Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Discoveries various

“It would be well perhaps if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies……..Birds do not sing in caves…..”


All winter there has been a pattern of weather that has been hugely annoying; there has been a cold spell during which it has snowed to alternatively the west, north and east of Oxford. Oxford itself has only been privileged with the odd sprinkling of snow and none of the bucket loads that have so graced the rest of the country. Now it might surprise you to learn that I am actually rather childish, no no really it’s true, and accordingly I’m rather keen on snow and had been looking forward to thick coverings of the stuff. Igloos could be made, snow ball fights had and busses sledged to in the mornings, all these things I was looking forward too with eager anticipation. Did I get any decent snow? No. It would be very cold for a few days and dumping snow everywhere else in the entire world and then it would warm a few degrees and pour down with rain. This happened over and over again. It was little surprise then that after a few days of sleeping in sub zero temperatures and waking covered in only the lightest dusting of snow that yesterday the temperature raised a few degrees and it has not stopped raining since. I know it’s a good thing, we are desperately short of rain and so we need loads of the stuff but it is a shame that it can’t be delivered frozen.

Walking back home in the rain is not as nice as walking back home not in the rain, I’m sure you must have noticed this yourself. As the saying goes

Some people walk in the rain, some people get wet.

Anyway I was walking home last night, getting wet, feet slipping and sliding in the ooze and even though it was not necessarily what one might call nice it was good to see such weather. It is after all supposed to be damp and rainy in our woodlands and so, it being the right weather for the place an season, it was a welcome environment to be in. Nevertheless, I was glad to have my lean-to shelter to head home to. I have had my fill of sleeping on muddy ground, waking up wet and cold with all myself and my possessions floating in a quagmire of misery (not that I’m being overdramatic of anything). How welcome it was to know I had a little patch of dry to call my own and it was with positively high spirits that I ducked under the branches of the Yew tree stood up inside the inner dome the branches make and was home. Tucked away behind the trunk was a pile of sticks that look to all the world like a pile of sticks, it is not it’s my home, my retreat from the world. Here I am king of the castle, no rent, no mortgage, no bills just somewhere nice and dry to sleep. What more do I need? I flung my rucksack into the space between my bed and the back of the lean-to, its even a luxury to have somewhere not muddy to put my rucksack, having an area of dryness makes a huge difference. It even allows me to be a little lazy; I had left my thermarest mattress out on the bed and so all I had to do was sit down and get organised rather than crouch in the damp trying to keep clean. Shelter, at least to my mind, is a good thing to have.

I sat down and made a discovery, or rather I made two discoveries simultaneously but it was only the first one that was really important. The first discovery was that my shelter is not waterproof; the second discovery was that the thermarest is. I was sat in a puddle, quite a deep one. Being of a practical nature I turned the mattress over splooshing the water away fully expecting to find it dry on the other side, it wasn’t. At the time I accepted this as just another minor annoyance but now I think about it I am rather perplexed as to how the underside of the mattress was wet. Perhaps Gerald (the mouse who lives under my bed) had something to do with it. The only answer then was to lay out my sleeping bag in it’s vaguely waterproof bivi bag and use that as a seat, this is perfectly comfortable and makes for a rather nice seating arrangement. It was at this point that I made my third discovery, I had left my fleece in the office but fortunately it was not that cold.

It seemed then, in the circumstances, that a fire was in order. It was wet, I was sneezing, it wasn’t the warmest place in the world and it would be rather good to have a cup of tea and something to eat. I was rather pleased that I had had the foresight to gather up some dry grass and twigs and store them at the back of the lean-to and hugely glad that the rain seemed not to have got in that far. Discovery number four was that I had tipped all the water that had gathered in the thermarest all over them. “Oh dear” I said and went off to gather some dry twigs. Dry twigs are a valuable commodity to someone trying to light a fire in a dark wet wood, but if you know where to look they can be found. The trick is to find dead branches that have not fallen completely to the floor, being off the ground they will not soak up so much water and so should just have a surface wetness to them which can be dried off on a handily worn rugby top. Another trick is to cut a series of small cuts into the wood and this gives the fire access to dry wood and is a good way of getting thicker wood started. Dead grass, necessary to get the twigs going, can be dried to a certain extent by being placed in a carrier bag with small holes init and twirling around your head (this is a good way of drying salad leaves) and then drying them off on the inside of a handy rugby top, the outside being thoroughly wet by now.

I’m lazy, I’m the first person to admit this and as a result of this affliction of mine I have lately got out of the practice of lighting a fire with the fire steel. I have had a box of matches you see and, well, it is so easy to light a match. Looking in my pocket I found only five matches, in theory this should have been more than enough as on every other night I have lit a fire using just one. The problem was that whilst I had tried every effort to dry the materials all my tinder and kindling was a little wet still. Five matches has to be enough I thought to myself before witness them all one after the other flare up briefly and go out. Oh dear. Fire steel it is then, only I have not used it for a couple of weeks, maybe I have forgotten how? Seeing as no one was looking I decided to cheat and use a piece of tissue paper for tinder and it lights first time and soon there are flames and smoke and hope then less flames and more smoke and blowing and then nothing. Drat! More grass is gathered and I restructure the fire taking a little more care and attention this time, lighting fires in the rain is a different ball game to doing so in the dry. It takes patience and focus and I had forgotten this. The second time the fire lights and soon enough I’m drinking tea as a simple vegetable stew prepares, all the peelings of the vegetables have been scattered around my camp and as I fall asleep later in the night I hear the various animals attracted to these offerings eating and scampering about.

1 comment:

Lexa said...

Your blog just carries on getting better and better. I think you'll soon be able to do a fantastic woodsman recipe book at this rate too! Bangkok is pollution central so this weekend I'm off to Kachanaburi, to go wander in the jungle for a couple of days... Hope I see some gibbons. :) Gibbons are amazing.