18 August 2014

The Passage

My eldest daughter turned 18 two years ago and for the occasion we celebrated in the Boundary Waters. I documented that trip here, Six +Ace for the Waters...

Well, eldest son turned 18 this month and while I offered a full on expedition he wanted to try his mettle on his own, well with a couple of friends of course. So after handing him my favorite paddle, I watched my oldest son leave not long after dawn this past Saturday morning, him and a couple of his buddies off to face and chase adventure on the water.

My son is the middle yahoo.

With trepidation I watched the jeep pass out of sight. I knew their trip route, I've made it many times myself. Entry point 25, up Moose, to Newfound, Sucker on through Birch, along the Canadian border and into Knife. It's a fine route with many miles of excellent water, good campsites, decent fishing and nice sunsets.

Knowing that did not absolve me of a father's concern nor diminish the sense of pride I felt for him wanting and willing to do the trip without me, even if there was a twinge of sadness for that fact as well. While I insisted on a tangible plan, deadlines and goals as far as progress etc he insisted on doing the gear and food selection as well as picking the route. Somewhat reluctantly I relinquished the reigns and let him do this provided I could do his final gear check, in so doing I earned another title, 'Control Freak In Chief'.

Nonetheless the check was done and he was gone. I spent the rest of my Saturday working on my own project but he was never far from my thoughts as the clouds and drizzle were constant reminders. As the day wore away and night came I imagined the fire on campsite 1287 which should be about where he was on Saturday night, how the reflection of it on the water would dance and the retelling of the days events would happen. How dinner would be wolfed down even as the pain of paddle use between the shoulder blades would be an aching reminder.

Sunday morning I woke early, there was a mist on and I wondered if his morning was the same, if it looked like I remembered it, as primordial as I recall.

I set out with my second oldest son on Sunday for our run on the future trap line, I enjoyed his company and the sights we saw and yet thought often of my oldest. Our high was mid fifties, likely cooler up north. As we walked the miles my mind played with paddling in colder water, clouds resting at waterline and all things being soaked. I thought of entering Knife lake and having the wind at my back, wondered which campsite they'd settle on. I imagined scrounging around campsite 1460 for fire fixings and hoped they'd managed a good site and had not gotten stuck with camp 1454, which incidentally, sucks.

Monday morning came, cold here, low fifties again and heavy fog. Thick and settled, I knew it would not burn off before the night though I wondered if it was as bad on Knife. If it was the water would be stillness incarnate, flat glass that seems blasphemous to stir with a paddle. The loons would call and the sound would carry forever. If close enough you'd be able to her water lap the rocky shores but in a mist like that wouldn't see it. Such conditions make mystery in the mind as it paints its own picture of reality beyond what one's own eyes see.

I engaged with work duties, the world called and yet I still thought of my son whose muscle and sinew propelled him homeward, likely at least a little sunburned, chilled, tired, maybe hungry but like his father would grin into the face of adversity and pull on.

Afternoon came as my conference calls wound down, I looked at the thick mist I knew would still be there, wondered again if it had settled on the chain of lakes between him and his exit point. I fired up the coffee pot upstairs more as an excuse to leave my home office and see my wife than to actually get a cup of coffee. It was later in the day now, the time of which I could nearly read in the tight lines at the corners of my wife's eyes. I knew she was worried, I spoke a few words about how nothing in the wild can be done with surgical timing, that things like weather and the unexpected happen, that he was our son and likely better prepared than most. I'm not sure if it helped, the lines eased a bit but she didn't say much one way or the other.

A few more hours passed and I overheard her speaking to someone on the house line, she was leaving a message on his cell, she wanted him to call soon and that she was concerned. He should have been off the water by now and back into cell range. I drained the cup and loaded a pipe, walked outside for a bit of air, which was calm at the house and according to the weather calm throughout the lakes. While foggy at least he wasn't fighting wind and wake I thought to myself. Another conference call beckoned.

Approximately thirty minutes later the phone rang, it was my son. I could hear my wife speaking with him, her tone one of relief. He asked to speak to me and she handed the phone off.


"Yes, son."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Nothing else needed saying.

17 August 2014

Fur Prospecting

Second son and I set out this morning to walk what we think will be part of our line later this winter. We wanted to look for sign and activity and enjoy a waning berry season. We're on the down hill side it would seem, raspberries are full and beginning to wane a bit, pin cherries, thimble berries, and blueberries are in and pretty much peaking, dew berries are long gone.

We're planning on going for Pine Marten, Fisher, Beaver, Fox primarily, mink and muskrat are secondary. I know my ground pretty good and where most of these critters are to be found. This part of the line makes a large loop through my lowlands and the beaver valley, up into some old growth and into some heavy pines, back to my main logging road that has offshoots throughout the property.

Then we were into the main attraction. We rolled around in this patch of blueberries like a couple of fat bears, ate our fill and I picked a canteen cup full to take back to my wife.

Once out of the moss and the Labrador tea, it opens up into a goodly size beaver swamp. Below is a comparison of what it looked like today vs. back in the winter.


Beaver sign was heavy, this valley runs another three miles or so to the south and there are numerous colonies. This particular area is close to the headwaters of the stream that cuts through the valley.

Moving back up into the forest.

Spotted the track below in a muddy stretch. The toes are narrow and elongated, with claw tip marks. It's not a coon track as there is no space between the toes, they touch in the track. It's a bigger than a skunk track and the claws are shorter than most skunk tracks I've seen. Too big to be an ermine.

Fisher Track
Marten track

 I took a nice chaga horn from this birch a little over a year ago, tremendous regrowth!

Heading up the creek.

Out of the woodlands and onto my main trail, found approximately 12 to 15 different scat piles from fox and wolf. Several had bone chips. I flagged a coupe obvious trails to explore next weekend.

We enjoyed the walk out, all the while marveling at the temperature. Today's high of 57 degrees Fahrenheit on August the 17th is abnormal even for our area.

Our walk back was mostly in silence, the odd chill in the air and the day's exploration had us both thinking of fall, which rode the wind today. While it might not be visible yet we could both feel it.

Trap Boiler

My second oldest son will run his own line this year, between the two of us we've got a mess of traps to get right before the season comes.

I boil traps before dyeing and waxing and having just got his new traps in we needed to boil the oil/grease off. Not a fan of small scale back breaking I decided to build something capable of more capacity as well as versatility, and save my back!

I saw this on YouTube a while back and filed it away for future reference. If I could remember who it was that did the first one I saw I'd post a link.

Pretty simple, you'll need the following.

55gal drum
Steel utility tub the big one...
Something capable of cutting that drum.
1 6" 24ga 90 degree elbow
2 24" 24ga stove pipe
Tin snips, handful of self tapping screws and a drill + driver for the self tappers

Trace the outline of the bottom of the tub on the barrel, if your barrel is like mine. If you have or buy the open top versions you don't have to do this part.

Once you have the outline then get busy. Whatever you use to cut the barrel do it safely. Also, you should remove the plug/bung and be aware of whatever the barrel held before you got it. I used a food grade barrel that had olive oil in it in its former life.

Once done you should be able to set your tub down inside the barrel opening you just made.

Now you'll need to cut a low opening, you'll use this to add wood to the fire and to clean out the ashes. I just did a quick freehand with it but you can get as fancy as you want. I'll end up adding a improvised hinge to the cutout in order to create a door.

Using the elbow trace another hole on the side of the drum and cut it out.

Then use the tin snips to cut the male end of the pipe into tabs as seen below.

Using the self tapping screws and the drill, go through the tabs and into the barrel. Don't have to do them all.

 Finish assembling the stove pipe and put it into the elbow. 

Once I put the tub on and filled it with water I ran a piece of 14ga wire from handle, around the pipe and to the other handle just to add some extra stability.

Fired up and rocking.

Bring on some traps. In this case we'll be doing 7 330s, 6 220s, 36 110s, 6 #3 coils spring, 6 #2 and 6 #1 coil spring.

I typically boil for about 15 minutes, then add water till the oil sheen on top of the water is pushed over the rim of the tub. This is another reason I like this set up, because when done right it is a tight fit between tub and drum and the water/oil isn't hitting the fire. If you don't do this you're bringing the trap back up through the oil that is on top of the water.

I'll let these hang for several days, once they've started gaining a little surface rust I'll fire the boiler back up and dye them, then wax them.

There are some other uses for this boiler, skulls for example, not something you want to boil in the kitchen. This boiler will handle those tasks as well as anytime one needs larges amounts of hot water or deal with messy work.