Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On life and death......

These last few days have been real weird ones.
It all seemed to start when I, for some reason, took out Jenkins' "Die wise" book again and I read a few random passages. The day afterwards our oldest daughter told us she had been selected to go on a school organised trip to Auschwitz. That night I dreamt about my death. Well, mine and my wife's, but surrounded by our children and grandchildren. We had invited the all to be together one last time, so we could then die in peace and they would not need to be bothered flying in from the corners of the globe.
The next day I ran a cat over. Came out of the grass, right in front of the car and I hit its front at 90 km/h. Heard both right wheels running over it. Ta..tump.... game over. I will spare you the details...... Being a catlover and owner myself I can not describe the feeling of horror and pain I felt then and the miserable one rest of the day.
When I was at home again late in the afternoon I noticed that the chickens were very quiet and rounding the house I saw a large silhouette sitting next to the henhouse. When I approached it, it moved. It flew away; a large chickenhawk!! Alarmed I went to the scene of the crime and indeed found a victim; Hermione, the mother of this year's chick. Her head already eaten bare and her body cold. This was another, much bigger chickenhawk then the one I had seen before.... Our chickens will not be allowed to roam free for a while now. Because there was another reason. One we had seen earlier this week. A large fox, strolling over the street and near our garden in broad daylight.

And all the while I had planned to make a happy, cheerful post about mushrooms, autumn colours, new "friends" and "new" life.
Because we have had an explosion of mushrooms lately. The rains of autumn came, but the temperatures are not low... yet.
Because we have an abundance of bright autumn colours.
Because I made new friends.... or at least one.
And because we got "new" life in the form of 3 new chicks. This was planned the day before the chickenhawk incident. And we planned for the pickup of 2 chickens. This became 3.

Let's start on the mushrooms. For one I have next to no affinity for them. Yes, the can be pretty and yes, they herald autumn. And yes.... they also mean decay. My wife on the other hand just loves them!! She rarely passes on an opportunity to photograph them and now she is venturing into the world of knowing them too.
Which is what and how to clean, dry or use them.....

And this little fellow followed us for quite a bit during one of the walks with the dogs;

Talking about friends.... Lately I am in the very opportune opportunity to be around horses a lot. I have gotten over my deep rooted fear for them years ago, but being around them this near.... This young man has taken a particular like to me and as soon as I am around he comes to me. He loves being scratched on the cheeks, rubbed on the neck and forehead, cradling his head on my arm in the proces. and he even likes to play around a bit. However sometimes he gets a bit rowdy, pushing and shoving me. He's still young, but I still find that quite unnerving. Him towering over me and looking down on me with his big, brown eyes is quite intimidating as well. And he loves to hug. So I get to spend some time with him very near me. I have always kept the fence between him and me, until today. Today I pushed myself and went into the enclosure, after he had lent over the fence and nibbled me in the ear. Quite an experience..... So I went in and the same procedure happened, but now there was no "defence" between him and me and it was just him and me. However when he got rowdy again, I had to step back. I did not feel comfortable with that at all. Still some work to be done here!

And as a final, we got our new chicks. We were supposed to go and pick up 2 hens. We came home with 2 hens and a possible hen. Don't know that one's gender yet. Now we are used to new chickens or chicks being quite scared after being taken away from a trusted environment, having had a car ride and being introduced into a new home with new chickens. So we put those 3 with transport case and all into the henhouse. Not much later they were out and walking about.... having found a new "father figure"; Lucius!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Lighting a fire in difficult conditions

During my trip with Odd we decided to try and get a real fire going, despite having brought cooking sets. Lighting a fire in the fjäll or mountains was an absolute new for me. The conditions in case up there were wet, windy and just below the treeline. It had been raining plenty in the previous period up until the day before and everything was really soaked.

Odd gathering juniper
We found a spot on the lee side of a small canyon or crevice and there were plenty of stunted trees and shrubs growing there. So we set out to find some material to get a fire going and keeping it that way. The first thing I always look for is birchbark. Preferably the one that is already peeling away as it tends to be drier already. I found a birch that had broken off and sure enough there was bark. So I took some pieces, scraped them clean from moist rotten wood on the inside and soaked lichen on the outside. Lichen literally was everywhere!! And it holds moisture like a sponge, so you want to get rid of it! Then the bark went into my thigh pockets, so that it could dry as I was looking for more.
Then we proceeded gathering firewood. There were mainly birch and juniper. Like I said there was lichen everywhere and especially the birch branches were covered in it. So I considered those to be less of an option, except for a few that had broken branches on them. Those were more exposed to the wind and felt less wet to the touch.
The juniper on the other hand had a lot of upright branches and quite a few of them were bare; no bark and no lichen. Still they felt a little damp, but I figured that they would dry rather fast and that the inside would be dry anyway. So we gathered a bunch of those in several sizes.

I then started preparing the wood to get a fire going. I started by stripping off the bark and anything feeling wet. Each branch and twig was then placed on a flat stone in the sun and wind to dry out as much as possible. This combination really did work! Temperatures were pretty nice and the constant wind dried the wood pretty fast on the outside.
I then proceeded making what is called feathersticks, meaning shaving strips of wood from the branch, s that each strip curls up. Making them thin enough to catch a flame is the goal. I was moderately successful at that, since many a shaving came off, but I managed to get a few with relatively decent curls. These too were placed on the rocks to further dry.
The next step was to split the smaller branches into halves or quarters, thus exposing the dry inside and let those dry as well. The final step was to take some of the bigger branches, break them into useable lengths and carve them up to, creating course "curls" so that they would dry a bit faster too.

If you find juniper, you can use them bark and the wood itself to create very fine curls, almost dust by scraping them with the blade of the knife or a stone at a 90 degree angle. When dry, as when using the insides you could ignite them with a firesteel. I however had forgotten mine at home, so I used this dust at the very heart of the fire to be.
I usually build a tipi-style of fire instead of a pagoda-style. Why? This way I think that the wood is exposed to the flames to maximal effect and when burning, the ashes and embers fall into a pile, creating a hot, glowing heart, which retains its heat better. Also the wood collapses onto the heart adding more heat and fuel at a concentrated spot. Others use different styles, but this has worked for me thus far.
I start by laying a "floor"; a layer of wood on a wet underground or on snow or, in this case, a sheet of dry bark on top of the soaked coal. By reusing that coal there will be more heat, once it dries out, reducing the need for additional wood. On top of that sheet comes the juniper"dust" which I had collected there in the first place. Then some strips of more birchbark, next a layer of thin strips of wood like the mentioned quarters, making sure air can pass through and between each layer and then some bigger pieces; the halves.
Now because I had forgotten my firesteel I used matches; one to be exact, carefully shielding the flame from the wind, keeping a close eye on the development of the fire. I had to assist by blowing on the glow a few times, when the flames died out, but in the end.......

There is one other issue I would like to address; in wet or damp conditions I do not like to put my pack on the ground. The reason might seem obvious; it gets wet that way. But there is another issue; when roaming about in unfamiliar territory or when focused on other things, like foraging or collecting wood, it is easy to lose track of where your base site is. What I prefer to do is to hang up my pack whenever possible. Keeps it dry and clean, but is also helps finding your base again!!
You can see how Odd's backpack blends very well, as it is supposed to (military origin) and when standing a bit further off you might just pass it by and not see it at all.
Even in a wooded area with a green/camouflaged pack, hanging it would make it far easier to spot it and thus find your way back.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hedmark, Norway 2017 - the way in...

Just a word of caution; the following posts are going to be full of large pictures.
Watch your bandwidth!! ;)

We had been planning this trip for a while and wanted to hike up Sölen, one of the heights in the area. This one has the highest peak I believe. Also some foxhunting was planned. The weather forecast was anything but good, so we had to keep that in mind and once again we would be staying at his parents cabin.
At around lunch I was finally ready to get going. At home everything had been taken care of and I drove, leaving behind 2 girls that were home with a cold and related symptoms. At least the dogs would now not be alone for an hour or 2. Driving down the road I had this nagging feeling that something was amiss.... I tread down the clutch pedal, shifted gear and knew what was wrong!! I had put on the wrong shoes! Dohhh...... Going on autopilot I had put on soft comfortable shoes. After this minor mishap had been corrected, there were one or two things I needed to do, before finally being able to make some headway. First a visit to the library to collect a rather substantial amount of books on which I had put a reservation. Had to be done by saturday..... Another one was some grocery shopping for "trail food". And then.... finally..... 5.5 hours of driving ahead of me... 👀
The trip was rather uneventful, apart from the occasional rainshower. That is until I had crossed the border and went down road 217..... which really went down! Gradients ranging between 8-12%. During one photo-stop I noticed a strange smell around the car..... The ticking sound of cooling brakes indicated what that smell was.

Snowy heights in the distance.
This is still Sweden.

No idea what peak this is.

The specks in the picture is not dirt on the lens........

At around 18:00 I arrived at Odd's parent's place and a warm dinner awaited me. It felt real good to replenish the energy with a proper meal, instead of bananas, apples, chocolate and bottled water. I didn't really take a break, except for a quick photoshoot or to perform a sanitary emergency landing.
After that we headed out and up to the cabin. Daylight was failing and the dark grey clouds did nothing to enhance that. Up in the cabin Odd lit a fire in the stove to get temperatures comfortable. Those were in the single digits and combined with the high humidity and wind, made things rather uncomfortable. Besides I wasn't feeling all too well myself. Guess the girls shared some of their "stuff" with me after all.
I took a stroll around the cabin, to let the cobwebs blow from my mind and hopefully clear up my airways a bit too. Cranking up the circulation after such a long drive was badly needed as well.
We spent the evening getting installed, chatting and having a beer. Sometimes the conversation would fall silent, both of us being rather tired. But that's quite ok. Better say nothing then say something unnecessary. During those lulls we just listened to the wind and rain, let our minds wander or, in my case, leafed through the pile of rather appropriate reading. But actually I had gotten these books with another purpose in mind; the pre-planning phase of another trip. Hopefully for next summer.
We discussed the options we had; the hike up Sölen, the foxhunt and the hopeless weather..... and how that might mess up the whole thing.....

That grey lump in the far distance was our initial goal.
Turned out that this was as clear as would ever see it.

A locally brewed beer and some of the homework Odd handed to me;
Fox skinning and hide tanning + maps of the target area.

Books revolving around a centre theme; Fjäll
Both containing dogsledding and military history.

Hedmark, Norway 2017 - Saturday, rainy saturday

I woke up at 07:00 to the patter of rain of the roof and the run off from the rain pipes. I had not really had a good night's sleep; broken by the need for a toilet visit (an outhouse) and bad dreams. Have those quite often lately. I still wasn't feeling really fit; blocked head and runny nose. Bit feverish too.
But the situation gave me a good reason to put on my beloved norwegian army pullover. Love that thing.
We had discussed a scenario like this and we decided that it would not be wise or fun to go out into the highlands in weather like this. It was not to get better before long into the afternoon. So instead we settled for a trip to Elverum and the forestry museum there. I had been there in 2001 and would like to see it again. I was quite impressed by it back then.
But before we headed out Odd made us a breakfast a man could live on; Norwegian bacon, norwegian home baked sourdough bread and Swedish homegrown eggs. And coffee of course.

The trip to Elverum was uneventful. Boring really. But the museum itself was quite nice. Of course much more hitech then 17 years ago, which I thought was a bit of a shame. It had lost a good deal of its charm. But is was nice to see their hallmarks still in place; 4 statues of moose, a cow, 2 calves and a bull still "running" in the front and a bunch of long pine trunks erect in front of the entrance.
There are many exhibits of forestry, both old and modern, woodworking, animals, fish, tools, guns... the works. Worth mentioning are the stuffed animal- and knifecollections! The stuffed animal can be touched and are very lifelike. They really give you a feel of their size and more then once I was impressed by the "tools" mother nature's creatures wield. We spent a few hours here and had a moose meat burger for belated lunch.

A forest workers' cabin. There was a backpack just like mine in the right corner!
Picture by Odd

The comparison to my dogs was easily made...
Picture by Odd

Now I know how big wolf prints can be.
Almost filling up the L between thumb and index finger!

No "chicken" to mess with either!
Picture by Odd

These nearby studies were really impressing....
and enlightening.
Picture by Odd

Picture by Odd

After the museum visit we needed to do some shopping. We were having whale meat for dinner and I wanted some for my family at home too. Plus I promised them some Norwegian chocolate too.
An equally uneventful drive back to the cabin saw us arriving there late in the afternoon. As odd started preparing dinner, I roamed around the cabin once more, breathing fresh mountain air. I also wanted to experience a little how bad weather like a mix of rain, wind and low temperatures felt in this kind of terrain. Well, I now know..... But still, despite the dark, gloomy and saddening weather the colours were still amazing!! And the landscape remained impressive, probably even more so due to the weather.

The whale meat dinner was very tasty, as I remembered from the previous year and we both ate too much.
That night we sat and discussed our further plans and how to adapt. It looked like there might be a window of reasonably fair weather for sunday morning and early afternoon, but then the weather once again would turn bad. Did we want to risk it? A drive to Sölen would cost us about 1.5 hrs still, the hike up to 10 hrs if we wanted to go to the top.... if it even would be cloud free, which was highly questionable. And personally I did not feel up to it. Simply felt not strong enough.
Maybe hike up the high grounds around the cabin and bring the rifle for some foxhunting? That sounded just right to me. Later that night Odd tried some of his fox calls with not entirely satisfying results. A hike up to the location he wanted to show me meant crossing the county borders... meaning his permits would no longer be valid. Not wanting to take any chances (chances of getting caught are very slim, but if you get caught you're in serious trouble), we decided to abandon the hunt-option and just go for the hike. That decision would turn out to be the correct one.......