Pathfinders


Last weekend I took the Pathfinder Club on our annual spring camping trip. We camp four times per year, twice in the fall, and twice in the spring. Twice with just our club, and twice with the conference (camporees). Yes, four twices makes four, and I’m sure you can figure that out.

We had several goals for this camping trip. The first was to prepare for the competition at the upcoming conference camporee. We’ve been working on this during the last couple of meetings, but there were some parts that just had to be done on a camping trip.

For this competition, the kids are divided into teams. We will be fielding two teams. They are each given a series of compass headings, and if they follow them correctly, they will find their victim. The first order of business is to render first aid to said victim, who has suffered a simulated head wound, burned hand, and sprained ankle. Unlikely as that is, it could still happen.

While part of the team is doing that, another part of the team must build a fire and brew some pine needle tea (which is not bad!) They also need to build a shelter using a 6’x8′ tarp and not more than 25′ of rope.

Then they take down the shelter and use the tarp to build a make-shift stretcher, on which they carry the victim out.
They are judged by how well they do each task, not on how fast they do each task.

So we learned the first aid, navigation, and shelter building during the past three meetings. I saved the tea-making and stretcher-building for the campout.

I had seen plans for a DIY backpacking stove online and thought it would be perfect for the tea-making part. I asked the conference if it would be OK, and they said it would be, provided I sent an email out to everyone with a link to the plans (so it would be even). Here the link if anyone cares.

One of my friends works at a place where they build stuff out of sheet metal, and since I wanted a couple of these, I thought I’d build one, and ask him if he wanted to build one too. He passed the request to a co-worker who punched the plans into one of their laser cutters. Bingo, out came a dozen stoves. 🙂

We tried it out over the weekend, and it worked remarkably well:

Stove in action

Stove in action

The advantage it affords over a DIY alcohol stove is that you don’t have to carry fuel – it burns pencil-sized sticks, and those are lying around all over the place. The disadvantage is that wood fires make a lot of soot which blackens the cookware. So we’ll need some bags for these.

A second goal was that we invited Peter Wannemacher from the Limington Lanterns (a Pathfinder Club in Maine) to join us for the weekend and teach us the Sign Language honor. He is an excellent teacher, and we learned a lot of ASL. I almost think I could communicate with a deaf person. The kids really enjoyed having him, and they learned an awful lot as well. Some of them already knew quite a bit which surprised me.

The third goal was for us to finish the Wilderness Living honor we started last fall. For that we needed to collect drinking water using two methods. In the past we have collected rain water from a tarp, and we have filtered water from a stream. But I like to mix things up a bit and try new things. Since I was a child I have known about the solar still technique, but had never tried it, so we gave that a go.

To make one, you dig a hole, place a cup in the center, and add a bunch of wet material around the cup. Then cover with transparent plastic, weight the edges of the plastic with rocks, and place one rock in the center of the plastic sheet right over the cup. The sun evaporates the water which condenses on the underside of the plastic, runs down the the weighted center, and drips off into the cup. I bought a nice, large piece of crystal-clear plastic for $4.00. We got about a fifth of an ounce of water. Yeah. $20.00 per ounce is a little pricey!

Maybe if it had been hotter outside it would have worked better. Too bad I didn’t take any pictures of it.

I have been wanting to go snowshoeing pretty much all winter, but things have seemed to conspire against me. Either I didn’t have enough snow, or I didn’t have enough time. Today, I had enough of both, so Penny and I set out for Sandogardy Pond. I don’t know when I was last there, but I do know it’s my first time since taking a new job in NH in November.

I always like to take pictures of Cross Brook (or as I prefer to call it, Little Cohas Brook).

Cross Brook

Cross Brook

Penny was afraid to cross the bridge, so she started making motions to swim the brook. I called her off, but she really thought I was going to cross and didn’t want to be left behind. I attribute that more to her being a dog than to anything special about me. 😉 I told her to sit, and she did.

Penny waits obediently

Penny waits obediently


I took another shot or two of the brook and then turned around and came back across to her. She seemed relieved.

I didn’t notice this at first:

Stray paddleboat

Stray paddleboat


It’s a paddle boat. It’s owned by some people who live on the pond, but I’m not sure exactly which house they live in. Also, I didn’t see an easy way for me to rescue their boat without risking hypothermia, so I let it be. Maybe someone with an ATV or snowmobile could pull it out.

This hike was very much needed, both by me and by Penny who has not had a decent hike since at least November. I’ve been busy with so many things. One of them was this:

Ship in a Bottle

My Pinewood Derby entry


My Pinewood Derby car. Yes, it’s a ship in a bottle. Lots of people asked how I got it in there, and I told them I had a shrink ray and that it was a real boat. I had shrunk it smaller than that so I could fit it through the mouth of the bottle and then put it in reverse and tapped it a few times. It didn’t unshrink the bottle though, because the bottle is glass and the ray would just go straight through it.

But the real answer is that the mast folded down (towards the stern). It slipped in fairly easily with the mast pushed back, and once it was in there, I pulled it up with the rigging. I tacked the thread to the jib-boom with s dot of super glue (which sailors of old surely lacked).

The sails are made from a tea bag, and the ship is set in the bottle in wax. Once I had the boat inside, I shaved some wax, dropped it in, and set it on the stove until it melted. Then I set the boat in position and let the wax harden.

Nothing to it!

The Pinewood Derby was the last part of a very long day. It started with our annual Pathfinder Sabbath. We did a “Newscast” from Jericho in the time of Joshua. The kids did a great job, but the whole program was plagued with technical difficulties. After that we had a potluck lunch, and then went into the Bible Bowl, which is like a quiz show. This year the material all came from the book of Joshua (which is why we selected that for our newscast).

Then we had supper followed by the Pinewood Derby. All-in-all, I very much enjoyed the day, in spite of the technical difficulties.

For the past month or so, our Pathfinder Club has been working on the Model Hot Air Balloon honor. We’re simultaneously in the middle of shooting some video for a production we’re working on for Pathfinder Sabbath next month. I chose Hot Air Balloons because we can take a couple of kids out at a time to shoot their portion of our video, while I work with the rest of the kids on the balloons.

The balloons are made from tissue paper – we bought the kind you’re supposed to wad up and stuff into a bag when you don’t feel up to wrapping a gift. I guess.

Anyhow, the balloons are not that hard to make, and each kid has been working diligently on their own without needing too much help from the adults.

Yesterday we were ready to launch a few of them. We used a hot air gun to fill them:

Filling it up

Filling it up

I did some calculations and estimated that these balloons are a little more than 260 liters in volume (about 70 gallons). I did some more calculations and determined that if it was about freezing outside (0°C) and we were able to pump the balloons up with air on the order of 40°C (about 100°F), they should have about 40 grams of lift. So as long as the balloons were 40 grams or less, they should rise.

I didn’t measure the temperature or weigh the balloons, and both of those are likely to be wildly off. But none the less:

We have lift off!

We have lift off!

They achieved buoyancy. Not much though. We tethered them with fishing line, and in the photo above, I’m trying to get away from the heat gun and not get tangled in the fishing line.

Recovery!

Recovery!


This particular balloon did pretty well. None of them stayed aloft for very long, and I think that was because they lost their heat pretty quickly.

So now I’m thinking I might like to build another using a Mylar emergency “space” blanket. They weigh 85 grams (or so I have read), but they should reflect all the heat back inside, and therefore, stay aloft longer.

That will require about an 80° temperature rise, but honestly, we might have had that already with the tissue balloons. As I said, I didn’t weigh the ones we have.

Anyways, this was a very fun project. I might be hooked!

Last weekend the Pathfinder Club had the first campout of the spring. The Milano family had invited us to camp at their place, and I thought that was a grand idea. They have a small stream running through their property, and Warran (one of the staff) wanted to teach the Gold Prospecting honor. He wanted us to camp near a stream, and the Milanos had one. Done deal.

There were two problems with that plan, but we overcame them both. The first was that we could not get the trailer closer than about 300 yards from our camp site. The second was that those 300 yards were very wet. And by that, I mean that it was basically a swamp. I arrived early Friday with Beth and Ana, and we set about the task of building a small bridge over the first major puddle. Then we started hauling stuff to the site in a wheelbarrow.

A couple hours later, the Stokes clan arrived, and they helped haul stuff too. Everyone else arrived in waves. We got everything out there and set up before it got dark, but it was an awful lot of work making that happen. I can tell you that I was one tired dude.

Which made for good sleeping. I don’t usually sleep much when camping, but when I get tired enough, lying on the ground doesn’t get in the way of sleeping. Much.

We got up around 6:30, and made breakfast. After washing up, we began our church service. The kids led the song service and told a Bible story. Then I taught a short lesson using False Hellebore and a Dandelion. Then Jean Cadet, a guardian of one of my Pathfinders arrived, and he preached a short sermon.

Jean Cadet led our worship service

Jean Cadet led our worship service

After that, we began working on our supper. The plan was to build a lovo – a pit in the ground which we loaded with food (mostly root vegetables) and hot rocks. The food was wrapped in banana leaves.

Veggies wrapped in banana leaves in our lovo

Veggies wrapped in banana leaves in our lovo

And then we buried it.

Burying the lovo

Burying the lovo

We actually lined the bottom of the hole with quart-sized rocks, built a fire on top of them, and added more rocks to the fire. Two of the girls lit the fire using a magnesium fire starter (simlar to a flint and steel). They were pretty stoked when that fire got going. The pit had been dug and the fire had been started right after breakfast. We added the food after our church service.

Once the food was buried and the fire was out, we drove out to Mount Kearsarge. One of the older Pathfinders had never been to the top of a mountain before, so I thought we could not finish the year without hiking to the top of one. That was a problem we could fix.

The gate to the park was closed, so we had to hike almost a mile up to the regular parking lot. It was steep too. We took several rest breaks, and then hit the trail to attack the summit.

Up Mount Kearsarge

Up Mount Kearsarge

Climbing mountains can wear you out!

Rest Area

Rest Area

Along the trail we saw this rock. I suppose it marks the halfway point from the parking lot to the summit. Of course we had started out hike well before the parking lot, so that meant we were more than halfway when we reached this point.

Halfway mark

Halfway mark

Ana takes in one of the views well below the summit.

Ana takes in one of the views well below the summit.

At one point, the snow and ice was pretty thick on the trail. It was slippery in places too!

Snow and ice on the trail

Snow and ice on the trail

Here we are at the summit. Or very close to the summit. It’s kind of flattish up there making it hard to tell.

Group shot!

Group shot!

We decided the summit must be by this cairn.

We conquer!

We conquer!

It took about three hours to get to the top, and only one hour to get back down. Nobody stopped to rest on the way down. One kid twisted his ankle though, so it was slow going. I was going to carry him out, but he is one stout kid, and my legs simply refused to lift him. So he had to hobble down on his own. I stayed with him though.

Root plus tent.

Root plus tent.

The kids were way too tired to do anything too physical when we got back to camp. We unburied the food, ate supper, and made S’mores. Then the kids went to bed without complaint. They let me sleep until 7:00. I started waking them up around 7:30.

We ate breakfast, washed the dishes, and knocked out our Camping Skills honors. At 10:00am Warran showed up to teach Prospecting.

Warran teaches Prospecting

Warran teaches Prospecting

He took a look at the stream and decided that there was almost no way there would be any gold in it. There was no sand at all in the bed, and the stream did not originate in the mountains. If he had told me that ahead of time, I could have chosen a different stream, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. He had a backup plan though. He brought some pay dirt (which he had spike with some bits of silver and a little bit of gold). He dumped it into a kiddie pool and added water from the stream. Then showed the kids how to pan.

Panning for gold

Panning for gold


They were pretty stoked to find silver, even though they knew it had been added artificially. He explained that this pay dirt was way richer than what you would find in nature. Still, it’s good to find what you’re looking for so that if you ever do need to find it, you know what it’s like.

With that wrapped up, we struck camp. This time there were plenty of kids there to help haul it all back through the swamp to the trailer so it went a lot faster.

It looks like spring is finally arriving in New Hampshire, and with it, the opportunity to burn brush piles without a permit is fast evaporating. As long as there is snow on the ground, Northfield (and most other towns in New Hampshire) does not require a burn permit. So I got busy and lit one.

This snow is gone now

This snow is gone now


This brush pile was too big to light in situ. I was afraid the flames would climb a little too high and scorch the tree limbs that hang over it. I don’t think there were any tree limbs hanging over it when I started the pile, so that should give some idea as to how long I have been piling brush here.

Instead, I removed the brush from the pile and burned it in a much more controllable fire next to it. I thought I’d be out there until midnight, so I started the fire well before Beth was out of school. Unfortunately, it went quite a bit faster than I anticipated, and by the time she got home, it was nearly gone.

I saw another sign of spring on Thursday:

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)


These are the first flowers I’ve seen, and were blooming on the banks of the Merrimack River in Concord. When I got home after taking these shots, I went out and took down my sap buckets. There wasn’t much sap in them at all, and it had more of a yellowish color, so I dumped it out. All in all, I think I collected 8 or ten gallons of sap. I have boiled it most of the way down, but it needs to go a little more, as it’s still a little too thin. As is, I have almost a quart, but it will be less than that when I reduce it some more.

And now for some big news – last week I wrote that we were treated to the spectacle of an American Woodcock outside one of the windows at church. Well, I suppose that bird has taken up residence, as it was out there again today. The kids who go to school at our church tell me they’ve been seeing this bird all week. One kid wanted to throw a dodge ball at it, but one of my Pathfinders stopped him (yay!)

But I didn’t know about that until this morning. I was going to the Pathfinder trailer to get the rest of a flag pole when I heard the woodcock stir in the bushes, startled (but not too much I guess) at my arrival. He didn’t fly off, so I fetched my camera.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

It started bobbing while I was taking pictures, so I went ahead and shot a little shakey hand-held video while I was out there.

Today was also a pretty big day for the Pathfinder Club. We drove up to the Laconia Church to present the worship service there. We’ve been working on another Biblical newscast. This one was taken from the Gospel of Mark, and included pre-recorded segments for our “live action reporters” as well as live, on-stage performances with our anchor crew who would interact with the pre-recorded performers.

We were supposed to present this at our church in Concord first, but a week before we were scheduled to do it, the external hard drive containing all our footage was plugged into the wrong power supply and bit the big one. So we rescheduled for April 13 and re-shot all the video. This meant that our second scheduled performance would become our first performance.

I’d post a link to the pre-recorded segments, but since they rely on banter with live, unrecorded people, it would be pretty confusing. We intend to record the live performance part too when we present in Concord, so if I can get my hands on that footage, I will link you to it.

Yesterday I took Penny for a walk to Sandogardy Pond. It was a fairly warm day.

Chair in the Woods

Chair in the Woods


This chair has been in this spot in the woods for at least as long as we have lived here. When I saw it yesterday, I thought I would take a picture, as it reminded me of the album cover for “A Farewell to Kings.” All it lacks is a puppet king sitting on it.

While we were out, I could see where I had walked with my snowshoes a few weeks ago. The snow around the tracks has mostly melted, but the tear-shaped tracks are still there:

Snowshoe Tracks

Snowshoe Tracks

When we got to the creek I saw something green. Upon closer inspection, I was able to recognize it as Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)


This is a wild edible plant, but if you wait too long, the flavor becomes way too strong. It tastes very much like garlic. I ate a couple of these, and then picked all the rest.

It’s not usually a good idea to wipe out a stand of a wild edible plant, but in this case, it is actually a great idea. Garlic Mustard is an invasive alien, and if it were to gain a foothold in these woods, pretty soon it would establish a monoculture. Then these woods would no longer support any of the native herbs that grow there: wintergreen, jack-in-the-pulpit, several ferns, etc. All we would have would be garlic mustard.

I bagged it up and stuffed it in my pocket.

After school I was scheduled to take two of my Pathfinders on a field trip. We drove around Concord to assess the needs of the community. We were on the lookout for homeless people, unmaintained property, etc. While I had them in the car, I offered them some Garlic Mustard. They all tried it, but one kid liked it quite a lot. He asked if he could have some, so I told him to take as much as he wanted. He took half. When he got home, he fed it to his parents – neither of whom liked it. But he liked it OK, so maybe he can eat it out of existence wherever he finds it.

This stuff is probably best when added to soup or some other recipe. On its own, it is very potent, even when picked this early in the year.

I am sitting at the airport in Omaha, Nebraska as I write this, though I was not expecting to be here right now. My journey here started a month or two ago when I was invited to sit on the North American Division Pathfinder Honors Taskforce. This is the committee that reviews submissions for new Pathfinder honors and revises existing ones. I was invited because of the work I have done on the AY Honors Answer Book wiki.

It was a thrill for me to have been invited. Pathfinder honors have been a pretty big part of my life for a number of years now. It was not to go without a few hiccups though. The first was that my club had scheduled March 9 for our annual Pathfinder Sabbath, during which we present the church service in its entirety. But I am blessed with a large and capable staff, so I figured they would be able to cope with my absence quite handily. So we pressed on with preparations.

Our presentation this year was to be similar to the one we did last year – a broadcast television newscast set in Biblical times. This year we decided to cover events from the Book of Mark. We pre-recorded all of our “live action reporters in the field” so that we could project their performances on the screen, while our anchor desk interacted with them live during the presentation.

But one week before we were to make our presentation, the hard drive containing all of our footage – every single second of it – was subjected to a most unfortunate accident. So we rescheduled for April 13. The upside to this is that I will be able to attend the performance, and the kids all knew their lines even better when we did the re-shoot.

But I digress. I am still sitting in the Omaha airport.

I flew out here on Friday and met my friend Mark. He is the webmaster for pathfindersonline.org (and other sites), and he too flew in to Omaha, but from the DC area. We decided to share a car, so he waited for my arrival. Then we set out for Lincoln. We picked up a couple of geocaches on the way. Our car was a tiny little Fiat. It was so tiny, that I think I could have lifted the whole thing with one hand.

Mark and I standing in front of a Virtual Cache in Iowa.

Mark and I standing in front of a Virtual Cache in Iowa.

There is a trick of geography near the Omaha airport. The Nebraska/Iowa border was originally set by the course of the Missouri River. But after the boundary was set, the river changed course, though the boundary did not. So there’s a little spit of land on the west side of the Missouri that still belongs to Iowa. It’s funny to drive through that section of Iowa and see the signs say “Welcome to Iowa” and then “Welcome to Nebraska” in the space of about a half mile.

The cache above was in Iowa, and it features a monument honoring York, a slave who belonged to William Clark. When we got to the monument, I looked at the sculpture, and it showed a black man being pawed over by several native Americans. I said to Mark, “Hey, I bet that’s York, a slave belonging to William Clark!” We walked around the back of the monument, and there was a plaque declaring as much. Talk about a guy feeling pretty smug!

On Saturday, we went all over the Lincoln area finding more geocaches. I think we found nine of them.

A virtual cache in Lincoln.

A virtual cache in Lincoln.

We also saw three bald eagles. Two of them were juveniles, and one was an adult. I got a bad photo of the juveniles, but couldn’t get one of the adult.

Juvenile Bald Eagles

Juvenile Bald Eagles

The meetings started Saturday night around 6:30pm. I very much enjoyed them, which is a strange thing to say about a meeting, but we were talking about a subject about which I am highly passionate.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, there was an inch of snow on the ground.

The Blizzard Begins

The Blizzard Begins

It was still snowing quite heavily, and the wind was blowing a gale. It was a full-fledged blizzard. I kept an eye on the situation, as I was slated to fly out from Omaha at 6:45pm. My meeting ended at noon, and the situation outside was looking pretty grim. I consulted with Va and with those in control of the Division’s purse strings, and we all agreed it would be best if I stayed put in Lincoln for one more day. It seemed foolhardy to tempt the roads in a toy car.

The Toy Fiat

The Toy Fiat

My instincts were correct. Mark’s wife and new baby (12 weeks old) were schedule to fly into Omaha Sunday afternoon too. They were twelve minutes from landing at Omaha when the airport was closed, and they sent the plane back to Minneapolis. Not to be deterred, she tried another flight, this one directly to Lincoln. They took off, gained some altitude, and then the Lincoln airport was likewise closed. So she landed again. I don’t know how many frequent flier miles that would be worth, but a trip from Minneapolis to Minneapolis is about zero miles, even if you do it twice.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska State Police closed Interstate 80, so even if she had landed at Omaha, she would have been very hard-pressed to make her way to Lincoln.

There were a ton of other meetings scheduled for Sunday all the way through Thursday, and all related to my youth ministries. I was invited to sit in on a subcommittee meeting going over some new Adventurer Awards. I asked Va to provide some input on one of them, and she sent it to me straight away. It took me a little longer to get her input to the subcommittee, but they were all very excited about it, and I think it will make it into the Award requirements.

Mark, a handful of other people, and I were treated to dinner at El Toro, an authentic Mexican restaurant in Lincoln. The food was very good, but I could only eat half of it. I took the rest back to my room and forgot it in the fridge.

Mark’s wife and baby eventually did make it to Lincoln, and she had a car (as per the plan). So I returned our toy Fiat to Omaha. Along the way, I counted 28 cars off the shoulder, stuck in the snow. Most (perhaps all) of them had police tape on them. None of them were barely off the shoulder either. They were all way down embankments, pointing every which way, and I thanked God He guided me (and Mark’s wife) away from that fate yesterday.

While I was waiting here for the storm to pass, David was in Concord playing in a chess tournament. It pretty much took all of Sunday, but he played four games and won all four of them. This bumped his ranking up to 1985 (15 to go David!) and he will have to enter the “open” section from now on. He won $200 in the under 1900 section (as he was ranked under 1900 when the tourney began). I am very proud of him, and wish I could have been there with him to share the moment. But we shared via text & voice, so it was almost like being there.

So now I find myself with a bit of downtime. I needed to get the car back here by 2:15 to avoid another day’s charges, but my plane doesn’t leave until 6:45.

So there is time to write a blog post.

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