Tired, Cold and Happy

It was 10 degrees below freezing, and the wind was blowing hard when Monty and I left the house for a walk down into the ravine this afternoon. Anticipating the cold, I had a shirt and 2 wool sweaters on, my shearling bomber hat, thick leather and fleece gloves, wool pants with a pair of track pants beneath, wool socks and my winter boots on. I should have brought a scarf to keep my neck warm - this, like the head, the arm pits, and the groin (yes, I just wrote groin, and yes, you just read groin), is a significant area of heat loss and must be covered up. My cheeks were cold and you can see how they are rosy red in the pictures below. Monty wore his leash. He is naturally cosy in his fur coat, and is covered with a layer of fat that I am trying to reduce by virtue of our little walks. I too, am covered with a layer of fat that I am hoping to reduce by virtue of our little walks.

Spring and I got a gift certificate to Chapters book store for Christmas, and last week Spring ordered a book that I wanted - Peterson's - A Field Guide to Edible Plants; Eastern and Central North America. Since my bushcraft course in November taught by Mors Kochanski down at Tim Smith's Bushcraft & Guide School, I have been trying to learn more about the flora of my territory, the plant life that I never really learned about growing up while I was thoroughly involved in television, computers, wandering down paved roads and driving around drinking Tim Horton's coffees while driving in steel, plastic and glass cars. Before going I made the decision not to bring this book with me, as it was so cold and I couldn't really see myself poring over and thumbing through the pages to identify edible plants. And it was cold. The rotted logs weren't rotting, it was so frigid.

The loud crack of a frozen tree swaying in the wind sent Monty running like hell towards me and away from the noise. His ears were thrown back in fear. But he quickly recovered his composure and began to sniff out invisible tracks.

The wind was high, and overhead, clouds raced by.

I came across a sapling that had been cut or broken off probably last spring, and since then suckers had grown from it like Medusa's hair. Amazing stuff, suckers, also known as Basal shoots - this is a significant way for willows to propagate.

I went right past the birch tree from which I had previously harvested a small amount of bark for tinder. Not certain if I was going to have a campfire, I also do not want to denude that tree any more. Birch bark is one of my favourite tinders. Even wet, the bark remains flammable because it is impregnated with oils. Birch wood rots quickly, and you will often find a downed birch tree laying in the forest - the wood rotted out and crumbling, surrounded by a hollowed out tube of bark - unaffected by the fungi and insects that break down the wood. As a tinder, the best way I have found to use it is to rapidly roll it between your open hands and break it down into finer fibers, into a dusty fluff. This material will catch a spark or a match very easily, even in damp or cold conditions. Birch bark can also be refined by heating it without oxygen - it will give up the oil for use as a waterproofing agent for wooden skis, canoes or a even the logs and planks in a building - it was used as a preservative that kept the British Royal Navy ships afloat, and kept their sheets (a.k.a. ropes) from decaying. The artificial flavorant 'Vanillan' (i.e. the cheap vanilla flavour found in many foods and drinks) is derived from birch bark. I just use it for tinder.

Some logs rot and turn into punky wood - the result of a dry white rotting fungus. This punky wood can be used as tinder, or as an absorbent material - it is used by Siberian natives - among others - as a diaper material for infants. It also makes for a nice fragrant smudge. If you mix this with chunks of false tinder fungus (which incidentally primarily grow on living birch trees) and light it, it will fill your campsite with a pleasant, fragrant smoke that keeps black flies and mosquitoes away. It makes a nice incense too.

It was very cold. Without my layers of wool and my shearling hat, I would have been much too uncomfortable to stay there for any period of time. I found a spot in the woods and remained there for an hour and a half at least. The pine and balsam trees shielded me from the winds. Pine resin leaked out of the trees, filling in any wounds to the bark. This is a flaky, fragile crystalline material once it has dried, and can be used for any number of uses - least of which is fire starting. I didn't start a campfire - I wasn't really in the mood for one for some reason. It was cold enough certainly, but I hadn't brought my axe to chop up wood, and I just didn't want to spend the time or effort assembling a pile of firewood. I was warm enough.

I found an abandoned closed-cell foam camping mattress laying in the undergrowth in the woods. It was covered in frozen leaves and debris and looked like it had been there for the winter. I used it as a windshield to help my propane-butane stove boil up some water for some soup. I don't really like this stove, I don't trust it as I can't see easily how much fuel is left. But I use it for day hikes, and rely entirely on my naphtha gas (white liquid Coleman gas) MSR Dragonfly stove for longer trips. I took the camping mattress home - it is useful to have a spare one, especially for those times when you have set up camp on a rocky or cold campsite.

My soup done, I tracked down Monty who was harassing some red squirrels and we both walked up and out of the ravine towards home. Both of us were tired, cold and happy.



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