Going on a Nature Walk at Work - Cattails, Juniper Berries, and Mors Kochanski

I took 30 minutes over my lunch today to walk the 1-mile track around the building where I work. The trail is overgrown and winds back behind the farther parking lot area - no-one else appeared to be walking at that hour. The temperature is 3 degrees below freezing and the wind was brisk. I had on a cotton t-shirt, a thin dress wool sweater (for work), and on top of that I put on my $3 Salvation Army wool sweater (for my camping and outdoors use), a thick felt coat, and thick, insulated leather work gloves. Knowing I wasn't going to be out for long, I didn't wear my outer layer wool pants (again, from the Salvation Army - they sell a lot of wool for cheap!), and after all I think I'd look a bit silly pulling them on over my polyester and viscose blend dress pants in the office.

In keeping with Mors Kochanski's dictum "The more you know, the less you carry...." I am beginning to attune myself to the flora around me and learn the uses of plants and fungi, and materials in the wild, and so I walked slowly and observantly.

On my walk, I strolled past burdock plants, gone to seed and dried. I believe at this time of year the roots are at their biggest, storing all the energy for a new year. Dig them up, roast them up and you have easy carbohydrates.

Clusters of berries on juniper shrubs were numerous and a wonderful bright blue - these would add vitamins and flavour, and some carbohydrates in a stew. I imagine they would make a refreshing, albeit slightly bitter, tea.

A dead tree trunk, festooned with several pounds of oyster mushrooms waiting for me to roast, or boil up. They're still waiting.

From the dead trees, thick, broad shingles of bark lay about the ground - these would make great water-shedding shingles for a shelter.

20 foot high tangles of dried wild grape vines would contribute quick cordage and some structure to a shelter - similar to Mors Kochanski's 'Super Shelter' design. The cedar and juniper bushes would thatch holes, and so would pine and spruce boughs.

Thick nodules of dried pine resin would patch and would make a great fire starter for the generous amounts of dead-standing firewood laying and standing around the path.

Getting a fire going with my carbon Mora and a piece of quartz stone laying around the trail would require grabbing the plentiful growths of weed head fuzz, fluffy seed pods and cattail heads for easy tinder.

The cattail fluff in abundance can be pushed into the seams of clothes for insulation, and to make an easy duvet or blanket on which to sit. Just mind you don't get the fluff near your eyes, it can be quite irritating (I can say that from experience!).

The cattail rhizomes laying under the water make a good tasting and carbohydrate rich meal (here, however, I am not talking from experience - next time I go camping or walking in the woods near some cattail rushes, I am going to cook some up over a fire and try them...).

An overturned trunk revealed a partially enclosed shelter area which could be nicely built out for warmth, comfort and protection from the elements.

Were I to decide impulsively not to return to the office one innocent day, I could make up a nice little camp for a while, until at least the security patrols asked me to leave the property...



Videos of Monty the Beagle - Toys, Camping and Eating

I thought I'd post a few videos of Monty today.

Here is Monty playing a game with his kibble - for a time this was the only way he'd begin to eat. Even now he'll sit by his bowl and squeak, until I 'prime the pump' and feed him a couple by tossing them on the ground towards his feet. He likes this game.

Here is Monty carefully eating a roasted marrow bone.

Here is Monty going for a walk in the valley behind our house.

Here is Monty with his Garfield toy.

Here is Monty snuffling about, trying to locate a pesky chipmunk.

And here is Monty staying out of the rain while in Algonquin Park.

Hope you enjoyed them,


Bushcraft Course with Mors Kochanski - Shelters, Theory and the Survivo-9000

In the last few posts, I have been blogging about a bushcraft course taught by Mors Kochanski at Tim Smith's Jack Mountain Bushcraft & Guide Service in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire that I attended a couple of weekends ago.

On Sunday we learned about clothing, shelters and the Survivo-9000®.

Mors described several different kinds of fires for different purposes, but in hindsight thinks that perhaps the only important one to focus on in the boreal forest is the parallel fire.

We used this to keep us warm during the evenings. I haven't really used these much in my camping, as often the camping fire areas are rounded and surrounded by stones set up by previous campers.

Now that I am going to be using a tarp, a parallel fire will reflect heat into the shelter area and keep me toasty and warm.

Another fire type is the wall-back fire. This is the layout that allows the fire to heat the wall behind the fire (whether it be made of stacked logs or of stone), such that the back re-emits stored energy as infrared radiation. This can be combined with a parallel fire of course.

This is important if you have limited fuel supplies or if the temperature differential (between you and the environment) is extreme.

Mors brought up the topic of fasting. I guess I have always thought of the classic dictum: "Fire, Shelter, Food, Water" (but not necessarily in that order) as being the main priorities in a survival situation, but he reminded us that we can go without food for a couple of weeks by entering a fasting condition, and so I shall update my dictum to "Fire, Shelter, Water".

Food can wait. Sleep cannot.

Tim Smith brought out his patented Survivo-9000®. It consisted of a large flashlight, some duct-tape, a cup and some other strange objects affixed to an axe. This was in jest of course, but it underscored Mors' serious message about not relying on a Survival Kit, unless you yourself have used, tested and carefully thought about the kit itself. Relying on a store-bought one is a dangerous mistake.

Another important point: It is better to be hungry than fatigued in cold weather - being fatigued will lead to mistakes, like a cut from a poorly positioned knife or axe, or tripping and hurting your ankle etc...

When reviewing a survival or even a minimal camping kit, the priority questions you need to ask yourself are how a kit item meets your sleeping, fire and water needs.

The image above is a moose hide soaking. I think this facilitates the removal of the hair, in preparation for tanning.

I haven't brought up any details about the clothing, and shelters that we learned about - but I will follow up in more details in the coming days. In the meantime, hope you've enjoyed the next round of pictures from the trip...



Bushcraft Course with Mors Kochanski - A Walk in the Woods

I have been blogging about a bushcraft course taught by Mors Kochanski at Tim Smith's Jack Mountain Bushcraft & Guide Service in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire that I attended a couple of weekends ago.

On Sunday, the weather had cleared up - the remnants of the hurricane that had blown up into New Hampshire was pushed out to sea by the winds overnight, revealing the multitude of stars from my sleeping bag beneath an open tarp.

In the morning we all awoke and assembled by the fire in the middle of the field between the trees. Off we wandered then into the woods again and learned more about the plants and ways of the woods.

We hardly went a few feet without Mors stopping to identify some sort of medicinal, edible, noxious or otherwise useful plant.

I nibbled on partridge berries, and plantain seeds. I poked at mushrooms and fungi, puffed puffballs and cut open the blisters on balsam bark to smell and touch the high-fractionate sap used to salve wounds and burns.

Finding our way through the woods was easy but by yourself in the deep backcountry it is advisable to make a trail, or a blaze - by marking trees, and ensuring you can always see at least two markings at once, you should endeavor to make every third blaze on the other side of the tree line, in case you get turned around by accident.

I have gotten lost (but soon found my way out of the woods) within a couple hundred feet of a camp in the woods, it is ridiculously easy to get lost. Thinking you cannot get lost is a mark of hubris - hence careful preparation and ensuring that you have the proper supplies on your person at all times - means for fire, shelter, and water at least for 72 hours.

In the high-stakes bush, and in the case of extremis you should only do something if you know it for certain. Many mistakes happen when you use common sense.

It's strange - we are always taught to rely on common sense when in a strange situation. But in the backcountry, it is critical to slow down, and do everything you can to stave off panic before invoking 'common sense'. Sit down. Make your body relax. Acquaint yourself with the surroundings. Calm yourself, then calmly proceed and only in a manner that you know for certain.

More photos and scribblings on my trip soon again.



Bushcraft Course with Mors Kochanski - Jack Mountain Bushcraft & Guide School

I attended a bushcraft course taught by Mors Kochanski at Tim Smith's Jack Mountain Bushcraft & Guide Service in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire last weekend. After the 15 1/2 hour drive through the Adirondacks from Toronto, I arrived - having been surreptitiously tailed by Decado - in a small field in the woods on the property.

I set up my tarp quickly, and a few of us settled down for a quick hot chicken stew in the darkness - the darkness brightened by a propane lantern hung just outside of the A-Frame building comprising the kitchen setup.

We assembled around a fire, and met one another, chatted and munched and drank. That night I slept poorly - while the drive had tired me right out, I woke up congested and feeling uncomfortable and awkward and aching several times.

I realized in the middle of the night that I had set up my tarp on a slight decline in the field, and that the opening - and the place I was to rest my head - was at the bottom of this decline.

Note to self - be more careful because fatigue is a very bad thing when in the backcountry (picture slipping with an axe, picture falling from a canoe, picture scalding yourself with boiling water from a pot hung over the fire...) and a nice night's sleep makes all the difference.

After I opened my food dry sack and made a quick breakfast of 3 instant oatmeal packages (cinnamon and apple flavour), with raisins, dried dates, dried mango slices, milk powder and boiling water in my camping mug, and a large instant coffee hit in a small Nalgene bottle, we all assembled in a finished room in Tim's house for lessons.

We started at 9:00 sharp, and Mors Kochanski began to cover off the concepts of survival and living in the bush, and what it takes to have a proper education in bushcraft and northern living. He is full of wonderful anecdotes and rapid fire stories and facts.

His passion comes out obviously during teaching. We each got a thick sheaf of notes and diagrams, some from his publications and other articles copied from magazines and newspapers. It was a great beginning - the theory and thoughts and opinions led by Mors and shared amongst us all reminded me that there are others out there who find this kind of subject matter interesting (i.e. we are not all nuts).

There were around 8 of us in total, each with different backgrounds. Decado and I were the Canadians (plus Mors Kochanski of course) and there was a deep sea diver, an ex-marine F4 Phantom pilot, a FedEx worker/long distance hiker, a bushcraft school teacher, an industrial equipment salesman, plus Tim Smith himself - others joined and left over the weekend. (Sorry if I haven't added all of your names in - leave me a comment on this post please or e-mail me so we can chat!).

At noon we assembled in the field and went off for a hike in the woods. I brought a Nalgene bottle of lemon aid, some beef jerky and a possibles bag to carry it all about in. We learned about mushrooms and plants, and how to identify them, what uses there are for them and more. I absolutely loved this - this trip has ignited in me a fresh interest in flora.

For example, on my 1 mile walk around the company campus where I work, I found a tree stump covered in Oyster mushrooms - edible and worth a good chunk of money (if I were to sell them on the edible mushroom exchange).

From polypore to bolete, from lycopodium to puffball - we saw what could be eaten and learned what to avoid. Herbs and medicinal plants are everywhere, if you look carefully enough and learn enough about the flora. I can't wait until my next trip into Algonquin Park.

I intend to buy a good book on mushrooms and a separate one on other flora of Ontario.

Mors recommended a good method to learn about plants - get a blank notebook and some contact film and collect plants and press them, and make notes on the pages. By doing this, you will soon become familiar with these plants and mushrooms and this is a good start towards a good education about flora.

I have more images from the weekend, stay tuned and I'll be posting them soon enough.



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