Monday, February 20

Discovering journaling

Today is a nice warm, sunny day. I figured it would be a good day for finding tracks, so I went for a little walk.

Just in the woods around the house I came across the tracks of red squirrels, rabbits, a very small bounding critter, and a few different sets of canine tracks. What struck me was the absence of deer—they were around not very long ago, maybe last month, but today not a sign. Could they have eaten all of whatever it was drawing them here?

I headed down the road to the hardwoods, really just to get out of the house for a while. More squirrel tracks, this time grays, and more tracks from tiny little animals. For some reason, however, I don't find tracks from these very little creatures very interesting right now. I should figure out why that is....

Anyway, before long I came across a trail with abundant canine tracks, and for some reason—maybe snow conditions—found ID'ing them quite difficult. I'm still not sure whether they came from red foxes, coyotes, or neighborhood dogs. There was definitely more than one animal, and they might have been of different species. Different sized tracks with different strides right next to and on top of each other is what was confusing. Mother coyote with juvenile(s)? Red fox? Both at different times? Neither? Bah, who knows.

Yesterday I made myself a little journal. Journaling is something I've read and been told is important for a long time, but I never made a habit of doing it. My reasons why were somewhat varied—taking notes is something I've never really done, even in school, and I never had a "good" journal to use—but when it comes down to it I was making excuses.

I'd been considering journaling more seriously for the past few months, but kept telling myself I didn't have a good enough journal. I wanted something that was big enough to write in comfortably but small enough that I wouldn't need to put it in a bag. I don't really like the idea of carrying around a big spiral notebook around for some reason. Considered buying a nice leather journal around Christmas, and then again yesterday, but really didn't want to pay $20-$40 for one. So I made something that I thought would work.

What I ended up with is pretty decent, not perfect. I'd like it a little bit bigger for writing purposes, but it easily fits in a (cargo) pocket. And we'll see how the cardboard holds up....

What I did was simple:
  1. Took 12 sheets of plain white paper and cut them in half
  2. Once cut, I folded those sheets in half—the result is 96 plain white pages that measure ~5 x 4 in.
  3. Used some recycling center–bound cardboard to make a cover, this from a shoebox—RocketDog is apparently a women's shoe company, but the logo looks kind of cool and was perfectly sized so I don't care
  4. Pushed holes through the paper and the cover, and then "sewed" some thread through to keep it all together
  5. Added a length of milkweed cordage I had around as a bookmark/closure strap.
I only made it yesterday, but already I'm starting to see the importance of journaling first hand. I think as long as I keep it with me I'll use it plenty. Why I didn't do this months/years ago, I have no idea.

Saturday, February 18

In praise of natural materials

This is a weird post for me to do (in my own opinion) because it's contrary to my habits. I'm not a "gear junky," don't do or particularly care for reviews, I'm averse to brand-loyal fanboyism, and frankly I don't care who uses what. But I've still been considering making this post for a while, so I'm just going to do it. I'm happy with what I've been using and want to give my take.

If this post is promoting any brand, it's Military Surplus Wool specifically, and Military Surplus more generally. In my experience, milsurp stuff is often the best bang for the buck. People always point out that there are competing or better values from the "civilian market," but here's my take on it: since military gear is uniform—that is, it's the same and there is a lot of it made—it's very easy to find. It might be possible to find similarly priced, quality civilian gear on eBay, but in my experience, if you're looking for a specific piece it's much harder to find. (I'm not going anywhere important with this....)

Until last winter I'd never really thought about my clothes at all—not from a fashion standpoint, not from a function standpoint. My wardrobe was essentially t-shirts and jeans, top to bottom, with some flannel shirts thrown in. It was all black, shades of gray, navy blue, with a few other colors slipping in. At some point I realized that I didn't really have any good clothes for being in the woods.

I've now put quite a bit of thought into my clothing choices. I went from owning zero pieces of wool clothing (socks excluded) to having several shirts and two pairs of pants. It went from an almost monochromatic color-scheme that wasn't fit for blending into the woods to now being made up of about 50% greens and browns. That thought I've put into my clothes has paid off, I think. I've ended up with (frankly) more than I need, and I didn't spend a ton of money on it all, either.

Friday, January 20

Another winter fire

Wednesday was a long walk filled with deer, but yesterday was a shorter walk with reaching a fire-building location in mind. I wanted to go out, get a little fire built, and just relax in the snow for a while. And I did just that.

It wasn't much trouble, but did take two attempts. After the first light the fire burned for about two minutes, but my kindling wasn't catching. I gathered a bit more from a nearby hemlock and tried again. I used some pitchwood, waxed jute twine, and a ferro rod once again. The pitchwood was perhaps unnecessary because as soon as the fine branches from the hemlock touched flame they were up in a matter of seconds. That said, this combination of tinders (pitchwood and waxed jute) is a good one to have in wet and cold weather (works good in rain/when wet), or at any time as a backup. I keep them in my fire kit.

I've now built two fires alone this winter, and helped build two others as part of a group. Winter fires aren't as intimidating as they might seem; in fact, my general opinion on many outdoor skills is that they aren't so much hard as they just require some practice. It's just a matter of doing it. Knowledge of the trees around you, and knowledge of the place in general, are invaluable.

With all of that said, even though I think I might have winter fires figured out I'll continue to practice making them. Fire is another one of those things that I'll probably never learn enough about. Twenty years might go by, and even though I'll definitely learn a lot I bet I still won't know all of the intricacies, subtleties, and secrets of fire. It will always keep some of its mystery for itself, and will always remain enchanting.

And I believe fire has much to teach about other things, as well. You can learn much about the woods simply by practicing your fire-making skills in different environments. There is so much to learn about how different woods burn, where and when and how to gather different materials ... the list could go on much longer I'm sure. (There's also a lot of invisible learning as you go through the woods.) That's why fire is always one of my advised skills to practice, especially for those who are new to the woods. You can never learn too much and you'll always learn more.

Deer in winter

Real Winter™ has been pretty elusive this year, but in the last week it's been here in good form. Right where I am there is about a foot of snow on the ground, and the temperature has remained in the teens and 20s. We've had a few really beautiful days, but all have been good. I've been out during most of them, for at least a good walk.

Not far outside my door.

On Wednesday I decided to take a nice, long walk, in one of my favored spots. I started out following my cat's tracks until they intersected with those of a dog. It looked like my cat then started jumping in and out of the dog's tracks. As they diverged, I followed the dog's out near the road, and then parted ways. I got across the road and into the field, then just kind of picked a direction and went with it. Last winter I followed some coyote tracks to a deer carcass in the area, so I headed in that direction to see if I could find their tracks again. I did not, so instead I just started following the deer trails. At one point I thought to myself It would be nice to see some deer today.

Friday, January 13

New winter things

It seems like every personal blog on the internet has a post that's like "Sorry I haven't posted so long!" I kind of started to forget that I made this/the reason I made it to begin with became obsolete. I started working with what can only be called a "nature connection" school, and since the people I've been working with have become a big part of my life I've had them to share my experiences with. Actually, a lot of my experiences have been with them. This summer I had kind of hoped to start following others and actually become some part of outdoorsy-folk blog network, but it didn't happen and I haven't felt a real need for it lately.

So with that out of the way I'm just going to make a few posts in the next few days.


We've had an incredibly mild winter so far, but it's been nice to get out on days when we've actually had some snow accumulation. One day last week I had the urge to get out and do some stuff I really haven't done much of, some of it not at all. So I went out for a nice leisurely walk, visited some land I hadn't been able to see since about September, made myself a little fire, melted some snow, brewed some cedar/hemlock tea, and just relaxed. It was nice to get out just to do some simple stuff like that. And I learned that if you let your snow get smoky, the water is going to taste smoky as well. Wood choice has something to do with that as well, I suspect.

I haven't had a lot of chances to get out in the winter to try making fires, but so far I've found that it really isn't much of a problem. The only really noticeable differences from making fires in the other three seasons seem to be these: tinder availability and wood selection. All of the dried grasses, which are usually one of my go-to tinder sources (most of my fires are started either by friction or with a ferro rod), are covered up, as is much of the fuel-sized firewood. The fire I made that day was started using a ferro rod—sparked into some waxed jute twine and igniting birch bark. A good fire-starting tinder can be carried with you to get around many problems. Of course, had I used a match or lighter, I would have been set with birch bark. (One can, and I have, started birch bark with a spark, but it takes a little extra prep that I couldn't be bothered to do.)

In my walks I've been happy to see tracks pretty much everywhere. Places I walked regularly during the spring, summer, and fall are now dotted with tracks from various animals. I find tracks (and tracking) fascinating and wonderful, but so far it's been one of those things I've had motivation difficulties with. Often times I see a track, study it a bit, try to figure out who left it, perhaps I'll take a picture, and then move on. For whatever reason I've yet to get to the point where I'm measuring, journaling, drawing tracks. Hopefully I can motivate myself to delve deeper soon. And hopefully we'll be able to keep some snow around for it! For now, I'm glad I'm noticing them—my awareness has definitely expanded in this area.

Friday, September 16

I'm definitely not a master tracker.

On my walk yesterday I had the humbling experience of being reminded that I know almost nothing of the art of tracking. I took a walk in the area I last posted about, which was almost two weeks ago. Immediately when I got there I was noticing some footprints—and after short study I realized that some were mine and some were from other people.

The strange thing was that my foot prints, which were just over a week and a half old, looked much fresher than I would have thought they were. If I hadn't known the tracks and when they were made I would have guessed they were only a few days old. I thought about it and realized we'd only gotten rain once, maybe twice since I made them. They'd just held up very well.

One of my prints from my previous visit.

Wednesday, September 7


Something I meant to do more of beginning in the spring, and for the most part have failed to do, is scout out some areas on state forest land to do some deer hunting. I'm new to deer hunting but it's something I really want to do. Last year, and it'll probably be the same this year, I spent the first week of rifle season in Alpena county—and then I didn't even get out during the second week.

This year I'd like to get out almost every day during rifle season. I bought a recurve bow this summer, I've been shooting it, and even though I will continue to shoot it I'm not sure whether I'll be confident enough to hunt with it. What I'm thinking of doing is buying a combination license and at least sitting around with a bow to see if any deer walk close enough to think about shooting. We'll see.

Anyway ... I went out the other day to scout one of the areas I thought would make a good hunting area. This area is near a swamp but the forests are pretty varied. I think I've found a few spots that might be OK, but I'll have to check them out some more.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the area has been (essentially) become inaccessible to motor vehicles, which means it hasn't seen much human traffic since the last time I was there (in June).

I found coyote tracks and deer tracks (and, as seen below, many times right next to each other), but no car or human tracks. If it remains mostly unvisited I'll definitely think about hunting the area.

This was a strange find. It looks like a crayfish claw—but where did it come from?
The weather was nice when I left the house. I wasn't expecting it to change, but I was wrong.

A pretty heavy downpour hit me on the bike ride home. I saw the clouds moving in and decided to try to "beat" the rain, but I actually just made sure I'd be stuck in it. A mile or so from home it basically stopped, but by then I was throughly soaked and cold.