The Woodcrafter's Measure - Part 3

13 August 2009
As promised, here is the third and final article on ways of measuring in woodcraft that are a not based on lasers, tapes or any gadgets. In this article we'll be using the maths teacher's best friend - the triangle - and looking at how its special properties can be useful in the woods.

An Old "Indian" Trick
The first use of the triangle is an old, possibly native American, trick for measuring the height of trees and other objects. I still remember being taught this on a trip to a nature reserve when I was ten. The idea is simple. You start with your back to the tree and walk away from it. Occasionally you bend over and look back at the tree through your legs. Once you have got so you can just see the top of the tree then you turn around and count your paces back to the tree. The number of paces away you are is equal to the height of the tree. Of course, this is prone to errors depending on how flexible you are and any lean of the tree but can be surprisingly consistent between people. It works as your field of vision when bending over forms a special 45-90-45 triangle and means that the distance from the tree is mathematically equal to its height.

The Magic Stick
A similar principle can be used for lengths as well as heights. The first step is to get a stick. The next part is the clever bit - the stick needs to be cut or broken to the same length as your arm, from knuckle to shoulder. When you hold your arm parallel to the ground you once again form this magic 45-90-45 triangle when you hold the stick straight up. This is true because you are holding the stick up at 90 degrees and the stick and your arm are the same length. Measurements can be made in the same way as the Indian trick but can be made in different planes too.

Measuring a River
There is a method that can be used to measure river widths that uses the magic little triangle too. It is well diagrammed here and essentially makes you create a large triangle and then a scale model of it. By measuring the scale version on dry land you are then able to multiply up to the real size of the river.

Shadows in Scale
What is a shadow? Simply one side of a triangle formed by the sun with the suns rays and the object making the other two sides. This enables us to use shadows as a measure for tall objects (largely trees). First off you need to find a stick and then using the techniques discussed in part one work out its length. This stick is then placed into the ground. A second stick is then cut to the same length as the shadow of the original stick. The number of times this second stick will fit into the length of the trees shadow can be used to tell us the height. For example, if it fits in 26 times and our first stick was 1m tall then we know our tree is 26 times taller and hence 26m tall.

Professional Measures
The laws of trigonometry are used by professional foresters as they use a special tool called a clinometer which measures angles enabling heights to be deduced. Indeed, the clinometer is not particularly different from the sextant and I hope to have a play with one of those in a future post.

Part 1
Part 2
Read On

Anthropology and Bushcraft

10 August 2009
If you have followed either Ray Mears' or Bruce Parry's programmes on TV over the last decade or so you'll see a strong link between trying to understand the lifestyle of a people in a different part of the world and the hobby of bushcraft.

Beyond Bushcraft Books
Although there is a wealth of bushcraft and survival literature out there after you've read a few books you find a great deal of similarity and repetition in books and very little in the way of new ideas or inspirations. In search of more information I have turned to other disciplines as a way of gaining more knowledge.

Anthropological Answers
The science which provides useful and inspiring information about modern people living in the wilderness using their traditional skills is named Anthropology, a science studying people, societies and their way of life. With yesterday, August 9th, being the international day of the World's Indigenous People I finally felt compelled to tell you all about it.

The Other Side of Eden
The first book of this type I read was one I found on the Jack Mountain reading list in their student handbook. The book looks at the marginalisation of hunter gatherers and as such is named The Other Side of Eden. The book concentrates on the inuit people but also takes in other native American groups and their lifestyles. The discussions on the languages spoken, their vocabulary for describing fauna, flora and weather and the nature of speech in an oral, not written, culture are all fascinating for the linguist in me. The book also looks at their hunting strategies and how the idea of wilderness living skills and adventure are very far apart. For the people who live the skills, adventure is what happens when things are out of control. This is a book I recommend if you are interested in hunter gatherer lifestyles and especially those of North America.

"Savages" of South America
The next book I picked up was a battered second hand copy of a book discussing the lives of South American native people and their war with the oil industry, modernisation and Christianisation. The book was titled "Savages" and despite having a few interesting insights into food storage and jaguar shamans it was mostly anti-globalisation literature dressed up as anthropology. The writer was not a speaker of the Huaorani language and has received a fair bit of criticism for this, the style is also a little new-age

Reindeer People
The final book, and perhaps the most noteworthy is the most recent I have read. Called Reindeer People it is a mix if a study and story that combines the human elements of the latter with excellent referencing of the former. The book looks at the lifestyles of the Eveny (also here) reindeer herders (a people related to the Evenk group seen in a Ray Mears episode) and how their lifestyles were changing during the collapse of communism in the USSR. The book is well written and easy to read with the only quirk being a few extracts being translated into English and their written equivalents then being noted in brackets in Russian. Not too bad if you have a basic grasp of spoken Russian and not a major deal but I could see this being an irritant if you don't.

Polar Research
The writer, Piers Vitebsky, is a professor at the Scott Polar research institute in Cambridge. The research institute is the centre of British polar studies and has a very famous museum. Sadly, the museum is due to be closed for the best part of a year - until spring 2010 - for rennovation. As a result I've not yet been there.

Rigour over Rhetoric
In my opinion anthropological literature can provide a new avenue of information and ideas for bushcraft. From my, albeit limited, reading I would say that choosing those books with more academic rigour than political agenda will be rewarding. The 2 books on northern peoples were really fascinating and eye-opening and I'd definitely recommend them. One advantage of this type of research is that you can pick an area whose skills are relevant or interesting to you. For me that will always be the northern forests.

If you want to see some beautiful pictures check
Read On