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Of Fire and Knife

Written by Jason Thoune of www.dlttrading.com

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I'll dive into what I have on my mind shortly but it seems my first blog post here requires a bit of introduction. My name is Mike Palmer. Like the rest of you who wander online, I love the outdoors.

As a boy, I was a suburban Cub Scout. I recall fond memories of making Indian arm bands and moccasins, learning to swim in a very cold lake and getting my first knife. That knife was a Cub Scout folder that I am fortunate to still have. It may look a bit worse for wear but there is a lot of history in that patina. Later I became a Boy Scout and learned the essential skills of first aid, navigation, fire lighting, camp cooking, how to pull other's tent stakes out while on the run, engineering toboggan runs that today would get a Scout Master arrested for child endangerment and oh yes Girl Scout courting. I achieved the rank of Eagle Scout despite my extracurricular activities and had my Court of Honor with two of my partners in crime.

Each summer I was fortunate to be able to spend time at an Adirondack camp on Upper Saranac Lake. My parents would while away the hours on the front porch discussing the latest family gossip with our good friend, my father's former Professor and owner of that beautiful refuge on Gull Point. I was therefore left to my own devices with full compliment of outdoor tools and no less than three boats including a Sunfish sailboat, a Kevlar canoe and a rowboat with a 10 horsepower motor.

There were no other kids around most of the time except for my sister who spent hour after hour immersed in some book or another. I had in my head what scouting had taught me and the woods did the rest. I passed the hours boating, fishing and bushcrafting before there was such a thing. As a result, I became proficient in whatever it was I wanted to do but I never seemed to do things exactly the same way each time. For a very long time I believed this to be for want of knowledge of the “right” way. Over time I began to recognize that, although some methods could be universally accepted to work better than others, there were either multiple “right” ways for a variety of situations or the best method had yet to be discovered.

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I don't think myself an expert in any outdoor pursuit. I am skilled, proficient and sometimes just good enough in what I do and completely lacking in some areas. A very wise man once corrected me when I called him an expert although I found him worthy of the term. He said that to be an expert, suggested that he had no more to learn. That appeals to my philosophical nature and I, to this day, try to keep that wisdom. Whatever I present here will simply be my way, not the “right” way. I hope the thoughts I share to be practical, thought provoking and inspirational rather than definitive, comprehensive or expert.

So what of fire and knife?

They are the quintessential tools of the outdoors. One could argue I don't even need to qualify that statement with “the outdoors”. They are also among the oldest of our tools, with rock and stick clubs probably taking top honors. They are without doubt most human of tools. There may be a primate who has used a knife, I don't know, but I think I would recall seeing or hearing of a chimp lighting a fire with flint and steel. Certainly it can be said that no other species has mastered the use of fire and knife.

When we, the outdoor enthusiasts, go into the woods we have with us the means of cutting and making fire. It is instinctual the way these items are at the top of the list and lacking them can make the difference in a go or no-go decision. Driven by deep motivational forces in our psyche or not, knife and fire are supremely practical necessities of comfort and survival in the woods.

In years bygone when knife and fire were unregulated and commonly accepted items that scarcely brought any notice they tended toward function over form. There were fewer options and I doubt much fuss was made over a lack of variety. Clearly that has changed over time. In the twenty first century we have a vast selection of knives with an endless variety of blade styles, price points, manufacturers, handle and blade materials. The same could be said for the means of making fire as we have hand forged strikers, mischmetal rods, fire pistons in exotic woods and the lowly Bic lighter. Even the simple match is not so simple anymore with its waterproofing and extended burn time.

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So why the change? Is it simply affluence? Because we can?

I think it is more than this. These items, due in part to their persecution in modern society, have become totems of our clan. More than simply a reaction to oppression, we venerate them as our physical link with the earth. We, the outdoors men and women, have in a sense made them sacred because they represent what we know to be a truth: We are of this world.

I make this point because I have found myself justifying yet another knife or some other bit of kit for my outdoor pursuits to someone. That person may be a family member or friend not inclined to the outdoors but it is often another of our own clan. So deep is the guilt that we feel it even among kindred spirits. I don't think it is just me. I suspect we have all felt compelled to explain ourselves at some point.

What we should do, each within our means, is absolve ourselves of guilt and indulge in that which makes us human and ties us to the land in an era when such a connection is not only hard to maintain but even frowned upon by the masses. Emboldened, you may even make a few converts. Those that are tethered to the virtual reality of smartphones, Internet and video games and perhaps frightened of these earliest tools show only anxiety born of their separation. They may not even be aware of the need to reconnect so start easy with a walk in a park and a small knife to cut an apple to share.

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