Into the Woods: The Beginning of Spring

Launching with the vernal equinox, Into the Woods takes viewers into the rugged Canadian back country. Learn about wild foods and medicines, the techniques of bushcraft and homesteading, the almost legendary skills of woodsmen to track wildlife and thrive in remote country. Travel by air, horse and canoe to experience the rare beauty of the Canadian woodlands, and visit modern bushmen as well as the heroes engaged in preserving this threatened ecosystem even as industries invade for its last resources.

Today, we begin with a look at how winter helps Maritime forests transition from soft to hardwood and immerse in the first hints of spring upon a frozen landscape.

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June 2017: Wild Food Foraging I

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All rights reserved.

Location: Northeast Nova Scotia, Twa Corbies Hollow, approx. 45 minutes from New Glasgow and Antigonish

Date & Time: Saturday, June 10, 0900 – 1600
Storm Day: Note that the course will take place rain or shine, but in the event of seriously stormy weather, the course will take place the following Saturday at the same time.  We will notify students in the event of a storm day.
Cost: $60 per person (If paid on site)
Pre-Register Rate: $50 (Please note, we cannot hold nor guarantee places without pre-registration.)
Ages: Adults and youth to age 12 (youth must be accompanied by a guardian)
Payment Method: We prefer payment by email via Interac or Tangerine, offered by most Canadian banks.
Email to register.  Directions will be provided to registrants.

Most people know there are wild foods in the meadows and woods, but they don’t know how to identify them.  Even fewer know how to harvest and use them.  Some are even afraid of them.  According to David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified: “There are few things that strike as much fear in your average [person] as the mere mention of wild mushrooms . . . [But] once you know what to look for, it’s about as difficult to tell a deadly Amanita from a savory chanterelle as it is a lima bean from an artichoke.”  This applies to wild plants, as well.  If you know what to look for, Nature provides abundantly and the Maritime provinces are blessed with a surfeit of wild edible foods.  In fact, our family resides on a semi-remote wooded homestead and as much as 25% of our food is foraged from the wild meadows and forests.  And this is a skill you can learn, too.  Click the image to learn more.

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Into the Woods

From Wildwood Ways comes a new series:

Launching with the vernal equinox, Into the Woods will take viewers into the Canadian back country.  Learn about wild foods and medicines, the techniques of bushcraft and homesteading, the almost legendary skills of woodsmen to track wildlife and thrive for days in remote country. Travel by air, horse and canoe and experience the rare beauty of the Canadian woodlands, and visit modern bushmen as well as the heroes engaged in preserving this threatened ecosystem even as industries invade for its last resources.

Into the Woods . . . where we explore everything related to Canada’s natural world.

Click the image to go to my channel.  Subscribe to follow each new episode.

into the woods promo

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TCH Customized Bushcraft Knife

jaa_0599-edit-edit_large_Students have often remarked on a fairly distinctive knife that I nearly always have with me during courses, and many have asked where to buy it.  The knife is the Tops Pasayten Lite Traveller.  Based on patterns used by pioneers and coureurs de bois in the 18th and 19th centuries, it mostly closely resembles the large trade belt knife of French woodsmen in upper Canada.

The Pasayten brings together the imminent utility of the old design with some very useful features of modern knifemaking.  The handle’s scales are black linen micarta, so they won’t hold water or decay.  The steel is 154cm, a modern super steel that offers great corrosion resistance yet resharpens handily and throws good sparks on a firesteel.  The balance is exquisit and the weight, at 7.6 oz, is light enough for bushcrafting yet beefy enough to split kindling or sever joints of deer with confidence.  The 5 1/4″ blade offers a 4 7/8″ cutting edge, so there is a sufficient buffer to neatly resharpen it, and ample heft and size to serve as a light defense tool.  The spine is 0.13″ and the grind is flat, making the knife stout but keeping it light.  The blade is a drop point right in the medium size range, making it extremely versatile for tasks as varied as fileting fish, gutting hares, carving hearth boards, or shaving kindling.  The handle is by far the most comfortable I’ve ever used with good traction and ergonomics in all positions.  Combine this knife with a good hatchet or small forester’s axe, and you have a complete set of woodsman’s tools that can see you through weeks in the wild.

pasayten 2The sheath is one of the best I’ve ever seen issued with a knife.  A form fitted, durable kydex clamshell with an adjustable clip, the sheath attaches handily to any pocket, a belt, or the inside of a backpack’s pocket.  It is easily the handiest sheath I have ever had.  Just clip and go.

“Twa Corbies” is old Scots-English for two ravens.  The ravens are the emblem of our homestead and bushcraft school, and derive from Norse myth where they stand for thought and memory, or knowledge and wisdom.  The blade of the TCH Pasayten is laser engraved with this powerful image, a reminder of what it takes to live well with the natural world.  With proper use and care, these are extreme quality knives that should last more than a lifetime.

This year, for the first time, we are offering a Twa Corbies Hollow customized version of the Tops Pasayten.  Each is warranted for life by Tops against defects in materials and workmanship.  The Pasayten retails at $225 US or $266 CAN, but students at any of our classes can purchase one for the special price of $198 CAN + S&H.  Or you can pick it up at your class and save the S&H.

Email if you would like to place an order.

tch pasayten

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2017 Courses Posted This Weekend

the cabin beforeAfter a winter haitus from the internet, our site is active again and we are already preparing Twa Corbies Hollow for our upcoming courses.  The season’s foraging courses and a June cheesemaking course are already updated.  More courses to be posted over the weekend.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Click on the tab, “Twa Corbies Courses” to learn more . . .

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The Mushrooms of Autumn (Panellus serotinus, aka the late oyster)

Last autumn was a poor foraging year in these parts for certain fruits like the wild cherry, but it was an extraordinary year, wet as it was, for fungi. Often, as I trekked through the northwoods, there were too many mushrooms to count, or even photograph. Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting, a few of which are nice edibles and medicinals.

The first day’s filming was interrupted when luck brought a deer across my path and a quick end to the season’s meat foraging. But we continue the second day with more information on an especially nice and often overlooked edible fungi, the late oyster.

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Conifer Plantation Vs Healthy Woodland: Comparing Spoor and Fungi Biodiversity

Let’s take a nature interpretative walk through two very different woodlands that grow side by side. One is a planted conifer plantation for the pulpwood industry, the other a true wildwood. We’ll have a little fun and examine some interesting edible and medicinal fungi and wildlife tracks, but our real goal is to compare and contrast these two very different kinds of forest environments. A healthy forest is one that has an abundance of life and a broad biodiversity. This might most readily be seen in the amount and types of fungi we’ll encounter in one forest vs. the other.

The reason we are comparing conifer plantations to wild hardwood forests is because Big Forestry is cutting down and replacing native wild woodlands with these pulpwoods. The rate this is happening is escalating rapidly. So fast, in fact, that native Acadian forest in east Canada is now an endangered ecosystem. (You read that right: the entire ecosystem is now endangered). All the while, Big Forestry, such as Forest NS, is intentionally misinforming the public by telling them they replant and restore the woods after they clear cut them. But, as you will see, the conifer plantations they replant are in no remote way like the healthy, biodiverse wild woods. And an immature forest can in no way replace a mature forest.

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Some Conclusions On Woods Knives

I have been experimenting with wilderness knives for many years, trying to find the best. Over the years, I’ve tried several dozen of the very best designs. I have reached a couple conclusions.

jaa_0599-edit-edit_large_.jpgPasayten Lite Traveller: Hands down, my favorite knife ever.  Based on pioneer designs dating back centuries, this one has been upgraded with linen micarta scales and a super steel, 154cm, which is soft enough to field sharpen yet very resistant to corrosion (very useful here in wet Nova Scotia). The knife comes with a superb kydex sheath. There was a time I had real doubts about this design, but ages of hard use has shown that it is as perfect now as it was to the coureurs de bois who favored it in the pioneer days when your life relied on your gear.  Last year my Pasayten butchered two deer, many chickens, two geese, and was used a lot in foraging and prepping kindling and the blade is still strikingly sharp.  I grew up with knives with bowie hilts and when I first started using knives in this pattern, I had real doubts about their handles, but the design has proven itself exceedingly practical.  It is very comfortable, secure and offers a variety of good gripping positions for foraging, skinning, cleaning fish and carving.  It is the most versatle handle pattern I know.  The swollen butt locks the hand in place and provides a way to grip the knife further down the handle for cleaving.  Reversed, the knife feels and functions something like the Alaskan ulu, perhaps the ultimate skinner. It’s only downside is it’s not a great self defense tool, though its big enough to serve the role in a pinch.  But combine this knife with a good hatchet or small axe and you have a complete set of tools for every aspect of woods living.  Knives in this pattern, and the Pasayten in particular, have become my first choice for almost any outdoor foray where my first goal isn’t to pack light and move fast.

cstrailmasteriiCold Steel Trail Master: I have spent a great deal of my life in the bush, and have the virtually unique distinction of having been charged by three grizzlies and five moose and lived to tell the tale. Ergo, I like to carry a knife sizeable enough to defend myself if the need arises, unlikely though it may be. So I like larger bush knives and tend to favor the traditional and versatile Bowie designs. And there is the simple fact that larger knives can combine the functions of a hatchet (though they should never replace one). A substantial but not-excessively-large knife is a jack-of-all-trades that can do it all.

I really wrestled with this choice because I have had several very good bowies, including the expensive and coveted Bark River Teddy II bowie. The Teddy II was so damned expensive at about $400 that I really wanted to give it top place, but after a year of field testing, I find it ties with the Trail Master. Each knife is slightly different, bringing a few pros and cons to the table.
The Trail Master is about 1.1″ longer than the Teddy II with a 9.5″ long blade with a hefty .33″ spine and a full flat grind (generally better for woodscraft). It is longer than the Bark River Teddy II yet doesn’t feel it because the balance is perfect. The squarish grip is very comfortable and secure. However, I have had two Trail Masters over the years and a weakness of the grip is the fairly soft polymer will wear fairly quickly. That texturing will vanish with a year of typical use. Eventually, the grip will wear so much it will have to be replaced. If you’re handy, you can easily make a replacement.
It’s construction is simple but stout; the handle is held in place by a brass nut. Pressure holds a brass guard in place. The O1 steel stains easily but resists rust well enough. Just oil it at the end of a day out. The sharply angled spine of the Trail Master also throws sparks a bit easier than the Teddy II.
The sheath of the Trail Master is just plain perfect, being a non-moisture retaining, fitted polymer that is very comfortable and versatile to carry. In fact, it is the best stock sheath I have ever seen, period! It’s lighter than kydex but about as durable.
And the Trail Master, around since the 1980’s and still a staple of Cold Steel, costs much less than the Tedd II. I bought mine on sale for $118. It’s usually closer to $200 here in Canada.
The Trail Master proves quality doesn’t have to come with a steep price.

air-wolfeTops Air Wolfe: Clearly a tactical knife by design, it is actually very well suited to make an excellent all around hunting, fishing and woodscraft knife. It’s bowie shape lends to its all purpose practical use. At 11 inches total length, with a 3/16″ spine, it is about the right size for any task, from cleaning a trout to stripping twigs of wet bark, or even self defense in a pinch.  Like many Tops knives, it is over built and the full thickness at the spine extends more than halfway down the vertical of the blade: a hefty saber grind. This adds toughness but also some unnecessary weight.  Had this knife had a more of a full flat grind, I would rate it the equal of the Pasayten Lite Traveller, but with the unnecessary metal, the knife loses a point.  Also, as it’s original design intent is tactical, the clip point is more designed for piercing.  You will have to practice to learn to skin and clean game or fish without piercing hide or organs, ergo the knife loses another point.  But because of the broad utility of the bowie design, and the knife’s supreme balance and comfort, I consider it a close runner-up to the Pasayten Lite Traveller.

The other thing I did not like about this knife is the choil (the finger slot between the guard and edge).  Choils are all the rage among knifemakers these days, but I’d rather a slightly shorter blade or more cutting edge than the restricted space of a knife used up by a choil.  One can choke up on a knife just fine without a choil.  Still, it is largely a matter of personal preference.

In brilliant favor of this tool, it offers the singularly most secure and comfortable grip of any knife I have ever held, no matter what position I hold it in. The 1095 steel requires daily oiling when in the field but the coating is extremely durable (I haven’t even been able to wear it yet), and it sharpens easily and throws great sparks. The sheath it comes with, unfortunately, is fubar, and you’ll have to either modify it yourself or have a good one made.  (Top’s current nylon sheaths are somewhat better than those of a few years back.  I disassembled mine, molded the kydex to the blade to prevent the knife from rattling, and added heavy duty snaps.  Now it’s useful, but the knife really deserves a good kydex sheath.)

Ultimately, this is a survival knife, as capable of fighting or breaking out a windshield as it is at carving up wood or foraging mushrooms.  But it’s not really a woodsman’s knife; it’s just so versatile that it can easily be appropriated to that role.

(The reader should note: My opinion is based on the knife’s woodsman and bushcraft applications.  As a survival knife, I’d rate the Tops Air Wolfe 9/10, taking away one point for the choil.)

teddy_ii_a2_black_canvas_micarta_329_95Bark River Teddy II

My other favorite knife, the Teddy II recreates the traditional bowies of the 19th century. A bit shorter than other bowies I have used, it is 13.4″ long with an 8″ blade. The spine is very stout at .25″.

I find the A2 steel to be curious and sometimes perplexing.  It’s a carbon steel that seems to stain as easily as any other, but it is less inclined to rust. And the natural patina that was on it after a year of hard use came right off when I cleaned the blade after sharpening with some residual grit from an 8000 Japanese water stone.  I mean it came off as easily as sugar melts under running water; I wasn’t trying to remove it.  I remain uncertain whether I am happy about this.   So I decided to force another patina.  I used hot apple cider, yet after a half hour (which can turn other carbon steels black) the A2 only became slightly gray.  It did develop some lovely patterning, though, something like Damascus steel, though so faint it’s hardly visible.)  However, all my research on A2 (a steel I am admittedly new to, this being my first knife in A2) indicates it’s very good stuff, not prone to corrosion or rust, and needing less maintenance than older carbon steels such as 1095.  After a year of use in wet Nova Scotia, this has held true.

The hilt is in the old fashioned style of swelling at the middle, which can make the knife a bit awkward in the hand. Better would have been a squared hilt in the more modern style.  Still, once you get used to it, it works really well.  The G10 hilt is much tougher than the soft polymer hilt of the Trail Master, however, it is not grippy.  Which is not to say it is slippery; the knife affords good purchase.  I think it was a good move on the part of Bark River not to add texturing to the G10 as it always wears off.  It doesn’t matter how it’s done, it always wears off.  A smooth hilt wears much better.

The sheath is good.  It’s top grain leather and a durable, practical design.  A kydex sheath would have been better, especially for wet country, but I know Bark River was going for a traditional sheath to match this traditional knife design.  I don’t fault them for it.  We used carbon steel just fine in wet, cold Alaska without problems.  You just have to maintain it.  You can improve leather in wet country considerably by treating it with mink oil or beeswax.  Just heat the leather with a hairdryer or heat gun, rub the substance on, then blow the heat over it til the substance melts and is absorbed by the leather.  The only real flaw I found with the Bark River sheath is that the leather strap should have been oriented toward the spine of the knife so there is no chance the edge could cut it when being drawn or replaced.  (Note: I wrote previously that I tried a Spec-Ops sheath for it and I won’ t mince words: Don’t buy into the Spec-Ops hype.  The Spec-Ops sheaths have problems.  Not least of which, they did not bother to put any protection on the male, inside part of the snap, so it scratches and abrades the knife handle terribly.  There are other problems, but I won’t go into it here.  Suffice it to say I have tried two models of Spec-Ops sheaths and sent them both back.)

Finally, and certainly most importantly, the blade.  It is not quite a flat grind but smoothly curves into its edge.  This convex profile makes the strongest possible blade, a bit heavier than a full flat grind, but only by a fraction.  Some weight is removed with the runnel near the spine, which is nice though you have to take extra care to clean it.  But what I really like about this blade is the length.  I find eight inches to be the ideal length for a field knife if you don’t plan to carry any other tools such as hatchets, hunting knives or saws.  Though a little awkward for fine work, with practice it’s small enough to cook and eat with, as well as process game and fish, yet big enough to hack and chop with, and more than ample for self defense.   To me, eight inches is the perfect jack-of-all-trades blade length, not excelling at anything but capable of doing everything a knife needs to do pretty damned well.  Yet, it is very hard to find good eight inch blade knives for some odd reason.  Because of the blade length, this is my favorite knife.

bk16Honorable Mention for the BK16

I should have included this knife in the original article.  I wanted to keep it to four, but the Becker BK16 is just such a good design–elegant, simple, hardworking–at a great price that it really deserves a place here.  It is almost the same size and profile as the famed and expensive Fallkniven F1.  It is quite small, so it’s saying something that I like it as much as I do, since I have a strong preference for larger knives.  It weighs a mere 5.4 ounces and costs around $80 in Canada.  Featuring a full flat grind, tough-as-nails polymer scales and a practical drop point profile, this is a fantastic knife, especially for those who favor a small knife/hatchet/folding saw combo as their outdoor tools, or for those who live in an area where dangerous wild animals aren’t a potential concern.  The nylon/polymer sheath it comes with is MOLLE compatible and quite secure and serviceable.  The sheath is so light, I just leave it permanently attached to my daypack, even if I am not taking the knife with me.  I’ll often wear this knife on my belt in a tiny leather pouch sheath (appropriated from a knife I didn’t like and gave to my wife for butchering chickens) as a companion to a large bowie.  When out foraging in wild country, a small knife for doing the general work combined with a large knife for big tasks and defense is an excellent combination.  Given it’s inexpensive, this is my beater for garden work, foraging in the meadows and hedges around the homestead, and any other time I want a cheap but tough knife for hard use.  I liked this knife so much I also bought its cousin, the BK17, which has a heftier saber grind and a bowie profile that’s very good at piercing tough hide and severing joints–an excellent knife for butchering large livestock and deer.  These are working knives–neither expensive nor perty, just get-the-job-done practical.  And that’s mostly what a knife should be.

Conclusion: If I am going foraging, hunting, or just plan to be a few days or more in the bush, I take the Pasayten and a hatchet, or the Pasayten and a small axe.  If I’m just out hiking or tracking and want to keep my gear light, I’ll take the Teddy II as a good, jack-of-all-trades option that is lighter than a knife/hatchet combination.

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What Is the Pulp Industry Really Doing to Nova Scotia & New Brunswick Forests?

Last week, I attended a meeting between Northern Pulp and the Truro Chamber of Commerce in central Nova Scotia.  The Northern Pulp bunch waxed eloquent for half an hour about all the money they pump into the local economy.  They stated they employ 339 people and spend $31 million paying them.  They stated that averaged out to $83,000 salaries (a significant error in the actual average).  They stated they exported some 6325 tons of pulp per week.  They stated they put $10 million in taxes into federal and provincial coffers each year (and that’s one hell of a tax break).


65% of the woodlands surrounding Matatall Lake in central Nova Scotia have been recently clear cut and a toxic algal bloom immediately followed.

They did not go into the woodland lakes now dying and turning green with algal blooms due to massive clear cutting.  They did not discuss the impact of cutting down native Acadian hardwood forests and replanting them with mono-crop conifer plantations.  They did not discuss the impacts of such widespread destruction of Earth’s second best carbon capture device: mature forest.  The pretended ignorance on the impact of spraying the woodlands far and wide with glyphosate to kill native herbaceous foliage and hardwoods. They entirely skirted discussing the true cost of their industry to taxpayers after the enormous government subsidies to keep their plant operating, or the cost to the health system as the people of Pictou County have to breathe the air and drink the water suffering vast pollution from their pulp plant.  The did not even touch upon the millions of liters their plant draws from the small local river per day and the utter destruction that polluted water has created where it is dumped: Boat Harbour.

I think it’s time to let the world know what the pulp industry is really doing to Nova Scotia.  There will be a long series of brief, revealing videos on what is really going on. They aren’t pretty, but the world needs to know.  And Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers need to open their eyes.

The scale of the damage was even larger than I thought it was, as revealed in this aerial footage below.

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How Small Forests Can Help Small Woodland Owners & Save the Planet


Click to see the New York Times article.

While Nova Scotia Premier McNeil and his sycophant, Dept. of Env. minister Miller, pretend that private forests mean nothing in terms of global environmental health, remove regulation and would like to urge private landowners to cut down their forest for a quick buck, more progressive thinkers have realized that private forests are of huge necessity to the ecosystem. In the USA alone, private forests constitute over 50% of the nation’s total forests. Instead of just regulating such forests, ways are being created to allow private owners of woodlands to profit from their forests without destroying them.

I’ve often advocated for forest farming and the development of highly selective logging in concert with a complete industry, i.e., instead of Canada cutting and selling its forests abroad as fast as possible for the lowest tier of wholesale profit, instead, cut a tree, reduce it top grade wood, recycle the pulp, manufacture every part into an intermediate product (such as a musical instrument or furniture), finish the furniture all with local products and labor, then market the furniture through wholesale and final retail tiers, thus creating layers of homegrown industry and jobs that provide direct income, as opposed to operating on Northern Pulp’s and ForestryNS’ hazy “trickle down effect”–their notion their 339 FT jobs create a vast trickle down of income into the local community.

Of the many progressive ideas being proposed is one mentioned in this article: measuring carbon capture of private forests, and allowing forest owners to sell those carbon units to industry. This provides direct income of as much as $45 CAN dollars per acre per year to family owners of forests, regular income as opposed to the $3.50 per acre per year one would get for logging a forest.

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