Christmas reads and spoon carving

Paul Smith
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Bushcraft. What does the word mean, or rather, what sort of image does it conjure up in one’s mind?

Personally, I think of Ray Mears. In my humble woodsy opinion, I think he’s the master of bushcraft media and education.

I’m sure there are hardcore folks who might survive in the wilderness longer, or kindle a campfire a few seconds faster, but Ray is the man when it comes to presenting crafty woods-related stuff through both video and print. I’ve bought several of his books and enjoyed every word.

By the way, he’s not paying me or anything like that. Never have I met, or even emailed with him. But he is one of the people still living on Planet Earth I would ask for an autograph, along with Bobby Orr, Keith Richards, Lefty Kreh and Steven Hawking, a diverse list I fully realize.

There are plenty more souls passed to the other side I would love to have sign a book, gun stock, canoe paddle or fishing rod; Newton, Einstein, Trudeau, Hemingway, Lennon, Hugh Falkus, Ted Williams.

I’m not a big baseball fan, but you might not know that the Splendid Splinter not only hit 521 homeruns in major league baseball, but also etched a reputation as a world-class fly fisherman. He also took breaks from baseball to fly fighter planes in the First World War and the Korean Conflict.

You talk about an over achiever. Williams fly-fished waters both salt and fresh for all the most challenging species; tarpon, bonefish, permit, Atlantic salmon and steelhead. He is considered a pioneer in the saltwater flats game.

By the way, Bobby Orr is also an avid lifelong angler, and had the opportunity to fish for salmon with Ted Williams. He considered it a great honour.

As I’m sure many of you know, Bobby Orr just released a book about his amazing hockey career. I just finished it a couple of days ago and there is plenty in there about his fishing life. The book might make a fantastic Christmas read.

You may not know the name Hugh Falkus. He’s certainly not as well-known as Bobby Orr, Albert Einstein or Ted Williams, unless you are a dedicated aficionado of spey casting, salmon, and seatrout.  Hugh Falkus wrote the bible on seatrout fishing, and a masterful treatise on Atlantic salmon angling. He was an expert spey caster, an art form I aspire to, and a brilliant naturalist. He wrote eloquently from seemingly endless experience on all subjects. Like Ted Williams, he was also an aviator, a Spitfire pilot, and was shot down over France in the war, ending up in a German prison camp for the duration of the Second World War.

Hugh did so much fishing and paid such dedication to detail that it boggles my mind. He would lay prone on high riverbanks for hours and hours on end, watching how salmon and trout react to flies presented in various ways. His books are still in print and would make a fantastic gift for any avid or aspiring angler.

Back to bushcraft and Ray Mears.

I first saw Ray Mears on TV, some years ago on one of the cable channels. He was building a birch bark canoe with a fellow from Canada, Pinock Smith, an Algonquin traditional canoe expert. It was an amazing show.

In another episode he fashioned wooden skis in Scandinavia, again with a local expert. If you want to know how to properly sharpen a knife, watch Ray do the deed on YouTube. In his books and videos he explains how to do all sorts of bushcraft stuff, everything from carving wooden spoons to building a proper lean-to shelter. Any of his books would also make a great gift for the outdoors person on your list.

When you give it serious thought, any man or woman who claims to know their way around the woods should be handy enough with a knife to carve a spoon or build a makeshift overnight emergency shelter. I whittled a spoon once, not a masterpiece by any measure, but good enough to stir a boiler of soup, or chow down on a can of beans.

That adventure in woodworking must have been more than 30 years ago. If I remember correctly, I used my father’s Puma Bowie and a small pocketknife. I still have the Bowie, but the unnamed folder is long gone.

Carving contest

We are planning a spoon-carving contest night at the cabin later this winter. The time limit will be three hours, just long enough to cook a boiler of beans.

All hands must eat their ration of beans with their freshly carved spoon. There will be dark rum for all contestants, along with a portion of deeply pungent Christmas fruit cake. All hands will be expected to endure intense heat from a raging wood stove and thick clouds of pipe smoke while they carve their best effort.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The reigning eating implement carver is my buddy Matt Brazil. He will certainly be a contender at the cabin event. Matt claimed his title this past summer on the banks of the Pinware River in Labrador. Five of us were on the river with no plans to eat anything other than energy bars that we carried in our fishing fanny packs. Some kind friends happened along and gave us two cans of moose. The fishing was a tad slow and the weather not so great. We decided to boil up some tea and cook the moose. Well, it was already cooked but, you know what I mean, there’s not much better than a can of moose heated up on an open fire.

We gathered some driftwood and lit a small campfire amidst the rocks and rain by the side of Boulders Pool. But we had no forks.

There would be a fork carving contest at Boulders Pool. The participants were Rod Hale, Chris Fowler, Matt Brazil and Pelle Klippinge, our guest from Sweden. I ended up eating with my fingers for the sake of photography. We needed pictures of this epic event.

I figured Pelle, being a descendent of the Vikings, the favourite. He had already proved himself in fishing, knot-tying and camp cooking.

There was tremendous pressure on all carvers. It doesn’t take long to heat up a can of moose on a dry driftwood fire.  Matt and Pelle were using traditional knives made by nomadic Sami hunters in the north of Scandinavia. I think this gave both men a decided edge on the lads from St. John’s using more modern blades.

To everyone’s credit, all hands had a fork fashioned within five smoky wet minutes. It was pouring rain and cold. The smoky hot fire drew everyone close. I snapped pictures, trying not to ruin my Nikon in the rain. Matt Brazil of Spaniard’s Bay was the agreed-upon winner by unanimous decision. The moose was delicious and the tea dark and strong.

I will not be designated photographer at the cabin spoon contest. Look out Matt. I have a secret knife.

And in closing for this week, Pierre Trudeau was a very cool prime minister who could paddle a canoe and loved wild places. Although I don’t wholeheartedly share his political philosophy, that’s why I’d ask for his autograph.

 Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

Organizations: Planet Earth, Vikings

Geographic location: Atlantic, Scandinavia, France Canada Brazil Pinware River Labrador Sweden

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