Tuesday, July 11, 2017

WOODS ROAMING, EXERCISE, GEAR and WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION


My experience tells me that most people would rather drive through the woods than walk through the woods.  We all know folks who will do anything to keep from walking.  Around these parts it falls into two basic categories: Those who enjoy walking and those who abhor walking.  The latter group dislikes walking to the extent they won’t even hike a hundred yards but instead get into their vehicles and drive the distance.  I even know a man who won’t walk fifty yards.  There’s nothing wrong with him; he just hates walking.  It gets ticklish when people even refuse to close ranch gates because that would mean they’d have to get out of their vehicles and open the gate, drive through, and then get out again and close the gate.  Regardless, as we age the need to walk becomes more important than ever.  And yet, that’s precisely when individuals seem to walk less.  You’ve heard the saying, “use it or lose it,” and that holds especially true to those who stop walking.  It’s amazing how quickly leg muscles fade to sinew or how joints wear out—not from too much use but from lack of use.  Now I’m not an exercise guru and the way I see it if a person doesn’t want to walk then that’s up to him or her.  They can sit inside all day watching TV for all I care.  After all, it’s their body and their health.

I’ve been an avid walker all my life; in fact, I look forward to my daily walks, or as I like to call them, my chances to go woods roaming.  For me it’s as much therapy as it is physical exercise.  Wandering down cow trails, listening to the sounds of nature, looking up at the sky, examining native plants, watching for tracks, enjoying the silence, reveling in the surrounding tranquility; it’s all a part of woods roaming.  After my recent surgery my doctor told me to walk.  Walk a lot, he said.  So I’ve been increasing my woods roaming every day.  Yesterday I hiked almost three miles.  That’s nowhere near what I usually walk but it’s a start.  Even in the late afternoon, however, the temps are warm so I take plenty of cold water and a few other things I might need.  All of which brings me to the point of this post.

Focusing on the aging issue and speaking from experience, I know that growing old is essentially a process of decay.  That decay is enhanced by our habits and behaviors.  We all know people who smoke too much, drink too much, indulge in too much red meat, seldom (if ever) exercise, eat far too much sugar.  Those people definitely seem to break down faster than most.  So the first secret (it’s really not a secret) to mobility, strength and health is to stop smoking, drinking, eating red meat, stuffing down the sugar and to get plenty of exercise.  In one’s sixties, seventies or even into one’s eighties there is no reason why we can’t remain mobile.  Aside from eating healthy the object is to stay active.  But this is where I’d like to impart some old man’s wisdom if I may.  First, don’t overdo it.  Some older folks have this idea that they need to push themselves.  Like the old man who insisted on walking the Appalachian Trail and was dogged about accomplishing the feat.  Problem was that he blew out his knees.  He let his brain think poorly and even when he was in pain he kept going.  Well, as the story goes he finally made the journey but at the expense of two destroyed knee joints.  As I see it there’s something wrong with that sort of reasoning.  So lesson number one is to listen to your body.  Lesson number two is to pay attention to your posture.  Check out YouTube videos on proper hiking posture or visit a physical therapist to get pointers on how to stand properly.  Being stooped over seems to run in my family (dad’s side) so I’ve got to continuously be checking my posture.  I’ve found that if we make a mental effort to stand erect then after a while it becomes more natural.  Lesson number three is to be extremely careful how you carry woods roaming gear.  Hint: Most of us carry far more than we really need.  Have you seen those YouTube videos where some dude (or lady) shows everybody what they carry when they hike?  A lot of those videos are plum nuts.  You’ve got people walking around jingling and jangling with all sorts of junk attached to their bodies.  Not one knife but two or maybe three.  Then there’s the ferro rod attached to the knife scabbard and another one in a pouch.  Cups and whistles and “emergency” tarps and…jeez the list can get so long it’s ludicrous.  “Yeah, but I might need these things in an emergency situation!...That’s why I carry this one pound survival knife so I can make an emergency shelter and live off the land…And that’s why I carry these ferro rods so I can gather kindling and make an emergency fire…And I carry this bow-making kit so I can whittle out a bow to hunt game.”  To which I say, Settle down, take a deep breath, think things through and realize that you’ll be okay as long as you don’t do anything utterly stupid.  WARNING: If you are a person from the city then perhaps you should seriously consider staying on the trails.  In my life I’ve been involved in two recovery episodes.  In both cases people stepped off established trails thinking they could cut across a piece of woods.  Mind you, these were not huge expanses of woods.  But in both cases the two individuals became hopelessly lost.  I found one of the bodies about four days after the man disappeared.  The other body was nudged up against a tree where the man sat and gave up the ghost.  So please stay on the trails if you are not a seasoned woods expert.  We’ve all heard horror stories of city folks who needed to go to the bathroom and so they stepped off the trail to pee or poop and then they got turned around and spent the next week wandering deeper into the woods.  Many of them carried survival items but they still didn’t make it.  Strangely, a lot of Americans think of themselves as Daniel Boone reincarnated.  That’s a fallacy that gets people killed.

Continuing on the gear thread we need to learn (1) not to carry more gear than we really need and (2) how to distribute the gear so we don’t place too much of a strain on any particular part of the body.  Allow me to give you a few examples: First there are those who carry everything in backpacks.  The latest craze has been the backpack that contains a water bladder.  A tube attached to the water bladder like a straw allows the hiker to drink without stopping.  To which I say, Why?  We’ve all seen the hiker marching down the trail, a one-man platoon, moving manically, sucking on the long plastic straw without stopping, compulsive, obsessed, determined, a catatonic look on the face.  “I walked ten miles in seventy minutes!”  To which I say, Woopy Do.  You might as well just circle the track field for an hour.

Woods roaming is a form of exercise but it’s not a compulsive act.  You are not out in the woods to complete a marathon.  You are instead out in the woods to fill your entire body with nourishment—physical, mental, spiritual.  I’ve seen hikers acting as if nature has to be conquered.  But that’s not the point; in fact, that is the absolute wrong approach.  But then take note of the outdoor and hiking magazines and the absurd advertisements they run.  In practically every ad there are people seemingly waging war against nature: The guy running like a screaming hyena across a trail or the woman churning her bicycle pedals in a frantic effort to go nowhere.  They see nothing; they hear nothing; they know nothing.  And they conquered not one thing.

Always take enough water.  If your hiking route takes you farther than your water supply then drive to a spot where you can clandestinely cache a gallon of water so when you reach that point you’ll be able to refresh your canteen.  Make sure you mark the cache on your GPS or take a picture of the spot so you can identify it when you reach it.

I used to carry a small shoulder bag but then I noticed that the uneven distribution of weight over my shoulder was causing lower back pain.  By the way, a backpack (even a small daypack) can wreak havoc on your lower back so beware.  Nowadays, I distribute weight over my body.  For example, I carry my cell phone in my pants front pocket along with a bandana.  I carry an ultralight S&W J-frame in my right back pocket.  Remember, I live in the Wild West.  This ain’t no park, folks.  I carry a small leather pouch dangling from a carabineer attached to one of my pant loops.  In the pouch I have a small flashlight and a modified Mora knife.  The Mora knife weighs less than three ounces.  I carry another tiny leather pouch with extra batteries and butane lighter.

A word about flashlights.  I saw a YouTube video where a guy said he didn’t think flashlights were important.  Folks, run from those types of dudes for they know not what they are talking about.  Carry a flashlight and extra batteries and never under any circumstances go on a hike without one.  Aside from helping you see at night it also serves as a signal device and provides a tremendous amount of peace of mind if you have to sit and wait for someone to come along.  Where I live only the most naïve, unskilled, neophyte would ever go woods roaming without a flashlight.  Unfortunately there are tons of those types.  Aside from helping you to spot rattlesnakes, the flashlight will spot scorpions, centipedes, pamorana ants, coral snakes, black widows, brown recluses as well as things like stands of prickly pear cactus, horse cripplers, pin cushions…the list is long.  So carry a flashlight!

I carry one of two types of canteens.  One canteen is large and insulated.  I’ll plop some ice cubes into the canteen to help cool my core temperature in warm weather.  The other canteen is also stainless steel but uninsulated and somewhat smaller.  I do not carry my canteen strapped across my back or on a pouch attached to my belt.  Instead, I simply carry the canteen in my hand allowing it to dangle in my fingers.  As I walk I change the canteen from one hand to the other.  When I’m thirsty I stop and drink.  I’m in no hurry.  Like I said, this is not a marathon.

Walking sticks are important in my view.  I make my own sticks preferring retama wood because it’s strong and light weight.  Be careful, however, not to make your walking stick too short.  That will force you to stoop over as you walk thus placing stress on your lower back.  My walking sticks are now close to five feet long.  I can adjust my hold and keep my posture erect with the longer stick.


Note on my knife: I am just as well served carrying a pocket knife as my Mora knife.  Sometimes I’ll just opt for a pocket knife, my favorite being a Case CV trapper.  As I hope you’ve gathered, the object is to keep things as lightweight as possible.  The Mora knife is in my opinion the perfect woods roaming knife.  I prefer the older model 510 with the red handle or the older model 511 modified to look like a 510.  I don’t care for the newer model 511.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

MAKE A SIMPLE WILDLIFE POND


The temperature in the shade reads 98 degrees Fahrenheit.  The heat index reads 108 degrees.  The heat index is what will kill you along with scores of birds and even some of the larger animals.  On days when the index hovers around 110 degrees and there’s not a hint of breeze you’ll start feeling woozy then sleepy then outright sick.  Your vision will blur; your reflexes will slow; and as your core body temperature climbs beyond reasonable limits you’ll fall to the ground and drift into that long, dark sleep.  A couple of weeks ago a woman’s body was found at a state park about 65 miles south of us.  The park is frequented by human smugglers.  I’ve seen groups numbering over twenty dashing out of the woods and into vans and SUVs just after sunset at the park’s entrance.  I’ve also chanced upon lookouts hidden in the brush near the Rio Grande.  The lookouts relay messages back into Mexico where the smugglers are waiting for an all clear.  Park authorities determined the woman had been abandoned by smugglers and had died of heat stroke.

Here in the woods we do everything we can to ensure that the animals around our place have water to drink.  The front has several watering stations for songbirds, quail and doves.  For the past six or more years we’ve run a line from the well into a secluded spot where a trickle of water flows into a depression.  As long as the hose is left on there’s water on the ground.  If, however, we turn off the water the little pond disappears in less than five minutes.  In my newest book, The Sand Sheet, I go into more detail about these wildlife ponds and the water (or lack thereof) facing those who live in this region.  In one instance I showed a geologist that the South Texas Sand Sheet has no surface water.  Along the coast about 100 miles to the east there are spots where small ponds have formed but they exist only because the sub-surface water does not allow the transient surface water to easily drain.  But in most of the Sand Sheet the ground water is too deep to make any sort of difference.


A year or so ago we decided to set up a quick and more permanent pond at the same spot where we’ve been running water for the last six or seven years.  Some have suggested to us that we simply pour bentonite on the ground and allow that to impede draining.  The problem with bentonite, however, is that it attracts wild hogs that look at it as a place to lather up and make a huge mess.  Others have said it would be a good idea to pour a concrete pond.  Concrete ponds become filled with green slime and then they start smelling and I’m not all that enamored with any of that.  Our idea was much simpler.  It was also easy to maintain, and alter and replace when need be.  We acquired a small plastic wading pool and nudged it into place where the water trickled from the hose.  By the way, as the water falls from the hose it creates a sound reminiscent of a stream.  The wading pool fills and the water then runs off onto the sand.  Large animals like deer and javelina drink directly from the wading pool while smaller critters like tortoises and birds (both large and small) drink from the clear water collecting beside the pool.

In this hot weather we see deer ambling up to the pond throughout the day.  In fact, the deer don’t go far but remain in the thick woods nearby.  Raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, coatimundi, rabbits, skunks…the list is long and we are happy to serve.

Perhaps later we’ll run a half-inch PVC pipe from the well to the pond.  For now, however, we’ve got a lot of cheap hose that’s been placed into commission and as long as that lasts all will be well.


 You can create an inexpensive pond around your homestead by doing something along the same lines as we’ve done here.  A trickle from your well helps keep your water clean and does not harm your pump.  Besides, if you are a nature person you’ll think of this as a way to give back what’s been so kindly given to you.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

PHOTO GALLERY of HISTORICAL BUTCHER, SLICING AND BONING KNIVES

Readers have shown an interest in the subject of historic butcher, slicing and boning knives.  These are the knives that have been in families for a generation or two, perhaps even more.  Every homestead, farm and ranch has a collection of these knives.  When a goat, hog, deer or even white-winged dove, Eurasian collared dove, turkey, quail or duck are collected for the pot these thin-bladed knives are invariably pulled from the drawer and called on to do most of the work.  Make a barbecue and these very same knives see all the action.  Savvy campers and woodsmen rely on these types of knives for work around the spit or grill.  So it was a century ago when pioneers, woodsmen, mountain men and hunters lived isolated lives far from established cities.  Woods roamers in generations past sought practical and serviceable knives.  Even today in remote parts of the world the needs remain the same.  People usually can’t afford the luxury of scores of knives nor do they want to burden themselves with needless stuff.  A knife is a tool and almost certainly has one primary purpose: Food preparation.  Vegetables for caldo, thin slices of bacon for the griddle, cuts of cabrito; the list is extensive.  But the knife selection is basic.  The most used knife seems to be the long slicer followed by the boning knife with the classic butcher knife at the ready.

If folks send me photos of their family's old historic butcher, slicing and boning knives I'll post them in this gallery section. It helps if photo submissions are accompanied by a brief (very brief) history of the knife, the make and blade length.


Below are two views of JR Guerra's grandmother's butcher knife.  JR says his mother recalls his grandma using the knife on their ranch in the late 40s and 1950s to butcher goats, hogs and even large cattle.  For the record, the knife is a Blackjack 14 with a 7.5" blade and overall length of about 10 inches.  In the photos below the old butcher knife sits alongside one of JR's hunting knives and a Tramontina 12" machete.


John Tawes sent several photos of his historic knife collection.  Mind you, these are using knives and the marks and patinas show proof of that fact.  I found one photo particularly intriguing. 


Note the bolster on the large butcher knife. John made no mention of what make of knife this is but it looks to be made of high carbon steel with a full tang. The sheath above this old knife appears to be rawhide. Also note the boning knives to the right. I've seen boning knives that have been sharpened thousands of times.  After years of  use they end up looking like fish filleting blades. The hook knife on top also caught my eye but that's for a different discussion.




Above is another look at John's butcher, slicing and boning knives. All of them filled with character and each telling a story of years of service preparing food for families across the land.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

TRADITIONAL SLICING, BONING and HUNTING KNIVES


Note: I’m recovering from surgery, doing much better and hope to get back to my projects and work shortly.

“A word as to knife, or knives.  These are of prime necessity, and should be of the best, both as to shape and temper.  The “bowies” and “hunting knives” usually kept on sale, are thick, clumsy affairs, with a sort of ridge along the middle of the blade, murderous looking but of little use; rather fitted to adorn a dime novel or the belt of Billy the Kid, than the outfit of a hunter.”—George Washington Sears, “Nessmuk”

They want Bowie and “tactical” knives with four or six millimeter spines.  They want flaring clip points.  They are enamored with ponderous blades that serve little purpose other than to look macho.  If they happen to have a sample on hand they’ll attempt to chop with it, even as the angle of blade to handle screams, “This is not a chopper.”  They tote these blades never realizing they are proclamations to inexperience and lack of skills.

But head to far-off homesteads or distant villages where people live off their knives and you’ll see something entirely different.  In those places folks don’t collect knives to sate their boredom; they own knives that function and serve specific purposes.  Used daily they are nearly always an object for butchering, boning and slicing food.  Be it a fat pig or young goat, or perhaps potatoes, carrots and onions, the knives have long blades that are immediately marked by their litheness and perfect temper.  The spines measure in the area of one-sixteenth inch and it’s not unusual to see a blade from eight to ten inches long.  These are not woodcarving blades (the folding knife serves that purpose) and their owners would never stoop to the foolishness of attempting to baton a piece of wood with their precious food knives.  Besides, every woodsman knows how to break up wood without resorting to harming their knives.  Even so, there will always be macho aberrations (what do you think the Bowie knife was/is) designed to represent fierceness in battle, bar-fights and gang disputes, but little use beyond the facade.  Travel to the African Sahara, the jungles of Peru, the ejidos of Mexico, European villages, or just about every corner of the United States and Canada and you’ll find knives similar in design and concept being used as butchering knives, food preparation knives, hunting knives and camp knives.


A few months ago I watched a relative slice up a wild hog roast he’d prepared in his smoker.  The knife he used was a twelve inch, carbon steel knife he inherited from his father who was a butcher from the mid-1930s until about 1968.  Next time I’m over at his place I plan to take a photo of his two 12-inch knives, both Green River meat cutters circa 1940.  I told my relative it was time to retire those two knives.  “Don’t you realize what you’ve got?”
“Not really.”
“Take my word for it; those are valuable pieces of Americana.”


Above is a recent interpretation of a boning knife.  The steel is 15n20 and the blade is six inches long.  I also made the denim micarta handles.


The slicing knife above has an eight-inch blade fashioned from the same stock as the boning knife.

Above is a variation on the same theme.  The blade measures 6.75"


The two knives below are lightweight, 5.25" blade lengths.  The stick tangs are inserted into mesquite handles.  One knife has a two-part handle, mesquite and ebony.





To paraphrase Nessmuk, in order to make a knife suitable for slicing and boning it must be thin.  The Old Hickory slicing knife is a good example at .055” thick.  That’s really all you need.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SEASON OF DEATH



“Keep looking for buzzards.”
“I’ll do that.”
They tell us this is going to be a hot summer.  Hotter than last year and the year before that.  It’s hard to think that it could get worse.  And it’s even harder to imagine that there’re those who want to ignore the facts that temperatures worldwide continue to rise.  We’re told that any immediate actions would be bad for the economy.  Pray tell, who but the most naïve buys into that sort of rhetoric?  Don’t they understand that increasing temperatures, failing reservoirs, continued droughts, doomed crops will bring about an unimagined economic collapse?  It’s as if a nightmare has befallen us.  Everywhere we look the news is grim.  And yet, people seem to hold on to their delusions as if to do otherwise is worse than the reality they have entered.


Along the Borderlands separating the United States and Mexico people still journey north.  To the south in Mexico the crime and killings and chaos seems to increase monthly.  In fact, Mexico was recently named the second most dangerous country in the world following close behind Syria.  Mexican officials refuse to accept that status.  Regardless, in the United States there is little empathy for Mexico.  On the one hand, Mexico provides the slave labor that has been the heart of American growth for over two-hundred years.  On the other hand, Mexico delivers the riches that so many in the US have become wedded to as Mexico’s drug industry pumps billions into the US economy yearly.  As one US official told me not long ago: “No one on [the US side of the border] wants to stop the drugs because there’s too much money in it.”

And so it goes.  The process is insidious; and people seem to have become desensitized to the reality of dying lands.  If you could step back a hundred and fifty years and then be transported to the present you’d conclude that things have already collapsed.  And yet, like the frog placed into a pot of water that’s brought slowly to a boil, people today go about their business steeped in avarice and rapaciousness as if resources are endless and everything will be okay.  The latest incarnation of Joachim of Fiore comes from the tech world that preaches that old and worn out doctrine that technology will save us.



The Borderlands offer a unique analogy for this time.  In the weeks to come the heat will press into the ground and then radiate back into the air; and in secluded places where shade suffers its own grief and offers little solace some will believe they can survive.  Like others on a grander stage they will put their trust in people they do not know, people who lie to them and tell them things will be better.  And when they are abandoned they will wander around lost and scared.  Their limited resources will be gone within hours.  The heat and exhaustion will make them crazy.  Their panic will overcome them and they will eventually give up and fall to the ground.  They believed without questioning because they wanted to believe.  So we will keep our eyes on the skyline watching for buzzards.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TEXAS BULL NETTLE (MALA MUJER) EDIBLE TAP ROOT AND SEEDS


  
It’s a quaint looking plant covered with fuzzy hairs and in the springtime the stems are dotted with dainty white flowers.  It grows from a foot high to four feet high, dark green, each plant isolated from the next.  Oh yes, one more thing: This evil woman, as it’s called in Spanish, will put you down.  It will turn your skin into a burning landscape.  If you get a big enough dose you may have to seek medical attention.  One fellow who lives not far from here walked through the brush wearing shorts (a bad idea) and he accidently brushed against a mala mujer.  He was taken to a hospital emergency room for observation and treatment.  But as amazing as this may sound, there are parts of the plant that are edible.  I just wonder who, centuries ago, was brave enough to pick the seed clusters off the plant, strip them of their stinging hairs and then taste them.  Perhaps he was out on the Sand Sheet, dying of hunger, and so he was left no choice but to give it a try.  Perhaps he took a bite and decided they’d be better roasted.  Or maybe he took a sack-full of seeds back to camp and his wife said, “Let’s roast them and see if that improves the taste.”  Regardless, the Native Americans who roamed this land and whose progeny makes up the majority of those living on it today did not let any edible plant go unnoticed.  In fact, they even dug out the tap root (no easy task with stick tools) and extracted the swollen tuber and ate it.  Now having just witnessed someone dig out a mala mujer’s tuber and then attempt to roast it over an open fire, I can attest to the fact that it’s not an easy task nor is it a meal worth digging three feet down to enjoy.  Fibrous and dull, it makes for a lot of mindless chewing and difficult swallowing.  Nonetheless, the tuber was eaten, or at least that’s what various sources claim, and the seeds were roasted and consumed.





Just look at the size of that tuber.  The young man holding it in the following photo, who is the baby of the family and who now stands six feet-two inches tall took about forty minutes to excavate the giant “potato.”  It weighed about twenty pounds.  I’ve never seen a Texas Bull Nettle tuber this size but I imagine there are many others among the hundreds of mala mujeres growing in the area.




Scientific Name: Cnidoscolus texanus
Common Names: Texas Bull Nettle, Mala Mujer

Thursday, April 20, 2017

MY LIFE IN THE WOODS

Living in the woods can have one of two effects: Either a person yearns to return to the city because of boredom or fear or instead becomes less and less inclined to know about or participate in the world beyond.  Perhaps I’ve always been this way but I am decidedly in the latter group.  If it weren’t for having access to the Internet I wouldn’t know about the bickering and extreme partisanship in DC.  I wouldn’t know what’s going on in Syria or North Korea or any of the other places that are, in fact, so very far away.  Last night, and the night before last, and every night before that I’ve laid on my bed or sat in my shop listening to owls hooting and pauraques whistling, the quiet and stillness intense.  I know there are places where traffic screeches, ambulances howl, strange people roam the streets, anger rages.  I also understand that most people, despite occasional comments to the contrary, have grown so used to that “normal” that they could not live the way I do nor would they want to if given the chance.  The grocery store is over an hour away and so is any hospital.  Yes, we have our own dangers out here.  Just yesterday I spotted a fresh rattlesnake track next to the porch.  Everyone went on high alert.  We didn’t find the snake but it’s around here and it’ll show sooner or later.  We’ve also seen a lot of coral snakes lately so it pays to be watchful.  One learns to never reach into anything without first checking to make sure there are no snakes hiding underneath or perhaps black widow spiders or brown recluses or scorpions.  Every now and then a venomous centipede will squiggle into my shop.  Those things always appear manic to me.  Of course, this is the world where I’ve spent my life so I don’t find any of this disturbing.  One simply learns to be careful.

People too can become a problem.  Even if we called the police they’d likely never get here—or by the time they arrived, assuming they could get passed the three locked gates each a mile apart, it would all be over.  Border Patrol, sheriff deputies, constables have all warned us to be cautious and they have politely told us that it’s unlikely anyone will get here in time to help.

For most people nature is just one more obstacle to circumvent.  A man bought some acres about seven miles northeast of here and the first thing the guy did was clear the land into an ironing board.  Ironing board seems the appropriate metaphor because now the sun beats down on his lone house and when the winds blow the top soil whirls across in brown clouds.  I keep wondering how anyone can be so ignorant to do such a thing.  I imagine he’s bought into the propaganda about “returning the land to grassland” or maybe about raising cows.  Facts are that this territory is a land in transition.  What you see today is not what you’ll find tomorrow.  It is a young ecological system and like all systems it’s moving towards increased synergy.  By that I mean that nature always wants to diversify and mature.  Grassland is ephemeral no matter what anybody tells you.  It is essentially mono-dimensional and over time the land will seek herbaceous shrubs then woody shrubs then small trees then large tree, all of it mixed and complex and thus eminently efficient.  Remember that energy flows through all systems and in order to do so effectively the system must be allowed to become complex.  Pray tell, why do you think the oldest ecological systems are so diverse with thousands of plant species?  Unfortunately, we tend to look at natural systems through the myopia of a human’s lifetime.  We cannot understand evolution’s slow march nor can we understand the intrinsic needs of nature.  Too many people out there, like the man who cleared every remnant of plant life on his acres, utilize plots of land they do not know how to manage properly.  Add to that they have little to no respect for the land.  To them the land is only something to be exploited to profit from.  We are thus left with less and less, with growing desertification, habitat destruction, polluted waters, and bleak skies.

As far as this country is going we’ll have to see what happens in the next year or so.  You may be of the opinion that all things will work out or perhaps that things will even get better.  On the other hand, you might believe it’s just going to get worse.  Honestly, I don’t know anymore.  It seems as if we’ve stepped into a mess and for whatever reason are refusing to at least step out of it.  What concerns me, as always, is the land.  If you love the land; if you are a bushcrafter, naturalist, woodsman or woods woman then you are at this very moment feeling a bit apprehensive.  You are smart enough to realize that there are people in power who know nothing about nature and don’t even care.  Call them “city slickers” if you want; and perhaps that’s what they are.  The vast majority grew up in large cities and those who grew up in smaller towns seem never to have connected with the woods.  They might talk about going hunting and fishing but it’s simply a pastime; it’s not in their blood.  Speaking on that subject, someone told me the other day, “A man who surrounds himself with gold is a city boy to the extreme.  For people like that a patch of fine woods is nothing more than a potential golf course.”

Evening before last I went walking; it’s a routine I’ve established over the years.  Carried a walking stick made from a retama branch, a bottle of water, a knife, leather gloves, and a flashlight with extra batteries.  Clouds were moving overhead and the weather report was saying a large storm was drifting my way.  I figured I had enough time to do a three mile walk without encountering any rain.  It wasn’t rain, however, that I walked underneath but instead a lightning storm that sent hundreds of steaks of lightning across the sky.  It got spooky.  I sought refuge under the porch of an old trailer that sits along the road about three-quarters of mile from my place.  My dogs, as always, were with me and they kept giving me anxious glances as the thunder merged into one continuous roar as if jets were flying directly over me.  Finally I figured it wasn’t going to get any better so I decided to do a quick walk back to the cabin.  Fortunately it didn’t rain until later but that was one scary walk.  Imagine a million strobes bursting above you and the shock waves of piercing thunder slamming into the ground.  Every time I crossed a gate I worried that a bolt of lightning was going to strike me down on the spot.  I managed a few photos from my iPhone but they don’t do the storm justice.  When I got back to the cabin someone said, “Why do you always do these things…go walking when it’s storming outside?”

The approaching storm


Dozens of lightning strikes merged as if one.

Lone strike in the woods