Thursday, August 6, 2015

PERSONALIZING YOUR MACHETE

You might ask why anyone would ever need to personalize his machete.  After all, most machetes arrive from the factory shaped in accordance to how generations of users, be they farmers or ranchers or jungle dwellers or explorers, developed the designs over the centuries.  I assume it was the Spanish conquistadors who initiated the machete’s evolution.  They had swords of various lengths and contours and they used them to whack through jungles and brushlands and across deserts in their quest to find gold and silver and to subdue the natives (more often by the blade than by the Word) into accepting Christianity.  Over time, the machete became that long, thin, flexible knife ideally suited to regions where the underbrush is thick and vines grow long and cactus sprawls along the trail like endless punji stakes awaiting a taste of blood.  But that still doesn’t answer the question does it?  Why would anyone feel inclined to take his or her machete and alter its design ever so slightly?  What’s the purpose?  But then why do people get tattoos or wear rings in the noses or even in their ears?  I’ve never been enamored with any of that; in fact, I don’t even wear a watch.  Of course, living way out here in the woods doesn’t require a watch since only four times are important: Sunrise, Daytime, Sunset and Night.




Before and After Photos of an Imacasa 12 inch machete formerly marketed by Brigade Quartermasters.

When it comes to personalizing my machetes I am as guilty as the next guy.  I can’t seem to buy a machete without immediately thinking how I can modify it for one reason or another.  One of my favorite past times is to locate old machetes and rejuvenate them into something else, be it a camp knife or trail knife or even a fishing knife.  I am only interested in carbon steel machetes and have no interests in stainless steel.  I’ll take it one step further: The only real machetes are made in Latin America (though I’ll allow the Ontario Knife & Tool machete) and those Central American and South American machetes are unsurpassed.  I have a friend named J.R. who recently went to Harbor Freight and bought a couple of cheap Chinese stainless steel machetes.  He took them to his ranch and within minutes of whacking away at some underbrush they both snapped.  So I suggested a store that sells good quality South American machetes and he emailed me saying he’d gone there and found a couple of nice ones.





Before and After Photo of an Ontario Knife & Tool 12-inch machete.

But the need to personalize a machete gets worse as one ages and as one becomes more and more familiar with the terrain one travels.  I am forever imagining scenarios where I’ll need one type of knife or another and even as I drift off to sleep at night I’m often thinking of some new knife design or knife-making project or how I intend to modify my latest machete acquisition. 



Granted, a machete is a specialized instrument.  It won’t chop through heavy logs nor does it do well for fine woodcarving.  But where there are brambles and vines and cacti and where the mogotes are so thick you can only see in about four feet then the machete comes alive.  The thin blade plays with the vines and shrubs and makes short order of cactus pads.  In the jungles I’ve watched the native people make everything from bows and arrows to blowguns to huts to rafts and traps with only a machete.  I think the machete is the real bushcraft knife!  In fact, I read an interview with Jeff Randall who owns Esee knives and Jeff said the same thing.  If given his druthers for the ultimate bushcraft (woods craft) blade he prefers a machete—and this comes from a man who makes what I consider the best woods knives in the world.



Ontario Knife & Tool 12-inch machetes

Choosing an ideal camping knife is one of those subjects where everyone has an opinion, and why not?  People who go camping develop their own criteria as to what works for them.  That’s the critical part.  It really depends on where you go camping.  If it’s in a state park or regulated camping area then the need for anything other than a pocket knife is questionable.  In fact, some of America’s best known hiking trails are so regulated and bureaucratized that they really amount to not much more than a long sinuous walk through the park.  In places like that it’s hard to fathom the need for anything other than a paring knife.  But in places outside the US or in some of our wilderness areas then something a bit more substantial is perhaps needed.  In the northern climes a small hatchet reigns supreme.  The hatchet is better than a large knife or a Mora knife or a hunting knife or a Swiss Army Knife or anything else for that matter.  A man who knows how to use a hatchet will agree without hesitation.  But it’s always a good idea to carry a sturdy pocket knife for small chores like opening a package of food or maybe making a skewer for the fire.

Tramontina 12-inch

To the South the machete replaces the hatchet.  Carry a pocket knife and bring along a machete and hopefully you’ve got a few skills and you should be okay…assuming you also brought water, a tin cup, and a water purifier.  And a ferro rod!  And a wide-brimmed hat….


In my view the best walking, hiking, camping, woods-craft machete has a blade of no more than about 15 inches.  My personal preference is to have a blade about 10 inches long.  A modified machete with a 10-inch blade is feather light and yet has enough mass in the blade to successfully cut camp stakes or make feather sticks or clean away underbrush around your hammock or tent.  A small modified machete makes an excellent tool to make a bow-drill or a spoon or even a bow if needed.  I’ve made dozens of bows with nothing more than a small machete.  The spine acts as a perfect scraper if you define the angle and retain a burr as you would on any cabinet scraper.


A small, personalized machete also makes a good weapon if the need arises.  In some parts of the country it is no less the Wild West than it was 150 years ago and in some respects it’s now even worse.

Woods Roamer Full-Tang Camp Knife 5160 Spring Steel

This is not to say that a thick bladed knife is not needed.  A thick bladed knife comes in handy for lots of survival tasks from making a shelter to building a trap.  But the small machete will do the same job for a lot less money—though the lighter weight will require a little more work.  Allow me to say something in reference to the costs of machetes.  Along the border and on into Mexico you can purchase Latin American machetes for about five bucks or thereabouts.  I cringe when I see what some of these online companies are charging their customers for the machetes they sell.  Prices are exorbitant and sometimes downright ridiculous.  The last 20-inch Tramontina machete I purchased at a nearby ranch store cost me $4.37.  The last Bellotto machete I bought from a vendor at a flea market cost $9.00.  Both purchases were within the last two years.  When I see prices of $25 or more for some of these same machetes in the online stores I get a bit upset.  Okay, forgive the rant.

Pig Sticker: 5160 Spring Steel

About the only bit of knife making advise I can give you regarding any modifications you might care to make to one of your machetes is be very careful not to burn the steel.  If you use an angle grinder or Dremel tool then you’d best keep the blade cool by constantly dipping it in water.  Otherwise, you’ll burn the steel and essentially ruin the project.  If the steel turns blue where you are cutting the blade then you’ve goofed and now you have two choices: Make the blade even shorter or turn what’s left of your machete into a gardening trowel.



Thursday, July 30, 2015

GROW YOUR OWN BOWLS AND CUPS AND COFFEE MAKERS

We have entered those dog-days of summer.  In South Texas the people of the land call it La Canicula.  Old timers used to say it was the time when the land was poisoned.  Nothing would grow.  The grass withers and turns brown.  During the day the heat reaches temperatures that are almost impossible to endure.  Like the deer and javelina, the coyotes and jaguarundi, the people stay in the shade during the day and venture out only near sunset often working into the night—always careful, of course, to watch for rattlesnakes.  We’ve not had too many encounters with rattlers this summer.  I walked up on a four foot rattlesnake the other evening as I was entering my work shed.  We get careless sometimes.  I had my mind on other things and had the snake not buzzed and raised its head to strike I would’ve probably stepped on it.  We were feeding the dogs the other day and they were acting skittish and then we heard the distinctive buzzing a few feet away.  This time it was a big six-footer coiled under a bush at the edge of the back porch.  But having lived my life in the Brushlands I am as used to rattlesnakes as any city dweller is to fire hydrants and honking horns.


Our watermelons are looking good as are the cantaloupe.  We keep them watered and growing in partial shade otherwise they’ll die on the vine in short order.  But the real joy for me is watching my bottle gourds grow because this year I plan to make not only bird houses but cups and bowls and a coffee maker too.  I’ve written about my gourds before.  Growing conditions in Deep South Texas are not like what you’ll read about on other Internet sources.  Most people advise you to grow gourds in full sun and for the most part to just leave them alone.  I tried that years ago and found that what may serve folks well in other areas spells disaster where mid-day summer heat can reach as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  In fact last week we were under a heat advisory and when I checked the thermometer on the front porch it read 108°.


So I grow my gourds in the shade and make sure they’re watered at least three times a week.  I placed an old step ladder in one area to allow the vines to climb and a discarded bed spring in another area for the same purpose.  The vines climbed the ladder and old springs and then crawled into the mesquite trees where in a few weeks they enveloped the trees adding even more shade to the ground.  The large, ultra-green leaves provide a deep shade to our “front yard” and that brings in scores of birds where we have watering stations and grain feeders.  Surrounding the trees is a dense belt of granjeno/brasil woods called “motts” in these parts.  So the birds have a protective zone that predators do not enter.  Our bobwhite quail have been abundant this year, at least around the house.  We don’t shoot anything because the birds are part of our family.  City folks drop by now and then and the first thing they want to do is kill something.  “Can I come over here next quail season and shoot?” they’ll ask.  I’m tempted to reach into my wallet and give them twenty bucks and then say, “Go buy a few chickens at the grocery store.  These quail aren’t for sale.”  A fellow was telling me that on a nearby ranch the owners raise quail in long pens where they are fed and cared for.  The pens are only a few feet high so when the quail flush they can’t go very high but instead must fly away at a height of about ten feet and straight away.  So then when quail season arrives they release these pen-raised quail and the dudes from town show up with their scatterguns and then go “quail hunting.”  When they flush a covey the quail (trained to fly no more than ten feet high and always in a straight line) do as they have been taught and the “hunters” shoot (hopefully it won’t be some moron who shoots his hunting partner in the face; but we won’t go into that here)…and then the quail fall and a dog retrieves them and everybody is happy.  But enough of that lest I get too carried away with how hunting has lost its honor in too many places and has become nothing more than business.


When my gourds are ready and the stems start to turn brown I’ll pick them and wash them in a mild bleach solution and then allow them to dry in a cool and well ventilated area.  Then in a few months I’m going to make bowls and cups and a coffee maker and some bird houses.  I’ll show those of you who are into woods craft (bushcraft) how to make a coffee maker from a bottle gourd.  We’ll share a cup of java.



Saturday, July 18, 2015

TIPS ON MAKING MICARTA


Knife scales made from Micarta have become popular over the last couple of decades.  Other synthetics are also making inroads and replacing traditional wood or antler knife handles.  Micarta is a process by which layers of organic fabrics (paper, linen, canvas etc.) are impregnated with epoxy resin and then sandwiched together under great pressure to form a stable and rock-hard slab.  Micarta slabs can be one color or a collage of colors giving them an array of appearances and textures.  It’s not all that difficult to make your own Micarta but having made dozens of Micarta slabs allow me to offer some tips that will make the process easier and less wasteful.


1) Making Micarta is a smelly and gooey process and the epoxy fumes are toxic.  Always make Micarta in an open, well-ventilated space.  I wear a respirator and make my Micarta outside under the open shed where I make my knives and bows.  Even though I’m wearing a respirator I still have a large fan blowing behind me to push the fumes away.  I have known people who became quite ill when they attempted to make Micarta in an enclosed space and did not use a respirator.
2) Before you start making your Micarta slab get everything you’ll need and place it near or on your work table.  Since you are working with epoxy you’ll need to work quickly.  However, I’m going to explain a method that I use that will greatly extend the time needed to make your Micarta and at the same time will not sacrifice the hardening qualities of the epoxy resin.


3) These are the materials I use:
          a) 2 ½” X 12” strips of construction paper, 50-80 pound cardstock, linen or canvas sheets.  Burlap can be used as well.
          b) Nitrile gloves.  I use three pair for each Micarta making session.
          c) Mixing tool.  I use a disposable plastic knife.
          d) Wax paper
          e) Respirator
          f) Paper cup.  I use two or three cups per session.
          g) Two 1”x 4” x 15” pine boards
          h) Bench mounted vise
          i) Four C-clamps
          j) Electronic kitchen scale
          k) Epoxy resin and hardener. I purchase epoxy by the gallon at Home Depot.
I place a large piece of cardboard on my workbench to keep the epoxy from spilling onto the bench while I’m working.

The epoxy calls for ten drops of hardener for each ounce of resin.  A typical paper Micarta slab will use about four ounces of epoxy while linen or canvas Micarta will use as much as six or even seven ounces.


IMPORTANT: When mixed according to directions the epoxy begins to harden in eight to eleven minutes depending on the ambient temperature.  That does not give you much time to work.  Now most hobbyists put less than the directed amount of hardener because they want to extend the time limit.  But this is not good technique and the tactic is unnecessary since one can still follow the manufacturer’s directions and obtain top quality Micarta but at the same time not be so rushed.  So here is what I do:
          a) Always measure out the amount of resin you intend to use. DON’T GUESS.  That is bad technique.
          b) For paper Micarta I’ll use two paper cups each pre-filled with two fluid ounces of resin.  I will not add the hardener until I’m ready to start.  When I’m making linen or canvas Micarta I will pre-fill three paper cups with 2-ounces each of resin.
          c) I will put two pairs of Nitrile gloves on since one pair is going to get all slimed with epoxy and I need a clean pair underneath when I fold the wax paper over the slab in order to form a neat rectangular package.
          d) When I am ready and all the materials are in place I will put twenty drops of hardener in the first cup and then mix the solution with my plastic knife.  I have already placed a sheet of wax paper on the cardboard and I have the sheets of fabric ready for use.
          e) Since I am only working with two ounces from each cup I have more than enough time to use the allocated epoxy to start the job.  Let’s assume I’m making Micarta from construction paper—but the same process works for all fabrics.
          f) I place the first paper sheet on the wax paper and then saturate it with epoxy.  I’ll then flip the sheet over and saturate the other side with epoxy.  Then I place another sheet on the first sheet and saturate it with epoxy.  The process continues until I finish the first 2-ounces of epoxy in the paper cup.
          g) When the first 2-ounces are gone I’ll put a clean sheet of construction paper (or linen or canvas or cardstock) on the last saturated sheet and then quickly mix in twenty drops of hardener into the next cup that is already filled with resin.  Then I continue the process.  Mixing in twenty drops in the second cup takes about ten seconds.


As mentioned, 4-ounces of epoxy usually suffice for a ½-inch slab of construction paper or cardstock.  After you’ve completed saturating the sheets then remove the top pair of Nitrile gloves and then carefully wrap the wax paper around the entire package.  I always keep an extra pair of Nitrile gloves next to me in case I need to remove one pair and quickly place another clean pair over the pair that is next to my skin.  It’s a safeguard that I suggest you get in the habit of employing.  Now some people build forms in which to place the package.  I find that step unnecessary because I then place the completed package between my two pieces of wood and then, holding the wood/package firmly, I slip it into my bench vise.  This serves the same purpose of a form because I can then quickly tighten the vise to hold the wood/epoxy package in place.  It always works.  I then begin placing my C-clamps on the wood/package carefully tightening the clamps (and further tightening the vise) until everything is absolutely secure.  Some people claim that one should not tighten the wood/package too much but I find their reasons unconvincing.  If you have followed the product directions and added the proper amount of hardener drops AND you have followed my directions and worked with only 2-ounces of epoxy at a time then by the time you place the wood/package into the vise it will already be very hot!  In other words, it is already hardening.  There will be essentially no spilling or leaking of the epoxy out and you will have an extremely hard slab in about 24-hours time.


I leave the wood/package in the vise (with the C-clamps attached) for at least one full day.  After which I’ll remove the wood/package from the vise and then remove the C-clamps.  I’ll remove as much of the wax paper as possible and, using a coping saw I’ll trim the edge of the slab to get a peek of the finished product.  I always keep about ten or twelve Micarta slabs ready to use and when a blade is ready I’ll select a slab.  REMEMBER that working with a completed Micarta package is also dangerous if you don’t wear a respirator.  Like before I shape the Micarta scales outside with my large fan next to my small belt sander blowing all the epoxy particulate away.  NEVER take chances around Micarta either when making the package or when sanding the scales.  Micarta made properly will probably last longer than the knife blade itself.  It will not shrink or expand and is essentially waterproof.  I often “paint” the completed and attached scales with a layer of 5-minute epoxy.  This makes the handles quite smooth and some people like a rougher feel to their knife handles.  But I’ve never liked knife scales with knurls or grooves or deep checkering or finger channels because in a working situation you will require a handle that is designed to allow you to adjust your grip in order to lessen fatigue and injury to the skin.  So I’m just fine with smooth grips.  Years of experience has shown me what works and what amounts to fad.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

NATURE'S GARDEN

NOTE: This post is for educational purposes only.  Learning the native plants around you is a methodical process that must be approached carefully and preferably via someone who is an expert or at least well familiar with the plants.  This holds true especially for medicinal native plants since they are as likely to cause allergic reactions, side effects, and in some cases may even be harmful to those with preexisting medical conditions.  Always, consult with your doctor before you begin using any type of medicinal native plant either by ingestion or topically.


There are two types of gardens: The garden you put in every spring or early fall and then the garden growing naturally in the woods or vacant lots around you.  It’s just a matter of learning what plants are edible or medicinal and then acquiring a sufficient body of knowledge to know either how to eat those native plants or use them for some medical purpose.


My introduction into using native plants for food began when I was only a child.  Nopalitos (Opuntia engelmannii) were a regular household item especially at my grandmother’s house where she cooked them with picadillo or scrambled eggs or even just by themselves.  My grandfather and I would make forays at the ranch looking for edibles and it was through him that I first became familiar with pitaya strawberry cactus (Echinocereus enneacanthus) and coma fruit and with other plants like the small elongated red fruit of the pin cushion cactus (Mammillaria heyderi).  My Papagrande would notice a plant and then tell me whether it was edible or had some sort of medicinal value.  We’d always speak in whispers and I’ve carried that practice into adulthood when in the woods.  The learning process began at about the age of seven and by the time I reached Junior High School I had acquired enough expertise to go looking for plants on my own.  Even so, some of my fondest memories are of walking through the quiet woods with my grandfather searching for plants to collect to eat on the spot or that would be taken back to the brick cabin that served as ranch headquarters, the place for family gatherings and sleepovers.


All these years later I still roam the woods examining the foliage and making note of where all the edible and medicinal trees and shrubs are located.  I visit those spots often to check on the various plants.  Is the fruit ready to eat?  Is there some plant nearby I can use for a tea or for insect repellent?  Perhaps there is a plant about ready to flower and the flowers themselves are edible.  I’ve learned to differentiate between the species of prickly pear growing around me noting which ones produce the best nopalitos or the best tunas or the best darts.  Yes, you read correctly; I said darts.  I keep forgetting to show all of you how to make nopal darts and so sometime this week I’ll go out looking to see if I can find any prickly pear still blooming.  When I was a kid we’d make darts from the bright yellow or red flowers and then spend an hour or so having dart games on the nopal pads.  It’s the kind of simple pleasure that ranch kids enjoy and I assure you it is in many ways infinitely more productive than the modern obsession with sitting for hours in one’s room playing computer games.  As we played darts we’d be surrounded by nature with all its sounds and smells and the intense hues of greens and yellows, reds, blues, pinks.  We’d stop to sniff the air as a group of javelina passed nearby or perhaps if we heard a deer snort not far away.  It was never quiet but it was not noisy either.  Noise is what people experience in cities and on highways.  Noise is some fellow driving up alongside with the speakers in his auto rumbling and shaking the very earth beneath you.  I always think those ignorant fools will be deaf before they reach the age of forty.  Too bad, so sad.  But in nature the sounds are soft and pleasant and comforting.


Nature’s garden is a mecca of teas.  There is the tea from salvia (Croton incanus) and oregano (Lippia graveolens).  There is the tea from colima (Zanthoxylum fagara) and from mejorana (Salvia ballotiflora).  There are, in fact, so many teas available that given a supply of water one will never be without some pleasant beverage while woods roaming or camping.  At my dad’s ranch in Mexico we’d drink a tea made from ebony beans.  The locals also made a tea from mesquite beans and from huisache (Acacia farnesiana) beans.  We ate the fruit from the brasil (Condalia hookeri) and from lote bush (Ziziphus obtusifolia).  We munched down on granjeno (Celtis pallida) and chapote (Diospyros texana) berriesHere at our place I am surrounded by duraznillo (Prunas texana) shrubs.  I’ve written about duraznillo (little peach) and about many of the plants mentioned above.  I play a game with the local birds every spring to see who gets the small peaches that amass on the duraznillo shrubs.  The birds always win.


Nature’s garden provides all sort of tubers and stalks and leaves and seeds.  There is a plant called mala mujer (Cnidoscolus texanus) that is blooming and I look out my bedroom window and see scores of mala mujer in full bloom in my “backyard.”  But woe to the poor soul who happens to bump into a mala mujer (Texas Bull Nettle) wearing nothing but Bermuda shorts or perhaps who sees the succulent white flowers and stoops to pick one.  Like its small cousin ortegia (Urtica dioica) (stinging nettle) the hairs on the mala mujer (bad woman) inject a potent mixture of histamine, formic acid and serotonin—except that in mala mujer the inoculation is about ten times stronger.  A lady wrote me recently saying she had mowed her lawn using a weed eater and had decided to mow the mala mujer as if they were just another small shrub.  Fortunately, she was wearing glasses but she had on shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and when she mowed the bull-nettle it sprayed all over her.  Instantly, her skin was on fire.  The pain was horrific.  Her neck, face, arms and legs became nothing more than giant red welts that felt as if someone had poured acid on her skin.  Her email to me was written in desperation.  Dear Mr. Longoria what can I do?  I’m in terrible pain.  I wrote back and told her to make a paste of baking soda and to apply it directly to the welts and irritated skin since the baking soda would help neutralize the acid.  She said she’d taken a Benadryl tablet but it had done little good.  I advised her to keep taking the Benadryl since it would counter the histaminic effects of the nettle.  Then I asked her to please see a doctor if the pain did not subside.  She wrote back saying she would take my advice.  She made the baking soda paste and applied it to her body.  I can only imagine what she must have looked like covered in welts and red irritated skin.  I imagine the pain was excruciating.  But here’s a little secret…or perhaps a secret that most people don’t know but that now you will know.  The seeds of mala mujer are quite tasty.  They are large seeds and one simply gathers the seed pods (very carefully!) and places them on a table then allows them to dry.  When the pods ripen they burst open exposing the seeds.  You roast the seeds or can even grind them up to make a coffee/tea drink.  So you see even the most vicious plants are edible.  In fact, stinging nettle (ortegia) can be harvested, boiled (which destroys the toxins) and then eaten.  They are rich in vitamins and taste somewhat like cooked spinach.  Another one of my favorites is called pepino del monte that grows wild all around this area.


Medicinal plants abound.  I make a very effective insect repellent from a species of lippia known as Lippia alba.  A species of croton (Croton incanus) also produces an effective insect repellent.  This species called salvia is used as a medicinal tea to treat bronchitis.  One late summer when the ragweed got me bad I drank salvia tea on a daily basis to help with the congestion.  The inner bark of the chaparro prieto (Acacia rigidula) was used to treat diabetes and arthritis.  The “juice” from the leather stem or Sangre de drago (Jatropha dioica) was used to heal mouth sores and tooth aches.  Some claim it was also used to treat kidney disease.  A toxic concoction made from pita (Yucca treculeana) leaves was used to induce abortions.  Alcoholic “medicines” were made from prickly pear, mesquite beans, and agave and from various wild berries.  The list of medicinal plants is extensive—far too long for a blog post.  In my novella, The Trail, I incorporate many of the traditions of South Texas especially those related to native plants.  But native plants are not the only “wild” foods available.  In northeastern Mexico the nopal rat is considered a delicacy.  A scene in The Trail revolves around the consumption of nopal rats.  By the way, I’ve had a number of requests to bring out The Trail in a paperback edition.  I have heard you and have asked to have inexpensive paperback editions printed for my blog readers.  Those should be available soon.


The root from the guayacan (Guaiacum angustifolium) makes an excellent soap as does the root from the agave.  Agave stalks, by the way, are edible and quite tasty and the root bulb is sometimes cooked in a pit overnight.  Excellent dyes can be made from colima, chapote, coma (Sideroxylon celastrinum), brasil, tuna and several flowers.  Sealants can be concocted from nopal.  Glue is made from mesquite sap (Prosopis glandulosa).



This blog is about Bushcraft (Woods Craft) and preserving nature, and in another world most of what laymen call Woods Craft is known as the field of ethnobotany.  Most people aren’t really all that interested in taking Woods Craft to the highest levels.  I understand that and know that for many the field of Bushcraft is mostly about talking about knives and making bow-drills and camp shelters.  Bushcraft can be practiced in many ways.  The majority of aficionados do not aspire beyond the most rudimentary skills.  But for those seeking a “Ph.D”. in bushcraft then a thorough knowledge of nature’s garden is essential.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

CANNING CHILE DEL MONTE

As you’ve noted from reading this blog we do a lot of foraging around here.  The surrounding brushlands provide us with plenty of food and the addition of a garden gives us fresh greens and fruits on a yearly basis.  Over the next few weeks we’ll focus on edible plants that are available during the spring and early summer months.  (For you knife lovers there’ll also be a couple or three knife posts.)  There’s an old saying that South Texas is a land of perpetual drought interrupted by an occasional monsoon.  Those monsoons usually come in the way of tropical storms or even hurricanes.  Right now people who are old enough to remember are talking about the summer of 1967 when Deep South Texas received an abundance of rain to the point that the ground was saturated.  Then in mid-September a hurricane named Beulah steered a course directly up the Rio Grande and within a few hours had dumped close to 30 inches of rain.  And then it continued to rain for a month afterwards.  If you were a waterfowl watcher or duck hunter you were in paradise for about two months.  If you were a farmer you bellyached for three months.  If you were a rancher you gave thanks for the abundant grass.  If you were a deer hunter you were thrilled by the rich foliage and the fat deer.  If you were a city boy you complained about the trillions of mosquitoes.  And if you were a kid you had the time of your life swimming and wading and splashing around in all those freshly made ponds.  Well folks, this year is looking a lot like 1967.  We’ve had rain since about mid-January and though the forecasters are saying we’re going to have about two or three weeks without rain it looks like they might be wrong since the clouds are thickening up as I write these notes.


With all this rain the chile del monte (chile pequin) is growing abundantly all around us.  My two youngest sons make forays into the woods and come back with a bag full of chile every morning.  Some of the chile is eaten raw with lunch or supper but most of it gets canned.  Here’s how we can chile del monte:
1) Wash the chile thoroughly.
2) We use pint size Kerr jars and we sterilize the jars before canning.
The Ingredients are as follows.
½ cup chile del monte (chile pequin)
Red onion ring chopped into four pieces
Four thin carrot slices
A small garlic clove
½ of a bay leaf
About a half cup of white distilled vinegar
One or two teaspoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
In addition to washing the chile you want to wash the onion, carrot and garlic.



Pour the vinegar, sugar and salt into a saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil.  My son, Matthew, layers the ingredients in this order: Peppers, garlic, onion and carrots and then repeat the process adding the garlic and bay leaf until the jar is full.  After all the ingredients are nicely layered he pours in the cooled vinegar solution and then places the jar in the refrigerator.  My family loves chile del monte prepared this way but I’m more of a purist and when I feel like spicing up my food I’ll eat a pepper (that’s all I can take) raw.  Bon appetite.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

THE REAL ECO-TERRORISTS

As of this writing the yearly inflows of smoke from Central America are wafting through the sky and reaching points as far north as Oklahoma.  The result of slash and burn agriculture an archaic method of planting that has long since seen its day.  A thousand years ago when population densities were but a fraction of what they are today the Indians of the region would burn off a section of the forest and plant their crop and then move on after the harvest.  It might have taken ten or twenty years before the Indians returned to that same plot of land.  But today with human densities reaching their saturation points most of the forest is continuously burned and thus denuded and the resulting erosion and desertification exacerbates the problems inherent to those areas.  Human population pressures increase crime rates (as sociologists have been predicting for decades) and so the people move out.  In this case they journey to the United States, a country already facing population saturations and diminishing resources, and thus the problems in places like Central America and Mexico and Asia and Europe and the Middle East are simply brought here.  No, this is not a political problem as much as it is an environmental nightmare and we are losing that battle.  We can no longer be a dumping ground for everyone.  Those days are long gone.  Add to that the fact that the great “Democratic Experiment” has begun to fade as we enter a world of Fascism wherein corporations, banks and a billionaire aristocracy control the government both Republicans and Democrats alike.  No, it’s not socialism or communism we have to face (despite the ever present scare tactics from agenda driven politicians and certain “news” networks)….it’s Fascism that threatens to destroy the United States.  Here’s a basic definition of Fascism.

Map of air pollution events in the USA as of late May 2015

Note above the swath of yellow stretching from South Texas to southern Oklahoma.  That is smoke from slash and burn agriculture in Southern Mexico and Central America.  Also note the spot of yellow in northwestern New Mexico.  That is the result of coal-fired electrical plants.  A once pristine area is now a smoky, smoggy, filthy region and the bought and paid for politicians in New Mexico are doing nothing to stop it.  And do you want to know why?  Because the Fascists are in control just like they are in control in Arizona and Texas, and a host of other places not the least of which is Washington DC where today we have a Congress, Supreme Court and perhaps even a president who are but minions to the aristocracy that runs this country.  Also note the southwestern corner of the Texas panhandle.  There’s nothing there other than dirty coal and filthy power plants and poisonous air.  Of course, look at Southern Arizona and Southern California and the Upper Midwest and Delaware and Maryland and you see what trillions of tons of air pollutants do to the air we breathe.  Every day, all year long; it’s the world you live in.




The above two photos are taken from a satellite showing the extent of light pollution and more importantly air pollution from the Eagle Ford Shale region in Southwest Texas and the oil fields in North and South Dakota.  Of course you hear ad nauseam the collective bovine scat from the crowd that tells us: “We’re creating jobs for the region.”  Never mind that the people are being poisoned to death and that the land is desecrated and the water severely polluted and the air fouled to the point that in some places it’s like smoking five to ten packs of cigarettes a day.  No, none of that is important because the scam is to convince the easily duped that what counts are jobs.  But, of course, the real scam is that the polluting industries are making billions of dollars and the more often than not uneducated and ignorant are working those jobs and to them it’s all about a temporary fix and they‘ll worry about the long-term ramifications later.  But you see, we don’t have the time nor should we even have the patience to deal with that sort of rhetoric.  Call it “collateral damage” if you want but the truth is that we must stop this War on America led by the polluting corporations, the big banks, Wall Street, the National Chamber of Commerce, the United States Congress, the Supreme Court and now it seems even the President himself.  If for no one else then do it for your children, your family, and yourself.  Remember the famous words of that boxer who raised his hands and said, No Mas!  No More…NO MORE!  And so now I have a question for you.  Who do you think are the real Eco-Terrorists?  Who are the people who are terrorizing the land, the water, the air and the people of this country?  Who are the people who are fracking our diminishing underground water supplies?  Who are the ones who are pumping trillions of tons of noxious coal residues into the air?  Who are the people who are poisoning our streams and rivers, our lakes and bays?  Who are the people who own the politicians?  Those are the real Eco-Terrorists.

Monday, May 25, 2015

THE EXPLOITATION AND CORRUPTION OF BUSHCRAFT

You know things are getting out of hand when the marketers and spin doctors and capitalists twist a concept to the point that it barely resembles what it was originally.  Take bushcraft (woods craft) for example.  Somewhere along the line it became less about using intrinsic skills acquired through living with the land and instead morphed into buying products from knives to sleeping bags.  Somehow people got the idea that the acquisition of things instead of the attainment of know-how makes one a better woodsman.



I’ve seen YouTube videos made by well-meaning folks about not disturbing the land when they camp.  They call it stealth camping or dispersed camping and the object is to leave no vestige of their sojourn after a day or two hiking and camping.  But invariably these same campers are laden with all sorts of backpacking gear, fancy walking sticks, innovative stoves, modern tents and assorted paraphernalia.  It’s important to note that the mining, manufacturing, transporting and marketing of all this equipment produces a significantly greater impact on the environment (the land) than any preoccupation with keeping any specific woodland undisturbed.  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been practicing a form of stealth camping for decades.  My object is to become invisible to not only the animals around me but to anyone who might wander by.  If you’ve kept track of this blog you know I abhor noise of any kind and I live in a cabin in the woods.  I maintain a minimalist lifestyle predicated on the ideas of self-sufficiency, recycling and leaving as little an environmental footprint as possible.  Ultimately, however, it is nature itself that draws me into the woods and I have felt a oneness with the land since childhood.  All of this is not to say, given today’s urban society, that we must not purchase things to aid our visits to nature.  Besides, the acquisition of skills takes decades and is not really something that one “practices” as if taking a class in history or biology or whatnot.  Note that most of you are masters of the environment in which you live.  In that sense all of you are survival experts because you have an implicit understanding of how to negotiate and persevere in the world in which you grew up.  Bring a Bushman to your world and he has little to no survival skills nor will he be able to learn them quickly if at all.  Don’t berate yourself for not having bushcraft skills.  Your “bushcraft” is a different sort of expertise living in a world dominated by modern capitalism with all its benefits and accompanying negatives.  You find yourself in a survival situation every time you take your vehicle onto an expressway but you think nothing of it.  Ask a Bushman or Brazilian rainforest dweller to do the same and he would probably not last long.  Even so, we have badly mangled the land or said another way: We have desecrated the earth through a collective gluttony and avarice derived via the economic systems we embrace and the accompanying obsession with hyper-consumption.  Nonetheless, when it comes to classic bushcraft (that is to say when it comes to living in harmony with the woods around us and at the same time not depleting resources far away) we should perhaps keep in mind that simplicity and frugality is the key.  Bring simple, unprocessed foods that can be cooked on the spot and not freeze-dried packages that are not only processed but like other things the product of mining (for the packages), manufacturing, transportation and marketing.  Keep your tools simple and your camping equipment basic.  Learn to be frugal and in so doing you will move closer to becoming self-sufficient and gain a deeper understanding of the true meaning of woods craft.