Rick's Journal

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Mid-Winter Days,

The bright sun felt good on my back as I walked to the office today, and it helped me to feel warmer than the 23 degrees F! The wind was a little gusty and blew through the trees here and there, freeing them of the powder snow that fell last night.

The shuffling tracks of a skunk wandered in a crazy line along the driveway, looking like a weaving drunk driver. I could see where the fur on his or her fat belly pushed the snow out away from the sides, with the short feet making tiny, bear-like tracks that compressed the snow nicely. There was no odor at all in the tracks or snow and I could almost feel the hunger moving this little creature along.

I got into the office and the woodstove was hissing nicely, with plenty of heat. I am totally excited about our new website, which should be up by Friday and fully online. It will be a huge relief to have that up to date and happening, so everyone can find the information about the camps or instructor training stuff they need.

Barry Keegan arrived shortly after one and we all headed up into the woods to peel birch bark for some birch bark cooking containers. His work at the Farmer’s Museum and Fenimore House involves demonstrating pre-Contact maple syrup processing using rock boiling, birch containers directly over the fire and clay pots. We had mallets made of wood to pound the bark, and our knives and the usual warm clothes.

The first trees we chose worked ok, but it didn’t come off even close to easy. Peeling birch bark doesn’t kill the tree if it is done right, and the best time to do it is in late June or July, when the tree is growing and expanding. Barry showed us how to get started, how to pound and how to pull it off so that the sheets would be thick enough to use for cooking containers. My sheet had a few lenticil holes and separated into different layers, so it can be used for other things, but not for holding water. I might use it for a basket type of container or a quiver or something else like that.

We got back to the farmhouse and Barry had brought some black birch tea, sweetened with maple syrup, which was excellent. He showed us how to fold and bend it into good containers, and then Brian demonstrated how to make and use an Egyptian style bow and drill. He used some dogbane cordage he had made a few days ago, and was able to get a coal very shortly, with a bow of about only 12 inches in length. He learned it by reading my copy of Wilderness Way Magazine, so I think I am going to have to start reading it AND practicing stuff in order to keep up with my students!

Tonight should be in the single digits again, but the warm days are so awesome, I don’t even care. I hope to get outside tomorrow too, but for now, I will just say, hey, today was great. Eli has been packing up his gear and stuff for his trip to California, and then when he returns in April he will no longer be an instructor here for a while. It is great to know he is doing the things he needs to do, and that he will be having some good adventures, but sad too, knowing how many years he has been a part of our place and our programs. It will be strange not to see him here on a daily basis. I know I will miss his presence on many occasions throughout the spring and summer, in the middle of programs when his steadfast approach was strong and constant. Good Luck out there, Eli!

It is getting late and almost time to head home for family time. It has been a good day!