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.


Le Loup said...

A good post, and I agree heartily, but as you may have realised from WOODLIFE posts, it is not quite so free in the UK.
Here in Australia there is plenty of room and no problems find somewhere to camp and practice bushcraft. But in the big cities, even Sydney, there are as you said youngsters that have no idea where their food comes from, some apparently do not even know where milk comes from!!! For some of these kids it is hard to get out of the city and even see bush let alone practice bushcraft.
This area certainly needs more attention by schools, and maybe some bushcraft groups could be established to help people get some experience in bushcraft. Let's hope some of those people are reading your posts and encouraged to do something!
Regards, Le Loup.

Mel said...

Great post! I think we in the "connect with nature" community sometimes neglect those living in urban environments. Obviously they are an important (and huge) demographic. Thanks for the reminder that bushcrafting and connecting with nature can happen anywhere.

Tucker L said...

Nice post Chris! I have tried to do some bushcraft in my yard, but unfortunately it is hard to match up to true wilderness.

Matera the Mad said...

There is also the challenge of using the "natural" materials of an urban wilderness and creating awareness. There is so much waste that can be put to use, so much that can be done without.