Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Great Prepared Tinder

Fire is life !  Whether in a primitive sense or whether in a winter survival emergency.  Your ability to create and maintain fire determines your level of warmth and comfort, your ability to boil water, cook food and signal for rescue.

The most important material in your fire making quest is your tinder source.  The tinder you have with you or find and collect provides the spark or coal the ability to grow in size and temperature and eventually ignite your larger tinder and kindling source.

Being able to identify, collect and use natural tinder sources is a skill that requires knowledge and practise.  However being prepared before heading out into the bush is a far better plan than going unprepared and hoping to find what you need when in the throws of a winter survival emergency.

Char cloth is a great prepared tinder usually made of cotton or other man made materials.  The char cloth can be carried with you in your pack and utilized whenever you choose to make fire or when making fire is a life or death situation.  Char cloth is a tinder that you can have absolute confidence in that when you throw a spark onto it, it will grow into a coal substantial enough to light a tinder bundle and nurture into a full fire.

Rather than explain the process in plain text on this page I took a stab at creating a video of the process.  This is the first video in the Beyond the Fire series so please excuse any out of frame instruction as the video was made without the use of a camera that had a flip screen.

Knowledge, skills and mindset.  Never allow yourself to think that you will not become involved in a wilderness survival emergency.  You can never be sure when extreme weather, errored navigation or a traumatic injury will be forced upon you.  There will be no opportunity to go back in time and pack what you should have packed for any such emergency.  Prepare now.  Make a survival kit and carry it with you everywhere you go.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Teachers are Everywhere

While out for a wilderness recce with Instructor John we came across a lone man walking through his bush lot just off the roadway.  We slowed to see what he was doing and quickly realized he was working his maple bush.

As many of you know this is the time of year that the sap runs clear and fast from those beautiful sugar Maples.

It goes without saying that we stopped.  This was an opportunity to learn.  We are forever students, not only of survival but of all the wonders that mother nature has to offer the bush wanderer.

This stranger turned out to be one of the most amazing teachers I have met in quite some time.  He gave of his time, knowledge, experience and passion for both the benefits of raw sap and the beauty and relaxation of producing Maple Syrup.  An exhausting and time consuming process.

However, throughout the almost two hours of time that we spent with him, his labour of love was something to respect and envy.  We left that day excited by what we had learned about the Maple tree and all its survival qualities. 

I learned something much more important that day.  There are teachers and mentors everywhere.  This world is filled with people and places that can teach us things much greater than math and science.  Teachers and mentors who can teach us to reconnect with the earth that we live on and the water and trees that provide hydration and oxygen.

I thought about that sugar bush all week and just couldn't wait any longer.  Saturday morning could not have come quick enough for me.  I bundled up the boys and off to the sugar bush to take my new teacher up on his offer to share this experience with my children.

I'm not sure who enjoyed it more, the boys or me.  It seemed like time stood still as I watched my children learning first hand and with hands on the art and beauty of tapping the mighty Maple and collecting the bounty.  They enjoyed the sunshine, warm temperatures and packable snow used of course for a good snowball fight.

This stranger showed my children the Maple Syrup process from start to finish.  They gave their undivided attention to the whole process and were rewarded with a taste of the end result and an experience like none other.

There are teachers everywhere.  Give your children and yourself the benefit of experience the outdoor classroom.  They may never want to leave this classroom.

The Boys in the Sugar Bush

Learning at the Evaporator

Checking the Buckets

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

True Tinder

The beauty of learning primitive skills is realizing the amazing powers of the plants and trees that have surrounded us everyday.

It's no secret that as a survival instructor and student of bushcraft and primitive ways, fire and the constant journey of creating and maintaining it has become an unshakable passion.

I am always eager to learn of new ignition sources whether primitive or manufactured as well as new sources of tinder.  My real desire and focus is learning of natural tinder that exists and can help you in a winter survival emergency.

Winter has always been my main focus because of my belief that of all four seasons that we experience here in the beautiful Canadian wilderness it provides the greatest degree of difficulty for survival.

That's where true tinder comes into the picture.  Birch trees, mainly white or paper birch, are located in almost every corner of Ontario.  Birch trees have always been known as a gift to the fire maker.  Peeling away its white bark and lighting it as if it were local newspaper for the fireplace.

Well the Birch produces another amazing gift.  Tinder fungus.  On a live Birch tree tinder fungus is considered a true tinder.  The fungus grows on the outside of the tree and looks almost like a black mushroom head.  That black exterior of the fungus is hard and protects the fungus from the rain and other attacking fungi.

Take your knife and cut in between the tree and the fungus.  The fungus will come away from the tree quite easily.  The inside that was attached to the tree will be a spongy light orange colour.  With the tip of your knife dig in and loosen up some of that orange spongy material. 

Now it's time to light this amazing true tinder.  With your flint and striker in hand strike a spark into the inside of the fungus.  The spark will begin to burrow itself into the fungus and smoke.  The fungus will not catch on fire but rather grow into a coal.  The fungus itself acts like an accelerator similar to cattail.

The fungus coal will grow and can then we cut out with your knife and dropped into your tinder bundle.  Once into the tinder bundle you can nurture the coal and the bundle into a fire.

The lit fungus has been used to transport a fire coal for great distances.  It was also known to be used as a hand warmer for voyageurs and woodland trappers in the winter time.  The smoke from the tinder fungus can also ease a headache in the forest.

So the next time you're out in the woods look around for the white birch tree and see if you can find that amazing tinder fungus.  Cut a few off and keep them in your fire starting kit.  They can prove invaluable and the knowledge you posses life saving.

BlastMatch Fire Starter, Tinder Fungus and Tinder Bundle

My 8 year old survivor boy blowing fungus coal.
 Note the black area in the middle of the U-shaped area.
  That is the growing coal.

Fungus coal in the tinder pile.  Note the smoke.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

BlastMatch Fire Starter

There are seemingly endless ways of starting fire.  Everything from primitive friction fires to the new aged synthetic powders.  They all have their benefits and in the end as long as they do what they were designed to do than who cares.

However, speaking from experience, when you become submerged in the icy bone chilling water after a fall through the weak spring ice the game changes.

Many water proof matches, strike anywhere matches, lighters, strikers, torches, chemical or synthetic tinders are suddenly rendered useless.  It is amazing what cold water can do to expensive, results guaranteed products.

Let's be honest.  When you fall through the ice and self rescue, the task of getting off the ice and out of the wind becomes extremely fatiguing.  Then, with every part of you frozen and dexterity escaping you, try to gather materials and start a fire.

Starting that fire is a life or death task.  Therefor the ignition source you choose must be tested and trusted by you.  Not the manufacturer selling it to you.

Recently I went back to my favourite manufacturer of go-anywhere fire starters.  Ultimate Survival Technologies.  I have previously posted about their StrikeForce fire starter.  I have purchased 4 of them because I will never go anywhere without one.  They are that good.  I have submerged them in icy water, been submerged with them in icy water and hung them in a tree through a wild Canadian snow storm.  I wipe them off and strike away receiving the same sparks as when I first got them.

So, it wasn't a hard decision to purchase the BlastMatch fire starter.  A one-handed, all weather fire starter.  The whole process from start to finish can be operator with one hand which is extremely useful if you become involved in a winter survival emergency.

I have tested this piece of equipment extensively over the last week since its purchase and could not be happier.  But the true test came today when my 8 year old son decided that he wanted to give it a try.  Often young people have a hard time with strikers due to the precision type pressure that must be used to scrape the flint to generate sparks.

He was determined though and talked me into giving him a quick lesson.  So I did.  It took 4 attempts for him before he was producing the sparks necessary to ignite is tinder.  This was truly amazing considering it is a one handed device that requires some pressure and proper placement of your tinder.

The greatest advantage is that the flint rod acts like a piston.  The housing and striking bar slide up and down over the flint rod.  The rod can be placed, with pressure, on your tinder pile.  So when you strike down the rod does not move and the sparks spray out the bottom right onto your tinder.  With regular flint rods you utilize two hands and scrape the rod with a blade approx. 1-2 inches above your pile and therefor run the risk of knocking your tinder pile all over the place.

Again, these products have become a must have for me.  $25-$30 is a small price to pay for durability, reliability and guarantee.  It may save your life.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hydrate or Die !!

A very bold term.  A very stark reality.  Whether in the Summer or the Winter.  Whether while hiking or biking.  Our bodies require fluids to maintain the major functions of our body and to keep those major organs alive.

Our bodies are 2/3 water and require replacement fluids by way of intake due to the loss of hydration through perspiration and urination.

In a survival emergency you have many tasks to complete in order to be successful in self rescue or assisted rescue.  Those tasks are gruelling and exhausting.  Shelter building, firewood collection, signal fire construction, hunting and foraging.  All of these tasks are empty your body of its most precious resource - water.

If you find yourself in an area void of a stream, river or lake and without a container capable of boiling water even if you had a collectible source you will become dehydrated and desperate.

You must find a consumable and safe fluid.  You have a knife and the clothes on your back.  You have attempted to melt snow in a make shift solar still with negative results.  What now?

Lucky for you, you've become lost during a hike on the March break in the Canadian Wilderness.  Surrounding you is none other than the mighty Maple.  When you look at it you instantly think of Maple Syrup.

As nice as that thought is, that tree produces sap and not Maple Syrup.  The syrup is a product of many hours of boiling and temperature sensitive preparation.  If you've ever sat inside a sugar shack you will have undoubtedly experienced the steam of the evaporators.  That process of evaporation is the way the sap syrup is separated from the water.  The water is boiled off leaving just the syrup.

Depending who you talk to, the ratio of syrup to water is 1:50.  That means that 1 cup of syrup had 50 cups of water boiled off of it.

The reason I paint that picture is that you should now be realizing that the sap from the Maple tree is 98% water.  Precious water that can hydrate your body and organs and keep you alive.

Take that knife and work at carving a hole approx. 2-3 inches deep into the tree on the southerly facing side.  Find an evergreen branch and whittle it with your knife so that it's 3-4 inches long and index finger diameter.  Shape the branch like a water slide with a groove the whole length. 

Hole in a Maple tree ready for the tap.

Primitive Taps

Hollowed Tap

With your knife tap the branch into the carved hole in a slightly upward angle.

So, you've tapped the tree and placed your wooden tap into the tree.  You watch eagerly and soon observe the clear liquid collecting on your wooden tap.  What now?  How do I collect it?

Initially you'll probably just catch the sap on your tongue.  However, you'll want to return to your other tasks taking you away from the sap source.  If you do not have the knowledge or materials to make a primitive container the next best thing is your wool hat.

When your clothes get wet what do you do?  You take them off and ring them out of course.

So the concept is the same.  Place your wool hat under the tap and dripping sap.  When you return from your tasks it is very probable that your wool toque will be saturated with sap.  Simply hold the toque above your mouth and ring it out into your mouth.

Remember that in a true survival situation anything you can hunt, forage or collect that is edible and drinkable will increase your odds of surviving.  If you have nourishment your energy and morale will be much improved and therefor you will complete more tasks and live more comfortably until rescue.

If you allow yourself to become dehydrated your body will shut down.  That is an emergency whether you're on a canoe trip in August or lost in the bush in December.

Don't rely on the rivers and lakes for water.  You may never find them in the bush. 

Knowledge. Skills. Mindset.

Hydrate or Die !

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sit and See

In today's world rarely do we find the time to just sit and watch the world as it revolves around us.  We rarely get the chance to just be alone,  to just relax and to truly take a long deep cleansing breath of air.

I recently completed a task given to me by one of my mentors.  The task seemed very simple.  His instructions short and sweet.  He simple said "Sit and See".  I quickly asked for clarification as to where to sit and what I was to be looking for.

I'm quite sure that he expected those questions from me because most of us are the same.  We look for clear direction and a detailed list of tasks to complete in a set amount of time.  Well, it turns out that is exactly why he gave me that task.

He wanted me to escape from the world that has been created by me that revolves around social and financial pressures and return to a spiritual place even if only for a short time.  It did seem unnatural to be given a task that had no time limit, no true direction and no expectation.

However what I did not realize at the time was that the task could not have been any more natural.  In fact the task revealed to me what was at one time very natural and very necessary to survive during primitive times.

So with task in mind and backpack in hand I travelled out into the winter wilderness.  I travelled over the snow for awhile wondering where the best place to sit would be.  I considered the weather, the sun, the tree types and all other things that truly didn't matter.  Eventually I just sat.  I found a nice Maple tree and just sat.

At first I was flooded with thoughts of all those social and financial pressures.  Thoughts of the tasks at home I was neglecting by being in the bush.  However sometime along the way those thoughts faded as I watched a squirrel scurry from tree to tree gathering materials and food.

I could feel as the time went on that my body became relaxed, my breaths deeper and my awareness heightened.

I could hear the sounds of birds in the trees and the squirrels seemingly yelling at each other.  Everything appeared brighter and more vibrant.  There was the unmistakable smell of the forest filled with lively evergreens. 

It all seemed so amazing to me.  Yet I realized that what was truly amazing was that I hadn't moved in over an hour.  I had seen things with my own eyes that I had read about in tracking books and wondered if I would ever really see the snowshoe hare bounding less than 20 feet from where I sat.  Would I ever really watch a squirrel or a bird bounce from branch to branch singing and foraging.  Would I ever really be able to just sit at the base of a tree and allow myself to do virtually nothing.

When I left the bush that day I was filled with joy and stories of the sights, smells and sounds that I had experienced.  I shared the stories with my two young boys.  They were amazed at the wildlife I had seen and what I watched them do.

When I spoke to my mentor he was not surprised in anyway about my excitement and reaction to the task.  He merely stated "Now you get it."

We all have seemingly endless Honey-Do lists and social obligations.  We all find it hard to find time for ourselves and when we do, we feel we must justify them to all who surround us.  However there is no greater gift that you can provide yourself than a quick spiritual retreat. 

It may only take 20 minutes but that time will ease your stress, lower your blood pressure and provide a true escape and return to nature.  While we are busy as a species trying to constantly evolve and change, our wilderness cousins are simply surviving.  Completing tasks the same way they have for all there lives.  Prey and Predator. 

Just sit and you'll see. 

Find time this weekend and just walk 5 minutes into the bush area and just sit.  When you return send me an email and share your experiences.  Tell me what you see, smell and hear.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Jewel of a Weed

As we quickly approach the spring season our friends, family and neighbours will start travelling into the great Canadian wilderness to enjoy its blooming beauty.

For us winter warriors who truly enjoy the great outdoors and true challenges that winter brings we struggle to match the excitement of the fair weather roamers.  However the body's desperate need for Vitamin D and a visual influx of colour we too will travel to trailheads, lakes, rivers and streams.

We will all meet there to travel and take in the sights, sounds and smells of mother nature as she awakes from her winter slumber.  As we travel along the trail we will undoubtedly travel left or right breaking trail through the bush for even just a brief moment to get a touch, a smell or just a simple photograph of a blooming flower or an animal gathering materials and edibles.

As we move through our day we will be filled with blissful exuberance and a feeling of true rejuvenation brought on by the endless sights and sounds of the spring or summer seasons.

However, there is no doubt that when some of us open our eyes and yawn for the first time after the previous days adventure we will experience that unmistakable urge to itch our arms.  You will initially think mosquito bite or maybe an ant bite or maybe .... No matter what you think, you're wrong and you know it. 

That itch is the result of leaving the trail to capture that amazing picture that you've already shared on Facebook or that amazing location you sat for a quick rest and a Cliff bar.  It's none other than Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy.  An irritating skin reaction to a plant which grows seemingly everywhere in Ontario.  If you've been exposed than just the mere mention of the weed causes you to scratch for no reason.  Well, I have become a true believer that everything harmful and irritating in the wilderness has a medicinal cousin created by mother nature to reward those who are willing to listen and learn the teachings and natural remedies of those who came before us.

When it comes to Poison Ivy, Mother Nature's natural remedy is the Jewelweed.  The Jewelweed is also known by such names as Touch-Me-Nots, Snapweed, Lady's Slippers and Snappers.

Jewelweed is an annual that grows in damp, shady areas as well as by streams and creeks.  This plant blooms from May through October producing an orange flower with dark red dots that hangs gingerly from thin green stems.  This plant is also well known for its flying seedpods which when disturbed can fly off the plant and travel up to 6 feet away releasing their seeds.

So if you become exposed to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak and you have the Jewelweed plant within reach simply slice open the stem and rub the juicy inside on the exposed or irritated location.  This juicy substance will ease the irritation and prevent its breakout for most people.

Jewelweed can also be collected when not immediately required and used to prepare a treatment for later use.  Simply by boiling the chopped Jewelweed you will extract a dark orange liquid.  Separate the liquid from the plant material using a strainer and then pour the liquid into ice cube trays and freeze.  When you are exposed to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak take a frozen Jewelweed cube and rub it over the effected area.  You will receive both the herbal remedy as well as the cool soothing relief of the ice.

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak exposures can be excruciating and long lasting.  2-3 weeks of utter discomfort can all but exhaust your summer holidays and create memories you never expected and wish you could forget.

Jewelweed, Touch-Me-Nots, Lady's Slippers...Whatever you call them - I love them !

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Swamp Cucumber

Make no mistake - I am neither a naturalist or a herbalist.  I am a student of survival.  So you will not see me wandering through the tall grass with basket in hand, whistling and collecting items to ground into flour or pickle to store in my cold cellar.

However, there are endless lessons to be learned from those who do.  In any survival situation your knowledge, your skills and your mindset will determine whether you live or die.  So, it should be no surprise that your ability to locate, identify and harvest wild edibles can play a major factor in your ability to survive and thrive in a survival emergency that may become a long term ordeal.

I am a big believer in keeping things simple.  When it comes to wild edibles this becomes very important.  There are many toxic and poisonous plants and trees out there that can be wrongfully identified very easily in a wilderness survival emergency.  That is why I like to teach the most commonly known, easily identified and most useful of the edible plants and trees found locally.

The swamp cucumber, bush zucchini or celery of the wild.  No matter what you call it, it is another one of mother natures true gifts for those who know of its seemingly endless uses.

Easily identified in the fall and winter seasons as the thin, tall stalk topped with the brownish white fluffy wool like material located in the ditches, swamps and other areas with shallow standing water.  In the summer and into the fall it is easily identified as being the "Hot dog on a stick" or brown cigar topped plant.

Whatever you call it and in whatever season you find it, the Cattail (Typha species) has many uses.

In the spring you will locate the new Cattail lush and green,  growing amongst the last seasons wool topped stalks.  The lush new plants will not yet be showing the hot dog top as the yet to be fertilized flower will be protected in a green sheath of leaves.  At this time of year and into the summer months the Cattail is a highly nutritious and edible plant.

Harvested Cattail Shoots
Ready to Eat
To harvest this wild edible you peel back the outer leaves and slide your fingers underneath the leaves and down the stalk toward the bottom of the plant just above water level.  Get a good grip of the stalk and pull straight up.  The plant will come free from the muddy water and display a root.  Peel the outer leaves off of the plant and it will reveal and a slimy, palish bottom portion just above the root.  Usually about 6-10 inches from the bottom.  Cut the plant where the pale portions meets the darker portion further up the stalk and then cut it from the root.  Peel away one more layer from the slimy portion and you have revealed the tasty and nutritious wild edible.

Whether you cook the plant or rinse it and eat it raw the Cattail shoot provides you with beta carotene, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C.  Making it a very important and potentially life saving plant to locate in a survival emergency.

In the summer and fall the female flowers are fertilized and transform into the familiar brown cigars or Hot dog looking plant.  These fertilized flowers can be opened to reveal seeds and white stringy material that be be dried and used for tinder and insulation.  The brown cigars can be utilized to transport fire and the smoke used as a bug repellent.

The stalks were utilized by the First Nations people to make arrows and other tools because the Cattail is known as being the only plant that grows naturally straight. 

The same stalk was also dried and utilized in primitive fire making for the hand drill spindle.

The slimy jelly like substance that can be collected from beneath the green leaves can be utilized as a topical first aid for use on cuts, boils, sores and as pain relief.

The dried leaves from the Cattail can be collected and weaved into mats, bedding, thatching for your shelters roof and baskets and as a natural fire tinder.

So whether it's for the edible swamp cucumber in the spring and early summer or for its tinder and tool making materials in the fall and winter.  Or whether it's for the herbal and medicinal uses year round.  The common Cattail is a plant to research, locate and utilize when out on your next nature walk or hunting excursion.

That swamp plant has the ability and materials to support and sustain you during a wilderness survival experience.  That statement alone makes it seem like an important plant to know.

Knowledge, skills and mindset. 

Arm yourself with the knowledge. 

Practise the skills. 

Prepare your mind.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vitamin C Anyone ?

Since man has roamed the earth we have hunted, gathered and forged for building materials, water and food sources.

Over the years our dependence upon the land has diminished as has our knowledge about the abundance of edible and medicinal plants and trees that exist just inside our local forest.

One of the most amazing gifts that mother nature provided us and the many scurvy sufferers of yesteryear is the White Pine.

When European explorers left their home country bound for new lands they packed their food holes with lemons.  Lemons were a known source of Vitamin C.  A vitamin necessary to ward of the evils of scurvy.  However, over the long journey their supplies of lemons were exhausted and many boat hands became extremely ill or perished due to the scurvy.

For those who were lucky enough to make it to land and sit amongst the First Nations people they received a gift greater than lemons.  They received the White Pine. 

The White Pine needles have long been utilized to make Pine Needle Tea.  A warm medicinal broth filled with Vitamin C known to rejuvenate the body and cure the common cold.

The pine needles found in clusters of five can be removed from the branch and chewed.  The juices that come from the needles can be swallowed and provide relief for mouth ailments as well as sooth the sore throat. (Don't swallow the needles)

Cooking the inner bark of the White Pine tree provides starches necessary during long journeys or exhausting work. 

The White Pine does not just provide edible and medicinal qualities but also many other bush craft and survival uses.

The dried pine sap on the outer bark can be collected, heated and mixed with charcoal and rabbit scat to make a very strong pine pitch glue.  That same dried pine pitch can be collected and melted over the cattail and ignited as a torch or candle.  The hard pine pitch can also be collected and left in it's hard form and used as fire starter or tinder.

The sap from the White Pine is also an antiseptic and is known to heal cuts, protect wounds and draw slivers from your skin.

Last but not least Naturalist and Herbalist have long fermented white pine needles with apple cider vinegar to make a medicinal tincture similar to cough medicine.

In Eastern Ontario we are surrounded by white and red pines.  Next time you're out for a walk in the forest take time to stop and study this amazing tree that provides so many gifts. 

Remember that there are many wonderful edible plants in our forested areas but there are also many toxic and poisonous ones as well.  Before you start picking wild edibles find a course with a respected teacher and learn how to identify the good from the bad.

If you're ever caught in a winter survival emergency you will quickly recognize that wild edibles are hard to come by.  However, the white and red pine maybe the very tree your sitting under while contemplating the peril you're in.  Look up.  Your survival meal may be right above your head !

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Wilderness Mind

I buckle the last strap of my snowshoes and stand up straight taking in a deep breath of what has become the most powerful of all medicines - the fresh air.  With backpack on and my favourite blade attached I begin my journey into what I consider my own piece of heaven.

I pass slowly through the beauty that is the Canadian Wilderness.  I hear can hear the thin crusted layer on the top of the snow breaking with each push forward of my snowshoes.  I watch as my own breathe helps determine the direction of the cool breeze.

I touch every tree as I pass it showing my respect and my deep appreciation for their strength, longevity and super powers.  I run my hand over its bark and I smell its powerful winter aroma.

I continue walking deeper into the bush following the signs of life.  The highways of hare, the footprints of fox and the wonders of the wolf.  Each one telling me where it came from, where it was going and along the way what they were doing.  They all leave their sign allowing their predators to track them and maintain mother earth's circle of life.

When I arrived at my spot I take a moment to draw in a long deep cleansing breath.  I remove my backpack and place it against my favourite mighty oak.  I clear a small swath of snow just enough to sit on my backpack with my back against the strong rounded trunk of that mighty tree.

It is there in the moments that follow that I truly find peace.  I close my eyes and take three deep cool breaths.  With each breath I rid myself of life's stresses.  The bills, the cars the worries of the world.  They disappear.  I feel reborn, renewed and my body rejuvenated.  I feel wonderfully unimportant amongst her beauty. 

I just sit and allow my senses to take over.  I smell the fresh clean air filled with the aroma of the pine family.  I see sheets waving in the wind from the amazing birch.  I hear the sweet sounds of the winter birds who show us that winter living is possible.  I feel the snow against my skin, cooling me and reminding me of my childhood when hours spent in the snow always yielded the pride of a snow fort.  As I look around my attention is drawn to the snowshoe hare moving gracefully through deep snow while camouflaged to the normal winter wanderer.

It is here that I feel closest to the earth.  It is here that it all makes sense.  It is here where I have discovered who I am and what is in important in my life. 

I sit here patiently and wait.  It is my patients and my respect of these gifts that brings me the reward of mother earth allowing me to see, hear, touch and smell all of her children.

It is right here, under this mighty oak, where I have found my wilderness mind.

It is here that I will take my boys.  I will bring them and say nothing.  I will not describe my feelings.  I will not tell them of the wonders that abound if they look.  It is here that I will allow my boys to discover their own wilderness mind.  It is here that their lives will change forever.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"Experience is a lot lighter than a backpack full of books" - Anonymous

Along the road of life we often find quotes or photos that seem to say it all.  This is one of those quotes for me.  When I read the quote it instantly resonated within me and took me back to several weeks ago when I had the opportunity to walk amongst two of my mentors.

Two bushmen in the truest sense.  These mentors have spent a combined 60 years hunting, trapping, teaching and just breathing the purest of forest air.

Although I am confident with my knowledge and skills I am forever to be a student in the art of survival, bushcraft, primitive living and tracking.  I was truly humbled to spend several days soaking in the teachings and demonstrations that these two bushman provided me about track identification, den and lay identification, scat identification, trapping, scent masking, prey and predator hierarchy, and tool uses.

Over the past 10 years I have read every book relating to wilderness survival, mammal tracking, tree identification, etc. that I could get my hands on.  However there is never going to be enough pictures or videos on the Internet or enough diagrams in a book to truly teach you not only the skill but the history, the importance and the relevance to those who truly lived depending on these skills.

There is no substitute for hands on experience.  However true hands on experience comes from being mentored and being allowed to touch, smell, see, taste and hear it first hand.  In the bush with the wild wilderness that we so deeply love.

You can read all you want.  You will acquire the knowledge but you will not master the skill.  Take your knowledge and and your backpack to the bush and play with what mother nature provided us - The Great Canadian Wilderness.

Follow the animals.  Find out where the came from, where they're going, what they did along the way and you will then feel the deep connection that Tom Brown Jr. has been describing and teaching for years.

Leave the books at home. Your backpack will thank you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moisture - A Serious Enemy

We all know that moisture in cold weather situations can cause discomfort and even hypothermia.

However moisture can effect the most primal task in a winter survival emergency - Starting Fire.

Your ability to start and maintain fire could be the difference between you surviving or dying.  Therefore you should be aware that mother nature and the moisture she produces in the winter months could cause great difficulty in your ability to collect suitable dry tinder, good kindling and even burnable larger fuel.

In the summer months we find ample sources of tinder in the form of dried grasses, milkweed, cattail, mosses and other great accelerants.  The winter months however make locating these same natural tinders very difficult.  If you do find them they have been exposed to fall rains and winter freeze.  If you are successful in collecting them you will immediately feel the moisture and experience their stubbornness in lighting.

As we all know, if you don't have quality tinder you will not light your kindling.  If you can't light your kindling, you can't burn your larger fuel.  Obviously you will have no fire.

Without attempting to describe weather systems it is common knowledge that in the winter months the change between high and low pressure systems bring various types of precipitation and changes in extreme temperatures.  All of these changes bring moisture that saturates the trees, grasses, mosses and air that surrounds us.

We have all seen that in the summer and fall months we are often reminded of fire restrictions.  If you live in Eastern Ontario surrounded by red and white pine you will have experienced a spreading brush fire that can eat up an entire area of forest in moments.

However in the winter we can enjoy a large warming fire in the same location with very little risk of fire.  In our courses we teach the use of the "Roman Candle" as an emergency smoke signal to aid in rescue.  The Roman Candle is when you light the peeling bark paper on a silver, grey or yellow birch tree that causes the entire bark of the tree to become engulfed in flames that produce a large amount of smoke.  We would never think of doing such a thing in the summer months.

While working on my bow drill fire kit I experienced the effects of moisture first hand.  The fire board and drill I was using had produced many coals and was my go to kit.  Yet as the smoked rolled I was not successful in 6 attempts due to the moisture that flowed near ground level.

So moisture has pros and cons.  If you are not aware of them they could haunt you in a survival emergency.  Be sure to carry a Ziploc bag filled with summer tinder.  It takes up very little space in your pack but could mean the difference between obtaining a fire or not obtaining a fire in a winter survival emergency.

Don't underestimate mother nature and her ability to make things very difficult.  Don't chance it - Be prepared !

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Just Let Me Do It !

Well, those are the words my 4 year old uttered to me with a scowl on his face.  I was doing my best to teach him about the finer points of the snow cave and its importance as a survival shelter.

I was using my best instructional voice, I was down on my knees at his level, I had provided him with his own shovel.  However hard I tried to instruct him he made it very clear that he knew more about survival shelters than I gave him credit for.

He was right.

I sat back and gave way to the boy realizing that of my two kids he was the one that had always been addicted to all things wilderness and survival. Not sure where he gets that from !!

Armed with his shovel and an over sized winter hat he dug into the massive snow pile with unwavering energy and determination.  Each time I attempted to assist or provide guidance I received the look ! We all know the look usually given by our wives but I was receiving it with amazing similarities from my 4 year old.

Within the hour my 4 year old have hollowed a cave large enough for him to sit and lay in without any problems. 

I`m not sure who learned more that day him or I.  I was forced to sit back and watch as he figured out how to dig the cave through a series of errors and successes.  In the end he triumphed.  He was so proud of himself as was I.

Children who are exposed to the wonders of the great Canadian wilderness are filled with energy to explore, to play and to create with what mother nature provides them. 

When my son attempted to tell his mother about his creation she stated `That`s great! You made a snow fort.` Well the young lad did not care for that characterization of his hard work and responded sharply `It`s not a fort ! It`s a survival shelter mom !` She was quickly put in her place.

Just let me do it !  Well I did and I couldn't have been more proud.  Kids are eager to create.  Give them the canvass and the brush and let them do it. You will be amazed by how much they have learned by watching and listening to you.