Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Fire Making

Me teaching about fire '06

When you're out in the natural environment and you need to make a fire. You're often faced with the wall of green - the raw material. You need to have an understanding of the nature of fire; what it eats, how it breathes, what it doesn't like. It usually doesn't take long when you start trying to light one to find out what these qualities are. A big heap of heavy wood and a match just won't have the right conditions. Fire needs to have a structure, it needs air, it needs fuel and it needs heat - to get heat you need heat.

If you are used to using gas to cook, or electric hobs, to using electric for light and maybe candles for ambience, you won't have the daily relationship with fire that many people in the world do, instead it probably belongs in the realm of the memories of your eldest relatives or to your ancestors. To regain this relationship and the versatility and adaptability that comes with using our ingenuity it's necessary to open up. To open your senses, to look with your eyes, and feel with your hands. Fire happens, you only have to think of the recent wildfires raging through Greece to know that sometimes the right conditions for fire exist already in nature.
Picture of beech trees

There are so many fuels that humans have discovered and manufactured, but we shouldn't forget the beginnings of our knowlege, we shouldn't forget how to make a match. Nowadays, many people have to struggle to meet their basic needs - many more people than had to in the past and not simply because there are more people. In the past the prescious knowlege of how to live comfortably within the envoironment we found ourselves in, was carefully passed on from one generation to the next. Now, people across the world are missing that knowlege, tribes that used to live comfortably with their knowlege of fire, have to spend days travelling to get matches, fuel, lighters - the objects that we think of as convenience have enslaved them to a different and difficult way of life simply because they have lost the old ways. The wonder of the modern age is magical, but we shouldn't lose our heads in the face of it. Our freeedom is even more prescious. Once we regain that knowlege, we regain the freedom that comes from real understanding of our true place in an ecosystem. As you will discover...

This picture is of a birch tree. it's a favorite among woodsmen because the bark of a birch tree will burn easily, even if it's been wet, you can dry it off, scrape it and buff it and you'll have a fire lighter. Birch is used for many things and is worth getting to know. It is one of the first trees that grow at the beginning of a woodland, after the scrub, because it's leaves fall and provide nitrogen for the later plants and trees that wouldn't otherwise be able to inhabit a poor soil. It's a sacrificial tree in a way. You can read more about birch at the end of this article. Over the next few days I'll introduce you to:-

The Six ways of making fire
Tinders and Resins
The structure of Fire
And hopefully by the end of it we'll be able to safely make a fire whereve we happen to be and whenever we need one.

The uses of Birch (Betula Pendula - Silver Birch specific):-

Edible Uses
Inner bark - cooked or dried and ground into a meal. It can be added as a thickener to soups etc or can be mixed with flour for making bread, biscuits etc. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply. Sap - raw or cooked. A sweet flavour. It is harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. It makes a pleasant drink. It is often concentrated into a syrup by boiling off the water. Between 4 and 7 litres can be drawn off a mature tree in a day and this will not kill the tree so long as the tap hole is filled up afterwards. However, prolonged or heavy tapping will kill the tree. The flow is best on sunny days following a frost. The sap can be fermented into a beer. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- "To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr'd together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm'd. When it is sufficiently boil'd, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work...and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.Young leaves - raw or cooked. Young catkins. No more details are given. A tea is made from the leaves
Medicinal Uses
Anti-inflammatory, cholagogue, diaphoretic. The bark is diuretic and laxative. An oil obtained from the inner bark is astringent and is used in the treatment of various skin afflictions, especially eczema and psoriasis. The bark is usually obtained from trees that have been felled for timber and can be distilled at any time of the year. The inner bark is bitter and astringent, it is used in treating intermittent fevers. The vernal sap is diuretic. The buds are balsamic. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance which has acid properties, when combined with alkalis it is a tonic laxative. The leaves are anticholesterolemic and diuretic. They also contain phytosides, which are effective germicides. An infusion of the leaves is used in the treatment of gout, dropsy and rheumatism, and is recommended as a reliable solvent of kidney stones. The young leaves and leaf buds are harvested in the spring and dried for later use. A decoction of the leaves and bark is used for bathing skin eruptions. Moxa is made from the yellow fungous excrescences of the wood, which sometimes swell out of the fissures.

Other Uses
The bark is used to make drinking vessels, canoe skins, roofing tiles etc. It is waterproof, durable, tough and resinous. Only the outer bark is removed, this does not kill the tree. It is most easily removed in late spring to early summer. A pioneer species, it readily invades old fields, cleared or burnt-over land and creates conditions suitable for other woodland trees to become established. Since it is relatively short-lived and intolerant of shade, it is eventually out-competed by these trees. A tar-oil is obtained from the white bark in spring. It has fungicidal properties and is also used as an insect repellent. It makes a good shoe polish. Another report says that an essential oil is obtained from the bark and this, called 'Russian Leather' has been used as a perfume. A decoction of the inner bark is used to preserve cordage, it contains up to 16% tannin. An oil similar to Wintergreen oil (obtained from Gaultheria procumbens) is obtained from the inner bark. It is used medicinally and also makes a refreshing tea. The resin glands (the report does not say where these glands are found) are used to make a hair lotion. A brown dye is obtained from the inner bark A glue is made from the sap. Cordage can be made from the fibres of the inner bark. This inner bark can also be separated into thin layers and used as a substitute for oiled paper. The young branches are very flexible and are used to make whisks, besoms etc.They are also used in thatching and to make wattles.The leaves are a good addition to the compost heap, improving fermentation. Wood - soft, light, durable. It is used for a wide range of purposes including furniture, tool handles, toys and carving. A high quality charcoal is obtained from the bark. It is used by artists, painters etc The wood is also pulped and used for making paper.
I get some of my information about plants from The Plants for A Future Database which is an excellent reference

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tags - Fire, making fire, birch, betula pendula, uses of, structure, heat, oxygen, fuel, ancestors, tribes, match, tinders, resins,
http://poitiveimpactliving.blogspot.com Copyright2007 louisembrookes@hotmail.com

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