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swilliams

Skills/Tips I Learned Recently from Other Scout Leaders

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Our Crew Advisor has two daughters in Venturing, and has a son who is an Eagle, so he's full of wisdom.  In addition to typical scouting things, I picked up the following from him.  If you're wanting some coffee in the morning (yes, please) and take it with milk and sugar, yet have none available, you can add a packet of hot chocolate.  Makes it both sweet, and more creamy.  Doesn't taste the same, but makes the coffee palatable (even enjoyable) for those of us who are too weak to drink it black.  :p

I also had a great opportunity this weekend to try out something one of our ASMs had told me about at our last Troop meeting.  He was talking about fire-building, and mentioned that birch bark has oils in it that makes it burn nicely even when things are damp.   He claimed that you can dunk white birch bark in water for a bit, shake it off, and still get it to burn.  So... we were hiking with our girls' Venture Crew yesterday, and our navigator got us "lost" not once, but twice.  On our first detour, I'd noticed a downed black birch.  The ground was soaked from both snow-melt and a heavy rain Friday night, so the bark was damp.  The girls were starting to grumble a little, and there was some dispute over whether to turn back and retrace our path, or continue on and try to loop around the lake. Luckily, the majority of girls voted to try and push forward, and around a bend in the lake I found a small stand of four white birch.  They're not easy to find in north-central NJ, so I was pretty excited.  By this point, they were all curious as to what I was doing, so I repeated what the ASM had told me.  We were all a little skeptical, lol.

I have to say, it worked exactly like he'd said.  Some of the girls were less than impressed because our Crew Advisor has spoiled them by keeping some dry pieces of pine in his car.  (He's in some kind of construction or maintenance field.)  The don't have enough of an appreciation for how hard it can be to light a fire without dry kindling.  I'm going to suggest that for our next campout he "forget" to bring the dry bits, lol.  We'll see if that makes them a bit happier to scour the woods for birch bark.

Have any tips of your own to share?

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I had a great day the other week, a leaders only skills day. Basically for newer leaders to have a go at stuff, without having to worry about small people in their charge. We had people doing archery and shooting, back woods cooking, rafting, and me, I was "teaching" hammock skills. 

I say "teaching" in quotes, because I'm not really that much of an expert myself, I'm not writing books on the subject, I haven't even read books on the subject. Thing is, I think a lot of experts like to make things seem more complicated than they really are, or maybe rather go into a whole lot of bewildering depth as it's their specialist subject. Me? I fancied a day at the local campsite playing with hammocks. 

Anyhow...my tip? Learn a tension knot. Something like a prussick knot*, a taut line hitch*, midshipman's hitch*, or similar. It seems, in the UK at least, this is not top of the list when teaching knots. So I had leaders putting up a tarp and needing guy-lines. The simple joy of learning a new knot that was clearly going to be useful was great to behold. They attached one end to the tarp, put the other round a peg, then tied a knot you could move up to tighten it up, and it stayed there under tension. Job done. It's not even a tricky knot/hitch to learn. And knowing you can now always make a guy-line if you don't have one, or your silly bit of plastic breaks.

* Your names might differ. 

 

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I should probably say that I didn't peel bark from the standing trees, but took it from downed ones.   Unlike pine and some other trees where the bark crumbles as the tree decomposes, these left nice little tubes that were easily separated from the rest of the trunk.  Maybe the oils preserve the bark?  Which leads me to also wonder whether any species you find where the trunk is decomposing but the bark is relatively intact, would be good fire-starters with similar properties.

(My daughter says I'm spending way too much time thinking about bark.)

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To start fires:

When I was young we would collect pine heart (aka fat wood) from fallen or standing dead pines. They were easy to find in Deep South where I grew up. Mostly Longleaf or Loblolly pine, but I’m sure most any evergreen would work.

We would cut it down and keep it in small tins (sucrets, snuff, small band-aid boxes). We rarely used what we had in the tins because it was easy to find. We would cut them down to about the size of a strike anywhere match. They lit easily and burned for a while. Great fire starter. I’ve never run across anything that matches it. (No pun intended)

An ASM brought some “fat wood” he purchased somewhere. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I grew up with. Much lighter in color to the deep Amber we used to collect. It was also much larger, 8 inches or so in length, 3/4 in thick, much harder to light and burned up much faster.

 

 

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5 hours ago, swilliams said:

I should probably say that I didn't peel bark from the standing trees, but took it from downed ones.   Unlike pine and some other trees where the bark crumbles as the tree decomposes, these left nice little tubes that were easily separated from the rest of the trunk.  Maybe the oils preserve the bark?  Which leads me to also wonder whether any species you find where the trunk is decomposing but the bark is relatively intact, would be good fire-starters with similar properties.

(My daughter says I'm spending way too much time thinking about bark.)

yes the oils preserve the bark, that's why can sometimes find a down birch tree that looks whole yet when you pick it up it falls apart as the trunk wood has already rotted out

also look for paper birch, bark peels off in flakes that's paper thin, makes great flash tinder, harder to find, but some parks plant paper birch as ornamental trees, can peel some off without harming the tree

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