Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The first day of spring!

Or is it the first springlike day?

Catkins are appearing and the leaves of the sambucusbushes are budding.... We saw one of the squirrels running around the house, too. The lakeice is looking kind of treacherous these days, with more water gathering on top of the ice a few hundred meters up ahead.

We had a freaky warm day today; at 14:00 +12 degrees centigrade on the north wall of our house and +24 degrees centrigrade (+16 in the shade) in the sun on the balcony facing south! There was not a breeze.... Man, that felt good!! Even though I love winter....

The kids and  spent the better part of the afternoon on the balcony and my son took the book with birdssounds out. We tried the sounds of the most frequent visitors and within a peep or 2 we got answers! After several more we saw the birds coming closer, calling, looking where the sounds came from. Then he tried the warningcalls and the birds were silent and gone!
After a while he started "calling" again and the birds reappeared. It was great fun and we learned quit a bit, too. Now we can identify the birds by the sounds we used and we now what these sounds are/mean.

It was so lovely, that the kids had lunch on the balcony. And for the better part we just sat there, talking, reading or drawing, meanwhile soaking up that wonderfull vitamin D a.k.a. sunshine and warmth..
All around us was the sound of birds calling and water dripping away. At the warmest part of the day it sounded as if a summershower just had passed!

After lunch my daughters and I went exploring our yard, trying to identify what trees we have. We took a book on trees and we started comparing the features of the trees to the ones shown in the book. Identifying a tree, when it has leaves, flowers or fruit is easy,so this was a good lesson for us, too. My oldest daughter was so clever to kick aside the snow, when we were in doubt. She'd pick up a leave from under the snow and used it as an extra way of identification!! Damn clever!

It was a good thing for another reason that the weather played along.... We had a powercut for a few hours and this way we were not bothered by that! I noticed, because my chickensoup had stopped bubbling... First time I (!) made fresh chickensoup... with real chickens.... and vegetables....and spices..... Not some pots or packages or cubes or whatever.... Real grandma-style!
That's another area I am learning about; cooking the old way. Allready learned how to bake bread by hand, using real ingredients and kneading by hand. Had I know it was this easy I would have learned much earlier!

A night the temperatures drop however and easily reach - double digits, making going about in the morning treacherous, since the meltwater refreezes and everything is cover in ice.
Over the lake blankets of mist start to form and you can feel the cold first moving towards the lower lake and than spreading oput over the land again. It makes for images right out of a fairytale, especially with the full moon we just had!

And as a bonus I get 2 packages in the mail this week;
One was the very long awaited pair of army shoes for skiing in the right size and the other was a very old, sheepskin armyhat, which will replace the modern one I have. The latter, although warm, is driving me nuts with itching!!
At least i will be prepared when winter comes the next time!!!

Yes, my birthdaypresent has arrived! Finally!! Only 6 weeks late.....
With a pair of felt insoles and some nice, thick woolsocks or maybe some footrags these should be good to go!

The sheepskinhat.... with leather flap and adjustmentstrap. 

Not much of a fashionstatement, but I hope it'll keep me warm and itchfree. It should fill that gap that I faced, when being stationary on really cold days. It does need some carefull washing, though.

Next winter I'l be looking like a fricking museumpiece!!!
I don't care, as long as I'm comfy and warm and let's be honest.... You don't find stuff made out of natural materials, that lasts this long AND is affordable.... If anyone does know where, please do let me know!

So the springbug has bitten us..... That means I know what is coming.... I already felt the change....

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Importance of Traditional Woodcraft Skills

I came across the following article and, while reading it, I felt I could not agree more. The essence has been captured perfectly for me. Paul has given me permission to share this great article with you. The accompanying picture is neither his or mine, but belongs to Dennis Neely, yet I felt it captures the essence of the article quit good.


The Importance of Traditional Woodcraft Skills

By Paul Van Horn

In a grove of Aspen trees in the Colorado Mountains, a group of campers greeted the new day. It had snowed the night before, and the temperature had dropped to 15 degrees. In spite of the fact that they were camping without tents, stoves, or sleeping bags, they were warm, dry, and in great spirits. Their lean-tos, set up with a long, parallel-log fire in between them, sheltered the entire group throughout the long October night, their beds of dried ferns and leaves offering comfort and insulation from the cold ground. They were distanced from the fire to ensure comfort: Not too hot, not too cold. As the group made ready to begin the day’s hike, they carefully wet all the charcoal from the fire, and crushed it so no piece bigger than a pencil eraser was left. The firepit was carefully checked for hot spots, fresh dirt was imported, and grass and serviceberry seeds scattered to help it regenerate. The firewood was scattered, and the entire camp carefully checked for trash. By the next summer, this camp could barely be discerned. The vegetation surrounding the firepit was just as robust as in surrounding areas. The firepit itself had begun to regrow, and was full of grass, and a thimbleberry plant! This group used traditional woodscraft techniques. Woodcraft first and foremost, encompasses “traditional” outdoor living skills: Skills that have historical roots in the indigenous, pioneer, and wilderness work cultures of North America. These skills by definition involve the crafting of a secure existence in the woods, and make use of simple, durable gear, and natural resources such as wood and stone to create the necessities (and luxuries) of life. Primitive skills such as hide tanning and arrowhead making, as well as nature study, and more modern skills such as axemanship and wilderness navigation all find a home within the term woodcraft. Woodcraft also implies a certain style rooted in the heritage of recreational camping that speaks of woodsmoke, buckskin, canvas and steel. This style means living with the earth. Camping in such a way requires solid technique, and elevates the act of camping to high art.

For a variety of reasons, woodcraft has fallen from favor among most campers. In doing so, modern outdoor recreation has set aside valuable skills and knowledge in a rush to modernize camping. Trendy, high-tech gear and thrills sports have largely replaced the durable equipment and traditions of years past. In recent years, however, there has been a renaissance in the traditional wilderness arts. From snowshoeing to backpacking, the skills, equipment and philosophies of the traditional wilderness traveler are being reborn. These skills, known here collectively as woodcraft have much to offer the modern outdoorsperson. The skills and knowledge of years past can, and should, become the possession of the modern camper.

The practice of woodcraft elevates an outdoorsman’s skills to new levels. The woodcrafter, skilled in the use of simple equipment and improvisation, stands head and shoulders above his peers in terms of his ability to live in the wild. The skills needed to provide for one’s basic needs in the wild form the base of this knowledge. In most modern literature, the ability to make fire, shelter, procure water and food, and craft tools from resources found in the wild now falls under the title of “survival” skills (to be used in emergencies only!). Modern equipment eliminates so much of the skill inherent in living outdoors that the loss of such gear (for most people) constitutes a life-threatening emergency. A modern camper, in need of a fire because of an unexpected storm, or upset canoe, may find himself unable to cope with the situation. Having adhered to the modern dogma of limiting fire use, and skilled mainly in the art of lighting a gas stove, they may be unable to light a life-preserving fire. Canadian survival instructor Mors Kochanski illustrates the continued importance of the fire:
“Fire is the most useful and important skill in basic bush living, particularly in the cold. It warms and dries, makes water and food safe, and transforms any place in the forest into a home... Possessing the means and the knowledge to light fire at any moment is a prerequisite for living and surviving in the bush.” (1987, p. 9)

If one is skilled in the art of firecraft, then a fire can be quickly lit under virtually any condition, and tailored to any specific use. Skill in lighting fires implies knowledge in a host of other subskills, such as tree identification, knife, axe, and saw use. Beyond survival, cooking, crafting, and knowledge of environmentally sound fire types add to one’s knowledge base. Another woodcrafting skill vital to survival, but largely ignored in modern camping literature is sheltercraft. Reliance on a manufactured tent reduces the ability of most moderns to build a solid shelter out of natural materials. However, understanding how to build a debris shelter or litter bed is crucial to supplement the warmth of a fire, or in situations where a fire may not be a feasible option at all. In addition, shelters, like fire, offer the opportunity for a gaining a tremendous amount of knowledge: Principles of heat loss and production, insulation, and the characteristics of a myriad of shelter types and materials must all be understood in order to build a warm, weatherproof, durable shelter. Each of the basic skills of woodcraft offers greater safety in the backcountry and opens pathways to other related knowledge.

Woodcraft gives one the opportunity to make their own equipment. Before the days of outdoor mega-stores like Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) much of a person’s gear kit was homemade, or salvaged from the closet. Learning how to make clothing, tarps and tents, stoves, cooking pots, knives, and other gear items was an integral part of the camper’s skill base. Making one’s own gear provides multiple benefits. Aside from procuring an important piece of gear, such as a coat, or stove, the construction process teaches skills like sewing, metalwork, and carving. If the item ever becomes broken, or wears out, a replacement can be made for little or no cost. For most outdoorsmen today, the only option for replacing gear is to go shopping, as complex sewing processes, specialized, manufactured parts, and high-tech materials make most modern gear far too complex to be repaired by the user. Use of traditional gear overcomes these difficulties, and gives the user new skills.

Crafting is another related area in which woodcraft shines as an educational opportunity. Crafting toys, dolls, baskets, as well as the vital gear discussed in the preceding paragraphs not only increases skill levels, but also gives the crafter an intimate knowledge of the materials themselves. The cattail doll, for instance, requires in-depth knowledge of the cattail plant: The leaves will be most pliable and attractive if harvested after they turn brown, but before the first frost of the fall. Continued investigation reveals that certain patches invariably yield better-quality materials. Understanding the reasons for each of these observations provides knowledge of the lifecycle and ecology of the plant. Once the construction process begins, the crafter discovers that each leaf type in the plant offers unique characteristics: The heartleaf functions well as a belt for the doll, or when split offers strong ties. The outer leaves offer fine edging for sewing, and smooth, broad coverings for the head, and shoulders of the doll. Each doll offers new insight into the utility and beauty of the parent plant. The same may be said for other crafts: Baskets made from Red-Osier Dogwood or Paper Birch bark; knife handles made from deer antler or serviceberry wood; Or pottery made from locally-harvested clay. One’s appreciation of the materials present in the natural world grows with each item completed. Along with this growth comes a corresponding, never-ending education into multiple facets of the environment. The skills and knowledge offered by the practice of woodcraft provide the key to a solid level of outdoor knowledge.

As a means of connecting a camper to the immediate environment, woodcraft has no rival. Living outdoors with a minimum of simple, spartan gear, starting fires, crafting implements, and gathering food offers an unparalleled chance to immerse oneself in the environment. Whereas modern gear allows the camper to set up camp virtually anywhere, with little regard for such variables as sun exposure, wind, or insects, the traditional camper must exercise more care if a comfortable camp is to be achieved. The siting of the camp is critical: Does the sit receive lots of warming sunlight? Is it too close to mosquito-infested areas? What happens in the event of a storm? Is there a reasonable amount of shelter from the wind and rain? Is there sufficient debris for bedding? Answering such questions leads to a deeper understanding of the environment, and an eye well schooled in the art of choosing a quality campsite. Once the camp is chosen, shelter must be erected, bedding prepared, wood gathered, and the fire built; All with attention to the aforementioned factors. While some might see these careful preparations as a bother, the traditional camper sees an opportunity to hone skills, improve knowledge, and create a camp that is a source of pride, rather than one that is little more than an afterthought. Rather than being simply another chore to accomplish before bedtime, the very act of camping serves to integrate the senses with the local environment, and bring one into harmony with nature and her demands. The camper learns which trees provide the best firewood, the best shelter, and what other plants might be found nearby. They know where to find leaf litter or pine needles for a soft, insulative bed, and they understand the life of the mosquito and no-see-um, and learn how to best avoid them. Supplementing their rations means knowing where to find berries, roots, fish, and game. This is far beyond “guidebook” knowledge. This is knowledge of how a human can live in nature.

Camping in this style also brings an acute awareness of the impact of one’s actions. The modern camper, cooking their dinner on a gas stove, has little notion of what sort of impact they are creating beyond their campsite. Purchasing a stove and cooking freeze-dried meals creates a fictitious sense of “leaving no trace”. It is difficult to see, and truly understand the true impact of cooking dinner. One ounce of gasoline represents far more energy than it returns to the cooking pot. The exploration, drilling, transport, refining, and packaging of the stove fuel inflicts a tremendous negative impact on the earth. At each step, more damage is done. In this situation, the traditional camper has far greater control over the impact he creates, and can make choices that will minimize that impact, even making it a positive impact by wetting and scattering the plant-nourishing ashes. Knowing that the fire must be completely dismantled, the camper is very careful to select a site that will not scar extensively, burn small, easy-burning wood, and use the fire only for necessities. The wood fire also represents multiple levels of energy, but it is natural, renewable energy. It is an age-old energy exchange that returns nutrients to the earth, and clears the way for new life to grow on the forest floor. The understanding gained by this ability to manage impact fosters a sense of caring:
“Incorporating Stone Age skills into our daily lives provides an opportunity to be an example of a conscious and workable environmental philosophy. We become very conscious of the precious resources growing all around us, and we suddenly have a vested interest in keeping them in good condition. That field has our dinner, that hillside our clothing, that gully our tools! This is bioregionalism at its best. We become part and parcel of our environmental community.” (Blankenship, 1996, p. 11)

The direct connection between camper and environment that woodcraft provides fosters a deep awareness of the interconnected nature of life, and encourages careful, reverent behavior in the backcountry

Finally, woodcraft, while perfectly suited for extended expeditions in remote areas, offers a world of excitement and learning close to home. One need not travel to Moab, or Patagonia to practice the trade. Gear can be made in the living room, axemanship practiced in the backyard, and challenging, “no-gear” expeditions undertaken in the local wild areas. Travel burns gasoline. Why not burn wood instead, and keep more of our recreation closer to home? The familiar old hiking trail becomes an exciting new path when one begins to discover the medicinal plants along the way, or a hidden grove of oaks offering a comfortable night’s sleep. Most people know very little about their backyard. Woodcraft offers the key to new levels of learning that would change most people’s perception of seemingly familiar places. .

The public turns to wilderness guides and educators to learn the crafts of the outdoors. For this reason, woodcraft must once again become the common language of all outdoor professionals. Woodcraft may be seen as the bridge between the goals of adventure education (AE) and those of environmental education (EE). Adventure education commonly focuses most of its energy on improving its human participants. Activities such as ropes courses, rock climbing, and whitewater kayaking offer excellent promise for improvement of their human participants, but little in the way of environmental education, unless the instructor takes the time to teach about nature. Environmental education, on the other hand, seeks to connect people to the natural environment, and educate them about environmental issues, but the improvement of the individual is not usually emphasized. Woodcraft does both. The goals of adventure education can be admirably met on an expedition using traditional gear and techniques, while at the same time bringing participants closer to their environment by virtue of the simple gear, and resource-dependent techniques used. Greg Weiss, a traditional skills instructor in Wisconsin, points out that traditional skills teaches through nature, rather than just in it (AE), or about it (EE).

Simon Priest (1990, p. 113) says environmental education concerns itself with two primary relationships:
“ecosystemic and ekistic. Ecosystemic relationships refer to the interdependence of living organisms in an ecological macroclimate. In other words, basic biological concepts like the web of life, the food chain, the energy pyramid, etc. Ekistic relationships refer to the key interactions between human society and the natural resources of an environment.”

Woodcraft offers pathways to both relationships; it actually covers both of them at the same time. In a traditional camp, the very act of subsistence places us in direct contact with the resources and the ecosystemic facets of our environment. It is said that humans learn best when they are genuinely involved in their learning, and living with the land, in the manner detailed in preceding paragraphs, allows one to experience ecosystemic relationships in a very intimate, real way. Food chains become real when one catches a fish for dinner. The small creatures that fed the fish, the fish, and the person that eats the fish are all part of that food chain. The bears that eat the berries you like, the mosquito that bites you, the mountain lion that left the tracks near camp are all part of the chain. In addition, energy takes on a whole new meaning. A wood fire is a concrete, real example of stored solar energy. Being a part of, rather than partially insulated and separated from, the basic processes of life brings a deeper understanding than any book, or academic lecture ever could. In the words of Hyemeyohsts Storm:
“To touch and Feel is to Experience. Many people live out their entire lives without ever really touching or being touched by anything. These people live within a world of mind and imagination that may move them sometimes to joy, tears, happiness or sorrow. But these people never really touch. They do not live and become one with life.” (Van Matre, ed, 1983, p. 29)

The ekistic relationship, or the relationship between human and nature becomes very clear. Using traditional woodscraft skills, every human need-warmth, food, water, clothing- can all be procured directly from nature. Such immediacy clarifies the human-nature relationship: We depend on nature, and everything we do to satisfy our needs has a direct impact on nature

In the realm of adventure education, Priest (1990, p. 114) discusses two primary relationships:
“interpersonal, and intrapersonel. Interpersonal relationships refer to how people get along in a group (two or more people). These include communication, cooperation, trust, conflict resolution, problem solving, leadership, influence, etc. Intrapersonal relationships refer to how an individual gets along with self. These include self-concept, spirituality, confidence, self-efficacy, etc.”

Traditional skills may be used to pursue improvement in these relationships, either as stand-alone activities, or to complement an existing program format. As a stand-alone program, woodcraft brings students to new levels of cooperation due to the labor-intensive nature of wilderness living: Gathering food, firewood and crafting materials, processing food, cooking, and maintaining the fire all build a strong sense of community. Problem-solving skills are also enhanced as students learn unfamiliar skills, and use new tools, such as knives and axes to accomplish daily tasks. Used in an existing program format, traditional skills add an entirely new level of adventure and challenge. Traveling through mountain forests in the late fall, for instance, requires careful camp planning and construction, as cold temperatures, a snowstorm or freezing rain make daily living more challenging.

Finally, woodcraft skills offer a tremendous opportunity to bring people of different cultures together. Regardless of our cultural background, we all share common living skills. Firemaking, shelter building, food gathering and tool making are skills all humans share from some point in their past. To be sure, different cultures exhibit different techniques for meeting human needs, but the basic stone age skills have so much in common that modern people of all backgrounds find common ground. String games such as cat’s cradle and witch’s broom, familiar to many American children, offer a good example of this. Witch’s broom, for instance, is known around the world by other names: Fish spear, teepee, and hogan. String games performed anywhere in the world become a bridge between cultures, eliciting common smiles in spite of language or other barriers. String games and the other skills that make up the backbone of woodcraft represent the most common heritage of all humanity. “In a world that divides us in so many ways, here is one common base, a valid basis to build a foundation of community” (Blankenship, 1996, p. 11).

In terms of the interpersonal goals of adventure education, the sense of empowerment, and self-efficacy that woodcraft offers is nothing short of life changing. Jim Smith, a physician who took part in a 7-day outdoor survival course in Utah, said “At the end of the course I had a tremendous sense of accomplishment, an almost ‘I can do anything’ type of feeling. Being able to start a fire, build a campsite, and have such a small amount of equipment to survive gave me a real ‘back to roots’ type of feeling” He goes on to say “the skills... are very necessary as far as putting you in touch with the earth and showing you what it can provide without the need of a wrapper or cashier. They also give you confidence in yourself as a survivor and provider.” (Personal communication, 2002). From the perspective of the outdoor educator, Bart and Robin Blankenship offer a similar opinion:
“We all want to feel capable. Learning and using the Stone Age skills builds self-reliance. Self-esteem increases as you learn to create a comfortable lifestyle. Food, clothing, containers, soap, glue, vitamins, fire, and light become things you can make for yourself. These skills are empowering.” (1996, p. 11)

This quality is certainly not unique to woodcraft skills, but the immediacy of feedback is what part of makes woodcraft technology appealing to youth at risk programs. Personal responsibility and a proactive attitude are two qualities such programs seek to foster in their students. Pulling into camp late, the tired, hungry students are faced with the choice crawling into blankets, and going to bed hungry, or taking the time to construct debris beds and shelters, starting a fire, and cooking their food. In this situation, there’s no easy out, as blankets alone will not ward off the cold, and the food they carry must be cooked to be edible. Lacking ready to eat energy bars, and down sleeping bags, they quickly realize that comfort can only be achieved through effort and teamwork. Physical comfort is such an elemental human desire that even the laziest of students will eventually see the light, and work to construct a soft bed. Use of woodcraft equipment and skills allows outdoor programs to construct a situation that doesn’t need much interpretation from instructors: Be proactive, work together, pay attention to details, and your comfort are assured; Slack off, and you’ll be cold and go hungry! The rewards of creating a safe, warm camp night after night are more valuable than anything else. I’m reminded of a quote from a student on a 14-day survival course. The students had been hiking all day in pounding rain, and everyone was completely soaked, even under their rain ponchos. One student, a computer executive with a major U.S. firm, went to work with his bow-drill fire set. Everyone was hungry, but had little faith in their ability to get a fire going (the ground was literally steaming with moisture from the day’s rain). Larry worked and worked, and just as he was about to run out of energy, he got his coal. But the moisture in the air had permeated his tinder nest, and he had to blow, and blow until finally, it burst into flames. The look on his face spoke volumes, but his words were the icing on the cake: “ I make million-dollar decisions every day, but nothing is as satisfying as this fire!” The lesson is clear: It doesn’t matter what background, or skill level a student brings to the course. Woodcraft offers an incredibly empowering mode of interacting with the wild. Adventure and environmental educators would do well to master its lessons!

The importance of the heritage that woodcraft represents must not be overlooked. Contemporary woodcraft has roots stretching into the native cultures of this and other continents, the pioneers of North America, and a multitude of other cultures and sub-cultures here, and abroad. To summarily discard these traditions would be utter folly. Thousands of years of careful refinement in gear and technique has more value than that pitched by a marketing team in some corporate boardroom. Fashions change; Traditions endure and have lasting value. A good example of this is the winter mukluk boot made of buckskin with a fur or wool liner. The soft, breathable leather allows maximum blood circulation in the foot, and perspiration escapes readily, keeping the foot warm and dry. This type of footgear has sheltered human feet from the bite of subzero cold for thousands of years. In spite of such a long and successful history, there are few sources of mukluks today. Most winter boot manufacturers put their marketing dollars behind a design that uses a heavy rubber bottom, and synthetic or leather top which is well-suited to wet weather, but makes for miserable feet in subzero cold, due to its inherent lack of breathability. Cold feet are almost a given in rubber pac boots when the temperature drops below zero, yet few people even consider that there might be a better way. Such boots are “modern", so they must be the best. Woodcraft teaches that the heritage of human history has the answer. Humans have stayed warm, dry, and safe in winter for thousands of years. What lessons can we take from this legacy? We might continue to refine the mukluk, but to discard it entirely would be foolish! For another example, we only need look beneath the mukluk. The traditional wood and rawhide snowshoe has evolved over hundreds of years into many different forms, each suited to a particular type of terrain and snow. To think that one modern invention-the aluminum and plastic mountaineering snowshoe-should suddenly render all this evolution obsolete is absurd. One trek off trail in deep powder will convince the modern snowshoer that the traditional designs still rule. In terms of floatation, and ease of use over the long haul, a traditional design has no modern rival.

Woodcraft also offers important insight into the philosophies and lifeways of those who have come before. Crafting and wearing a pair of moccasins, for example, helps one understand how work was life, and life was work to the pre-industrial woodsman. The effort and skills that must be put into a deer hide to transform it into footwear are truly amazing, and the result is an extremely lightweight, flexible shoe admirably adapted to long-distance travel, and moving quietly and sure-footedly through the woods: Form and function match perfectly. The same may be said of other traditional gear items: The packbasket, snowshoe, canoe, and many others. Using such items not only connects one with the mindset of the creators, but also with the centuries of innovation and refinement embodied that piece of gear. After making a pair of moccasins, a new appreciation for museum pieces becomes apparent. Every stitch, crease, and nuance of design comes into focus, and the true mastery our ancestors becomes clear. Woodcraft offers insight into the lives and skills of past generations in a way that no textbook, lecture, or archeological dig ever could. Gazing at the beaded moccasin in the museum, we not only know how it was made, but we know how it felt to make it: We know the effort of the creation, the textures, smells and sight of the hide as it becomes leather, and the feel of the finished product on the foot. Aside from actually stepping back in time, this is as close as we might possibly come to experiencing the heritage of humanity.

And finally, traditional practices and gear offer a connection to the magic of a simpler time when life, work, spirituality and art merged seamlessly. A connection to countless generations of human and non-human, fused together in a sacred dance of interdependence. Garrett and Alexandra Conover offer an elegant verse that describes this well:
“It may be true that the snowshoes standing by the tent flap are composed of babiche and wood. Yet they are more than that. They are a time machine from the whirling snows of the northern forests; borne by the spirits of countless native people, hide of moose or caribou, wood of birch or larch. Even now they seem to hum in the winter winds, resonating to the invitation of the horizon.” (Conover, 1995, p. 4)
Bart and Robin Blankenship, in their book Earthnack voice similar opinions about the skills of woodcraft:
“There is magic in creating fire. Imagine focusing your energy enough to make something burn! The results of this effort are inspiring: The warmth of the fire, renewed feelings of capability, and pure delight. By performing a task that your ancestors did daily-the simple movements, the honest effort-you also earn passage into that deja vu of a million years, that connection in genetic memory to ages past. Creating fire is a powerful experience” (1996, p. 13).

The heritage represented by woodcraft techniques offers tremendous value to the modern outdoors person, and should not be cast aside.
Finally, I must directly address woodcraft’s detractors. What of those who agree with Harvey Manning’s assertion in 1972 that “woodcraft is dead” (Manning, 1972, p. 20)? There are many in the outdoor field that would prefer to see woodcraft remain in books. They believe that modern gear and technique is the only appropriate system for interacting with our wildlands. They believe that the practice of woodcraft creates unnecessary and unethical damage to our remaining natural areas. Many of their concerns have already been addressed in the preceding pages, but a few demand further elaboration. The first and foremost concern seems to be that of impact. It is important to realize that those at the vanguard of change to modern techniques based their opinions on two things: Observations of heavily used areas, and observations of woodcraft tools and techniques used irresponsibly. Certainly, in heavily used areas such as national parks, recreation areas and campgrounds, and sensitive ecosystems, woodcraft techniques must be modified, and in some cases suspended. Fires are the most obvious area of concern. In less-used areas, or where fuelwood is in great abundance, a well-managed cooking fire poses no problems. However where sheer numbers of campers, or easily damaged ecosystems make such fires unacceptable, the woodcrafter may choose to use a small stove made of a tin can, or one of a few commercially-made woodstoves such as the Sierra Stove. These stoves can cook an entire meal (including tea!) using but a handful of twigs. When the meal is finished, the amount of charcoal generated is extremely low, and the ashes can be wet, and scattered. The meal has been accomplished with no fire scar, minimal use of fuelwood, and a reduced chance of inadvertently starting a wildfire (due to the confined fire). The skills used are much the same as with an open fire: The fire must be kindled, supplied with proper wood, and managed to provide the needed heat. The impact of the heat source remains local, and the fuel can even be carried in the pack, if needed. For shelter, bedding can be carried in the form of homemade, or commercially made sleeping pads, and tent poles carried in, or eliminated through the use of tarps. Modification of traditional techniques and gear vastly increases the situations in which they can be acceptably used.

Poorly executed woodcraft skills have undeniably created a vast amount of undesirable impact. But the impact is more a result of poor technique than of some inherent flaw in traditional equipment. Modern gear can be abused to even more devastating effect: If a group of hikers, clad in all the latest petro-chemical gear, drives 1000 miles roundtrip to Moab, Utah for a few days of backpacking, cooks freeze-dried meals on gas stoves, and rock climbs using a carload of gear, can they really say they’ve “left no trace”? While their impact on the local environment may seem to be negligible, they’ve left a massive impact on the global environment by unwittingly enlisting a host of miners, oil workers, trains, oil rigs, tankers, manufacturing plants, gas stations, and other elements of the modern consumer-supply network. The point is simply that problems of environmental impact are not inherently rooted in traditional gear and techniques, but rather in the thoughtless actions of the camper, whether the year is 1950, or 2002. Poor technique is the culprit, and the answer is education, and constant reflection on technique in order to assure a balanced view of what constitutes truly sustainable impact. I believe traditional skills offer the best chance for having a positive impact on the land. A fantastic quote from Tom Brown Jr., a primitive skills instructor illustrates this point:
“I believe that a true survivalist is a caretaker of the Earth. Things must be harvested. Things must be adjusted and balanced. A survivalist put into a forest like this that is ailing, overgrown with trees killing each other off could actually be a positive effect, knowing what to take and when to take it. They are not just a caretaker, they're a healer. We're not a mistake from the Creator. We belong here and if we do this correctly as a survivalist, we are as important as the wolf is to the deer herd or the fox is to the rabbit population. And I know that Larry teaches that same thing, whenever you gather a plant, whenever you use a material, the Earth is put back as we found it but better. I believe that this attitude of "leave no trace" is like passing somebody wounded in the woods, saying hello and leaving. I look at the Earth as dying and it needs survivalists as healers. Instead of passing that person by, bandage the wounds. Fix what ails them and then go on.” (Brown, 2002)

Living close to the land provides an unparalled opportunity to observe, and make conscious, thoughtful decisions about how to manage our impact on the land we use. The typical high-tech hiker does not have the opportunity to thin a forest, or spread the seeds of a berry bush because many of these folks have been thoroughly steeped in the attitude of “look but don’t touch”. Woodcraft teaches that we belong in the wild. We are not just spacemen passing through the environment. We cannot leave no trace: That is simply not possible. The key is to recognize that we do belong out there, and we will leave a trace, and then to go about discovering how we can leave the most responsible trace possible. Sometimes the responsible thing to do will be to cook on a gas stove. But sometimes the responsible thing will be to cook on a campfire. It all depends on the situation, and the judgment of the camper.

In closing, I must say this: Harvey Manning was wrong. Dead wrong. Woodcraft is not dead. In backyards, wilderness, outdoor schools, and gatherings, woodcraft remains strong all over the country. Hundreds of new people each year discover a new way of walking and living in the woods. They discover an empowering system of skills that enables them to participate directly in their environment. Woodcraft is a vibrant, living thing that not only deserves greater use, but demands it. The current direction of many outdoor pursuits risks furthering the separation between man and the earth. It’s a good thing Mr. Manning was wrong, because woodcraft offers the best hope of chance of reuniting us with the planet, and restoring a belief that we do indeed belong in nature. The earth is our true home. So let’s pick up the packsack, sharpen the axe, lace up the moccasins, and go home.


Blankenship, B. and R. (1996). Earthnack: Stone Age Skills for the 21st Century. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, Publisher.
Conover, Garrett and Alexandra (1995). A Snow Walker’s Companion: Winter Trail Skills for the Far North. Camden, ME: Ragged Mountain Press.
Kochanski, Mors (1987). Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine Publishing.
Manning, Harvey (1972). Backpacking One Step at a Time. Seattle, WA: Recreational Equipment Inc.
Miles, J. and Priest, S. eds. (1990) Adventure Education. State College, PA: Venture Publishing Inc.
Van Matre, S., and Weiler, B. The Earth Speaks: An Acclimatization Journal. Warrenville, IL. The Institute for Earth Education.

The original post you can find here; the importance of traditional outdoor skills
and Mr. Neely's website traditional blackpowderhunting

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A much needed workout - the last true winterhike?

At long last.... I got myself going once more!

I had been looking at the weatherreports for a few days and it looked like today would be the last real, chorefree winterday for a while. Although there will be frosts at night, there will also be + temperatures, with an expected +8 on wednesday! So I decided to stall all my indoorchores (household), go out and enjoy that! Aftyer seeing the kids of to school, the Mss. off to work, our animals fed (besides our cats, we regard the birds, deer, hare and other animals around the house as ours as well, these days) I grabbed my stuff, made the last minute decision to give my new/old pack a real run for its money and in the proces decided to try something new too; walking with sticks. I thought that might come in handy with winterly conditions and a heavy backpack. And heavy the latter was; 17kg! I really filled it up and added two canteens with water. My main weak link should be known by now; my feet. I opted for my huntingboots, which give good traction, but offer little room for thick socks. I managed to squeeze in a couple of wool socks, that I had gotten for my birthday and with which I am very happy.
Befor I headed out I saw some of "our" animals, already in the yard.

The look of the day

The air was fresh and cold; -16C when I left the house. Unfortunately I had missed the sunrise, but this one comes earlier every day and befor I was on my way it was nearly 08:30. So I opted for the early morning sun, which is equally good! The birches were a bright silverwhite with all the frost on their branches and the snow was dry and frozen. It sounded as if I was walking on styrofoam. Combined with the sticks this made moving silently next to impossible.

My breath froze on the minkfur of my anorak

But the cold could not keep all the water from running, but it decorated the grass above it with long, beautiful chrystals.

Going with the sticks took some getting used to, but when I could the hang of it, I fell into a rythm that I could hold up for miles..... which I eventually did too. I tried some new roads in the area and one of them led me to a deadend with a loop, so you could go round and drive back. This road did take me deeper into the wood and from the loop there was a path leading deeper into the woods, still. Moving from a relatively even road/dirttrack into the woods meant a major change in snowconditions. Here the snow was next to kneedeep and lose. Someone befor me had obviously tackled that problem....
The snowshoeprints were an estimated 60-70cm long and rounded on both ends. Made me think of some native american snowshoes.

But when I tried to follow his path I still sunk in a good 30cm at places! I followed his tracks however, curious where they might lead and to stubborn to quit. Which I eventually did anyway! It was too hard to keep on going, despite the sticks being very helpfull and handy when moving and keeping balance. I most definitely want some snowshoes for next winter, too! Going offroad is murder, otherwise!

The snowshoetrail did lead me into a beautiful patch of wood, though. I most certainly will come back here to see what other seasons look like, here! How wonderfully majestic and mysterious a boreal forest can be in winter.... Dead silent, glorious, overpowering, yet comforting. Yet, when I stood still and took of the woolhat I could hear the birdnoices coming back, one after another. I spend many a short brake this way; standing, listening..... Whether it's the wind or the birds or that deep, eery wintersilence.....

By the time I came to the conclusion it was better to turn back, I had reached yet another trail. Not knowing the terrain made the decision to turn around a bit easier. I saw that there was a fresh track next to the snowshoe track and it was definitely canine. It followed the snowshoes for a while, but than headed out into the woods, not to return. Hmm... somehow I doubt if it was the snowshoer's dog... When I came back to the road I retraced my footsteps and found some more tracks, again canine and quite fresh! The disk of the stick is about 12cm across.

All the way down the road I found animalsigns; tracks and places where they had fed. There were many deer, moose, hare and snowhare (shorter stride) and all sorts of other rodents. Many woodpeckersigns, too.  I came across a set of prints, that was thrilling, though; large, rounded ones, with no nails visible. Again the disk is 12cm and even though thaw has blurred the edges a bit.....

Having marched through the snow for an hour or two I thought it might be wise to start thinking about refuelling my system. We have a viewpoint in the area with a fireplace, so I figured I'd head that way. It was still an hour's walk, first along a road, than through forest, which raised my appetite even further.

We live smack in the middle of this picture

I lit a fire, took out my billycan, filled it with water and set it to warm up

This viewpoint never ceases to amaze me, apart from the view; You'll always find a decent stack of dry wood here, a good bowsaw, a hatchet, a knife, a snowshovel, matches, a pan, sittingmats and all kinds of grill-gear. Yet the place is very frequently visited by locals and tourists alike, which is shown by the guestbooks people sign. You'll find these too here; a new one, but also the last four ones!! Nothing goes missing and everyone visiting brings some wood along or at least the locals do. And every once in a while a group of volunteers maintains the site and keeps everything in order. There's even a "thunderbox"! (An outdoortoilet) But I have to say that a couple of rodents had their go at the foammats, reducing them to flakes....
So while the water was heating up I had a decent lunch and had some time to relax. There wasn't much relaxing in the way of sitting still. The wind up here made the temperatures feel less comfortable and what do you know..... my feet got cold.... I kept moving about, adding some wood to the fire, making coffee, taking pictures and fumbleing about my gear.

So here's the backpack; I am quit impressed by the way it carries. Despite the weight I had worn it for 3 hours nonstop and only now was I starting the feel the fatigue in my shoulders, being totally untrained! Not a bad feat. with 17kg's! The frame rides comfortably on m hips. It had some shortcomings, though. The straps of the pockets have aged badly and, while trying to close them properly 2 of them simply broke. Those need to be replaced. The long strap on the left side (front one in the picture) has been replaced at some point, but with a buckel that is too small and fiddly. Again that must be replaced too, but not as urgent. The sidepockets are very narrow and so far I can not think of anything that I could store there, apart from a small stuffsack with bungees for the shelter or poncho. The latter has a place inside the pack, packed in two loops attached to the topflap. Now that is quit handy. You just open the flap and you have your poncho, without opening everything else up.

Something else I brought a long was a spare woolhat.... whcih it actually is not. It is a swedish army woolscarf, cut in two. When properly folded you have a wool hat and when unfolded you have a turtleneck. All my kids have one too and they love it! Nice and warm, no wind blowing in and no scarf that gets in the way, while playing in the snow or sledding, iceskating, skiing, what ever.

It was like seeing old friends again...

Wanting to refill the billy I had a bit of a unpleasant surprise. I could not open the plastic canteen I had used! Appearantly some water had spilled into the thread and that had frozen solid within 10-15 minutes. Putting the canteen next to the fire seemed to be unwise. So I took the other one, but I'll go for metal canteens the next time!

And then the sun broke through the clouds! Wow, what an amount of light all of a sudden! It actually hurt my eyes and offcourse I had forgotten some protection for the eyes. I have several sets of those celluloid, foldable snowgoggles. Weighs nothing and has no packingvolume, but do no good while in storage at home.


After a good while I packed up and went home.... but with a detour! I just couldn't get enough of the forest in these conditions, despite sore, tired shoulders and cold feet. I figured the latter would warm up eventually and the previous..... would be a matter of discomfort later. I figured I could stop by at the kilncabin not too far away from this place. So the detour added another 2,5km to the trip.
When I got to the cabinesite I saw that it had been used, but not much and not recently. The cabin hadn't been used in a while either, given the amount of snow piled against it and its door.

While looking at it, I caught a sudden movement in the corner of my eye, followed by a loud thud, right next to me! If my heartrate hadn't gone up because of the exercise, it sure had now!
But there was nothing there..... untill I looked up. There was this pine, bent over and laden with snow. A large dot had landed right next to my feet! Thankfully not 10-15cm more to the left.....

Then it really was time to head for home. The kids were coming home from school in about an hour, the house hadn't been heated since the morning, the body was quit tired and I had still a 4km walk over a snowy and icy road ahead of me. Quickly I fell into the rythm of moving poles and feet in unison and it was almost hypnotic walking that stretch of road. I was very glad I had brought these!!!

And then, when I came home, there was this grand finale. Crossing the wooden area in front of our house I was greeted by a choir of birds... All sorts of birds calling and chattering away.

And boy.... am I stiff and sore right now!!
But with a very satisfied feeling. This was a very good day! One to remember...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A time for change

It looks as if there might be a change soon....
I said it befor and I say it again; winter is on its return! Sure, there will be plenty of cold left, but something has definitely changed. There is a change in the air. A softness, a smell, a vibe... don't know how to describe it, but it's there. I think we are entering what in Sweden is known as the fifth season; vårvinter. We have had a short period of thaw again and right now it's freezing a bit.... but there is more thaw predicted for next week with temperatures around 5C during the day and double digit minustemperatures at night. That will create dangerous conditions on the roads! It seems that the thawperiods are following up on each other faster. 
I actually do not like this kind of weather. The air is cold and filled with moisture, the days are gray and I feel cold all day. I prefer temperatures to be below -5, because than I stop being cold. Strange, isn't it?
Speaking of cold.... I really need to get this footwearissue tackled by next winter. That and some other issues on the opposite side of my body... I have missed out on way too much outtime, this year! At least rising temperatures mean I can use the boots I have right now. Downside is that a) the Dutch army boots are very slippery, when cold and an icy surface does not help and neither do these slipoverthings with spikes in them. They give your cramped up legmuscles with prolonged use...  or b) there's plenty of water to go around, erasing the possibility of using my huntingboots, which still need one of the soles to be fixed.... They're actually not meant for winteruse either, so they're a bit too small for use with thick socks.

Apart from that I have allready decided to go for the old days-option; footrags. Reading the accounts of both the old days and current ones, I think they will be a much better solution.


The birds are much more active, almost frantic. They wizz about, chasing each other, fighting each other for places and even looking for places to build their nests under the roofoverhang. They no longer squeek, but sing; longer multitone melodies,which are repeated over and over again. We saw some new birds, too!
On 15 februari we saw a small birds with white heads and long tails at our feedingplace; they were stjärtmes (Aegithalos caudatus). At one time there were 4 of them together, but then they quickly moved off and we did not see them again. So Annalena was right after all. On 16 februari there was a lot of movement in the tall pine in front of the house. Larger brown birds with a distinct plume of feathers on the head and a black face mask . It was a group of at least 8 sidensvans (Bombycilla garrulus)but there were probably more scattered in the trees around the house. They were also quick to disappear.

Yesterday I noticed we have had some more unusual visitors. The flowerpot and dish, next to the deerfeeder had been turned over, allthough it had been frozen to the surface and the snow underneath and around the feeder was turned over and brownish, indicating debris and soil had become mixed in. That must have been a strong animal. Looking at the tracks I was a little surprised to find moosetracks so close to the house! And not just one, but 2 different ones, too. One print was about 11cm across and the other 9cm. A cow and a yearling maybe? They had been wandering through our garden, trudged along our kitchenwindow and frontdoor, less that 4 meters away. I also found some urinemarks in our backyard, distinctly different than the ones from the roedeer. Larger orangy-brown stains.

A third mark really has me puzzled,

At first I thought it was one of our cat's prints, but when I looked closer I had my doubts. It didn't match. The nails were to big and the front three toes are to close to gether. The print isn't rounded either. I looked into one of my books and a badger's print resembles it the most, but than I miss the sides of the print. I compared many other animals' prints too, but had to eradicate them one by one. Your guess is as good as mine.

And just now I had the amazing opportunity to see a bird of prey sitting right in front of the kitchenwindow and I can now identify the bird of prey I saw earlier. It most certainly is a stenfalk. It's size, dark grey coat and the white underside with the reddish brown tinge give it away. It just had made a kill; a blåmes, one of the many birds around the feedingarea. Offcourse, where there is prey you'll find predators. I looked at it for a short while, but when I moved to get my camera it took off.... damn...
I am thrilled!
Imagine this, but in the snow.... source;

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Deer drama!

One of the advantages of not working is that you do have time to sit around and watch...
As winter is coming closer to its end the days lengthen with extraordinary speed (almost 3 hrs since the shortest day!) and that extra daylight gives me the opportunity to see and study some amazing things... for me at least.
One of these things are the deer, which come to our house nearly everyday and nearly always around the same time and, because of the increasing daylight, we can look at "our" deer a bit better every time. As you might have read we are being visited by two deer groups; one with a male and 2 females and one with just 2 females. Last week we had the pleasure od seeing these two groups meet each other, right in front of our house! That event showed some great groupdynamics, because dynamic it was! They looked at each other, sniffed the air, came closer and then.... all of a sudden they ran off together! It was an explosion of movement, yet still elegant. Had we witnessed the male's harem grow??

Unfortunately it did not seem to be so. After two days we saw the groups visiting our garden separetly again. all deer seems to be looking healthy, except for one of the females in the 2-deergroup. It seems as if she is limping somewhat, allthough it is hard to tell with the uneven ground, covered with a thick layer of snow. I also think her coat is a little less smooth than the others.
The male on the other hand is a very healthy and dominant one. Whenever he approaches the feeder the rest is to step back. If not he'll make sure! He'll but and shove them aside and only after he has had his fill, the females are allowed to approach. After that he does feed together with them, though. His antlers are growing fast; a week or two ago they were not as large as his ears and today I saw they were longer than the ears! I wonder if the females are carrying young, but I guess it's to early to tell. The females in his group are definetely slightly bigger than those of the two femalegroup.

And today I saw them again; the threedeergroup at the feeder...... but there was a single doe waiting a couple of meters further down the trail! Was she a loner? Or was she part of the twodeergroup? If so, where was the other one? Either way, after the 3deergroup had fed, she moved in to feed and that did not seem to bother any of the others. A little while later, another doe showed up, so I guessed it was the 2deergroup after all. Yet this time things went quit differently! While the first deer was still feeding, the second one got chased off by one of the first groups females! She was not allowed to come near the others, while the first one was. Only untill the distance between the last doe and the rest was at least 200 meters, did the chasing stop. Than the group started moving on and the feeding deer followed. She kept a bit of a distance, remaining just outside of the group, but she did follow them. I could not help but to admire the grace with which these animals move....

Did I just witness the 3deergroup increase and the breakup of the 2deergroup? Does that mean the chased off deer is on her own? Surely that is not a good sign for her. I saw her wondering off by her own.....
I guess we'll know in a couple of days.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


You might have noticed an absence in outdoorposts here lately, but today I went for a walk  and my wife accompanied me. We both haven't been feeling to well lately and I think we have been glanced by the fluepidemic that is rushing over the country. We were effected enough to be out of business for a few days, but not severely enough to actually call it a real flu. So I figured some fresh air might do us some good. In hindsight it was good we went out for an hour or two, but that was about the limit. I felt re-energised mentally, but we were exhausted fysically. It wasn't all that cold, about -5, but out in the open there was a stiff breeze and the fresh snow was 20-30cm deep and powdery.
Quit at the beginning of our little walk, we found something odd hanging on the fence of one of our neighbour's gardens. It was a mink, curled up and frozen solid, yet it did not show any sign of injury. Why they had propped up the animal in the way they did I do not know, but since someone else obviously found it first, it wasn't ours to claim. Felt a bit special, though... seeing such an animal up close, while wearing the fur of one of its relatives around my neck.
It was a beautiful animal, which almost seemed to be smiling. Hard to imagine they're such fierce predators. Good for keeping the mousepopulation in check, not so good for the chickenkeepingplans I have for the future....

My wife being tactical.....

But my smock kept me out of the wind and thus comfortably warm. With just a t-shirt and wool sweater underneath  was neither cold nor sweaty. I already love this thing!

This country has its way of making you feel small and showing you your place...

I wonder what a skilled woodcarver could do with this;

I realised that, apart from winter and the increase in outdoorwork around the house, the main reason for me not going out much these last few months, is that I am feeling lonely and being alone in this very silent and sometimes overpowering winterlandscape magnifies that to an even more unpleasant level. I guess it is a phase many immigrants have to go through after leaving family, friends, job, language and known social structures behind, befor entering a new world. A world where people don't understand you and, more importantly, you don't understand them. Even after a while, when you start to learn the language it will not be enough for a casual social talk. Socially relaxing endevours are even more inhibited by different social habits. Making friends and meeting people with similar interests is very hard, so a strong feeling of isolation is with one each and every day.
Reading Dick Proenekke's One man's wilderness again, made me realise I could never do what he did; leave civilisation and society behind and live in solitude. When I left Holland I was more than happy to leave behind the pressure, noice and humans.... Now I find myself longing for some likeminded companionship and an occassional easy chat. There is a bright side to that, too. I have not developped such a strong disliking of human companionship as I at first thought and it shows I want to resocialise...
I have also come to develop a whole new understanding and respect for immigrants and refugees. The emotional strains and pressure they face are tremendous and it takes a lot of energy, willpower and determination to overcome that.

I did have some pleasant surprises, too.
As I was bringing up wood to the hopuse, a bright, arrowshape bird dashed overhead, across the garden, coming from one of the trees. Wings swept back, quit small body and fast. That is all I saw of it, so now I am trying to figure out what it might have been. There are 2 candidates; the first being the pilgimsfalk and the stenfalk, although previous one should not be living in this area, but much more northerly, according to my sources. The latter might, but that too would be a bit to far south.The colours and shape did match the pilgrimsfalk perfectly though. The foodsource, small birds, is plentyfull around here too, but that goes for candidate nr.2 as well. Any other possibility should have left the country in autumn......
Which ever one it was, I was quit excited to meet one here, so close by!

Pilgrimsfalk (Falco peregrinus)
Stenfalk (Falco columbarius)
The other surprise was brought to me by mail. Through the I was informed that someone in the US managed to get hold of a number of copies of the snow walker's companion written by the Conover's. I have had this book high on my wishlist for quit some time, so I cheched out this guy's homepage. You can still find this book accassionally, but the prices asked are more than ridiculous! This guy was selling them at reasonable prices, but I was put off by the high costs, mainly because of the postage, which showed up after I filled in my address. So I never completed the order nor did I pay anything. Yet yesterday there was a delivery from the US, which did not make sense to me. I opened the parcel and......

I was baffled and thrilled! But also a bit worried. After all I did not order anything, so I sent the sender an email and am awaiting an answer. Meanwhile I am enjoying it!!! I can now understand why it is so highly sought after! Look forward to a review soon.