American Bushman

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." —Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Medicine in the Sky

I've been reading bedtime stories to the kids from Ernest Thompson Seton's "Woodland Tales" and we find lessons in each and every tale. Last night's story (Tale 71) really struck a chord with me. I am afflicted with some new allergies that seem to only bother me when indoors. Within minutes of leaving the house I feel better, can breathe easier, and my nose stops running.

Tale 71 spoke to me so much that I've decided to include it in its entirety here for your enjoyment:

This is one of the greatest and best secrets of Woodcraft--The Medicine in the Sky.

Let me tell you a story about it. There was once an Indian who left his own people, to live with the white man, in the East. But the Great Spirit was displeased, for he did not mean the Indian to live in houses or cities. After a year, the red man came back very thin and sick, coughing nearly all night, intead of sleeping. He believed himself dying.

The wise old Medicine Man of his tribe said, "You need the Medicine of the Sky." He took it and got quite well and strong.

Another Indian, who had gone to visit with a distant tribe of red men, came back with some sickness on his skin that made it very sore. It was far worse than Poison Ivy, for it began to eat into his flesh. The Medicine Man said, "Sky Medicine will cure you." And it did.

One day a white man, a trader, came with chest protectors to sell to the Indians. He was sure they needed them, because he did; and, although so well wrapped up, he was always cold. He suffered whenever the wind blew. The old Medicine Man said, " We don't need your chest pads, and you would not if you took the Sky Medicine." So the trader tried it, and by and by, to his surprise and joy, no matter whether it was hot or cold outdoors, he was comfortable.

This man had a friend who was a learned professor in a college, and he told him about the great thing he had learned from the old Indian. The professor was not old, but he was very sick and feeble in body. He could not sleep nights. His hair was falling out, and his mind filled with gloomy thoughts. The whole world seemed dark to him. He knew it was a kind of disease, and he went away out West to see his friend. Then he met the Medicine Man and said to him, "Can you help me?"

The wise old Indian said, "Oh, white man, where do you spend your days?"

"I spend them at my desk, in my study, or in the classroom."

"Yes, and your nights?"

"In my study among my books."

"And where do you sleep?"

"I don't sleep much, thought I have a comfortable bed."

"In the house?"

"Yes, of course."

"Listen, then, O foolish white man. The Great Spirit set Big Medicine in the sky to cure our ills. And you hide from it day and night. What do you expect but evil? This do and be saved. Take the Sky Medicine in measure of your strength."

He did so and it saved him. His strength came back. His cheeks grew ruddy, his hands grew steady, his hair ceased falling out, he slept like a baby. He was happy.

Now what is the Sky Medicine? It is the glorious sunlight, that cures so many human ills. We ask every Woodcrafter to hold on to its blessings.

And in this wise, O Guide, you must give it to the little ones. Make it an honourable exploit to be sunburnt to the elbows without blistering; another to be sunburnt to the shoulders; another to the waist; and greatest of all, when sunburnt all over. How are they to get this? Let them go to some quiet place for the last, and let the glory fall on their naked bodies, for ten minutes each day. Some more, and some less, according to their strength, and this is the measure--so long as it is pleasant, it is good.

In this way they will inherit one of the good things of the woods and be strong and hardened, for there is no greater medicine than the Sun in the sky.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Losing my mind

It's been a circus around here today.

I've been unable to leave, had guys on the roof all day, had a dumpster dropped off, had plywood dropped in front of the dumpster, had a guy pull a pane of glass from the 50-foot long skylight in my living room, had my dad show up, and have been on the phone all day with various contractors and workers regarding various aspects of a project I've somehow managed to get myself into...

It's been more than a little difficult to come up with something worth writing about. I've only been online about 10 minutes all day.

The house is getting a new roof and gutters, the skylight is being reglazed, the drywall will be repaired (nail pops caused by people walking all over the roof,) and then the inside and outside will be painted all in preparation for putting my house on the market April 1st of this year.

THIS is why I'm not getting much time in the woods. Weekends are spent preparing for the circus that'll make this current circus look like a day in the woods...

Wish me luck,


Monday, February 26, 2007

Weekend Report

Whoah! For those of you who haven't yet read it, go to Pablo's Blog and read his extreme testing of the NRA Survival Kit. Not only did he immerse the kit in water for days to test the waterproofness but he then immersed his own hands in that icy water to attempt to better replicate a survival situation. Hard Core!

I got to spend a little time outdoors this weekend but it was, unfortunately, only to remove snow from the driveway. This isn't the white fluffy stuff most people think of when they think snow. This was the wet heavy fort-building snow that comes up in sheets and weighs a TON! Today I'm a little sore from all the shovelling.

I also spent my weekend cleaning out the house and getting rid of unnecessary clothes and gear. I had NO IDEA just how much stuff I was storing in bins that I had no intention of moving later this year when the new house is finished. I filled five 33 gallon trashcans in about an hour. I have an overflow of bags FULL of old used cordage, old medicine from the first aid kits, fatwood shavings, and other miscellaneous junk that I could either replace or recreate at any time.

I managed to swing out to see the boys at JRE Industries to drop off a few things and I had a look at some of the new knives coming out of Escanaba. I came home with two Swedish Army Trangias and two new knives. It looks like BRK&T is doing the PSK Knife (see Pablo's blog above) in a variety of handle materials. Most exciting, to me, is the Nebula. This is the newest entry into Bark River Knife & Tool's Bushcraft line. JRE has got some great pictures of various handle options here. Notice the half-height grind on this one. It looks like a Scandi from the side but looks convex when looking down the blade. I can't wait to get it out and use it.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, February 23, 2007


I've been using my headlamp, a Petzl Tikka, quite a bit recently. Last night it was put to a more domestic use while putting away laundry for the kids who had already gone to bed.

The light has three intensity settings and a strobe that is tons of fun when reading bedtime stories. For my uses, the lowest intensity is often plenty of light. Having the light mounted on my forehead makes it extremely easy to point the beam exactly where I want it as it inherently points where I'm looking.

It runs on three AAA batteries and I've been using my headlamp for 6-12 months on the first set with no signs of dimming. It only weighs a couple of ounces and wears comfortably for hours if necessary although I tend to wrap the strap around the light and stuff it in a coat pocket if I'm not using it continuously just to keep the batteries warm and to prevent loss.

The Tikka runs on LEDs so bulbs should never need replacement and for about $30US it should handle most, if not all, of your outdoor (and indoor) lighting needs.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Knife Lanyard Knot

Did you ever try tying a knot only to succeed the first time and then, seemingly, never again?

I have been working on the knife lanyard knot seen here and have had some limited success. Strangely I could tie it the first and second time on my first attempt. Now it takes me 10 or 15 attempts and sometimes I still can't get it to work out.

Even worse, sometimes it does work out through no more than dumb luck.

I've tied and retied this knot until my hands ache. Sometimes I'm rewarded with a nice looking round turk's head type knot and others I'm left scratching my head...

Give it a try and let me know how you fare. It cannot be as difficult as I seem to be making it. It is, after all, just a twisted piece of rope.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Update troubles

It appears that some of my posts over the past week or so have been lost to cyberspace.

I've got a new computer and switched from a Dell running Windows to a MacBook running OSx. I have seen some of the features in this version of blogger go missing but I never suspected that I wasn't actually getting my posts made.

I'll have to keep the old laptop online until such time as I figure out what I'm doing wrong with the MacBook.

I'll try to get something posted a bit later from the old computer.



Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Finally! We're getting some of the snow we haven't gotten much of all winter.

Being a winter-minded person (with a new pair of snowshoes) I've been rather disappointed with the brutally cold dry winters of the past few years. Sure, this storm won't stick around for long but for the next couple of days the kids and I will deck ourselves out in as much warm and dry gear as we can to spend some time playing in the snow.

I've already got a ridgeline tied out this morning for hanging a tarp should we decide to spend our lunch outside.

Both kids have excellent outdoor gear (no shock there huh?) so we should have no problems handling the temperature which is in the 20s as I type this.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Nutrition needs and bush cooking

My 10cm Zebra Billy is getting quite a workout lately. I've taken to eating some of the dried grains and rice that I'd have with me in the woods to refamiliarize myself with their preparation and to work out the details that'll make consuming them for longer periods bearable.

First is Scottish Oatmeal which I eat in the morning. The ratio of oats to water is 1:3 and they'll cook for 10 minutes at a simmer. One 1/4 cup (pre-cooked) serving will provide 140 calories and leave you feeling full for hours. I eat mine with a splash of milk and a drizzle of honey. Delicious, filling, and easily carried for long periods without spoiling.

For lunch, a bit of brown rice. This gets a 1:2 ratio of rice to water. Bring the mixture to a boil and turn the heat down to a simmer for 35-40 minutes. One 1/4 cup (pre-cooked) serving will provide 150 calories. Once it's finished cooking, let it rest for 5 minutes and then fluff it up with your fork/spoon/spork, salt it, and eat. I like to add some sriracha to give my brown rice a"flair" from time to time. You can tone down the heat with a bit of sugar if it's too much and that'll also give you some extra valuable calories for your outdoor activities.

Both of these I prepare in my 10cm Zebra Billy as I can eat right out of the can and then give it a quick rinse to make it ready for the next meal.

I'm reading a little bit on the Internet about cooking whole grains in a thermos overnight and will be doing a bit of experimentation on that over the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, February 09, 2007


Please make sure to take a look at any comments listed after a post. There have been several great discussions left by Pablo, Sam, Dan and Spen, Mary, and others with some great links.

I don't know if you make it a habit to read comments when they're present but I really appreciate all the feedback and it lets me know that you're reading what I've written. It has also been a way to continue to flesh out parts of the original post that may have been of interest to you as readers.

I look forward to hearing from you all.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, February 08, 2007


I got a PCU Level 4 Windshirt today in the mail. I first wrote about the PCU several months ago here on the blog and it has taken me this long to order one. Since the first writing, the PCU has been replaced by the MCU and the new Level 4 Windhirt is a full-zip jacket with some other improvements. I, however, wanted the anorak-style PCU Level 4 jacket and it was on sale.

The windshirt is good for layering over a thermal (fleece/wool) layer. It's 100% nylon and comes in a brownish-greenish color somewhere between khaki and OD. I really like it.

I'm working on a fairly restrictive budget right now and this windshirt is one of the only things I've purchased since the first of the year and I have to say I'm extremely satisfied with my choice.

I hope to get out into some wind tomorrow or over the weekend to see just how well it works.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dress for the cold

Over the past few days we've had more than ample opportunity to learn what does, and does not, work in extreme cold temperatures. With an ambient temperature of -5 and a wind chill of -25 the basic coat and hat just wasn't up to the task.

I've been a big proponent of the Swanndri wool out of New Zealand and find the Ranger Xtreme to be a hugely effective piece of gear. It offers the insulative properties of wool with the windproof membrane that keeps out most of the heat-wicking air movement. This layer, however, is still not enough.

The other morning was the first time I was actually cold while standing around waiting for my daughter's bus. I can only imagine just how chilled she must have been. We wait less than 10 minutes usually so I can only begin to guess how cold it is for guys like Dan and Spen of JRE Industries to work in an unheated space for hours at a time--usually at the coldest part of the night.

Here's my layering system for extreme cold weather starting from the layer next to the skin and working my way out:
  1. Coolmax underwear and T-shirt
  2. Underarmour ColdGear Pants and Shirt
  3. Arborwear Heavyweight Shirt and flannel-lined bluejeans
  4. Swanndri Ranger Xtreme
  5. L.L. Bean Thinsulate Barn Coat
  6. Wool gloves on my hands and a wool Filson stocking cap on my head
  7. Heavyweight wool socks

If the weather merits, I'll throw a balaclava in my pocket. Frostbite on the face isn't much fun. If that's the case I'll also throw in some windproof overmitts.

Obviously keeping warm enough is a very subjective thing and each person is going to have to determine his/her comfort level balancing number of layers, protection from wind, snow, and water, and maintaining an acceptable core temperature.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, February 03, 2007


It's COLD outside. 7 degrees ambient temperature...and it was darned windy.

I went out to hang the hammock and tarp and had to come in several times after my hands went numb and my face started to burn. Having had some mild frostbite in the past I know when it's time to head for shelter.

This is NOT weather I'd want to be out in if possible. That is, I suppose, why I'm sitting here typing instead.

Stay warm,


Friday, February 02, 2007

Protect those eyes

A few years ago on a hike someone mentioned wearing safety glasses when in the woods. The idea sounded a little crazy at the time but, upon further reflection, isn't so crazy at all.

The woods are full of hazards that seem to be at eye-level and a simple pair of comfortable safety glasses or sunglasses would dramatically reduce the chances of injury. A thorn or a swinging branch could very easily damage the eye, the socket, or even the orbit (the bone surrounding the socket.) That'd complicate your egress from the woods...

I am reminded of this after rough-housing with my daughter last night and getting tagged in the eye for my umpteenth scratched cornea. This is her first time to get me and, perhaps, that's why it happened. It's been my son who has most often stuck a fingernail or other foreign object in my eyeball.

Protect your eyes. You'd me amazed how much more difficult it is to do things when you're down one or two...


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lost? Look around.

The compass goldenrod is one of nature's great resources for the lost hiker. Even in winter this flowering plant's woody stalk can be seen sticking up through the snow.

Ernest Thompson Seton writes about the Compass Goldenrod in his "Woodland Tales:"
So the slender Goldenrod and his brothers rejoiced and they stood up straight, facing the noon sun, and bent backward, throwing out their chests till their golden caps and plumes were pointed to the north.

Now that doesn't mean that they're all going to point North all the time. But, if you can find a cluster of them while you're wandering you should be able to establish a pretty darned good idea of which way is North.

Thanks for reading,