Birch Bark Basket

A couple of months ago my friend Sam asked if I would like to join him for a Cordage, Fiber & Container Workshop in Algonquin Park. Being the craft junkie that I am, the answer was a resounding "Yes!" 

Our workshop was lead by Chris Gilmour, a professional outdoor educator and wilderness guide and his partner. Chris used experiential education as his teaching method and he was a dynamic and charismatic workshop leader. Over the years I've spent a lot of time in classroom and educational environments. I am very interested in educational reform in Canada so quite a bit of my time is spent considering the best styles of teaching, the most welcoming environments, experiential learning and helping students remember the important aspects of a lesson. I'm certain that it will be a long time before I forget the things I learned from Chris, it was a fun and informative day. 

We began by discussing cordage (or what people more commonly call rope). Chris shared different types of plants that could be used and where to find them. Then we began piecing stalks of milkweed apart and breaking off the outer "bark" so that we could use the soft internal fibers. Once we had enough fiber we began twisting it into unbelievably strong cordage that look a lot like hemp. We also learned how to splice our cordage. 

After we played around with the milkweed, Chris showed us how to make cordage out of the interior portion of cedar bark. This was perhaps this most amazing thing I learned all day. It was hard to believe that something which began as a piece of solid bark could be broken down into fine enough fibers for cordage. Once the cordage was complete, I burned some of the extra fibers  to tidy things up a bit. 

Once we had an understanding of some basic cordage principles, Chris asked us to choose a container style we would like to try and construct. There were many beautiful woven baskets but I was particularly drawn to the birch bark containers. The container I chose to make is constructed from one large square of bark with four folds and another two thin strips of birch bark to reinforce the top of the basket. The folds are made in a warm tub of water which prevents major damage to the bark, although small tears are impossible to avoid.

I chose a piece of bark without any holes or tears which makes the container capable of holding water. Chris also explained that if the container had enough water inside it could be placed in coals to boil water (with minimal damage to the container) or used to make a soup by placing heated stones inside. Unfortunately, I won't have the opportunity to test these theories out because I have already given the container as a birthday gift. 

I left the workshop feeling empowered by my new knowledge and inspired by the nature world. I can't wait to play around with what I know and make new things. Chris allowed me to take home some birch bark he had harvested and I have since harvested some of my own from a couple of felled trees at work. 

A Few Extras:
Making Milkweed Cordage
Chris Gilmour's Website

Packing up, Moving on

Do you know that feeling, jumping off a diving board or a cliff? That's how I feel right now. One part excited, one part scared. I'm trying to imagine what the next two or three months will hold and I only see a bare skeleton of activities. I have a very faint idea of what I'll be up to. A bit of travelling here, visiting friends and family there, bouncing from place to place. The anticipation is the best feeling I've had in a while.

I didn't think I could make it six months in a tiny room in the middle of Algonquin Park. I feel incredibly resilient and pleased to close this chapter of my life knowing that I never gave up. I have a lot of great memories, a lot of quirky stories and a couple of neat mementos.

Soon I will be driving away from this job, my home and the community that has been my entire life for six months. Scary, right?! I have so much on my mind and so many things left to pack. It's still a great feeling though, moving on.

Coming up with a Creative Costume

I was having a really tough time deciding what to wear for Hallowe'en this year. The party will mark my re-entry into the civilized world, post bush-life, and I wanted to make the evening special with an exciting costume that wasn't cheaply pulled together from my closet (like the costumes of Hallowe'en past, see above). In recent memory I've been a ballerina, a beaten up Russian communist, a Sherrif, the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (re-visioned) and an old gypsy woman. 

I started constructing the headpiece for my costume yesterday and I will continue working on it this evening but I'd like to keep it a surprise. It's going to be entirely homemade and I'm almost certain I will be the only person wearing that costume at the party. I can't wait to see how everyone dresses up, I have such amazingly creative friends. I am prepared to be completely impressed. 

The Light is Growing Brighter Now

Taking a break at the cliff on Two Rivers trail. 

We're almost done here at the Lodge, with less than two weeks to go most of the staff is anxiously anticipating life in the real world. Here are a couple of lists I've been compiling in my head lately:

I am looking forward to:
Making a little nest for Rysio and I to enjoy
Preparing my own meals
Eating at delicious restaurants (Bread Bar, Mulberry St. Cafe, Bronzies, Mex-I-Can, Sapporo)
Art crawls, art galleries, museums and other cultural excursions
Hanging out with friends, parties, being near like-minded folk
The library
The farmer's market
Thrift shopping
Crafting, art nights and witnessing the aftermath of a creative hurricane
Playing the piano in privacy
Going to shows at This Ain't Hollywood, The Winking Judge, Skydragon and other cool spaces

I am not looking forward to:
Crowds of people - noisy, rude and kind of gross
Car exhaust everywhere I go
Traffic Jams
Commuting to work
The long amount of time it takes to get everywhere
Being far away from the forest and lake

Things I will miss about Algonquin Park:
Beautiful Cache lake
Abundant fungi
Trips to the P Store for ice cream
The amazing colours
The interesting coworkers and guests I've met
Learning things about cooking and baking
All of the lovely animals I've seen (beaver, moose, deer, fish, hare, grouse, heron, birds of every colour, chipmunk, squirrel, mice, otter, fox, turtle and others!)

Under the Red Sky



Summer 2008 and 2009
Playing with sunglasses as a lens filter

Fungi Friends

I like things that happen by accident (or on accident as Rysio points out that I mistakenly say). I like chance encounters, snippets of conversations, seeing the same person for the first time ever three times in a week or hearing about a book twice in one day. It keeps me light on my feet, my shoulders back and my head held high. I never know what is lurking in tomorrow, ready to wink at me or drop in my lap. 

A few days ago I met a wonderful group of guests at work. The four of them had been wandering on our Moose Trail when they happened upon a mushroom that they wanted to identify. The guests brought the mushroom in, we peeked through George Barron's book on Eastern Ontario fungi and a friendship was born. We've been chatting about our mycological love ever since. One of the women told me about the Mycological Society of Toronto that she belongs to and I am anxious for springtime when I can join them on one of their forest forays. I'm so glad I met them and that they shared their wisdom and passion with me. 

Fungi Finds and Photos by Kathryn and Myself - August 2008

A couple of interesting videos about mushrooms:

In the Lap of Literary Lapses

Last week Rysio and I traveled to Barrie to meet some friends for dinner. On the way there we stopped at the Stephen Leacock Museum in Orillia. I have never read an entire Leacock book (for shame!) but I have read about one third of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. Perhaps I stopped because it reminded me too much of my own hometown. As funny as the book is, it is also sort of tragic.

Leacock was a writer, humourist, professor and a political scientist. His home has been transformed into a museum and art gallery. While it is not my favourite museum, it was a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon. If you are ever in the area, I would recommend the detour.


Life, we learn too late, is in the living, the tissue of every day and hour. 
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