“If I were to paddle with a carbon fiber blade I think I’d develop a palsy,” Ray Mears tells me as he carefully axes another chuck from a six-foot tall cedar board.
We’re camped by the shore along the southern edge of Wabakimi Provincial Park’s sprawling 3,440 square miles of boreal forest in northwestern Ontario. There’s drizzle in the chill September air. I’m hunched under a forest green sil-nylon tarp watching the almost lost art of carving using only axe and crooked knife come alive before me.
“I want a wooden paddle because it’s not perfect,” continues Mears, surrounded by increasingly large pile of wood chips. “The grain will lift when it gets wet, and one day I will have to throw it away.” Thunk. Thunk. “But when that time comes, I can throw it back into the forest, where it came from and nature will reclaim it without any further intervention from me. The canoe leaves no trace and neither does the paddle if it’s made of wood.”
He stops to consider the shape he’s made—what was a section of tree just an hour ago has been transformed in his skilled hands. I can see the shape of the blade Mears will use to paddle out of here.
More well known than Survivorman, and far more reputable than Bear Grylls, Mears is celebrity and bushcraft master rolled in one. For seven days we’ll be paddling through Wabakimi Provincial Park—a canoeist’s paradise and one the largest Boreal forest preserves in the world. The park has more than 2,000 kilometers of lake and river routes, which are made sweeter by being accessible only via canoe, float plane or train.
In addition to the world’s foremost bushcraft expert, I’m traveling with Wabakimi Outfitters’ owner Bruce Hyer, who helped created the park in 1983, his son and trip guide Michael, famed canoeist Becky Mason, and a few media types.
Mears is here as part of a deal to promote the park in the U.K. and as recon for a future trip, but I’m here with a question on my mind. As modern life becomes increasingly disconnected from wild spaces and wilderness gear becomes ever-more high tech, what place does bushcraft have in the twenty-first century?
I decide not to ask this question on the first day.
Forever clad in Swedish-made Swatz clothing and under the brim of his ubiquitous Tilley hat, 50-year-old Mears exudes a boyish enthusiasm. “Bushcraft is a joy,” he tells me multiple times—and he means it…
Read the rest of this article here. This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Canoeroots and Family Camping magazine. For more great canoeing content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print editions and digital editions, download issues on your device or view the Spring 2015 issue for free on your desktop.