December 13, 2013
Have you noticed that the more you take notice of the natural world and the things around us, the more you want to learn? Things that in a general day we all take for granted as just being there suddenly stir questions deep inside us. What was that bird? What is that tree? What lives in that hole?
And the more we take note, the more our interests grow and the more we notice. It’s an ongoing circle of knowledge that we dream of, leading from one thing to the next. I get excited just thinking about all the things I want to learn.
I have recently started to try and learn more about our night’s sky, the constellations above us along with their place in the history books.
What sparked this interest? It was actually an article that Steve, our editor penned in The Bushcraft Magazine Issue Summer 2012 about the Summer Triangle.
This is a great place to start learning about the stars. It’s incredibly easy to find in the summer nights sky and is made up of three constellations; two of which are easily visible.
The summer triangle isn’t actually a constellation itself but an asterism. The difference being that a constellation is an officially recognised group of stars used to help split the sky into different sections to aid navigating your way around the night sky. An asterism is a group of stars that is easily recognisable in the night sky by casual observers. Probably the most easily recognisable asterism is the plough (also called the frying pan or the big dipper). Many think that this is a constellation but the plough is actually only a part of a bigger constellation called Ursa Major, or the great bear.
The summer triangle is made up of three stars. Deneb, Altair and Vega. Deneb is the tail of Cygnus the swan, Altair the head of Aquila the eagle and Vega is part of a small constellation known as Lyra the lyre (a small stringed instrument much like a harp).
Over the summer I acquainted myself with these three constellations and their position in the sky. I read various stories relating to these groups of stars from around the globe and slowly began to expand to other areas of the sky.
I acquainted myself with Polaris (the pole star) and how to find this from the plough, with Cassiopeia, the vein queen, and Bootes, the herdsman, creating a constellation which contains one of the brightest stars in the Northern hemisphere, Arcturus.
I had fallen in love with the night sky. I cursed cloudy nights and would stand in the garden with my son spotting satellites traversing the sky for ages. We then started getting night after night of cloud or dense fog and soon after a week or so of disappointment, when I again looked up to see nothing but cloud I moved onto something else. I hadn’t carved a spoon in ages. In fact I’ve always been terrible at it so some fresh birch was found and I set about carving on these cloudy nights. This took hold and I spent every evening carving. This now had me hooked.
It wasn’t until earlier this week that I noticed how beautifully clear the night sky was. The moon was at its smallest point meaning that more and more stars were visible and I suddenly found myself very lost. No longer was the friendly summer triangle directly above my head and I felt very disorientated.
I could see Orion. He had previously been below the horizon, but things had moved and he was now proudly in the sky. I knew this constellation as one my dad had taught me when I was a boy, but it didn’t help me in knowing where I was. The low light from the tiny sliver of moon wasn’t helping as I previously stated as there were so many more stars on show and I couldn’t pick out the very few that I knew.
Suddenly I spotted it, there was the triangle. It was not directly overhead but instead on its side heading towards the horizon itself. Deneb, the tail of the swan, was easy to recognise and I shortly remembered that Vega is the brightest of the three stars so I could then place the Lyra and Aquila, but it did take me a while to work out how everything had moved around.
My excitement has brewed again. I have a new part of the canvas to look at and a few new constellations to learn before it all changes again.
Get out there, tilt your head back and open your mouth in amazement at the beautiful sky above you and let it take you on your own journey of learning; wherever that may lead you! Who knows though, the spoons may call again soon!
Below is a photograph taken by Steve of the Summer Triangle. From his illustrated picture above you should also be able to work out where the little fox, the arrow and the dolphin are. Click on the image, and then click on it again to make them bigger.
Star Lore is a regular feature in the magazine appearing in every issue, and like all content is relevant to that season year after year.
April 25, 2013
Today, I began the process of making linden bast. “What is that?” you may ask, or indeed, you may already know. Bast are strips of fibre made from the inner bark of the lime tree that can be woven into cordage, clothing or shoes and have been used for thousands of years for such purposes.
The lime avenue to our village church was recently pollarded. Pollarding is when branches above head height (or sometimes above the height of grazing animals) are cut off reducing the crown, rather like coppicing but higher. The branches will re-grow until the next pollarding. It is a way of reducing upward expansion or of creating a sustainable harvest for firewood, animal fodder or other uses. Unfortunately, this was simply destined for the bonfire. I took my folding saw to the pile of brash and removed all the smooth straight, thicker stems in lengths of about 2m to 1m.
When I got it home, the next step was to remove the bark. I found that the best way to do this was to split the stem near the edge and deliberately break the wood causing it to run to the bark – the last thing one would normally want in a splitting process, but it was the bark that I was after. I was then able to peel the bark off in long straight strips. By flexing the it back the other way I could remove any wood that was clinging to it.
This is a process for spring at the earliest and one that works even better in May and June when the tree gets very sappy – it is said to almost peel itself. The names lime or linden, are derived from old European roots, particularly the Anglo-Saxon word lithe, meaning pliant and the Swedish linda, meaning a band. Tree names were descriptive – thus the linden tree is the tree that provides bands.
Having acquired a good quantity of nice flexible bark the next stage is to macerate (soak it in water to start decay) it for some time. The process may take up to six weeks. I am using our rain barrel. During the process scum forms on the water and a bit of a (not too unpleasant) smell develops. This will wash out later. Flowing water works better but you will need something like a net bag to contain the bark and a weight to hold it down and something to tie it all to. The water butt refreshes when it rains as surface water overflows and drains away. And there is no shortage of rain.
When the process has run its course, I’ll take you through the next stages to the end result. Give it a go, if you get a chance. And stick with it. Lime bast is one of the most pleasing materials in nature.
April 16, 2013
Yesterday morning, bright and early, I left Kent, heading for Ipswich to meet flint knapper extraordinaire William Lord.
A few weeks earlier, Will had been contacted by Radio Suffolk asking if he would take part in The Listening Project. They were interested in Will’s line of work, a Stone Age re-enactor, and the primitive skills that he had acquired over the years; but predominantly his skill as a flint knapper.
The Listening Project is quite simply a recorded conversation between two people and Will suggested that I might be an ideal candidate for the second person in the conversation.
Back in January I attended a day’s flint knapping with Will through Natural Pathways Bushcraft School. I had a cracking day and persuaded Will to let me take home some of the unused flint at the end. I began to build myself a tool kit and attempted to put some of what I had learnt on the day into practice. I had been in regular contact with Will, with a constant barrage of questions, and the odd photo of my meagre creations. It was my recent journey into the world of flint knapping that Will thought would make for interesting conversation, and a few emails later we had a date in the diary to visit Radio Suffolk.
Meeting outside the studio was only the second time we had actually met, but it was like greeting an old friend. We signed into the station and were met by Linda Walker who was to be recording and editing our conversation. We discussed what topics we were going to talk about and how the program worked. Soon we were poised and ready for action.
I’m not going to spoil what we talked about, but we chatted for 51 minutes before we came to a natural end. Linda seemed happy, but now has the job of taking it down to 2-3 minutes!! What will be used I haven’t a clue, but I will alert people to when it will be broadcast via our Facebook and Twitter pages.
We were out of the studio by 11 and now it was back to Will’s for some one to one tuition! Lucky boy I hear you cry! Damn right!
The first thing I was greeted by was an enormous pile of Brandon flint. There was literally a tonne of the stuff, and then there were the rubble piles. Tonnes of that too!!
In the three months, since the course I had attended, I had spent a good few hours playing with flint and had some questions I was unable to answer myself. Mostly about what angles you should be holding the stone at when you are removing material, but also about assessing the rock and picking your impact points. I would show Will where I would choose to hit the rock next, and he would proceed to tell me why I shouldn’t hit it there and then point out where he would choose to hit it, and why. A few times I picked the right place though, honest!
It’s only practice that will help me make these decisions, but I do feel I have a much better understanding of how to assess the possible entry points, and then how to remove the subsequent flakes. Now I just need to practice lots!
I was with Will for about 6 hours and I have come away much more confident in my ability, and with the knowledge of where to hit the flint and with how much impact. I am also aware of my faults and have the ability to work on these. I came away with a small hand axe and two axe heads that I am so incredibly proud of, in fact over 24 hours later and you still can’t wipe the smug grin off of my face!
We are lucky enough to have Will Lord as one of our contributors to the magazine with not only his first article in the new issue (Spring ’13) but also his mug on the front cover.
He will also be giving flint knapping workshops at our May Meet in a few weeks’ time. We hope to see some of you there!
August 23, 2009
Well the Team had a fantastic time at the Wilderness Gathering. Many thanks to Roger and his team for another great event. Unfortunately none of the team had time to take pictures! We were all too busy selling magazines and having fun! But thanks to Phil we do have a couple of us hard at work.
Steve finally achieved a long standing wish… He has always wanted to achieve fire using a bow drill. I had a chat with a friend, George, who is an instructor and absolute expert at the bow drill. He agreed to come and give a small demo/class outside our marquee and help Steve. And here he is just about to achieve flame! Well Done Steve!
June 28, 2009
Three of our regular members came along to the first Bow making workshop. We had a fantastic day working under the shade of the trees.
After an initial introductory talk covering the history and styles of bows we went off to look for suitable saplings. Finding nothing suitable we returned to base and decided to use the kiln dried staves I had brought along.
Marc decided to continue the bow he had started on a previous day. This was a short longbow made from an Ash sapling.
Here he is with the bow on the tillering stick.
Phil decided to make a tradtional English Longbow from one of my Ash staves. This meant lots of sawing of tapers.
Kim decided that he liked the look of the ancient paddle bow examples I had brought along and decided to make a Mere Heath copy out of the Elm stave. Again lots of sawing was required!.
Once the tapers had been cut Kim moved onto the spokeshave to thin out the paddles.
While Phil was still cutting his tapers!
Meantime Mark was doing final finishing and testing his bow.
A VERY happy man
Unfortunatly time caught up with us as neither Phil or Kim managed completed their bows, but both said they would continue to work on them at home and bring them back for strings and tillering.
To round off the day and have a bit of fun we all made bamboo bows as featured in the Spring ’09 magazine.