“Got a Match?”

“Yes. Your breath and a buffalo fart.”

With that bit of juvenilia, we kick off a feature I’ve had rattling around in my head for some time now. Out in the world of stuff, there are objects that go together perfectly and create mental images more interesting and exciting than one would expect from simple addition (n.b. – with all due respect to Bucky, I refuse to use the s-word).

Because of the time I’ve spent recently in the southern edge of the great circumpolar boreal forest, I’m going to start with two things that mean north woods to me:

The crooked knife.


I don’t remember where I first encountered the crooked knife – maybe McPhee’s Survival of the Bark Canoe – but since then I’ve run across them in places that make me think of cedar swamps, balsams, sphagnum, and tussock-hopping. The Hudson’s Bay Company museum in Montreal has a couple nice examples, I saw one in Old Town, but – sad to say – I don’t have one yet. If you want to know more, Mocotaugan: The Story and Art of the Crooked Knife is available on line.



Tumplines are not unique to the north woods; people all over the world use them for carrying burdens. That being said, for me they mean one thing – portaging. You can rig them on canoes – especially useful if you are paddling an old wood and canvas canoe which may not have perfectly placed thwarts (the builder assuming tumpline use anyway) – wannigans, pack baskets, barrels, you name it.

There are other things that go along with this dynamic duo: a decent axe, a pole, the afore mentioned wannigan and packbasket, a freighter pack frame (with a fresh moose rack and cape on it), a reflector oven with a pan of bannock cooking away. Woo-hoo – still plenty of time to go canoeing – the water around here isn’t close to freezing over.