Summer Basic Survival 2017

What can I say? What an awesome crew we had assembled this past weekend for our 2017 Summer Basic Survival Course. As usual everyone did a phenomenal job, passing each task presented. We had a full camp with three kids, seven adults, plus two instructors who all braved the pouring rain, hot summer sun and biting bugs. It was the first time we had children participate in the course. Watching them work with their parents to craft fire, create shelter, haul and clean water, etc was both amazing and inspirational. Thank you to everyone who participated and for making it such a fun and memorable experience!

Photos c/o Eric Bourgault

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Tree and Plant Identification #6 – Dandelions

Journal Notes: Dandelions – A yellow flowering plant that is completely edible. The leaves are 5-25+ cm long, simple and basal. They can be entire, toothed or lobed, forming a rosette above the central taproot. The yellow flower head is open during the day but closed at night. The stem is hollow and is 1-10+ cm tall and exudes milky latex when broken. A rosette may produce several flowering stems at a time that are about 2-5 cm in diameter. To remove the bitterness, the leaves are often blanched or sautéed like spinach but can be eaten raw too. The root can be ground, roasted and used to make a caffeine free coffee like drink. They can be found from spring to fall in New England.

Dandelion found in Providence RI, late fall.

Disclaimer:  As far as we know the information provided is accurate. New England Woods LLC DOES NOT recommend any person or animal touch, taste, ingest, harvest, etc any plant material or organic matter found outdoors without receiving proper training from an expert in foraging, botany or biology, as well as consulting a health professional first. New England Woods LLC, its staff and volunteers ARE NOT experts, biologists, botanists or professional foragers. New England Woods LLC and its volunteers and staff, ARE NOT liable for any injury, allergy, or death which may result from information found on this website. This website and blog are intended to distribute general and basic information only. 

Tree and Plant Identification #5 – Goldenrod

Journal Notes: Goldenrod – A diverse species of yellow flowering plant also known for having medicinal properties. The plant stands about 3 ft high and has long woody stems; usually green leaves about 10 cm long and 2 cm across, with thick yellow flower clusters on top. The upper side of the leaf is usually rough while the underside will be hairy. The plant can be found in September and October growing throughout the area. The flowers are edible raw or you can dry them with the leaves for tea. The leaves can also be blanched and cooked like spinach or used in soups or stews etc. The leaves are said to relieve sore throats when chewed and the chewing the roots relieves toothaches, but I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for sure.

Disclaimer:  As far as we know the information provided is accurate. New England Woods LLC DOES NOT recommend any person or animal touch, taste, ingest, harvest, etc any plant material or organic matter found outdoors without receiving proper training from an expert in foraging, botany or biology, as well as consulting a health professional first. New England Woods LLC, its staff and volunteers ARE NOT experts, biologists, botanists or professional foragers. New England Woods LLC and its volunteers and staff, ARE NOT liable for any injury, allergy, or death which may result from information found on this website. This website and blog are intended to distribute general and basic information only. 

Tree and Plant Identification #4 – Hickory

Journal Notes: Hickory – Is a species of deciduous hardwood tree with featured compound leaves and big oval shaped nuts. The nuts can be anywhere from 2-5 cm in length and 1.5 – 3 cm in diameter. They are enclosed in a four valved husk which splits open at maturity. The nut shell is thick and bony in most species but a few varieties have thin shells. The nut is divided into two halves which split apart when the seed germinates. Some species of hickory include pecan, shagbark, walnut, etc. There are no poisonous varieties I’m aware of but the bitternut and the pignut, which have thin shells, are considered inedible. The nuts ripen in late summer to early fall. From September – November the green husks begin to turn dark brown, split open and fall from the tree. When collecting the nuts, remove any husks and check for weevil holes, rot or disease and discard if they appear defective. Crack open the nutshell to access the tender nut meat inside. They can be eaten raw, dried and roasted or added to breads and bannocks.

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Shagbark found in Lincoln, RI

Disclaimer:  As far as we know the information provided is accurate. New England Woods LLC DOES NOT recommend any person or animal touch, taste, ingest, harvest, etc any plant material or organic matter found outdoors without receiving proper training from an expert in foraging, botany or biology, as well as consulting a health professional first. New England Woods LLC, its staff and volunteers ARE NOT experts, biologists, botanists or professional foragers. New England Woods LLC and its volunteers and staff, ARE NOT liable for any injury, allergy, or death which may result from information found on this website. This website and blog are intended to distribute general and basic information only. 

Tree and Plant Identification #3 – Partridge Berry

Journal Notes: Partridge Berry – A type of ground vine usually found amongst leaf litter. The leaves are about 1/2 inch, evergreen, oval to heart shaped and grow opposite. The flowers are usually about 1/2 inch long and are bell shaped with four or five petals. Usually solitary the berry is bright red. The fruit is edible by itself or could be added to a bread or bannock etc. The leaves can be dried and used for tea. Fruit grows from July through October and can persist through winter.

Disclaimer:  As far as we know the information provided is accurate. New England Woods LLC DOES NOT recommend any person or animal touch, taste, ingest, harvest, etc any plant material or organic matter found outdoors without receiving proper training from an expert in foraging, botany or biology, as well as consulting a health professional first. New England Woods LLC, its staff and volunteers ARE NOT experts, biologists, botanists or professional foragers. New England Woods LLC and its volunteers and staff, ARE NOT liable for any injury, allergy, or death which may result from information found on this website. This website and blog are intended to distribute general and basic information only. 

Woods of the Past #3 – Ethan Allen Crawford

Image of The Rosebrook Farm courtesy of WhiteMountainHistory.org and Dartmouth College Library.

Ethan Allen Crawford, known as the “Mountain Giant”, is the stuff legends are made of. He is one of my favorite woodsman for many reasons. As a young boy, he and the rest of his family, were among the first homesteaders in Crawford Notch, located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. His father, Abel Crawford, was the first settler and built a cabin where the AMC Highland Center now stands. Abel and his family lived there a time before he sold the land to his father-in-law, Eleazar Rosebrook, and moved twelve miles to the Southern end of the Notch, somewhere near where Notchland stands today. I’m guessing things got a little too crowded for the old Revolutionary War Vet and he needed some breathing room, and subsequently created one of the first in-law apartments in the White Mountains as well.

In 1817 Eleazar Rosebrook died and his grandson, Ethan Allen Crawford, begrudgingly inherited the estate. Rosebrook had turned the cabin into a large house and farm and Ethan was under tremendous financial pressure to keep it running. Aware of the natural beauty of his surroundings he got the idea to turn his home into an Inn for travelers passing through the notch, as well as for outdoor enthusiasts from the newly emerging outdoor recreation industry.

In 1819 he blazed the first trail up Mt. Washington and began guiding visitors to the top. He was also responsible for building and managing the first road in the Northern section of the Notch, present day route 302, as well as other paths and roads throughout the mountains. Even though he never made a profit he continued to do it as long as he was able, destroying his health in the process. Eventually, he became financially destitute and even spent some time in debtor’s prison before finally losing his home. It’s a sad story really and in my opinion, not how an American Hero should have been treated. Anyone who has some romantic notion of homesteaders and guides from the “good ol days” should read the History of the White Mountains. It is the account of Ethan Allen Crawford, compiled and written by his wife Lucy Crawford, where he tells the story about his short, hard life in Vermont and New Hampshire.

ethanallenbearMy favorite Ethan Allen Crawford story is the time he captured a black bear alive and thinking it might make a good “attraction” for his inn, attempted to carry it home. According to him, he managed to get it out of the trap, tied-up and hoisted onto his shoulders. The poor animal was obviously freaking out and was able to scratch and bite him some. In the process of trying to put the bear on the ground to adjust it’s bindings he accidentally put it down too hard and killed it. That’s right, he caught a bear, tied it up, carried it around on his shoulders before body-slamming it to death. Worn out from the struggle, he left the bear on the road and later sent one of his hired men back for it. The classic story of a frontiersman wrestling a bear!

I may revisit the story of Ethan Allen Crawford as well as other members of his family at a later time. For now, if you want to learn more check out the previously mentioned book. The Bartlett Historical Society and WhiteMountainHistory.org also have nice websites full of useful historical information. Finally, for those interested in experiencing what I consider to be, the most beautiful place on Earth, we offer guided tours and camping trips of the area ranging from two days to two weeks. Hope to see you out there and thanks for reading! 

RISD Digital + Media Survival Training

This past weekend we hosted the RISD : Digital + Media graduate students. It was an honor to share a camp with so many talented artists. We had a blast teaching them about survival and spending an overnight together in the New England Woods. They all did a fantastic job. On top of that they did it without their cell phones, choosing instead to ditch technology for a day and to get back to the basics. Check out these shots my father-in-law, Steve Mason Photographer, captured from early Saturday morning. Cover and footer photos c/o RISD D+M. Shout out to Dan Schwemin Jr. and Eric Bourgault (Deranged Survival) for their hard work and instruction. Couldn’t have done it without you!

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Book Review: “The Woods Cook”

Happy Labor Day! With Hermine at the doorstep I hope my fellow Southern New Englanders are hunkered down inside with their families today. Some of you might have seen the post on our FaceBook page where I recently purchased a copy of Tim Smith’s The Woods Cook, Outdoor Cooking With A Professional Guide. I bought it mainly because of Tim Smith’s reputation as a guide and my interest in logistics, trip planning and camp kitchen techniques. I absolutely learned some new things in that regard however, the thing I didn’t expect, was to rekindle my interest in baking. During college, I worked as a muffin baker on an apple farm and apparently there is still some aspect of me which still enjoys it. My wife and I had a house guest in town this past week so it seemed the perfect opportunity to test out some of the recipes this book generously provides. After reading the chapter on sourdough I was an instant convert and immediately got to work finding some starter and feeding it until I had enough to work with.

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While I waited for my starter to grow I figured I’d try out some non-sourdough type recipes. First up, I tried the coffee cake. Damn it’s good. Super eggy, moist, tasty delight. This is not like any coffee cake I’ve ever had before and I’ve had my share. I followed Tim’s instructions to a T (except for a brown sugar topping) and it came out great.

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After the success of the coffee cake I was motivated to try something else. Being a person of Scottish decent the shortbread cookies caught my eye. Before long I was mixing the ingredients in my large stainless bowl and dropping small balls of shortbread dough onto a baking sheet. Ten minutes later I pulled them out of the oven and wallah! Done…well done. Yeah I burnt them a little bit but they were still delicious.

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The coffee cake and shortbread satisfied everyones sweet tooth and by now I had enough sourdough starter to work with. I decided to go for the gold and began assembling the ingredients to make my first sourdough bread. First the dry stuff, then the starter and oil, after a few moments the dough began to come together in a beautiful, elastic, sticky mess as I kneaded it with my hands. I failed to follow the instruction about “rolling it up” and dumped my dough straight into a bread pan and let it sit for a little over an hour. I popped it in the oven for another hour and soon after that the first loaf of sourdough bread appeared from the oven.

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As the book warned, I had a slightly uncooked center due to baking it in brick form but it was still outstanding. One of the things I like about this book are the stories Tim Smith tells about different things that have happened to him around the cook fire. After tasting the sourdough I can relate to a particular tale he tells about one of his students and their sourdough habit. (get the book if you want to understand what I’m talking about) I definitely caught the bug because the next day I was whipping up a new batch of dough, this time breaking into four smaller round loaves and baking them for half the time. They came out of the oven near perfect, but I still made a few small mental notes on how I could improve upon the next batch.

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I’m now on my third batch of sourdough with plenty of starter to go around. As long as I continue to feed the starter there’s an infinite amount bread, biscuits, pancakes, pizza crust, etc that could be baked from it. That’s pretty cool…Now I need to move outside and practice baking these recipes on the open fire but I think I’ll wait for Tropical Storm Hermine to pass first.

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This book is not all about baking. It’s filled to the brim with useful information that’s easy to digest. Jack Mountain Bushcraft Alum and cast member from History Channel’s Alone, Sam Larson, recently commented “Great reference to keep on hand as well” and I agree. I plan on keeping this book with me in camp and incorporating it’s techniques and recipes into my own. I also hope to get up north soon and actually take a course at Jack Mountain Bushcraft School. I know in the past, Tim Smith and Derek Faria have put on camp cooking demos and other workshops, check them out if you get a chance.

Ice Fishing and Overnighter (February 2016)

I started this post last winter before my old computer died. I’m inside working on the new computer today so I’ve finally decided to dust this document off and finish it up. Hope you enjoy!

I hadn’t been up to New Hampshire to see my buddy and mentor Derek Faria since early last spring so when I pulled onto The Woodsman School and Guide Services property last Saturday morning I was ready for an adventure. Despite the forecast, which called for temperatures of -40F or more, I was looking forward to some ice fishing, hot tenting and some good ‘ol fashion woodsman time. It was around 6:30AM when Eric from Deranged Survival and I pulled into the driveway and parked in front of the familiar classroom. I had picked up Eric in Woonsocket on my way up from Providence, Rhode Island around 4:00AM and the two of us made the short drive up to New Hampshire together.  

Inside the classroom, I could see a deer hide stretched and drying. A remnant of a past project students from the Woodsman Course in November had worked on.  Near the cabin was an outdoor cooking area with a large tripod set up in the traditional Maine Guide style. Behind this was hundreds of acres of woods, mostly Beech trees, but plenty of birch, pine and hemlock as well.  A few minutes later Derek met us outside and invited us in for a pot of coffee, which we gladly accepted.

We spent the next couple hours catching up and chatting with Derek and his family about various things while we waited for the bait shop to open. Inside the cabin it was warm and cozy. The great hearth on one side mirrored a large buck mounted on the other. Other items like,  snowshoes hanging on the wall and the “Bushcraft” knife laying on the table, mixed with pieces of Star Wars Lego’s, Minecraft on the T.V. and other children’s toys made for a comfortable Saturday morning, family environment. It was hard not to pick up the legos and play with them as we sipped coffee. I couldn’t help but think, it’s always impressed me how Derek seems to balance his military career, family life and business.

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Eventually we headed back out into the blistering cold morning and loaded up into Sarge’s truck. We hit up the bait shop and grabbed some other supplies before making our way over to Lake Wentworth in Wolfeboro. We didn’t end up catching anything but the fact we practically had the Lake to ourselves made up for it. It seems we were the only ones crazy enough to brave the cold except for a couple of other guys, who were out setting cusk lines. We took in the spacious view provided by the large lake and avoided the wind by setting up behind a small island. Take a few minutes to watch Eric’s video of our day on the ice, as well as footage of later that evening and following morning in the hot tent. You can get a real sense of the wind and the cold as  we were walking off the ice…brrrr!

After getting off the ice, Sarge took us on a tour of a local wildlife management area. We practiced identifying a few different trees and tramped around for a bit before heading back to the truck and making the short drive to The Woodsman School property. By now the sun had gone down and it was getting colder. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get into my sleeping bag. We hiked out to the tent located at the back end of the property and hunkered down for the evening as the weather outside kept getting even colder. At one point a large gust of wind came through, opening the door flap in the process. In the couple of seconds it took Derek to close it up, the temperature inside the tent dropped around fifty degrees fahrenheit. He loaded the stove up with more wood and we were cozy again in no time. Despite the arctic temperature of the air outside, it was a pleasant evening filled with hot food, cold beer and good friends inside. You can check out Sarge’s video of the evening and following morning below.