Foraging, Fire & Freebies

Much of yesterday was spent dragging two massively recalcitrant godchildren round a wood. Despite their best efforts, we still had fun: they saw their first canal boat negotiating a lock, we got to pick blackberries and gathered thistledown and a bull rush for tinder.

A lock on the Kennet & Avon canal. Nobody fell in. The kids were a bit disappointed about that.

By the time we got to the middle of the wood, the kids were a bit more cheerful and we left them playing while we gathered birch bark. Ever attuned to such things, I felt at one point that we were being watched and turned round to see two small figures, silently standing some distance away, binoculars held to their faces, observing us. That wasn’t remotely creepy.

A lovely view to take your mind off the scary children.

A lovely view, which may or may not have scary children hiding in it.

Later that evening, we tried experimenting with various natural firelighters combined with some melted wax from candle stubs. A cotton wool ball works well as tinder and burns pretty well for a minute or two. If you add some petroleum jelly it burns for longer but it doesn’t feel like the most environmentally friendly option. The wax seemed like it might be a good alternative and we wanted to try some variations on techniques found online.

I’ll do a separate post on the firelighters when I get the photos through but we had great fun testing stuff out and got some really good results with not a single failure.  While someone who is proficient at building a fire outdoors may not need any help, I want something that’s going to be fairly wind-resistant, will light in the rain and will burn for long enough that I can correct any mistakes I’ve made and recover a fire if necessary. Free is also good. 🙂

Today I got to demonstrate my new skills with the fire steel to some of my family, as my young niece and nephew were keen to see me set things on fire. As if trying something for the first time in front of people who will mock you mercilessly if you fail isn’t hard enough, it was windy and it was raining. Nonetheless, I succeeded every time, ably assisted by my niece who held things out for me to take and set alight. She’s very keen that I make coloured flames, and I’m actually way ahead of her there as it was already on my list of things to try. There’s a good list here which I’ll be going through in due course. She wants pink or purple, obviously.

I also tried something I’ve only ever seen demonstrated before: I made my first feather stick. The video below shows what that is, but it’s basically a way to get tinder from wet wood. Dad asked me how I’d cope with not having any dry tinder so I gave a demonstration.

My feather stick bore no relation whatsoever to the impressive one in the tutorial. It did serve its purpose, though, in that I took a fairly soaking wet bit of silver birch that had been sitting in the garden and got flammable tinder from it.

I took the log and set it on its end, used my knife as an ax and took it down the length of the log by tapping the back of the blade with another bit of wood. I took the piece I’d cut off and, after a few cuts which were too deep and left me with slices rather than curls, I figured out the right angle for the blade and got a reasonable bunch of feathers.

Rather than light the curls while they were attached to the stick, I used my knife to chop them off in a bunch, fluffed them out a bit and then successfully got them to light after igniting a bit of a cotton ball with some petroleum jelly on it.

After that, I got a round of applause from the kids and was presented with a pretty cool, old knife of my dad’s. It’s not something you could ever use now, I don’t think, as the blade’s all rusted but it’s got a hidden cannister in the handle which contains hooks, fishing line and some wire, which is cleverly done.

After we got bored of watching things burn, I doled out a ridiculous amount of veg to various people, since a weekend away meant everything suddenly ripened. I don’t know how it knows but it knows.

My sister showed her appreciation for the free veg by giving me her chimenea to keep in my garden. Since I want to be able to light fires primarily for cooking, it’s the perfect place to practice fairly safely. More on that later, after I’ve taken it out of the boot of my car.

I rounded off this child-centric weekend by teaching my niece how to do a forward roll; something she’s been trying to do since attending her first gymnastics lesson last week. The permanent damage I suspect I may have done to my spine was worth it for her glee when she then copied me and got it. I think it’s probably safe to say that was the last forward roll I’m likely to do in my life, which is probably for the best. The baton has been passed.

Things I want to try this week include a new tomato soup recipe and to find a use for two golden courgettes so enormous that I think they could be used as deadly weapons: delicious deadly weapons that could be cleaned off and then gently sautéed into oblivion. Then there’s the fire-lighting: which can start in earnest tomorrow, and a bag of wind-fall apples donated by friends with a few trees, which need to be cooked. Some sort of spiced apple cake may be on the cards.

Not a bad weekend, all in all.

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About SAM2.0

You'll want me on your team for the Zombie Apocalypse.
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