Thursday, 29 March 2012

Come On Baby Light My Fire!

After my nature immersion and wilderness skills courses, one of the things that really intriqued me was making fire with a bow drill. Perhaps it was because it took me 4 days of consistent attempts to actually get my first coal. But, I did it!  Here is my first coal that my friend and instructor coached me....

At the end of my course, I was invited to participate in a Women's BowDrill Challenge. I am not one to shy away from a challenge.. so of course I said "sign me up". Since the beginning of October till now, I have been practicing my skill. And want to share with you what I have learned.

For those of you who are not familiar to what a bowdrill is, it is basically an ancient tool that is used to make fire by friction. It consists of handhold, a spindle and a fireboard, and a simple bow, usually a solid, curved branch. Here is a picture of my bowdrill. The handhold is made of maple, and the spindle, and fireboard is of cedar, all carved with my knife. The branch is I think pine, I am not sure, I just found it in my woodpile at the cottage. But it was all perfect.

 The first weekend I really put my skill to the test, I thought to myself... "Ah, I can do it no problem... did it once before."  Yeah, that kind of thinking will get you in trouble everytime. Every attempt is a lesson and a big lesson on patience and to be humble.

I was at my cottage and the neighbours were cutting wood next door. Yeah, the only cottage you can actually see because the addition is SO BIG! But anyway, they would glance over once and a while until they got curious enough to find out what all the squeaking was about. For the next hour of attempts, I was teased and harrassed with offers to lend a match, blow torch, etc. Yeah yeah yeah. Very funny.

It was frustrating and I felt very much like this guy in the video...

But I kept on. And after consistently being patient, calm and relatively collected, with my sore arm in tow, I finally got a coal. Here you go.... My first coal in the challenge.

In the 6 months of practicing, teaching to my kids, and more practicing, I have got the technique down pretty good. I don't get a coal everytime, but that is ok, every time I learn something new. The biggest lesson, when you think you have a coal, count to 20, then count back from 20.. then you peek. Not before. So many times I would stop just short of a coal.

Another lesson is to listen. The sound of your spindle will tell you what you are doing wrong. If you are squeaking, it is because your string is too loose or your spindle is too square.  Glazing can take place too if you push down too hard. Which if you spindle does start to glaze I like to throw in some sand to roughen it up.

And if your handhold is smoking instead of your fireboard, you need to lubricate your spindle tip a bit more... my favourite thing to use is bees wax.

Remember, technique is your friend. Get your stance right and support your handhold hand with your leg to steady the spindle. And so you don't tire so easily. That I learned the hard way.

The last lesson, be patient, stop when you get tired, don't get too frustrated and don't give up. It will all come. 

You can still see me, or hear me in my backyard, drilling away with my bow to get a coal. And my wood stove at the cottage is now lit with a bowdrill instead of a match. My kids now know how to use a bow drill and how to build a 10 minute fire that lights in seconds. It is all in the technique.

So when you see me next, don't stare at my one arm big bicep... it is all due to lessons from the bowdrill. Now it is time to take the advanced course and make everything out of natural fibres... right down to the string. Until then, I will be singing "Come On Baby Light My Fire!"

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Rocky Raccoon

I have a lot of fun getting down in the dirt and exploring with the kids. The kids are a bit reserved at the start as this was the first time they met me, but once we started finding ants, and stink bugs under the leaves and bugs running up the trees, it was game on. The curiosity in those kids kicked into high gear and I was discovering for the first time right there with them. To see the world through a child's eyes and discover new things is one of my most cherished and favourite things. It is through this discovery that we begin to connect with nature and have respect for it. And these little 4 year olds were fully engaged, looking through guide books and seeing who could find the next one.

So when I  come across adults who never had that connection with nature, all I find myself able to do at the time is smile and nod.

On our way back from our exploring, covered in leaves, dirt and more dirt, we passed two adults who were looking on the other side of the small river. When they see I am with a pack of children, they increase their talk and warn us of the racooon across the river.

"Be careful, there is a raccoon over there on the other side. It is behaving weird as it is out in the middle of the day."

UM, ok, yes raccoons can be vicious, especially when cornered but that is when self perservation is at stake. And middle of the day? Well it was 11am. And did I mention it was on the other side of the river!  Ha ha, in all my outdoor experience, I have seen some pretty amazing things, but a raccoon, walking on water or jumping in to swim over to us and attack us, I have yet to see.

BUT, I don't say anything, I just smile and nod and race to where they told me the raccoon was, with all the little ones in tow.

It took a while for the children to see what I saw, but when they did, we stood on the other side of the bank and watched the raccoon, climb up the tree and peer around the corner at us. We decided to call it Rocky.

It was climbing up the tree, and do you see that hole in the tree? What do you think is going on? Why do you think the raccoon is on that tree?

We watched on as we noticed a great foot hold on the tree for Rocky to push off for that long reach to the hole in the tree. What a smart raccoon, using foot holds to climb. A Genius!

Then all we could see was its little tuft of tail sticking up in the air in the hole.  It was the highlight of the day for everyone. We now know where the raccoon sleeps during the day. So next time, we will return and see what other signs we can find around that tree.

Until next time... enjoy the outdoors and remember, if you are not dirty, you didn't have enough fun!