Monday, 27 February 2006


I have been quite busy; in fact I can say that this weekend I have been very busy. I have made three batches of Charcoal, built a wind break, roasted lamb in an earth oven, been for a walk, made a new pot hanger, made a raised bed / seat, had a visitor, collected fire wood, started work on a totem pole, read some philosophy, had a cold, felt sorry for myself, felt good about myself, had a run in with a Red Kite and enjoyed spotting some more signs of spring.

The way making Charcoal works is like this. At the end of the night just before going to bed I take the fire apart, by moving all the logs away from each other so that they go out. They smoke a lot and if the wind changes direction I lie in bed with my eyes watering but mostly the wind is favourable. The embers that are left behind get buried under ash and then a layer of soil, this starves them of oxygen and in the morning I’m left with a small amount of charcoal mixed up with loads of ash that I sift through with my fingers placing the charcoal in a waterproof container to be used in emergencies. Some times a few pieces of charcoal are still hot and glow red if blown on, these bits can be used to start a new fire if placed together with some dried grass and kindling on top. Once flames have appeared adding on last nights half burnt logs soon gets a fire going, water is then put on to heat so I can wash all the ash from my hands.

A number of long logs were gathered and lined up along the head end of the lean-to to act as a wind break, it is far from waterproof but it is very aesthetically pleasing to have a wall built entirely from my local environment, ultimately it’s just a pile of sticks but to me, having had no more than the ground and a small bit of tarp for shelter for the last nine months it is the height of luxury. The bed that I have made, well I doubt if you will see it in DFS seeing as it consists of three 7 foot long logs of about the same height laid next to each other with the thermarest self inflating mattress on top. Not necessarily the most comfortable thing in the world but it’s warmer than lying on the ground, I feel like a king (The repair on the puncture in the Thermarest did work after all; it was just that the valve was undone). Obviously I can also use this as a seat and it makes a huge difference psychologically to wake up slightly off the ground. I was most cheery this morning but that could well have been partly to do with the fact that it was a little bit light and above freezing. Don’t worry it’s due to drop down to -4 by Friday. Next weekend I’m going to raise the layer of the bed up further by placing three short bits of log underneath and at 90 degrees to those already there; one at the head, one in the middle and one at the foot end. This way I should have a seat at a comfortable height and be able to heat my bed by putting rocks warmed on the fire underneath it.

The Totem pole is perhaps a tad ambitious, I’m sure Penny Munn who received the spoon that I attempted to carve will attest to my lack of abilities in the carpentry department. It does seem a little appropriate to try to make one though. I have, in keeping with native American tradition, positioned my shelter so that I face east and thus wake to the rising sun and I thought why not make a totem pole. Or rather I found a great big fallen down tree snapped the top off it by levering it around another tree, trimmed another 5 foot off the top of it by picking it up and dropping it on the piece that I had already snapped odd and the piece that was left had Totem pole written all over it, so I’m going to try and make one. I have every confidence that it will be a monstrosity but hopefully it will keep me out of trouble.

I am having a few issues with all this making life comfortable, not that I have a problem with being comfortable and I guess I set out to prove it possible to live a full modern life whilst having a minimal environmental impact and so being comfortable should be part of this I guess. The fact that I’m finding out how to be comfortable using naturally occurring items (trees) is all for the better I guess. It’s just that making it easier, as a level of comfort is want to do, kind of takes away some of the challenge of it. I was mulling this over at the weekend and found myself with a copy of Rousseau‘s Discourse on Inequality, OK I know I’m a freak I enjoy reading philosophy sometimes. Anyway there is a paragraph in there that really seemed to strike home. Basically he makes comparisons between wild and domesticated animals think if you will of the differences between a cat and a wild cat or a wolf and a dog. Rousseau says that the wild animals have more energy, strength and spirit than the domesticated versions and says that the process of domestication has caused a degeneration of a wild cat or a wolf. What really got me thinking is that he then goes on to say that the same is true of civilised man in comparison to wild man and that not only is the civilised man of the wild in the same way that a domesticated animal is but that the effect is worse because we treat ourselves to greater comforts than we do are pets and beasts of burden. I have to say that I have of late been feeling, save for having a bit of a cold, on top of the world and as thought I can do anything I set myself, perhaps making a bed and a wind break is a step towards weakness.

If any one is interested in learning some survival skills Wayne from Forest Knights has kindly donated a weekend on one of his weekend survival courses this year to the charity auction this Wednesday, normal price £165. If you would like to bid on this please to email me and I can bid on your behalf. Also up for auction is a friction fire stick kit, basically a kit and instructions so that you can light fire by rubbing two sticks together, value £10 - £15, again email me if you would like to bid.


Xphjklyfg said...

Sleeping comfortably _reduces_ your energy???

Penny Munn said...

There is something quite clean about living outdoors that is difficult to define. Animals that live outdoors are cleaner and smell better than animals that live indoors. I used to have a family of feral cats that lived in my garden and one of them had long silky fur of the kind that would need daily brushing in a pet cat or else you'd get the kind of knots that need a vet's attention and a general anaesthetic. This cat's fur was beautifully clean, and never knotted. It was perhaps something to do with not lying around a lot and not getting overheated. I think this would be just as good for humans as for animals.
Hugh you should not be so self-deprecating and I shall not attest to your lack of skill at carving. Your visitors can expect a beautifully carved totem pole. There now. I've dropped you in it, so just stop making excuses for yourself.