Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sharing With the World from a Cabin in the Woods…

 Looking Down a Sendero

Blogs come in all varieties.  There are blogs about celebrities and blogs about buying things.  Product reviews and healthcare advice; there are blogs about love and even about hate.  What makes someone want to start a blog is difficult to say but I think those reasons stem from many places.  Perhaps most of all it’s about wanting to share things with others.

I believe things like blogs have nudged aside the novel and the non-fiction book.  That’s not to suggest those forms of communication are not popular but blogs give readers immediate access to so many things freely and—given our increasingly limited attention spans as well as the demands on our time—blogs provide education or emotional comfort in just a few words.  That’s important in this hectic age.  A friend told me the other day that Woods Roamer is not your average outdoor, hiking, backpacking, product-reviews blog.  He said people come to this blog looking for one of two things.  “They want to learn the ways of the woods from someone who’s lived it…and they want to know about the experience of the woods from a man who feels it in his heart.”  He told me to keep that in mind and so I will.

Back in the mid-1980s I lived in a 26-foot Avion trailer at the edge of a large lake.  In the evenings I’d look out across the water at mountains to the southwest.  I’d see storms building with lightning pulsating downward over the distant peaks.  Now and then I’d hear thunder bellowing across the flats.  From that small trailer I wrote news articles that made national headlines and were discussed on everything from the major television networks to talk radio.  When I’d roam the cow trails in the nearby woods I’d often think about the irony of talking to the world from a tiny trailer bordered by water on one side and thick brush on the other.  All these years later I guess things haven’t changed much for me.  As I write these notes I see several coveys of bobwhite quail pecking and scratching in the dirt out back.  Three ghost doves are trying to push each other aside at one of the feeding stations.  And pyrrhuloxias and green jays are perched on the branches of a granjeno.  Several painted buntings came to visit a while ago.  In the night I’ll hear great-horned owls and screech owls in the woods behind the house.  I’ll listen to coyotes singing melancholy songs as well as pauraques whistling.  I sometimes take long midnight walks down the narrow road leading away from this place just to enjoy the quiet and stillness.

I think about the people who read this blog around the world.  Name a country and there is somebody there who has read Woods Roamer.  I have readers in the Ukraine and Russia and in Malaysia as well.  There are readers in Australia, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Sweden and many other countries.  And yet here I am in this little cabin in Deep South Texas where my nearest neighbor is almost four miles away.  This region is in the news a lot lately.  I’m not sure what to make of what’s going on sixty miles south of us and about thirty-five miles to the west.  It all seems a bit odd.  All of a sudden people decide to flee en mass to South Texas?  It’s not as if there is a sudden revolution or a monumental collapse in those Central American countries.  In fact, things were the same five years ago and ten years ago and twenty years ago.  So why the influx now unless somebody somewhere is manipulating things.  Regardless, I’ve witnessed firsthand what happens along the Rio Grande when people swim to the US side.  There are trash heaps like hillocks made of plastic bags and inner tubes and discarded clothes and tossed soda cans and nylon rope and glass bottles and a hundred other items that poison the ground killing the trees and nearly all the wild creatures that live there.  I’ve seen the bleached shells of tortoises and the remains of raccoons and bobcats that either choked to death when they were snared by the trash or died of poisoning when they attempted to eat the refuse.  That’s a story you won’t hear on the nightly news.  No immigration reform advocate wants you to know that truth.  Even this far north there are areas where the trash is disgusting.  Known smuggling trails are littered with everything from tossed shoes and tin cans to Santa Muerte emblems.  We’ve been warned by the US Border Patrol to be on guard for criminals and Central American gang members and even terrorists who might use the current chaos on the Rio Grande as a means to sneak into the country.  So we keep an eye out and sometimes at night we hear or see BP helicopters flying along gas pipeline right-of-ways a few miles to the east and west.  By the way, those natural gas pipelines have proven to be a significant problem for many people.  The corporations that own those pipelines have no qualms about destroying ranchland for their own profit.  Politicians have stolen the land via eminent domain so that their contributors in the oil and gas industry can have the land for themselves.  If the land means anything to you then you’ll understand how tragic it is when these multi-national conglomerates arrive and rape the earth and pollute the groundwater as well.  Some ranchers to the west of us are at their wits end.  I wonder how long their patience will last before things start to happen.  Those things sometimes make the news but the National Media is a fickle bunch that runs around chasing event after event yet never really comprehending what’s actually going on.

It seems that people who arrive at this blog want to know more about doing things for themselves than about what to buy at the store.  A lot of them also share my love of nature and my passion for wanting to save it.  Yes, I include politics in my posts and I get mail from both the Right and Left regarding some of my statements.  So be it.  For me it’s all about the land and by that I mean nature.  I advocate for wilderness, plain and simple.  If you’ve bothered to read any of my books you know what I’ve seen happen in these parts.

I appreciate the emails I get from those of you who love the backwoods.  I thank you for sharing your thoughts about nature and your ideas about preserving it.  There are more things to impart to you about living in the brushlands and about making things for yourself.  About being self-sufficient; and focusing on the quality of your life and not the quantities in your life.  About the importance of family and truth and about protecting what has been given to you for free—that which has no voice of its own unless you speak for it.  Whether it is the bobcat or the mesquite tree, the hawk or the tortoise; unless you stand up for them no one else will.  One more thing: I’m always eager to hear from you so don’t forget to drop me a line at  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Potato Chips Cure for Hikers, Backpackers and Outdoor Sorts…

Here’s a quick tip for those of you who might indulge in outdoor activities during hot weather periods.  Keep a bag of salted potato chips in your shoulder bag, backpack or vehicle.  Along with dehydration comes a reduction in electrolytes.  You may begin feeling weak and disoriented.  If your potassium levels fall below what are considered normal you will become ill.  You might even throw up which will deplete your electrolyte levels further.  During summer months hospital emergency rooms are filled with people suffering from precipitous drops in their electrolytes.  I spoke to a fellow the other day who was hospitalized for two days when his potassium levels plummeted.  He’d been working in his garden in the hottest part of the day.  He’d sweated profusely and even though he spent most of his time in the shade he still came down with heat exhaustion and severe electrolyte depletion.  “I thought I was dying,” he said.

I’ve employed this quick-aid method on numerous occasions and believe me it works.  Salted potato chips are both high in potassium and sodium chloride.  One ounce of potato chips will give you about 465 mg of potassium.  By the way, a medium sized baked potato eaten with the skin delivers nearly 1,000 mgs of potassium.  But to bake a potato takes time and I’m talking here about a quick first aid jumpstart to a  potassium deficiency crisis.  A bag of salted potato chips is ultralight so don’t obsess about weight because this is something that might save your life in an emergency.  Besides potassium you’ll also get a carb hit and that can give you enough energy to go find help.  By the way, dogs love potato chips—or at least my dogs love potato chips.  And you know how I love my dogs.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Machete Bowie Survival Knife…And Other Weighty Matters Related to Survival

 You’ve probably heard the saying that a survival knife is the knife you have on you in a survival situation.  Though quaint, the saying is so fraught with variables that it is perhaps less a submission of fact as it is an admission of fate.  In other words, a peanut folding knife is nice for slicing spines off tender nopalito pads but if you happen to find yourself lost in the jungle let us hope you’re carrying more than a tiny jackknife.  Ultimately, the subject of what constitutes a proper survival blade falls along the same lines as what makes for a pretty girl.  Gather ten young fellows and then parade a couple dozen maidens in front of them and opinions on who is the loveliest will most likely vary greatly.  Of course, that’s what makes the world go around.  And so it is with the survival knife.  One person will find the classic KA-BAR® the optimum design while another will opt for a Scandinavian edge and someone else will prefer a Malaysian parang and still another a classic 24-inch blade machete.  In the end the best determinate factor is you; and besides at some point the blade becomes only one part of a consortium of supplies, needs, and ultimately luck.  So it is that experimentation with knives can become on the one hand a ghastly obsession and on the other an exercise in analytics.  Regardless, allow me to submit the machete Bowie for your perusal as one more option in that mine-field of what might constitute a good survival knife.  This knife started out as one of two Tramontina bolo machetes that had seen hard use and been relegated to a shelf in the barn.  A few years ago I cleaned up both machetes but decided to experiment with the design.  But then the blades went back on the shelf for about 24 months awaiting the next stage in their transition from bolo to something else.  A few weeks ago I decided to finish working on one of the machetes and what you see pictured is the result.  Those of you familiar with Tramontina machetes know they are thin bladed and intended for whacking nothing more than light shrubbery, vines and an occasional clump of reeds or stand of small bamboo.  That’s not to say that some have attempted to chop down more robust plants with these machetes but that is taking them beyond their intended uses.  Travel throughout the American brushlands and desert regions and then south into the transition zones then farther south into the jungles and you’ll find 24-inch thin bladed machetes the most popular carry by far.  Tramontina is but one manufacturer amongst a dozen or so makers.  All of them produce good brush whackers.  They’re made of moderate grade carbon steel with the numbers 1060-1074 the most frequent.

Truth is that very few survival knives sold these days will ever be used for anything even remotely approaching an emergency.  As such they are not much more than curios or toys bought to daydream, romanticize and otherwise play.  The game is called “Waiting for Doomsday” and although our current depletion of resources, pollution of water supplies both above ground and underground and our ever warming climate makes such a scenario truly conceivable, the facts remain that regardless of what preparations people take an abrupt collapse will precipitate a level of chaos that will diminish human populations to miniscule numbers in short order.  In the 1970s it was called “The Survival Movement” but that morphed over the years to become what are now called “Preppers.”  Steeped in the duality of eschatological fear and modern-day angst the Survival Movement/Prepper fixation has morphed even further into the world of modern capitalism.  Why just talk about it when we can make money off of it.  I’ll sell you bug-out-bags stocked with supplies; I’ll sell you books on surviving/prepping; I’ll sell you guns and knives; I’ll sell you generators and solar panels; I’ll sell you anything I can convince you that you need.  And then I’ll deposit the checks in the very same banks I claim will collapse “just around the corner.”  Forgive me folks, but the older I get the more profoundly enigmatic things seem to be.

 The Machete Bowie has a 9 ½ inch blade and is 15 ¾ inches overall.  The Tramontina blade is quite thin measuring 1.5 millimeters.  I’ve never seen any reason to modify a blade that thin into anything other than how it arrives from the factory.  Attempting to turn one section into a “Scandi” blade doesn’t make all that much sense to me.  First of all the steel is too soft for performing any sort of fine woodcarving on woods with a specific gravity over 0.70 and that includes a lot of tropical hardwoods.  Second the blades thinness allows it to be sharpened as is to perform rudimentary woodworking if needed.  In remote regions I’ve seen indigenous peoples use machetes in remarkable ways.  Give a fellow a 24-inch blade machete and he’ll use it to do everything from cut reeds for his hut to make a bow and then fashion a set of arrows and then build a trap and then when he’s relaxing he’ll use that same machete to carve a figurine from a piece of soft wood.  He’ll carry his machete everywhere he goes and is quick to pull it out of its sheath if he feels threatened.  On a few occasions I saw the results of a machete fight.  The word filleted comes to mind.

The Machete Bowie has a mesquite handle.  I cut a branch in half then using a farrier’s rasp I leveled both insides of the handle.  Be sure and leave the inside sections rough so that the epoxy will hold.  I then experimented a bit further and used fiberglass carpenter’s tape folded over and over to form an inner seam between the two wooden scales.  I saturated the tape with epoxy then pinned the scales through the tape with two nails.  All was going well until I started my final shaping of the handle and I couldn’t stop the fiberglass from frizzing up.  At last I smoothed things out (and the epoxy saturation helped greatly) and I decided to “paint” the entire handle with epoxy.  The results are pleasing—at least from my perspective—and the handle is now waterproof.

Do I consider this knife a good survival blade?  Yes I do.  Do I hope I ever get the chance to use it as a survival blade?  No, I don’t.  So what will this knife be used for?  Well, around here it will make a good woods roaming companion.  I can slice away nopal pads to open up a trail and keep from getting pricked with spines.  I can whack the thorns off a branch of retama or granjeno to make a walking stick.  I can gut a wild hog; I can make a snare trigger; I can make a simple spoon; I can make a tripod to hold my cooking pot.  This knife is like a few dozen others I’ve made that, for me at least, work a heck of a lot better for the type of foliage I’ve got around here than any Scandinavian blade or other 4-inch “bushcraft” knife.  You see, one shoe does not fit all.  If I were in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or in Manitoba or maybe in the Colorado Rockies this knife would not be my choice of carry.  But in the Texas Brushlands or a few miles west in the Chihuahuan Desert or out in Sonora or maybe in the limoncillo transition zones in Mexico or in Costa Rica then this knife would do for me what I would require in a knife.  And if heaven forbid I needed it to survive then it would work fine…if nothing untold came to pass.  And in that case a knife isn’t going to do you any good regardless.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


The sweltering days of summer are upon us and we’ve entered the time of year when rain is scarce or nonexistent.  Add to that a state of nearly constant alert as tens of thousands of people from Central America have overrun the Rio Grande Valley about sixty miles south of us and thus put the region in the eye of the National Media.  The influx of illegal entries is overwhelming and though we’ve seen sparse activity this far north we have been warned by authorities to keep a constant watch for those who would use the present chaos to enter the country “under the radar.”  Potential terrorists, violent gangs and other criminal elements are believed to be moving through the area.

Those who have read scholarly articles on meteoric population expansion or scenarios where resources are suddenly and severely strained or where the potential for the introduction of harmful diseases is acute understand that these are perilous times indeed.  For many people however this is less an issue of population dynamics and resource depletion as it is a political topic or a “humanitarian problem.”  As usual, the political maneuverings are elaborate.  Some people perceive easy votes while others desire cheap labor.  Neither side of the political aisle is immune from chicanery.  But the local citizenry is caught in the middle and they are scared and angry; and from what I have seen of the big media outlets no one is getting it right.  The extent to which Washington politicos and special interest groups have distorted what is happening in Deep South Texas is profound.  The two extreme partisan media organizations, Fox News and MSNBC, are spinning the facts in ways that stir their respective bases; and the fringe media on both the Right and Left is working overtime to generate emotions that will buttress one point of view over the other.  All along the border and even farther inland one sees clashes between pro-this and pro-that groups.  I see anger and fear but most of all I see ignorance.  Regardless, I find the trite and invariably inaccurate representations from the National Media as both deceptive and offensive.  I’m not sure what side of this division is more prone to distort the facts but there are a few things that should be made clear here and now.  First, there is no such thing as the “Hispanic Vote.”  For that matter there is no such thing as a Hispanic.  And neither is there such thing as a “Latino” or “Latina.”  I cannot recall from the generations past and the people I knew who were born in the late 1800s or in the early 1900s who ever spoke of themselves as “Hispanic” or “Latino.”  Those terms are recent inventions manufactured by divergent ideological groups.  Years ago some people referred to others as “Mexican-Americans” even though the people being discussed had never lived in Mexico.  And then just this week I heard the self-proclaimed liberal Chris Hayes on MSNBC refer to the mayor of San Antonio, Texas as a “Mexican American.”  But Mayor Castro is not a Mexican-American.  He is an American—as much an American as is the apparent bigot named Chris Hayes.  This same Chris Hayes, by the way, was aghast a couple of weeks ago when he reported that some “Hispanics” would dare describe themselves as “White.”  But again, there is no such thing as a Hispanic.  It is neither a race nor is it a cultural heritage.  And if one digs a little deeper one finds that many of the names believed to be “Hispanic” (that has no meaning) are Germanic or French or Arabic or Jewish or Basque or Celtic in origin.  It dawned on me that the biggest racists in the media are not on the Right but instead on the Left—those Liberal elitists who clothe themselves in compassion and the like but are instead as prejudiced as any KKK member.  Second, let’s make it clear that ninety-nine percent (99%) of the people currently entering the US from Central America are Native American or indigenous.  Their roots on this continent harken back ten thousand years at least.  Today their countries are controlled by ruling families (as they have been controlled for decades) and despite one revolution after another the countries of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras are bastions of plutocracy and oligarchic rule.  And yet as sad and unfortunate as it is that those people have allowed certain families and special interest groups to take control of their countries, the United States can no longer be a dumping ground for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses.  Reality says those days are long gone.  In fact, the United States is a country in decline.  Many argue it is no longer a Democracy but instead an oligarchy ruled by corporate plutocrats and a political class.  Some are now defining the United States as a quintessential fascist enclave.  And to all you Fox News watchers out there this is not socialism; it is fascism.  Corporate and banking plutocrats now control our politicians on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat.  Add to that reality the other fact that our resources have been plundered and polluted in order that a few can profit exorbitantly.  To hell with the land, they proclaim.  For example, trillions of gallons of precious underground water have already been poisoned by the Oil and Gas Mafia in the fracking process and via deep well injection.  The Coal Industry has turned our skies into death clouds.  The topsoil has been stripped bare in so many places that it will no longer produce crops unless heavily doused with chemicals that in turn poison our wetlands and obliterate important pollinators like bees that when gone will render our fields barren.

The sad truth is that the land, despite the political frothing for cheap votes and cheap labor, is no longer able to sustain an ever burgeoning mass of humanity.  Of course, the Right Wing is exploiting the current crisis for their own gains as well.  Sadly, after having endured what many consider the worst administration in the last hundred years led by an incompetent president and a sociopathic vice-president named Bush and Cheney we saddled ourselves with a naïve and feckless fellow named Obama.  And so it seems that two wrongs indeed did not make a right but instead took this country down steeper and steeper steps towards oblivion.

So then where do we go from here?  As usual, people will migrate towards those who are telling them what they want to hear.  Thus the Global Warming deniers who bury their heads in the mud and utter inane ramblings like “I refuse to believe in the science of Global Warming” will turn to those media sources that echo their own delusional thinking.  Obviously, ignorance and stupidity are not in short supply these days.  For in fact, science is not based on “belief” but instead on data and thus to say “I don’t believe in the science” is to profess not only ignorance of what science is but to admit to a level of stupidity that boggles the mind.

And so yes, here we are.  A country deeply divided by political partisanship.  A country not for the people by the people but instead for the corporations and the banks by the corporations and the banks—and enforced by a fascist Supreme Court and all the other Hey-Boys who currently lay claim to Capitol Hill and The White House.  A woman named Bachmann makes a fool of herself on Fox News saying we should sue the president while the Fox News commentator holds up his hands and essentially calls her crazy and then says Rome is burning! And you’re wasting time with senseless lawsuits? Well, the man was right-on and his name is Neil Cavuto.  He’s not always right-on but in this case he pegged it.

The tens of thousands of people entering the United States illegally are being dispersed all over the country.  The current administration is employing as an excuse for their actions a law that goes back to the Junior Bush days passed to curb child trafficking.  Manipulations, smoke and mirrors, political scheming and backroom deals.  Can’t you hear the violins playing because Rome is indeed burning!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Addendum: Allergic Reactions Associated with Agave and other Plants

Agave americana

Fellow bushcrafter, Tom Davenport, wrote me to describe a nasty allergic reaction he had while making cordage with agave.  Tom wrote: “Be advised that some species of agave have toxins in the pulp that can cause a nasty batch of contact dermatitis.”  Tom went on to say that when he was preparing a piece of agave some of the pulp landed on his exposed arms, legs and face.  The reaction wasn’t immediate but after a while he began feeling a “burning itch.”  Tom said, “[The itch] was the kind that fogs your mind.”  Tom added that the irritation was so severe that parts of his skin became blistered.

Agave neomexicana

Agave species range across the Southwest and Western states from Texas to California but can also be found in Louisiana and Florida.  Keep in mind that not all people experience reactions to agave.  These types of contact dermatitis also vary in intensity among individuals.  In other words, one person might have a severe reaction while someone else has only a mild reaction and still others have no reaction at all.  I’ve never had any sort of incident with agave even after handling it for decades but please allow me to inject an anecdote into this conversation.  Years ago I came across an interesting “weed” floating in the waters of the Laguna Madre along the South Texas coast.  I picked up this weed and examined it then handed it to my professor who held it for about two seconds then quickly handed it to another student.  The student gave the weed back to me and both she and the professor asked, “Doesn’t that burn you?”  No, it did not burn me but as it turned out I was holding a species of stinging coral.  A few years ago, however, I was making a couple of knife handles using Texas ebony and though I was wearing a dust mask I must have somehow ingested some of the wood dust.  Within a few minutes I had broken out in hives along my trunk.  My point is that we all have what’s called a biophysiological individuality—just like some people have serious allergies to peanut butter or tomatoes or kiwi fruit.  The list is long but the toxins come basically from these chemical groups—calcium oxalate, bromelain, isothiocyanates, diterpene esters, protoanemonin, and alkaloids.

The moral of this story is that we should always be careful when dealing with plants.  Remember that plants have evolved methods to dissuade predators from eating them.  Chile del monte, jalapeños and serrano didn’t acquire their spicy hot taste to suit your palate.  Stinging nettles sting to dissuade critters that might want to eat them.  Just like spines on cactus and thorns on shrubs and trees, plants adopted those protective methods that were selected for over millions of years. 

The best advice I can give is to be careful and carry items with you as first aid in case you have a reaction to some plant.  Here’s a prudent list of items you should carry in your pack or vehicle when on extended forays into the wilds.
EpiPen—a quick injectable dose of epinephrine. Ask your doctor for a prescription.
Benadryl antihistamine
Topical cortisone cream
In addition carry the following:
Triple Antibiotic Cream
Antibacterial lotion
A good set of tweezers. Don’t scrimp here.  Buy the best with a fine pointed end.
Bandages, various sizes
Razor blades

Sunscreen 70 SPF or greater

Friday, June 27, 2014

How to Make Quick Cordage

Commercially made cordage of one sort or another is available for sale almost everywhere you go so there’s no excuse not to have some in possession.  Keep a bag in your vehicle with at least 100 feet of rope as well as other items like an axe, machete, fire starter, plastic tubing, fence tool, hammer, pliers, screw driver, monkey wrench, hacksaw, tin cup, canteen and whatever else you think you might need in an emergency.  To provide more cordage you can attach your keys to parachute cord assembled in various ways like the popular cobra stitch.  Fifty feet of parachute cord in you backpack or shoulder bag and another ten on a bracelet and you’ll have more than enough cordage on you when you need it.  There are times however when you might want to preserve your cordage and instead make a quick connection between two objects by using materials available in nature.  I’m referring here to something that can be made quickly and will be strong enough to hold up a shelter frame or tie three sticks together to make a tripod or perhaps used to construct cooking platforms.  Readymade cordage is available everywhere if you know what to look for but in the Southwestern United States as well as most of northern Mexico plants in the Agave (Agavaceae) family make excellent string and rope.  In fact, if you walk into a store and buy jute string or rope it will have come from this same family.  It only takes a few minutes to make the type of cordage I’m referring to here and all you need is a pocket knife, small hunting knife or machete to cut a section of either agave or yucca.  Below are photos taken of two members of the agave family that grow abundantly in the region.

Use a section of the Century Plant’s leaf to make cordage in as little as five minutes.

Yucca is also called pita in South Texas and can be used for making quick cordage.

                                              Yucca strip

The first thing to do is cut a narrow section of the leaves of either the agave or yucca.  Be careful to keep the section as straight as possible as this will make the process easier.  Cut the leaf section by bending the spike at the tip of the leaves down slightly and then by slicing at a shallow angle into the leaf.

Begin pulling the leaf section downward until the section is removed.

Yucca section is being pulled downward.  You’ll want a section from 15 to 20 inches long.  Remember to keep it straight as seen in the photograph below.

Here’s the same process but with the agave leaf below.

Now cut the section free from the main leaf as seen below.

Some people slap the cut agave or yucca section against a tree trunk or large branch.  But if none of those things are available then simply begin scraping the pulp off the leaf using your knife, a small rock chip or a twig.  Keep scraping until most of the pulp has been removed.  I use my finger nails to remove all the pulp and I find this method works best for me.  This should only take a couple of minutes to complete.

The process from this point when making quick cordage is somewhat different with the yucca and the agave.  For the yucca I make several small cuts at the end of the leaf as shown in the picture below.

After I’ve made the cuts as shown above I begin stripping the narrow section forward towards the spike at the tip.

After stripping the sections forward towards the spike I’m left with thick strands in the photo above.  These strands dry quickly and the drier they get the stronger they become.  But you need not wait.  This simple yucca cordage can be put to use almost immediately.  You can tie strands together to make a longer section or you can employ one section for small jobs.  Some people tie yucca leaves together and this works quite well but if sliced the way I’ve shown you in the photos the overall cordage will be stronger and will dry more efficiently.

Above I am doing the same process to an agave leaf but instead of cutting into the base of the section I am simply cleaning out the pulp and exposing the fibers that will dry within a few hours.

Some have suggested that indigenous people used the spikes at the end of the leaves as needles for sewing but I don’t think the process works well if done that way.  Instead, think of the spike as an awl for making a hole.  The size of the hole will depend on how deeply you insert the spike.  If you are not going to need to make any sort of hole you can simply remove the spike and twist the fibers to make a simple cord.

This type of cordage becomes more durable the drier it gets.  By the way, above is a sneak peek of the machete Bowie I’m going to show you in an upcoming post.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mountain Hiatus...

A desert is defined as a region that receives less than 10 inches of rainfall per year.  About fifteen inches of rain descends on the South Texas Sand Sheet to the north of us and therefore it is not technically a desert.  Still, anyone living in this region would be hard pressed to call it anything else.  Green only when rains fall briefly once or twice a year but otherwise brown and dry.  The Sand Sheet is called a desert by all who must endure these two-million acres of scorched earth where yearly hundreds of people who enter the US in violation of immigration laws die and where not a single sweet water pond exists to sate anyone’s thirst.  Brutal is perhaps the best word to describe the Sand Sheet.  So at least once per year I pack up and head for mountains to the west.  Before Mexico decayed into a fascist enclave with cartels run like American corporations would exist if they could get away with it, I’d seek the mountains a few hours from here near the town of Saltillo.  Now however I must travel for a day and a half before I attain a cool altitude.  The trip this year was a mixed bag of good and sad.  Traveling west from Fort Worth through places called Abilene and Seminole and Hobbs I saw tens of thousands of wind turbine generators stretching for as far as the eye can see.  A faction of rightwing minions who take orders from rightwing media moguls abhor these turbines because they are told to think that way.  After all, the rightwing thought machine fears any sort of competition to their sacred oil/gas/coal industries.  I don’t find wind turbines particularly aesthetic but I realize that Americans demand energy and I’ve acquiesced to the presence of these skyscraping windmills.  Besides, travel farther west to locales called Carlsbad and Artesia and then Pecos and Fort Stockton and you witness greed, narcissism and our quest for energy at its worst.  I asked a fellow in Artesia, New Mexico why the town smelled so foul.  He replied, “That’s the smell of money.”  A woman nearby apparently overheard the conversation and as I walked back to my truck she approached me and said, “No, that’s the smell of sick children and trashy oil field workers.”  I nodded and she added, “This is how the earth smells when it’s been abused and ravaged.”  She walked away and I did not get her name.  About fifty years old or thereabouts, a grandmother perhaps; maybe someone who grew up in that town and knew it before America’s drug cartel called the Oil and Gas Industry moved in and took over.  I’ve been told the cartel is rapidly destroying a long stretch of Texas called the Eagle Ford Shale Region.  The expanse looks now like a gangrenous wound from the border to near San Antonio.  Please don’t bother me with comments like, “That’s the smell of money.”  That’s the same thing the Mexican drug cartels say when people complain about the wickedness of cocaine and crystal meth.

At last I reached 9,000 feet.  I arrived at a place I’ve visited a few dozen times over four decades.  Except that in the last ten years or so the place has looked drier and drier.  Gone are the lush valleys and profuse dousings of frigid rain.  Now the trees look weary and signs are posted every few miles warning that the area is in the midst of extreme fire danger.  In other words, forest fires have become the norm throughout the west.  I set up camp near a little road I first found over thirty years ago.  But this time the first half of the road was like driving through a scene from a movie about the end of the world.  A huge forest fire swept through a few years ago and though this is at the top of a mountain the higher hills lay barren with the charred stubble of once mighty trees.  I’d seen the same thing farther back as I was ascending the road to this alpine area.  A lady told me that last year a “fierce fire” overtook that place destroying thousands of acres of forest.

I drove on and reached a spot I have roamed many times.  Found a secluded site, parked my truck, hiked in a couple of miles and established my camp.  No campfires allowed and so I packed in the sort of cans and tubes that some bloggers and “modern” camping and backpacking enthusiasts think constitutes the best of all worlds.  Okay, I didn’t want to start a forest fire so I endured those things that do not sit well with me.  Piped through those metal tubes and emanating from those metal cans is the very evil that has desecrated the earth in so many places.  Places like Artesia and Carlsbad and Pecos and along the Eagle Ford Shale Region.  I kept thinking, “Don’t these incredibly naïve, ignorant and otherwise foolish backpacking enthusiasts and the bloggers that obsess over the latest gadget and buyable product understand these things?”

It was as if a cloud had descended over me even as the sky above was blue and clear.  Fortunately, for four days not one single vehicle drove down the road far below me and I saw no one anywhere.  In years passed the nights were downright cold.  But this year the nights could only be described as pleasantly cool.  I saw elk and several mule deer.  I did some birding but honestly I’ve got a lot more birds in my “front yard” here at my cabin.  I walked a lot and as usual spent most of my time identifying the plants around me.  Plants are the elixir of life.  Through plants all things on earth derive.  Each plant is a solar panel—the very thing the oil and gas industry hates—and those solar panels channel the sun’s energy through countless systems from point A to point B and onward; and if the system is operating smoothly the energy is not lost in the form of entropy but instead efficiently transferred.  So tell me: Why can’t we understand that nature is telling us what works the very best and the cleanest and is the most efficient?  Is it because modern Capitalism abhors cleanliness?

After a while I started forgetting about that world beyond my camp.  I get the same feeling at my cabin.  Of course, it’s unreal.  On my way home I stopped in the desert and collected some things that I’ll be showing you in the very near future.  I learned the San Antonio Spurs had won the championship.  Go Spurs!  But I also found out that Deep South Texas has become a mess.  Tens of thousands of people are crossing the Rio Grande because they have been told that the Obama Administration is going to give them amnesty.  Something changed on this trip and I don’t care if I sound political.  I think the Obama Administration is a failure.  Now mind you that Junior Bush and his wicked sidekick Darth Cheney were depraved.  But Obama is just clueless.  I have no favorites, folks.  I don’t take orders from either side of the aisle.  I tell it as I see it.  You might’ve heard me say this before: A woman or man who can only look right or left is bound to run into a wall or stumble over a root in the trail.  Give me someone who knows how to negotiate the woods and I’ll show you a wise person—speaking metaphorically, of course.

The land can only endure so much.  The land is now overrun by oil and gas drilling, by millions of people scrambling across the Rio Grande, by rapacity and greed.  I look up and see clouds and yet the sky is blue for as far as the eye can see.

Coming Posts
Desert Country Walking Stick
Quick and easy to make Emergency Cordage
How to make a Machete Bowie Knife