Thursday, March 7, 2013

NHVSP Update 6

NHVSP Update 6


During this second leg of our journey, we transitioned from adapting to the rhythm of trail life to focusing more heavily on our studies: learning survival skills, reading and writing poetry, natural history, and getting to know the trees of the area through detailed observation and sketches. At the last year-round homestead we passed on one road, we met a hunter, who gave us a coyote that we learned to skin. We learned to coal-burn spoons by taking a “spoon blank” — a rough piece of spruce, at first — and then using a coal to burn a bowl into it, and then carving out around the bowl.

We learned the story of the King of the North and the Queen of the South, and the constant back-and-forth they have throughout the winter.

The King of the North and the Queen of the South

All through the winter, there’s a story that gets acted out many, many times — about once each week. The King of the North blows and blows, trying to push his way onto the throne, and clear the sky. He’ll bring clear weather when he finally sits on his throne. Then, he takes a day of rest, and when he rests, he sits comfortably on his throne, and the Queen of the South takes notice of his repose. She sends out her scouts — her horses (“mares’ tails”) and her fishes (“mackerel scales”). And then she comes behind them, and brings cloudy weather, and pushes the King of the North off his throne.

We felt a bit of the Queen of the South’s influence one night early on in the leg, when the wind was so strong we had to get up during the night and stake down the tent!

Later, we went out for personal solo time: we built fires, wrote in our journals, and cooked meat. We met with a logger, Lawrence A. “Tweeter” Felion, a venerable man with over sixty years of experience logging. We interviewed him about his experiences logging in the Vermont woods, and about the changes he’s witnessed in the forests and how logging takes place.

We did shelter group solos, when we went out in groups of three and built and spent the night in lean-to shelters. To get to the spot where we did our shelter solos, we first had to learn to test the soundness of ice.

How to test the soundness of ice using a pole

Get a pole, perhaps three inches in diameter, or maybe a little less, and perhaps seven or eight feet tall. Strike the pole upon the ice three times in the same spot. If the sound of the pole hitting the ice changes from one stroke to the next, the ice is probably not safe to walk upon. If the sound stays the same from one stroke to the next, the ice should hold a grown man without skis (wearing skis distributes a person’s weight, and can enable one to walk on thinner ice).

I learned the importance of testing the safety of ice the hard way — I got my boots wet! Luckily, it was a warm day, so they dried pretty quickly. But if it were cold out, it could have been a bad situation! I would have had to build a fire and remove and dry my boots.

Then, we built the shelters of logs and boughs, and built fires in them and cooked our meals.

How to build a simple lean-to shelter

First, choose a location for your shelter. A shelter should be built on high, level ground, so water doesn’t drain toward it. Look for places that are sheltered from the wind, where there are plenty of natural resources for you to use — poles for building the shelter and for firewood, boughs for making the roof water-resistant and for bedding, and water for drinking and cooking. Also, look for locations that have natural features, such as trees and rootballs, that you can use as part of your shelter. It’s important to take the time to find a good spot for your shelter.  Once you have selected a location, look for any dangerous widowmakers, and fell them. Saving your life from hypothermia would be kind of ironic if you’re going to be killed by a falling tree in the night.
Second, frame your shelter! This is the fun part. Position your shelter so that the wind blows at the back corner (if it is blowing directly into your shelter you’ll be cold, and if it’s blowing side-on, you’ll get smoked out). For a basic one-person lean-to shelter, use two forked sticks, and lean them up against two trees, high enough that the bottoms of the forks are about six inches above your head when you sit between them. Put a ridgepole in the forks, spanning the two trees. Cut rafters, and lean them up against this pole, at about a forty-five degree angle, and about three inches apart from each other. You will sleep under this roof. Place a green pole under the ridgepole on the ground, to mark the edge of your bed so you don’t roll into the fire. Using a green pole will make it less likely to burn. Make sure you’ll be far enough under the roof so snow or rain won’t drift in on you too much. Your fire should be at least a foot away from the bedpole and  the “reflecting wall”. The reflecting wall is a wall of logs, maybe four feet high, that you build on the far side of your fire. Use four stakes pounded into the ground to support the wall, and place logs in between them.

Third, make your roof and bed using conifer boughs. The boughs should all be upside down, layered like feathers. Angle the roof boughs against the rafters, so the ends don’t poke down through the gaps; overhang the boughs at the top so water doesn’t run down the rafters. Your bough bed should be six to eight inches thick when you’re laying on it to insulate you from the ground (if you’re using a pad, you can skimp on this somewhat).

Finally, build your pole fire. This t­echnique is sometimes called an “Indian chainsaw”, because the logs don’t need to be bucked up before burning. To build this fire, burn a number of limbed poles, starting at one end. Throughout the night, every couple of hours, you’ll need to pull the poles further onto the fire to keep it burning. Place the poles so the tips tilt down into the fire (make sure the ends of the poles that stick out of the shelter are higher than the ends in the fire). Make a roller from logs if you need to.

Congratulations! You have now finished a simple shelter that should let you survive the night.

P. S.: To cook in your shelter: Place a pole across the top of your shelter from the reflecting wall to the ridgepole (wedge it in between the rafters to keep it from moving). Then, make the “spunhungan”, or pot hanger, by finding a forked stick, and cut it so one end is longer than the other. Cut a notch in the long end of the fork big enough to fit the bale of your pot. Then, hook the crotch of the stick over the cookpole, and hook the bale of your pot into the notch. It should now support the pot over the fire.

Don’t put your ridgepole too close to the fire! Zack learned this the hard way, when his bough roof dried out through the night and caught fire at four o’clock in the morning. This is especially a concern for multiple-person shelters with a fire between two ridgepoles, where the ridgepoles might be quite close together.

After we got back on the trail, we climbed Mount Abraham. It was pretty wild on the peak, with the wind blowing the snow so hard that we could barely see, and the sign at the peak unreadable, covered with several inches of rime ice. We skied down the Sugarbush ski resort — that was a lot of fun! At camp that night, we learned to make snow-cream — ice cream made using snow.  Very delicious!
How to make snow cream

Take a few big bowlfuls of powder snow, and put them in a large pot. While gently stirring, slowly pour in two pints heavy cream, half a pint of maple syrup or honey, and vanilla to taste. If necessary, add more snow to get a soft and fluffy consistency. This makes about twelve heaping bowlfuls.

On the winter trail, you can use powdered milk as a substitute for the cream, and use sugar for the sweetener. That way it won’t be too heavy to carry, and you can carry a lot of it — although probably not as much as we want!

Writings of thanks

Ode to Maxiglide:

On days with sticky snow
I feel like there’s nowhere to go
Skis are quite slow
And take much energy to go
When hope is lost
When time stands still
No one else can we turn to
But Maxiglide
Makes a very nice ride

To my left leather glove, on its having gotten badly burned when I attempted to dry it when I was very tired during my shelter solo:

Glove — tool — strong and malleable and warm —
You gave for me
You suffered loss, once a whole glove
of a pair
“Lesser” — whatever that means.
You kept my hand warm to-day
on the mountain.
Is that not
Greatness? A task accomplished
by a tool
I do not know how to make,
hold me warm
and protect me.
Glove, for what did you suffer this loss?
For mindlessness, for impatience
For my not taking sufficient care —
I am sorry.
Not for to break you, to
then be reforged
as a book rebound, but
simply through
I will patch you, when I reach the right time
Duct tape, and
and will you still be “lesser”, Greatness?

Ode to skis:

                        Praise be to my skis!
                        My glorious chariot of the mountainside!
                        You triple the speed, quadruple the fun!

Ode to the Stove:

Praise be to the stove
Without you we survive but with you we live.
You are an unruly burden but the energy we sacrifice is returned tenfold every evening.
Containing our essential fire, you give us its heat while protecting us from sparks and smoke
A surface to cook on is merely a bonus.
Praise be to the stove.

Love Poem to Fire:

We first met when I was young,
and you were introduced as a strong spirit
with the power to kill.
I was taken by you instantly
because you hold a strength within you
far more powerful than the strengths I hold.
Even at your weakest moments
you are able to find
the place inside me that needs you most
the place that needs your warmth
and your red hot smile.
That’s why I love you,
because no matter what the conditions,
you share your deepest qualities
with me,
and I feel your warmth again.

Memories from the leg

The second leg has flown by even faster than the first. I have learned so much from Chris. It was a great experience to build a shelter with a fire and sleep in it with Kerensa and Lotte. We had lots of liveovers to learn about trees. Now Chris has gone and Emily has joined us, I am looking forward to this next leg and can’t wait for spring to come.

There is a great big rootball, and more poles than anyone could ever ask for. After four or five hours of work, we three had a pot of pasta and veggies boiling, and room to curl up for sleep.  Now the snow is lightly falling, and the patchy roof is letting some flakes in. But I have no qualms with Mother Nature on a night like this. The long logs are burning blue and bright. There is an incredible feeling of contentment in this camp.

The shelter was exciting, though. It took about seven hours to make. It wasn’t really fantastic looking at first, but it got the job done today, so I guess I’m ok. But I felt like I was in a coffin made out of spruce boughs all night. So that should say something. It was like a triangle open at the apex, very slightly, and without a roof. Well, it had kind of a roof, in some parts. In the part that didn’t need it, so I got snowed on all night. A good night, nonetheless. 


when it was naked and no longer looked
like itself, this totally wild
thing looked like nothing real I’d ever
seen It looked most closely
related to zombie animals
in Zelda video

Thanks to Chris, our teacher on this leg! Also, thanks to Leah, who accompanied us for the first five days — it was a pleasure to have you!

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