Friday, August 31, 2012

For the Love of Mora...Mulberries

I assume some of the people who read this blog think about the Swedish knife when somebody says, “Mora.”  But in Spanish the word mora means mulberry.  In fact, the family name the various mulberries fall within is known as Moraceae.  Selfbow makers are familiar with another species in this family called Osage orange, Maclura pomifera.  Texas has two native species of mulberry, Texas mulberry (Morus microphylla) found in Central and West Texas into the Panhandle and hopscotching within islands of vegetation as far west as Arizona.  Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) extends from about Val Verde County in the southwestern part of the state over towards Corpus Christi along the Gulf Coast and north in a sweeping curve through the Dallas-Fort Worth area into Oklahoma then Kansas and as far north as southern Michigan and Minnesota and throughout the South and much of the Eastern Seaboard.  I’ve got a link called U.S. Tree Species Range Maps that will take you to the distribution maps of all the major hardwoods in The United States.  Deep South Texas has an introduced species of mulberry called, White Mulberry (Morus alba) that came from AsiaThose of you who have never indulged in a snack of mulberries have missed out.  As a kid we had a mulberry tree growing next to the driveway and I and the mockingbirds kept the tree in a constant state of attack.  The ripe blue-black mulberries were the sweetest but now and then it was nice to indulge in the bitter red stage of berries a few days before full ripening.  My mom was forever warning me about not overdoing the mulberries.  Guess I wasn’t very obedient.  But the way I figured it I was actually doing everybody a favor.  Mulberries falling onto a paved driveway will make a mess staining not only the concrete but when they stick to your shoes you’ll take the purplish dye into your house and stain the floor.  So you see I was actually a hero and not some disobedient kid.  I’ve eaten mulberry pie, mulberry muffins and mulberry jam.  Mulberries sprinkled on vanilla ice cream are shamelessly bueno.

Mulberry wood has been used for furniture, selfbows, knife handles, and other assorted wooden things like railroad crossties, fence posts and even boats.  The bark which can be pounded into a fiber was used to make cloth by pre-Columbian cultures.  I saw a wooden flute made from a mulberry branch and it was gorgeous.  Mulberry trees have been transplanted all over the world and are easy to propagate.

My experience with mulberry selfbows is limited.  I’ve made a few but only when I could find a branch that was projecting over a ranch road and was straight enough to use.  I’m not keen on whacking down an entire tree so that I can make a bow.  Somehow that seems a bit overboard.  Besides, it’s not as if we haven’t destroyed enough nature already.

Back in the days when people mailed letters (what they call “hardcopies” now) I used a mulberry handled letter opener that I made.  I keep it in a drawer and every once in a while look at it just to admire the wood.

Mulberries can turn into beautiful shade trees and if you’re a birder they’ll bring in birds by the dozens come berry time.  In the interim they provide ample nesting and roosting sites.  Mulberry trees are available in the spring for planting.  I’ve even seen them for sale at places like Walmart.  They’re relatively fast growing.  Plant a mulberry tree and you’ll have wonderful shade and lots of birds to watch.  Just don’t plant them too close to your driveway or patio unless you’ve got a super-hero-kid around to (in consortium with the birds) eat the harvest and spare the concrete.

I made this letter opener a few years ago using a piece of saw blade and a small branch of mulberry.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Mega that's a big pocketknife

I can’t remember the year and I vaguely remember the purchase other than I was in a sporting goods store and eyed this mega-folding knife displayed under the glass countertop.  Asked to look at it; examined it; decided it was unique.  So I took it home and for a number of months it sat on my desk while I figured out what purpose it might fulfill.  A bunch of years have passed since that afternoon and during the intervening decades the mega-folder has seen little use.  In truth, it’s just too ponderous and ungainly to serve any useful role in bushcraft, woodcraft, woods roaming, or general ranch chores.  Of course, that’s my opinion and others might disagree.  The nicks on the blade were made long ago when I needed something to field butcher a deer and I’d left my small ax and saw back at camp.  I was carrying the mega-folder and used it to break bone—a task it wasn’t suited for because the blade, though robust, is a bit too short for bone breaking.  I just realized that I don’t even know what type of steel is used in the knife.  I imagine its some sort of stainless alloy since it hasn’t rusted even though it was left in a storage room drawer for many years.

The knife comes with a built in wire saw that is somewhat difficult to unravel and is only partly useful since it is awkward to use given the cumbersome handle.  Notice as well that there is a small hex wrench located in the pull-out handle of the wire saw.  The wrench is protected by a piece of rubber tubing.

The blade is ¼ inch thick near its base tapering to a fine point.  The blade measures 3 ¼ inches long and is 1 ¼ inches at its widest section.  The handle is made of some sort of hard plastic and is 5 7/8 long.  I haven’t weighed the knife but it isn’t a lightweight by any means.

Last year Son Number 3 found it in the drawer and his eyes widened (like I suppose mine did when I first saw it) and so I said, “Do you want it?” and he said, “Yeah!”

The leather carrying case is well made and when I first bought the knife it contained a sharpening stone and an octagonal wrench to lock the blade in place when opened.  A nifty feature but I never used it and along the way the sharpening stone disappeared and so did the wrench.

Once upon a time somebody must have figured this knife would make a dandy something or the other.  Maybe in the hands of a true believer it might just be the ticket.  Regardless, at least one young fellow eons ago fell for the look and purchased a copy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dangers of the Night

Two worlds exist side by side in the deep woods: The day world and the night world.  The worlds meet at dawn and dusk and in those brief moments send messages back and forth.  Like early morning and late night news broadcasts, each world tells the other of what transpired as one slept and the other worked.  We, for the most part, are members of the day world.  At night we can only imagine what goes on around us.  A dog’s incessant bark might say a raccoon or bobcat or perhaps a wild hog roams nearby.  A fervent growl speaks of other things and we know that night is the time for the uncommon and sometimes sinister.  A helicopter’s drone filters in from afar and grows louder and we look up and see nothing but know the craft is flying overhead.  In a minute the sound fades and sometimes we’ll see a brilliant spotlight flare downward following the line of a remote paved road a few miles to the north.  A dangerous road at night where smugglers and their ilk traverse the pavement and then crisscross the rough ranch roads: Always heading north sometimes armed but forever dangerous.

A few months ago three men showed up at the cottage about 10:30 in the morning.  One did all the talking and the other two stood quietly alongside.  One of the men was carrying a backpack and I ordered him to set it down and for the three of them to move a ways from the pack and to sit and wait.  They wanted water and the talker said they’d been involved in a chase at dawn.  He said the Border Patrol had pursued them along the paved road to the north and that their vehicle had flipped sending its occupants scrambling into the woods.  I’ve seen as many as 20 people crammed into a Suburban.  That might sound like an exaggeration but ask any Border Patrol agent and they’ll tell you they’ve seen the same many times.  Some months back we were driving into the city that’s about 50 miles south of us and we had to stop because an emergency medical helicopter was blocking the road.  There were a dozen Texas DPS trooper and Border Patrol vehicles parked alongside the road and another helicopter belonging to the DPS or Border Patrol was skirting the brush near the fenceline.  Then we saw a large pickup smashed against a mesquite tree on the other side of the fence.  Several people were being lifted into both the medevac helicopter and three ambulances and a bunch of other folks were being held by the Border Patrol.

I’ve witnessed a number of chases and all of them are extremely dangerous.  Some of us question the wisdom of the DPS, the Border Patrol and the local sheriff departments that engage in these hazardous vehicle pursuits.  Our concern is for the innocent people who might be driving down the road only to encounter a chase coming their way.  Some years back a prominent South Texas businessman and his wife were both killed instantly when a vehicle that was being chased struck them head on.  You would think the police would have more sense than to endanger innocent lives in these chases.  But in the recent past four border-county South Texas sheriffs have been sent to prison for corruption along with a number of federal agents and state cops.  So I guess wisdom is not their strong suit.

The three fellows who showed up at the cottage were given water and sandwiches.  I did not want trouble.  I told them to get going and never return this way again.  The talker said, No problema.  And then they disappeared into the brush.  The talker had said they were on their way back to a safe house about four miles south.  But he was too slick and rambled too much and I knew he was lying.  After they walked into the brush I cut their sign and—as I had expected—they simply turned north and headed back in the direction from which they had come.

Last night my grandson and I decided to go walking along the little road leading to our place.  We took flashlights and water and a few other things.  I assume you’ve gathered I am a nature person and that I am an odd combination of nerd and woodsman.  So I wanted to see what herps (reptiles) were out and, of course, that’s the best time to do a rudimentary census.  Not two hundred yards from the cottage and the common sight of a Border Patrol helicopter made its appearance.  As always, we heard it a full minute before we saw it.  And as always, it was heading north towards that lonely paved road a few miles away.  We kept walking.  I taught my grandson how to find the North Star and continued with my instructions on how to walk safely in the Brushlands.  We heard a screech owl yodeling to the east and then another screech owl farther out.  We heard coyotes singing sweet songs in the distance.  We saw pauraques and poor wills.  We saw The Milky Way.  Two nights ago we watched the International Space Station fly right over us.  It was a brilliant sight.  Last night we stopped at one of the gates and drank water and checked on two of my blue heelers that accompanied us.  But we saw no herps.  Yesterday afternoon I saw a six foot corn snake, Elaphe guttuta,  slithering into a hole at the base of a mesquite tree next to the cottage.  “Those are good snakes,” I told my grandson.

As we walked I told my grandson we needed to be on the alert because the night is the most dangerous time in the woods.  Those of you who keep track of this blog know I’ve had rattlesnake troubles this year.  Night before last I was tinkering around in my workshop trying to make a PVC bow (not very primitive but I just had to try it) and the surge protector shut down when I turned on my heat gun.  I reached for my flashlight and just as I flicked the switch I heard the high-pitched rattling I’ve lived through thousands of times in my life.  I shined the flashlight down the caliche driveway leading to the cottage and directly behind my pickup was a monster rattlesnake.  For an instant I feared it might have bitten one of my dogs.  I grabbed a pistol and put two .410 rounds into the snake’s head.  My grandson ran out of the cottage and we quickly checked the dogs but they were okay.

Tonight we will go out again to check for herps.  Like last night we’ll be on alert.  We’ll carry water and take flashlights.  A couple of my blue heelers will walk with us.  I can always count on them to let me know if something evil is nearby.  As I write this post the afternoon sun is beginning its daily plunge in the west.  The bobwhite coveys in my “front yard” will seek cover as will the ghost doves and other birds that frequent my feeders and watering stations.  And then the deer will make their appearances….as will the hogs and coyotes and snakes and, maybe the Border Patrol helicopter flying north and all around things will be happening.  Just like every night in the South Texas Brushlands.  It gets interesting.

This is the rattlesnake that was in my driveway night before last.  It measured 5 feet 10 1/2 inches.  Like I've said in previous posts, I don't relish shooting rattlesnakes.  But when they are in my yard I have no choice.

I had to take this one last week.  My grandson is visiting and the first time I took him walking in the woods behind the cottage we ran smack dab into this monster.  It measured 6 feet 4 1/2 inches.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ojibwa Rattle

I have a buddy who lives in New Mexico named Leroy Anderson.  Leroy has delved into the very heart of primordial arts immersing into Native American techniques and rituals.  A few days ago I received a package from Leroy. In the box was a dream-catcher, an Ojibwa rattle and some key rings made from bear hide.  The dream-catcher is made from the seedpod of a herbaceous species belonging to the genus, Proboscidea, commonly called “devil’s claw.”  The dream-catcher is now hanging over my bed.  But the item that enthralls me is the Ojibwa rattle.  The handle is made from spalted dogwood from Tennessee.  There is something magical about the little rattle.  From the moment I started rattling it I felt a connection to something I was familiar with, something I have heard.  Being a scientific sort I wasn’t going to relegate that feeling to anything mystical and eventually concluded it reminds me of the little cicadas that provide an almost continual background, white-noise, in the Brushlands during the summer.  Perhaps, but then maybe there is something more?  Could it be it reminds me of a time past: A conduit via that collective unconscious transporting us into the lives of our ancient ancestors?

Here’s what Leroy says on the subject, “My belief around the rattles is [that] when you sit in a quiet place and rattle the rattle, a sacred space forms around you.  You then can either allow emotions to release or you can take a question within knowing you will get a picture that you have to interpret.  So I do think that you are feeling the energy that is connected to the rattle.”

The rattles are made from dew claws and they have a pleasant, indeed tranquilizing sound.  Leroy just got back from the Sundance ceremony in South Dakota.  “I talked to an Ojibwa woman at the Sundance and she said that the rattles are tools that you can use to help one’s self,” Leroy said.

Well, I sure as heck can’t explain it.  Other than to say I like to rattle that little device because in some mysterious way it calms me.  Now don’t scoff.  Some people have to smoke a cigarette or take a drink or a lot worse.  I don’t smoke or drink.  I just roam the woods and oftentimes sit for hours in the deepest brush.  And now I think I’ll take my little rattle and maybe call out to those who roamed these sleepy woods long before I arrived.


Each time I give something,
I do it freely and willingly.

There are no expectations of something in return,
for it is in the giving that I receive my fulfillment.

The INTENT of the give away is the GIFT.

The gift that I have given cannot be
returned to me in any way at all.

If I receive a gift from the one I gave to,
it is their gift that they give and it is
given in their way, whatever that may be.

They alone place the limit on the fulfillment
they receive in their give away.

I am thankful and blessed for the many
opportunities given to me to give fully
in a free and willing way.
                                   Leroy Anderson