Friday, February 23, 2018


Everyone needs to get away at some point and sort things out, and so I’ve been gone for a while. I don’t know about you but it seems that things have gotten a bit crazy in the US over the last year.  Regardless, life is a series of adjustments and the future has a tendency of just showing up one day.  You either adapt or wallow in a kind of no-mans-land, lost and forlorn.  The one certainty is that nothing ever stays the same.  Change is inevitable.  The problem, however, is that for most of the history of humankind there was always someone or some group that decided they wanted more for themselves and it was usually at the expense of their fellow humans, and always to the detriment of nature and other living things.  Perhaps that’s what we’re seeing now, and why unbridled greed is considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
*    *    *
For a long time the winters in Deep South Texas have been practically nonexistent. This winter, however, has been different.  Temperatures in some places dipped into the 30’s and that something seldom seen any more in these parts.  Too many people these days want to conflate weather and climate but I’ll ignore that for now.  It snowed twice this winter, the first impressive for South Texas, the second a mere dusting.

The last few days, like most of this winter, were overcast interspersed with rain and mist.  I rode around the place with my cousin (her father and my mother were brother and sister) and as usual we talked about our lives close to the woods.  She complains that in our family the boys had more access to the woods than the girls and that’s true.  It was an old fashioned and very conservative family and girls weren’t given the same outdoors opportunities as the boys.  Even so, of all the grandsons I’m the only one who took to the woods.

My cousin loves nature and says she can’t exist in the cities because of the noise and congestion.  Deer season is over now and she was commenting how she can’t stand deer shooters because they’re mostly city slickers and they make too much noise.  There’s truth in that remark.

My life has been spent in and around woodlands because that’s where I need to be.  I’ve got a friend who comes out here now and then.  He’s from the Houston area but he’s lived in the Rio Grande Valley, seventy-miles to the south, for at least a decade, maybe more.  I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley but it has become one more sprawling, congested, noisy place and I don’t enjoy going there.  My friend, no matter how much he tries, will never acclimate to the wilds.  There are others like him around here, weekenders some people call them.  You see, in the city everything is manicured, mowed, geometrically platted and otherwise “managed.”  But in the country it’s the opposite.  Nature plays an intricate and elusive music never heard in cities.  Nature’s harmonies swirl and dance through solitary thickets and the music floats over stilled meadows and into secret places seldom seen by anyone.  So, of course, my friend can’t understand why I don’t manicure the place; keep everything neatly trimmed and symmetrical.  It bothers him no end.  What perplexes me is that people like that are now the majority.  They’ll take a pleasant wooded spot and turn it into a settlement with clipped grass and man-made gopher holes to entrap little white balls.  May the spirits of the wilds keep those types far away.

My hobbies include knife-making and bow-making.  I’ve let the selfbows slide and haven’t made anything in that realm for a while.  Knives, on the other hand, are still something I like to follow.  It does, however, get a bit ridiculous after the knives start spilling out of drawers and the shed is filled with boxes of unused blades.  I think I might want to step back from that obsession for a little bit too.  It’s time to seek the quietest spots and await the spring.

 I’m glad people enjoyed my short story “Broken.”  I’ve got several others in the works as well as another novel that’s almost ready to be turned loose.  I like the idea of combining the woods and bushcraft and adventure into a story.  And maybe a little romance as well.

I’ve often thought that if it weren’t for my Internet connection I wouldn’t know anything about the outside world.  I’d have no idea who is president (Hmm, that might not be a bad idea), and I wouldn’t know about how the mega polluting Corporations have joined hands with a bunch of politicians to continue their ongoing destruction of nature.  More filth will be pumped into the air.  More poisons will make their way into our waterways and groundwater.  We will see more deforestation.  Notice how we’ve seen record forest fires and how parts of the world (including places here in the US) are running out of water.  Corporatists demand more deregulation and then sell their deceptions to an innocent public by telling them there’ll be “more jobs.”  But what they don’t say is that regulations were put in place for a reason.  The Oil Companies, for example, want to be able to pollute with impunity.  They hate regulations.  The Big Banks already screwed the American people a decade ago and almost completely destroyed the economy.  The good Ol’ American taxpayers were forced to bail them out in 2007-2008.

Have you ever made a railroad spike hatchet?  That’s next.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

BROKEN...a short story

The walkers and joggers stayed in their world of closely cropped grass and a winding dirt trail edged by park benches, exercise stations and little signs—All dogs must be kept on a leash; Bag your pet’s droppings; No alcoholic beverages allowed.  In the month since he’d arrived only one person had ventured near:  A man who scooted into the woods, dropped his sweat pants and left a pile of dung then wiped himself with the leaves from a poison oak.  There were no signs about poison oak.
Sometimes he sat for hours peeking through the brush watching and wondering if any of those who ventured down the path met the warden’s criteria.  Hikers, he’d decided, fell into one of three groups.  Look-At-Me’s jerked along like joggers shackled, their steps brisk, arms swinging robotically, hips swaying wildly left and right and backs arched inward as if someone was holding a shank against their spine.  The I’ve-Got-Nothing-To-Prove walked slowly contemplating butterflies or looking at birds in trees or clouds overhead and all the while oblivious to anyone who ambled by.  Finally, there were the Don’t-Look-At-Me-Please with their feeble steps and scrunched shoulders, eyes at the ground.  Perhaps those were the ones the warden meant though in truth joggers seemed to fit a little better.  Like the men who pranced around in shorts that came to within half an inch of their groins.  Squared shoulders, tight stomachs and moving as if in a permanent combat stance.  Or maybe the women who ran full out, snorting like copulating peccary; their skin gone to sinew.  Then there were the gray haired and leathery old farts that loped along with dulled and tortured gazes as if already glimpsing the black and bottomless abyss.
But as always when night crept through the woods he sat alone thinking about the warden’s first speech.  “We don’t give a damn here about rehabilitation.  We’re here to break you, plain and simple.”  The warden had a habit of walking back and forth, hands clasped behind him and not looking at anyone in particular.  “You see the reason you’re here is because you refuse to be broken.”  The warden came to an abrupt stop as if he’d walked up to a wall only he could see then turned and looked at the bunch in front of him.  He couldn’t remember exactly how many were there that day—when the bus drove through the gates, gray and featureless, with rows of rebar welded onto its windows and a shotgun-toting guard sitting behind the driver and looking back at everyone cuffed to their benches.  No words, no glances, no one even attempting to shoo the gnats off their face.  Twenty or so men it must have been.
The warden’s long pause melted into eternity.  Then he said, “You see if you were broken you wouldn’t be here.  You’d be out there like everyone else scared shitless.  You’d pay your damn taxes and keep to your side of the fence and make sure your doors were locked and then say your prayers hoping like hell there’s a God to hear them.”
As if lines from a play repeated over and again the warden stepped into every innuendo and through each inflection with all the appropriate pauses and gestures in between, stage right and stage left.  “Hell, when the bills came you’d pay them.  You wouldn’t ask questions and you’d never complain.  You wouldn’t even vote unless somebody told you who for.”
He was a tall fellow built like a linebacker.  Mid-forties, receding hairline, drill sergeant crew-cut and vacant crystal eyes veiled by wire-rimmed bifocals.  His voice wavered between tenor and baritone depending on his place in the script: “But hell no.  Not you stupid sons of bitches.  For whatever crazy reasons you ain’t broken.”
They were lined up shoulder to shoulder, hands at their sides, barely breathing, trying not to pass gas and looking straight ahead.  But no one met the warden’s eyes.  Hell, some probably weren’t even listening.
“Like I said, we don’t give a shit about rehabilitation here.  Rehabilitate to what?”
They were each issued two pants, prison gray, and two light-blue long-sleeved denim shirts with a ten inch long and two inch wide blaze-orange stripe running lengthwise along the back.  Three white T-shirts, three olive-green boxer-cut under shorts, three pairs of white socks and a pair of lace-up black-leather, rubber-soled shoes.  A Gideon’s Bible and a college ruled journal and two wooden pencils.
“What the hell’s this for?  I cain’t read or write.”
One of the guards stepped forward.  “Shut up you goddamned moron.  Prison shrink wants you all writing in your journals so that’s what you’re gonna do.”
He wondered if he had been broken all along and the warden just didn’t understand what it meant.  He didn’t complain any when he was given clean-up detail.  Sweep, mop, vacuum, and pick up litter.  And didn’t scope out the joint like everyone else during the hour a day of walking the track.  Round and round and round with every inch of it paved and hard on the ankles.  Come to think of it prison was like the park.  Had its share of Look-At-Me’s and I’ve-Got-Nothing-to-Prove and Don’t-Look-At-Me-Please.  Had its share of joggers and weight lifters too.  Except the high shorts usually wore eye makeup and lipstick and the snorting peccaries copulated after and not during their runs.

“I’d like you to write down your feelings so we can talk about them when you visit. Name’s Shockley is it?  Aaron T. Shockly?”
The shrink was a squatty bald fellow with pale skin and gray eyes and short, stubby fingers.  His heavy glasses made his eyes look twice as large when he glanced up at you.  There was an odd whistle to his voice as if half of it squeezed out his piggish nose.  It was hard to tell if he really gave a damn or if this was the only place he could find his kind of work.
“I’ve got nothing to say, Doc.”
“Everyone has something to say.”
“Can’t think of anything.”
“Make lists then.  Draw pictures.”
“Of what?”
“Look, if there’s one thing you’ve got here is time.  It’ll come to you.  Maybe not now but sooner or later you’ll have something to write about.”
“I’m not so sure, Doc.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
The first time he ever wrote anything in his journal was the day they found Lulu—a big fat black guy who was in for whatever and who sang a lot and liked to read comic books—dead in the laundry and carved up from thighs to neck.  Didn’t cover him up or anything when they took him away.  Maybe they wanted everyone to see.  Black skin flayed and sliced, yellow-white fat bubbling underneath.  Rows and rows of cuts, one after the other.  Like a slab of beef or maybe a side of pork filleted just deep enough to let the coals take their heat down to the bones.  And nobody said anything.  Just stood there and watched.  Lulu wasn’t even bleeding anymore.  Curled up on the gurney, legs tucked up against his gut, crack of his ass like a deeper cut amongst the many.
Afterward someone was playing a guitar across the way, badly.  He could hear thunder outside.  A forty-watt bulb from a gray prison lamp illuminating the lined page.

Sometimes he’d see kids hiking down the park trail.  They scared him more than anything.  Kids are curious, not yet broken.  Fortunately, there were always two or three adults with them.  Teachers, he guessed.  Most teachers are broken.  Then there were the two little old ladies who walked every morning about an hour after sunrise.  Probably in their seventies, always talking, but not like maniacs.  Little binoculars dangled from their necks, and now and then they’d stop and look through the glasses up into the trees.
One afternoon he heard a couple arguing.
“I can’t live the way you want me to live and I can’t do the things you want me to do.  The other night, that party.  Everything was crazy.  They were crazy.  Hell, you were crazy.”
“It was just simple fun.”
“Simple fun?  How the hell can you call that fun?”
“Well we didn’t do anything.”
“Damn right we didn’t do anything.”
“I’d still be your wife.”
“How can you be my wife and want to do that sort of thing?”
It was summertime and the rains had stopped; but this year there weren’t many bugs which was good.  If he had to he could sleep at the shelter but people there snored and coughed and smelled.
The pastor at the shelter always wanted him to stay the night.
“It’s dangerous out on the street.”
“It’s dangerous everywhere.”
“What do you mean?’
“I’m not broken.”
“No one said you were broken.”
“Don’t think you’d understand.”
“Why don’t you try me?”
“Just wouldn’t is all.”
“There’s a doctor I know.  Maybe he could help you.”
“Help me with what?”
“Well, maybe help you with your thoughts.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my thoughts.”
“This stuff about being broken.”
“You’re the one who’s broken.”
“Broken, you keep using that word.  I don’t think I’m broken.  I’ve got the Lord.”
“Then you’re really broken.”

He’d written it all down actually.  But never showed it to the prison shrink.
“Aaron T., why don’t you bring your journal?”
“Haven’t written anything, Doc.”
“Just not my style, Doc.”
If there was ever a shakedown they’d find the journal and then tell the shrink.  Two possibilities after that: Privileges would be taken away or Doc would get all excited and say something like, “This is good.  We’re making progress.”
He had a friend named Harvey who was doing life.  He’d popped a goddamn town mayor, who was also a banker, right between the eyes.  Then popped him in the ass for good measure.  Just walked up on the son of a bitch and stuck the pistol into the guy’s forehead and said, “Lights out.”
Harvey didn’t seem to mind he was in prison.
“Good as any,” he’d always say.
“Bullshit, you’re behind these bars for the rest of your sorry little life.”
“Well, guess I had a sorrier little life out there.”
“But didn’t you realize wasting that mayor would get you here?”
“Didn’t think on it.  Just went and did it.”
Of course, it was important to keep the journal hidden.  So he found a place up over the water pipes.  Had to roll it up in order to hide it.  But there was no other way.

One night he heard rustling in the leaves that lined the park’s path.  He ducked low, quiet and still, and looked out between the bushes to see if he could see anything silhouetted against the glow of the city.  Maybe someone else had walked into his camp.  But it was only a deer.  If this were someplace far off maybe he’d set some traps and make a fire and cook some venison and jerk the rest.

The way out of the park was not via the hiking trail but back through the woods and into a brushy corridor not more than a hundred feet wide and three hundred yards long.  Then up a knoll and down onto a sidewalk along 45th Street.  Make sure no one was coming or going then step out and hike the nine and a half blocks to the shelter.  He’d borrowed two olive green wool blankets, an old brown cotton sleeping bag, and a paperback novel.  And found a long nylon rope in a garbage bin and strung it from one tree to another then A-framed one of the wool blankets over the rope to form a roof.  Dug a hole a few yards away with a stick and used that as a latrine.  Of course, there were airplanes and helicopters flying about but never directly overhead and that was good.
It was on one of the trips out of the woods and down the brushy corridor that he ran into two lovers up on the tree-covered knoll.  Naked as the day they entered this earth.  The man was laying flat on his back, the woman straddling him.  Tappet and cam at thirty rpm.  He didn’t see them until he cleared the brush and walked up the knoll and the woman gasped and the man’s eyes grew wide.
Stepped over the man’s legs and kept going.  Down the knoll and onto the sidewalk and north toward the shelter.
“Aaron T., how are you today?”
“Fine, Pastor.”
“We’re going to have a service before lunch.”
“Take a seat with the others.”
God loves you….We love you….Keep His commandments….Keep our commandments….Do the will of God….Do our will….Our will, God’s will….We want, He wants…we He, He we….He we, we He….We We We.
Chicken dumplings.  Iced tea.  Lettuce and tomato salad.  Whole wheat bread.  Butter.  Vanilla ice-cream.  Chocolate chip cookies.
“Will we see you for supper, Aaron?”
“Supper’s at five.  The service is at four-fifteen.”
“You can stay the night if you wish.”

The prison shrink had this thing about group therapy.  They met every other day.  Lots of arguments.  Like that time with Nedham.  He was doing twenty-five years for possessing illegal prescription drugs.  Claimed they had the wrong guy.
“How are you doing, Nedham?”  He refused to be called Fred.
“I’m in here for something I didn’t do.  How the hell do you expect me to feel?”
“Well I understand but according to your records the feds found over fifty-thousand pills in your house.  What’s to deny?  Isn’t it time you accept what you did?”
“Not when I gotta go to prison and other guys get off scot-free.”
“Damn right, Doc.  How come Nedham and the rest of us are here when we did nothing worse than a hundred other guys?”
“Yeah, Doc.  Thems that get off just got lots of money and lots of pull.  Our only excuse is that we’re just a bunch of poor boys.”
“Hell, yes!”
“Tryin’ to break us Doc?”
“Just like the warden said, huh?”
“Now now fellows.  It does us no good to talk this way.  You’re here, I’m here.”
“Ah hell, Doc.  You get to come and go.  We don’t.”
“Yeah, don’t be trying to tell us you’re one of us.”
“All I’m saying is that we’re not here to discuss politics or economics or—”
“Then what the hell is there to talk about, Doc?  You think we’re crazy?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“This is all bullshit.  Why don’t you just let us be?”
“I can’t do that.”
“Hell, we won’t tell no one.”
“I’m sorry but that’s just not the way things are done around here.”
“So what do you want, Doc?  Tell us what you want and we’ll pretend we’re doing it and you can leave us the hell alone.”

There was this big old owl that perched in one of the trees near the park’s hiking trail.  At night it hooted and hooted and then sometimes flew off and hooted farther out somewhere.  He liked listening to it.  Always stayed up late listening and then slept until noon.  Sometimes it was mid-afternoon before he got hungry.
Walk to the shelter.  Endure the service, eat supper, and ask for a bottle of water.  Trek back to the park, Daylight Savings Time, and read the paperback novel until nearly nine when the sun blinked out.  Sometimes he penciled his thoughts on pieces of cardboard.
“Hey, Pastor.”
“Yes, Aaron.”
“Would you happen to have a notebook of some sort and maybe a ballpoint pen?”
“You want to keep a diary?”
“A journal.”
The pastor thought a moment.
“Actually, I just happen to have a stack of spiral notebooks in my office.  Use ‘em for taking notes for my sermons.  Bible texts and that sort of thing.  I think I can spare one.”
“Thanks, Pastor.”

When he heard the shot in the park that night he wasn’t sure what it was.  A firecracker maybe?  Then the sounds of sirens came echoing through the woods.  It was past midnight and he could see flashlight beams poking through the brush and up into the trees.  He’d thought about the possibility that something like this might happen but hadn’t really prepared for it.  Slipped his tennis shoes on then snatched up the two blankets and the sleeping bag.  Grabbed his journal and the paperback he’d been reading.  Ducked out north and through the brushy corridor moving fast but quietly and then up the knoll and saw two squad cars coming east on 45th Street.  Both cars parked a couple hundred feet from the knoll.  A cop got out of each.  One had a dog with him.  They moved quickly into the park.  He waited a couple of minutes then stepped out onto the sidewalk and crossed the street.
“Hey you, there!”
He stopped, looked back.
“Come over here.”
“Yeah, you.”
He crossed back and stood on the sidewalk.  The dog sniffed him.
“Where’d you come from?”
“Was sleeping up on that knoll.”
“Been drinking?”
“Don’t drink, sir.”
“You can’t spend the night in the park.”
“Sorry, sir.”
“Got any ID?”
“Yes, sir.  Got one here.”
A couple minutes later the cop returned, but left the dog in the car.
“You did five years?  Theft?”
“Yes, sir.”
“What’re you doing here now?”
“No job?”
“Not yet, sir.”
“Better know now we don’t care much for vagrants around here.”
“I was just on my way to the shelter on thirty-sixth.”
“Get in the vehicle.  We’ll have someone give you a ride.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Did you hear or see anything around here?”
“No, sir.”
“You sure?”
“Yes, sir.”
A police van picked him up about an hour later and dropped him off at the shelter. A volunteer processed him in.
“Aaron T. Shockly, right?”
“I’ve seen you around.  How come you don’t spend the night here?”
“Guess I will tonight.”
“Well, go find a bed.  Keep it quiet.”
One guy was walking around whispering.  And there was this lady who was really sunburned and wore little girl clothes and she was drinking milk in the dining area.  Then the guy in the next bunk got up during the night and sat there but he wasn’t drunk or anything like that.  After a while he started sobbing ever so quietly.

Good thing about the morning sermon was that it was the shortest of the day.  A prayer, a call for volunteers at the shelter.
Scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits, butter, orange juice, coffee.
He grabbed his things and walked back to the park.  Took the corridor through the woods to his camp.  His nylon rope was gone.
When he’d crossed 45th Street into the park there’d been three cop cars parked along the curb.  And he could see cops and dogs going up and down the walking and jogging path.  From out of nowhere a cop and dog appeared.
“What’re you doing way back here in these woods?”
“Just enjoying the day.”
“You been drinking?”
“Don’t drink, sir.”
“Well you can’t be here.  This area is cordoned off.”
“What happened?”
“A man got shot over there last night.”
“I don’t have time for this.  Move on out.”

Back at the shelter, looking at a map on the wall, a big national forest about a hundred and fifty miles north of the city.  Could maybe get a job and then get good and broken.  Or maybe go to someplace warm like Mexico.
He acquired another blanket.  What the hell, they had tons.  Most of them army surplus.  Turned in his old tennis shoes and got a pair of leather hiking boots, old but still usable.  Found a pair of blue jeans, a khaki shirt, a couple pairs of socks and a new leather belt.  Well, it wasn’t exactly new but it was in good condition.  And a blue gimme cap with Miller Concrete and Asphalt written on it.
Walked back to the park.  The cops were gone.  Just one of those bright yellow ribbons all around the woods saying, Police Keep Out.  Two ways to look at that, he figured.
Kept walking.
Fourteen blocks.
Found the railroad tracks.
Sat under a tree.
Night came.

There was a guy named Hudson.  He was in for car theft.  Said he used to ride the railroads before he started stealing cars.  Said you needed to know the train’s schedules and which way they were going.  Said, “One time I hopped this train expecting to go all the way to Montana.  Damn thing took me across town and stopped and that was it.  Had to walk clear back to where all the other trains were.  Damn near ten miles.”
“Did you go to Montana?”
“Ended up in Louisiana.”

The sun had set on the far end of the railroad tracks so that had to be west.  He knew that much at least.  Trains coming and going.  East, west.  West, east.  At around midnight or thereabouts one of the long lines of railroad cars started ramming up—whank, whank, whank, whank—and the cars began moving.
Had the three blankets wrapped around the sleeping bag, his journal packed inside, a string tying the works together.  Tossed the bundle into an open car, hooked a hand on the door, swung his left leg up, heaved himself inside, rolled out of sight.  Watched the stationary cars going passed, faster and faster.  Held still and took a deep breath.
Maybe head clear out to California or Oregon?  Or maybe southwest towards Texas?
Moving right along.  Steel wheels grinding.  Cars moaning.  Jostling to one side and the other.  Faster and faster.
Wonder what it’s like in the park right now?
The shelter?
“Ain’t broken, damnit.”


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Gerald and Joseph’s Fighting Knife

You’ll recall that I mentioned two fellows who were making a knife to be sold in a raffle for a friend of theirs.  Gerald is a knife-maker and Joseph is a woodworker.  Anyway, the knife is finished.  Both fellows like fighting knives and so that’s what they built.  I hope you’ll agree with me that this is one fine knife.  By the way, in case you want to contact them here is their email address:


In the early 1700s Catholic missionaries living in what is now Central Texas noticed that the small bands of nomadic people they called Apache, a name borrowed from a French word meaning ruffian, had suddenly disappeared.  The Apache were fierce warriors, independent and not prone towards taking orders from any foreign power which was precisely what the Europeans represented.  When the Catholics asked other “peaceful Indians” (meaning: They were not warriors.) the passive types said that a new group had moved in and displaced the Apache.  Compared to the new group, the Apache were mild in spirit.

The story of colonization in Deep South Texas goes back to the 1500s when the King of Spain divided sections of land called porciones to be settled by Spanish colonizers.  Mind you that the Spanish king had never been to South Texas but being a fervent “Christian” took it upon himself (as had his English and French cousins) to claim the land for himself and his subjects and in the name of God.  So Europeans occupied the porciones and then began encountering some of the most tenacious Native Americans they had yet to face.  By 1725 the Lipan Apaches had been driven into the mountains and deserts of Coahuila and Chihuahua south of the Big Bend Region, and the Comanche bands occupied most of the lands of Central Texas and the Panhandle.

Throughout the 1800s parts of Texas dealt with attacks and abductions linked to Comanche raids.  There are thousands of people of English, French and Spanish decent who are likewise of Indian blood.  When I lived in the Texas Hill Country I interviewed many longtime residents who were the progeny of Comanche captives.  In fact, I visited with a man a few weeks ago who said he is the great-great grandson of Quanah Parker the half-European, half-Native American who was chief of the Quahadi (antelope) band.  Parker was the son of a Comanche abductee named Cynthia Ann Parker.  Perhaps you’ve heard of her.

My father’s father was born after the end of the Civil War.  He had cousins who fought for the Confederacy and cousins who fought for the Union.  My grandfather was an adventurer of sorts, if not a bit reckless I think.  When the 1910 revolution broke out in Mexico he left his ranch (and a young wife and two little children) in South Texas and went off to fight.  In my way of thinking there was no rhyme or reason in any of this other than what scenarios you might imagine.  After the Mexican Revolution he returned to Texas and in 1921 my father was born.  I have vague recollections of my grandfather, other than his sky-blue eyes, but my dad used to tell me the stories my grandfather told him.  My grandfather said that Comanche raiders would ride into Deep South Texas to plunder and capture people.  South Texas ranchers would hide their families and oftentimes were killed fighting the Comanche.  My mother’s mother told a story about a relative who was kidnapped by the Comanche when he was a boy.  Years later he was able to escape though some time afterward the Comanche came looking for him.  His siblings hid their brother and it’s a heartwarming story indeed.  In my book, The Sand Sheet I tell that story as well as stories of a few other families who lived on isolated ranches along the US/Mexico border.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Lest anyone try to convince you otherwise, an anvil is any object onto which hot iron or steel can be hammered in order to forge those metals into different shapes.  There is no such thing as “an anvil shaped object” (ASO) as some have claimed since anvils have no particular shape other than a flat surface.  The accouterments added to anvils in the way of bicks, hardie holes, pritchel holes etc. are additions or orifices intended for either specialized forging processes or for accommodating tools, punches and the like.  Anvils come in all sorts of sizes and shapes and are made of many materials.  The earliest anvils were made of stone, and around the world many smiths still ply their trade using boulders of one shape or another as their anvil.  Anvils have been made of wrought iron, cast iron or steel or a combination.  Anvils were also made using soft alloys like bronze.  Therefore, any sort of condescension regarding anvils arrives from tunneled vision and not fact.  The physics behind anvils, however, is another matter entirely.  Let it suffice to say that the greater the mass beneath the flat surface onto which hot steel will be placed and then pounded the greater the opposing force that will drive back into the steel—recall Newton’s 3rd and 2nd Laws of Motion.  In a properly mounted anvil the opposing force becomes the earth itself which is a breathtaking thought to ponder.  Regardless, once smelting ore was discovered and the concept of an anvil was established humans set upon an endless quest to advance the technology.

We have no idea how many anvils were made of nothing more than wrought iron.  Later humans learned to manufacture steel and small steel plates were forge welded to the anvil surface to add strength and resistance.  Rowan Taylor has an excellent video of this process on his YouTube channel.  After watching Rowan’s video I wondered whether or not these small European anvils might’ve been part of the original bug-out bag contents.  With a suitable small hammer a craftsman could forge arrow points in the field or perhaps other small items as needed.  Refer to Rowan Taylor’s video on forging the hammer that compliments the little anvil.

I’ve stated that worldwide more anvils are made from salvaged materials than anything else.  The quintessential “anvil” that so many people equate with “an anvil” is conceptually modern but is not the one-and-only anvil shape.  I hope you’ve concluded that you don’t need to spend five hundred or a thousand or more dollars on an “anvil” when the local salvage yard or metal warehouse can provide you with all you’ll ever need in the way of anvils.  For years my two anvils were the underside of a railroad track (nice and flat) and the head of an old sledgehammer.  Even though I purchased a store-bought anvil a year ago I occasionally use my sledgehammer head and upside down railroad track rail to forge steel.

It was also about a year ago that two friends of mine decided to upgrade their anvils to something with a bit more mass.  Only one of my friends is a knifemaker; the other is a woodworker.  Both fellows are very talented and I cherish their friendship.  Gerald makes beautiful knives and Joseph makes just about anything related to wood you can think of.  Both of them are perfectionists.  Joseph had been using a railroad track anvil for tinkering with small bits of steel, and Gerald was using a four-inch diameter round bar sunk into a tub of concrete.

Below are photos of the two anvils each man recently fashioned.  We’re not sure what type of steel is used in these anvils.  I had mentioned to Joseph to buy six-inch diameter 1045 about 12 inches in length.  According to my calculations that chunk of steel would weigh 96 pounds which is more than enough to accomplish what either fellow might be looking to achieve.  The other advantage is that a round bar of that weight can be heat treated by small-shop blade-makers and hobbyists.  Anything bigger (and heavier) becomes difficult.  But Joseph, never much concerned with the details of science or physics, remembered my sermon about mass below the heated steel but little else, and when he was at the metal store he said, “I’m looking for a six-inch diameter round bar.”
          “What length?” asked one of the employees.
          “I need mass,” Joseph said.
          “How about two feet,” the employee said.
          “Great!  Arthur [that’s me] will be pleased.”
          Is it 1045 I wondered when he called me up and said, “I bought four-feet.  Two feet for me and two-feet for Gerald.”
          So Gerald picked up his two-feet of six-inch round bar and Joseph took home his two-feet of steel.  Note that a two-foot section of six-inch round bar weighs 192 pounds.  We’re talking some serious mass beneath the hot steel that probably equates to something like a 500 pound store-bought anvil.
          “Yeah,” you ask.  “But how are they going to heat treat those suckers?”
          To which I’ll nod and shrug my shoulders.
          Anyway, we’re not even sure if its 1045 steel or 1018 steel.  And please don’t say things like “spark test” or something similar.  Besides I wasn’t around when either fellow created his anvil and both of them seem content now with what they’ve got.  Lots of people are making anvils using mild steel these days and no one seems all that upset.  As one English fellow on YouTube says, “If you ding your anvil then just clean it up with an angle grinder.”

 Joseph's Anvil

Gerald's Anvil

So which of the two anvils do I prefer?  I’m not so much a post anvil aficionado as I am a stump anvil fan.  And like I said, I would not have gone with a 24-inch long round bar for the reasons noted above.  Yes, I purchased a beautiful anvil from Centaur Forge and I am extremely pleased with it.  In fact, it’s kind of become my baby.  My little shop is a lean-to bordering a barn on one side and within a few steps of a smaller barn at one corner.  But it is open on three sides so I prefer wrapping my more expensive tools with synthetic tarps when I’m not using them.  So the Kanca is cleaned and covered after an afternoon or evening of working.  Let me make it clear that if you want to buy a modern-type anvil and you’ve got the coins to do so then by all means go for it.  Some people find old anvils and restore them.  Restoring old anvils is something I applaud.

Okay, of the two large post anvils I think I prefer Gerald’s design because it seems more stable.  If Joseph were to anchor his anvil to the ground I would consider it a tie.  To my knowledge, Joseph’s anvil has not been used and probably won’t ever see much use.  Gerald’s anvil, on the other hand, has seen quite a bit of use.  They are presently working on a collaborative project that will be raffled off for a charity event.  I’ll post pics when the project is finished.  You will be amazed by their talents.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Season Changes...

And so the days go by.  For those of us who seek quiet and who revel in nature and who are lucky enough to live in the woods there is something deeply meaningful in the coming of each new day.  I’m looking out the back window with Lunz’s interpretation of Murmuring Mermaids playing in my ear.  I never tire of that song.  There are many others like it and when I write I prefer having this type of soft music in the background.  I speak of the transcendent quality of nature with an emphasis on the unknown and unknowable.  Here in the woods there is the comfort and warmth of trees and the everyday experiences of animals visiting.  Even during the warmest days I feel a great peace here.  At night I’ll walk the little road leading away from the cabin listening to night sounds, be they screech owls or elf owls, or coyotes in the distance or pauraques nearby or crickets in the brush surrounding me.  The word harmony comes to mind.

I can go for weeks never riding in a vehicle or wanting to travel into a city.  In fact, I’ll go seven or ten days without venturing more than a couple of miles from the cabin.  Here there is a lifetime of exploration for those with enough imagination to realize that nature is infinite even in its most localized milieu.  Nothing ever stays the same and yet it never changes.  Of course, only humans seek to destroy nature.  Sadly, modern mankind does not see nature as special other than a resource to be exploited.  Knock it down, drill into it; bulldoze it into oblivion.  And then poison it and think of it as nothing more than a privy into which to dump and foul.

On the weekends people arrive and make noise and talk loudly and for some reason their ambitions always revolve around manicuring the woods into something resembling the city from which they came.  One woman insists on mowing every square inch of her property so that it resembles a golf course.  Another fellow turns on his obnoxious, un-muffled tractor and goes around destroying the quiet as if he were at a major intersection or maybe a construction job site.

Does anyone believe in whispering anymore?  Even the “environmentalists” who infrequently come to visit make too much noise.  Nature seems like an idea to them instead of a reality.  More’s the pity.  They are hardwired to think city and thus the manicures and noise.  Now that deer season is approaching they’ll drive through the hamlet to the south pulling their ATVs and Jeeps and pickup trucks onto which they’ve mounted deer blinds, perhaps never realizing they are not hunters but simply shooters.  On the other hand, a man or woman with a selfbow is another creature altogether.  After all, if they’re not true hunters then they’ll not be able to acquire food.

The fall is upon us if not autumn weather.  But it has been raining the last few days.  This is the monsoon season, after all.

If it weren’t for the Internet I would not know who is president—not that I care given the present administration.  And I would not know of the giant storms in Florida or Puerto Rico or the earthquake in Mexico City or the mass killings in Las Vegas.  You see, the woods do not know about those things; it has its own contemplations to ponder.  Every day we set out food for the deer and quail.  We make sure the watering stations are okay and that the pond is not leaking.  We tend to our garden.  I often work in my little shop.  I’ve been asked to make a number of selfbows and I’m pleased to hear that people are becoming more interested in traditional archery.  I’ll also make several sets of carrizo arrows.  “It takes practice,” I tell these newbies.  They seem excited.

This week I’ll post photos of a couple of large post anvils.  Then I’ll post a photo of a dog's-head hammer I recently completed.  And then I’ll post something on a mini-railroad spike axe I forged.  Then I think that will be it on steel for a while.  I’d like to talk a bit more on bows.  And it’s amazing how dry it has been and so few wild edibles appeared these past few months.  All except for one desert plant that gave us berries in abundance.

Monday, August 28, 2017


Several million people from Corpus Christi, Texas to southwestern Louisiana are currently without power.  The flooding in the Houston area has reached “storm of the century” proportions.  People have lost their homes; and the remnants of Hurricane Harvey are still dumping up to five-inches of rain an hour along the northeastern Texas Gulf Coast.  Some people are complaining that Houston authorities didn’t issue a mandatory evacuation order prior to the storm.  The extreme levels of naiveté that generate those complaints are immeasurable.  The Houston area numbers about 6.5 million people.  Even if residents had been told to evacuate a week before the storm struck Rockport, Texas, the city of Houston could not have been entirely vacated in time.  I’ll take it a step farther and say that an evacuation would’ve been a flop.  It’s plausible to suggest that more people might have been injured in an evacuation.  Given the general anarchy surrounding human behavior these days, the overall chaos would’ve been horrific.  Even so, the meteoric increase in population has created a country crisscrossed with roads and highways and doted by cities and towns.  Yes I know there are still pockets of so-called “wilderness” but look at a satellite photo taken at night and you’ll see that most of the US is lit up like the glowing embers of a campfire.  The population is approaching 340 million people and it’s still sprouting like a weedy backyard.  Our prevailing American religion (even preachers, priests and rabbis worship at its alter) is the acquisition of money; and behind that religion is a doctrine that says we must have unbridled growth and development—something akin to a metastasizing malignant tumor.  So the night skies continue to flame while once silent and quiet places become the true endangered species in this country.

Along comes a few who don’t hanker to live in the crowded milieu and who have grown tired of a dysfunctional government and of Capitalism’s endless quest to cheapen quality from all corners.  They seek to maintain a low profile hoping not to be noticed.  Some go completely “off grid” while others connect to a nearby power line as a temporary convenience.  All the while, The System fights to thwart the independently minded.  Identity politics pervades all sides of the political spectrum and individualism is frowned upon.  Independence is viewed as odd and eccentric.  Singularity has become a pariah.  Look up synonyms for singularity: aberration, abnormality, anomaly, caprice, capriciousness, foible, freakishness.  Conformity rules now more than ever; and the majority (like lemmings scurrying off a cliff) blindly follow the mono-dimensional choices presented to us by The Establishment—the Corporatist Oligarchy.

A close friend told me the other night that he feared America is approaching some sort of point of no return (my words, not his) and that widespread violence and disorder are not far away.  I told him it’s been an insidious process and that Americans have, for the most part, become desensitized to what’s going on all around them.  Think of it as the prodromal stage of a dangerous infectious disease.  One feels poorly—tired, malaise, headachy, nauseous.  And then seemingly overnight the infection breaks out, overwhelms the immune system and the body collapses in illness.

I suggest that the schism in the country today is not so much between differing political factions as it is between the vast majority of urbanites and those few rural folks who prefer being left alone.  By the way, AM Talk Radio, infamous for creating hate-filled dissentions, is entirely manned by people who reflect urban lifestyles.

Lest you think I’m attempting to denigrate urban and suburban ideologies let me make it clear that I think people should be allowed to live as they want as long as they don’t destroy property, pollute water resources, foul the air or don’t attempt to tell one group of people how to live as a means of controlling them.  People are prone to over-interpret a statement like that so let me add that we don’t have the right to annihilate The People’s Land, and we don’t have the right to poison ground water or surface water.  We also don’t have the right to pump toxins into the air.  One more thing: No one has the right to decide that they’re going to build a road or fence across someone else’s property while claiming eminent domain.  I think many people have concluded that when private corporations or the government or an autocratic President decide to mess up people’s lives then the people have a right to retaliate.  In my opinion that’s a dangerous place to push people, but I hear that opinion from too many areas these days.  Just last night as I sat by a campfire in a thickly wooded area with a neighbor I was told that a group of urban politicians want to make a paved road right through private land.  My neighbor was livid.  “Who do these damn city *&%#*@%’s think they are?” my neighbor asked.  I could provide no clear answer….Which in a roundabout way brings me back to Houston, Texas.  Complete chaos at the moment.  Fortunately, there are other places willing to lend a helping hand.  But what if what we’re seeing in Houston was countrywide?  What if there was nobody to help?  No medicines, no rescuers, no FEMA, no aid of any kind.  Is that an outrageous and impossible thought?  Perhaps not.