Hi, I recently put together a twenty minute movie chronicling my month-long trip on the Bone Trace. It has music and movie clips as well as some beautiful photo images. Just click on AMERICA’S FRONTIER HISTORY EXPEDITION at the top of this page and then click on the video. That trip was an experience that really affected and changed me.
A couple of mornings ago I took a long walk in the woods north of where I live in Minnesota. It is a remote area and rarely in the nineteen years we have been here have I ever seen another human being traveling in those woods. In fact, it is ten miles to the nearest improved road straight north of our property. Of course there are some logging trails, one snowmobile trail and as I found out, a new logging road. The morning was cool and had a dampish sort of smell in the air. The snow from last winter all but gone, but the ground wet and squishy in some areas.
The sky was a bit overcast with some ribbed-looking cloud formations that were doing the best to obscure the sunrise. I was taking food out to the deer as I have done all winter long, starting when the serious snow and cold hit and just decided to do some extra exploring. Our two dogs, Missy and Lilly seemed excited at the prospect, so we left the confines of our property and headed up an old fire road with no particular destination in mind.
What I saw all around me seemed colorless and devoid of life and dead. What I mean is that the grass was brown and matted down along with last fall’s discarded leaves. The trees, stripped bare of their foliage seemed naked and cold. There had been an ice storm early in the winter and many of those trees had become weighted down with sleet, hardened into ice. Some of them had branches and limbs broken off and were littering the old fire road, while some of the smaller saplings had bent over with the weight of the ice and had frozen to the ground. Many of them remained bent over, as if paying homage to some deity—perhaps Jack Frost. All this was making me think of death for some reason.
It didn’t help that I came across the remains of a skunk and raccoon, their skulls recognizable enough and later a pile of feathers from an unfortunate grouse, killed probably by a bird of prey. Of course the dogs noticed none of this and were busy running down different scents and paying only a cursory bit of attention to me.
About this time I veered off the old fire road, which paralleled a lake still locked with a thin sheet of ice and followed a different trail; then I saw it, a huge area that had been clear-cut.
The old forest was stripped bare and it its place were discarded limbs and old rotted tree trunks. The ground still held the ugly tracks of those huge skidder tires and the machines that can so quickly destroy what nature takes so long to create. It reminded me of a bomb site and it struck a gloomy sort of chord within—more death—but this time from the hand of man.
As I started to process my thoughts and feelings I considered that death is a part of life, just as night is a part of day. Life goes in cycles. Good times, bad times, happy times, sad times and our life has seasons also, from birth to death. I realized that I was looking that morning at snapshot of just one day of one season. Because soon warmer weather would return, rains would water the forest and new life would start to be visible again, green grass, leaves on the trees, birds, and animals like deer would be giving birth, flowers would start to bloom and the world would take on color again. I was thinking about this while walking over the clear-cut area and as if to put an explanation mark on my thoughts, I saw two deer looking at me from the edge of the clearing and as soon as I locked my eyes on them they turned and lazily scampered away, their white tails flopping back and forth.
Looking down on the ground there were more deer tracks, so more deer had survived the winter and they would go on also. I made up my mind to return to this area next fall. I bet I will see a number of small trees starting to grow, along with grass and other plants. What looked so barren, lifeless and unappealing will take on a new purpose and direction and the cycle of life that has been going on for eons will repeat itself.
That clear-cut and the other things I had seen made me think about our human existence. Death comes to us in many forms during our existence on this earth, marriages die, friendships dissipate, jobs our lost, hopes dashed, opportunities squandered and yes—even our own physical death. Friends die, parents pass away, a spouse or sibling dies and even children and young people leave us too soon. Sometimes death hits us unexpectedly and sometimes it is anticipated, but it almost always packs a hard punch, is difficult to deal with and grief can linger for a long time. Interestingly, the very next day, our neighbor called and asked me to come over. She lives alone on a lake nearby and while looking out her picture window noticed that a deer had fallen through the ice and was struggling to get out.
I rushed over and sure enough, right out in the middle of the lake was the deer. I could think of no way to save it. It had fought long and hard and had even smashed a channel towards the shoreline, but its time had run out. Hypothermia had reached a critical stage in this young animal and in a matter of minutes it was gone—very sad. But I realized that though this animal was gone, there would be many more deer born later in the spring, life would continue.
Death and resurrection, that is what happens in life, in its various seasons, cycles and times—both are woven into the fabric of our existence. That morning walk in the woods, and time in the clear-cut and the death of that poor deer became a kind of metaphor for me; devastation strikes at times in our lives, upsetting our normal plane of existence. It often creates ugly wounds and scars, leaving the landscape of our existence all torn up and unrecognizable (like that clear-cut.) However often this occurs, over time, our life can reboot and though things are never the same, spring turns to summer, color warmth and beauty return.
After years of studying and experimenting with frontier clothing and tools, I have recently been asked by more than one artist to pose for different frontier scenarios. Here are just two for frontier artist H. David Wright and one for artist Steve White.
This painting of me by Steve White in a birchbark canoe made the cover of Backwoodsman Magazine and was taken from a picture taken by my good friend John Hayes. It is an honor for me to do this and at times I have to sit back and laugh-me-really?
One of my projects last winter was to build a shortened flintlock smoothbore that would be handy to carry either in a canoe, horseback or slung over the shoulder. With components from Northstar West and some help from my good friend Gene Shadley, I was able to complete the gun. I later wrote an article about it that has now been published in the latest American Frontiersman magazine. American Frontiersman is published bi-annually, has good “how to” articles in it, and is an all-around good read. The shortened Northwest Trade Gun I built has been a lot of fun in the field and it has taken a number of ruffed grouse with. Next fall I will take it with me on another canoe trip in my birch bark canoe.
This next week I will be traveling to Pennsylvania in order to examine, photograph and ultimately write about a pair of pistols given to our first president, George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolutionary War. These two men enjoyed a deep friendship and both of them were men of great character, integrity, energy and vision. These exquisite pistols, made by a master French gunsmith are a living testimony to that lasting and enduring friendship. I have done quite a bit of research on both of these men and one thing I can say is that we would not have won the American Revolution without them. Their commitment and contributions to the principles of liberty, their character and integrity and determination, helped carry our revolutionary cause through its darkest and bleakest hours. And Washington’s continuing steadfast leadership in the framing of our government and during his terms as president is nothing short of phenomenal, not to mention, inspirational. Yet I find myself feeling depressed as I consider these two men and other great men and women leaders throughout our nation’s history and then look at choices for president this year. I ask myself, where are the real leaders, the ones we can trust, who are honest and who motives for office are not so self-serving? I wonder if Washington and Lafayette could look down on our country today, what their comments would be. Most of all, I find myself wishing I had other choices to vote for. Yet, I am still thankful I live in a country where I have the right (and privilege) to vote. It is just one of those freedoms we have, thanks to those who have paid the ultimate price for the many liberties we enjoy. So, I will exercise my right. I will make my voice heard at the polls and hope (and pray) that whoever is elected next Tuesday will do a decent job in office for the next four years. It is important to vote!
Spent an enjoyable time yesterday picking raspberries. The birchbark basket was made specifically for berry picking. Birchbark is so versatile. I like being able to use things taken (and made) directly from nature’s bounty. Bark is a renewable resource given to us by our Creator—nothing genetically modified or plastic here. The raspberries tasted so good.
Birchbark is a wonderful medium to work with. Here are three recent projects I completed. I can see why native people found birchbark so useful. It is readily available here in the North Country, has strength and can be molded and bended (to an extent). Black spruce root is also readily available for sewing the bark together. Birchbark is also comes from a renewable resource and is replaceable. I hope to do more in the future.
A neck knife–the chord is adjustable and woven from
three different color strands of hemp.
A simple bark container, sewn together with black spruce root.
Cindy and I traveled to St. Louis last weekend to participate in the Boone Society’s annual reunion. We had a great time meeting all the wonderful people there, many of them related to the Boone family. I was the keynote speaker for the event and talked about our recent expedition which covered 230 miles and 14 stops along the Boone Trace, Wilderness Road corridor. I bought a number of visual aids, including the saddle and firearm I carried on the expedition as well as a mannequin dressed as an 18th century frontiersman. I also used Power Point to show some of the many digital images taken on the expedition with music from a wonderful CD titled: The Wilderness Trail. It is produced by Ron Short. For more information on this got to Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association www.danielboonetrail.com
Ric Lampert had on display some of the many, wonderful, digital photos he took at Martin’s Station and during the Cumberland Gap Crossing. Some are shown here. These are being made into limited edition prints that will soon be available on the Boone Society’s website. Great job, Ric!! Also, three rifles that Ric put together were on display. Two of them for the Boone Society, reflecting the type of flintlock firearm that Daniel Boone might have used and another one—all three very high quality. I continue to evaluate and reevaluate our recent expedition. It was both stressful and meaningful. I will be writing about this for the next couple of issues of Muzzleloader magazine.
More training today. John Hayes, one of the core members of the group and longtime friend got in the saddle and we went for about three miles, maybe more. I added saddle bags, a martingale, halter and hemp lead rope to my outfit–also a sheepskin pad for the seat of my saddle. The weather was cool and the animals a bit on the get up and go side, but it was an enjoyable ride. We got off the main trails and went right through the woods at times, over logs and under limbs. Mike Brown provided the horses and rode along. There is still much to learn, but there is something special about being seeing nature in a saddle. So looking forward to taking what we are learning and applying those skills on the Boone Trace and Wilderness Road corridor.