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.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Your Wild Child: Guest Post

A while back I read a posting on one of my favorite blogs called "Your Wild Child" about cutting your own Christmas trees in Montana.  I spent a formative part of my early childhood in Montana and the post brought back fond memories.  I posted a comment thanking Melynda for the post.  She visited my blog and read my post about taking my nieces and nephew on a night hike and making torches and asked me if I would do a guest blog posting.  Well I have done that now and if you'd like to go and read in you can do so by clicking here.  I am confident that any of my readers that have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, Godchildren, or neighbor kids that they like to spend time with you will find great ideas an inspiration on Melynda's blog.  Thanks for the opportunity Melynda!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Christmas Haul

Since we are nigh on a month after Christmas I thought I should blog on the bushcrafty items I received this year. Pictured above are (from top center moving clockwise) 100' of parachute cord, a noseeum mesh bag for my new Grand Trunk Skeeter Beater Pro hammock, Mora 510 sheath and knife, Etowah 10'x10' tarp and it's stuff sack. All the items are from Ben's Backwoods (of course) via my Mom and Dad (love you both!). When we were opening presents at my folks house I had received a small shirt-sized box. I was expecting a shirt, or wool socks but when I opened the package there were four pieces of paper. On each piece of paper was a picture of the items above with a note that said that they hadn't gotten here in time. I was really excited because this was pretty much everything I asked for this year (except world peace and a Pontiac Crossfire in silver, maybe next year...). After everyone had opened their presents I went to the kitchen for some water. As I was standing there drinking I noticed through the bottom of my glass there was a fuzzy box on the table. I lowered my glass and realized the box wasn't fuzzy at all, but rather it was the optical allusion created by the refraction of light from the combination of the thick cut glass and the water. I decided to investigate the box even if it wasn't actually fuzzy. Low and behold it was from Ben's Backwoods! Then I remembered while we were eating "the noon meal" (half the family calls it lunch, the other half dinner) there had been a knock at the door and my Dad had said it was the mail carrier. Here my present had been there the whole time.

I haven't had a chance to test out the tarp or the hammock just yet, but as soon as I do I'll write up a review. I can attest to the high quality of the 510 though. It was razor sharp out of the box and I am just tickled with it. Like my old Mora #2, it is easy to sharpen and holds an edge. The handle is safer in my opinion because when I grab it without looking I can tell by feel which side of the blade is sharp, with the oval #2 handle I always had to look. The sheath for the 510 is made to wear on a belt, or to be snapped over a button on a pair of bibs (which is how I am wearing it this very moment). Another difference between my 510 and my #2 is that the 510 has a carbon steel blade.

It is more ridgged that the #2 and threw GREAT sparks when the back of the blade is struck on a piece of chert. I have started a couple of fires that way and it really boosted my fire lighting abilites in the field. The first fire I lit I with it was at my mother-in-laws up in Allamakee County. I went to a dry run that sits just to the east of her house and broke a pice of chert out of a overhanging bank. I took it inside and lit a fire in her fireplace using a small piece of charcloth I had in my pocket, some shreded Northern white cedar bark (Thuja occidentalis) cambium and a small chunk of charred wood from a previous fire. All items that I could find (except the char cloth) on a walk through an average public area here in Iowa.

Just as an aside, I have been asked to do some guest post on another blog recently and the first one should be up on Monday. When it is up I will link post a link here for anyone that interested.
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