Author Archives: cliffseruntine

About cliffseruntine

Cliff Seruntine was born in New Orleans, Lousiana in 1968 and grew up in the bayou country on his grandfather's farm among French speaking Acadians. Cliff was always one to roam the outdoors and spent many hours among the elders of the countryside, listening to their stories of myth, enchantment and spirits that were so much a part of the Acadian world. Shortly after Cliff began college, he took a hiatus to see Alaska that turned into a decade and a half stay, during which he lived often in a remote wilderness cabin, immersed in nature's raw beauty where he learned about the aboriginal myths of the far north. Cliff eventually became a psychologist and works in private practice. He remains passionate about folklore and myth, finding in it tremendous illumination regarding our selves and our place in the world. He has an especial interest in Celtic myths and legends. Cliff is also an ardent practitioner of deep ecology--actively engaging with the natural world in ways that promote earth's betterment. Cliff, his wife, Daphne, and their two daughters reside on an old Scots farmstead deep in the misty wooded glens of the Nova Scotia highlands, ancestral Canadian home of the Gaels. There they maintain organic gardens, raise dairy goats and keep alive old skills such as horse driving, brewing and cheesemaking. They also teach classes on how to live green while living well. In his free time, Cliff may often be found wandering with his horse, Aval, among the wild highland woods, for it is in the deep green places he finds his inspiration.

A Rickety-Crickety Samhain Racket . . .

We were sittin’ in the livin’ room, the forest all about proper dark, when we heard a wild racket and a rickety-crickety commotion coming from out the garden way.

Natalia said, “Somethin’s a-bugger in the old pumpkin patch, da.”

So I went to the library on the lowest level of the cottage and threw on my duster and old tall, wide-brimmed hat. I stuffed my bowie into my belt and took my musket from the wall. I poured a pinch of powder down the barrel and packed in a wadded ball, then opened the lower door into the deep, dark night of the enchanted wood.

Natalia came behind me and happened to grab my camera, perchance to catch a shot of a deer.

Into the eerie dark we went, through the Old Garden where fat leeks grow, but the rickety-crickety racket was from further on. Through the New Garden we passed, where tall, bare stalks of corn a-rustled and a-rasped in the ebon breeze ‘neath a silvery gibbous moon. But still the racket came from farther on.

“Somethin’s a bugger in the old pumpkin patch, da,” Natalia said again, her voice silky flat and eyes refectin’ a flame, for not far down yonder hidden gully a’tween two hillocks, pushing up against a hedge of woods we espied a bright bonfire betwixt and between yon old pumpkin patch.

And there he stood, Ol’ Lord Jack his-self, all a-speakin’ and a-chantin’, a-callin’ up eerie tunes and fine spells while around him the pumpkins yet vined bowed to the Pumpkin Lord, and shadow-fey wights danced round flame and lord alike.

Natalia, just behind me, said, “Somethin’s a bugger in the old pumpkin patch, da,” and pressed the camera’s shutter.

And here be what she caught . . .

the pumpkin lord

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Bark River Bravo Vortex vs. Tops Pasayten–6 Months Later

bravo-vortex-a2-jimped-green-linen-micarta-269.95__48592.1455315386.1280.1280Back in spring I picked up a new knife model from Bark River–the Bravo Vortex.  I wrote a post about it and compared it to my favorite knife, the Tops Pasayten.  I had noted at the time that I had only just gotten the Bravo Vortex and would share my thoughts on it after using it a while in the field.  So here is that promised update.

The old Bravo has been one of Bark River’s all time best sellers and one of the most popular high end knives in America.  Bark River’s new spin on the Bravo, the Vortex, really spoke to me.  The elongated clip point looked both practical and gave the knife a little fight on the off chance I might need it for that role.  The blade is stout and hardy.  The grips are fat and squared, which I like.  It tells you where the knife is in your hands, handy when butchering game in the dark.

bravo-vortex-a2-sheath-shot-correct__36981.1455907888.1280.1280I won’t go into a lengthy discussion of its specs because that’s available everywhere, but the Bravo Vortex is 10.5 inches, with a 5.5 inch blade–exactly in my sweet spot.  At 9.8 oz, it’s also a good weight, enough heft to be tough without being weighty.  The balance is superb and it feels lighter than what it really is in the hand.  I liked the leather sheath too, which is a very high quality hybrid of a drop sheath and secure snap sheath.  You can drop the knife in there and leave it unsnapped and it’s quite secure.

The knife is an interesting, beautiful and practical blend of traditional and modern design.  It is very practical for just about any purpose, a real jack-of-all-trades.  I often carry it.

Okay, that’s the good stuff.  Here are the problems.  The knife is made of A-2 steel.  A stainless version in a super steel is available, but Bark River knives are already absurdly expensive.  I wasn’t paying 50% more for a stainless version.  Now, the A-2 is good stuff, and as long as you keep it oiled and clean it won’t readily rust.  But still, it’s maintenance you have to concern yourself with in the field.

I also consider the convex edge a flaw in design.  I suppose it has a cool factor for those that are into that sort of thing, and it’s a little better for carving, but it complicates field sharpening.  Rather than a tiny diamond stone, I have to carry a couple 4 inch bits of leather impregnated with sharpening paste to properly resharpen in.  And since I live on a homestead, and my days are filled with activities from repairing barns and fences to making fires and foraging, playing around at carving spoons is the least of my concerns when it comes to a knife.  I don’t go into the woods to carve toys.

The rakish drop point is great for piercing but only adequate for skinning fish and game.  You have to pay attention so as not to punch through hide or guts.

The leather sheath looks really great but it is, after all, leather, which will hold moisture and encourage rust.  That’s a problem in a wet place like Nova Scotia.  During the summer, I went on a canoeing trip and while I wanted to bring the Bravo Vortex, I knew if I went in the water and got the sheath wet, I’d have to bury the knife in a backpack for a day or two while the sheath air dried, so I left it behind.

And the design flaw coup de grace is the lanyard hole.  I learned from Bark River that the hole is lined with an A-2 steel washer.  It’s very narrow so it’s hard to get into the area and clean it in the field.  They said it would almost certainly rust over time.  I don’t know about you, but I find rust unacceptable.  Upon learning this, my first thought was: “Geez, at about $250 CAN for this knife, you folks couldn’t spend an extra dollar for a stainless steel or titanium washer to line the lanyard hole?”

tch pasayten

pasayten 2Now, to me the closest competitor to the Bravo Vortex (and the standard Bravo) is the Tops Pasayten.  The knife is 10.25 inches, very close to my sweet spot.  It matches the traditional roach design of the Hudson Bay company, issued to trappers and woodsmen–so it’s a time-proven design.  It has a traditional handle that is shaped somewhat like a bone handle but is squared.  It is extremely comfortable in the hand.  It has a drop point with a lot of belly, less fight in it but better for skinning.  It comes with a very practical and high quality, adjustable Kydex sheath.  And it is made standard with 154cm steel, an amazing stainless that strongly resists rusting yet takes an edge easily and is soft enough to be durable and resist chipping.  The knife is twice cryo treated, too, and this perhaps explains the knife’s almost preternatural ability to hold an edge.  Last year, I harvested two deer, a dozen hares and grouse and on the homestead we butchered 100 chickens.  I processed them all with the Pasayten and it remained functionally sharp through all that work without even needing an edge touch up.  The amazingly comfortable and versatile handle allows the knife to be used in any position and in reverse it’s sort of like an elongated ulu, and it is unbeatable for foraging and butchering game.  It is a hair more slender at the spine but equally well balanced and weighs about an ounce less–still very tough but a little more graceful in the hand.    When it rains, or I’m canoeing, I don’t have to worry about it rusting. When I get blood or sap on it, I don’t have to rush and clean it in the field–it is almost maintenance free.  The edge is easy to field sharpen with a good diamond stone, or sharpen at home on water stones.  Pricewise, the Pasayten comes in at around $200 CAN, very reasonable for a knife and sheath of this quality.  The Pasayten hits my sweet spot but in an imminently more practical way.

The Bark River knife is beautiful and I wanted to like it more, but the Pasayten is the clear winner.  In fact, it is hard to imagine a better knife.  Combine this with a decent hatchet and you have everything you need to get by in the bush.

Still, it was a close competition.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate the Bravo Vortex a 9.  But I’d rate the Pasayten a 9.75.  It is more practical, tougher, more versatile and more affordable and comes standard in one of the very best knife steels.  It is, quite simply, a better knife for the real woodsman always in the field.

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Pulp Plantations: Ecological Dead Zones

Over the last twenty-five years, nearly half the forests of Maritime Canada have been clearcut. This is an ecological disaster of apocalyptic scale, but as if it were not enough, the pulp cartel behind the cutting–with the assistance of its allies in government and the Department of Natural Resources–will not even allow the natural forests to regenerate. The forest is systematically exterminated and replaced with pulp plantations consisting of monocropped conifers. These now cover thousands of square miles, depriving wildlife of food and shelter and ruining the forest’s ability to purify air and water as well as absorb atmospheric carbon which is a causative factor in global warming.

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The Maritime Pulp Holocaust

Canada is the world’s leader in deforestation, accounting all by itself for over 21% of global clearcutting. Its high temperate and boreal forests are critical carbon sinks. Its Acadian forest is a unique woodland environment of which less than 1% remains. The Maritime provinces along the east coast have suffered more than most at the hands of unbridled timber interests and pulp cartels, and still the mills keep on cutting and the woods keep on falling faster than ever.

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Advanced Foraging Class–August 2017!

coral mushroom small

A coral mushroom. They can be delicious, or make you regret eating them. Do you know how to tell?  Click the image to learn about the class.

Did you know that if you learn the process of taxonomy and telltales, the number of plants you can forage goes from a handful to tens of thousands. For example, if you learn how to differentiate the mustard family, you have added over 80,000 species to your list of forage plants.  Likewise, learn to distinguish the bolete fungi and the telltales that tell you if they’re edible, and you can safely forage many species of Maritime mushrooms.

In this advanced class, we will take an in depth look at plant and fungus taxonomy, the use of telltales, and reinforce it all with daily field expeditions to give students opportunity to practice what they’ve learned.

Classes are kept small to give each student personal attention.
Only one month away. Register soon!
Twa Corbies Hollow Homestead & Bushcraft School is located in semi-remote northeast Nova Scotia, roughly one hour from Antigonish.
Click the image for full details:
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A Day In the Canoe

It’s a fine July day in the Canadian north woods. Let’s get in the canoe and glide over a lake. Who knows . . . we might find some interesting things. Perhaps even some lovely Labrador tea.

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July 2017: Wild Foraging Class Almost Here!

Only one week til the July foraging class. There are still a few openings. Get ’em while they’re hot! First come, first served!

To find out more, click the image:

coral mushroom small

A coral mushroom. They can be delicious, or make you regret eating them. Do you know how to tell?

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ForestNS Loves Nova Scotia’s Great Outdoors!

They love Nova Scotia woods so much, soon there will be none left.

logger love clear cut“No one loves the forest more than the people who care for it.
We live, work and play in the forest – it’s a part of our lives.”

Quoted from ForestNS’ propaganda video: Taking Care of Our Forests.

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First Foraging Class Next Week!

beaked hazelnut small.jpgOnly one week til the first foraging class of the season! And the forage is abundant this year! Looking forward to seeing all the students. Some are returning for a refresher.

 

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Cliff’s Quick Pugliese

first pugliese smallToday, through pure serendipity, I invented a short cut to pugliese bread that uses whole wheat flour, durum flour, and mashed potatoes and skips the need for the preparation of a biga. I baked it a couple hours ago and, without exaggeration, it is the best bread I have ever tried in my entire life. I am glad I wrote down the recipe and preparation method. It takes very little kneading but about 24 hrs to chill, rise and ferment before baking.

Cliff’s Quick Pugliese

1.5 cups ww flour
.5 cups durum flour
3 oz potatoes mashed smooth
1 tspn yeast
1 1/4 cups water
1 tspn sea salt
1 heaping tspn white or golden sugar
2 ice cubes

Preparation:

In a mixing bowl, without adding water, thoroughly blend ww flour, durum flour and sea salt.

Heat 1 1/4 cups water to about 90F or lukewarm. Pour water into 500 ml or larger jar. Add 1 heaping tspn sugar and dissolve. Add 1 tspn yeast and stir in. Let sit 20 minutes in a warm place til the yeast is vigorous and foaming well over the water.

Add mashed potatoes to flour blend, and yeast-water. Stir with wooden or plastic paddle til it is the consistency of wet paste. Slowly sprinkle in more ww flour and stir til it is more like a damp putty that you can then work by hand.

Dust hands in ww flour and knead for five minutes in bowl, thoroughly blending yeast-water and mashed potatoes with all the other ingredients. If some dough does not stick to your hands, it is too dry. If so, carefully add just a little more warm water. It should be the consistency of damp putty.

After 5 minutes kneading, cover the bowl so it is sealed and place in refrigerator. Let chill for 12 hours. This encourages a glutinous texture.

The next day, remove from fridge and remove cover. Cover with wet towel and place in warm area to rise and ferment for 6 to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Dust a work area with ww flour. Gently remove from bowl onto dusted surface. Flip so top and bottom now have dusting of ww flour. Gently shape dough into a rounded cake. The dough should be air filled, rubbery and glutinous now. Pinch outside and pull out then wrap over, drawing the stretched dough toward the center. Do this all around the dough ball, reforming the ball. This encourages air in the dough and develops the gluten.

Lightly oil a baking sheet and gently place ball of dough on it. It should 8 to 10 inches in diameter at this point. Gently round the sides. Score the top with a sharp knife in a cross pattern.

Place two ice cubes in a small, metal bowl and place in a corner of the oven. This will create humidity that helps form a chewy crust.

Dust the top of the dough with ww flour.

Spray the dough ball with cold water.

Place in oven and let bake at 400F for 40 minutes.

Remove and let cool 20 minutes before serving.

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