Cabin restoration project – Construction nears completion

For the past several weeks, the building contractor has been working hard to get the century-old brand-new cabin into shape and ready for occupancy. Since my last cabin update, all the windows have been installed and trimmed, the door has been installed, the floor insulation and flooring have been installed, the bathroom shell has been largely completed, the loft stairs have been built, some exterior insulation has been installed and covered and a lot of the front porch has been constructed. I imagine all the rest of the work by the contractor will be completed over the next week or two, and then it’ll be my turn to furnish the cabin, set up the kitchen and bathroom, paint the exterior etc.

Meanwhile, my friend Alex and I did some work of our own to the sauna, namely raising it up onto six concrete blocks left over from the cabin construction and digging out the area around and under the building for better ventilation underneath, to preserve the wooden beams the sauna is built on and to prevent mice from finding their way inside through the drain holes in the sauna (the beams/sauna used to rest directly on the ground).

I’ve spent just about every weekend for the last two months out at the future homestead site doing extremely uninteresting things like yard work (no yard work had been done there in 20 years, so you can imagine how much there is to do…), collecting all kinds of interesting garbage from around the property and throwing it onto the mountain of trash which has been accumulating and also fixing up the exterior of the old farm house to make it a little more presentable. After one or two more weekends of yard work, I think I’ll have the place the way I want it. Then I’ll start dismantling what’s left of the old storage building where the new cabin originally came from and sort through the wood to see what I can use for firewood and future building projects (chicken coop, greenhouse, firewood shelter etc.).

I’ll leave you with a picture of a stoat (mustela erminea) which seems to have made the old farm its home. Hope you enjoyed this update!

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Lemmenjoki National Park, Lapland, September 2013 – Part 2

In case you missed it, Part 1 can be found here.

Pasi and I had spent Monday night at the Vaskojoki hut, which is open to wilderness travelers on a first-come, first-served basis and provides bunks with mattresses, a wood-burning stove, a table and benches and even a gas cooking stove.

The scenery around the hut wasn’t too shabby.

Following breakfast, we packed up our gear and said adieu to the Vaskojoki hut, traveling roughly along the Vasko River looking for a suitable place to cross it. The wetter land between the river and drier pine forest was often covered with scrubby birch trees.

Here’s Pasi testing a route across the river.

Our prospects didn’t look good at that location, so we headed to a higher elevation and traveled through the pine forest again. A sight often encountered throughout these forests was reindeer droppings, aka “nature’s licorice jellybeans”. They are much smaller and darker than moose droppings.

Speaking of moose, while Pasi and I stopped to take a short break, I spotted a cow moose plodding through the forest not too far away. She obviously didn’t smell or hear us, for she carried on with her business for quite a while. Unfortunately, the best picture I could get of her was this (she’s the brown blob in the center):

As we continued hiking parallel to the river, we came across this kota/lavvu frame. For those of you not familiar with this type of shelter, it is similar to the tipi used by Native American Indians. In Lapland, they are primarily used by the indigenous Saami people/Laplanders.

Our route toward a narrower and rockier section of the river where we might cross more easily took us over some very marshy ground. Good thing I was wearing rubber boots! A few scenes from along the way:

An old bird’s nest:

Parts of the forest were littered with scraggly dead pines like these.

Some of the marshy areas were full of dwarf birch, the leaves of which had either turned brown or fallen off by that point.

When we cut over and approached the river again, we looked for a suitable place to stop for a meal and thought this area would do.

While Pasi got a fire going in a fire pit used by previous hikers, I collected firewood from a dead pine nearby with my Fiskars large sliding saw.

It was a fine spot for a meal indeed. 🙂

From time to time, the clouds broke, giving us a glimpse of beautiful blue sky.

Following our meal break, we threw on our packs and headed southward away from the river and through the pine forest to a lake where we’d make camp. We saw these moose rubbings along the way. When a bull moose is regrowing antlers in the spring and summer, they’re covered in a fuzzy layer of skin called velvet which the moose rubs off once the antlers stop growing. They often use saplings like this for the purpose.

We reached the small lake, which was linked to the river by a stream, and set up camp before it got dark. We followed the usual drill of setting up our shelters and a stone fire ring and then collecting firewood. Pasi’s shelter on the right is a “pena-laavu” from the Savotta company, and my shelter on the left is two German army surplus ponchos snapped together in a brew shelter configuration. I wasn’t able to set up my shelter perfectly because of the trees nearby, but it worked well enough.

The water we got from the lake was crystal clear and delicious. Just dip your cup in and drink. 🙂

In all, we had hiked about 9 km/5.5 miles on Tuesday, and I was eager to hit the sack as soon as night came. Pasi arose earlier than I for some morning capercaillie hunting with his laika Pyry. I awoke to Pasi shouting at Pyry some distance away in an effort to stop him from chasing a moose, which can lead to a long sit-and-wait or retrieve-your-dog-from-deep-in-the-wilderness scenario. Pyry complied and I fell back to sleep. A bit later I woke up again and started up the fire after collecting more wood. While fiddling around, I heard a nearby shotgun blast from the otherwise silent forest, and Pasi returned with the second capercaillie of the trip, another male, which was older and more substantial. He related his brief encounter with a bear that morning as well as his intention to return to the area for a bear hunt in the future.

After Pasi had finished unburdening the fowl of its internals, we sat down to cook a meal over the fire. He had remarked that the temperature dropped below freezing overnight, at which time I remembered noticing this at some point during the night. Not long after, we got a little confirmation from mother nature in the form of a 5- to 10-minute period of wet snowfall…quickly followed by sunshine.

Out of curiosity, I took out my thermometer to take a reading. Just as the weather report had forecast, it was 4°C/40°F. As a side note, I used the Swiss sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner on this trip and never felt cold.

We then packed up and headed down to the river again to search for a good spot to cross. We cut ourselves some poles from the nearby woods, and Pasi skillfully led the way across.

With my luck being what it is, I’m sure you can guess what happened when I traversed the cold river, stepping from one slick rock to another. 🙂 Yes, yours truly fell in, filling my boots with water and getting wet almost up to my waist and wetting the front of my jacket and my gloves as well. Fortunately, the water wasn’t deep there. I picked myself up, wrought myself out and continued across the river. After quickly changing socks (my pants dried surprisingly quickly, so I left them on) and dumping the water out of my knife sheath, we continued hiking on the other side of the river toward our pick-up point, but not before I slipped on a boulder at the edge of the river, landing on my kuksa (the one I got from the Woodsbabe’s grandparents last Christmas). I had attached it to the shoulder strap of my pack with a carabiner for easy access, but never expected it to serve as an emergency cushioning device. Let’s just say I’m happy I landed on this cup with one of my cheeks and not straight onto the boulder with my tailbone… While it was unfortunate that this gift was rendered unusable, I’m sure the Woodsbabe’s grandparents would be happier knowing it broke while on a wilderness trip in Lapland as opposed to sitting on a shelf collecting dust!

The rest of our time in the forest was uneventful. We traversed some more marshy land near the river and eventually reached the pick-up point, where Pasi’s girlfriend was waiting for us. That evening, the three of us drove out to their cabin further to the north. Pasi intended to paint the new shed he put up there, and I offered to help. It ended up raining all Wednesday night and Thursday morning, so we scrapped the idea, instead returning to their home. That afternoon, they cooked my favorite Finnish dish, “käristys”, with moose meat (reindeer is often used as well). To make käristys, partially frozen meat is cut into thin slices and then slow-cooked with onions in butter over low heat. It’s then usually served with mashed potatoes and cowberries/lingonberries. Pasi used a leuku he made to slice the moose meat. The meal was delicious.

A while after eating, we three drove to the Siida Saami Museum in the village of Inari, which had very interesting exhibits covering Saami history, culture, handicrafts and technology, including an open-air section which I’ll cover next time. The museum also had plenty to show and tell about the geology, fauna and flora of the region.

Bidding my gracious hosts farewell on Friday morning, I retraced my 12-hour train and bus route of almost a week earlier and returned safe and sound (and a little sore) at home. Despite the issues of this year’s trip, I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the north (for which I will definitely be better prepared). As per usual, I’ll use this experience to make future trips more successful and enjoyable!

I want to say thanks to Pasi for being a great wilderness companion, showing me around “his neck of the woods” and for being patient and flexible. He really added a great dimension to the trip. I’d be happy to join him for another in the future (in better condition, of course ;))!

A little fishing and a lot of berries!

At the beginning of August, the Woodsbabe, Woodsboy and I joined my in-laws at the cabin to enjoy some summer sun, boating, fishing and berry picking. We suited the Woodsboy up, who was chomping at the bit to head out.

We hopped in the boat, and Woodsbabe rowed…

…while I fished. 😀 Thanks Woodsbabe! 😉

On the other side of the lake, there were boulders in one direction:

And berries galore in the other:

We picked bilberries (vaccinium myrtillus):

And northern bilberries (vaccinium uliginosum):

We saw some cow berries (vaccinium vitis-idaea), but they’re not ripe yet:

I snapped this picture nearby. The lichen and plants kind of look like a miniature forest to me.

Upon returning to the cabin, the Woodsboy and I set up the hand-line fishing rig with a piece of a fake worm and tried our luck.

We managed to get two roach fish (rutilus rutilus) like this:

After fishing, we looked around the yard for more berries. We found rowan berries (sorbus genus) (note: these are not poisonous, but are very bitter and could bother your stomach!):

Black currants (ribes nigrum):

And white currants (ribes rubrum):

Then the Woodsboy and I headed down the dirt road to find more berries. We found a lot of raspberries (rubus idaeus):

And stone bramble (rubus saxatilis):

We also saw unripe lilly of the valley (convallaria majalis). They turn orange when ripe. DO NOT EAT THESE BERRIES, as they are poisonous!

As we walked back, I shot this field of fireweed (chamerion angustifolium). Many of the seed pods have opened and released their fluff.

This is probably the most prolific time of year for berries in Finland. The wild strawberries (fragaria vesca) are mostly long gone now, hence no pictures of them in this post. The last berries to ripen should be the cow berries and black crowberries (empetrum nigrum), which will last into the autumn.

Hope you enjoyed this little tour of some of Finland’s wild and cultivated berries. 🙂

Disclaimer: Consuming wild edible plants and/or using them for medical purposes is done at your own risk. Always be 100% certain of what you are eating/doing. If unsure, contact an expert.

Saaremaa, Estonia – July 2013

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you might remember my camping trip to Saaremaa, Estonia in September 2012. Last month, I returned to Estonia’s largest island with the family in tow. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time for any bushcraft or camping this time around, but we did visit a lot of interesting sites and hit up the island’s main attractions.

As is probably the case with many tourists on Saaremaa, the 14th-Century castle was one of our first stops.

After strolling around the town just outside the castle, we drove out to neighboring Muhu island, where we were able to take a look inside a traditional Saaremaa-style thatch-roofed cabin. As you can see, there is no other roofing material besides the thatch. It was the roof of choice for poor people for a long time due to it’s low cost and availability. A roof like this can last 50 years!

One of Saaremaa’s main attractions is the Kaali meteorite crater lake, which was formed…you guessed it…by a meteorite which fell to Earth sometime between 4,000 and 8,000 years ago.

In case you’re wondering, yes, there are (introduced) fish in it.

While driving along the coast on our way to another of the island’s attractions, the Panga Cliffs, we stopped at the seaside to explore.

Rather than sand, pebbles, rocks or boulders, the sea bed at this location is actually smooth slabs of dolomite.

Nearby shore with junipers.

When we reached the cliffs, the Woodsboy and I headed out first, and the Woodsbabe snapped this pic (actually, she took a lot of the pictures in this post).

A few pictures from the countryside.

My Finnish readers will appreciate the name of this small Village. 😉

Anyone familiar with Saaremaa knows of the “windmill hill” in the village of Angla. These types of windmills were used to grind flour in the olden days.

This site also has some farm animals for the kiddies and some exhibits with items from yesteryear.

While on our way to the lighthouse on the peninsula in the southwest, we saw these rock piles at the shore.

Here’s the lighthouse as viewed from the very tip of the peninsula.

On our last day on Saaremaa, we ate at a unique restaurant in town. At some point in it’s history, it was converted from a working windmill to a restaurant with several dining stories inside.

On our way home, we spent a night in the medieval old town of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. Here’s a shot from up on high.

Hope you enjoyed this peek at my favorite island!

Primitive fishing update

I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like to lately. One reason is that I have less time for writing blog posts because of my new work and kiddie schedule which resulted from our recent move. The other reason is that we recently had the pleasure of hosting my parents for 2 weeks here in Finland, and this week the Woodsboy and I are on vacay at home together. My list of things to blog about is growing faster than I can scratch things off it, but I am trying! Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read and comment on other blogs as frequently as I used to because of the schedule change. Lately I’ve had to pick one blog at a time to catch up with. If you notice that I’ve been conspicuously absent from a particular venue, this is the reason!

About a month ago, I wrote about my first experiments in primitive fishing. Since then, I haven’t done too much more testing with the rig I made for one reason or another. I did try the thinned-down line for a short while in less-than-ideal conditions, but the result was still the same: bites, but no hooks. Since the conditions and testing period of the modified rig were different from the first trial, the results are not fully conclusive.

In the meantime, I have been in contact with Ilkka Seikku about the matter. He is kind of my go-to guru for all things boreal bushcraft. According to Ilkka, my rig looks good, but the type of “hook” I’ve been trying is usually used in a different manner in northern lakes. Here, the gorge hook was inserted into a small live bait fish with the hope of catching a larger fish, i.e. pike. So basically, I’ve been using the right technology and equipment, but kind of in the wrong way. Ilkka sent me a photo of some hooks he has made for various fish in the northern lakes.

Primitive fish hooks made by Ilkka Seikku.

Here you can see a small hook made from a grouse’s wishbone reinforced with sinew, a small hook made from juniper reinforced with sinew and a gorge hook made from antler. The line is willow bark, like my line. It seems that smaller hooks actually shaped like hooks were used for the small fish I’ve been trying to catch. Imagine that! 😉 Ilkka mentioned that the method of fishing with the hook-shaped hooks was different from that which we use today. Rather than letting the fish nibble and waiting to set the hook, you have to be quick and try to hook the fish immediately when you feel a nibble.

So my next step will be to fashion some similar hooks using materials I can find. To be continued!

Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum

In the past, I have brought your attention to a number of forums, blogs and YouTube channels focusing on outdoorsmanship, primarily in Finland, but also elsewhere in the boreal region. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a fine forum started by Ron from The Trying Woodsman Blog. He wanted to create a place where folks could discuss woodsmanship, bushcraft, primitive and traditional skills and anything else having to do with outdoor life in the north.

This primarily English-language forum is small, but growing (it has been experiencing a surge in activity lately). So far, there are members from Finland, Sweden, Norway, the northern US, throughout the British Isles, Germany and a host of other countries. As far as I know, this is the only north-centric forum of its type out there!

If you would like to learn from and contribute to a growing knowledge base on woodsmanship in the north in a relaxed and open atmosphere by sharing stories, projects, ideas and experiences and make friends in the process, be sure to visit the Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum!

Pictures from Juhannus weekend 2013

Juhannus is the Finnish name for the midsummer holiday celebrated primarily in the Nordic and Baltic countries, but in others as well. It originated as a pagan holiday celebrating the summer solstice and was Christianized as “Juhannus” (St. John’s Eve) upon the arrival of, well, Christianity. Nowadays, the festival is celebrated by drinking, eating lots of good food, playing fun games, drinking, going to the sauna, burning stuff in a bonfire, drinking and grilling sausages. Oh, and there’s drinking, plenty of drinking.

As usual, the Woodsfamily spent Juhannus at my mother-in-law’s cabin in the country. Rather than showing you pictures of folks engaging in…ahem…traditional Juhannus activities, I thought I’d do a little show and tell with some random pics I snapped at the cabin and around the city.

First, a little wildlife. I was fascinated by these beautiful metallic-looking beetles drinking nectar from flowers:

(sorry about the focus!)

Ducks enjoying a warm summer day:

And now for some plant life. Wild roses:

What’s this? A freak dusting of snow?

Nope, it’s copious quantities of seed fluff from some tree I have yet to identify. The bark looks like aspen bark, but the leaves look kind of like birch leaves. Any idea what kind of tree it is? Update: Thanks to a tip from Forest Turtle, I believe this tree is a black poplar (populus nigra), which is not native to Finland, as far as I know. Thanks FT! Update 2: Conrad pointed out that it is also known as a cottonwood poplar. Thanks!

A tradition in Finland (and perhaps other places as well) is to make a vasta (called a vihta in western Finland), which is a bunch of limber birch branches bound together and used for self-flagellation and spouse or friend abuse in a hot steamy sauna. While my mother-in-law gathered the branches, I made some cordage out of willow bark. Here’s the “Finnish’d product”. 😉

And here’s where we used them, a sauna with a wood-burning stove. I forgot to take the stool off the lower bench before taking the picture, but you get the idea.

The entire weekend, mosquitoes, black flies and gnats were on a mission to see me shrivel up like a raisin due to a lack of blood. Though I tried to resist, I ended up scratch-scratch-scratching away. I must have hit an artery at one point, because I started bleeding from one small spot and it didn’t seem to want to stop. Remembering that my favorite wild edible broadleaf plantain has astringent and wound-healing properties, I chewed up a small leaf and put the poultice on the spot in question. This stopped the bleeding immediately, and it did not continue after removing the plantain a few minutes later (excuse the bug-bitten, dirty leg…).

At one point during the weekend, I saw this boat in the city harbor. It’s a traditional Finnish-style boat which has been waterproofed with a pine tar/pitch.

And last, but not least, I leave you with a Juhannus bonfire over the water. This shot was lovingly captured by the Woodsbabe around midnight.

Hope you enjoyed this random selection of pictures!