Watching Ray Mears Northern Wilderness

There’s a whole lot of nature doco-watching going on in our house right now. It’s become the thing to do for us to keep sane while being up at strange hours, spending a lot of time nursing and trying to get a young one to sleep. The flavour du jour is Ray Mear’s Northern Wilderness series.

The six-parter exploring Canada, has the typical BBC visual splendour and a great mix of social and natural history combined with a bit of practical survival. Unlike the showy and shallow styles of certain US presenters, Mear’s takes both a practical and social anthropological approach to his bushcraft.

There’s a lot of plant-based info candy in this series. Here a just a few snippets from the first two eps that I found really interesting.

Buy the DVD at the BBC shop


The number of different ways a single plant can be used by humans constantly tickles me. Episode 1 shows the First Nation’s tradition of pulling apart the many layers of birch bark into almost paper thin sheets. These can then be bitten to form intricate patterns. Episode 2 introduces the beautiful, strong but lightweight canoes used by the fur traders along Ontario’s French River.

Poison Ivy

Everyone has heard of the infamous poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), but it’s thankfully rare in NZ. Leaves are grouped in threes, each with jagged edges. Containing urushiol oil, it causes itchiness and blistering on contact, painful enough for 350,000 Americans a year to seek medical treatment.

The fascinating bit of info here is the use by some of the First Nations tribes in eastern North America as an early form of chemical warfare. When the wind was blowing in the right direction, the plants would be burned carrying the toxic oil into the eyes and lungs of the enemy. Cleverly diabolical.

There is a lot of really good plant stuff in these programmes.

Buy the DVD at the BBC shop

Buy the book Northern Wilderness: Bushcraft of the Far North at Mighty Ape


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June 2011
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