Its been nearly five years since I carved a wooden spoon. This might sound like a weird thing to say, but five years ago I was running a project taking veterans and the wider community on empowerment days to introduce them to a variety of employment sectors, like hospitality, engineering and leisure. The aim was to highlight skills they had forgotten, or develop new skills that would engage them, and take them away from the lives they were living. Many were in a negative space, either suffering mental health issues or dealing with the barriers that had been placed before them after being long term unemployed, but the experience for everyone involved was so positive.
Our Bushcraft days were an escape, in fact all our outings were an escape. Our fishing trips with Captain Jack out of Plymouth often resembled the scene from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest', when Jack Nicholson broke the patients out of a mental institution and took them fishing, and they loved it. This seemed to be the similar with us some days, and when we returned and cooked freshly caught mackeral by the boat, their faces were a picture, in was such a new experience, and memories I'd hope they would never forget.
Taking people out of their everyday lives and showing them a different world that include trips to National Trust properties, and working with woodland rangers, and days out with a forestry project learning stone walling, or wood carving, or being taught about foliage found within a forest; we would go to community project where we would press apples, pluck pheasant and plant trees, and the bushcraft days where we'd build shelters, learn fire lighting skills, knife safety whilst preparing tinder and make the fire. There is something very special about sitting around a fire you have made, drinking tea, carving spoons and talking about life, and it's amazing how people would open up. This wasn't counseling, this was just engaging in conversation whilst planting a subtle seed that there is more to life if your willing. I thoroughly enjoyed this work, and when it ended, which is another story, I was very sad and a little lost for a while.
What I learnt on the woodland and bushcraft days, has stuck with me most of all and such valuable skills to own. I remember Ray Mears indicating once that everyone should learn basic woodland or survival skills, its about being prepared as you never know what might happen. Being in a woodland is such a special place, just being outdoors is, as you might have guessed (if you do check into this blog), whether riding bikes, surfing, or walking, is essential to how my family live our lives here in West Cornwall. I can only imagine how it might feel living in an urban city centre under lockdown right now, and that feeling of claustrophobia. But it's also essential that we're keeping busy, as exercising the body and mind is key for morale.
As I write this we can walk, ride bikes, and for coastal communities, even surf if we want to, but travel is limited and many are choosing to keep things mellow to protect our health service. Outside of home, walking the dog is about the limit right now for us, or cycling the the local community stands on the lanes around our area for vegetables and eggs, and that takes care of the physical. The mental side of this has meant myself and my son, building a small makeshift bushcraft camp, and we've spent the past two weeks engrossed in learning new skills, revisiting old ones, and starting to document what we are learning, like fire starting skills, knife handling and shelter building. That's why this spoon means such a great deal to me, as the process of carving it brought back some great memories; the instructors that kindly gave us their time and who taught us; the people and characters that came on the our courses, the presentations, travel and different locations around Devon and Cornwall. Yet, also this spoon has been a real highlight of these current weird times and now firmly placed in my lock down good times list and helped to create memories. I say this with the greatest respect for those key workers keeping the country safe, and who are not as lucky as us to have the option to Stay at Home and staying healthy.
If your interested in learning more about bushcraft, have somewhere safe to practice, I might suggest, buying a Kelly Kettle online, getting some old wood, (prefably not treated) pull out an old pen knife thats been hidden away for years and have a go. Learn some knots, which we have tried and requires patience and memory, and build a shelter in the garden with an old tarpauline if you have one, or a blanket if not. There are so many useful Youtube channels on bushcraft too. I seem to be exploring the entire backlog of Ray Mears in the Wilderness, whilst my son seems to be drawn to the excitement and slightly wired Bear Grylls!
So here's the exercise, and I've not put one on here for a few days but try this one. I'm sure we are all doing things at home right now that have some memories attached. What are you doing that brings back fond memories, what do these memories mean to you? Once you've thought about it, write them down in the good times list.
Take care everyone, and stay safe.