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OUTDOOR WORLD: Surviving in the natural environment

NEW GLASGOW, N.S. —


I recently completed a book on traditional arts, crafts and trades of Atlantic Canada, With These Hands,  and it provided me with the opportunity to talk with a lot of people who are continuing these traditions. I was especially keen on speaking with people doing nature based craft and art. 
When I was a boy my brother and I spent a lot of time playing outside. We were always building forts and tree houses in the woods around the house. I learned a lot from spending time in the woods and around the water. Those early experiences were a big factor in my decision to study biology in University. I know how important that time spent outdoors was to me so it concerns me when I read that many children today spend almost no time in nature and many are actually afraid to be outside alone. So I was pleased when I spent some time with someone who is passing on his knowledge and love of nature, and all things wild, by teaching bush skills and crafts. 
Ian Holt-Jones lives in Middle River, Cape Breton with his wife Lisa and teaches traditional wood craft skills and nature awareness. Ian grew up in North Wales and immigrated with Lisa to Canada in 2008. I asked Ian what got him interested in bush craft. “I always had an interested in the outdoors and I took an introduction to bush craft put on by Ray Mears in the South of England.” Ian told me bush craft, which is defined as surviving in the natural environment by using traditional skills and knowledge, is very popular in the United Kingdom and there are numerous schools dedicated to teaching it.
Ian told me what attracted him to it. “I love the self-reliance aspect the most. Knowing I can craft items I need with local material and my own hands is very important to me.” Ian offers several bush craft classes through his school. Classes can be offered to groups or individuals and the school curriculum includes starting fire by friction, water purification, foraging, rope making, shelter building and basic camp craft. A course can span a few days or take a week, depending on how much you want to learn.
Ian is very interested in traditional archery and is particularly interested in crafting longbows from traditional materials. From “stick to bow” is how Ian described it. He let me shoot several of his handcrafted bows made from local woods including elm, ash and maple. I was fascinated to learn that, while the bows we were shooting had a pull weight of 35 pounds, the military bows of the Middle Ages had pull weights of up to 180 pounds.  
These days, while he continues to offer classes in bush craft, Ian is spending more time crafting items from natural materials. Actually the thing that first made me aware of Ian, and his work, was a fishing creel he made for a friend of mine. The creel was made from spruce roots and I thought it was the nicest I had ever seen. I left Ian’s shop with renewed enthusiasm that there are still people who love the woods, and the skills required to not only survive in them, but also craft things of beauty from natural materials for everyday use.

Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County. ©2019 Don MacLean

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