Friday, February 10, 2017

THE SAND SHEET



It’s difficult to say what draws a man to the woods.  No doubt the reasons lie deeply embedded in those long helical strands of DNA that through a miracle of combinations and fusions creates the person.  Perhaps this is where the soul resides.  As such the soul never dies but simply becomes infused once again in the genetic matrix from which life blooms anew and passions grow once again.  I cannot recall a day of my life where anything other than the woods ruled my emotions; it was the very fever that drove me.  Society wanted to school me according to its standards; the object of course conformity.  But the woodsman seeks other forms of knowledge.  The woodsman yearns for quiet and solitude in hidden places.  The woodsman (or woman) hears music and poetry of a different sort; and reads a language that cannot be uttered by the tongue but only by the heart.  So please allow me to introduce you to The Sand Sheet, my latest book.  It’s about my life at the edge of a world known intimately by only a few.  In my world nature is kept close, surrounded as I am by thick woods and silence.  Yes, the text includes bushcraft from bows and knives and secret camps to long treks along meandering trails.  But there are also stories of the people who cross this waterless land every year only to succumb to the heat and eventually die of dehydration.  There are stories of the Indians who lived here thousands of years ago; and stories about my search to learn what hardwoods they used to make their hunting implements.  From the occasional wanderer I might encounter lost and frightened and near death to Central American gang members’ intent on thievery or worse.  Then there are the coyotes (people smugglers) who ply their trade beneath the eyes of the US Border Patrol.  The occasional Homeland Security helicopter hovering in the distance, a beam of light shooting from heaven to earth in search of smugglers and wanderers.  Most nights, however, the only sounds are the whistles of pauraques and hoots of owls.  Yes, there are the times when giant rattlesnakes come to break hearts and steal lives.  But above it all are the woods, that world that I belong to and that belongs to me.
THE SAND SHEET
Arturo Longoria
Forward by M. Jimmie Killingsworth
More than two million acres of sand, born and blown from an ancient sea beginning about ten thousand years ago, stretch across eight counties in deep South Texas.  Known as the Coastal Sand Plain, the Texas Coastal Sand Sheet, or the Sand Sheet, it is a region of few people, little rainfall, and no water.  Among the dunes and dry, brown flats, only the hardiest scrubs and grasses provide habitat for coyotes, quail that live here.
Arturo Longoria, whose cabin sits amid the sand scrub and desert motts of granjeno, brasil, and mesquite, knows this land intimately.  A student of bushcraft and natural history, Longoria found refuge in this remote and hostile country as he recovered from a rare illness.  He weaves a story as the backdrop for a steady migration of long distance “travelers,” who cross the border and into el desierto at great peril.
This book is about a harsh and dangerous landscape that has nonetheless given sustenance and solace to a writer for whom the Sand Sheet became both his home and his inspiration.
ARTURO LONGORIA is a writer and former journalist and teacher.  He is the author of two award-winning books of non-fiction, Adios to the Brushlands and Keepers of the Wilderness.
What Readers Are Saying:
“For those of us who treasure the natives and nature of Deep South Texas, it is a blessing to have Arturo Longoria as our own Aldo Leopold meets James Michener.  The Sand Sheet provides personal, and factual, insights into the nature and natural history just north of the Rio Grande.” –Colleen Hook, Director of Quinta Mazatlan-McAllen, Texas

“His book is a warning that “Destroy the plants and you ultimately destroy yourself.”  But he offers hope that if a visitor can listen and wait for nature, it reveals the truth.  The book is as prosaic in its rendering of a kaleidoscope of nature as it is wise in his quest for truth.  But his special gift is the journey that he takes the reader into an experience of beauty that cannot be imagined.  His message is that unless a person accepts this nature on its own terms, he will never recognize it when nature reveals itself in the quiet retreat of a gray fox into the dusk.  He is anxious to warn us about losing our earth, and he wants finally to know truth.  The author  has found  himself deep in the Sand Sheet, and he is dying to share it with us.” –Andres Tijerina, author of Tejano Empire

“I knew Arturo Longoria first through his book Adios to the Brushlands followed by Keepers of the Wilderness and more recently The Trail.  Spellbound, I wanted to meet this author, but I was told that he didn’t spend time in the public.  Years went by before I finally met him by coincidence at a native plant project where I learned that I also live in the Texas Sand Sheet.  Our love for the South Texas native land, native plants, and all things old and natural quickly bonded us as fast friends.  Arturo Longoria articulates what I know and love through his eloquent writing, especially in The Sand Sheet, and I always look forward to our next contact with eager anticipation, whether phone call, text message, or in-person visit. –Ruth Hoyt, Photographer, Friend, Colleague.

The Sand Sheet is poignant proof that Longoria’s first book, Adios to the Brushlands was a misnomer.  He could no longer say goodbye to the South Texas brushland than he could still his beating heart.  The harsh yet beautiful brushland is part of his very being, a powerful p art of who he is.  It explains why he chooses to live and write about the inhospitable yet beautiful edge of the desolate South Texas sand sheet.  Though most of us would never choose to live there, to see it through his eyes and in his words, is a revelation and a treasure.  Longoria sees more keenly and feels more deeply.” –Jim Chapman, Chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.



Monday, January 23, 2017

MODIFYING YOUR WORKSHOP HAMMERS

Living on a remote homestead, embracing a minimalist lifestyle, and becoming more self-sufficient requires a major change in attitude, particularly how you approach the material side of life.  We are bombarded daily with messages from the outside world telling us that we should want this or want that.  We all know people who get it into their minds that they must have something expensive even when the object they crave won’t give them anything more than something less expensive but equally functional.

Nonetheless, people steeped in the mindset of hyper-consumption can’t seem to disentangle themselves from a worldview steeped in the acquisition of stuff, as George Carlin used to phrase it. 

When it comes to forging tools I have two choices.  I can make them or buy them.  If I decide to buy them then I can pay a little or I can pay a lot.  Some tools, however, are IMO exorbitantly priced.  I would not have imagined paying more than twenty bucks for a hammer, but I’ve seen hammers going for $100, $150, $200.  To each his (her) own but I choose not to go that route.  I long ago gave up the addiction of wanting things and paying for things that I believed unnecessary.  It’s true that hammer requirements (like the tong and jig necessities) become more specialized as one gains experience but one does not need to spend oodles of dinero to acquire a good hammer.  So here’re my two cents for those of you who are starting to walk away from the American lifestyle of avarice, materialism and hyper-consumption: If you want to take up homestead blacksmithing as a hobby then modify the inexpensive hammers you find at garage and yard sales, flea markets and roadside vendors.  In learning to modify hammers you’ll expand your skill levels and you’ll find comfort in knowing that you are not as addicted and driven to spending as the advertisers, marketers and corporatists want you to be.  Of course, you can even make your own hammer.  A simple forge, a decent anvil thingy, some pick-up tongs, a couple of hot punches and a drift or two and you’ll be set to go.  I choose, however, not to go that route.  I’d rather modify a hammer I picked up at a yard sale for 25 cents or thereabouts and then get on with whatever I intend to make.

Above a modified ballpeen hammer used to make farrier’s type bolt tongs.

A 3-pound drilling hammer converted into a top tool.  It also works well for other forging projects.

A 2-pound engineer’s hammer turned into a specialized cross peen hammer.  It now weighs about 1.5 pounds.

This 2-pound engineer’s hammer is the same used for the ball peen hammer above and the rounding hammer below.


My most used hammer above is a  2-pound rounding hammer made from an inexpensive engineer’s hammer.

The three hammers pictured were all made from engineer’s hammers.  Left to Right: 1.5 pound cross peen hammer; 2-pound rounding hammer; 3-pound rounding hammer.

A larger cross peen hammer properly dressed to suit my needs.

An assortment of top tools and rounding hammers made from engineer’s hammers and drilling hammers.

Ballpeen hammers scrounged up at flea markets and yard sales.

The three hammers above were found in my dad’s garage about a year after he passed away.  I recall having seen these hammers when I was a boy.

This is the most widely used anvil in the world.  A 10-12 pound sledgehammer head is used from Nepal to Africa to Asia to Latin America to places here and there all over North America.  You can do just about anything with a sledgehammer head that you do with a big and ponderous blacksmithing anvil.  Metalsmiths, bladesmiths and blacksmiths around the globe prove me right.

Monday, January 2, 2017

LAND PATRIOTISM

Why we must fight unbridled population expansion and unfettered capitalism.

Land Patriotism is the act of advocating for the land.  It involves a commitment to keeping the country as unspoiled as possible.  I should note that land patriots are not aligned with the Right or Left; in other words, they’re not liberals or conservatives unless one opts to use conservatism in a traditional sense as it relates to conserving the land.  We are now, however, at a precipice where the destruction of the land is being conducted at an ever increasing rate.  For those who feel no connection to the land this is not an important issue.  But for that distinct minority (call them bushcrafters, woodsmen/women, naturalists or perhaps simply Land Patriots) then being stewards of the land is paramount.  Even so, we find ourselves in a situation where those who care nothing for the land are in control.  The American political/plutocratic class has developed into an oligarchy centered in rapacity and consumption.  At the center of this establishment is the worship of materialism and the concept of endless “growth and development.”  It can be argued, however, that what we see occurring today is, in fact, not development but instead a self-indulgent destruction of both the land and any sense of community.  Please allow me to give you my take on how we reached this point in American history.

Population experts have long determined that the world reached its Maximum Carrying Capacity at about two-billion people.  Note that the current world population is over seven-billion and the numbers are growing exponentially.  In other words, if the artificial production of food around the world were to fail (as a result of drought, disease, war, pollution etc.) then there would be a sudden and dramatic population collapse.  Factually, the current world human population density is unsustainable no matter what anyone might try to do.  The normal (un-artificial) maximum carrying capacity in the United States’ is about 200 million.  That means that at 200-million-people the US was maxed out.  A human population exceeding that number is essentially on life-support and can thus become subject to eminent collapse if any singular “limiting factor” plays its hand.  Therefore, the US (which now approaches 340 million people) has substantially surpassed its maximum carrying capacity.  Drought, pollution, cyberattack, anarchy, political dysfunction etc. will all create the possibility for a domino effect that will crumble the “system.”  And for those of you who have been brought up to believe that we simply must produce more food to feed the people then allow me to refer you to the writings of economist Thomas Malthus who decades ago made it quite clear that such a strategy is a fool’s game.  Malthus determined that when food is produced geometrically then populations grow exponentially.  In other words, you can never catch up!  The more food you make, the more people are born and the number of people will always outstrip the amount of food you produce.  We have thus created a near perfect trap for complete and utter population collapse.  Add to that the amount of pollution generated by the artificial production of food, and you have only hastened the inevitable downfall.  It really can’t get any worse unless you include a phenomenon that the US and most of the world has embraced where there must be endless “growth and development” in order to assure “economic prosperity.”  This ethos has for many become a religion; their god is built on the idea of consumption, materialism and rapacity.  As proof of this fanaticism note that anyone who dares fault the current system is almost immediately attacked, slandered and rebuked.

So why is the current era so dangerous?  Two things come to mind: First, exponential human population growth will create the collapse previously mentioned.  Second, human avarice wedded to narcissism is nurtured by the religion of endless growth and development.  Its practitioners seek to maximize profits at the expense of their fellow humans and by the systematic destruction of the land.  Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of all of this is that the fanaticism of endless growth and development and its corresponding greed blinds humans to thinking logically and analytically.  I can find fewer examples of this flawed thinking than the idea of deregulation.  In its truest sense, the term regulation means anything that hinders human greed and rapacity.  And de-regulation cultivates narcissism and material gluttony.

Allow me to provide an eclectic example of why the de-regulation of any complex system is dangerous.  First, all systems function in what amounts to a linear fashion.  Whether the system is biological or mechanical or based on economics it runs in orderly sequences and they are all essentially the same.  So let’s examine regulatory mechanisms going from the simple to the complex.  The one-celled organism called an amoeba is relatively simple and thus needs few regulatory mechanisms.  An amoeba has no eyes or brain or legs or muscular/skeletal system.  It has no emotions or analytical thought process.  It does not walk or run nor does it build tools.  Now compare the amoeba to a human being.  In order for a human to function properly it must have trillions of regulatory mechanisms.  In my study of biology I was often amazed that we are able to function at all.  Take the vital processes known as glycolysis or chemiosmosis.  Compared to other systems in the body these are relatively simple; but when examined in detail one finds them to be incredibly complex.  What we find is that the more complicated a system then the more regulation it must have in order to function properly.  Remove the regulatory mechanisms and you have anarchy, chaos, collapse.  The same holds for all economic systems and that includes the prevailing economic system in the US.  In other words, the more complex the system becomes the more it must be regulated.

Now let me show you what happens to a complex system that is deregulated.  Let’s assume you’re not feeling well and so you go visit your doctor.  After conducting a few tests your doctor calls you in and says: “I’m afraid you’ve got cancer.”  After you get over the initial shock I imagine the first thing you say is, “Can we stop it or maybe at least control it?”  But your doctor looks at you aghast and says, “I am so sick of hearing people wanting to regulate cancer!  Don’t you realize that cancer, when left alone, grows and develops and matures!  In fact, cancer is one of the most successful mechanisms known to mankind.  It’s beautiful.  I firmly believe in unregulated cancer!”  At that point (assuming you haven’t already walked out) you have concluded that your doctor is nuts.  But apply that same principle to what we hear many corporatists and politicians with the same rationale the doctor used and you’ll find nobody complains.  Trouble is that both cancer and what we call Capitalism must consume resources in order to “grow and develop.”  And any rapacious form of Capitalism (just like cancer) eventually kills its host if left unchecked.  We caught a glimpse of this back in 2006-2007 when a decade-long trend in deregulating the banks triggered a monumental financial collapse.  We saw the same thing with the Savings & Loan crisis and with the 1929 economic crash.  And yet, despite the evidence, despite the sound analytics behind this truth, we continue to hear people say, “I believe in unregulated Capitalism” as if it were a religion.  Perhaps for them it is their religion.  I guarantee that you would not hear those same people say, “I believe in unregulated cancer” even when the two processes are basically the same in their consumption of resources, their polluting effects and their eventual destruction of their host.

Now I fully expect to get all sorts of attacks from trolls and true-believers and those who will mentally shut down when they hear anything that goes against what they’ve been taught to believe.  In America today we have created a class of people who are easily duped and who flock to those unsound doctrines I referred to in the previous post.

ONE MORE NOTE: After a while, Mussolini began calling Fascism “Corporatism.”  Corporatism is where the government is no longer a system based on “by the people for the people” but instead by the corporations for the corporations.  That is precisely what we see happening today.  In fact, studies have shown that our politicians often ignore what is best for the people and instead do what is best for their donors, which are the banks, oil companies, Wall Street, insurance companies, big Media etc.  You can call what we see happening today Neo-fascism if that pleases you.  I and many others choose not to mince words but to instead refer to it as Fascism pure and simple and evil.  Please don’t attempt or waste time making this a Republican/Democrat argument.  The Corporatists want you to be diverted with those frivolous arguments so they can continue with their destruction of the Land.  Besides, the problem runs across the aisles in Washington and across the states and if you choose to say things like, “It’s those other guys” then you’re among the easily duped and perhaps not prone towards analytics.

Okay, enough for today.  Besides, I’d rather be walking in the woods and that’s exactly what I intend to do next.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

CHOOSING ONE COW PIE OVER ANOTHER

Got up, drank a cup of coffee, and then waded through the latest news.  Nothing’s changed.  Oh yes, an election cycle was recently completed.  As usual the candidates on both sides made their speeches, accused each other of terrible wrongs, kowtowed to the easily duped, and otherwise promised the moon, mars and a few other planets.  One candidate lost and one won.  I kept thinking of two fresh cow pies served up at a barbecue and the people being told “Take your pick.”  And then, for whatever nonsensical reason most of the people chose to eat one cow pie over the other.  Nobody won.  After all, every cow pie is more or less like the other.  You’d know these things if you lived in the Brushlands and have encountered tens of thousands of cow pies in your life.  But anyway—and as amazing is it sounds—some people are actually celebrating their cow pie.  Can you believe it?  “We got a great cow pie!” they proclaim loudly.  Meanwhile back here in the woods I walked away from the daily news wondering why I even bothered to look in the first place.  Yup, nothing has changed and nothing will change.  Partisans, of whom there are legions these days, will never figure it out.  I’m not a Bible thumper by any means, but I’m reminded of a text from the book of 2 Timothy.  The text (4:3) says, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” New International Version.  Makes sense to me; or at least that’s what I’ve seen for too many years to think otherwise.  The only difference nowadays is that things just keep getting worse.  It’s an established fact (sorry no attribution but you can look it up) that the United States is no longer a Democracy or even a true Republic.  Instead, it’s become an Oligarchy where elected officials and bureaucrats collude with corporate plutocrats to control everything and in the process make sure they get their riches at the expense of the people.  It’s Capitalism gone amok.  Just remember (don’t forget) that when Capitalism goes amok you always end up with Fascism.  If Oligarchs could get away with it they’d take away our Federal Lands; they’d drill the Arctic into oblivion; they’d frack every inch of ground; they’d pollute with no remorse; they’d have it all.  No feelings of guilt or anxiety or an angstrom of morality.  It’s all about accumulating riches no matter what the cost to the people or the land.  I just spotted a great big golden fronted woodpecker attempting to break into a tiny house-wren’s box nest.  There’s a metaphor, perhaps something seriously symbolic there; I’m just not quite sure what it is.  In the meantime I’m thinking about going for a walk: The old Woods Roamer needs to get back into the deep woods.  It’s a cloudy, cool day, not a breath of wind, and soundless.  The afternoon is fading fast and I want to be about a mile from here in a thick patch of mesquites, ebony and brasil brewing up some coffee as the darkness creeps in through the trees.  I’ll have my dogs with me and they make for better company than most of the people I know who only want to talk politics and degrade everyone around them.  Jeez, another Bible text comes to mind, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” Matthew 7:5 New International Version 

Lots of people telling me they’re stacking up on guns and ammo.  Giddy they are as they prepare for the Great War, the big collapse, their longed for chaos and anarchy.  But those same folks won’t last two weeks without electricity, running water, their Talk Radio stations, their favorite “news” network, their Internet service, no medicines, and no packs of cigarettes.  So in the meantime I’ll try to stay as hid out as possible.  I thoroughly enjoy my little shop.  Pounding out red/orange steel into various things from hooks to tongs to knives.  I’ve been lax on this blog thing.  Lazy I guess.  I’d rather walk the woods or pound steel.  Besides, this last election was as nutty as they get and I'm feeling as if things are getting a bit too clear.  A real eye opener.  Seems that there’re more easily duped folks out there than ever before.  Maybe not.  By the way, did I tell you I’ve got a new book coming out in about four or five weeks?  You’re going to like this one.  Lots of bushcraft and woods roaming and about living isolated.  One more note: I'll get back to you this weekend and discuss another reason things are going into the gutter.  


http://www.tamupress.com/product/Sand-Sheet,8825.aspx

Friday, October 21, 2016

MY NEW KANCA ANVIL

Aside from owning a computer that seems to have come down with dementia, I’ve been quite busy here in the woods working on a couple of construction projects: One, an extension to my shop, and two a carport for our vehicles.  Leaving our trucks parked under the porous shade of mesquite trees will help little if an aberrant hailstorm comes to visit.  Nonetheless, I’ve also been busy rearranging my little shop to accommodate its latest member, a 50 kilogram (110 pounds) Kanka anvil purchased from Centaur Forge.  I’ve been pounding on the new anvil for nearly a month now and I’m enjoying it thoroughly.  What prompted me to buy an anvil can be summarized into three parts.  First, I needed a solid platform to make my large chopping knives as well as engage in other metal-shaping projects.  Second, I was having difficulty keeping these larger knives flat and straight using the sledgehammer head that, though an excellent small anvil, did not help much in the larger project arena.  And third, I wanted to expand my work to incorporate tasks that are easier done using the anvil’s horn or bik.  The good news is that my Kanka anvil accomplishes all three tasks nicely.  Let me make it clear, however, that for those of you who have chosen to use other solid platforms to perform artistic blacksmithing or to forge knives, there exists no better anvil than a 20 pound sledgehammer head turned on its end and buried into a stump.  Likewise, a round or square chunk of medium carbon steel (4140, 1040, 1045) measuring about six inches across and weighing in the area of 80 to 100 pounds (and also buried on its end into a stump) makes for an anvil that rivals the heaviest anvil-looking-anvils.  By the way, I’ve fashioned a number of railroad track anvils and have found them all wanting.  They have too much bounce and are simply too light in weight to be used on anything other than dainty projects like making jewelry or little knives.  The other day, in fact, I was talking to a coppersmith and she uses a railroad track anvil for her work.  She also suggested that railroad track anvils lack to necessary mass to function adequately on larger projects.  Therefore, the maker, or perhaps more accurately said, the individual who forges larger things will do much better with a sledgehammer or steel-bar anvil than with any piece of railroad track.

A 20 pound sledgehammer head set into a wooden stump makes an excellent anvil for those who don't want to spend a lot of money. 

New anvils aren’t cheap; and there are always those who go around proselytizing about buying older used anvils.  There are also those who comment in the various knife-making and blacksmithing forums about running into a little old lady who was in possession of a 200 pound anvil in near mint shape manufactured in 1900 or 1864 or 1923 etc., who for one reason or another sold said anvil for a hundred bucks.  Congratulations to those folks but truth be told, most used (antique) anvils sell for a lot more than currently manufactured anvils.  To compound the issue, old anvils are problematic in that they may have tiny fractures that won’t show up until further use, plus they also come with numerous injuries from past employment.  For example, just a few miles from this deepwoods enclave sits a 150 pound anvil of decent manufacture that was owned by a man who recently passed away.  Today the anvil sits rusting and deteriorating and despite the fact that I tried to purchase the anvil if for no other reason than to give it some respect and clean it up, I was told that it ain’t for sale.  Now the old man who owned the anvil hadn’t forged anything for perhaps twenty years or thereabouts.  He was a nice man but unfortunately age had crippled him severely.  To make things worse, he had loaned the anvil to a relative who lives a few miles away and the relative had apparently used a large sledgehammer to beat the hell out of some improperly heated steel.  The results are an anvil with its edges severely mangled.  It reminds me of a WWII aircraft carrier that’s just been hit by a Kamikaze plane: A mass of twisted steel ripped and gutted and heading for the ocean floor.  What shocks me is that anyone who uses someone else’s anvil would have so little respect for the owner or the tool that he would (even as he saw it was being destroyed) continue defacing the anvil to the point of near ruin.  Long story short: That old anvil is now flaking into oblivion and won’t be saved.  Furthermore, I’m not inclined to let others take a whack to my anvil with the exception of my sons who will receive a lengthy tutorial on proper anvil treatment.  Let’s face it; most neophytes go at anvils as if they were suddenly in bar fight hitting the opponent with everything they’ve got.  I think I’ll just be rude (as they might see it) and say, “No.”

Now the Kanca anvil is made in Turkey using a method that is quickly becoming as rare as are bodies of unpolluted water, clear skies and places without human-produced noise.  In fact, to my knowledge only the Turkish Kanca and the German-made Peddinghaus anvils are drop forged.  All other anvils are produced using various forms of casting.  Mind you that the technology of casting has improved greatly and assuming that the casts are made from high-grade alloy steel and not iron then the anvils are of excellent quality.  Regardless, I wanted a drop-forged anvil and the Kanca is less expensive (but not lesser quality) than the Peddinghaus.



The Kanca anvil arrived in a wooden crate with two layers of clear wrap enveloping it.  With the help of my son, Matthew, we’d constructed a stand on which to set the anvil.  My son, Ethan, helped me uncrate the anvil and he set it on the stand.  I drove over to the local feed, seed and ranch supply store in the tiny hamlet about five miles away and looked around until I found four box handles that I modified to hold the anvil in place.  Several lag bolts later and I was ready to start forging.  Of course, the first thing to do on any new anvil is to make a pair of tongs.  Its tradition and anything less is probably sacrilegious.  Besides, I love forging tongs.  There’s something transcendental about taking two round or square bars and without the use of anything else other than a hot fire, a good hammer, a hot punch and a rivet and then fashioning a set of tongs.  It’s like magic.


Since I bought my Kanca anvil I’ve made three of my large choppers that have already been spoken for by some young woodsmen who come by dressed in green and packing side arms and who enjoy visiting and discussing things like knives and bows and hunting and woods roaming and all things related to topics the old man knows a thing or two about.


So how does the Kanca perform?  The ring is musical.  The feedback is superb.  The mass is mostly directly beneath the face thus making it a true blacksmith’s anvil.  That’s not to say that a farrier’s anvil won’t serve the purpose when making small knives or especially artistic endeavors, but the true blacksmith anvil is—for those who for whatever reason are enamored with the chemistry of metals and the shaping of hot steel and the fulfillment of creating objects of art (to which I include handmade knives)—well, the blacksmith anvil is the very epicenter of that triad and, for this old man at least, a conduit into the world of total immersion into a craft that ironically I grew up around but never really embraced until decades later.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

THE DEEP WOODS SMITHY



“You people actually live out here?”
Facts are that humans are flocking creatures.  Outside that norm and things become somewhat difficult to understand.  Two hundred years ago the majority of Americans were rural folks.  Today, it’s all turned around.  Everyone wants to live in the city.  Just Google “the best places in the US to live” and most likely your answer will be, “The best cities in the US to live.”  Take away the noises, light pollution, smells of gas fumes and associated odors, and the sounds of loud music and honking horns and many folks start getting anxious, perhaps even scared.
“It’s just too quiet out here…”
Even a camping trip must be accompanied by a blaring radio and loud talk, cars parked in long rows, people yelling and screaming.  Quiet has become the antithesis of modern life.  And yet in some places there live those who seek tranquility and nature’s beauty and who abhor crowds and everything else that speaks of a society wedded to chronic consumption and flamboyancy.  Living one’s life through the eyes of others is so embedded in the modern psyche that no one thinks of it as abnormal, perhaps even a bit psychotic.  Of course, we all want to survive and feel safe; but the farther one gets from the city the less one needs to impress others, and the idea of “self-actualization” becomes genuinely self-actualization.
“It gets too dark out here at night…”
The road narrows and then narrows again as green leafy things press inward making it look more and more like a tunnel.  A mile and then another mile and a mile more; and at the very end, tucked amidst a ring of mesquites, granjenos, chapotes, brazils, colima, assorted cacti and scattered yucca one finds the cottage and a couple of small barns.  From the lean-to attached to one of the barns come the ringing tones of hammer against anvil.
“Why are the woods so close to the house?”
Visiting city folks want things open and cleared out so they can see if anyone sneaks up on them.  They want their car doors locked and they sit on edge always looking around.
“You need to clear the trees back a ways…”
Under the lean-to roof one finds a consortium of anvil surfaces.  For the uppity who believe that an anvil must be shaped in a certain manner this deep woods setup may not do.  Who knows, someday one of those anvil things dressed appropriately might find its way under the lean-to.  But every time I watch Nepalese blacksmiths and bladesmiths produce works of art with nothing more than the end of a twenty-five pound sledgehammer I start thinking that Americans are, indeed, spoiled and not as creative as they believe themselves to be.  Oh well, it’s not important.  A railroad rail, a forklift blade, a mass of flat steel from the junkyard, a bunch of steel plates welded together, or like the Nepalese the head of a sledgehammer flat on the ground.  Granted the fully forged blacksmith anvil is the king but oh so outrageously expensive—especially for those who want to live frugally and as unencumbered by things as possible.  The lean-to houses other tools the deep woods smith (and knife maker) might use.  A forge built off a design created by a fellow Texan named Tim Lively.  A couple of inexpensive belt grinders, a drill press, a bench grinder, several work tables, sundry hammers, bits, tongs; and a revolver in its holster hanging from a nail.  What smithy workplace would be complete without a pile of scrap steel?  Perhaps it’s all about my past.  No secret that I grew up within feet of a blacksmith shop.  The shop owner’s son and I were kids in elementary school.  We’d peruse the shop and especially the scrap pile.  No one had time to teach us anything or even talk to us so we learned through osmosis.  I don’t think either one of us guessed that some day a bona fide blacksmith shop would be as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker.  Where did everything go, I often wonder?  Did I just get old or did the religion of unfettered capitalism and its obsession with never ending “growth and development” finally eat away at the very soul of America?






Friday, July 22, 2016

TODAY’S BUSHCRAFT PANORAMA

The various schools of thought associated with the word bushcraft continue to widen as the realities of contemporary life, at least in the Modern World, alter the meaning of the word.  Let it suffice to say that aside from the extreme few who claim to have spent months isolated in the boondocks dressed in skins and living a “paleo” life, most contemporary bushcrafters drive to a site, set up their modern gear and then sit around fiddling with bow-drills or carving spoons and the like.  In fact for many, bushcraft has become a form of recreation where occasionally people envision scenarios where they’re cast into the wilderness and forced to survive with nothing more than a knife and a smattering of skills.  How many YouTube videos have you seen where people say they need robust knives in case they are ever thrown into a desperate “survival situation.”  Our YouTube friends will baton a branch, make feather sticks, spark a fire, do a little whittling, eat a couple of wild berries, and then walk back to the house (some are videotaping in their backyard) or they’ll return to their car via a public trail and then drive to their casa all the while dreaming of the day when they’ll be free of the chaos and insanity of today’s world.  Who can blame them?  It’s not as if they’re hunting mastodons or battling saber tooth cats, but instead busy indulging in freeway sign language or enduring the propaganda and associated distortions generated by cable news networks, plutocrats and the entrenched oligarchy.  It’s a mad world indeed.

Of course, the reality of paleo life said you’d most likely be dead before the age of thirty-five if you were a man, and if you were a woman your chances of getting past your first pregnancy were fifty-fifty.  Regardless, you’d be pretty much blind by the age of forty with rotting teeth, arthritic joints and any number of other ailments.  Alas it seems though that the current fascinations with a “survival situation” stem mostly from underlying depressions doused with free-floating anxiety and an ever increasing sense of hopelessness about the course this world is going.  After all, for a lot of people today’s world seems to make less and less sense.  It turns out that the mantra of endless “growth and development” invented by some pallid and infinitely tunneled-visioned economist was not without its unintended consequences.  Amid this contemporary milieu modern humans are already enduring a frightful “survival situation.”  It’s intriguing (and simultaneously disgusting) to hear politicians and business moguls speak endlessly of more growth and more development and more fracking and more people and more and more and more.  All the while, those of us who long for a respite in the wilds are forced into ever decreasing places.  I think often of those of you who long for a quiet spot to sit and make a fire and perhaps carve a spoon or bake some bread or maybe just do nothing at all but simply live in the moment…free of noise and pollution and the interminable ramblings of those who have no interest in nature or bushcraft or quiet or perhaps even peace.

Our world population is growing so rapidly that it is indeed frightening.  I would give you a number but within less than one minute that number would have already climbed significantly.  It will not suffice for me to say that we are at 7.5 billion humans worldwide because that number will be archaic in a few months.  Don’t believe me?  Then please look here: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

Population ecologists have concluded that the world reached its maximum carrying capacity at about four billion people.  We have therefore overshot that mark and are speeding into what some claim will be oblivion.  This reality is nothing new to the scientists and mathematicians who have studied these facts for decades.  But today, at least in some circles, there is a war on science.  People are encouraged to ignore data, facts, proof and the like.  Meanwhile the wood-be bushcrafter and naturalist is left to suffer an ever increasing population density with deforested lands and vanishing creeks and lakes as well as the encroaching sounds of bulldozers, fracking rigs, chainsaws, pneumatic hammers and that jet stream of autos shooting down highways at all hours.  Yes, I think about many of you who must live in the chaos and yet who dream just for a few hours in a quiet spot somewhere, perhaps once a week if nothing else.


So what does bushcraft mean today in this world where unfettered industrialism is sacrosanct?  Are you to simply grin and bear it?  Ultimately, each one of you will be the judge of that, but if the emails I receive weekly are any indication of the mood of many fellow woods roamers then for a lot of people the boiling point has been reached.  Please notice the number of YouTube videos on “stealth camping.”  It seems that for many a decision has been reached to hang it all and go into the woods and camp out regardless of whom might say different.  Paradoxically, the accompanying attitude is to “leave no trace,” and make invisibility the object that accompanies the silence.  Compare this ethic to those YouTube videos of hobo camps and druggy enclaves where refuse is left as if it were a landfill.  But not the bushcrafter or naturalist (they should be one and the same) who enters without leaving a trace, who camps in thickets and forests like a phantom never seen or heard.  No trace, no sign, no smells, no colors, no sounds.  The modern bushcrafter has become a minimalist who abhors impacting nature near or far.  The idea is to disappear beyond the trails noiselessly as if nothing more than a tiny breeze blowing through the brush.  I received an email from someone recently who said, “I’m getting old and [I’ve] been shut out all my life.  At home the noise of trucks and sirens everything else drives me nuts.”  So he sneaks into the woods nearby on Friday and if possible doesn’t come out until after dark on Sunday.  During the week he distracts himself with bushcraft and wilderness videos.  “I’ll be retiring in December,” he said.  He plans to spend as much of his time as possible camping ghostlike in the nearby woods.