The Joys of Childern and Fire...: "
During Thanksgiving the family and I traveled north to Minnesota to visit with my wife's sister and her family. The first night we were there my sister-in-law suggested that we all go for a night hike and call owls. We got the kids bundled up which is no easy task (they have six kids, we have two) and headed off into the timber.
After we had walked a little ways we stopped to listen and I did a couple of Barred Owl (Strix varia ) calls to no avail. We walked further up the hill to a large open meadow and stoped to call again. This time we tried the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), and the Eastern Screech Owl (Otus asio) in addition to the Barred (none of which should be confused with a Wandering Owl) but again we raised no response.
The older kids and I stopped near a junction of two mowed trails on our way up the hill to wait for the other adults with the toddlers and infants in tow. The kids began asking me why I carried a knife with me every where I go, and what other "odd" items I had with me. I told them all the things I use my knife for from the mundane, opening envelopes, to the exciting, butchering game. While I explained just how useful a fixed blade knife can be on a daily basis I reached into my front pocket and pulled out my ferro rod and grabbed some bull thistle down from a nearby stalk. This action promoted a whole new slew of questions as to why I need thistle seeds and what the ferro rod does. Actions speak louder than words so I just showed them.
I struck the ferro rod with the saw blade on my Swiss Army "Camper" and the bull thistle down burst into flames temporarily lighting up our little corner of the meadow. My nephew, age 7, was little concerned that I was going to start a grass fire but I eventually persuaded him that everything was ok (I thought for a minute I would have to show him my S-130/190 Wildland Firefighter Card).
As we were making our way back to the house the the last hint of light disappeared in the western sky and it was increasingly difficult to make out the trail in the timber so I grabbed my rope candle (a 6-ply jute rope coated with wax) from my pocket and lit it with my ferro rod and some char cloth. I was again instantly barraged with questions as to why I need that. I though the moment at hand made it obvious but I indulged their inquisitive nature and explained how my rope candle was a sort of pocket torch. As we finally made it back to the house they decided that they also were in dire need of torches. I told them I'd see what we could come up with the following day.
The following morning I awoke excited by the challenge of manufacturing torches from what the kids and I could find in the countryside. After we'd had breakfast and the kids had done their chores we headed off to a low ridge north of the house that had a small plantation of Eastern White pines (Pinus strobus). Once we arrived at the plantation I pulled a coiled up bow saw blade from the billy can in my satchel and cut a Sugar maple sapling (Acer saccharum) whipped up a bow saw and we headed in.
We were at the plantation to gather pitch from the pine trees to act as fuel in the kid's torches. I showed the kids what to look for as far as tree damage, pitch and how to remove it. I made a basket out of my handkerchief which we lined with dried pine needle to keep the pitch from sticking to the cloth, handed it to my niece and sent them off hunting.
In the meantime I took off looking for a dead standing pine tree to fell in order to search for "fatwood", or pitch saturated wood at the base of the dead tree's stump. The limbs of the pines had never been trimmed so there were dead limbs interlocked all over the place which made movement for me difficult. I decided to cut some branches out of my way with the saw and when I did I realized that the bases of the dead branches were F-U-L-L of pitch, I mean loaded! I set about cutting dead branches and placing the pitch filled section in my pockets.
After about 45 minutes of collecting my pockets were full of fatwood, and the kids' basket had a healthy supply of pitch in it. We headed back to the house and we made a detour past the cow pasture to grab some Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) that I noticed on the way out. The kids gathered up the mullein and we beat it back to the house where I built a small fire while the kids went and scrounged up a soup can to melt their pitch in.
While the pitch melted, the kids and I had lunch around the campfire and drank tea that I boiled in my billy can. Once the pitch was melted I took the heads of the mullein and rolled them around inside the can until they were well coated then I allowed them to cool. I repeated this process a few times until they were well saturated, all the while I was explaining to the kids the ins and outs of safe handling of the torches and how they were ONLY to be lit under adult supervision.
Besides making the torches I was able to teach my oldest niece how to make cordage using baling twine from the barn. I showed her once and within a few hours she had made herself a 4-ply, 10' lead rope to use on her horse's halter. Later that day when we were hiking in the woods she grabbed some inner bark from an Ironwood tree that had been damaged by a log skidder and made a few feet of 2-ply cordage. I was (and am) a proud uncle.
I took the fatwood I collected home and made a few fatwood matches that I learned about from an article over at Woodsmonkey.com. The "matches" I made are pictured here on the left. You light them by hitting the cotton wool wrapped around the "match" with sparks from your ferro rod. The picture on the right is two of the "matches" burning (Note: the cotton wool has burned away and just the fat wood is burning now).
I also recently made a match-safe from a 12 gauge a shotshell that I have filled with waterproof matches. I got the idea for the match-safe from Ray Mears' Essential Bushcraft.
To make it you simply heat the brass of a discharged shotshell over a candle just enough that it will slip off and then slide it over the open end of another discharged shotshell.
I went a step further in that I used a hacksaw to cut grooves into the removable end of the match-safe to provide a friction plate for lighting my matches.
I waterproofed the matches myself by dipping strike anywhere matches in a clear lacquer after I read an article about the process in the latest issue of Backwoodsman Magazine and over at Brian's Blog.