hold a job for more than a few years; I was to restless. The concept of money was alien to me, as was advancing up the social ladder or imposed authority. Also, by growing older, I started to become less and less happy with my life, the things I was supposed to do and be, the way society was organised. I started to strongly dislike the classes within society, the emphasis on personal gain and status and all that was related to that. The career I had chosen, as a policeofficer, did not help. Far from, actually... By than I had become a father, forcing me into this social straight jacket even more. I could not live with myself anymore, or with others for that matter, resulting in a divorce, a total mental meltdown and a financial collapse on top of that....
I had to be reborn and reinvent myself and my way of life.
Within the previous years, however, I had developed a huge love of plants, trees in particular and I had become a passionate gardener. I prefered the company of plants over humans at any time and I was out in the open as much as possible. I didn't realise it than, but the plants I loved the most were forrest plants.... We also travelled. First by motorcycle and we joined a club. There were several organised trips each year and the primitive camping and outdoorliving were such a relief! We also travelled across Europe, seeing all the countries in Western and Northern Europe. But our first holiday was to Sweden, in '97. The first day there was a major shock and eyeopener.... For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged.... I truely felt I had come home!! This feeling never made itself present anywhere, befor or after, except when I returned here. On one of our visits to this country this feeling became even stronger. That was in the province of Dalarna..... which is were we live now....