Kneeling over a bundle of tinder, Jim Bruchac moved a bow back and forth, spinning a piece of wood faster and faster against another piece of wood that lay flat on the ground.
Smoke appeared near where the pieces of wood met shortly after he started and fire soon followed.
But Bruchac wasn’t camping in the Adirondacks or leading a group of Boy Scouts — he was demonstrating his survival skills in front of several dozen people as part of the fourth-annual CanalFest held through the weekend at sites along the Mohawk River in Schenectady and Montgomery counties.
On Sunday, Bruchac entertained visitors at Maalwyck Park in Glenville with a free presentation on animal tracking, survival skills and stories native to the Capital Region.
Bruchac works out of the Ndakinna Education Center in Greenfield Center. The not-for-profit organization offers storytelling, camps, survival skills and education for youngsters from age 6 to 16. Its name comes from an American Indian term meaning “our land.”
“The ability to have and make fire is one of the oldest and most important human technologies,” Bruchac said.
CanalFest is more than just an annual event for one local family, though.
Ten-year-old R.J. Hayes of Scotia was only 3 when his father died in a motorcycle accident. Last year, his mother, Laurie, heard about CanalFest from a friend and decided to go.
The family met Bruchac last year at CanalFest and he has since become a role model to R.J., according to Laurie Hayes.
“It’s fun to just get out there and learn,” R.J. said. “I’ve always liked animals and the woods.”
Although R.J. isn’t yet able to make a fire with just wood, tinder and a bow, he has learned survival skills in the last year by attending some of Bruchac’s camps.
“R.J. was just mystified by it,” Laurie Hayes said. “I’m always looking for positive male role models.”
“That’s why I do it. There’s a lot of kids,” Bruchac said. “They may look at nature a little bit differently.”
R.J. said he has learned to create fire using flint since he started attending Bruchac’s camps.
“It is really fun,” he said. “It gets really frustrating if you can’t do it the first time.”
Elsewhere, the sound of folk music echoed off the banks of the Mohawk River at Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction as hundreds of people browsed crafts and enjoyed food and boat rides.
The Farm hosted hour-long boat rides on Saturday and Sunday as well as tours of the historic buildings on the property. Owned by the Schenectady County Historic Society, the farm has been a part of CanalFest since it started four years ago.
“People love the rides, they love to be outside,” said Pat Barrot, the site manager at the farm. “People are looking to do something out on the river.”
Barrot estimated that about 3,500 people visited the farm on Saturday and Sunday. She said the boat rides were so successful that she plans to continue the attraction in future years.
Also at the farm was tinsmith Olof Jansson. Based in Johnstown, he has been crafting household items out of tin for the last five years. He is also a part-time art history teacher at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
He said tin was used mostly during the early 1800s for everything from cups and bowls to lanterns and bread graters.
“It was light. It was relatively inexpensive,” Jansson said. “It got to be a real common commodity.”
One of Jansson’s favorite pieces is a lantern he made from tin and glass. He was selling it on Sunday for $65. Most of his business comes from people who do reenactments of historical events, he said.
Other CanalFest events throughout the region included an amateur canoe race at Schoharie Crossing in Fort Hunter on Saturday and a 5K run along the canal near Freedom Park in Scotia.