Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A Winter's Tale.

18th century Historical Trekking-A Winter’s Tale. © Le Loup

MSF 2007, Armidale 2350 Australia.

I left alone early in the morning with the frost still on the ground. Before leaving I loaded my fusil just in case I should need it. I started north following the wilderness trail until I reached Pilot’s Rock at the head of Hazard Valley, so named for a close friend who died some years ago. His Living History persona was that of Arthur Hazard, but his real name was Arthur William Baker. From Pilot’s Rock I moved steeply down into the valley below catching at saplings to steady me on the slippery decent. This was true forest with sticks and leaves and rocks littering my downward path. In order for me to take advantage of every hand hold I was continually having to swap my fusil from hand to hand. Finally I reached the bottom and crossed the narrow now dry Header stream and started my ascent again on the other side.

I took my time in the climb as I did not want to perspire too much. If one goes to bed at night damp in the winter you are very likely to freeze. The best thing to do is to dry your clothes in front of the fire before lying down for the night. I saw pig sign along the trail but it was not recent, then a strong scent of wild pig came to me and I stood still surveying the forest about me. It does not pay to hurry on a walk or trek, you can miss seeing a lot of things if you do. Slowly and quietly are best in the woods. Seeing nothing I moved on but held my fusil at the ready, and then beside the trail I saw fresh diggings and large rocks that had been turned over. Further on I found a downed tree, now hollow and split with age, part of it had been torn apart as if by a huge bear looking for grubs. Here the smell was strongest and the tracks in the earth, about the size of my palm were fresh since the last rain the day before. Again I stopped and listened and looked, but all was silence. I took this opportunity to pour a measure of buckshot down the barrel on top of the round ball load. I topped this off with a leather wad to hold the shot in place, then cradling my fusil in my left arm I moved on.

As I reached the ridge above the country changed, now the ground beneath the trees was covered in bracken and old mossy logs, here too were many Goonagurra, grass trees. This part of the forest had a primeval look and feel about it. The trail was narrow here among the bracken and the grass trees and I felt it necessary to stop frequently to look and listen. As I reached a bend in the trail I saw a giant tree had fallen against another and was being held there after having smashed large branches to the ground. It was an eerie feeling walking past these giants knowing that sooner or later the pressure would become too much and both would come crashing across the trail.

A movement up ahead caught my attention but it was only two wood duck taking off from the pond. They beat their way through the trees weaving and dodging and then slowly turned to come speeding back toward me again. I raised my fusil in mock readiness and they would have made easy targets with a load of number 6.

The pond was full which was a pleasing site and I found more pig tracks and a couple of wallows in the muddy edges. There was sign of goat having been there too but not recent. I made my way into the edge of the woods and took off my pack, water bottle, shot pouch and horn and then just stood for a while taking in the serenity. Sunlight was now sending shafts of pale light through the trees and far off I heard the morning serenade of magpies.

It was an easy matter to use the leather ties from my bedroll to secure a cross pole between two trees and from there I secured my oil cloth making wooden pegs with my tomahawk to peg the lower edge down. Inside this I lay a thick bed of sticks and over this I cast my blanket. My shot pouch, horn and fusil I lay on the blanket well back from where my fireplace would be, and covered them with one side of the blanket. Then I found another pole and pushed it between the cross pole and the oil cloth forming a ridge in the oil cloth from cross pole down to the ground. The upper part of this pole stuck out over the fireplace to be used for hanging my kettle.

The morning was spent clearing the area around my shelter of debris and building a pile of sticks next to the shelter to keep the wind out and to be used as firewood. I collected a good pile of heavy wood that would last me through the night and placed it close to the shelter so I could reach it without getting out of my blanket. In the back of the shelter I stored plenty of kindling, both dry grass and larger kindling sticks. These would remain dry regardless of rain or snow and would be used if the fire should go out in the night.

I dug a small fire pit and surrounded it with rocks and earth, rocks furthest away from the shelter to reflect warmth back into the shelter, and earth on the near side to keep any running water out of the pit. This done I picked up my fusil, shot pouch and horn and went for a scout about to see what I could find.

I was back in camp well before dark having found plenty of sign of wild goats and pigs but sighted no animals except roos and wallaby. I set about laying my fire and making fire with flint and steel. There is something very satisfying about using primitive methods to accomplish a task; it gives one a strong feeling of self-reliance. Once the fire was going well I put a kettle of water on to boil. My 18th century style brass trade kettle weighs just under 1-1/2lbs, but it is sturdy and large enough for a big stew and with its bail it is a pleasure to use. It does not take up much room in my knapsack despite being about 7 inches wide and 4 ½ inches deep, because I pack it with my bags of dried foods. My water I carry in a leather costrel which is very light when empty and holds about 2 litres.

Once the kettle was boiling I added some loose tea and lifted it off the fire to brew. A dash of rum from my period flask improved the taste and I enjoyed a meal of bread and corned beef. I woke several times in the night to build up the fire, the cold having woken me. Sometime in the early morning hours I woke again to find only a few remaining coals kept alive by the ash. I quickly grabbed a handful of light kindling from the back of my shelter and gently blew until I had flames again. In the flickering firelight I could see a light fluttering of snow falling. I stoked the fire well and pulling my Monmouth cap down over my ears tried to get some more sleep.

Morning was a winter wonderland with snow on the ground and the trees. I climbed out of my bedroll and shelter to go for a walk and relieve myself. Then back to my shelter and put on a kettle of water to boil. It was a beautiful sight and I just sat there looking at all the whiteness. I was jerked out of my thoughts by screams like a demented seagull as three large black cockies flew over looking more like giant vampire bats in the early light. What a strange wild land this is, but it has its own beauty.

As the sun came up in the east behind me the rays of light came through the forest trees in shafts and shone on the mist like a mirror making things seem brighter than they really were. As the sun rose the shafts of light moved over the snow and the dripping from the trees began. I wished it had kept snowing. After the tea had brewed I poured myself a cup and put some oats and currents on to cook. Then got out my little handmade journal and began to make a record of this trek so far.

There can be nothing finer I think than sitting snug in a primitive shelter on a cold morning with snow all around whilst eating a hot meal and sipping a hot drink. I did not want to leave, though I knew I had to sooner or later. So I sat there thinking how nice it would be to live a life like this, then realised that I virtually did, except in a house in the forest instead of a primitive shelter. My thoughts strayed to life 300 years ago, the adventure and the hardships and thought myself very lucky that I could experience this lifestyle still. I sat there a long time before finally heading for home.

Author’s Note: The accompanying photos are not from this trek. They were taken by my youngest son Kaelem around about the same time earlier in the year when he followed me part way on a trek.


Some old guy said...

This sort of entry is my favorite, Keith. I love the skills entries, too, but these walks take me out of myself for a while. Thanks.

Le Loup said...

Good to hear from you, & thanks for the feedback. I have just started a new set of videos on 18th century historical trekking, & will post the first one here as soon as I can. This will just be part one. We have the group's first trek for this winter coming up next weekend, so I will be able to finish the series then.
Regards, Keith aka Le Loup.