Friday, December 31, 2010

The Other Side of Lost...

Situation Report-Tuesday, Dec. 28th 2010 4:45 PM
Temperature: 22 Deg. F
Substrate:snow/light powder, approximately 2'
Physical description: Female, average build, 5'4", blonde, wearing light blue jacket

Became separated from group of 6 cross country skiers while visiting 300+ acre woodland reserve in urban area...

A while back I was looking for inspiration for a blog topic, so I asked some friends what they'd like to see. Brian  suggested I write about what I do in a normal day in my job.  I got to thinking about how in my job as a naturalist there are no normal days. Which brings to to this post about my Tuesday.

Most of my day was pretty mundane, some program planning, some research, answering phone calls about injured Kestrels, renting out snowshoes, roof raking the nature center in preparation of some freezing rain in the forecast, helped a young couple get over their fear of snakes, the usual 9-to-5 type stuff.

I was wrapping everything up, and stowing away some of the last snowshoes returned at the end of the day when I looked up to see a coworker talking to two other women on the trail that leads to the parking lot.  Sound travels fairly well when it is cold, and the ground is covered with snow so I picked up bits and pieces of the conversation even at close to 100 yards distance.  Something about "She's wearing a blue jacket... on skis... was right in front of me... separated somehow..."

My co-worker came a ways back down the hill and related to me that a family had been out skiing on our trails when one of their daughters became separated from the group and the family, with help of some other hikers were out looking for her.  While my coworker came to tell me this the women she was speaking to turned and went back up the hill towards the parking lot.  I hoped in my truck and headed up the access road that leads from the nature center to the main parking lot and there I saw the two women I had seen before and another woman in a light blue jacket on cross-country skis.

Since I was officially done for the day, and the woman in the blue coat was found, I thought about just continuing on home, but I didn't.  I stopped my truck and walked down and asked "Everybody found now" to which a very worried looking woman replied "No, my daughter is still lost".  Turns out the women in the blue coat was the lost womans sister.  The mother explained that the family, six in all, had been out skiing.  Being of different skiing abilities the group had become spread out on the trail.  The woman who was lost had been somewhere in the middle of the group and it was assumed that she had taken a wrong turn that led her away from the rest of the group.

After a few questions and some clarifications of directions I had a fairly good mental picture of where the group had bee skiing, and a plausible mental scenario as to where the missing women might be. I followed a set of protocol I have developed through personal experience an some training, grabed snowshoes, and took off to where I thought I might find the missing woman. Which brings me to my inspiration for this post...

Coordinating Initial Search & Rescue (S&R Triage)
Am I an expert at S&R?  By no means, no.  I have however done a few, and I learned a lot about what needs to be done initially to get things rolling and hopefully find the person(s) fast because time can be of the essence.

Remain calm and appear confident:
When you find yourself in a situation where you are assisting someone else in searching for a missing person you must at least appear clam and confident.  Whomever you are assisting will likely be on the verge of panic (even if they don't show it).  Your relaxed demeanor will help to calm the people you are assisting.

Establish lines of communication:
It is important to exchange cell numbers (and to find out if the person you are looking for has a phone).  You'd be surprised how many people don't even think to call the persons phone.  Maybe they don't realize they are lost yet and are just having an enjoyable time outdoors.  Don't bother getting everyone numbers, exchange yours with one or two member of the party.  Now you can relay communications with developments as you go along.

While you are exchanging numbers find out what the missing persons name and what they are wearing (ask in the present tense i.e. "What are they wearing?" not "What were they wearing?").  Find out there approximate height, weight, and footwear.  Why foot wear?  If there is a good substrate, and you have tracking skills you can get a pretty good idea of what tracks to look for which can help with your search.

Establish last point of contact:
Find out where the person was last seen if they were part of a group.  You may be able to find their specific tracks and follow them.  DON'T WALK ON THEIR TRACKS!!!  Walk to the side so if you lose the trail you can go back and pick it up.  If they were not part of a group find out if there was a trail they used a lot, or a circuit they liked to follow.  People are creatures of habit.

Start looking:
Spread out, watch for signs, call out the persons name (then stop and listen).  Before you call out give three loud whistles to attract attention.  If the person is just lost and not hurt they should answer back, if they are unable to answer you need to keep your eyes out for parts of a person, not a whole person.  I'm not saying that they are so hurt that the forest will be littered with their parts, I'm saying odds are some of their body will be obstructed from view by trees, shrubs, tops, etc...

With luck you will find someone that simply took a wrong turn, or lost track of time.  They may be in need of first aid of some sort so it is important that you are prepared and know what you are doing.  If you spend much time outdoors it's a good idea to get some formal training in CPR and First AID.  Also keep in mind others when putting together your kit, it may not be you that needs it in a survival situation, but rather someone less skilled or prepared than yourself.

What do you do if you find someone and indeed the worst has happened?  To be honest, I don't know.  Most of the limited training I have received when I was with the U.S.F.S. didn't cover it. We would just radio in our coordinates and wait a plane with a LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) to arrive and take over.  In a situation where I was on my own (not part of an agency) I would call 911 before I even thought about contacting the friends or family that asked for my assistance.

Back to the woman I was looking for.  While I was out on the trail my phone rang and it was the womans mother.  The other members of her family returned, unable to find her and she asked if she should contact the police.  I told her that the more people we could get looking, the better.  It was getting colder and we were losing light fast.  If our skier was injured and or unconscious this could get dire fast.  I suggested that the more people we could get in the woods the better.  She decided she would wait a touch longer before contacting them.  She hung up and I continued scanning the floodplain timber and calling the womans name.  A few more minutes passed and my phone rang again.  The missing woman had just called, she was in a neighborhood to the south of the preserve and she had found a woman that was giving her a ride and letting her call her family with her phone.  Happy ending, yeah.

Most of the S&R's I've been involved in. scratch that, ALL the S&R's I have been involved in came about because people were not prepared, well informed or stupid (yes I said stupid).  Needless to say sometimes people get lost, or hurt on accident just no one I have ever had the pleasure of looking for.  So here are a few simple guidelines for staying found so I can go home to my family at a decent hour, and you don't return to yours "bagged and tagged".

1) Whenever possible travel in a group.
2) If you travel alone let someone know where you will be going, and when you will be back. I'm talking specifics, not generalities.  Highlighted trail maps, etc...
3) Learn to read a map.
4) Learn to use a compass.
5) Hope for the best; plan for the worst (make a simple light wait survival kit, learn to use it AND CARRY IT!)
6) When in a group the slowest member of the party always leads. ALWAYS!
7) If you have a cell phone, carry it, and turn it on.
8) If you have a GPS mark waypoints, especially where your car is parked. (Be sure you have extra batteries)
9) Learn CPR/Fist Aid
10) Again, make a simple light weight survival kit. Practice with it and carry it.  If it's too big you'll leave it behind.  The best survival kit you have is between your ears.  Be sure to use it.  Pay attention to your surroundings.  Don't just head to the woods to see how fast you can do the trails, that's what running tracks are for, my opinion I know, but still slow down, enjoy the woods, and pay attention.  If you are paying attention you won't get lost because you'll know where you are.

Any of my readers have experiences with S&R or (heaven forbid) getting lost they'd like to share?  I myself have never been lost, I have however been powerfully confused fro a couple of months (name the movie).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Guest Post from Wood Trekker: A Cheap Alternative to the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

Today's guest post is from Ross over at Wood Trekker blog.  Ross' blog is currently in my top five favorite blogs to read and I was very excited when I asked him if he would be interested in a guest post and he came back with this.  This post is very timely because I hope to be doing a post about my own personal axe (which is not a Gransfors Bruks).  Enjoy! 

We are all familiar with the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. It is arguably one of the most popular bushcraft tools, and is the axe of choice for many. One of the reasons why it has become so popular is that it is very compact and easy to carry. It has a head weight of 1.5lb and a handle length of about 20 inches. The big down side of the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe is the price tag. It costs well over $100.00. For many it is worth the price, but not everyone can afford it.

That is why I decided to try to find a lower cost alternative, which would provide a reasonable level of performance. After a lot of searching, I’ve reached the conclusion that there is no production axe other than the Wetterling ones, now also owned by Gransfurs Bruks which come close to the same specifications.

Recently I looked at the Collins Hunter’s Axe, but the quality was too low, and I found the 18 inch handle to be too short. For me, a small axe must have a handle of at least 20 inches. Snow and Nealley makes an axe with an 18 inch handle as well, but since I’ve found that length handle to be too short, I will not be testing it. Besides, the Snow and Nealley is not cheap at all.

Since I was not able to find a low cost production alternative to the Small Forest Axe, I decided to look at old axe heads and see if a particular type can be refurbished. Unfortunately, most old axes are of the full axe type variety, with a head of over 3.5lb. There certainly aren’t enough 1.5lb heads out there for people to start refurbishing them.

I did however luck out during one of my hatchet tests. I tested the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe as a hatchet, but noticed that the head was 1.5lb. That was too heavy for a hatchet, but the quality of the head seemed good. That is why I decided to try to do some work to one of them and see if I can easily make a Small Forest Axe substitute from it. I know that not everyone has access to a workshop, expensive tools or specialized skills, so I wanted to get it done with just basic tools.

After some work, the finished product was this:

Head by Northern Tool + Equipment, Handle by Gransfors Bruks
Axe Head Weights: 1.5 lb
Axe Length: 20 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: American hickory
Cost: $23.00

Here is how I made it:

I took a Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe. It cost me $10.00. I used a drill and a chisel to remove the head from the handle. It was very well glued so it took me some time to remove. I then used some sandpaper to remove all of the paint from the head.

One of the things that I noted during my review of the Northern Tool 24oz Camp Axe is that I thought the convex of the cutting edge itself was a bit too thick for my liking. The cheeks of the axe were the right thickness and the head overall had the right proportions, but the last 3/16 of an inch before the cutting edge was a bit thick. I’m sure that for many that thickness would be fine because it makes the edge more durable, but for the high performance axe that I wanted, it was too thick.

I remedied the situation by filing it down a bit. I used a 200 grit 8 inch file to do the job. It took me about 15 minutes of work. I would strongly recommend getting a file if you will be doing any work with cheap axes. It makes the sharpening process much faster, and you can pick one up for about $3.00. I then used a set of sharpening stones to get it sharp enough to cut paper. The thickness with which I ended up was very similar to that of the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, and was noticeably thinner than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (right).

Now that the head was ready, it was time to find a handle. I looked high and low for a good 20 inch handle, but could not find one. I eventually decided to just buy a Gransfors Brucks Small Forest Axe handle. They are very hard to find in the US. I found only one store (Country Knives) that carried them, and they were selling them for about $45.00, way too much for the intended goal. In the end, I ended up buying it from a UK site for $13.00.

I bought my handle here. They seem to however be quickly running out of stock. Some other sites where you can find a Gransfors Bruks handle are here, here, and here. Keep in mind that the price will fluctuate depending on the exchange rate. When you are shipping it from over seas make sure to use airmail rather than UPS. If you use UPS, it will cost you over $30.00. It is a waste of money. You may be able to find 20 inch handles by other manufacturers which I am sure will work fine. One good source can be found here.

Now came the time consuming part. I spend about two hours sanding and filing the handle so it would fit well in the axe head. I didn’t use any epoxy on the head itself, but I did use some to secure the wedge into the handle.

When the epoxy was dry, I took the axe into the woods for some testing. My hope was that I had made an axe that would not fall too far behind the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe.

The result was shocking. The axe I made noticeably outperformed the Small Forest Axe. So much so, that I decided to go back to a location where I had done some testing with the Small Forest Axe on a piece of 3.5 inch hickory. The last time I tested it, it took me 60 seconds to chop through it with the Small Forest axe. It took me 45 seconds to go through it with the new axe.

I believe the added performance comes from the thinner grind of the new axe. It is still convexed, but comes very close to the grind of a competition axe. Of course, my worry was that because the edge was thinner, after being used in hard wood, it would dull very quickly. When I came home, I tested it on a piece of paper, and it had no problem cutting through it. That was after going through an 8 inch piece of oak.

The new axe is a bit more likely to stick to the wood than the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe because it has more of a wedge shape, but I did a lot of chopping with it, and it was not a noticeable problem.

The balance of the axe is as good or better than the Gransors Bruks Small Forest Axe.

Other than the drill and chisel I used to remove the head from the old handle, these are all the tools I used to put together this axe: Gorilla glue epoxy, sandpaper, a 200 grit unidirectional grind 8 inch file, a hammer, and a set of sharpening stones.

I made a cheap sheath for it from some canvas material I had around.

The total cost was $23.00 and took me probably about five hours of work time to put together. This is not something that I do all the time, so my skill level is not high, nor did I use any special tools and equipment. The result is a $23.00 axe that can outperform the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. Try it for yourself and see.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Common Useful Plant Profiles: Common Yarrow

Common Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium L.)

The artwork for today's post is a pencil and watercolor original by JohnnyBurn.

Today's plat profile is Common Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium L.).  Yarrow is another common plant found in yards and in the field.  Yarrow is in the Aster family although the shape of the leaves and their scent I find reminiscent of carrots.  

The two most useful functions of Yarrow that I am familiar with is the use of the leaves as a coagulant, and the use of the flowers and leaves in teas as a diuretic. For staunching the flow of blood from a bad cut in the field, say from your surprisingly sharp hatchet going into your left knee (it happens when you get lazy) yarrow can be very useful.  Simply crush up the leaves and place them beneath your bandage and over the cut.  If you can't get somewhere to get stitches quickly this could be VERY handy.  

For you hunters out there that want to reduce your scent while out trying to put food on the table make a tea from the yarrow plant and drink it while eating organic foods to flush impurities out of your system thereby making your sweat a little less potent.  But be sure to be careful and don't allow yourself to become dehydrated.  DRINK LOTS OF WATER!

Be sure you have safely and confidently identified any plant that you are going to use as an edible or medicinal! Yarrow can be confused with some herbaceous hemlocks.

Now that that has been said grab your favorite guide book and head for the door!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Common Useful Plants Profiles: Common Plantain

Common plantain (Plantago major)
The artwork for today's post is a pencil and watercolor original by JohnnyBurn.

This will hopefully be the first in a series on wild edible and medicinal plants that are commonly found in your yard.  It is important in bushcraft to keep your skills sharp, after all skills are what it's all about.  We can't always make it to the "real" wilderness as much as we would like so it's a good idea to practice when and where you can.  Back yards, city parks, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera are great places to get out in the evening after work with your family and do a little exploring, and that is what this series will hopefully encourage you to do.

The first plant in the series is Common plantain  (Plantago major).  It grows in disturbed areas and is a super easy edible/medicinal to identify.  It is also a non-native and invasive plant so you you shouldn't feel bad about eating every one you see.  Plantain is best eaten when the leaves are small in the spring.  They are edible all year, but they are more palatable early on. As the growing season progresses the leaves of plantain become bitter and the conspicuous "veins" on the plants leaves become pretty stringy. I would liken the taste of plantain to spinach.  

For it's medicinal value plantain works wonders on cuts and scrapes when antibiotic ointments are not available.  I have had great luck preventing some pretty nasty cuts from getting infected by applying chewed up plantain leaves to them.  One cut in particular required 7 stitches.  I was smart enough to remove the plantain leaves BEFORE I got to the E.R. though.  I'm sure some questions would have been raised.  

On a separate occasion I received two equal sized scratches from a thorn on a Prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) and decided to do a little experiment.  I applied a chewed up plantain leaf to one scratch and held it in place with a bandanna, the other scratch I simply covered with a bandanna.  The scratch that I applied the plantain to did not become infected, heeled days sooner, and left no scar.  If you've ever gotten into Prickly ash you can attest to the fact that the scratches ALWAYS get infected (not gangrene mind you, but pink and warm to the touch). I know it's not the most scientific experiment, but it's good enough for me.

So, to make a short story long.  Get a good ID book head out the door and find Common plantain before it's covered with snow.  Let me know how your explorations go, and if you turn up any thing you had missed before!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Deer Camp 2010

THis is a video of the deer I took this year during Iowa's early muzzleloader season in October. The shot was made at about 25 yards with a .50 caliber flintlock Blue Ridge rifle firing a round ball pushed by 90 grains of Fffg black powder. The shot was a complete pass through, from one end of the buck to the other. Until this deer I had only gotten one other buck, and that was 20 years ago. The spot I was standing when I took this buck was less than 20 yards from where I took the first one. This spot is one of the best producing spots on the family farm. So much so that has earned the moniker "The Pooching Rock" because standing here almost makes it too easy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Re-post: Kit fever,healing from it,to honour the gone days of the Finnish woodsmen.

In the spirit of letting other great bloggers do my work for me I have gotten permission from Perkele to repost something from his blog that I read a while back and found to transcend international barriers.  I have been following Perkele's blog for awhile now, and I hope you will consider doing the same.

Again today i got to thinking about this never ending kit hoarding,and my struggle with it :)

Every time i see these old men,who have been relly living from the woods,from fauna and flora,by fishing,hunting and gathering,just to live,not for fun...i am ashamed of my self somehow. These gents,in most cases,havent ever been into "kit" stuff,like i have grown with em. Usually here,you see an old hunter,with worn,but clean simple wool & cotton clothing,pair of rubber- or leatherboots,an old pack with loads of stories in it. In their packs that sometimes look more like empty,youll most likely find an old beat-up coffee pot,a frying pan of some type,sometimes even a cast iron model. The following items are usually an old wood handled axe,maybe some saw,or just a saw blade,a pouch containing  some salt,sugar,tobacco and maybe some hard butter piece,alomg with piece of bread and a slice of pork meat. Hell be carrying a simple handmade puukko or just a plain cheap mora,and in some cases an compass in some pocket. And besides the kit,these old school heroes carry the most important things like will,strength,endurance and knowledge,that replace the need ( ? ) for heavy load of mostly non-vital gear.

This is something ive always,and now again, cant look bad at all.No sir,i can only admire and envy these old chaps,theyre never complaining,never whing about anything,except for their old ladies:). Juts a day ago i sat next to the fire,with this old man,who came there with his old dog,asked if he could sit there for a coffee and we got to talk about all sorts of things. I was fascinated about his stories,and his spirit,and i just couldnt stop feeling bit silly,wearing all my gear,and fancy outfit,although mine aint even close to modern or hi-tech by any means. He just sat there,talked slowly and stared at the fire,and his dog slept against his knee,till he had his cup empty and he said that he had to go his home,and he has to walk there cause his driving license was taken away due to poor eyes...though he still was hunting with success,legally.He packed up his few items,a pot and his cup,and off he went.

And i cant stop thinking about the "good" old days that he told me about.

I have recently started to get ridd off my gear,i have given,traded,sold something etc,and after that i feel like sick,and i realise its all because we men like to possess stuff just for the sake of it. But after day or two i feel quite happy about the fact that my shelves,boxes and packs are bit less heavy and less filled,and i realise that i.e. i have carried my trustworthy Sabre pack all this summer and fall,and i havent taken a lot out of it,nor havent i added much into it,except for occasional portion of food,filling water bottles,and a pouch filled with dry socks and such. The "kit" itself has been the same all the way and i trust it,it fills my needs more than well,for day hikes and even for two night-long trips as well.

But i am stripping it more in next few days,maybe ill be writing about it too.
Its a kit thing,yes,and for that i am truly sorry,but hey,atleast its about getting to bare bones,getting rid of unnecessary weight & worry :)

Like it says on my favourite sticker... "No School Like Old School"

Again I'd like to thank Perkele for letting me repost his work here.  I am working on some of my own posts at the moment so you will hear from me soon, but until then i think I'll continue promoting other bloggers.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Guest Post by Oz; Bushcraft Inc

I'd like to welcome my good friend I've never actually met, Oz Muskratt, of Canadian Bushcraft fame to Midwest Bushcraft. Since my muse has apparently taken temporary leave of absence I have asked Oz to do a post for me, and here it is.... 

Now, I don't want to make this sound anti-Bushcraft Schools, because

well, that would be counter-productive to a person like me, being a

Bushcraft Instructor and all! And I am not against store-bought items,

or else I wouldn't be typing on a laptop, nor would I be the owner of

so many items that range from Bivy Bags to big fancy knives.

       However, I have noticed a steady increase in people in this business

increasing the prices of basic tools, because they have a Bushcrafty

theme to them. For instance, the Bushcraft-model Mora knives for the

most part are much pricier at a lot of stores (both in person and

online), than the regular models of Moras. Why? Yes the handles are

formed differently, but does that mean the knife must triple in price?

Personally and professionally I promote Mora knives because they are

able to be bought by anyone. I know a young lad just last week who

bought a Mora knife as his very first bushcraft knife. As well, Bahco

Laplander saws are (in most stores here in Canada) $50.00 or more. Yet

the Bahco Sandvik (really no difference at all except for handle

colour) is usually $30.00, and sometimes less!

Don't get me started on name brands. Oh fine, you started me. Ray

Mears' books, clothing, cookware are all very high-end and pricey.

Bear Gryllis isn't any different, and really no one in this business

that puts their name on a product is any different (Tom Brown Jr, Ron

Hood, myself, etc). This is a business now for many people, and the

best way to make the business run is to sell something. Whether that

be an extremely expensive course, or an extremely expensive knife is

no different. It is no longer just bushcraft, it is Bushcraft Inc.

Growing up, when I didn't have something, I wanted it badly. I would

save money up for the biggest, most pricey item for the woods I could

find, and than expect it to do everything for me, for so-and-so uses

one. Only by my mid-teens did I realize that it wasn't who endorses

the item, or how expensive the item is, but who uses it. I made my own

buckskin and wool clothes, made my own billy cans, and though I had a

nifty blacksmithed strike-a-light kit, I began to carry a hacksaw

blade with a chunk of quartz instead.

The point of bushcraft at one time was wilderness self reliance, but

now it has gained popularity and grown. As things grow, they become

more corporate. Ask Grunge Rock or anything else that claims to be

anti-establishment, and then suddenly becomes the big thing. People

will continue to sell knives and certain pieces of gear for

extraordinary prices, and courses will continue to be offered at

unheard of rates.

But do we have to give into it? Though I do like a really nice knife

or posh anorak, I have overtime returned to my mindset of

“do-it-yourself” for a great deal of gear. Do I expect to make

everything myself? No, but I remember that the further I pull away

from a corporate mindset, the more I gain an independent heart.

Bushcraft Inc. is not going away, but it doesn't have to rule us or

our decisions. Yes, I still have high-end gear. But now I partner it

with handmade kits, with grassroots knowledge.

Be smart about the marketing you see regarding certain outdoors gear.

Sometimes it's true, and sometimes it's not. Read in between the lines

and make sure your money goes to something that is worth it. Make

Bushcraft Inc. work for you.

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks again to Oz for covering for me.  I look forward to the discussion this post will generate. I for one am in agreement with Oz.  Many of the products endorsed by bushcraft "celebrities" are way to expensive, and go against everything that I believe is important in bushcraft.  I would like to insert a disclaimer here though... I really like Ray Mears...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mr. Harn's Paradox (and my response)

I just read a thought provoking post over at The Countryside Round blog of Casey Harn (who some of you may remember from Wandering Owl Outside fame).  Mr Harn's post raises an interesting question that I've rehashed a thousand times in different ways while getting my degrees in Conservation Social Science and Wilderness Management.  What is the best way to protect a resource?  Close it off from the public, or open it up and educate the public? 

As an environmental educator and blogger I feel some of the same struggles when doing my job, or writing for this blog.  As a naturalist I am supposed to tell children to stay on the trails, don't pick flowers, and leave the acorns, rock, leaves on the ground but I just can't do it.  Which does more harm to the resource?  Protecting it from the children?  Or fostering a curiosity about the resource by telling them to get off the trails, pick the flowers, take home the rocks, acorns and leaves.

I lean toward the former being more harmful in the long run because of how I was raised.  I am passionate about the outdoors because I was allowed (or rather encouraged) to fully explore the fields, streams, and woodlands and to immerse myself in nature.

Am I doing the wrong thing?  I know what I think.  I want to hear from you... (and be sure to let Mr. Harn know your thoughts at The Countryside Round too!)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Weather Predictions through Nature Observation

I don't believe I am the first person to have said it, but I often start off the hikes I lead by saying "The forest has a story to tell, if you are just willing to listen".  The story that the forest tells is very adeptly written and has a mind boggling cast of characters and countless subplots.  Today we are going to delve into one of those subplots, the weather.

I have been using nature to help me predict the weather ever since I was a boy bailing hay as a hired hand during the summer months.  More often than not the only way I would get a day off was if it rained.  Since I hated watching the news I needed another way to learn the likelihood of impending changes in the weather.  My Grandma Emma always used to say "If you see a Cardinal it will rain within a day".  I thought it sounded dubious, but i watched for cardinals regardless.  The amazing thing is that she appeared to be right!  Every time I saw a male cardinal it would usually rain within 24 hours.

Over the years as I have observed nature more acutely with the help of a barometer I have adapted my late Grandmothers folk weather prediction.  Whenever you hear a male Northern cardinal sing there will be a change in the weather;usually rain.  I know you are skeptical, everyone is when i tell them.  All I ask is that you observe it for yourself and get back to me.

Now I don't simply rely on the Northern cardinal for weather predictions when I'm in the field, I also look to the trees.  The two trees I rely most heavily on are the Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and the genus Oak (Quercus spp.).  As there is a change in the weather, or more specifically, a change in barometric pressure the leaves of the Silver maples and oaks will turn over showing their lighter colored undersides.  The reason for this is that the petioles (the stem that attaches the leaf to the tree) is thinner on one side than on the other.  This causes the petiole to stretch, or shrink at different rates with changes in barometric pressure which in turn "flips" the leaf to show it's underside.

It takes only a slight change in barometric pressure for the Silver maple to turn it leaves which I use as an early warning system.  Used in conjunction with the singing of the cardinal I can give myself advance warning of impending shifts in the weather.  Now if I look to up a little later and see that the oak leaves have turned over I K-N-O-W that I am in for a serious change and I should start to look for shelter.

Now I'd like to put this all in the context of a scenario:
I am out hiking on relatively calm, pleasantly warm summer day.  As I move down the trail I here a male cardinal start to sing his "What cheer! What cheer! What cheer!" song so I look for a Silver maple and notice the silvery green undersides of the leaves, I also note the the prevailing breeze is from the south.  An hour later I come upon an Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) on an upland and I can see that it's leaves are turned over too, and that the breeze has picked up and shifted to the north.  I decide to shorten my hike and head for the car.  As I am driving home the anvil shaped thunderheads are looming on the horizon bringing with them rain, wind, and lightning.

So to wrap it up. Does the singing of the male cardinal guarantee rain in 24 hours? No, but I'd say that it works close to 90% of the time for me (yes, that high).  Does the turning over of Silver maple a,d oak leaves always mean rain?  No, it does however mean a change in the weather (i.e.  It's hot and humid today, it will be cool and dryer tomorrow.  It's not raining now, it will be later.  It's been raining for two days, it will stop soon, etc...)

Of course there are other predictors of weather like if there is dew on the grass in the morning it won't rain that day, and I hope to visit these with you more in the future.  Until then get outside!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bushcraft Definitions

Recently I have been thinking about the definitions of what bushcraft means to me. And so has Tim Smith over at Jack Mtn. Bushcraft. I also have been meaning to blog about it in order to open a dialog among those that follow my musings and rants.  As I thought about what bushcraft means to me, how I could sum up my passions and beliefs, I was trying to distill my thoughts into poetic prose that would be quoted for generations.  I struggled and struggled with the wording, and the cadence and I grew frustrated with my own clumsy attempts.  Then I was sitting down with my oldest watching one of her favorite movies, The Jungle Book when it hit me.  I don't need to come up with a poetic definition of bushcraft because Phil Harris,  Bruce Reitherman already did it for me... 

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life

Wherever I wander, wherever I roam
I couldn't be fonder of my big home
The bees are buzzin' in the tree
To make some honey just for me
When you look under the rocks and plants
And take a glance at the fancy ants
Then maybe try a few

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities 
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue ?

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!

So just try and relax, yeah cool it
Fall apart in my backyard
'Cause let me tell you something little britches
If you act like that bee acts, uh uh
You're working too hard

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true

The bare necessities of life will come to you!

We could all learn a lot from Baloo...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A free lunch?

I didn't get a chance to pack a lunch this morning so I decided to forage my noon meal form the timber surrounding my office. Lunch was a salad that consisted of Basswood (Tilia americana), Dandelion (Taraxacum), Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica), and Meadow garlic (Allium canadense) greens topped of with Trout lily (Erythronium albidum) flowers. 

I didn't have any dressing to go on the salad, but I think that's better in this case.  Each green had a different subtle flavor and any dressing would have overpowered them.  Of all the greens on my salad my two favorite are the Basswood and the Meadow garlic.   The Basswood has a light, almost sweet, "green" taste to it, and the Meadow garlic tastes like, well, garlic.

If I were to add anything to a salad like this I think it would be simply oil and vinegar.  I wonder how maple sap vinegar tastes...

I was inspired to try my salad in large part to a new post by fellow Iowa blogger Wandering Owl over at his blog.  Be sure to head over and give it a thorough reading.  He's A LOT better at posting regularly than I am. 

Have you done any foraging lately?  I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A New Medium

Today I tried something new, painting with watercolors. I have done some sketching off and on for a few years now. Nothing major, mostly plants and birds that I could not identify in the field. I find that doing a rough sketch when I first see a new species helps me to be more observant by making me look for particular field markings that makes identification later easier. This is particularly true when dealing with birds. Another advantage to sketching is that instead of carrying multiple books to identify birds, or flowers, or insects, or amphibians, or trees, or, well you get the idea; you carry just a simple sketchbook, and a pencil.

Until today I did all my sketches with nothing more than a No. 2 pencil. You may be surprised to learn this, but No. 2 pencils are not good at making vibrant color (unless you consider shades of gray vibrant). So if a bird, or flower had any color besides gray (and a stagering number of them do) I would have to jot little notes in the margins of my sketch that noted where the colors were, and their hue.

I was inspired to try water colors recently while making beer for my work (yes my job is that awesome...). A friend of mine that we'll call "John" was assisting in the beer making process and we were discussing a potential future program on nature journaling. I asked for John's assitance with the journaling program because of some sketches he did for me in the past showed he is far and away more talented than I (hope you were sitting down for that one). While waiting for the grains to boil (there is A LOT of waiting in beer making, just FYI) John showed me some simple coloring techniques with watercolors. I decided then and there I was going to get myself a watercolor set and try my hand at coloring a sketch.

So today I did it. The family and I went to Hobby Lobby and I looked at their selection of watercolors. You can spend quite a bit of money on watercolors it turns out. I opted to spend very little money since I didn't know if I would be any good at using watercolors. I purchased 2 packages of Crayola washable watercolors at $2.99 (one for me, and one for my oldest). When I got home I grabbed our well-worn copy of Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America and picked out a bird to try sketching.

I hope you can see that I choose to sketch and color a female Belted kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). How'd I do?
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Making Mukluks

I was perusing the blogs I follow on Google Reader this morning as I sipped my tea and I came across a great post on Skills for Wild Lives.  In the post Nick talks about making a pair of mukluks.  What's so great about mukluks besides being a fun word to say because it sounds dirty but actually isn't?  Well in extreme cold, dry conditions they are warm, lightweight, and flexible footwear.

Lately I have had the strong desire to do some winter camping but it's difficult to get away for an overnight.  So I have been settleing for reading blog posts like Nick's, Backyard Bushman's, and the guy's over at Winter Campers.  Not quite the same (O.K., it's not the same at all) as getting out there and doing it, but it helps to kindle my desire, and keeps my mind from settling into some form of urban atrophy.

What do you do when you can't get out and practice your passions?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Urban Bushcrafters?

Fairly recently the demographics of the world made a sad shift.  Whereas in the past a majority of the world's populations lived and worked on farms or in rural communities, now a majority of people live in major cities.    People are also growing increasingly disconnected from the natural world both in major cities and rural areas, not having any real concept of where  their food, clothing and building materials come from, let alone what resource they are made of.  I think that bushcrafting can help to alleviate some of the disconnect from the natural world.  

Well, since a lot of people live in urban areas and those that live in rural area often live on small acreages how are they supposed to get out and practice bushcraft skills?  The beauty of bushcraft is that you don't need boundless acres of untrammeled wilderness to hone your skills or to gather materials practicing.  Above all else a bushcrafter is resourceful and the limits set by living in an non-wilderness setting should only heighten your skills because of the disadvantages you must overcome.  

So where can you safely practice bushcraft without fear of breaking the law?  It depends on what aspect of bushcraft you are planning to practice at any given time.  When my oldest was still just a baby my wife was working nights so I got to spend a lot of time with her close to home.  When she would go to bed it was often still light outside so I would grab the baby monitor, my puukko, my hoof knife, and some green Basswood (Tilia americana) and head out to the picnic table in the backyard and BINGO!  I was bushcrafting.  Later in the year as the sun set earlier I would head into the basement to my little shop area tucked away under the stairs (which I affectionately deemed "Bushcraft Corner") and work on projects like my beeswax stove.  The point I'm trying to make is you can practice bushcraft where you are.  You don't need "wilderness", after all wilderness is just as much a state of mind as it is a blank spot on a map.  

So you say you don't have a lot of resources in your yard to gather for projects like green woodworking, or making a DIY bucksaw?  Thats not a problem so long as you have occasional access to some public areas.  At this point you need to do a little home work.  The most lenient places to practice bushcraft are National and State Forests.   Both generally allow you to camp where ever you like so long as you move you camp every 14 days.  Often times you can have fire outside of designated rings too, but be smart, check the local regulations before you try it, also be sure to keep your fires small and do you damnedest to hide your fire scars.  In most public areas that allow campfires you can collect wood that is dead AND down .  I stress that the wood should be laying down because dead standing trees are really, REALLY important habitat called snags.  While you are collecting fire wood set aside a couple of pieces of wood to try your hand at carving.  

That being said, carving dried or cured wood is not nearly as easy as carving green wood and therein lies a quandary.  If you don't own a stand of timber, or if you don't have a friend or family member that does how are you supposed to get green wood to work?  The best suggestion I can give you to educate yourself.  Find out what woody plants in your area are invasive and suitable for carving.  Learn how to identify the plant and then hightail it to the nearest land management office.  Ask them if they have any of the offending plant in the areas they manage, and if so ask if you can volunteer to cut some of them out.  In the Upper Midwest  Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica L.) is an invasive that grows in abundance and carves up b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l-l-y.  While you're asking about volunteering and massacring buckthorn, find out if they need any trails cleared, or saplings cut back from the trail edge- another great source for materials. 

Also be sure to let the land manager know that you plan on taking small amounts of wood home to do projects like carve spoons, etc. and reassure them they will not be sold.  It also wouldn't hurt to whip up a spoon or two for the land manager and their staff, as a show of good faith.

I hope that this post encourages someone to get out and try some of my suggestions especially if you live in a town or city.  If you don't neither will your children or grandchildren and THAT is a chilling prospect.