The Trying Woodsman visits Finland!

Here’s a riddle for you: What do you call a Dutchman living in Sweden who visits an American living in Finland? A new friend! Actually, calling him a “new” friend is a bit of a stretch, as I had known Ron online for several years through our blogs and, before that, by way of bushcraft forums. But virtual friendship is only friendship to a certain degree, as some of the most important aspects of human interaction require, well, actual human interaction! That’s why I was very happy to host Ron of The Trying Woodsman blog in Finland for several days last month.

Since Ron did such a fantastic job at chronicling our visit at his blog, I will link to his blog posts below rather than rewriting the story. However, there are a few small things I’d like to add, as well as giving my impressions of our visit.

Being interested in outdoor pursuits, as well as homesteading, self-sufficiency, nutrition, world events and a wide variety of other topics, Ron and I never ran out of things to talk about. He possesses a wealth of knowledge about a lot of things, a zeal for healthy and thoughtful living and a big heart. Ron is the kind of man who does not accept what is spoon fed to him, but instead finds out the truth of things for himself and lives by it. He was a fantastic help around the cabin, keeping the wood stove humming, cooking delicious food, helping to keep the place tidy and lots more, which was a luxury for me. Our long conversations allowed me to get more of a feel for who Ron is as a “real life person,” as opposed to someone you just know on the Internet. I want him to know that he is welcome to visit me anytime here in Finland and that I will certainly be visiting him in Sweden (and/or Norway) in the future, and that I am proud to call him a new friend. 🙂

Before I provide the links to Ron’s blog posts, I wanted to thank him again for the great gifts he gave me during his stay. One item which will come in very handy starting this winter is a Swedish snow anorak, a large, thin canvas garment with a hood which blocks the wind and keeps the snow out.

An anorak very similar to the one Ron gave me. (linked image)

Ron also left me a book, One Man’s Wilderness – An Alaskan Odyssey, which is an adaptation of Dick Proenneke’s journal about building and living in a cabin in the rugged Alaskan wilderness in the 1960s (he ended up living there around 30 years). This book is such a joy to read, both when I’m out at the cabin or in the city. My personal story isn’t a tenth of a percent of what Dick Proenneke’s is, yet there are enough similarities that I feel like I can relate to some of his experiences on a certain level.

(linked image)

Finally, the links to Ron’s outstanding account of our visit this fall. I hope you enjoy it!

Part 1: A Dutch guy from Sweden in Finland…

Part 2: Living in a cabin with a “stranger”…

Part 3: The third and final day…

Part 4: The final stretch of the trip…

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¿Qué te gusta el bushcraft?

With temperatures dipping down to -10*C (14*F), but occasionally still rising a little above freezing, and with several centimeters/inches of snow already on the ground here in eastern Finland, we are on the cusp of real winter beginning. Soon the temperature will no longer peek above the freezing point until sometime in March, and the snow will have accumulated to well over a meter (over 3 feet) by that time. Before I switch to full-on winter mode, though, I wanted to write one more blog post about some doings of this past fall.

Almost a month ago, I headed out to the country property I’ve been visiting for the last pre-winter overnighter of the year. This time, I had the pleasure of being accompanied by a new friend who I met this past summer. Alex is originally from Spain, but lives not too far away from us and moved here about the same time we did. He’s very interested in learning about bushcraft and woodsmanship, and I am happy to share the little I know with him. He dropped by the weekend before Halloween to show me some bushcraft and camping gear he had been accumulating over the past few months, and we started planning an autumn overnight trip which would take place 2 weeks later.

The weather that weekend ended up being very wet and cool. It rained on and off, and our camp looked like a mud pit by the end of the trip. I was seriously wondering if the crappy conditions would turn Alex off to the idea of camping and bushcraft outside of summertime, but this wasn’t the case at all. Anyway, we drove out to the property and went straight to the campsite I’d been visiting somewhat regularly lately. Alex got to work right away collecting poles for his lean-to using an old Finnish hatchet he rehafted and restored last summer.

Then he made a few pegs with his puukko knife.

We secured the back of the lean-to to the ground with some pegs and then set up the front of the shelter by guying out the poles to pegs using a bowline knot and trucker’s hitch. A good basic shelter for a man and his gear.

Next up was fire prep. I felled a dead pine sapling, and Alex chopped it up into firewood.

I showed him a good place nearby for collecting birch bark. It was really wet, but I knew the oils it contains would still burn.

We also collected some dead lower spruce branches and brought them back to the camp site, where we used my Fiskars saw to break down some more of the pine and got to work splitting some of it up as well. I was using my BushProwler to baton some of the wood (you can see how soft and muddy the ground was by how the bolt stayed upright after just a few hits).

Here’s a shot I took of our camp before it got dark. Once again, I’m using the Holden tent.

It was a challenge getting the birch bark to light, but we managed to get it going and slowly built up our fire. We burned some of the pine and always kept our supply near the fire to help it dry out. Rather than getting all our wood from the forest, we cheated a little and took some from the barn. I guess this really makes it “backyard bushcraft”. 😉

Anyway, as you can see it was getting dark, and we were both hankering for some grub, so Alex made some hearty soup in a pot next to the fire and I made bannock in my pot suspended over the fire on a stick. A good way to prevent the bannock from sticking is to put a little dry flour on the bottom of the pot before putting in the dough.

A nice bonus of having a camping partner in the autumn and winter is the conversation. It gets dark pretty early in the north, and unless you have some kind of work you can do in low light, you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands after the sun goes down!

Before we hit the hay, I threw the rest of the wood on the fire, which burned for quite a while. Some of our firewood came from logs which used to be part of an old building, and you can see the notching on one piece in the picture below. We both noticed that it looked like a number 1.

The following morning, we arose and once again got to work splitting firewood. We were lucky for most of the morning, in that it rained only a little here and there (wouldn’t you know that the real rain would come 20 minutes before we had to break camp, soaking everything we had with us).

To make fire starting a little easier that morning, we used a piece of waxed-impregnated twine Alex had brought with him. It burned long and hot and helped to get the birch bark going.

Alex decided to try his hand at bannock for breakfast, so he mixed his dough in a plastic bag and put it into his pot. I cut up a package of bacon and started frying it in my pot over the fire.

Having gone through his water supply, Alex fetched some from the creek not far away.

When my bacon was ready, I threw in four eggs and put the pot back over the fire for a little while. Alex’s bannock wasn’t baking the way he had hoped, so he took it out of the pot and put the dough on a stick near the fire to rectify the situation.

After we ate, it started drizzling and then raining, so we quickly packed up our wet, muddy gear and hit the road. I was very happy to have Alex along on this trip and am looking forward to his first winter trip, which will probably be in a few weeks!

A meal in the late-autumn forest with my woodsman-in-training

In the Finnish language, November is “Marraskuu”, which literally means “death month”. I think it’s an appropriate name for this dreary time of year. I usually like to wait the month out because of the wet, cool and dark days and then resume outdooring when the bright winter snow has come for good, but I decided this year to stop that silliness! Looking at the month from a different perspective, I realized that it has advantages all its own. The cool weather means there are no mosquitoes, black flies, midges, horse flies or deer keds like in the summer, and since it’s not full-on winter yet, I don’t need the extra clothing, snowshoes/skis, etc. Besides, if you are lucky enough to be able to spend time out with people who are important to you, the weather doesn’t really matter that much in the end.

This winter, the Woodsboy (WB) will turn 5, the age at which sons “move from the sphere of women to the sphere of men” in some traditional cultures. I can understand why they picked this age. Eager to learn and having a sharp mind like a sponge, not to mention a greater level of maturity, I feel that the Woodsboy is ready to spend more time with me doing “real” outdoor activities. Fortunately, he has shown great interest in coming along and learning all he can. Besides being a chance to spend quality time together, our trips will allow him to pick up wilderness skills and knowledge, as well as an understanding of outdoor safety and good practice, from a young age so that they will be second nature to him later in life.

The first Sunday this November, the boy and I drove out to the old farmhouse woods for a meal and to explore the property some more. The first order of business was to set up the Holden tent for him, complete with wool blanket-insulated floor, his gear-filled backpack and plenty of outside toys. 🙂

As you can see, he elected to wear the blaze orange baseball cap (his “safety hat” as he called it), which left me with the orange vest. Instead of looking for standing dead wood for our fire, we decided to speed up the process and get some wood from the chaotic wood shed behind the barn and carry it back to the campsite.

Before splitting the wood with my axe, I had WB stand clear of the area and explained to him the potential dangers of sharp tools, flying wood chips etc. He stayed put at a safe distance and practiced some “splitting” of his own.

Once the wood was ready, I laid down two larger fuel wood pieces and put some shavings between them. WB helped me to put small fuel wood on top in a grid fashion, and we lit up the fire.

All throughout the process, I made it very clear that the fire was potentially very dangerous and that he was never to get too close to it, put anything on it or run around nearby it. Just like with sharp tools, I want the Woodsboy to have a solid understanding of the potential dangers of fire years before he is even allowed to work with it himself.

It was high time for some grub, so I gave WB a sandwich and some water and then set up a little rig for roasting mini-sausages over the fire. I prepped a stick to hold the sausages and laid it on the forked stick from my last trip. To keep the stick level, I put the other end through a knot-hole in one of the pieces of firewood.

While we were eating, WB said his sandwich was getting cold, so I stuck it on the same rig. 🙂

When the temperature started to drop and he felt cold, I set him up near the fire on his little folding-chair backpack with food on one side and water on the other. He had worked up quite an appetite and ate a banana and peanuts in addition to two sausages and a sandwich. 🙂

I also let him “roast” his sandwich by himself a little. 🙂

We packed up our stuff, let the fire burn down to coals and I then poured plenty of water on the remnants of the fire and told WB about why it’s so important to make sure it’s out completely before leaving.

By the way, I used the Swedish LK-70 pack for this outing because of its large capacity. It really comes in handy for day trips when you have to lug around extra stuff!

WB’s focus, eagerness to learn and good behavior during this trip were encouraging to me, so I’m really looking forward to our next trip out!

First hiking and bushcraft trip to the cabin woods

On Sunday afternoon, I drove out to the property with the old cabin we’ve been working on restoring. Instead of doing work on the building, though, I wanted to explore the area around it. Fortunately (for me), we got our first snow of the season the day before, so I was able to enjoy a little early taste of winter. Also fortunately for me, the weather played along nicely!

I parked the car near the cabin, took some pictures of the fields and woods on the property and then explored the woods adjacent to the property.

There’s a small cliff at the back edge of the property and a stream at the bottom.

I spotted these (probably fox) tracks nearby.

Frozen moose dumplings:

Bunny tracks:

Being that it’s moose-hunting season, I wore my blaze orange vest for safety’s sake. At this time of year, I usually wear either an orange hat or vest like this in potential hunting areas (though I make a conscious effort to NOT disturb hunters’ hunts with my doings).

After hiking around with my pack for about 2 hours, I returned to the property and picked out a nice level and open spot to set up a tarp shelter (more on this shelter type in an upcoming post). For a ground cloth, I used a heavy-duty garbage bag, and on top of that I put my pack and a small foam pad. The woods nearby provided a dead standing pine sapling, which I chopped up into firewood.

As a side note on the shelter, I added a loop at the middle of the long side of the tarp because there were no grommets there. As you can see, I reinforced the tarp in that area with black repair tape and stitching.

The temperature at the site was about -1ºC (30ºF) at the time, and by the evening had dropped to -3ºC (26.5ºF).

Not having my grill with me, but needing some way to keep my pot over the fire, I found a small sapling and made a stick with a fork on one end and a point on the other.

Then I cut down a larger and heavier sapling, stripped off its branches, carved a notch near the end (for the pot bail) and laid it on the forked stick stuck in the ground. The weight of the far end of the sapling meant that I didn’t need to do anything else to keep the “pot end” up.

Now that my cooking rig was ready, I needed to gather some tinder and split some of the pine for the fire. I found a birch tree nearby with some great bark peeling off it. It was like paper and had a nice feel to it.

Dinner for the evening was pasta in cheese sauce, which is a nice way to say “mac n’ cheese” ;)…

…and bannock, aka stickbread. After I added water to the dry mix, I put the dough ball down for a minute or two to do something and then found that it had already started to harden because of the below-freezing temperature outside!

It took longer than normal, but I managed to squeeze the dough into a strip and wrap it around a stick to bake near the fire.

As it started to get dark, I ate the bannock and drank some water and then packed up most of my gear. Here’s one last shot of the tarp tent at dusk. Normally, I put the fire a little closer to the shelter if I’m going to use it for warmth on an overnight stay.

Finally, I’d like to talk a little bit about “bushcraft gear”, specifically the price of said gear. Almost every item you see in this post was either a discount store item, military surplus item, consignment shop fixer-upper or recycled. The only exception is my BushProwler knife, which was hand made to my specifications (though cheaper Mora-type knives etc. would certainly also suffice). Here’s a little rundown:

  • Shelter: 2 Euro ($2.60 USD) tarp from hardware store, pole and pegs from old tent
  • Pack: 25 Euro ($32.50 USD, cheaper in the US) Swedish LK-35 military surplus
  • Axe: 10 Euro ($13 USD) from consignment shop, rehafted and fixed up by me
  • Pot: 5 Euro ($6.50 USD) from discount store
  • Spoon: Taken from a cutlery set from my cub scout days
  • Kuksa cup: 4 Euro ($5.20 USD) from consignment shop (boiled before use)
  • 1 liter aluminum water bottle: 1 Euro ($1.30 USD) from consignment shop
  • Sitting pad: 1 Euro ($1.30 USD) from discount store
  • Garbage bag ground cloth: A few cents
  • Matches: A few cents a box, housed in a birch bark container I made
  • Knife: Let’s say I used a Mora instead: 10 Euros ($13 USD)
  • TOTAL: 58 Euro ($75 USD)

My suggestion when looking for gear is to shop around, see what you can make using things you have at home, trade with other people, recycle things other people are planning on throwing away etc. Outdoor gear does NOT necessarily have to be expensive!

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 taste of autumn

First, a little “news”. You may have noticed that advertisements have begun to appear randomly at The Weekend Woodsman. Not having changed any settings or signed up with any programs related to this, I was pretty surprised when I started seeing them. I guess WordPress has started to randomly insert ads at some blogs. Since I don’t pay anything to maintain the blog (apart from a Photobucket subscription), I guess I can’t really complain, but I’d rather not have the ads there. I’m not sure, but I think the only way to remove the ads is to move to a paid subscription where I purchase a domain name etc. I’ll have to look into it. Now on to today’s post! 🙂

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In the north, summers are short and sweet. It seems that just as quickly as summer comes, the air again turns cool and crisp, the golden sun hangs lower in the sky and the days grow progressively shorter, hinting at winter. In the first week of September, the Woodsfamily visited the Woods-mother-in-law’s cabin to catch some of the last warm rays of the year.

When we arrived, the in-laws had just returned from the deer ked-infested forest with a basket of mushrooms. I’m not that knowledgeable in this area, and I forgot to ask the names of the mushrooms they picked, so I gave my best general guesses below (corrections/confirmations welcome!). Disclaimer: Consuming wild edibles is done at your own risk. Always be 100% certain of what you are eating. If unsure, contact an expert.

I believe this is one of the boletes:

This could be a milkcap:

And lastly, one with which I am very familiar, the chantarelle (cantharellus cibarius):

The cow berries, aka lingonberries, are now ripe, but I prefer to eat them after the first frost has mellowed some of the tartness. These berries are full of natural preservatives, and I often find them still on the plant and somewhat edible in the spring when the snow is melting!

Of course, you can’t have autumn without changing leaves, so here you go (these are downy birch):

Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to leave you with a recipe for rowan berry jelly graciously submitted by Skaukraft of Skaukraft Blog. Thanks, SK!:

Rowan Berry Jelly:

This jelly is best if you harvest the berries after a frosty night or two, or you can put the berries in your freezer for a night or two.

1 kg (2.2 lbs.) of rowan berries
1.5 deciliters (5 oz.) of water
800 to 900 g (1.75 to 2 lbs.) of sugar per liter of juice

Clean and rinse the berries. Boil the water, add the berries and let boil for 10 minutes or until the juice comes out. Strain the mixture through a cloth until it stops dripping (you can also use a steamer for boiling the berries in a water bath).

Measure the juice and let it boil for 5 minutes. Add sugar gradually. The sugar must be added gradually so that it dissolves. Boil, then gel gently for about 20 minutes without a lid and without stirring.

To test the jelly, pour some jelly in a bowl and put it in the fridge. When it is cooled down, pull a teaspoon through it. If the jelly doesn’t flow back, it is ready. If it has boiled enough, remove the pan from the heat for a few minutes. Scoop the jelly into hot clean glasses. I prefer to use glasses with a screw lid. Screw it tight while it is still steaming hot. Store the glasses in a cool and dark place.

With the amount of sugar involved, this isn’t a jam you use on your bread every day, but it is a great taste additive to go with meat!

-Skaukraft

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!