Hunting for signs of spring

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This year spring is unusually early in Sweden. The meteorological definition of spring here is that the average temperature must be rising and lie between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius for seven whole days in a row. This happened in mid February where we live, more than a month earlier than expected.

My personal definition of spring is different, it craves a close inspection of the signs in nature that the season brings with it. When I see it, I believe it. That is why our first spring outing is so important and it was about time we got out in the forest this weekend. Johan and I was also extra glad that our friend Helena joined us, bringing her energetic boarbaiter Bullen.

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Early spring outings in medieval gear means that you will have to deal with a lot of melting snow and expose yourself to a serious risk of getting very cold and soggy feet. It will take at the least another month before the forest dries up and the melting water is just above freezing temperature.

But few things are as medieval as cold and soggy feet due to walking in thin leather shoes or as effective to make you toughen up a little. At the least I suppose that is why Johan insisted that this was the perfect time to cross a bog flooded with icy water from the melting snow. He also claims that it is a lot of fun to make your way where there is no paths and the more challenging, the more fun. I will definitely agree on that point. (More about dressing for the season here.)
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Brave bogtrotters.

But I don’t expect that the “toughening” effect is measurable after only occasional events of uncomfortable experiences, just like I very much doubt the validity of single attempts on experimental archaeology when taken out of context. To gather valid knowledge based on experience is a long time project, it takes years. But every outing we do makes a little difference, we always learn something new.

For me, this outing was not about handling getting cold and wet, even if I did that as well. Instead I mostly focused on observing and bonding with my dog, Basilard. He came to me only five months ago and I haven’t had him off the leash much, worrying that he would go off hunting and get in some kind of trouble or another.
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Now I watched him run happily with the other dogs and he was never out of sight for long. He only reacted to the scent of game once or twice, as when we found massive boar-marks in the ground. I learnt that I had to take a chance more and trust him a bit to see the result of all the training we have done.
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After walking through the marches all of us had achieved the expected status of wet shoes and cold soggy hose-feet, but with a varying degrees of experienced discomfort. However I think we all equally enjoyed our little sit-down as we made up a fire and had a light meal including wine, cheese and some extraordinary tasty sausages.
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Making a fireplace by folding up the moss.

The subject of fire makes me think of our next project. This year we have decided to make an effort to better ourselves as fire-makers. We will practice to use traditional tools and methods to a further extent than we have done so far. I used to be proficient at using flint and steel but that was a very long time ago and I am looking forward to pick it up again. I imagine I’ll do a short video or an article about our progress with this project.
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As for signs of spring except for wet feet on wanderers in the woods, there was birdsong, budding leaves and little rivulets flooded with water. There still was occasional heaps of snow and the moss crackled with frost on some places, but also sprouting tufts of green on the ground. Most importantly, there was a few extra hours of daylight available for us now compared to when we did our last outing. All in all, what I saw was well enough for me to decide that spring is truly here.
/ Emil
You can see all the pictures from our outing in our Facebook-album here.
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Winter is upon us.

10922461_903329519712312_2446594680176877832_nYesterday I woke up to a snow white landscape. I knew it would be one of those precious winter outings, my favourite. All seasons in the woods have their charm and beauty, but I have come to especially like cold weather because of how snow and ice really puts my kit and my skills to the test. I like to use my gear in different weather conditions to see if my craft and gear hold water, sometimes quite literally.

This was not only our first outing in snow for a long good while and Basilards first one ever. It was also première for our new grey kirtles, the winter clothing for hunters as recommended by Gaston Phoebus.

IMAG4615We had a heavy snowfall the day before but it was not very cold, just about -5°C/23°F. That means cold enough for nice dry snow, but not so cold it hurts if you dress accordingly. Dry snow is lovely to be out in, but wet snow can be difficult. Thaw is soon absorbed by our thin leather shoes and becomes freezing water. It makes your hose soggy and your feet hurt with cold until they numb. After some time walking in this state of misery, the damp permanently damages the shoes as well.

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Dry feet in dry snow.

You can never know if the weather will change when you are out, so I always grease my boots the day before a planned outing and it helps a little. As long as you keep moving it is usually alright, but even in dry snow our shoes absorb some water after a while. The thin leather sole is then half frozen, constantly warmed by the foot and cooled by contact with the ground. This gives you a better grip than you might expect if you are used to walking in rubber soled shoes on ice.

Boots with many buckles like mine are not the most common ones in period pictures. When they appear they seem to be worn only by the most wealthy in society. I had mine made for me three years ago after archaeological findings of shoes from 14th century Stockholm. I too feel that they are a bit luxurious, but usually I’m very happy with them.

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Before.

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After!

However, on previous winter outings I’ve sometimes had trouble with snow getting trapped in the shaft and slowly melting there to my discomfort. It happens when the shaft is too low or not tight enough around the ankle. Recently I had a friend who is a really good shoemaker help me put on an extra pair of buckles to solve the problem. It worked out very well, kept the snow at bay and I think it looks great. Thank you Sofia!

I had been looking forward to this outing for some time, longing for snow. Now I plunged my way through it with childish delight and Basilard seemed to enjoy it as well. He was on his best behaivour all day, but I doubt he has ever seen so much snow. This was really good training for him and I’m glad that he goes so well together with Johans Boudica.

10917330_902327219812542_6400472687767569062_nThe forest was so heavy with snow on some places that young trees arched down over the track just like the ceiling in a gothic cathedral. Stunningly beautiful, but also treacherous as the forest dropped little icy surprices over us when you expect it the least…

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Fur lined hood makes one happy hunter.

Both Johan and I had put on our hoods lined with rabbit fur for this occasion and agreed that it is the best winter garment you can get. It is easy to regulate the warmth by pulling the hood up or down and it protects your neck from snow dropping from the trees. The fur gives you that instant warm fuzzy feeling that makes you all glad when your ears are nippy.

Except for my hood for warmth I also wore fur lined mittens and three layers of wool kyrtils. The most thin and soft one closest to the skin to keep me dry and then increasingly more thick and coarse fabrics on top to keep the snow out. The new grey kirtle got heavily felted when I dyed it and turned out almost water-proof. The massive width makes it drape nicely and the folds of the fabric make little pockets of air, soon warmed by the body. I didn’t freeze one bit.

IMAG4598_1Johan was happy with the extra long sleeves on his new kirtle. Gloves and mittens are sometimes a bother when you are out and about, holding horns and spears and dogs and whatnot. But folded down, the sleeves keep the warmth around the hands even without gloves, and you will not likely loose them in the snow.

We stopped for a light meal as usual, but this time we skipped making10354590_10152571715607765_3887943407287273709_n a fire.  We were both warm enough anyway and most wood was deep frozen. If there had been a need for it, we could probably have found usable branches up under firtrees, but we didn’t feel the need to scavenge half an hour for it. Instead we gave the sausages meant for cooking to two very happy dogs and just had the wine and cheese for ourselves.

The tracks we saw told us that we were alone in the woods that day, apart from its inhabitants of wild boar, hare and roe deer. All in all, it was a lovely day out.

Want to see more? Check out our FB-album.

/ Emil

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Javelin practise

A hot summers day Johan, Helena and I went out to practise with our javelins. If you want to see how it went and hear about our conclusions, don’t miss out on Johans short film.

We could not have wished for better weather for our expedition, this is Swedish summer at it’s best. But with a temperature on about 25 – 30 °C in the sun (77 – 86 °F), you have to think both on what you choose to wear and on how you behave while you are out in period clothing. It is wise to go for thin and loosely fitted garments, as always with linnen underneath and a layer of wool on top, allowing air to flow between the different layers and keeping you dry. Also make sure to protect your head and neck from the sun. Stay in the shadow if you can and drink plenty of water. If you do so, the heat will not trouble you much.

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Happy hunters heading out on a lovely summers day.

My choice of outfit – a straw hat and a simple green kirtle was inspired by these illuminations from Livre de Chasse. I really like the relaxed look of the man with the straw hat, wearing his hoses rolled down. I’d love to elaborate further on what we are wearing but we will get back to the details of our gear another day, in a post about the medieval hunters equipment.

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I like the relaxed look of this boar-hunter with straw hat and rolled down hose!

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A limer wearing a straw hat and a simple green kirtle just like mine.

Telling the dog of on our way out.

Telling the dog of on our way out.

Our targets, one still and one moving.

Our targets, one still and one moving.

I was looking forward to test my new javelin and to work on my technique. You have to aim good and true of course, but for me it is also about getting the throw more explosive  – simply to throw harder.

Today we used two targets for our practise, one of them moving – a piece of a tree trunk suspended in the height of a deer or the like. For practising explosive throws, the tree itself will do fine. For better aim, the moving target pending in the rope is game.

Obviously, when throwing at a moving target, there is no point in aiming where the target is at the moment. You have to interpret its movement and calculate on where it will be when your spear reaches it. To do that you’ll need to study your target well and use your previous experience to extrapolate a decent estimation of how hard to throw and where to aim.

While I’m doing this, I have to find the balance point of the spear, a point where it rests in my hand without tipping back or forth. Then I aim based on my estimation of where my target will be next, using enough force for my spear to reach it in the right time.

With a powerful and flowing movement of my whole body I create the energy driving the javelin forth before letting it go. I try to let it slip from my hand in the right moment for it to go fast and straight to the target.

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Finding the balance point of my new javelin.

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Aiming with my entire body and creating a flowing movement allowing for a high energy throw.

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The trick is to let go in the right time. It’s a hit!

As Johan mentioned in his last post, it is likely that the javelin was used as a bleeder and not for the actual kill. Hunters would try to make the game bleed in order for it to grow weaker, move more slowly and get easier to track down. As you get close to it by tracking and driving it with your hounds, the game does not expect you to have the extended reach that a javelin gives you. The mort, the killing strike, seems to have been done with a sword or dagger in a almost ritualistic manner, not with the spear regarded as a less noble weapon. Bearing this in mind, there is not much reason to practise long distance throws and we kept close to our targets today.

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For Helena, it was her first time handling the javelin.

I had a hard time in the beginning. It wasn’t easy to hit the target, even at close reach. But after a while I worked out how to do it better. 20140712_173023_Richtone(HDR)I found it helpful to have a handful of spears at the ready, so that I could throw one after another in a nice flow before I had to to go and get them back. Doing so, I had time to learn form every attempt and adjust my technique slightly between every throw.

I also noticed that I preferred Johans heavier javelin rather than my new lighter one. His heavy spear was easier to throw with some real force. The next ones I’ll make for myself will be of a more sturdy kind. My new javelin turned out more appropriate for long distance throws, but used so it cut the air nice and straight. As I get more skilled at aiming and throwing, I think I’ll need different javelins for different purposes and distances.

So, practice makes perfect, they say? I tell you, practice craves picnic!

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IMAG1948I had a great time today. The weather was amazing and it was much fun throwing at our moving target. I benefited from the practice – as a novice on the javelin I could really see immediate result. Soon I got both a better aim and a more powerful throw, even if there is room for much improvement still. We will have to do this again someday soon!

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As I mentioned earlier, if you want to see us practise and hear more about our conclusions from today, don’t miss out on Johans short film.

/ Emil