A nice Tuesday off had our family seeking the outdoors for a nice change of scenery. We head to our closest state park, Pocahontas for a stroll through the forest and playground with our toddler.
It is obvious to me that he feels the same sense of freedom and bliss that I experience when I am outside. It’s probably only natural that we all humans feel this way. We have evolved and have been wired to spend our time outside. The energy that is poured through the body when you are outside is certainly palpable.
Interestingly, the act of physicians prescribing “outdoor time” for their patients has picked up significant momentum in recent years. Especially in Canada and Europe. Keep in mind that this is distinctly different from an exercise prescription. The mere act of being outside has been linked to help treat, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety and several other chronic maladies.
Even on this cold and cloudy January day, this little kid is happy as a clam to explore treasures of the forest.
The winters in Virginia continue to get warmer and warmer. We have not yet had our first real snow fall yet and it is mid January. 2019 was the 2nd hottest year in recorded history, falling just behind the year 2016. The effects of climate change have made itself blatantly clear all over the world. The australian wildfires, rising sea levels and record shattering heat waves. This past weekend, it was 70 F in Richmond, Virginia! It was unsettling warm and sunny, we made the most of this situation and decided to venture to a new local park at the recommendation of a friend. We made our way to Three Lakes Park in Chamberlayne, Virginia.
Our son was eager to run once again in open space. He had been cooped up and had a mild case of cabin fever. He grinned from ear to ear as he sped through the forest. Nothing beats real world interaction to solidify things that he has read in his books. He was able to identify several birds and ducks as different parts of the tree. While we were walking, I realized that everything seemed just a little bit easier. I then realized at 27 months, he is now able to hike on his own! We completed a circuit just under 1 mile and he was able to walk the entire way! He even found a little hiking stick to call his own. After spending some time throwing rocks in the lake, he spent his energy on the large playground until the Nature Center opened at 12:00pm.
There’s no question that the future of our planet is at stake. We are all stewards of the planet, and we can dictate its course. We can either change the speed at which it is damaged, or change the speed at which it is recovered. Most importantly is the fact that the future is in the hands of our children. Get them outside to enjoy the beauty of our planet, so they know what it is exactly that they will be fighting to protect. A small act performed by millions can change the world. Start with your local conservation organization.
If you have spent some time canoeing up north, you might have run into paddlers lugging around a heavy wooden box along for the ride. Oddly enough, the paddlers hoisted this box on their back, with a thick leather strap banded across their forehead to support the weight. Inside this mysterious box were plenty of camping treasures: pots, pans, lights, games, matches and more. This traditional piece of canoe gear is known as the wannigan or wanigan. Essentially, it is a wooden box that serves as a mini camp kitchen – storing cookware, food and goods on a canoe or snowsledding trip.
The tumplines that are used for carrying these boxes are just as interesting. They are thick and durable bands of leather that serve as a harness for these heavy boxes, and they allow the wannigans to be “tumped”. For over 200 years, wannigans have been on canoe voyages. Their use can be tracked as far back in the hands of the hardy voyageurs (french canadian fur trappers). For them however, this was not a recreational camping box, but functional storage device that they hoisted through hundreds of miles of mosquito-ridden boreal forest, day in and day out. Life for them, was certainly hard.
Today, the spirit of the wannigan is very much alive and well in all parts of canada and the northern USA. There are certain camps in Ontario that continue to use traditional equipment such as wannigans on their canoe trips. Camp Keewaydin is a fine example. At these camps, children hoist these heavy boxes with them through Canadian boreal lands as they make their way through expeditions on their own.
There are those that feel that the wannigan is impractical or just downright unnecessary in the age of waterproof plastic bins. Love them or hate them, I believe that wannigans help remind us to exercise a little bit more caution on canoe trips. They remind us of the history of canoeing in Canada and serve as an important link to our past.
I’ve always wanted to build one to for the family and to keep traditional way of canoe camping alive. More importantly, I wanted something to build and share lasting memories for the kids.
Step 1: The design
The most important part of designing your wannigan is building one that actually fits your canoe! Since most canoe hulls are pretty close in size, the dimensions of all wannigans are relatively similar. Most wannigans are simple box designs, although there are some out there that are actually curved to the hull of the canoe.
Most wannigans are stained after their completion in a wood stain of one’s choice. I decided I wanted to create on in a more artisan fashion. In keeping with the tradition of this old piece of gear and the history of canoeing in Canada, I decided to paint this wannigan in the tradition of the Hudson’s Bay company. Known as one of the greatest companies in the world, this British company played an integral role in shaping the landscape of Canada and the fur trade. I always thought the classic Hudson’s Bay color scheme looked pretty cool. Basically plain white, with stripes of indigo, yellow, red and green, in that order. This color scheme and pattern was originally used on the Hudson’s Bay “Point Blanket”. This wool blanket was sold during the 1700 and 1800s and an item frequently traded with amongst First Nations people. The “point” system was a series of black lines at the corner of each blanket along the selvage. The number of lines would indicate how large the blanket was when it was unfolded. The pattern and design is seen today on numerous Hudson’s Bay Company goods, such as mugs, clothes, towels, canoes and even stuff animals.
If you are interested in learning more about the Hudson’s Bay Company, here are two great links.
Most wannigans have a lid that is flush with the sides, making the outline an even box. My brother created a wannigan in this style and we noticed that on trips with heavy rainfall, the wannigan actually started collecting water inside. To combat this problem, he cleverly sewed a Hudson Bay flag skirt for the wannigan which eventually worked to keep things dry. I decided in my design that I wanted to avoid this problem all together. I was going to make a lid that was slightly larger than the dimensions of my main compartment.
Creating a lid with a lip, would also allow me to wood burn a chessboard on the under surface to play during rainy day under the tarp or by campfire at night. The lip, would work to naturally keep the chess pieces from falling off the sides.
Step 2: The frame
I wanted to create a wannigan that did not have any metal screws. This one is held together by it’s joints as well as occasional wooden pegs and of course wood glue. The the large sides are from plywood and the ends are pine. While constructing the box, it certainly helps to invest in several large clamps at the ready. I subsequently applied several layers of colonial maple wood stain on the wannigan.
Step 4: The fiberglass.
While some May consider this next step to be unnecessary, I knew it would add many benefits. Yes, I’m talking about adding a layer of fiberglass on the inside of the wannigan. This layer would not only strengthen the box, but would also make the inside waterproof – also making spills infinitely easier to clean. I’ve never worked with fiberglass or epoxy resin for that matter and this proved to be the most challenging step. One thing I learned was to mix small batches! In larger quantities I found that the epoxy and resin once mixed generated a lot of heat and solidified very quickly. It is of utmost importance to mix as accurate ratios as instructed as possible. This is a messy business so make sure you’re protected and working in a well ventilated area.
Step 4: Wood-burning
This was one of my favorite parts of the project. With the help of my brother, we tracked down several hudson bay logos on the internet. I was looking for one that was actually NOT as finely detailed because that would prove to be much more difficult to burn. Once you are satisfied with your design, print the logo out in “reverse”. From there, I used the hot pen and a flat surface to heat the paper and ink onto the wood. This would allow just enough ink transfer onto the wood so you can burn your design into it. I noticed that woodburning is not as easy on a softwood such as pine. Woodburning the cheeseboard also proved to be quite laborious however still enjoyable.
Step 4: The painting
This process actually took the longest. To ensure that the white was actually as “white” as it could be with clean stripes, I had to make some careful preparations. First off, it is critical to use a primer before the paint to soak up any stain. I gave this layer of primer a full 24 hours to dry, I wanted to prevent any peeling of paint because I was going to be using a lot of paint tape. After it was completely dried, I applied 3 coats of white paint, latex, and water based. Once this layer was completely dried I carefully taped the areas that would be striped. To make sure that the colored stripes would NOT BLEED ONTO the white paint, I actually painted OVER the taped margins with white paint to fill any possible micro gaps and for capillary action to soak up any potential paint. This is a CRITICAL STEP.
Step 5: The finish
Choosing the finish was actually more difficult than I thought. Typically, for any stained wood surface, you have a variety of options. For something that is going to brave the elements, you want it to be UV protected as well as water resistant. For such purposes, marine spar varnish (an oil base) is usually preferred. I realized that my project was different than just stained wood…I was working with stained wood as well as carefully painted pattern with a mostly white background. The pure white color posed an issue. Most spar varnishes will actually YELLOW the white.
I had to search for quite some time before I was able to find the finish that would NOT stain the white. It was a water based spar varnish that particularly says: “no yellowing”, make sure you look for that statement, because there are plenty of water based varnishes that will actually YELLOW your project. Believe me, you do not want to sand and re apply the finish. Another method is to have a sample test piece of wood that you can test the finish on. The water based varnish dries very quickly so you have to work relatively fast. Once the coat is totally dry, usually in about 3 hours, VERY gently run a 400 grit sandpaper over the surface to remove any bumps that may have developed. You ARE NOT sanding at this point, it is a VERY gentle grazing with the sandpaper. I ended up applying 5 coats of water based varnish to the wannigan.
Step 6: The tumpline
Another piece of traditional canoe wear, is the tumpline. Classically this Is a piece of leather strap that is tied to the canoe or waningan to assist in carrying and distributing the weight. The broad band of leather is placed over the forehead and the load is rested on the upper back. It sounds like an unusual way to carry loads but it actually works to help ease weight from the shoulders.
you can virtually use any type of rope for the tumpline but I wanted this thing to last the years and also to be crafted in the traditional sense. I purchased a leather tumpline from “Pole and Paddle” for $85. A bit pricey but worth it in terms of quality.
As with most projects, the construction of this wannigan, turned out to be a much larger task than expected! I certainly don’t consider myself a woodworker but I tackled this project to also learn more about the craft. I was happy that I got my first experience with epoxy resin and fiber glass. I also have a much larger respect for the construction of a level and even box! I also got to try wood burning for the first time. All of these skills will come in handy in the future for bigger projects. At the end of the day, I was certainly glad that I built it. Although large, difficult to carry and heavy…….a canoe trip just wouldn’t be the same without this treasure chest. When you are out in the middle of boreal forest, with the water lapping on the sides of your canoe, and the distant calls of the loon fill the air, it brings me great satisfaction to know that I have a trusty kitchen with me, filled with tools, games and memories.
As I stare at this untouched wannigan, I wonder where this box will take us? How many seasons will it last? How many lakes will it see? how many portages shall it endure? and what adventures lie ahead? Only time will tell….
As we enter the heart of autum, I reflect on the weird garden we picked from this past season. We didn’t intentionally grow a garden this year, but it grew anyway. In the middle of summer, the tomato vines were growing out of control from our initial planting 2 years ago. This prompted me to look up which vegetables were actual annual vs perennial (survives for longer than 2 years).
raspberries, blueberries and other berry bushes
Minh and I were forced to put up the foundation to keep them from overtaking our lawn. I’ve never seen more grape tomatoes! Minh thoroughly enjoyed the task of weeding and tending to the tomatoes. He’s an industrious little fellow. Another perennial plant in our garden is the raspberry bush in the corner. The raspberry bush did quite well this year and it yielded more berries than the year before. Minh was particularly excited about that. We are well into autumn now and the fruits are all picked.
Upon further reading, it looks like with proper care, the raspberry bush should continue to deliver more berries year after year. One thing, we haven’t been doing is pruning. The branches (also called canes) that bear fruit, only live for two summers. In the first year, the new cane is green. It eventually is enveloped in a brown bark and lies dormant in winter. When it warms again, it becomes a “floricane” which yields berries in early to mid summer and dies. I guess I’m going to have to start pruning the dead canes.
In the spot where we leave our rotting pumpkins, it looked like an extensive vine groundwork was laid however, but we didn’t see any pumpkins, I suspect that the buds were eaten by the local squirrels. Alas, next year we shall be ready for a real harvest….
In Ontario, when the lakes have frozen and the forests become silent, there are still plenty of outdoor endeavors to pursue. One such activity I’ve never had the chance to experience, is hot tent winter camping. I found this cool short film about a couple who embark on an expedition in the Ontario wilderness in the heart of winter. The company “Lure of the North”organizes such trips for those that are interested. A quick browse on their website shows pricing anywhere from $400 to $3200 dollars CAD.
I’ve been a big fan of Goh and his work. He is a cinematographer based out of Toronto, Ontario. His works revolve mostly around the natural world, and he has done much to help the canoe culture in Ontario. I particular like the way he captures certain sounds to immerse one in the environment. His shots and framing are always stunning to me.
“In the remote wilderness of Ontario, Canada, two travellers endure the repetitive mental hardship of cold winter tripping. This short film captures the experiences and emotions of their expedition. It’s tough. It’s tiring. It’s lonesome. Yet it’s a beautiful and meditative love affair as you persevere one snowshoe step at a time.”
The James River Parks System is a municipal park in Richmond, Virginia. It is 550 acres of heavily wooded land along the James River. Hundreds are drawn to this park each year for the biking trails, swimming holes, beaches, fishing and of course paddling. The park system is a big part of what strengthens Richmond’s name as “the River city”. The Huguenot Flat Water posting is the the most western part of the park. It is a popular launching site for canoeists and kayakers, providing 2 miles of flat water paddling before the river starts to churn once again.
It’s the middle of October, and finally starting to feel like it, with highs in the upper 60s we wanted to take to the water. After hearing about his successful canoe run on at Pocahontas State Park, Minh’s uncle wanted to take him for a spin on the James. He was nice enough to load the Ol’ red prospector, and pack the food. It’s actually been a while since we have both been on this canoe together. It’s hard to believe that this was the canoe we drove up to Erie, Pennsylvania to pick up in March 2016. When we arrived at the parking lot, I realized that I actually haven’t been back to this flatwater segment in over a decade.
The air was crisp and the water calm as expected at this time of year with little rain. We paddled to the north bank and built a fire in Brian’s trusty snowpeak fire pit. We explored this beach that would normally be underwater in the summer. We searched for shells and firewood. Minh thoroughly enjoyed it. He was also much more calm and stable in the canoe this time around. This outing reminded me that you don’t always have to go far to have some fun.
*Always remember to check water levels before paddling trips. Know your sections of the river, where you plan to put in and out! And of course, don’t forget your PFDs. Have fun.
I have been wanting to take our 23 month old son out on the canoe pretty much since he was born but I wanted to wait until he was ready and old enough. The idea of bringing a toddler along in a canoe can sound a little unnerving but with the proper instruction and safety measures, we were all able to have a good time. I also didn’t bring my regular camera on the canoe, instead I brought along my trusty Sony FDR FDR-X3000, it is an action camera that shoots in 4k. After my gopro died on me, I switched to sony and this camera has not let me down. I love it.
We decided to test the waters on a beautiful October day with a high of 71 F. We head out to our “go to” spot, Pocahontas State Park. We wanted to choose a waterway that we knew well, and Swift Creek Lake was a good a place as any to go on our toddler maiden voyage. The water in this lake is very shallow, and calm with very few areas exceeding 8 ft. Most of the lake sits at waist depth. The lake itself is very “creek-like” and as a result there are numerous, quiet, meandering routes to take. At Pocahontas State Park, canoes and kayaks could be rented for $10 an hour and they provide paddles, PFDs. No gas motor boats are allowed on the lake to preserve the peace and quiet.
Overall, I was surprised at how well he did. He loved the small waterways and marveled at the wildlife we were able to observe closely from the canoe. Several turtles, fish, an a large heron. There are very few man-made vessels that nature accepts, the canoe is certainly one of them. Practicing different strokes such as the “indian stroke” can allow one to hover silently through the water while never fully taking the blade out of the water. This is a continuous stroke and is excellent for observing wildlife. Our son lasted the full hour before he started to get antsy. Most of the time, he just wanted to use the canoe paddle, as he is most definitely in the phase of toddlerhood known as “MINE”. Everything appears to be his! It looks like he have a new project on our hands in the near future……canoe paddle making.
An unseasonably cool breeze came through central Virginia and decided to stay around for the whole weekend. We were blessed with clear skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 70s. This was certainly a welcoming reprieve and sign that the last weeks of summer are upon us. It seems as if the more record-breaking hot summers we endure, the more I value such days. The morning air was actually crisp and it reminded me of the unfamiliar feeling of being chilly! We’ve gotten through the worst of it….autumn is just around the corner. The only logical thing for us to do with this beautiful day was to explore a new park! A 50 minute drive from Richmond brought us to York River State Park. The impressive York River spans 34 miles long with a width of 1 mile at it’s beginnings to 2.4 miles as it opens into the Chesapeake Bay. The river is formed by the confluence of the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi Rivers and drains a large watershed region of the coastal plains of Virginia. The York River was home to the indigenous people for thousands of years and subsequently was used heavily during both American Revolutionary and Civil Wars; it was the site of many historic battles.
Time to explore!
The favorite owl
Today, York River State Park serves as a diverse and well kept recreational area for all lovers of the outdoors. It is a day-use only park and as such, it closes at dusk (during the summer is 8:00pm, the gates lock so be careful!). The park’s 2531 acres offer a plethora of activities, from canoeing and fossil hunting, to historical sites to explore. The unique location on such a large river provides a rich variety of terrain, with sweeping bluffs, open lands, marshes, and densely wooded forest. This transition zone of land to eventually ocean, provides refuge for hundreds of animal species including, bald eagles, river otters, deer, crab and countless insect species.Our boy was certainly excited to be here. He immediately took off into the large open spaces of freshly cut grass to let out a triumphant toddler yell that was loud enough to catch the attention of nearby deer. Our first stop was the nature center, where he eagerly pointed at every single animal and inquired “what’s that!? what’s that?!”. He was particularly fond of the owls and of course the rabbits. Behind the nature center is a small amphitheater that can be reserved for meetings and retreats, it overlooks the York river with a grand view over a bluff. From here, you are able to spot the large nests of the numerous osprey that hunt these grounds.
Sands of time
One of my favorite parts of this park has to be the lovely view overlooking a Taskinas Creek, as it winds through a dense marsh. There is a wooded stage with a mounted tower viewer binocular set to see the show that nature has in store for us. What’s even better, is the fact that you can walk down a series of staircases to get right on this tributary. A fleet of canoes is standing by, ready to be rented out and paddled along this scenic waterway. I was very impressed at how well kept the park seemed to be. The facilities and equipment seemed to be in tiptop shape. I was pleased to learn that like all Virginia State Parks, York River organizes numerous activities each week to draw visitors to the park. One of which is called “canoeing under the stars” from 8-10pm, where canoiests can paddle by moonlight along the mighty York.
We hiked a short half mile trail across boarded walkways to get to Fossil Beach. Along the way, we spotted two large white-tailed deer in the distance. Our toddler without skipping a beat, took off a full speed after them. The deer were amused at this small creature creating such a scene and decided to watch for several moments before taking off into the woods. We had the beach to ourselves as the sun was beginning to set. Our boy loved every single moment of it as he tracked down crabs, fingered through seashells and pick up colorful rocks.
The York River
The state parks were created for all to enjoy and to instill a sense of adventure, inspiration and curiosity. By the look on my son’s face, York River State Park certainly accomplished all of those goals. We will certainly be back to paddle Taskinas Creek and to explore the many trails.
A short 24 minute drive from Richmond, Virginia will get you into the tranquil and densely wooded areas of Pocahontas State Park. It is a fantastic escape from the noise and grind of the city. Over the past few years, we have actually made several trips to Pocahontas although I truly didn’t appreciate all of it’s offerings until now when we are tripping with a toddler. Pocahontas is a very well kept park providing a plethora of activities for everyone to enjoy.
I thought that we had gotten through the hottest days of Virginia summer but sure enough, I was wrong. Here we are, the 17th of August with temperatures still in the 90s F. We were getting stir crazy indoors and wanted to get moving. We set out to hike the 2.3 mile loop around Beaver Lake in Pocahontas State park. The only way to do this, was early in the morning, before the sun was at full strength.
Most of the Beaver Lake Trail is under the thick canopy of the forest so we were actually all quite comfortable. We were also blessed with an early morning of overcast and fog. The trail is relatively flat with very minor elevation changes. Our son has a taken a great liking to the Kelty Kids backpack carrier. It was a little too comfortable and he actually took a nap in it.
Other activities at Pocahontas include, camping, bike riding, water recreation area as well as plenty of good water for paddling. There is also an excellent nature center with a kids play area. We only had a couple of hours to spend here but will be back to take him to the water play area. Pocahontas is certainly an awesome place for anyone to explore nature….whether it be on foot, bicycle or canoe.