For awhile now, my father and I have been experimenting with different styles and methods of shelter building. Over the years we have tried many different designs. Last year we decided to build a wickiup by using our tomahawks for most of the work. A folding saw was used for the pole above the doorway and we did recycle a few pieces from a previous shelter for our beds. For this project we used our SOG Tactical Tomahawks. We rarely go into the woods without them, as they are lightweight and versatile.
A wickiup is a shelter that is very similar to a teepee. However, instead of being covered in birch bark, hides or a fabric like material the frame is covered with boughs, branches and debris. Often more frame is required for the wickiup than the teepee requires. To start we chose our site, which was a small clearing we had camped in two years before with our tarp. This clearing was positioned in a softwood stand and was on even terrain that would not be prone to flooding. We chose hardwood saplings for our frame, some of which had sturdy forks at the top, and we interlocked three of them together to form a tripod. Then we proceeded to place more saplings against this tripod all around while leaving space for the door. Once we had a good circle with a short distance between each pole, we began to fill in our framework. Rather than weave thinner hardwood saplings in to make a lattice work, we chose to begin weaving in long spruce and balsam fir boughs instead. This way we still had our wall foundation, with the added benefit of already having some insulation in place.
Before we finished filling in the bottom of the wickiup, we framed out our doorway. For this we used spruce roots to lash a pole across the space between two poles to form an opening at the front of our shelter.
Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) has been used medicinally as a traditional folk remedy and as an ingredient in cold medicines, creams and ointments. It is a very popular choice for use as a Christmas tree in eastern Canada and United States.
Balsam Fir can be identified by the twigs, which are light-coloured and are covered with shiny green needles which are arranged in flattened sprays. The needles can be 1-1/2 inch long are rounded at the base but spread out and become flatter.
The trunk is smooth rather than scaly, and is greyish in colour. Some may be reddish in colour. Along the trunk, raised blisters occur that contain resin from the tree.
To make the tea, add a small handful of twigs (an ounce for those who prefer to measure) to a pint of boiling water. Once added, reduce heat and allow to steep for ten minutes. The tea has a pleasant flavour and aroma. I use this tea as a method of treating colds and coughs. In folk medicine it is recommended to drink this tea two to three times a day for this purpose.
Warning: This should not be used by anyone who is allergic to balsam fir or any other similar tree. Use may also cause dermatitis. Use of natural remedies should be used with caution and should never replace those recommended by a health care professional.
Birch Twig Tea
Best if done with Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis). The tea can be made with other birches but they would lack the pleasant aroma and flavour of wintergreen that the yellow birch provides.
Yellow birch can be identified by the bark, the leaves and the catkins (spike of small soft flowers that hang from the tree branches). The bark of the yellow birch is yellowish in colour and can have a hint of grey. The leaves are broadly oval, with serrated edges, and come to a sharp point at their ends. The catkins which fruit in May and June are egg-shaped and are 2-3cm long.
The final method of identification (and quite effective) is to break the twigs. Yellow birch should smell and taste like wintergreen. It was once common to use yellow birch and Teaberry (wintergreen) as a natural flavour for chewing gum and candy.
My method of brewing yellow birch tea is to break a small handful of twigs and add them to a cup of boiling water. Then remove from heat and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes. This causes less damage to the tree than harvesting the inner bark would.
Birch has been used in folk medicine as a remedy for cramps and diarrhea.
It is important that anyone reading and using this information should rely on their own identification of plants and use extreme caution when harvesting and using for their own purpose.
An Autumn Night in Nova Scotia Under a Tarp.
Not our first time with this type of shelter. Our purpose on this night, was to test some new camping equipment and a new recipe. After my father and I set up camp and the sparks from a Ferro rod brought our campfire to life we set about preparing our supper.
First thing on the menu was a soup from dehydrated tomatoes, carrots and green onions with beef stock. Not only were the tomatoes, carrots and green onions dehydrated in our recently purchased Garden Master dehydrator, they were also grown in our own garden. This is a great option for anyone who would like to have more control over their ingredients while still travelling light. Once the soup was over the fire it was time to mix up the bannock and put it in our new seven inch cast iron skillet. The soup and bannock were delicious! We determined that the soup will be a very light to carry meal for future back packing and canoe trips.
We’ve found that we really enjoy using the tarp instead of a tent in backwoods camping situations, since it’s light to carry and very easy to set up, only requiring some rope and either trees or poles. This allows for a variety of arrangements and styles. The tarp that we use for camping is the Cabela’s Outfitter Series tarp. We’ve owned this tarp for well over two years and have used it on several camping trips.
One of the benefits that we enjoy with the tarp is depending on your set up it can offer you a view of the surrounding area as well as in some cases the night sky. While this may not be for everyone, since many will prefer to have some sort of wall between them and their surroundings such as that of a tent or building. The night air is filled with the aroma of the woods and the sound of the wildlife around you.
Our particular set up involves tying a rope between two trees to use as a ridge line and hanging the tarp over it. This method also allows us to tie mosquito nets to the ridge line and hang them down over our sleeping bags. Depending on how thick the mosquitos are in the area you are camping in this can be very important!
The four corners are fastened by tying rope through the grommets and fastening it to the pegs included with the Cabela's tarp once they are driven in the ground. If pegs are not available they can always be fashioned out of wood. An alternative to using pegs would be to tie the ropes to trees if you find you're set up close enough to them. However whenever you are setting up a campsite it is recommended that you check to see that there are no overhanging limbs or trees that look damaged and could fall on top of your camp should the wind blow.
On this particular night, we were awakened twice by a snorting deer. Perhaps it was voicing its displeasure of our intrusion into its territory. This is not uncommon. Over the past few years we’ve had snowshoe hares running through our camp and on one occasion we woke up to the sound of loud splashing in the water near the island we had camped on. Loons frequently fly nearby and even overhead of a couple of our favourite camp sites. But all of this makes the experience that much more enriched.
Morning arrived and we retrieved our food and dishes from a nearby tree limb. We had seen two black bears in the area so we were extra careful to keep a clean campsite and place all food related items high in a tree so we didn’t end up sharing it unwillingly. This is always a good way to store your food overnight in order to help prevent unwanted wildlife from wandering into your campsite. As well as bears, food can also attract racoons, coyotes and rodents among others.
After Breakfast, which consisted of more bannock and a few strips of bacon we cooked on a stick, we packed up and followed the trail as it wound it’s way back towards our farm. On the way home we started planning a more extensive canoe trip for next spring.