27 June 2012

On the road again...

Coming up on the end of the quarter and the first month of the next, always tons of road time for me during these periods. Travel peaks four times a year and July marks the 66% point if you will. It also marks something else for me, the fact that I'm about forty five days away from archery season opening up. I know it's crazy to think about fall in July, and if I were anywhere else in the country I probably wouldn't be. However it comes early here, for me, and I can't wait.

Other than the wicked storms we've had roll through, the weather this year has simply been outstanding. Today for example, before I left, the temperature was seventy degrees with a light breeze and beautiful blue skies. Three plus hours later as I passed through the Twin Cities the temperature was up to ninety eight degrees! Nearly a thirty degree difference, this isn't really all that out of the ordinary though. We rarely get passed the low eighties up north, and I mean rarely.

By the time my travel is over in July, July will also be over. Time to hit the Boundary waters a few times before the season opens in September, then from there it's a wonderful journey to the edge of Winter and beyond. My how time flies, it seems to me we just cracked the cover on this year and now were hurtling at breakneck speed right through the middle of it. The fall skies of September, the whirling leaves of October, the gales of November, and the white serenity of December, my favorite part of the year is fast approaching!

Ah well, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep...

15 June 2012

A Boy Turns Thirteen

My second of three sons just turned thirteen, the birthday I view as the gateway to becoming a young adult.

It's tough these days from what I see and hear from my kids. Though I've heard that for every generation, they always say it's tougher for this one than the last one. I'm not sure I disagree, I guess we've all had challenges and each generation had their big ones, however it seems to me that things were quite a bit simpler when I was a boy. There were certainly fewer distractions, a boy in my time basically had a couple activities to fill his time, work, outside, read a book; and in general all three were applied in equal measure. I won't begin to try and name the number of air and attention sucking devices that now tend to dominate a boy's attention, and in my opinion are rather damaging to keeping our boys both healthy and hale. Perhaps it is only my perception but I believe each generation has on the whole, moved further from our outdoors heritage and deeper into our electronic age.

Riley, that's my second son, has always had an interest in the outdoors and always intrigued by dad's doings. His interests turn more towards archery, fishing, canoeing, following his dad's tracks I suppose. For his birthday he was gifted a longbow, my first custom bow as a matter of fact, arrows, and accoutrements. He's had bows before, most of which homemade, and he's shown some natural talent. Now armed with a 'real bow' as he says, and 'real arrows' I'm seeing that talent begin to manifest. He's shooting on his own and doing quite well. The flight of the feathered shaft captures another for what will likely be a lifelong pursuit. As Maurice Thompson said in "The Witchery of Archery" of 1878;

So long as the new moon returns in heaven, a bent beautiful bow, so long will the fascination of archery keep hold of the hearts of men. 

I am pleased.

He also received a knife, his first fixed blade knife. Ironically enough it is the 'Woods Bum' from Sugar Creek Knife Works. I'd contacted Mike a few weeks back regarding ordering one of his Woods Bum knives with the intent of making it Riley's birthday present. Even though Mike was taking his shop apart in order to move he was willing to make the knife for me. Mike has temporarily stopped taking orders while he completes the move, he'll be back up and running in no time I am sure.

The specs on the knife, O1 tool steel 2 3/4" blade, 6 1/4" over all length, 1/8" thick with a rockwell hardness of  58-59. 

Mike did an excellent job on my son's first fixed blade knife, very comfortable to use and making feather sticks & shavings was a breeze.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

A fine knife for a fine boy on the road to being a young man, of which his father is very proud. Happy Birthday Riley, I hope your adventures outdoors are every bit as rewarding as mine have been.

12 June 2012

Sigurd Olson

"A new adventure is coming up and I'm sure it will be a good one."

Those were the last typed words of Sigurd Olson, on a single page left in his type writer on his desk. Olson died of a heart attack while snowshoeing near Ely Minnesota on January 13th 1982. Those words were spoken by Malcom McLean the then Northland College President at Olson's eulogy, he said they were Sigurd's "last testament of hope and encouragement to us."

The picture left, is of Olson's 'Shack' as he called it. Kept today as it was at the time of his death.

Sigurd Olson was born April 4th 1899 in Chicago, Illinois. Eventually he would make his home in Northern Minnesota, and would become one of the most influential wilderness champions in our Nation's history, and one of the greatest writers of the wild places that I have ever read. Olson wrote extensively, much of it chasing after the reasons we feel what we feel when back of beyond. The real satisfaction found in the wild places, a sense of satisfaction not found elsewhere. I think Olson felt the link to the 'way back', to the primitive, to the mist on the water of a time gone on long before our births. Something I feel as well and often struggle to put to word, instead hoping a picture can do it for me as I simply cannot find the words to adequately describe the scene and the feeling. Well Olson often did find the words, his work is more than worth the time to read.

Olson believed that the wilderness and time within it plays a critical role in our health and happiness, that we have a biological and evolutionary connection with nature, that our spirit suffers when isolated from it.

List of known works.

The Singing Wilderness
Listening Point
The Lonely Land
Runes of the North
Open Horizons (1969)
The Hidden Forest
Wilderness Days (1972)
Reflections From the North Country
Of Time and Place
Songs of the North
. Howard Frank Mosher, ed. (1987)
The Collected Works of Sigurd F. Olson: The Early Writings, 1921-1934
. Mike Link, ed. (1988)
The Collected Works of Sigurd F. Olson: The College Years, 1935-1944
. Mike Link, ed. (1990

“There is something to being on your own, whether in a blind, trout fishing or canoeing. Alone you get close to nature, you can listen, think, feel yourself a part of the water, at one with the trees and grasses, a part of the whole eternal picture. I think this is what many men seek but never find, the sense of being an intimate part of anything they do. So much of a man’s time is spent being a good fellow, trying to be sociable, competing with others, that he does not find the real answer.” 

Olson  helped write the Wilderness Act of 1964, he was influential in the Boundary Waters becoming a protected wilderness area, he was also involved in establishing Voyageurs National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A prolific writer, teacher, and Boundary Waters guide, Olson was a thinker, a doer, an outdoors man, father and husband.

“I think that here is so much of what a man seeks, here so much the answer of what he needs to give himself contentment that he should try and find more frequently ways of satisfying his need. Once he senses that feeling of utter familiarity, of complete attunement, then he has gone a long way toward counteracting the bleakness of civilized living. We are not so far removed as yet, but what we must satisfy often the urge to be alone, to be a part of our surroundings, of being at one with the earth and sky and water. Here is real satisfaction, here fulfillment of the constant hunger of men for the past and primitive.”

“The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores….There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past, and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known.”

I've paddled some of the same water, and looked upon the same vistas, walked many of the same paths and trails as Olson. I cannot help but feel a kinship with the man who helped preserve many of the back of beyond places that are special to me, places that will still be there for my children to share with their children. Much is owed to Olson's efforts, I for one will be grateful for the remainder of my days, thinking often of him and his words as my paddle slips through the waters and my eyes are filled with horizons uncorrupted.

“I can still see so many of the lakes (whose shores and hills are forever changed after the storm): Saganaga, Red Rock, Alpine, Knife, Kekekabic, Eddy, Ogishkemunicie, Agamok, Gabimichigami, Sea Gull. It seems like yesterday… the early-morning bear on Brant Lake, that long portage from Hanson Lake to the South Arm of the Knife, that perfect campsite on Jasper Lake….”

Thank you Sigurd, while long you have been gone, you and your efforts are not forgotten. Each new generation to discover your works will delight anew at your words and actions. I hope the wind is in your favor old friend.

07 June 2012

Chaga Tea and a Adahy Kuksa

Quite a while back Adahy, a artisan and member of the BCUSA forums and I arranged to make a couple trades, the first half of which was completed promptly. At the time we also agreed on a trade, a Leuku knife blank of mine for one of his hand carved Kuksas.

Both of us had a lot going on back then and it took a while to complete phase two of the trade but complete it we did.

I received the kuksa several weeks ago and due to some ongoing commitments I've neglected to give it much time. I wanted to rectify that and so I did.

It arrived smooth and in excellent shape, the craftsmanship was top shelf, Adahy is clearly talented.

I took a little time to burn some personalization into it, then packed it up and hit the trail to my semi-permanent camp to have a bit of a chaga tea in my new kuksa, and to do a burn in of my fire pit.

Obligatory pack picture.

Breaking out the kuksa and tea pot along with some chaga. I know many folks grind this up into a powder for their use. I don't, I carry a chunk around with me, then with a knife I cut several slabs of the inner material off. This I put directly into the pot with water and set it to the fire. I guess this is more aptly called an 'infusion'. This is just my preferred method for making a tea.

After watering up and cutting the chaga pieces I set the kettle on, I'll leave it on for a pretty good while usually. Taking my time puttering on with some other activity.

More pics of the Adahy kuksa, I'm quite pleased with how it came out. I figure it'll get a good bit of use but I'll also carry my anodized camp mug for most outings as well. At 24oz of capacity it's just more practical. I've not measured the amount of fluid the kuksa holds yet, I just forgot to do so. I figure it's around 6 to 8oz but could be off on that.

The fire pit officially burned in, time to take the kettle off.

And viola, chaga tea in my custom kuksa from Adahy.

He did a fine job and has in fact inspired me to give this a shot. If you're looking for a hand carved kuksa, you can't go wrong with Adahy. To see more of his work or to contact him to place an order you can reach him through his vendor sub-forum found here: Adahy's Trading Post

06 June 2012

Update to the Bushcraft Project Area

It's been a long time since I was able to do anything on the project area but I finally managed to get a few things done.

Still working with hand tools though I've increased the selection and now a full size axe, a full size double bit, and a 36" one man cross cut saw have joined the fray with the little double, and improvised bucksaw.

The improvised well was one of the things I wanted to do first and it's also one of the simplest. I opened up a natural spring and rocked it so it pools up now. I just dip my gravity feed water reservoir bag in and then hang it to filter at the camp. The well is about forty or fifty yards from the project area.

I also wanted to get the fire pit in place as well as a semi permanent shelter. Eventually the shelter is going to migrate into a small rough cabin. We'll also be adding a smoke house soon, as well as a vegetable garden time willing.

Following shots show the area as it is now.

This is the view coming down the hill into the camp.

From the south west corner.

From the North West corner.

Looking into the shelter.

Looking out from the shelter.

Fire and cooking area.

From behind the fire pit towards the shelter.

When I started this project I had a lot more free time. Not so much now but I'm still going to try to do everything I wanted to, just might take longer.

That's is for this week.

Leather & Birch Bark Knife Sheath

I'll be the first to tell you I'm not an artisan, I can make arrows pretty well, outside of those I can make things that are durable and usable. I've made a few knife sheaths over the years, of utilitarian design, robust and rugged, just not overly easy on the eye.

Some things never change.  ;) My most recent knife which I am extremely happy with, came sans sheath. My favorite maker is currently backed up and he won't be getting to me until probably July or even August so I had to do something and I figured I'd try something I'd not seen before out of two of my favorite materials.

I've got a fondness for Birch bark, I live in the lower portion of the Boreal as it extends down into north east Minnesota, and we've got this miracle tree in abundance. Not to mention multiple different flavors, from River to Paper and all in betwixt. I'm a firm believer in the fact that this is a miracle tree as it just has so much to offer. Even fungus knows the usefulness of Birch both alive and dead. On living Birch I collect Chaga religiously, and from dead Birch I collect Birch Polypore, more commonly known as Razor Strop fungus because of it's use as such. Resins and bark both collected for multiple uses. I sometimes miss the hardwoods I grew up in, Oaks especially, but I've developed an appreciation for the varieties of trees in my North Woods, the Birch most especially.

It's not overly complicated, I simply collected a decent slab of bark, scraped it clean and cut a couple of scales. I decided to use the interior of the bark as the exterior of the sheath as it was quite a bit darker and had what I think is exceptional character as it were.

I assembled it just like you would a leather sheath, retention is a simple thong with a antler slip button. You slide the button out, then the thong off the handle, pull the knife, just slide the button back up the thong once you return the knife to the sheath and you're good to go. The fit is very tight and I like it.

I rubbed pure beeswax into the sheath, heavily, then used a piece of long deer hide to run it back and forth over the surface quickly, creating friction. This melted the wax into the material, water proofing and protecting the sheath.

It'll serve me just fine.

Here's how it came out.

03 June 2012

A new Bowie from Matthew Paul of MP Knives

There's something about a fine piece of steel. Forged steel, molded and beaten into shape by flesh and blood and sweat, a man's will forced into metal. One might consider that a piece of the riddle of steel.

In a different time a man without a knife was a man without a life, for nothing could be carved from this world without a good blade. The tool that stood betwixt a bare knuckled brute and the wilderness, essential to man's survival. All the more reason to own more than one I say.

Over the years there have been a couple different knives profiled here. Three in fact, and I use each of them regularly. Still, I'm a fan of good steel and so the eye never ceases searching for for it, another piece of the riddle of steel.

Photo courtesy of  Robert Paul Photography

Enter Matthew Paul of MP Knives. Matt's a regular of the BCUSA forums, an amicable guy with a talent to form steel to his will. His talent doesn't end at knives either, he's a regular blacksmith of the old world variety, making everything from axes and knives, chisels, tools, grills, camp cooking accoutrements and other steel and iron utensils. Matt's a custom maker, willing to take on custom projects and not limiting himself or his customers to a few types of preselected  models. 

I've been following Matt's work, he's regularly posting updates on his efforts within his subforum, pictures of his latest creations and completions of orders. I'd become particularly fond of what he calls the MP Bowie, I really liked the design, all of it, from knife style, blade geometry, handle, it all came together to form a very nice knife that just screams functional. While not a bowie in the classical sense it is very much an iconic camp bowie to my mind.

I reached out to Matt about the design and placing an order. Communications traded and conclusions reached I was placed on his order list. Matt's a hard worker, it didn't take long at all for my order to come up, less than a month. We settled up and he shipped the knife promptly.

1095 high carbon steel, spalted maple scales, a very curvy hand filling handle, convex edge. What's not to like?

I'm what you might call a user, I don't own safe queens or knives I don't use and when I use them, I really use them. For three seasons a year I carry a pair of knives, a camp working knife and a pocket or smallish fixed blade for finer work, cooking, skinning and so on. In winter I'll add an axe and or a saw to this mix making the full Nessmuk trio if you will. I just usually don't need the chopping power of an axe for the other three seasons. Even during the wet seasons I've found a good camp knife is usually all I need for wood and fire prep.

I'm also not afraid to baton with a knife, another can of worms I guess, I can't say I understand all the controversy surrounding this skill, some do it and some don't. Seems to me most of the flak tossed around about it comes from those that don't. The bottom line for me is control under less than ideal conditions, when you place a knife on a round for splitting the cutting edge is never swung, rather it is driven through the medium. No swinging involved thus it's safer in the dark or low light and adverse conditions. There are a number of other reasons a man might want to baton over regular chopping with an axe and enumerating them now is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say I can use either tool to get the job done, and depending upon circumstances there are reasons to use one or the other of them. Having a knife that you can trust and is capable of the task is paramount. In this case the MP Bowie excels.

I'm very happy with this knife so far, the handle is exceptionally comfortable, the rear of it can be held to facilitate chopping and it worked very well in that capacity. The swell in the handle fills the hand that feels very good, control was excellent.

Spalted Maple is the handle material and it's just flat gorgeous. The blade is near ideal length and thickness for my preferences and it balances nice in the hand. Matt did an excellent job on this knife, I'm absolutely ecstatic about how it came out and how pleasant it is to use. An impromptu campfire and some chaga tea was its christening.

I expect this knife will get some heavy use, I'll be updating my impressions and thoughts on the knife as time passes. So far it is high quality, quite affordable, with fast turn around from point of order, exceptionally designed and very well executed. This will not be my last knife from MP Knives.