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.

Friday, July 8, 2016

BECOMING NOCTURNAL

As I write this I’m surrounded by my three blue heelers.  It’s 106 degrees outside with a heat index at 111 degrees.  I’ll let my dogs out in the evening when I also go to my little shop adjacent to the barn.  I’ll work into the early morning hours as it’s the only time when temps are tolerable.  Note: It was still 86 degrees at 2AM last night.  My songbirds and quail have to eat during the heat of the day but I’m doing what I can to provide them with water and grain.  I keep the woods close all around my cabin to give cover for the birds and because the trees provide abundant shade.  It’s strange how people in the area have cleared almost every inch of foliage around them.  No shade, no wildlife, no beauty.  By the way, this past winter never arrived.  But it seems that, for the most part, any sort of winter in Deep South Texas has been nearly non-existent for the past twenty years at least.  I figure there’ll be brownouts or even blackouts this summer as temperatures spike into dangerous levels across the country.  We already know that many places, both here and around the world, are suffering from severe droughts and that sea levels are rising.  Of course, in this country there’s a massive attempt to discredit any empirically derived evidence to suggest that these negative trends are attributable to human behavior.  This rampant denialism is being funded by the polluting industries that see logic, reason and science as a threat to their power and wealth.  But what’s interesting is to witness how people with no vested interest in living in heat-plagued regions, or who are suffering from droughts and crop failures, or who have been forced to experience the ill-effects of significant levels of air and water pollution are so quick to side with the corporatists who could not care less about the masses and who are themselves already preparing their safe-houses in far-off countries where they believe they’ll be safe when everything falls apart.  In the meanwhile the easily duped will be forced to melt away in inhospitable lands void of water, and suffering what will be akin to a perpetual blast furnace.  It wasn’t until I started reading about the phenomenon of denialism that I discovered there is a deep psychological (some might suggest, psychiatric) reason for people to bury their heads in the sand and ignore overwhelming data.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In the psychology of human behaviordenialism is a person's choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth. Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of an historical experience or event, by the person refusing to accept an empirically verifiable reality. In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas.[3] The terms Holocaust denialism and AIDS denialism describe the denial of the facts and the reality of the subject matters, and the term climate change denialist is applied to people who argue against the scientific consensus that the global warming of planet Earth is a real and occurring event primarily caused by human activity. The forms of denialism present the common feature of the person rejecting overwhelming evidence and the generation of political controversy with attempts to deny the existence of consensus. The motivations and causes of denialism include religion and self-interest (economic, political, financial) and defense mechanisms meant to protect the psyche of the denialist against mentally disturbing facts and ideas.

I talked to someone this past week that got quite upset and then almost panicky when I mentioned that we all need to adopt responsible behaviors in regards to protecting the land.  I kept hearing an insistence that none of this is real; and there seemed a constant reliance on the disinformation provided by radio spin-doctors, partisan news networks, and various other corporate and plutocratic manipulators. Indeed, it seems that brainwashing is an easy thing to accomplish when tethered to people’s anxieties and phobias.  After that conversation it occurred to me that I’d heard a fascinating reference to this kind of behavior back in the days when I read extensively in subjects related to biblical history, philosophy, the Axial Age, and other topics related to pivotal events in ancient times.  The attribution comes partly from a New Testament text in the book of 2nd Timothy.  Biblical scholars are at odds as to who wrote the books of Timothy but it is commonly acknowledged that six of the epistles credited to Paul (formerly known as Saul) are pseudo-epigraphical, that is to say, forgeries.  I’m not here to argue the issue, so please debate that subject on other forums.  Regardless, the specific text I am referring to is 2nd Timothy 4:3 that says: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching.  They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.”—New Living Translation.  Said another way from the New American Standard Bible, “For a time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.”  Amazing, that fellow was talking about denialism way back then.  On another note, let’s not forget the politicians and journalists who don’t even know the difference between climate and weather.  Meanwhile wild fires rage in the Western US and are arriving at earlier dates each year.  Simultaneously, rising temperatures continue depleting reservoirs, destroying crops, contributing to new dust bowls, threatening electrical grids, and in some areas have driven people, like me, to become nocturnal.

You often hear politicians and corporatists complain about “too much regulation.”  I accept that reason and logic are in short supply these days (after all, the idea is to keep the people avariciously obese and logically anorexic) but the truth is that regulation is already running its course.  As much as our bought-and-paid-for politicians want to fantasize otherwise, the world has already initiated its own regulatory protocol.  And chasing all the unsound doctrines in the world won’t stop the fact that nature will eventually sort things out.  It would be a lot better if people used common sense and divested themselves from their greed and instead began programs to lessen the effects of our ever increasing global temperatures.  Unfortunately, that seems more and more unlikely.  Either way, it really doesn’t matter because as for as the world sees things, regulation is coming.  We’ll see droughts that will rival every drought ever experienced; massive crop failures; plummeting water supplies; poisoned ground water (does the word fracking ring a bell?); deadly air quality; tropical diseases continuing to drift northward; and “fires will roam the earth.”  So for now I am nocturnal though in time not even that will work.  Just imagine living on a super-heated earth with no means towards air conditioning and without enough water to go around and the air over you either choked with smoke or filled with industrial toxins that won’t go away.  Yesterday, I had my yearly eye exam and my ophthalmologist complained that this year saw some of the worst smoke pollution from agricultural fires in southern Mexico and Central America.  That smoke is still drifting as far north as Oklahoma and Missouri.  The 2.5 micron counts have reached dangerous levels in some regions.  I have no doubt that as our global population shoots higher and higher and industrial pollution rises we will see even greater smoke events.  Not even the doomsday-loving preppers will be able to get past that scenario.  But there you have it: Cancer of any sort eventually kills its host if unregulated.  Why would anyone ever think that the same principle doesn’t apply to a system of economics and government that pushes unregulated growth with its accompanying pollution and endless population expansion and interminable greed and consumption?

Must Read Information Below:






The supportive data is overwhelming…unless you’ve got itching ears.

Monday, June 6, 2016

HOW NOT TO GET LOST

....IN THE WOODS



The story of the lady who went missing along the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and whose remains were only recently found brought back memories of searches I was involved in as a young man.  I would like to report that in those decades past I managed to find someone still alive, but sadly that was never the case.  In one incident I was not called in until the man had been missing for a week.  By that time all remnants of his sign had been obliterated by law enforcement (some of them on horses) and when I came upon the man he had only been dead a few hours.  Over the years I’ve lamented that I was not called in earlier.  Regardless, finding someone is not so much an exercise in following tracks as it is a matter of understanding human behavior.  The same goes for animals of any sort.  Critters follow the easiest routes and will seldom take to the thickest habitat unless forced into it.  In the case of the Appalachian Trail woman it seems she kept a diary during her ordeal.  She is said to have been an experienced hiker but obviously she was not learned in survival; in fact, it seems her skills were miniscule.  What compounded her ordeal was that she is reported to have had problems with anxiety and panic attacks.  She was also said to have been phobic of the dark, perhaps even the night itself.  Nonetheless, I think she was a brave woman who was not about to let these obstacles interfere with her outdoors experience.  But her mistake was stepping off the trail to use the bathroom and probably walking into the brush too far.  I imagine when she turned around to look back she became hopelessly lost.  With a poor sense of direction she headed off on the wrong course taking sinuous routes that took her farther and farther from the main footpath.

Being lost in the woods is an anxiety producing event in and of itself, but for one who suffers from panic it can be psychologically explosive.  I’ve pondered what might have happened to her when she finally ran out of her medication.  Anti-anxiety pills can have dangerous side effects if stopped suddenly.  In her case when her pills were gone we can assume she was then subjected to an even higher level of anxiety.  With increased panic and lessening food supplies it was indeed a dire situation.  In one sense she was smart in keeping a journal.  The act of writing is well known to produce calming effects.  In so doing she most likely found her journal a friend.

News reports mentioned that the lady tried to send text messages.  I can understand her desire to seek assistance, but her mistake was not deciding from the onset that she could manage her situation on her own especially since she was not injured.  Relying too heavily on technology to save her drained her of energy better spent in other ways.  She probably walked into the woods and never glanced back to see how the terrain looked from that direction.  That too is a common mistake.  Moving from point to point seeking a good cellphone linkage and thus wandering in random and disorganized patterns made her even more disoriented and also made searching for her more difficult.

Ultimately, her remains were found only about two miles from where she had stepped off the trail.  When lost, even a short distance to an established path can become a life or death situation.  I recall finding a man who had tried to cross from one trail to another (the space between the two trails only about two hundred and fifty yards) but he got lost in the thick, almost impenetrable brush in between.  When I and another fellow found his body it was only about seventy-five yards from the trail he was attempting to reach.  He had pulled a camera tripod over himself as a form of protection.  There were fresh coyote droppings less than three feet from the corpse.  He was a man in his late seventies and I presume he might have had a heart attack after a number of days without water or food and in a state of severe mental stress.

I’ve mentioned in other posts about going on extended hikes with people who I would have thought would know better but who took with them no water, no hat, no knife or cordage.  US Fish and Wildlife Service employees, US Border Patrol agents, biologists and geologists too often trek into the woods as if it were a stroll in the city park.  They come down with heat exhaustion, severe sunburn, and sometimes even heatstroke.  A friend of mine told me a story the other day of a neophyte Border Patrol agent who ambled into a dense thicket along the Rio Grande even when told by his superiors that he had not developed enough expertise to wander into those areas alone.  Within thirty minutes the neophyte was lost.  In the ultra-thick brush the summer temperatures peeked over a hundred degrees.  To further compound the problem the humidity was saturating.  The young man began frantically calling on his radio for help but the brush was so thick that other agents were not able to find him.  A helicopter was brought in but chopper pilots cannot see beneath the trees' canopy and thus were of no use.  The same thing happened to the Appalachian Trail lady who apparently never thought to find a clearing from which to signal.  In the case of the neophyte agent other Border Patrol personnel were able to triangulate his radio signal and thus find him.  “He was in really bad shape,” said my friend.  “They practically had to carry him out.”  Getting lost in the woods is so common that every year searches are conducted to find lost hikers and in this part of the country to locate illegal aliens who call 911 to say they are lost and on the verge of dying from dehydration.  Yes, many of them are carrying cellphones.

Survival list recommendations are numerous and oftentimes muddled, but in all cases one’s ability to survive being lost is dependent on only two things. First, comes one’s level of skill and second is one’s luck.  The world’s greatest survival expert is doomed if he or she gets bit by an ant or bee and suffers an anaphylactic reaction on the spot.  On the other hand there are countless stories of children becoming lost and then found a few days later scratched, bruised and perhaps mosquito bitten but not much worse.  Come to think of it, the highest chances of getting lost are rooted in decisions that were made without forethought or analysis.  What can happen by stepping off the trail to find a private spot to use the bathroom?  I’m sure the Appalachian Trail lady might have a thing or two to say about that.

I’ve heard people say, “Nothing is going to happen” so many times in my life that I’ve come to detest those who say it.  People who casually dismiss things—especially when related to wilderness survival—are dangerous to be around and I avoid them at all costs.  Naiveté is not something I respect nor is it anything I encourage.  Treat people who arrogantly say, “Ah, nothing is going to happen” as if they have the plague.  Don’t follow them and don’t rely on their judgment.  Instead, learn to use reason and analysis to examine the possibilities even when they seem remote.

WOODS ROAMING EDC
Need I tell you that if you suffer from allergic reactions to insect stings that you ought to carry an EpiPen® epinephrine injection?  Must you be reminded to always carry a canteen full of water?  I hope not.  But like I said before, you’ll find people who do those things every day.  So below is a basic list.
Water-filled canteen, 2-quart minimum
Snack, i.e., granola bars
Wide brimmed hat (not a cap)
Leather gloves
Whistle
Butane lighter
Pocket knife
Brightly colored bandana
The following are additional items you might consider but just remember they will add weight:
Water purifier
Small saw
Lightweight chopping tool: Hatchet or Large Knife
Insect repellent
Toilet paper
Tweezers
Extra butane lighter
25-feet parachute cord
Small ultralight tarp
Mosquito netting
A Note on the Knife
Regardless of where you travel you should always carry a pocket knife.  Some people consider a multi-tool or Swiss Army knife more appropriate.  A good pocket knife will do just about anything a small knife will do especially when it comes to carving and food preparation tasks.  Keep in mind, however, that a light hatchet or a small machete is infinitely superior to anything that might be referred to as a “bushcraft” knife.  That’s not to say that a four-inch blade “bushcraft” knife with a neat Scandi-grind isn’t cool and the “in thing” these days.  It’s just that if you are ever in a nasty situation you’ll wish you had a hatchet or a machete more than anything else.

A buddy of mine who lives in Durango, Colorado tells me he hikes the forests with no other cutting tools than a small hatchet and his Leatherman multitool.  In his competent hands nothing else is needed.  And that, my friends, is the important part: My buddy is well versed in survival skills.  Here in South Texas where nothing grows without vicious thorns attached to it the machete replaces the hatchet.  When I’m woods roaming with no intent to prune the trails and all I want to do is enjoy nature then I carry a Case carbon steel trapper model folder, a Swiss Army knife field-master and dangling from my belt a mini-machete.  Two of my mini-machetes are from Tramontina.  I cut the blades to 7 ½ inches on one of the knives and 7 ¾ inches on the other.  Yesterday I completed a knife using 15n20 steel.  The blade measures 6 ¾ inches.  The spine is 2.4 millimeters thick.  Note that lightweight Tramontina blades are 1.25 millimeters thick thus making them easy to carry.


It’s important to acknowledge that knives are what you ought to carry but not what you must carry.  A beer bottle broken on a rock can be turned into an excellent cutting tool to use for everything from gutting and butchering squirrels to deer as well as for scraping bark off a tree to fleshing out agave leaves to make cordage.  Just remember though that a knife makes it all a lot easier.


If you want to pick out one key word from this essay then that word should be, think.  Never do anything without considering all the obstacles it might create.  Don’t step blindly from place to place.  Think about what grows around you and then analyze the patterns you’re looking at.  City dwellers have particularly hard times learning to see, analyze and deconstruct what’s around them in the woods.  They have become desensitized to noise and visual stimuli.  Because of that urban dwellers should step even slower when hiking.  Unfortunately, it’s just the opposite from what I’ve observed.  But if you stop to think and observe and pay attention you’ll enjoy nature all the more and you’ll be less likely to get lost.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

GROUND CHERRIES


They’re a bit smaller than cherries and they look like tomatoes.  In fact, they’re related to tomatoes so why anyone decided to call them ground-cherries is a bit mind boggling.  I would’ve guessed the name wild tomatoes or perhaps tomatillo del monte (little tomatoes of the woods) might have been more appropriate.  Some people say they taste like strawberries while others say they have their own unique sweet taste.  Bite into them and you’ll get a mouth full of crunchy seeds; and the one’s I’ve eaten were, to me at least, slightly bitter.  Nonetheless, “ground cherries” grow in abundance around our house as do wild gherkins, pepino del monte, granjeno berries, anacua berries, nopalitos, and an assortment of other wild berries, roots, and vegetables that make foraging both fun and practical.  We’re lucky to have edibles throughout the year.

Ground cherries are in the nightshade family, as are tomatoes, and thus they have some very poisonous cousins.  Plant field guides tend to concentrate on flowers and leaves and not much more.  The idea is to be able to walk around and identify the plants and maybe take some pictures.  The field-trip elitists will spout off the scientific names and then walk off as if bestowed with some secret powers.  It’s all quite silly but I’ve been guilty of doing that myself.  Besides, the scientific names that are supposed to be immutable and perhaps even sacrosanct change so often nowadays that the whole nomenclature process has become rather flippant.  I remember one guy telling me years ago, “Hell, you could be making up those [Latinized] names on the spot and we wouldn’t know the difference.”  But I was young and smug and didn’t realize that the most important names in any region are the folk-names because those are the names the rural people understand.  Ethnobotanists and bushcrafters, on the other hand, are more interested in whether or not the plant’s parts may be eaten, used medicinally or can be turned into things like cordage, hunting implements, structural materials and the like.  What I find interesting is that many woods people don’t seem all that concerned with giving things names.  After all, they know that everybody else in the area knows what they’re talking about so oftentimes the plant's identity is more closely related to its function than anything else.  The other day, for example, my water well man was out here and when he saw a bunch of ground cherries growing nearby he said, “Oh look!”  He bent forward and picked several of them then removed the thin, papery husks (an outgrowth of the calyx) and extracted the orange berries.  “What do you call that fruit?” I asked.  He shrugged and said, “I don’t know.  We just eat them.”  He ate a few more and I recalled that one of the last times he was here he spotted some wild cucumber growing from a vine near the well.  He got all excited and bent down and picked a bunch of pepinos and started eating them on the spot.  “What do you call those?” I asked.  Another shrug and then, “I don’t know.  We’ve been eating them all our lives.”









Now the craze around this homestead is to make salsa.  Mind you, I’m not much of a salsa eater.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy spicy food, it’s just that my stomach doesn’t seem to like them much anymore.  Regardless, experimenting with different salsas is a big deal here at the house.  The master concoctionist in this family is Matthew who can create meals and dishes better than anyone I know.  So it was only natural for Matthew to declare that he was going to experiment with making the perfect salsa using ground-cherries or tomatillo del monte as I prefer calling them.




Matthew’s recipes are quite tasty.  He’ll go around selecting the best quality tomatillos del monte and then spend an evening canning.  People come around eyeing the salsas and, of course, friends always get a sample.  The other day a Border Patrol friend was out here and Matthew gave him a jar.  Early the next morning he sent us a text saying, “Damn, I forgot my jar of salsa at your house.  I was all ready for some eggs and salsa this morning.”  So as soon as he can break free he’ll zip on out here and pick up the jar he forgot.  I imagine we’ll fry him up some eggs on the spot and add a plate stacked with fresh corn tortillas.  It’ll end up being a group thing.

FAMILY: Solanaceae
GENUS: Physalis
Approximately 90 species.
Ground Cherries grow in tropical or subtropical climates.  They grow low to the ground and seem to prefer sandy, alkaline soils.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

QUICK AND SAFE MACHETE SHEATHS

I hope I’ve made it clear over a half-dozen posts at least that in the Southwestern US the most important cutting tool you can own is the machete.  I'm referring, of course, to those of you who spend significant amounts of time in the desert and brushland regions.  Those areas are known for their endless varieties of thorns and spines and their abundance of dense hardwoods.  A cute four-inch-blade Scandinavian grind knife that might be all the rage in the north country becomes rather anemic when faced with thorns and spines that are almost as long.  Besides, genuine bushcraft has little to do with “fine carving tasks” and instead focuses on the construction of shelters and the acquisition of food.  In the rain-forests of South America indigenous people construct almost everything with their machete.  The same goes for those who live in remote regions of Southeast Asia.  Hunters use machetes to construct dwellings and to make bows and arrows.  They make their fishing gear with machetes, clear the greenery around their abodes and even carve figurines during fiestas.

Most of the indigenous people carry their machetes unsheathed, and they sharpen them with smooth rocks gathered along streambeds.  In other areas where firearms are restricted (so the only people who own guns are crooks, cops, and military) the people use their machetes as weapons.  A man wielding a 24-inch blade is a fierce combatant indeed.  The machete is so ubiquitous along the borderlands and farther south into Latin America that the thought of restricting a machete seems tantamount to genocide.  How, after all, is a man to provide for and defend his family without a machete?  How does one kill venomous snakes and make fishing equipment without a machete?  It boggles my mind when I hear of East Coast politicians wanting to restrict the machete from the citizenry.  Folks, that’s another world out there as mysterious and foreign to us as we must appear to them.  As one old codger told me not long ago, “God Bless ‘em but may they please not move over here.”

A lot of people toss their machetes behind the seat of their pickup trucks or in the tool box attached to the truck’s bed.  To them a machete is no different from a hammer or saw.  It’s just one more tool among many.  But for those of us who are particular about our cutting implements then the machete is given a sheath.  In Mexico one will see nice leather machete sheaths sold in the markets for about ten US dollars apiece.  But for someone living on an ejido (agrarian village) ten dollars might as well be a thousand.  I’ve seen some folks carrying their machetes in sheaths made of carrizo but for the most part the long blades are kept naked and oftentimes tucked between belt and trousers.

 

I always take modified, short-bladed machetes with me when I’m woods roaming. My woods roaming machetes vary in blade lengths from eight to ten inches.  I modify them to have a Kephart style point that comes in handy for slicing and tossing nopal pads out of the way. 

Here’s how I make my machete sheaths.  First, I cut a piece of heavy weight cardboard so that the length will be an inch or thereabouts longer than the machete blade.  Then I wrap duct tape around the sheath and incorporate a piece of paracord beneath the top wrap to serve as a dangler. The other day a fellow who uses the handle, Mattexian, commented on my post about tow strap knife sheaths saying that old Boy Scout handbooks recommended using a tin can as a protective barrier inside axe sheaths.  Thanks, a million, Mattexian!  Because of your suggestion I’ve started using soda cans to protect my makeshift machete sheaths. I now cut open an aluminum soda can and then fold it until it measures the same dimensions as my cardboard sheaths end-point.










Since the cardboard fold is on the side where the blade edge rests there's little chance of the blade slicing through at that point.  If it makes you feel more comfortable then you can easily incorporate a piece of aluminum there as well and wrap it over with duct tape. I make my sheaths tight to keep the machete secure.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

SOUTH TEXAS SMUGGLING TRIANGLE


In the early morning hours of May 11, 2016 three bailouts occurred, each within two hours of the other.  The first bailout at 2:00 AM, the second at 4:00 AM and the third at daybreak.  Each bailout was preceded by felony pursuits where smugglers refused to pull over even as state and federal law enforcement police followed lights on and sirens blazing.  In each case the smugglers eventually crashed their vehicles into ranch fences and headed inland knocking over small trees and cutting wheel-rutted paths through the brush.  Usually, it’s a mesquite tree that stops the smuggler’s vehicle, but even before the dust settles one can hear people yelling to jump out and run, thus the term “bailout.”  Smugglers pack anywhere from ten to twenty illegals in their trucks, vans and cars; and when the people run they scatter into the night.  The US Border Patrol will send in a team of trackers and, if available, a helicopter will be flown in from the Rio Grande Valley about seventy miles to the southeast.  Just hours after sunup on May 11, 2016 a Texas Game Warden was on patrol in the same area where the three bailouts had occurred the night before.  The warden spotted a pickup making a suspicious U-turn on that lonely stretch of paved road and he decided to follow the truck in order to get its license number.  The warden radioed the plate number to the Starr County Sheriff’s office in Rio Grande City some forty-five miles to the south.  Within a minute the sheriff department dispatcher replied that the suspicious vehicle had been stolen out of Houston, Texas a couple of days before.  The warden flicked on his lights and siren and simultaneously the pickup truck hit the gas pedal.  Another hot pursuit was in motion.  After traveling about a mile the pickup truck veered left and blasted through a ranch fence.  Like the bailouts the night before, the truck launched into the air as it struck a mound of dirt and then it rammed into the brush at fifty miles an hour.  The driver whipped his vehicle sharply to the left and paralleled the fenceline as the warden stayed on the paved road moving alongside and preparing for a possible gun battle.  Then the smuggler’s vehicle lurched up and down when it hit head-on with a mesquite tree.  The warden—who had kept the Starr County Sheriff’s Office abreast of the goings on—stopped his truck and jumped out, M4 rifle in hand and a Glock .40 S&W on his belt.  The young warden scaled the high game-proof fence the smugglers had breached about a quarter mile back and then cautiously approached the stilled pickup.  “They were obviously coyotes [smugglers] getting ready to pick up a load of illegals,” the warden said later.  The stolen truck had already been readied for its cargo of people.  The rear seat had been removed in order to accommodate as many illegals as possible.  One 12 gauge shotgun shell was found in the truck but if the smugglers had a firearm they took it with them.  The warden returned to his truck (scaling the high fence once again) as not to leave his vehicle alone where the smugglers could circle back and steal it.  Within a few minutes a Starr County Sheriff’s deputy arrived to assist.  It took five hours in nearly one-hundred degree temperatures to secure the stolen truck and have it towed out of the ranch and back on the paved road.  As of this writing the coyotes have not been found.  “If they’re veteran smugglers then they know how to escape,” the warden said.  “But if they’re newbies they’ll be dead within a couple of days from lack of water and sunstroke.”

This morning (May 12, 2016) another bailout occurred near a crossroads called McCook about thirty miles south of my little ranch.  A few days ago another bailout was witnessed in the tiny hamlet of San Isidro about four miles south of here.  In that case the smugglers drove through the parking lot of a family owned convenience store and then almost crashed into a windmill across the road.  A friend who oversees a small ranch west of here near the intersection of FM 1017 and FM 755 tells me that over the last few weeks there have been nearly a dozen bailouts at that location.  Last night at about 10:00 PM we heard a helicopter (Homeland Security or US Border Patrol) circling to the east.  We knew what was going on—another large group of illegals was observed moving through the brush.

When you hear the suits in the New York Media as well as the groups associated with various political factions telling you that illegal immigration is down then they are either lying outright or they are horrifically misinformed.  Facts are that the US/Mexico border is as out of control as it has ever been.  The New York Media will tell you that apprehension rates are down and from that statistic they erroneously conclude that illegal crossings are likewise down.  This is just one more example of why agenda-driven news coverage coupled with an extreme lack of knowledge about US Border issues and the unique culture that makes up the Borderlands leads to the wrong inferences and thus bad news coverage.  Let’s make this clear at the outset: If apprehension rates are down then all you know is that apprehension rates are down.  But you do not know if illegal crossings have, in fact, lowered.  Border law enforcement will tell you that nothing has substantively changed.  The reasons apprehensions are down are numerous ranging from the politics of amnesty and presidential executive orders and what that does to law enforcement morale to purposeful fudging of the data in order to gain political advantage.  Let’s also make it clear that the fault of our immigration problems is just as much with the Republicans (who want cheap labor) as it is with the Democrats who live under the delusion that “the Latino vote” is a monolithic and mindless group that will always vote Democratic.  Regardless, it’s the Borderlands that are suffering as constant waves of illegals cross into the region to wreak havoc on ranchers, farmers and even city dwellers.

Take note of the map I provided.  The South Texas Smuggling Triangle encompasses over a thousand square miles.  The epicenter is Starr County but the triangle extends in to Hidalgo County to the east and Zapata County to the west.  Affected counties also include Jim Hogg County and Brooks County.  This is a harsh landscape divided by rocky outcrops along the south and the South Texas Sand Sheet to the north.  Regardless, this land kills if given the opportunity.  Whether from lack of water or unrelenting heat or from snake bites and a score of poisonous insects or simply shear exhaustion from trudging across a land that enjoys taking life whenever possible, the Smugglers Triangle always begs the question: Why do they attempt to cross an area so forbidding to human life?

Good Samaritans have placed 55-gallon plastic barrels filled with one-gallon water jugs alongside the paved roads that crisscross the Smuggler’s Triangle.  I assume the barrels are placed alongside the roads to ease the illegal’s crossing into the United States.  What these groups don’t seem to understand is that once the barrels are filled with water jugs and then left by the roadways they are essentially abandoned.  Some of the Samaritans have complained that people have been “stealing” the water jugs from the barrels.  Pray tell, how does one steal from something that has been abandoned?  Regardless, I assume that people sometimes stop by one of the barrels for a jug of water.  If people want to place water along the farm to market roads then that water is available to whoever wants it.  Case closed.

So what happens next?  Of course, this is election season and the spin doctors on either side are busy blaming each other for the chaos along the US/Mexico border.  One guy wants to build a wall that will likely “create jobs” but will probably have little effect on curbing the human tide.  And a woman candidate says she’ll keep the borders open—or at least that’s what she’s proclaiming this week.  Lest you forget, after September 11, 2001 the American president did absolutely nothing to secure the borders.  Federal and state law enforcement officials working along the border were aghast that Junior Bush abandoned the border to whoever wanted it.  Have things gotten any better since then?  Well, yes and no.  The Border Patrol has been augmented since the Bush years.  But simultaneous deferred deportations have made the problem worse.  It’s as if the country takes a step forward and then three steps backwards.  It seems that Washington DC has become impotent over the last couple of decades.  An oligarchy wedded to corporatism where less than one-percent of the population pulls the strings for all the rest.  When I was a kid the US population was around 165 million people.  There’re not many people anymore who can remember what it was like to have truly open lands and an abundance of nature.  The youth of today have no idea what real woods roaming is all about.  How can they?  They’ve never known it—not really, not truthfully, not tangibly.  Today the US population is estimated to be around 340 million people.  Population ecologists tell us the country reached its “maximum carrying capacity” at about 220 million back in the early 1980s.  The date at which the US population will reach 400 million people keeps changing with the timeframe continuously revised downwards.  If you think things are chaotic now then wait a few years.