Monday, November 27, 2017

Coyote Scat - The Story Inside The Poop

Right now, in the western North Carolina backcountry we are in the prime of the deer rut and the bucks are going crazy. Rubbings and ground scratching are everywhere you go. This is very exciting to see, but if you look closely there is also a lot of other wildlife movement going on around the mountain man area equally as exciting yet much more elusive.

On a hike this week in the Raven Knob backcountry, I consider this the biggest prize of all, and I've been studying the pictures closely to unravel the mystery. Found this hair-clad scat right in the middle of a trail, somewhat aged but still not too old and in excellent shape for dissecting. (see picture on right) Very hard to see unless you were walking slow and looking carefully. I spent at least 45 minutes picking it apart, first finding a small bone fragment which I thought was part of a lower jaw, but no clear tooth. (see picture below)

 I proceeded to investigate all of the mostly grey hair dung, finding several more bone fragments, ...then there it was under the mummifying-like hair, a very discernible half digested squirrel skull (see picture directly below) and some perfect rear molar teeth (used for grinding), and also including orange front teeth (used for cutting-see last picture lower left side) indicating a rodent, with the size indicating a squirrel. That was an exciting moment!

 Now, the mystery was whether this was from a coyote or a bobcat, which were the two best possibilities for this area, although coyotes are much more present. If there had been some feathers, then I would start leaning with the cat, but there were none. A bobcat would also be more likely to cover his excrement, or at least leave some scratch marks, but no indication of that either. Therefore, I tend to conclude that it was a coyote who brought down the squirrel.

Lots of action in the backcounty and a lot of fun clues that most people never see because they never look. The mountain men were professional trackers, trappers, and scouters because they spent most of their time doing it. Their very lives depended upon catching all of those little elusive clues in the cycle of life. While most of us today lead lives that don't allow us to put in the necessary 'dirt time' to become a professional survivalist and tracker, we can still learn a lot about what makes the natural world around us tick. Next time that you're in the woods, walk slow, be quiet, listen more, and look for the tiny clues that tell the full story, and you will surely discover action equally as fascinating as the deer rut.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Every Kid Needs To Master The Bow & Arrow

Excellent example of how to prop a good shot!
Archery is probably not the best choice possible for very young kids, but middle schoolers generally have a just-right amount of maturity and body strength to master the archery range well. Learning to command the bow & arrow with confidence is a great outdoor activity that every child should learn and for good reason. To be a successful archer requires a good deal of patience and concentration, plus it is an excellent exercise in hand-eye coordination and all of these attributes will have a positive effect upon their time spent back in the classroom. It's also just plain cool knowing how to shoot well.

I had about an hour with each group today at Camp Raven Knob. Archery is not as simple as it looks and only the very attentive kids will get it right upon my first instruction and safety talk. But that's OK because with most of these kids it's their very first encounter with a bow and arrow.

Very proud of his shooting!
To shoot straight and to shoot well takes lot's of practice and even more patience. And of course, a good instructor that can point out mistakes and suggest improvements makes all the difference with easing that sometimes stressful  learning curve.  This is one sport where a child can improve their overall target shooting greatly in a short period of time if the instructor is on his toes.

Out of today's 85 students, there were about 5 who were good (...v-e-r-y good) from the first shot onward. Upon my inquisition,  most of these skilled shooters came from homes where their parents had already introduced them to archery because they were deer hunters. Those kids
Another picture for Mom!
could make these little compound camp bows work in overdrive, hitting the bulls-eye of the target with a resounding 'thud' and most of the time with the kind of power that would certainly take down a deer. They had a good stance, their elbows were always high, and their aim was right-on. They could have starred in the movie 'Hunger Games' and passed without a flinch. They were just plain good and their classmates admired their skill.

Standing beside those good shooters was one little fellow named Connor. He missed the target every time no matter how many pointers that I gave him, no matter how many times that I placed him in good stance. I was the most frustrated but Connor had a great attitude, always smiling, and vocalizing that he was going to hit that target with every next shot. He was one of the smaller kids and his arms just weren't the strongest but he kept at it with a smile. The struggle didn't
Excellent shooting stance!
faze him. During the last shooting rotation Connor managed to hit the red outlining of the bull's-eye and his classmates yelled out with a resounding cheer and clapping. Connor left the archery range feeling great!

Retrieving arrows and safely carrying with two hands.
Today I saw mostly a lot of rookie kids who had never shot a bow in their lives and had trouble learning the basics of skill, stance, and technique.  But I also saw them greatly improve their confidence in shooting as they continued practicing and asking good questions. Most of all they needed someone who could just be aware of their struggle to learn and to help them improve.  They needed someone who could remember their names and cheer for them to everyone when they hit the target. They needed someone to foster their patient accomplishment of a new skill, then to acknowledge it.  Hopefully I was that person for them today. I went home tired so maybe I was.

I'm sure that even Robin Hood himself would have been very proud of today's archery classes  because I sure was. I imagine that they'll have something swell to talk about with their teachers and classmates tomorrow at school and maybe their grades will improve too. After all that's what looking at the BIG picture in life is all about and mastering the skill of shooting a bow can play a big part in that picture.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Creek Stomp: Learning To Appreciate Creek Ecology

One of my favorite 'Learning For Life' classes to teach is the Creek Stomp, where middle schooler's learn to appreciate the building blocks of clean water. Spring is a great time to get kids outside into natures classroom where they can splash in the water, learn to gently uncover rocks & leaves, then dip their nets for the creepy crawlers that make their home in this watery world.

Yes, we call the class a creek stomp but it's important first to lay the framework for fostering a reverence for the delicate creek life before setting the kids loose to explore on their own. Therefore, about a 20 minute discussion is integral to forming that relationship with the  creek  and I try to use several props to maintain their swaying attention and for keeping the class interesting.
I might start out with some trivia questions to see what they already know and to make the experience participatory and hands-on from the very beginning. During last week's classes I showed them the skulls of a whitetail deer and a beaver then asked which of these animals depends on water for their very lives. Sort of a trick question because even though the beaver spends most of its time in the water, they both depend on the water for life, but a few of the kids always got the answer right.

Watersheds are also important to clean water so I use the 3,200 acre Camp Raven Knob as my prop. Here we are surrounded by mountains and own the entire watershed so the life of our lake for swimming, boating, and fishing is safe. I put my hands together with fists' to demonstrate how a watershed works, with my knuckles representing the surrounding mountains and my fingers the valleys below. I then ask them to tell me exactly where they think that the water flows when it rains in their immediate area and they get it right as they observe the contours of the wooded terrain.

The discussion continues with the ecology of the area surrounding the creek and the effects of   pollution. We talk about the uses of water and sometimes the discussion even leads to the Saura Indian tribe, the first people to live here in our valley many centuries ago which leads to other great discussions. Sometimes our talk becomes so interesting that I have to pinch myself to stop so that the kids can get into the water and practice what they've learned before our precious time is gone.

The group is paired into teams of two and they're assigned a small minnow net and a cup for collecting what they find. On shore I have three trays with a little creek water in them for the 0-1 legs,  2-4 legs, and for 6-8 legs. After a short demonstration about how to gently lift the rocks and leaves in the stream and how to move around gently with a reverence for the creatures living there, I then set them off on their own creek ramble to see what they can find.

 These kids are smart and not only quickly learn to respect the environment around them, but also begin to understand the origins of and the importance for clean water. Now they have a very powerful hands-on experience that their teachers can expand upon back in the classroom. In the Great Outdoors learning once again becomes 'real' again.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Foil Pouch Cooking- The Original Cowboy Feast

One of the best things about a weekend camping trip is cooking your food in the hot coals of an outdoor fire. It's been a while since I have enjoyed this more primitive form of 'roughing it easy' but last weekend I re-kindled my love for cooking a foil pouch meal while on a boy scout camping trip.

Foil pouch cooking in the scouts is one of the most popular forms of outdoor cooking and it's also one of the most efficient methods for preparing a super-delicious meal in the outdoors. While I've always enjoyed having a foil pouch meal around the campfire, I never considered bringing this creative form of cooking indoors... that is until this evening.

When I came back from a day of working on my land, the thoughts of a foil pouch meal dominated my head as I thought about this past weekend. Looking at the wood heater in my kitchen, I opened the door to a huge orange glow of hot embers staring me in the face and thought about just cooking my supper right in the stove. I've cooked a lot on top of the stove but I've never thought about utilizing the chamber of the stove... until now.

As seen in the pictures to the right I went ahead and prepared my favorite ingredients for a chicken breast and veggie meal. I chopped up a small potato, a stalk of celery, some onion, and a little bit of broccoli.
I then put all of those veggies in a screw-lid Nalgene container, then added some Teriyaki sauce, some Balsamic vinegar, and a good shaking of lemon-pepper seasoning. I just pour and shake the seasonings onto the veggies until I think that's enough for me.

On a camping trip I like to marinate the veggies overnight in a cooler but tonight I just used them right away. I shook up the veggies in my Nalgene container as seen in the picture to the left.

Next, I placed a completely frozen chicken breast out of the freezer into the first layer of my aluminum foil wrap, then sprinkled the veggies all over and around the chicken as seen to the left.

With this done I then folded the foil over the top and folded it in an overlapping fashion to lock in all of the marinating juices. I then did the same to each end of the foil pouch on both ends. I like to double wrap my meals to help ensure that everything stays together so I repeated this step one more time.

Using my metal coal shovel I shifted the coals inside my wood heater and placed the foil pouch meal into a nice spot with an even layer of red hot oak coals on the bottom. I then used the shovel to deposit another even layer of glowing coals on the top of the foil pouch.

I then closed the stove door, dampered down the air flow to the lowest setting then went on to do other chores. My foil pouch meals usually cook completely in 40-45 minutes but you might need to experiment until you find the best cooking time for your meals.

Knowing how to cook a meal in a foil pouch can be a life saver during a power outage and an excellent opportunity to show the kids or the neighbors that you don't have to have electricity to live like a king, or better yet like a cowboy on the trail. This is some mighty fine eating, Pardner!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Add Accent to DreamCatcher With Woodcarving

With Christmas just around the corner I've been spending some time making gifts with a special concentration on  dreamcatchers.  From my research I learned that dreamcatchers originated in the Ojibwa Indian nation. Kids love making these unique natural crafts that can be hung over their bed to filter bad dreams out, thus opening up a gateway of happy visions.

I began weaving Indian dreamcatchers 3 or 4 years ago and  I use real animal sinew for weaving the "catcher" inside a small wreath  of bitter/sweet vine that I twisted into a circular form. I've found that it's much better to form the vines into shape and dry thoroughly for several months before weaving... otherwise the sinew will become loose as the vine dries.

When I began making these unique crafts I knew that I had to find a way to add woodcarving to the project for the perfect accent thus making each dreamcatcher truly a "one of a kind".
 In the dreamcatcher pictured here I decided to carve the Boy Scout "Order of the Arrow" into a thin piece of basswood. I then drilled two tiny holes into the wood so that I could weave it securely to the sinew webbing. I applied a tiny amount of hot glue to the tied ends of the sinew to prevent any chance of unraveling. I found the three black crow feathers from my summer walks into the woods. Have fun and be safe!

Monday, August 30, 2010

WIP: Forked Branch Carving: Meet "Da Wiz" (Part 2 of 2)

The 'wiz' is now carved, painted, finished, and now standing its ground on the nik-nak shelf. I liked carving this project because I had only limited control over how I would shape the body since that was already pre-determined by the forked-branch limb itself. A block of basswood can be shaped pretty much into any shape preferred but not so for this kind of branch carving. It adds a neat new challenge to carving that I like to tackle on occasion.
As seen in the pictures I decided to use a watered down variety of acrylic paint to the point where it was applied more like stain rather than paint. I did apply the yellow stars in full strength color which was necessary to get the right contrasting against the light purple clothing. Looking back, I suppose that it wouldn't have taken much alteration in design and finishing colors to make this a Santa then perhaps the woodspirit staff could have been his reindeer whip... Just a little brainstorming :-)
As for attaching the wizards staff I first drilled a 1/8" hole straight through his right hand as seen in the picture above. This is something that needs to be planned before carving the hand which will grasp the staff because the necessary room must be allowed for the addition. I then went on to use a 1/8" piece of dowel rod for the staff then I drilled a small hole into another 'slightly larger' piece of dowel rod and glued them together as seen above.
As seen above I then carved a simple woodspirit face into the upper part of the inflated staff which compliments the wizard and makes the carving much more interesting. I glued the staff permanently into the hand and then drilled a super small hole for a small nylon wrist strap dangling from the staff.

This has been a super fun carving project and I'm sure that forked-branch carving will continue to have a place in my yearly carving endeavors.

If you would like to see 28 higher quality pictures of this project from beginning to end then just click here for my Facebook album on the 'Wiz'.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My 2010 Chainsaw Black Bear

I usually only chainsaw carve one bear every year as part of our camp fundraiser effort. Here's this years bear that I just completed yesterday that was cut from a yellow pine log measuring about 40" tall and 12" diameter. The 'actual' bear is about 29" tall.

Like last year's bear I used Rustoleum oil based paint for the main color which I mixed with about 40 percent paint thinner. I love these oil based paints which penetrate the wood like nothing else can. If you'd like to see more of the entire carving process I have uploaded 40 quality pictures here which is a public address that anyone can access.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Showcase Of Kids Projects On Facebook Album

I just created a new album on my Facebook page where I'll be posting daily pictures of the kids projects in woodshop class. Just click here and you can access the pictures whether you have a Facebook account or not.  The pictures are much better quality than I'm posting here so I'll be creating many new albums in the future.

The picture to the left is also included with the first 6 pictures from today's woodshop class. Dylan has been working on his mouse trap for about 3 woodshop periods and he got the mechanisms adjusted and working today so now the door slams shut when triggered. Now all that he needs to do is come up with a creative finishing for it. He did a great job on making it and had lots of patience.