Turtle Island Fire Making

Turtle Island Fire Making

On April 24, 2004, a group from Wilkes and Ashe County caravanned to Turtle Island Preserve. Joining Bob were John and Ann Willardson, Randy and Angela Gambill and children, Beth Martinson and her sister Kirsten, and Roland Scroggs and his son Andrew. We went to enjoy an Open House sponsored by Eustace Conway with his staff and friends Yvonne, Beau, Dave, Spencer and Lindsay.


We were given informal lessons in horse shoeing and grooming, young horse training, blacksmithing, wood tool shaping, buggy rides, fire making by friction, wild hawks, tomahawk making and throwing and other things. Yvonne and her mother prepared a delicious lunch made from items mostly grown at the Preserve, including corn bread cooked in an iron skillet over a wood stove. One of the new experiences was a kind of sour cultured goat milk similar to cow's buttermilk.

The highlight, to me, was Dave helping me to make my first fire by friction. I had previously seen demonstrations and even tried myself, but with no success. Seeing someone confidently and competently do it makes it look simple. In fact, there are many requirements in selecting the right kind of wood, sawing and cutting the base and spindle, making the implements with the right geometry and then working them under great pressure. My 'pressure' I do not mean the catcalls from the audience (as in Beth's sisterly harassment of Kirsten'.).

Rather, I mean exerting enormous pressure on the fire making kit. The bowstring fits over the spindle in a tight and uncooperative fashion, the top brace must be pressed down hard, the brace arm must be anchored on the leg and then the whole contraption must be sawed at a furious pace. It is much easier for the spindle to fly off to the side than to actually produce smoke, hot sawdust and sparks. Then if your mouse's nest is not perfectly soft and dry it will not blossom into flame. Astoundingly, thanks to Dave's expert and patient tutelage, a number of us, including me, were able to produce our first 'wild' fire.

We all met many new persons and made some good friends. I hope we can all go back again sometime soon.

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.