Little sisters and Feathersticking.

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I’m back in St. Louis for an old friends wedding and a quick visit. Stu and Morgan’s wedding was wonderful, and filled with Halloween decor. I’m lucky to have such interesting friends, that’s the truth. It’s been great seeing family and friends as well as explaining my new world to them.

One of the nights here I went to a housewarming party with some friends. While there I watched someone struggle to light a fire for smores and to ward off the increasingly crisp October air. It was a mirror into how much I’ve learned over the last year, and an opportunity to practice. Not only the act of lighting a fire, but explaining the process to as I went. A golden chance to prove to myself that I had a good grasp of the concepts, and could explain them in a way that made sense. That’s the mark of knowing something isn’t it?

And you know what I did? I let it slip past. I simply sat and mentally disparaged this man while he soaked a log in lighter fluid, and became more and more frustrated trying to get a flame going steadily in the fire pit. I sat drinking my beer and chatting with friends instead of stepping up and offering to help.

Not a lot of things make me ashamed, but that did. So how do you deal with a missed opportunity like that?Approach A. Beat

Approach A. Beat yourself up in the hopes that it’ll somehow fix it.

Approach B. Penitent actions. 

I’ll take option B, thanks.

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So, I assigned myself a penance of practicing feather sticking and one match fires. I woke up early, walked out to my parents woodpile and grabbed a few logs and got to work. After ten of them, my sisters walked out to see what I was up to. Eventually they decided to try their hand at it. I’ve got to say, it felt really good to sit and watch them go through the learning process. Feather sticks are a fairly simple concept, but the execution is tough, and only gets easier through practice and trial and error. It helps immensly to understand not only how to make a featherstick, but what you need it to do once a flame is set to it. They don’t have that connection, so it was slow going at first.

That’s something I hadn’t thought about. In college and traditional school classes you bounce from subject to subject each hour, and the information in each of them doesn’t ever need to cross over in most cases. Sure, the things you learn in an algebra class, will be important for the next math class and some sciences, but you’ll never need to apply it to language arts, or history. In the outdoor education world, everything is connected, and in some cases the understanding of a specific craft, or task is dependent on a broad understanding of other ones. Sure, you can make a featherstick without using it as tinder, but if you don’t understand how the curls hold a flame and allow the flame to breathe, there’s a good chance it will just be a pretty piece of wood. It’ll burn at first, but likely won’t catch enough to start a serviceable fire.

 

Those connections are hard to explain, and not neccesary to the actual act of making a feather stick, no matter how important they are. So we just sat and made them. It was a nice, quiet exercise, interrupted by the occasional question. Eventually Julia exclaimed and held up her stick to show me a small, but beautiful curl she’d managed to produce. It wasn’t much, but it was clear she’d gotten the general concept. That little start made up for the missed opportunity of the previous night. Sure, her featherstick wouldn’t start a raging inferno, but it was the closest I’d felt to them this whole trip. Just little quiet moments, doing a menial task, was better than the previous few days of filling each other in on the changes in our lives.

It was also a moment of realizing that I have a really good handle on a skill that eluded me at first. Not only feathersticking, (Most of my first ones ended up looking like Christmas trees, with not a curl to be seen) but also understanding of how to ignite them efficiantly. Fire, believe it or not was the hardest part of my Jack Mountain semester. I’d grown used to gas powered camp stoves, and lighter fluid. So what I thought of as simply practicing, ended up being really self-gratifying. I knew the answers to all their questions, I turned tight curls that made my old christmas trees look even worse, and I knew exactly how I’d lay each of the feather sticks to build a fire.

Christopher make fire. Christopher lord of flame.

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Those little moments like the man trying to light a fire are chances to teach, and they slip by pretty quickly. I’m glad I got a second one with my little sisters, but I’ll be keeping a better eye out for them from here on out. They sneak up on us, but if we’re obserbvent, we can snag them and not only help the person, but improve on our own abilities as well.

So in the future I’ll be paying more attention to how all these skills slot together when being used, and be keeping an eye out for opportunites to pass them on, or employ them to the benifit of those around me. Sure, it’s not an action I’ll take out of anything but self interest, but it’s got some great by products. I’ll be learning to be a better teacher as I teach, and at the very least won’t sit for twenty minutes smelling lighter fluid in the air because somebody thinks that’s the easiest way to get a fire going.

 

 

Plus, now my sisters can show up my dad when he’s starting a fire. That thought will give me a nice little chuckle whenever I have it.

 

 

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Mushrooms (Not a badger to be seen)

You never know what’s going to catch your interest on a hike. If nature’s feeling paticulalry riled up it’ll be a day filled with deer leaping across the path, or a family of jays you’ve disturbed from their daily habits of disturbing everything else around with their shrieking.

Other days it’s something simple and slow. In the mornings it might be spiders in thier webs that catch the light as it breaks silently through the overhead leaves, or the chourus of frogs and insects as they wake up and start to avoid/pursue one another.

In this case, the morning was a quiet friday, around seven AM. I’d been busy all week getting stuff together for my time in Canada and Maine this coming winter, as well as working. So I hadn’t had much time to spend outdoors. Somedays I like to set a distance, and knock it out. It’s about the excercise. That morning wasn’t like this. It was slow, meandering. I don’t know if people regularly saunter through the woods, but that’s certainly what I felt I was doing.

For whatever reason the theme of this hike was fungi. Now, I’m as big a fan of mushrooms as the next person. That is to say, I like the one’s I can eat, and know jack diddleyumpkiss about the rest of them.

How many of us would wander past the scene above and see it only as part of the view? It doesn’t have to be mushrooms. It could be moss, or the variety of grasses that brush against your legs. How much do you really know about them? How easy is it to change that?

It’s pretty simple. The internet and your own curiousity are probably the best tools you’ll ever have access to. Sure, field guides are wicked helpful, but if it’s a new topic for your personal study you likely don’t have eight books on mushroom identification. (Just another reason I miss the library at Jack Mountain) So, punch it into google and start the search.

The first little cluster I found was on a fallen log. They’d either started growing after it fell, or had adapted afterwards to lay out horizontally with the ground.

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The large white ones, I beleive, are Cerrena unicolor. Sometimes called “Turkey Tails”.  Now, I spent an unbeleiveable amount of time trying to identify these suckers because I was looking for something green. What I hadn’t realized, and what a real fungi fanatic would have told me is that I’m not only looking at two fungi here, but another living thing. Algea. In the words of th outdoorsman we all aspire to. “that’s pretty neat”

The orange goop, is some sort of Jelly fungus. I’m still trying to sort that one out, and will update once I know more. To be honest, I’m pretty happy with “Jelly fungus” as a name. Common names always entertain me. They’re often a version of “does what it says on the box”. Some person, who knows how long ago, looked at these weird squishy orange things and thought “Yeah, that’s jelly. I bet bears use it on their toast”. Or something along those lines. I may be assuming this hypothetical person has the same idiotic thought process as I do.

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Look at it. It can be anything you want. I see a rough sea, with a few sharks circling, you might see something different. I’m a big fan of these close up shots. Sure, you could take a photograph of the whole speciemin, and that’d probably be a better identifier. You wouldn’t get to see the little details though. You’d see a white, toadstool looking mushroom, and if you knew the ecosystem well enough, that might tell you what it is.

As far as the enviroments of fungus goes though? I don’t. Ask me just about anything about birds or fish in maryland, and I’m pretty comfortable giving you a description. Thats half the point of making your hikes into these kind of excercises though isn’t it? I’m researching in the hopes that somewhere down the line, some client is going to point at one of these and ask the dreaded “What is that” or “Can I eat it?”, and I’ll be able to say “Knock yourself out, just wait till I lay down some tarps and turn on some Zepplin, because buddy? You’re about to see the face of god”. Or more than likely I’ll be able to give a simple “Nope”.

In this case, I learned something equally as important as whether or not this big ol’ fellah is edible. I found that mushrooms, and fungi in general can be pretty hard to identify to a beginner. There’s a lot of look alikes, and when you’re dealing with something that’s possibly toxic, that’s a gamble I’m not willing to take. I believe what I’ve found is a “Shaggy Parasol”, which is edible. Now that’s where the danger starts. I could be completly wrong. I’m going off of sight, a photogrph, and a few field guids (Online and hard copies.) I figured, “Sure I’ll just type in ‘large white mushroom maryland” and that’ll be that.

Christopher you ignorant lumox. You’re going to get somebody killed.

 

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So, the take away from my adventure with mushrooms? I’m picking up on the traits used to identify them in the field. Cap size and shape, color of the various parts, as well as the environment they grow in. That’s a good start, and it’s opened up a whole world in the undergrowth for me to pay attention to when I hike. Plus, mushrooms don’t run away or bite the way the subjects of some of my other self motivated “collections” have.

 

Chalk that up as a win right?

 

If you happen to know more about mushrooms than I do, and can fill me in before I have the chance indentify any of these past the point of doubt, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email, or comment below.

Slainte Maithe everyone.

The value of little trips


A few weeks ago my cousin and I had planned on taking a day hike along the Potomac River here in Maryland. When something came up for her and she couldn’t make it, I turned it into a three day solo kayaking and camping trip. 

We love those long trips that let us really let loose and wash everyday life off of us. Why wouldn’t we? We’re outdoors and doing what we love. Real life doesn’t let most of us take those trips very often though. So in some cases we just sit and dream about when we’ll finally get the chance. 

There’s another option though, and that’s making the best of the little breaks we get. A trip doesn’t have to be far away, or in some objectively magnificent place. Sometimes the little trips to close places serve as a nice reprieve. 

That was my experience on this gentle paddle down the Potomac. Its a calm, muddy river that doesn’t seem like it has much to offer when you first put in. I had only planned being out for a night at most, but once I’d looked at my map and found a pull out spot not far from where I’m staying. So I figured what the hell, I’ll just keep going. 

And that’s the beauty of short trips. They often turn into something unexpected, that you couldn’t have planned if you tried. I ended up paddling forty-five miles through my home state, and seeing it in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. 

I started at the Daniel’s dam area of the Potomac state park, and paddled down it for about ten miles the first day. The river was pretty blown out from a recent storm that actually made national news for the damage it caused in ellicot city. It made the day easy and the current carried me more than my own effort did. 

It really was gorgeous. Certain spots, like the image above were like silver backed mirrors when the sun hit them. The weather was classic Maryland summer temperatures, mid nineties and humid anything. I probably could have done twice my distance each day if I hadn’t spent so much time pulling off to the bank and taking a swim. I met a lot of other people who lived near the river, and the told me about good swimming holes and campsites along my way. One elderly couple even went so far as to give me their phone number in case a storm came up. (It happens a lot in this are, especially during the summer months). 

The next two days went pretty much the same. Slow, lazy days on the river. Nothing to complain about at all. It was a nice chance to remind myself of some personal truths. This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. It’s been hard to keep that goal in mind during my time here in Maryland. I’m working a job that keeps me busy, and helping out my grandparents with anything they need. I’m proud of both of those facts, but they aren’t exactly things that move me towards my eventual goal. So it’s easy to let myself get discouraged, or feel my mind wandering into doubting if I’m doing the right thing, or on the right path. 


I am though. The Potomac reminded me of this. Those three days recharged whatever wild battery was dwindling in me. Just being outdoors and feeling my senses fill up with everything it has to offer allowed me to get back on mental track, and reignite my determination to get into this industry I’ve been exposed to.  


So take little trips whenever you can, and take them slowly. Pay attention to all the little details. Let each of them remind you why you’re on that trip. For peace of mind, exercise, or whatever it is you need. You’ll get were you’re headed, even if it seems forever away. In the meantime take the time to appreciate were you are, it might surprise you. 

What you want to do isn’t always what you need to do. 

I’ve been working for my uncle between courses in Maine. I’ve been towing cars, which isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse. It’s good money and physically hard work, but it bores the hell out of me. 

Last week, I stumbled upon an opportunity to work for the rest of the year as a canoe and hiking guide. Of course, this initially seemed like a great idea. It lined up with my time frame before I go back to Maine, I’d be outside every day and I’d be helping other people have experiences outdoors. This is what school for, and it’s what makes me happy. 

Seems like an obvious choice doesn’t it? 

It did to me too. Believe me. At least until I sat down and thought about it.

 

Most of the readers here are a lot like me. Folks that have that hint of wanderlust in our souls that drive us towards the new and exciting. People of our ilk tend to do what we like. It’s a good quality most of the time. We find something we’re passionate about we do it whole heatedly, we don’t know any other way to be. 

Sometimes though, we need to reign that urge in and think about our long term goals. My uncle went out of his way to get me this job, and I owe him for that.

That’s  hard thing tor independent minded people to accept. We don’t live in a vacuum. Other people take chances on us all the time, and if we give someone our word that we’ll do something, we better do it as well as we can.  

That doesn’t mean it’s not a hard thing to make yourself stay somewhere that isn’t a good fit. We’ve all been there. Jobs that drove us up a wall, towns that seemed like we’d be stuck in them forever, relationships that just weren’t right but made us comfortable in some odd way. It’s so easy to just drop out of them in the hope of something better. It’s a part of the human condition I think, to move on to seemingly greener pastures. We wonder what’s over the hill and eventually that wondering turns into action. Sometimes though, it’s good to hold out on those urges and just stick with something for a while. 

(My corvid friends ALWAYS seem to find me, no matter where I am)

There are ways of subverting that feeling of restlessness and being trapped. It’s especially easy if you have a timeline that you know will play out, but it’s doable either way. I know I’m only in Maryland until January, and then I’ll be back in Maine doing what I’ve so recently found to be what calls me. So I’ll make the most of the time I have here. Not just in the work I’m doing, but in my time to myself. 

In regards to the work, it may bore me but it’s a skill I don’t have yet. That’s the important thing to realize when you’re feeling trapped. There’s always something to learn, or improve. If you’re stuck somewhere, find a way to keep yourself occupied and busy. If your job isn’t providing you with challenges and you really are just killing time there, then find something in your free time that will help you once you’ve left. Waiting tables until school starts up? Pick up your text books early and start studying. Working an office job for the summer before you move somewhere else? Find a map and familiarize yourself with your future home and the things to do there. 

I’m lucky enough to be in a situation that allows for both. I know next to nothing about cars, let alone towing them. So I’m throwing myself into this job wholeheartedly while I can. 

(Crab claws are part of a car’s basic requirements right?)

And during my time off? Well, Maryland is a great place to be if you’re an outdoorsy sort. In my time here I’ve hiked every chance I’ve gotten, and continued to study the environment here. It’s a good way to occupy my time, and it’s fun to go out and know everything I can about the flora and fauna I encouter during my hikes. 

It’s also just as beautiful here as I remember from being a kid. There’s something incredible about seeing some of the places I remember from childhood with more mature eyes. If you’re ever around the area drop me a line and we’ll go visit whichever environment you’d like. Ocean? We’ve got it. Salt marshes? Check? Rivers and mountains? You better believe it. 

So, the long and short of this article is this; life isn’t just about doing what you like, or even what you’re already good at. Sometimes it’s about putting your head down, working hard to be better at something you dislike and finding those little moments that remind you that it isn’t forever. That those things you want to do or see will still be there when you’re finished, and the time spent waiting for them will only improve your ability to enjoy them, as long as you keep them in the back of your mind while you work towards them. 

Slainte Maithe everyone. Keep working towards what you want, and I hope you get there soon. 

“This Is My Church” Derek Maclearn; licensed Maine guide.

If you had never heard the term “outdoor guide” before, and then passed by someone on the street as they uttered the term I’m pretty sure Derek Maclearn would be the image that appeared in your imagination.
Derek is the only native Mainer in our course this semester, and he’s been living this lifestyle as long as he can remember.

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      Derek Fishing on munsungan lake

He’s worked as a mechanic both in and out of the military, but throughout all of that time has spent any extra time he has fishing, hunting or simply being outdoors. After getting his guide license, he made a decision to be the most well rounded guide he could be.

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          Happiest man in all the land

“Anything people want to do, I’ll take ’em.” Derek has already gotten his fishing and hunting guide certifications, but plans on getting his recreation and sea kayak licenses in order to really make that statement true. He goes onto say that his idea of guiding isn’t just staying at a lodge or going out for a day. It’s a lifestyle that he wants to share with clients. “I want to bring people out into the wilderness and have them live the actual experience.”. It says something about Derek’s passion for the outdoors that this is the style of guiding he’d like to share with his clients. It isn’t  about going out for a day, and bringing along all your gadgets and gear that keep you updated on the world the whole time.

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Derek is ,simply put, an all around solid person. When asked about the “soft skills” that a good guide should have in order to best lead clients, as well as deal with interpersonal tension that’s bound to show up on trail and at camp when the weather/fishing etc is bad, Derek has a simple answer. He explains that most days he views each of the other students as potential clients. “I try to help. If I see someone’s lacking, or not getting something I just try to help, and I’m hoping that if something comes up where I’m lacking, someone else helps me.” That’s sort of how things have to work around here, or around any long-term camp. If someone’s struggling, jump in and help out. The work needs to get done anyway, so at the very least you’re saving yourself a headache down the road. At best, you’re helping someone wrap their brains around a skill they’ll need  in our field.
We’re all here to learn, but we’ve all also brought certain things we’re already good at. For Derek, it’s fishing. On our canoe trip, he felt so bad for being the only one catching fish that he told me he wasn’t putting another line in until someone else got one. (We all know how superstitious avid anglers are about fishing.) The mark of a real fisherman though is devotion. This was exemplified by the fact that about two minutes after making his statement about refraining from fishing, it started to rain. Derek got “that feeling” and I saw him forgo his oath and head down to cast a few lures. He came back up with a small chub and a sheepish grin on his face. Like I said, he’s good at what he does, and between the fish he shared with us, and his famous “high pour coffee” he helped keep everyone fat and happy.

He doesn’t just apply the “actual experience” mindset to his clients, but to his personal life as well. As the only native “maineiac” in the course, he invited us down to his homestead for a long weekend. I use the term homestead in a completely honest sense of the word. When I pulled in I was greeted by the sounds of his hound dogs baying, the pitter patter of chickens racing away from the driveway, and the laughter of Derek and his children. Derek and his wife, Sarah truly live every aspect of this lifestyle they can. They’ve had almost every animal you can think of at some point, are building a green house to go along with the gardens they already have.  I have to say, sleeping in a hammock in their back yard and waking up to their rooster made for some of the most comfortable nights of “roughing it” so far.

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When I ask about his experience so far at Jack Mountain, and how his enthusiasm has changed since day one, Derek responds quickly, and without hesitation. “Its growing every day. Every day we’re out here I feel more human.” As we continue to talk about this aspect of our experience, the side I’ve come to admire most about Derek shows through. “This really is an almost spiritual experience for me. This is my church.” He’s voicing something a lot of us have felt up here I think, and that many people who feel they need the wild to remain sane have tried to put down in ink, paint and song. (The fifth day here I was turned on the the poem “the men that don’t fit it” by Robert Service, and couldn’t help but think about it while talking to Derek and about this.) If days in the woods, count as time spent in prayer at church, Derek’s a regular alter boy.

Derek’s respect for the outdoors, and the life in them isn’t just shown by his drive to be in it, but also in his devotion to utilize anything he takes out of it to the fullest. While we were visiting with his family, Sarah and Derek joked back and forth constantly about rendering bear fat, all the permaculture projects he’s always working on, and cleaning out beaver pelts. They both seem fully committed to making every bit of the natural world count, and not wasting anything if they can help it.  I’ve never hunted in my life, but have met a lot of hunters, and I can’t say I know many who devote as much respect and even compassion to the animals they harvest. Hunting can get a bad rap, and I think a large part of that has to do with the “trophy” mentality that can seem to go along with it. If more of them had the mindset Derek has, I think wed all be better off.

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The most beautiful sight you can wake up to in the woods.

In the month we’ve been here I’ve learned something from all the other students, but Derek has hands down taught me the most. Not just about the hands-on aspect’s (lighting fires was decidedly NOT my strong point) but also just about how to interact with the wild and the people you’re in it with. Derek makes sure everyone is taken care of, without hesitation, and that’s what being a guide is about. Having the knowledge to do what needs to get done, and passing it on in ways that make others experience in the outdoors more meaningful by leaps and bounds. If you’re  looking for any kind of outdoor experience in Maine (and as Derek said, ANY KIND) Derek Maclearn is your man. Hell, he’s even your man if all you want is a kind person, pouring you the best damned cup of coffee you’ve ever had. I look forward to you showing me more of the state you call home for years my friend.

If you’re in Maine, and would like to hire somebody who knows the state to take you out and show you this beautiful place, you can email Derek at Wolf33.derek@outlook.com

Any other questions? Jus comment below or email me at primitiveaddictions@gmail

Canoe trip down the Aroostick River (Part One)

After a month of training, we went off on our first expedition. Fifty-two miles is nothing to someone who drives everywhere they go. An hour or so at most. I kept thinking about Shackleton and other’s trips in the days before we pushed off to start the trip, and feeling that fifty-two miles weren’t much in comparison. That’s the problem with basing a trip on how far you go, it doesn’t take into account the minutiae of daily life on the trail.

We set off from Chase lake and the night before I was shown by Paul how to set up a quick and simple shelter using a canoe. I was sold on the idea before I’d even tried it. There’s a sort of romance to the concept. Paddling all day, pulling your canoe out of the water and sleeping under it until it’s light out again, and then flipping over your home away from home and taking it with you to the next spot.

The first day we paddled out into Chase lake to the sound of the Loons that call it home. Some of us were still getting our heads around the strokes required to keep our vessels moving forward in a straight line. It can be tempting to put all your strength into each stroke, hoping that it will propel you forward faster, but canoeing isn’t as simple as that. Each “stroke” is a culmination of strength and calculation as you adjust the angle of the paddle blade to correct your course. The goal isn’t speed so much as it is the efficiency of motion. We only paddled about seven miles or so the first day, but it took us about two hours. Chase lake is deep, and the water hasn’t warmed up much, so our priority was staying close to each other in case someone flipped their canoe.

Once we reached our next site on munsungan lake, we set up camp and split off to pursue what interested us. A lot of people fished, some continued to practice paddling and poling a canoe, knowing that once we hit the river we’d be encountering rapids that required a bit of tact to handle in a safe manner. Poling a canoe is an old art, and one not many people practice anymore. It requires you to break the old adage of “don’t stand up in a canoe” and quickly factor in the angles you’re pushing off of, as well as keep an eye on any upcoming obstacles or turns. I’ll admit, that first day I allowed myself to get frustrated over it. Poling downstream can be done without a good understanding of the actions. It can become a controlled crash, because the current is propelling you forward, and all you have to do is turn so as to not hit any rocks or downed trees. Once Dylan and I turned around to head back to camp however, we encountered a completely different beast. Poling upstream takes a lot of forward thinking as you ferry between eddies slowly working yourself back up the stream. We also encountered a fairly strong Western head wind, which helped when we paddled across the lake, but became a challenge when combined with poling upstream. It took us about fifteen minutes to get downstream across the lake, and about an hour to get back to camp.

Camp life can become monotonous quickly and with boredom comes interpersonal tension. After leaving the munsungan lake campsite, we paddled another seven miles down stream. We set up, continued practicing and when some people were still struggling, decided to stay another night at the campsite. This was perhaps not the best idea. We woke up the next day to a cold, wind-driven rain that was too dangerous to paddle in. Most of us kept ourselves occupied by fishing or working on small projects for a while, but there’s only so much of that you can do before gathering around a fire becomes more appealing.

The thing about idleness being the devil’s plaything is magnified by camp life. If you don’t have anything to do, and people are on top of each other twenty-four hours a day, it’s easy to get under each other’s skin. While it never boiled over into outright conflict, tension fogged around us. It wasn’t helped by waking up to snow the next morning. All of were ready to get back on the river, and while we weren’t on any sort of real schedule, we knew we’d not even covered half the distance needed to get back to camp yet, and we’d been out for five days out of the eight we’d planned for. People were starting to get low on food, and since we all planned our own meals for the trip, there wasn’t any sort of easy fix on the students part if someone ran out.

We made the most of the snow, however, hiking and exploring the area around camp. Personally, I’m glad it snowed. We learned a lot about the soft skills of guiding. How to ease tensions, manage risk as it arose and the art of, as Tim Smith calls it “holing up”. Sometimes in the field, all you can do is wait, and that’s counter-intuitive to some of us.

The best part of our snow day though? Hiking into a spruce bog. We spent a good two hours walking through the woods, identifying plants, and learning to simply be quiet in the woods. It was an incredibly beautiful setting, and I took the opportunity to practice photography. Taking care to focus on little moments framed by the larger surroundings. Below is my favorite of that session. A spruce sapling frosted with snow, and backdropped by its larger kin.

After that, everyone crawled into their shelters and holed up for the night. We hoped for a warm day and got one. That day was so integral to my experience on this expedition that part two of this article will be devoted entirely to it.

Conversation with DJ Brand on a drive into town

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Hey everyone, hope it’s been a good week for you all.
So, rather than just writing about my own personal experience here at Jack Mountain, I’m going to be posting a few articles about the other students here. I’ll still be writing about the things we do, but I figure you’ve heard my views on the school and it couldn’t hurt to get some other opinions in if you’re thinking about doing a course at Jack Mountain or at a similar school. I’ve been slowly sitting down with each of them and conducting short interviews about how they found the school, what they’d like to do after, etc. I hope that if I can’t sway you into coming to Jack Mountain, one of the other students here can.

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I’d like to introduce you first to DJ Brand. DJ  drove the farthest to get up here to Masardis, coming all the way from Corpus Christi Texas. He’s a good guy, and has really been getting into the work up here. You’ll usually find him drinking a mountain dew, and laughing about whatever scrape his case of habitual bad luck has gotten him into last.
DJ served in the Navy after highschool, and in doing so continued the lifestyle he already knew. DJ’s father was also in the military, so he grew up bouncing around in Texas and Virginia. Once he got out of the service he took a job working at his father’s computer repair shop. I pressed him for what drew him from working on computers to coming all the way up north and leaving most of technology behind him for a few months. He explained that while he’s still fascinated by technology and modern life, he started to get tired of the day to day, and wanted to find a way to “get back to our roots”. Not in a cultural sense, but literally back to the basics of living as a human. Food, warmth and the skills required to obtain them without driving through a McDonald’s.
After talking to Tim about the course, he admits he had some trepidation. “I was sort of nervous “ he explains as we drive, taking a drag from both his ever present can of mountain dew, and his cigarette one after the other. “ I’d always wanted to be in a “survival” course, and that’s what I was looking for. After being here a few weeks, I hate that word now. Tim’s shown us that this isn’t about “surviving”, it’s about actually living outdoors “. He’s completely right, Tim Smith harps against that dreaded word “survival “ constantly, and for good reason. If you’re living an outdoor lifestyle, you aren’t needlessly putting yourself in dangerous situations. You’re trying to make yourself as comfortable as you can be without harming the natural world more than necessary.  Throughout this course we’ve learned a lot about that. How to build shelters, make fire under pressure and increase our understanding of the part of the web of the natural world that we fit into.

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When asked what he plans to do after finishing his studies at Jack Mountain, he isn’t quite sure. He knows he wants to keep going to more schools  like this. He jokes about finding one in Texas that isn’t “so damn cold”, and perhaps getting his guide license there. This is an ongoing thing with our friend from Texas. The first few weeks here the night time temperatures were in the high teens and low twenties. Texas weather, it was not. However, DJ’s says the adjustment has been a good reality check for him, and forced him to really focus on our studies on fires and shelter building, if only to keep his toes warm enough at night.
The biggest take away for him though? Cooking. We do a lot of simple, from scratch meals up here (if you haven’t had Bannock fresh out of a solar over, you aren’t living my friends) and he admits to a habit of getting fast food more often than he should. However the skills we’re learning here about the process of making good, simple food have affected him immensely. He’s looking forward to going back home, and cooking for his girlfriend and not using something he picked up.

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When I ask him for a final statement or advice for people considering Jack Mountain, he jumps on it without even thinking. Typical Texan.  “even if you’ve just been curious, or are just thinking about doing a course like this, do it. You may not end up working in this industry, but the experience is worth it.
I agree DJ, I certainly do. Now crack open another can of mountain dew and let’s get the dust off those canoe paddles.

Three Weeks In

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Well, it’s been just shy of a month since I started the semester here at Jack Mountain Bushcraft School, and I’ve got to say, it’s been pretty incredible. In these few weeks I’ve been in every environment you can think of, water, woods, snow etc. I’ve learned a metric ton of skills and met some really interesting folks. I wasn’t sure how to approach an article summing up the time here so far, so rather than regale you with all the little practical skills we’ve covered I’m going to pick a few projects and talk about them a bit.

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1. Making fire.
This one is obvious, but if I’m honest, most of us take the ability to create a heat/cooking/light source completely for granted. We started off learning how to make effective “twiggy bundles”, dense bundles of tinder that can be lit with one match and used to start a much bigger fire. Afterwards we moved on to a concept called “feather sticks”, and finally on the first rainy day we had a one match fire in the rain. The goal of all of these is to create a bunch of much smaller surface areas for the match to set fire to, and then once you’ve got a small fire going you can increase the size of the firewood step by step. Think about the last time you lit a campfire, or even one in a fireplace at home. How many matches did it take you? Or did you just use a lighter? That’s what I mean by “taken for granted”.  We went through a test with each of the methods we learned, and we’re only allowed one match. I failed both the twig  bundle and feather stick tests the first time. No matter how much I read and understood conceptually what we were aiming for, it took trail and error for me to work through all the hiccups. Windy? Better learn to cup the match in your hand better to keep it from blowing out. Wet starter fuel? Better take the extra time to increase the surface area even more. Fire has been my biggest struggle so far, and it frustrated the hell out of me, because it’s te basis for so many other necessary skills around camp. However, now that I’m in the swing of it, I MAY be too excited every time I get to start a cook fire.

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2. Canoe paddle.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know that woodcarving and woodworking in general are very personal hobbies to me. I use it to blow off steam and settle into a comfortable mind set when things in life get out of hand. I also adore boats and being out in the water for the same reasons. So when we started carving our paddles I let my experience and a bit of ego get the better of me. “Finally, something we’re doing that I already have some experience with”, I thought just before reality slapped me in the head with a canoe paddle it’d carved just for the occasion. Hand carving a canoe paddle is not like making a table, or relief carving a design. It’s a slow, methodical process that can’t be planned out entirely. You start out with an idea in your head, but things come up as you carve that force that idea to change. The grain of the plank changes, or a knot goes through it in a way you hadn’t expected. It was a really great experience, but definitely reminded me that I’m here to learn, not keep doing what I already know how to do.

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3. Cooking.
Look. I am not a great cook. I can make a few things well, but I’ve been spoiled by being around people who’re better at it than I am, and love cooking. Planning out meals for a day uo here is no mean feat. Do you want rice to go with lunch?  You should probably start a fire and get water boiling at least twenty minutes before you plan on cooking. No electricity means you have to add the time it takes to heat things up into account. We also have a lot of staple foods, that after a week can get sort of tiring. (Rice, oats,flour etc) So you start thinking of different ways to cook them, and experimenting with spices and weeds from the garden (I’ll definitely have to write an article about edible “weeds”. You haven’t lived till you’ve made soup with dock leaf and dandelion leaves you pulled out of the garden.) The whole experience has made everyone here much more cognizant of how and what we eat, even caused some interpersonal tension as people started cooking for themselves rather than waiting to make a big group meal. (There’s something in the works on the interactions of the group of men here. We’ve gone from joking for a week straight, to having a stretch of days were everyone is on each other’s raw nerves, then straight back to joking around. The “soft skills of group management are definitely an art all of us hoping to become guides will have to wrap our heads around.) I’ll be honest though, I’ve got a feeling I’ll have extra time for the first few weeks after the course because I promise I’ll forget that the oven doesn’t take half an hour to heat up.

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All in all, this is a truly life altering experience so far. I’ve woken up every day to a breeze through the pines, and the sounds of water in a stream and birds chirping. Also the little red squirrels that live in Maine? Loudest things up here. Those I could do with having tiny muzzles on. I go to bed every night with sore shoulders, torn up hands and a bigger grin on my face than I have in years. If you love being outdoors, and are interested in permaculture, extended camping expeditions, or even just a change of pace from life as you know it, come to Jack Mountain. Even if you never use the skills we’re learning again, you WILL gain an appreciation for little things in your life (like conditioned air. We’ve had a couple cold nights up here, and I haven’t forgiven mother nature for it just yet.)

Thanks for reading, and as always, if anyone has questions about the article, or the program I’m in please don’t hesitate to ask.

Slainte Maithe

Places To See Driving Through New England

It’s been a good couple weeks traveling north to Masardis. I spent the first in Maryland with my family and then wandered up through New England. This is my favorite part of traveling, just seeing a sign for something that looks interesting and hopping off the freeway.These aren’t in any specific order, so just take them ala cart as they fit into your plans.

  1. Hammonaset Beach, Connecticut.

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I only stopped here because I was a bit ahead of schedule, and the friend who was letting me couch surf wouldn’t be home by the time I got there. So I took the exit, not knowing what to expect. What I got was a beautiful beach. Hammonaset isn’t much for hiking, but the beach is calm, and the view of the Atlantic goes on forever. Definitely worth stopping if you’re on a schedule, or making a day trip off. I’m definitely going to swing by on my way back to MD in June and swim.

2. Salem, Massachusets. 

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Admittedly, this one will be hit or miss for some people. I had already planned on stopping in Newburyport (More on that in a moment). So when the signs started popping up for Salem, I figured it’d be worth a stop. The town has a multitude of old buildings and if you’re lucky enough to be there on an overcast day like I was the town takes on exactly the sort of atmosphere you’d expect considering Salem’s history. I also highly recommend stopping into the Salem Witch Museum. It’s kitschy as you’d expect, but I think that’s part of the fun. They have a strange “tour” where you sit in a large amphitheatre and listen to a Vincent Price-esque voice over give you the history of the Witch Trials, aided by wax figures.

3. Moose Hill Nature Reserve, Massachusetts

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This one is strictly for people who like hiking in New England’s unique environment. The staff are incredibly kind, and happy to help you pick a trail that will suit your particular trip. I personally recommend the vernal pool trail. It leads you through a Pine forest, and passes the pools it’s named for. The photo above doesn’t begin to do them justice.

4. Newburyport, Massachusetts. 

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This place my friends. This place is worth seeing. Well, it is if you’re a fan of horror books/movies/etc. See, Newburyport is the town H.P. Lovecraft based his fictional town of “Innesmouth” on. There isn’t anything built up around that fact, and the one person I talked to about it (A woman who ran a Celtic goods store. I had to stop in. Of course I did.) had no idea. This is the only one on this list I’d planned on visiting at the start of the trip. It definitely didn’t disappoint. Walking along the harbor I saw Deep One’s in every piece of driftwood, or splash as a fish rolled the surface. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read “The Shadow Over Innesmouth” before you visit.)

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The town itself if beautiful on it’s own. Like much of new england, it’s old buildings have been repurposed for modernities like restaurants and shops, but that doesn’t take away from the sense of age that almost leaks out between the mortar of the bricks.

So, those are the one’s from this trip. Did I miss something really good? Or not stop at  particular attraction in one of the towns I did visit? Let me know, and I’ll try and swing through next time!

 

 

The Final Stretch

img_20160327_122324991.jpgI don’t have a lot of wandering or outdoor stuff to talk about this week, as I’m scrambling to get everything moved out of my apartment. However, I thought I’d touch on something my roommate has taken to calling the “pre-road trip jitters”. Over the last week or so, I’ve been losing my mind, anxious to be on the road. At first, it was just excitement, and then it became outright crankiness with everyone around me. Not that they were doing anything to merit that, but when every word they speak is a reminder that I’m still here and not on the road, it becomes irritating. If I wasn’t working up until the day I leave I’d have already Irish goodbye’d everyone and I’d be back east as I write this. It’s a hard thing to deal with when you’re excited to get going, and can’t for whatever reason. So I figured I’d lay out a few of the coping mechanisms I’ve been using to keep myself sane.

  1. See the people you’ll miss most; I’ve been making the rounds and saying real goodbyes with the people who’s company I’ll miss in a month or two. Be as picky about this as you need to be, but everyone has two or three people in their lives that deserve an hour or two of your time before you leave. Sit with them, catch up if necessary, and remember all the good memories you’ve had with them. You’ll be grateful you did once the dust settles wherever you’re heading. It adds some closure to what could otherwise be a friendship that stagnates and fails because you didn’t put in a little effort.
  2. Do things you won’t have access to later. Electronics will be few and far between for the most part once I’m in Maine, so I’ve been enjoying rewatching some of my favorite movies and tv-shows. (Twin Peaks, you’re going to make any owls I see or hear in Maine pretty unsettling) It could also be visiting places that you hold close. I made sure to hike Castlewood’s trails a few times, and got some friends to go to my favorite bar in Stl, the Thaxton Speakeasy.
  3. Meditation;  I’m by no means a calm person, and I doubt I ever will be. However, I do like to take five to ten minutes most mornings to sit, and read some sort of philosophy, or outright meditate. Over the last week I’ve forced myself to make this a longer and more regular thing. It’s helped clear my head when I get frustrated with waiting, or to pass the time when it feels like it’s dragging by. img_20160328_055639614.jpg
  4. Rep. Rep, you crazy, energetic maniac. I’m going to miss waking up with your stupid paw in my mouth buddy. For those who don’t know, Rep is my border collie. He’s insane, and most days is a pain in my ass. Wouldn’t trade him for anything, and he was the only second thought I had when I started the application process for my program in Maine. Luckily, my family loves him and will take great care of him, but the thought of not seeing him first thing every day is a little rough. So I’ve been spending as much time as I can with him. If you have a dog or any pet for that matter, and you’re going on a trip, spoil the hell out of them for a week before you leave. They won’t understand why you’re gone and hopefully, you’ll get to see you again soon, but you can believe they’ll miss you as much as you miss them. I know Rep will, unless my Ma’ feeds him with as much ferocity as she feeds me when I visit. Then he’s going to decide she’s his favorite. Rep, I hope I come back and you’ve gained twenty pounds. Then maybe I can keep up with you when we go running.

So what about you guys? What traditions do you have before a long trip? Anything else I need to do before I disappear into the woods for a year? let me know in the comments below.