'Twas the Night before Bahmas (The Story of St. Mungo and Team of Beagles)

Twas the night before Bahmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Mungo soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny beagles.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Mungo.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now bah away! Bah away! Bah away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Mungo too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little beagle paw.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Mungo came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Bahmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
Happy Bahmas everyone and hope you have a great New Year.

Shooting The Moon, On A Campfire Kind of Night

Shooting The Moon, On A Campfire Kind of Night
I shot the moon tonight, the night after the lunar eclipse. It is a brilliant full moon, and I wasn't able to do it justice. But it is a perfectly wonderful night, and I wish I was camping in the woods with a warm campfire, sitting on a log, covered in a wool blanket.

Shooting The Moon, On A Campfire Kind of Night
That would be perfect.

Hope you're having a nice night,


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Repost: My Lunar Eclipse Photos from February, 2008

Thought I'd repost this on the eve of the Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse (which hasn't happened since something like 1650)... We get 2 lunar eclipses each year, but having it happen on the Winter Solstice is apparently rare. Anyhoooo.... have a look and a read below!


I heard about the lunar eclipse that was happening this evening, so I grabbed my digital camera, my big Nikon 12x50 5.5º binoculars and went out into the backyard.

The weather is perfect for taking pictures, with not a cloud in sight. It is cold, and clear.

In case you've forgotten (or never really knew, as in my case), a lunar eclipse takes place when the earth gets right in the way of the sun, (i.e. right exactly between the sun and the moon) such that the earth's shadow (lighter shadow is the penumbra, and the much darker umbral shadow appears later) appears across the face of the moon. The blood-red or orange colour is the result of the final bits of sunlight that are able to refract around the earth's atmosphere - the earth's atmosphere blocks the blue light and allows through predominantly the red portion of the spectrum which we see. Here in Toronto, the eclipse starts at 8:43 PM and will end just around midnight. The dark umbral Earth shadow will start to change the moon's colour around 9:00 PM and total eclipse will occur at 10:01 PM. Again, the moon will slip out of the dark umbral shadow and sit in the penumbral shadow until about 10:50 PM.

I used a lawn chair as a camera rest on this very cold night (about 15 degrees below Centigrade) and huddled in my pajamas, wrapped in a scarf, hat, 2 sweaters and a coat and shot off a few pictures. At first, most were pretty blurred as it was hard to control holding the binoculars in one hand, resting as firmly as possible on a lawn chair that was unstable on ice coating the bricks out back - and then with my other hand carefully holding the digital lens into one of the binocular lenses... Anyway, it seems to have worked pretty well and I got the hang of it after a while - necessity is the mother of invention so they say.

Here is the clearest shot I could take at 7:20 PM - the moon looks rather yellow - it was still about 30 degrees from the horizon and so I think the atmosphere was lending a deeper colour to it. The colour is not related to the eclipse.

This next one is really clear - I took this and the next three shots at 8:20 PM - the colour had whitened up as the moon had climbed the sky more to about 40º.

8:20 PM again. A branch from the neighbour's tree got in the way of this picture - but the combination of the camera lens and binocular really picks up great details of the moon's surface.

8:20 PM again. There is a blueish glow at the top of the moon - caused by the distortions of the lenses, not due to the moon's inhabitants hosting a late night baseball game and using high-powered sodium lamps to light up the stadium. The cold air has made me quite hilarious, you see. I am all a-twitter. I run inside for a moment to tell Spring. Spring is bundled up in bed, and promises to look at the photographs. That means she's not going outside. For a second I see myself as a deranged fool dressed in pajamas with an overcoat looking like Dr. Who. And then the insight goes away as I fumble my way out the back door again.

9:10 PM. The eclipse has begun! For some reason, perhaps because I had to move the lawn chair to a less stable area on the snow, the images are not as clear. Here though you clearly see the umbral shadow cloaking the brightness of the moon. Watching it through binoculars is magical really - quite amazing to observe. It's as though someone is drawing a dark, heavy cloth across the luminous surface of the moon.

9:15 PM. This one is taken without benefit of the binoculars - straight through the digital camera lense. Not great. But shiny.

9:26 PM. The umbral shadow has occluded about 50% of the moon's surface. I can hear the clattering of doors around the neighbourhood as people duck out into the cold night to see it. Planes occasionally track through the sky - I wonder if the pilots and passengers are looking, or if they are too caught up in the in-flight showing of Die Hard, and gin and tonics.

9:45 PM. Sixteen minutes until full eclipse - it's getting close. My fingers are beginning to freeze off. The pain has receded, only to be replaced with a slightly frightening numbness. My fingers don't work very well, hard to click the shutter button. It was Captain Lawrence Oates on the ill fated Scott Expedition to the South Pole who said "I am just going outside and may be some time" and deliberately left his tent and went out into a blizzard in an effort to save the rest of his compatriots by leaving them with more food. I am not at that stage yet, but it is sure is chilly.

9:47 PM. This one taken without binoculars. Kneeling on mitts in the snow. Knees cold. Monty is now outside running around in the snowy paths that I made for him the other day. He has located his stick and is galloping full bore around the backyard, proud as a peacock. Now he is peeing. Sorry, back to the moon.

9:55 PM. Shadow almost taking up all of the moon - it is looking a lot more dim in the sky, and the stars around it are beginning to show brightly. A dirty orange glow - soothing and a bit scary in a way.

10:00 PM. If you look at these photos, you can really see the 'man in the moon'. Just a slice of brightness remains. Amazing.

Well, that was fun. I'm inside now, my fingers have warmed up, and I'm getting tired. Time to go to sleep and hope that the moon returns from its eclipsed state and that the sun rises in the morning and that everything goes back to the way it is supposed to be.

We shall see.



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20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
This little project should take you about 20 minutes at most. Mors Kochanski recommends making one of these in his book 'Bushcraft' (of which I have a signed copy!)...

I had all the ingredients needed in my basement: 600 grit wet and dry sandpaper, double-sided carpet tape, a scrap of wood for mounting the sandpaper, a cutting board (another scrap of wood), a pencil and a piece of paper.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
First of all, I applied two strips of double-sided carpet tape to the wood, ensuring the application was nice and flat. That is, I didn't overlap the tape, just kept the joint between it very close (about a 5th of a millimeter at most).

This is a pseudo-action picture, showing the tape cover being removed in a curly manner. Just imagine the fervour with which I was removing the cover strip. Close your eyes, and imagine. Okay. You're done.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
Then I traced the wood with a mechanical pencil onto the rough side of the sandpaper. I could have done this prior to the previous step. It isn't that complicated. You'll see. Trust me.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
Then I carefully and evenly adhered the sandpaper roughly positioned over the wood. The tracing line was just to ensure I didn't miss any area of wood. You don't want any raised areas under the sandpaper. I should have mentioned earlier that the board needs to be nice and flat, absent of any dents, bumps or hiccups.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
I flipped the wood over - and using a sheet of plywood - trimmed the sandpaper cleanly to the edges of the board.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
Flip it over and admire your precision achievement, as I have done above. Admire.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
Tidy up the bottom. This is another action-shot. I carefully staged it.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
Create a paper template and draw a handle shape on the bottom part of the wood. As above. Fold the paper over to make a symmetrical handle shape. Or do it free-hand if you are feeling wild and crazy.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
You may now dispose of the paper template, or recycle it.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
Now cut the handle to shape. Use your knife. Even though it isn't as sharp as it will be soon.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
You can drill a hole in the handle and attach a lanyard to it. You can sand the handle smooth and apply some oil to stain it. You can apply gold leaf to it to really jazz it up.

20 Minute Knife Sharpening Board Tutorial
The final step is to use it. Wet the paper. I held mine under the bathroom tap and sharpened the knife there. Stop the water flowing, and let a slurry of metal paste build up as you slowly work the blade over the paper. The speed with which you stroke the blade over the abrasive is much less important, as holding the bevel is carefully to the surface. You'll get faster over time.

You'll need to stroke the knife probably 30 times per side. Then it will be ready for stropping on a leather strop (I use an old belt, tied to the wall). Stropping will remove the 'wire' that builds up on the edge as a consequence of sharpening or honing the blade.

A good sharp knife can slice through a piece of typing paper with no additional pressure other than the weight of the knife. Also, you know the knife is ready for surgery (seriously), cutting meat, shaving, or cutting wood if you can shave hair with the blade from a wet forearm painlessly. You'll only need to touch the blade up from time to time after this.

If you have any questions, e-mail me or leave a comment below.



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Videos - Making Fire in Wet and Cold Conditions: Wilderness Survival Skills

These are amazing videos from Hedgehog Leatherworks on how to make fire in wet and cold conditions - useful now that winter has arrived here in Ontario. This guy is a great presenter, I am really impressed. Enjoy!

How To Make Fire In Wet Conditions Part 1

How To Make Fire In Wet Conditions Part 2

How To Build a Self-Feeding Fire - Wilderness Survival Skills

Enjoy making your next campfire...



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First Snowy Hike of the Winter

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
Went for a nice hike into the valley behind our house around lunch today.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
The sky was clear, and it was accordingly cold.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
Few signs of animals, a few red squirrels scampering about. Chickadees, Cardinals, and Robins flitting amongst the trees.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
The river was beginning to freeze up.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
I unpacked my napsack, and laid out my wool blanket. I brought a saw, some bread, evaporated milk, my stainless steel camping mug, my Mora 510 blade, a Light My Fire mess kit (the green item in the back), a kettle, along with a Trangia alcohol stove, a Nalgene full of water, my arctic mitts, some pre-cooked rice in a bag, and some curry in a bag.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
I was ready to go.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
I also brought some fatwood slivers and some cotton impregnated with vaseline for a firestarter.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
First order of business was to make a cup of tea.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
Then using the remaining water, I heated up the rice and curry.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
I used my saw to cut dead wood up and make a big fire.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
Soon the food was ready, and I carved a simple utensil to eat it all with.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
I sat and enjoyed myself for a while - I was nice and toasty. I was wearing wool socks, wool pants, a wool sweater, my shearling hat, and gloves with hand warmers in them (the ones that contain iron oxide, charcoal and salt).

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
When my tea cooled down, I heated it up and added some more water.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
The fire was perfect.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
After about an hour, I rolled up my blanket, and began to pack things away. I don't have a proper outdoor saw (other than a largish bucksaw which requires assembly - not great in the cold), so I brought my tool set specimen. I think for Christmas I'm going to ask for a folding saw.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
In a wink, I was ready to go.

First Snowy Hike of the Winter - Curry and Hot Tea
I made my way back past the rushing stream and came home. A nice walk on a nice day.



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My Warm Military Arctic Gloves, Licorice Allsorts, a Ferret and a bag of Jelly Tots

This is a re-post from a couple of years ago, but I wanted to share it again. The first snow of the year fell on Toronto today, and it is beginning to get cold. I pulled out my shearling hat, and was happy to remember that I had put my arctic gloves in my car trunk. Next time I go for a hike, and it is VERY cold, I'll have them handy.

The other week I went to the local army surplus store and poked around the racks and stacks of the stale smelling offerings. It's quite nice there, if you can get past the awkward people who examine you as you browse the products they sell. I came across a wire basket containing wool socks and grabbed a couple of pairs to leave in my car trunk for an emergency. As I lifted up the package, I saw beneath it a pair of military arctic gloves. Now these gloves are (as far as I can figure) the ultimate in gloves for cold weather. They are issued by both the Canadian and the U.S. military to be used in the arctic bases (North West Territories, Alaska etc...) so I figure they've had some extensive testing. Currently it is -18° Centigrade, or -30° Centigrade with the wind chill. That's -1° Fahrenheit, or -22° Fahrenheit with the wind chill.

They are big. I have big hands - my piano teacher even said so back in grade 10 - and this pair reads 'Medium' and I can fit my hand plus a live ferret, a half pound of licorice allsorts and an unopened bag of Jelly Tots into just one glove.

They have detachable liners that can be dried out in case they get soaked with perspiration, or just mucky.

The leather palms are made of horsehide. Horsehide is known for its rugged durability. Most of those WWII US Air Force leather jackets were made of horsehide leather for this reason.

Canvas draw-tabs and straps allow you to pull the wide gauntlets over your thick winter jacket's sleeves and then pull them tight. Small canvas loops are there to attach to a lanyard so that you won't drop them in the deep snow - I am going to use some 550 paracord to make some nice decorative and tough lanyards.

Finally, the back of the glove is covered with thick woolen fleece. This allows the user in extremely cold weather to wipe frost from their faces and beards without running the risk of scratching numbed, unfeeling facial flesh with cold-hardened plastic or rough edges. It is also useful just to hold against cold cheeks and noses etc... to warm them up quickly in case of impending frost nip.

I wore them down into the valley recently (second picture, hanging from the tree), and while it was very cold outside, my hands felt warm as though they were inside my coat pockets while standing in my living room at home. The wool liner insulates, and the layering effect traps air inside.

My only complaint was that they were so loose, I found myself trudging through the snow, holding my hands up and out like a surgeon who has just scrubbed up and is ready to examine the appendicitis in room 327, as soon as the nurse slips on his latex gloves. That was tiring after a while. Adding the lanyards would help that, and so would wearing a very light cotton or wool mix pair of gloves inside the gloves for a bit of friction. I'd recommend that anyway, so that if you need to be dexterous, you are still at least protected from the extreme cold if you have to slip the big gloves off.

I keep them in my car trunk, just in case an avalanche catches me unawares and I need to camp in the forest for a few days.



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