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Posts Tagged ‘wilderness’


Last weekend we went snow shoeing into the woods with our local ski club. The conditions were ideal, the sun was high and bright with very little wind. Our goal was to head out onto the trails for about two hours and at the halfway point, we were going to make a fire in a snow pit and have marsh mallows and heat up some pre-cooked sausages.

Along the way we picked up some dead branches, peeled off some strips birch bark and slowly made our way through the woods. I was keeping my eyes open and taking in every detail. I saw some deer tracks, snowshoe hare leads and also some coyote droppings throughout our snow shoe hike. Once we got to the halfway point one of the group leaders dug out a pit and laid out some pieces of wood to create a base in a small clearing and then started the main fire for cooking our food and treats. The birch bark fumes filled the air and it was just heavenly.

I took this opportunity to show some of the younger members of our team how to start a smaller fire using a flint stone and a knife with a steel blade. I was joking with them about how easy they make it look on television. This whole experience was just a fun way to learn and enjoy each others company out in the wintery-woods. In a survival situation fires can be an incredible psychological boost, used for scaring off predators, drying clothes and cooking and many more positive applications.

First I used both my hands and created a flat snow base in front of me and then moulded the snow into a very small circular wall around my base to protect it against the breeze. I then laid down my birch bark strip with the curved edges into the snow to hold it down and then carefully peeled off the thin skin off the bark which looks like a silk skin. I put the end of the flint rod closest to the bark and started to strike down. It was a long strike down with the knife blade as I tried to maximize the sparks that hit the surface of the bark but this failed. The iron oxidized too quickly.

It took about thirty strikes before it actually almost took, I then tried with some toilet paper strips that I had ripped up into even longer thin pieces, this almost caught fire but it was not perfect. What is amazing using this method which has been used for centuries is that even if the flint stone gets wet, it still works and it is very easy to transport in your kit. I then took out some dryer lint that was kept in a ziplock bag and then laid it out flat onto the birch bark strip. After just four strikes it caught fire and bingo we had ourselves a nice little fire. We added smaller twigs in a teepee shape to allow air to circulate and the flames to expand.

Everyone in the group thought it was such a neat experience and you could see the immediate positive impact of having a nice fire started in this cold wilderness. After about an hour of wonderful time spent in the woods, we broke apart the larger pieces of burning wood from our fires and buried them into the snow until there was nothing but a pile of slush. It was time to head home.

What an incredible day it was and a great basic lesson in wilderness survival.

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The truck edges forward in its slow advance rolling over the sharp rocks, you can hear the rubber under stress from the weight of the truck. But then seconds later it is all over and the truck is brought to a complete stop. I swing it into park, unlatch the door, jump out and land on my two feet. It is a perfect landing, I have done this a thousand times before and then I look around my surroundings, stretch out my arms on either side taking in a deep breath.

Finally I was back where I belong in the Canadian countryside surrounded by farm fields, forests and the wetlands. My eyes see it all, I do not miss a thing, my soul absorbs its substance. Many years have gone by now and I have learned that I too have a special connection with nature. Today is my fourth time out this season for waterfowl but on this very day things seemed quite different, my knowledge reveals itself in my stature, calm and confident and as for nature well it just lives.

It is true that skill as a waterfowler will aid you in your hunts but it will never be the deciding factor on whether or not you harvest. I tell myself every time that it is what nature will offer you on that particular sortie, this is part of the excitement and challenge. The Canada geese may be in the fields waiting or not, they might be in the swamp or maybe not, the ducks might be hiding along the edge of the creek or not.

Yes for sure there will be game out there but where this is the true experience. After a great conversation with my farmer friend and getting the lowdown of the area, I step back into my truck and drive down the southern field across the creek heading toward the wetlands. Recently I have started to try something different, rather than spending several hours out in the bush, instead I leave later in the day with just two hours before sunset to set myself up in my kayak blind with my back to the forest on the northern side of the swamp.

My plan is to sit still in the boat until the ducks come in for the evening and attempt to harvest my limit before the time was up. Last year I wrote about the magical last thirty minutes of hunting which is the final thirty minutes after sunset. On my third time out this year, I barely had the time to push off the shore with my kayak and it was already raining wood ducks, some landing just feet from me. Hearing their wings swish through the air is just an incredible feeling followed by their landing splash.

I usually park several meters from the swamp, put on my waders and get my kit ready, I then sneak up to the shore to see if there are any birds. The small bushes and trees provide great cover for this, sometimes I harvest one of two birds and then go back to pick up the kayak to retrieve them. Sometimes I have to move in and around the beaver dams through the maze of swamp grass to find them. After this is when my waiting game begins, I will bring all the kit I need into the kayak and then paddle out through the swamp and setup. Generally, I choose a spot with tall grass or dead bushes or trees.

When the darkness finally covers the swamp and the fog moves in, it becomes a magical place. The shadows of the evergreen in the horizon create amazing silhouettes. The water below comes to life with beavers, bugs and fish. Strange sounds come out from the nearby woods and if you are a person with a rich imagination, it is enough to give you the shivers. It is a beautiful place with no words that can truly describe what your senses experience with every ounce in my body is filled with joy.

Then they start to flying in, woods ducks in small groups of three of four with the swish of their wings against the air as they circle all around, you slowly raise your shotgun and fill the sky with muzzle blasts of fire.

There is one thing that rings true, you are a Canadian woodsman.

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It has been a few weeks since I have blogged about our beloved sport; but the subject was never far from my thoughts or soul. For fourteen days, I walked two hundred and fifty kilometres on part of the Saint James’s trail (Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle) France; more accurately a pilgrimage on the Rocamadour variant.

God knows, no pun intended that I had lots of time to think and reflect about everything, including my upcoming seasons and blog articles. While on the “Chemin,” I was constantly reminded of the beauty of nature and its magnificent wildlife. The hares in France were so large in size that their ears resembled that of a coyote and the palombe (wood pigeons) also impressed me with their size, flight and ability to blend into their environment.

When walking in the open fields alone with no one in sight for miles, I openly called out to the French crows and hawks to see if I would get a response. The crow calls were very different and not as pronounced as their north American cousins. They also did not call in three’s. Furthermore, they did not seem interested in having a conversation with me, unlike they do here.

As for the hawks, they usually called back but it took two or three tries before I got a response. While on the Saint James trail, it was not unusual to spend several hours walking through French forests and even though they also had maple and oak trees just like us, the forests in the region where I walked seemed very damp and dense and very eery at times.

The forest density changed just like our forests from very open pine forests to extremely thick mixed woods. Some trees grew in small groupings of three to five trees with every grouping spaced out. I walked through many private hunting territories in close proximity to agricultural areas, and only saw two deer and was particularly amazed by their rather small body size.

One night while sitting in a French restaurant, I met a fellow boar hunter and eventhough we lived in two different countries seperated by a great sea, we shared the same passion, the same knowledge and as a result we bonded like two brothers. 

It was an incredible experience and I will return for sure, but now my focus is to enjoy the rest of the summer and get ready for the fall. And as for my walk through the amazing French countryside and its forests or as John Muir put it: The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.

My fourteen day walk through the French countryside and wilderness shall be part of me for a lifetime.

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Casting the Creek


A good friend mine who also appreciates the outdoors asked me what I was doing after work today and so I told him I was going fishing in the creek near my home. I had a very big smile on and so did he. I could not wait for the work day to finish. I never catch much but the fish do bite and it is a great way for me to learn different techniques.

My grandfather had left me two Canadian Tire fishing rods and an amazing fishing box with vintage hooks and lures; actually it is full of treasures. I was all set now, having picked up my permit just a few days ago and the weather was also cooperating with a slight breeze and nice cool air blowing in from the east and the temperature sitting around twenty-two degrees Celsius.

It is such an addictive feeling when the fish bite and you feel the rod handle tilt in the palm of your hand. I try letting the line loose, then pull up little at a time, or slowly reel it in and see the fish come up to the surface. Sometimes, I open my hand right up and barely hold on to the rod and when the fish bite or poke at the line, I can feel the slight tug, what an incredible feeling it is.

I must have spent about two hours by the creek and the mosquitoes sure had a feast but it did not bother me one bit, I was too focused on fishing and taking in the life of the creek as well as the incredible view of dusk.

Today I had a special visitor a rather large beaver swam up the middle of the creek and almost directly in line with my hook. I watched him swim right up from the east and I did not move an inch.

He didn’t see me until he was only a few feet from me, I then I pulled up my line let my hook splash the surface of the water to let him know I was there, he slapped his tail and dove instantly, and it was such an incredible experience, I watched him come up right up the creek.

This creek has so much life, I have personally seen over thirty species of birds including mallard ducks, hooded mergansers, cranes and herons. There are also resident muskrat, mink and squirrels, deer and wild turkeys.

It is not just the fishing that makes me feel refreshed and offers so much pleasure; it is also knowing that this creek puts on a spectacular show at the end of every day.

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I believe that our ability to observe is more than just a skill which can be learned; and that for some it is truly natural; being able to process what we see differently and sometimes seeing what others around us can not.

Our sight combined with our other senses can enhance our hunts and give us the advantage we need in being able to harvest.

I am always trying to find ways to improve my observation so that it becomes almost instinctive. I really enjoy taking friends along on a hunt and quite often they simply come out for the pure enjoyment of nature and its wonders, from the deciduous forests in the valley to the wetlands along the Ottawa.

When we are out, I often point out a dark shadow or some movement in the swamp and almost always there is a grouse or a duck hidden away and sometimes it is quite a distance away. Being observant can really add some great flavor to the time spent in the wilderness.

Movement or shadows which are out-of-place help in being able to observe and identify game but also knowing patterns and habits. Just a few days ago a group of European starling flew in and landed right on my lawn then started working away at the worms and ants.

There is one particular red ant hill near the front of my property which is quite large and six of the starling bounced over right onto the ant hill and started to do a very strange wing flicking dance.

They took turns jumping inches off the ground like their feet were in hot water and then plucking down into the dirt with an ant in their bill. They then turned their heads into their wings as if to break the ant before eating it.

Now this is the first time I have observed this, I could not tell if they were preventing ants from coming up their wings or if it was some ritualistic dance to kill the ants before consuming them. It was fascinating to observe.

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With my every foot step on this stony path today, I was taken over by an overwhelming sense of happiness, I had just realized at that very moment that I have finally understood; what an incredible feeling it was. It has taken me a very long time and many years in the woods, but now I was able to listen, smell, see, read and tell.

Unless you truly listen to nature in every sense of the word; then I speak of a language that may only sound like the wind to you. The wilderness tells stories and holds secrets to growing and healing.

I soon discovered aspen wood chips scattered across that very path, where the beaver had dragged pieces of wood into his creek, really near to their lodge. I then picked up a pure beige walking stick with its bark completely removed by those incredible incisors.

A red-winged black bird was singing out from the cat tail right by my side, there were ripples in the black waters hidden behind the swamp grass and two morning doves on the ground just meters in front of me where not even startled to flight, my whole being was at a heightened state, I did not miss any of nature’s details and I could share it with others in the form of a story.

Wilderness is awesome and being a true outdoors-man is just incredible, maybe Henry David Thoreau is looking down at me and giving me a wink in acknowledgement saying you have finally understood.

When I wrote this piece, I was listening to “First Aid Kit – Emmylou” Their folk style was quite fitting.

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Rock Dove

Rock Dove

I have learned over the years that it is very important for us to listen to ourselves, our bodies and most importantly our souls. So, that we may allow ourselves a recharge of our inner batteries and come back fresh for the next challenge.

I was sitting in my living room and I knew I needed time away from it all, so I packed up my kit, climbed into my truck and drove out to the country. It would be a day for me alone, I was also hoping to harvest a pigeon or two for supper but my first objective was just to spend time in the woods.

When I got to my friends farm, I visited for a while and then unpacked my gear and headed down the ridge toward the south. Just as soon as I stepped over the electric fence I chose the first large boulder tucked away under a tree which offered some cool shade and sat down.

My back was arched forward, with my forearms resting on my thighs and both hands wrapped around my 12 gauge Winchester; I must have sat there for almost an hour without moving an inch, the bugs were buzzing around me, the sweat from my forehead and arms dripping on the cold steel, then onto the ground.

I sat there and looked around peacefully taking in the wilderness, cleared my thoughts, then said a short prayer and headed off down the hill to the creek. A cool breeze blew in and it felt incredible, I did not harvest my first pigeon until later in the afternoon but I went home feeling refreshed.

When I got back I cooked the pigeon in a pan with some vegetable oil and Montreal spices then shared it with my family.

This was perfect!

 

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