Over the past 2 weeks we had our first identification test, learnt all about food hygiene, hosted the yearly IWG meeting, joined an elk hunt, learnt how to sharpen our knives and axes, learnt the basics of snowmobile maintenance, had our night orienteering test and learnt some new knots. OH, and had the first proper snowfall for the year! Ohhhh yeaaah.
On Wednesday we had an identification test on berries, mushrooms, polypore, mosses, lichens and tree species. Before the course started several months ago, other than a few tree species and several mushrooms, my fauna knowledge was patchy to say the least. Over the previous months we’ve gradually learnt a selection of species from discussions with teachers and classmates whilst out mushroom picking or on expeditions. That said, there were around 150 species that we needed to learn for the test, and the previous week was spent revising at every available opportunity to try to remember them.
The highlight for week 12 had to be the IWG meeting on the Friday. This is a yearly event, where students from previous years gather for a day of lectures and a night of eating, drinking, merriment and diabolical dancing. My coursemates Martijn and Hendrik were in charge of the preparations, so a huge thank you to them for organising it all – massive task. We were split into teams the day before to prepare everything for the meeting.
I was part of the team preparing the evening meal. To cater for all diets and food allergies we decided to do a meat option and a meat and dairy free option. Me and 3 others were in charge of the latter and made a Jerk sweet potato and bean curry. Using this recipe as a guideline we replaced the black beans with a mix of fava beans, mung beans, chick peas and garden peas. We loosely followed this jerk seasoning recipe as there wasn’t any at the supermarket. 40 people were expected to come to the meeting, so combined with the chicken, we thought catering for 60 would be enough. Turns out they were a hungry bunch, and it didn’t last long at all. I reckon we could have made it for 80 – 100 at least.
It was a good day and night all round and was nice to meet students from previous years and see what they were up to now. It ranged from people setting up their own businesses, to bear handlers, to tent makers, to knife makers and of course wilderness guides. One of the previous students, Seishi Oizumi, gave an inspiring presentation on his knife making business – Bush n’ Blade. He makes a selection of beautiful knives, using a blend of traditional Finnish techniques laced with a Japanese style. His knives are works of art, check out the previous link to see some of them. The other presentation was about the positive effect nature has on people, especially on children. So if you can, grab a loved one and get outdoors, take a walk, go for a swim, breath in the air, climb a tree, it doesn’t matter, get outside, get muddy and have some fun.
On the Wednesday of Week 13 we joined a group of local hunters on an elk hunt. We were acting as the dogs, or beaters. This involved following a bearing for around 500-800m in a uniform line, towards the hunters, making noise using a clapping device (sounds high tech, but in reality it’s two sticks). In theory the noise disturbs the animal(s), making them move towards the hunters. It felt a bit dangerous walking towards a bunch of burly men armed with rifles, their shooting finger twitching impatiently, ready to shoot the next thing that showed the slightest signs of movement. But fear not, by law you now have to wear a reflective vest and hat, so they can see you easily. I feel sorry for the poor sods who accidentally got shot before the new legislation.
The first try we didn’t get anything, but a few people had seen elk droppings and prints. We were bundled into the back of a van and drove back to hunter HQ where, the chief hunter, flippantly swung his oversize machete around, highlighting our new location. We set out again, slightly south-west of the previous attempt, following the same procedure as before. This time, towards the end of the walking I heard the crack of the gun in the distance. Everyone regathered at the HQ and the deer was hung up and skinned (it had been gutted in the forest, leaving the remains for lucky scavengers). We then took it in turns to have a go skinning the deer.
I am not a big meat-eater, choosing to eat only several times a year when I know it’s had a good life. I’ve joined hunts before when I was younger with my grandparents, and thoroughly enjoyed them. But there was a part of me on this hunt that was secretly hoping the elk or deer would sneak past up undetected. Despite this, I am not against hunting. Most hunted animals have had a free and natural life and generally die a quick death. The parts of the animal that aren’t used are left in the forest, for scavengers to eat or to return to the ground. Often, hunters have a respect for nature and the animals they are hunting, and well-managed hunting clubs can have a positive impact on the surrounding life cycles of fauna and flora.
Night Orienteering and First Proper Snow
On Thursday we had our night orienteering test. We were each given 4 of 6 locations in a unique order. To pass we had to complete the course in under 2 hours, correctly finding the locations and marking our piece of paper with the hole punches at each destination to prove we had found them. Starting at 5.15pm, we left in pairs at 10 minute intervals, ensuring we didn’t bump into each other too much. It was an interesting experience navigating at night, in your bubble of torch-light, following bearings and judging distance from pacing and time. On several occasions it almost seemed easier than doing it in the day. When you knew where you were and knew your pace all you needed to do was follow your bearing and you would end up where you wanted to be. The problem was when you got lost, it’s much harder to then figure out where you are, and several times I found myself trusting my instinct.
I recorded the route using my phone to see how I got on. I started with point 6, and after following a footpath and a forest road, I found my way there fairly easily by following a bearing and by doing a rough foot count. Point 5 was close by and I thought I would find it easily. I must have skirted passed it by metres, after looking for a while I didn’t know my exact location, so continued west to a forest road to re orientate myself. I knew roughly where I was on this road, so took another bearing and headed back east. After roughly pacing 200m, I still couldn’t see the marker. I had to use the surroundings and even in the dark it’s possible to see the changes in height around you. I could tell I was in a slight valley, so I decided to head south, uphill, eventually finding the marker. From the GPS route you can see how close I missed it the first time round. As said above, sometimes when night navigating you have to follow your instinct, which is usually correct. Use what you can see around you the silhouettes of the hills and height changes are still visible and roads are great ways to pinpoint your location.
Later that night it started to snow quite heavily. SNOWWW! A few of us were giddy with childlike excitement, and it wasn’t long before we were in all out snowball war. Me and the German teamed up against 3 of the Fins for over an hour of screaming, yelling and erratic snowball throwing. Great fun. Hopefully there will be more snow in the coming weeks so we can don the skis and use the ski track and trails nearby.