Where My Interest In Bushcraft Began

Dugout canoe found in Rust Pond

I get asked regularly (it happened twice over this past weekend) where my interest in bushcraft began. I feel like I have told the story hundreds of times, but in case you’re new here, here it is. I grew up on a small lake in rural New Hampshire. That’s a photo taken on the lake in the image above. Also in the image, in front of the photo of the lake, is an oddly-shaped log some kids at a summer camp found on the bottom of the lake in the 1950’s. I took the picture above at the Libby Museum in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, a few years ago, but the display has been there since the early 1970’s, maybe longer. I was at the museum with my dad in 1974 or so, and he showed me the dugout canoe and told me that they found it on the bottom of the lake just a few hundred yards from where we lived. I was full of questions about who built it, when, why it looked different than the canoe we had, what happened to the people who built it, etc. I didn’t know it then, but I had been introduced to my lifelong research interest, and what would later become my job when I founded the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School in 1999.

Dugout canoes never left the body of water on which they were built. In the north, as winter approached, they were sunk to the bottom of the lake by filling them with rocks, to be protected from the ice and preserved by the water. In the spring, the rocks were removed and it was pulled to shore to dry a bit, then used again for another season. This canoe had been sunk to the bottom, but never retrieved by it’s makers, sitting preserved on the bottom until it was discovered by the young men from the summer camp. Our little lake, Rust Pond, was at the top of the drainage. I don’t think there were ever big fish runs there, but there was a native village near where they found the canoe. I think it was there because not far into the woods from that spot is a big swamp that is still full of brown ash trees (Fraxinus nigra), which are still used to make ash baskets, a useful part of the native material culture. I’ve made a few out of trees I harvested from that swamp.

In ancient Greece, a muse was a goddess who inspired people in literature, science and the arts. People often built shrines for the muses, where they could go and be inspired. In our modern world, we call such shrines museums, or the home of the muse. So the short answer of how I became interested in bushcraft was that I went to the home of the muse and was inspired by her. And all these years later that muse still inspires me.


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  • Brad Rohdenburg

    When I was a kid I carved a couple toy-sized dugouts and at some point decided to make a real one. Even with modern tools I didn’t get very far. I can’t imagine doing it with stone tools. There are places in South America where dugouts are still in common usage, I have photos but don’t see a way to post them here.

  • Thanks Brad. A dugout looks so simple, but there are lots of considerations with regard to shape and performance that affect any type of boat. I know a guy who spent a few months making a dugout but didn’t know anything about boat design. When he tried getting in the finished boat, it just kept rolling over on him. So it is definitely not as simple as just hollowing out a lot, the shape matters. I don’t think you can post photos here. Have you seen our private online network at BushcraftSchool.com? We use that platform for discussions like these.

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