Flora and Fauna in a New Climate

19 April 2014
Bushcraft is an art of interacting with the world around you, taking your place as part of the natural world. Many of the skills we seek to develop come from a desire to connect with this natural world, with varying degrees of separation from pure natural tools.

Physical Knowledge
A large part of the knowledge aquired in bushcraft is in the realm of physical skill. Be it tracking, fishing, trapping, carving or fire by friction these physical skills are something me can develop. As long as we hone these skills on a regular basis they are something we can always carry with us. It's also important to note that these physicals skills need to be committed to muscle memory, practised over and again until they become fully learnt. The simple theory isn't enough.

Nature Knowledge 
The other element of bushcraft is our nature knowledge, knowing the interactions, habitats, dangers and uses of our environment. This is the more intellectual of the two spheres but can be learnt effectively through many different systems. Thomas Elpel's "Botany in a Day" is an effective primer on how to organise and acquire this knowledge.

Moving Clime 
It's this element of our knowledge which is so much harder to carry with us. Having spent most of the last decade in Poland I have developed my knowledge of the flora and fora there. I have attuned my survival priorities to the Polish climate and landscapes and put into practice some skills such as working with pine roots and birch bark and tracking in the snow.

The New Location 
This year though, I have relocated to the Ionian coast, way down in the heel of Italy. The trees are somewhat tropical in appearance; palms, lemons, oranges, figs and olives. The ground and soil itself is of a different type and so the rocks and resources available are different too. There are familiar species about, Yarrow and some Pines but with cactus and agave pouring out of waste ground too. I don't know which species are native and which introduced. It's something of a culture shock for the bushcrafter, seeing so much carefully aquired knowledge rendered useless by a change of climate.

Animal Life
The animal life is different too. I encounter handfuls of lizards every day, whereas I've seen a lizard once in the UK and never in Poland. Bird life is different too, being at a different point in the migrations and right on the coast. Living coastally is one great advantage though, as our mesolithic ancestors stuck largely to coasts and river banks for good reasons, they really are places of abundance.

Starting Over 
It's humbling to have to go back to the beginning again, to build up my knowledge of the world around me from a new start. To be doing so in a place which is that much more different to where I grew up and in another foreign language simply adds to the challenge. I'll be sure to keep you up to date with how I become familiar with natural Italy.

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How Sharp Does an Axe Need to Be?

22 March 2014
Is this an easy question for someone out there? I've played and played with my Delaronde forge bag axe and dutifully put marker on the edge and sharpened it with a mat and wet and dry paper. The edge is sharp enough to split wood and will chop but when you look at the cuts it makes they are not smooth but quite ragged.

I've used everything I can think of on the axe from paper to stones and strops - it just doesn't ever get really sharp. I'm pretty disappointed with a beautiful looking tool which just can't seem to do its job. Every other tool I have is shaving sharp yet this axe seems to resist all my efforts.

On the other hand I have some cheap Indian tomahawk heads - you can put a good edge on them with a file. They don't hold the edge too long but I'd prefer a softer edge that comes up sharp easily than a harder one that never wants to. There's also the positive aspect that the edge will roll rather than chip if you happen to come across something harder than expected when chopping.

The other reasons I lean more towards the cheap tomahawk heads are the other utility aspects. The handle is relatively easy to switch in and out as it's a friction fit. You can fit a longer handle if you're going to be chopping more, or perhaps go as far as the Polish highlanders' axe, the ciupaga, and add a 4 foot handle and use it as a walking stick. The head can also be taken off and the radius of the cutting edge allows it to be used as a a knife or ulu. It's also good for a small survival kit, a cooking pot, 'hawk head, plastic sheet and fire starter make a quick basic survival or minimalist camping kit. The whold weight comes to less than a kilo too.

I've come across this video from the A-Z of bushcraft on axes.

Here's Dave Canterbury, formerly of Dual Survival extolling the virtues of the tomahawk

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