Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Pocket Strop

I’m obsessed with keeping my knives ultra-sharp.  If I use a knife even for a minor chore I always sharpen it afterwards.  For me a knife is not adequately sharpened unless it’s received the entire treatment from diamond stone to stropping.  Oftentimes however it’s hard to strop a knife in the field.  Unless, of course, you have a pocket strop and then it’s quite doable.

As you can see from the photos the pocket strop is sized to fit into a small diamond sharpening stone case.  I like those little diamond stones because…well, you can fit them in your pocket.  Besides, they are lightweight, they are inexpensive, and they work.  I’ve used those small diamond stones for years and have had no problems with them.  When they finally wear out I just go buy another one.  On a hiking or camping trip they are eminently useful because they are always with you.  I’ve seen videos of people carrying around cumbersome Japanese water stones and large sharping stones but I never do.  I own those things but leave them at the house.  On the trail I travel light.

My pocket strops are thick at about ¼ inch or even a bit more.  I strop on the rough side and, as shown in the photo, hold them in my hand.  Because I store them with the diamond stone I do not add any sort of rubbing compound.  That would probably make a mess and in the field rubbing compound is not really needed.  In the field the little strop puts a razor edge on my knife blade and that’s what I want.

Whether out roaming the woods or in town or on a trip I’ve always got a small diamond stone and the little strop on me.  Just a habit, I guess.  But if you’re like me and you cherish a sharp—really sharp—knife then you might want to add a pocket strop to your everyday carry stuff.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Wild Hogs and Hog Guns

Run an internet search for wild hogs and you’re just as likely to get sites on motorcycles as you are on feral pigs.  Run a search for axes and a brand of deodorant will appear.  It gets exasperating.  Even so, when I think of hogs I think of the malevolent creatures that roam by night and wreak havoc on the countryside.  They kill fawns, wipe out quail populations, pollute ponds, demolish farm crops and generally raise hell wherever they’re found.  More hype has been written about hogs than truth and people clamor to hunt them.  Some people have even released hogs onto private and public land in order to build a herd to hunt.  As nutty and irresponsible as that might be it seems we’ve developed a population of bored-to-death-dudes who hunger for some sort of adventure in their lives.  But live in a place where wild hogs wander into your “backyard” almost every night and scare the bejesus out of your dogs and turn the ground into something that looks like it’s been strafed by .50 caliber machinegun fire and you’ll tire quickly of the critters.  In Texas hogs are now—regardless of what anyone might say—indigenous and getting more so by the hour.  I have no idea what the population of wild hogs in the state is now and neither does anyone else despite what “data” you might have read.  Heck, tell me there are X number of hogs in the morning and by supper time that number will have risen a few thousand more.  Shoot the hogs, trap the hogs, and pray the hogs away and you will accomplish little.  Facts are that the hog is prolific having a fecundity rivaling….well, enough said.

I’ve shot hogs with everything you can imagine from .25/20s to .357 magnums to .44 magnums and .30/30s and ought-sixes, two-seventies, seven mags…the list goes on and on.  Size is proportionate to killing power and a little piggy can be easily put down with a .22 Hornet.  But the mega-monsters had better be hit right or you’ve got a few problems to contend with.  But here’s the good news: Hogs will run into the deeper woods if given half a chance.  Sows with young ones can be temperamental but if you don’t mess with them they won’t mess with you.  Really, it boils down to how badly you are in need to have your shoulder bruised, your neck cracked, your jaw slammed and your vision blurred.  I know a guy who bought a .416 Rigby to hunt hogs.  He shot the rifle a few times, got a retinal detachment, almost went blind, and now has to limit his shooting to pistols and .22 long rifles.  It was decidedly not worth it.  I’ve shot lots of hogs of all sizes with a .30/30 using both 150 grain and 170 grain bullets.  One of the biggest hogs I ever took was shot with a Thompson Contender single shot rifle in .357 magnum caliber.  The secret is, of course, proper bullet placement.

You’ll read more trash about hog guns that anything else.  To hear some people talk you’d think anything shy of a Winchester .338 Magnum is too little.  Well, excuse the pun but that’s hogwash.  A .30/06 will poleaxe any hog alive and soon to be dead.  Sounds morbid but Great Scott (I say that a lot) it’s not like you’re shooting elephants or grizzly bear.

Do hogs need to be controlled?  Of course, absolutely, no question about it.  What is the most popular hog gun caliber?  I tell you what: Fill a hat full of pieces of paper and on each piece of paper write a caliber and then toss that hat into the air and pick up one of the pieces of paper and you’ll have a hog gun.  Sounds silly?  I know an old timer who hunts hogs on his corner of the earth with a Brno .22 magnum rifle.  He’s shot hundreds of hogs nearly all of them with one shot each using that puny little .22 mag.  But he’s a wrinkled old codger who hides out in the woods, ain’t too friendly and seldom comes out into the world.  He’s part bobcat and part coyote and probably a little bit of a wild hog himself and he doesn’t get rattled at the sight of hogs nor does he shoot poorly.  But then you might want to use something with a bit more punch if you don’t have them in your yard on a nightly basis.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Jam and Jelly Stirring Spoon

My cousin, Dora, has a few grape vines and every year she grows a patch of strawberries and harvests some clumps of grapes.  There’s no profit in the venture so it’s done mainly just for the heck of it.  Some get eaten fresh but most end up as grape jelly and strawberry jam.  The only problem is that when she’s stirring the brews on her kitchen stove the sugar laden boiling water has a tendency to bubble up and burn her wrists.  Well yes, she uses mittens but what she really needed was a longer handled stirring spoon.  So she asked the old Woods Roamer if he’d make her a spoon for concocting jellies and jams.  The project took a few minutes and what you see in the photos is the result.  Go out and cut a branch and make a spoon.  Used one of my crooked knives for most of the preliminary carving and then some sandpaper starting at 60-grit and ending up at 500 grit.  Top it all off with some food-safe mineral oil and walla….a long-handled stirring spoon.  I’ll get the first jars of jelly and jam, of course.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mesquite Sap and other good things....

I read a post recently about never eating mesquite sap because it’s “like glue.”  Well, yes that’s correct; it’s very much like glue.  But there have probably been a couple million kids, and adults as well, who have chewed mesquite sap (The Indian word is Chauite, Chow-wee-teh) over the past few thousand years.  Parents warned their children about eating mesquite sap because it might, “plug them up.”  But little good that probably did.

I never cared for the taste of mesquite sap but I have relatives and friends who loved it.  Connoisseurs, like my sister, used to say the tiny droplets formed after mesquite girdlers ply their trade taste better than the corpulent balls formed after a weighted branch cracks the bark.  But I found neither particularly palatable.

Like most tree sap, Chauite, looks jewel-like.  The color ranges from light to dark amber and it hangs from a branch like a growing stalactite.  And just like a stalactite it drips slowly to the ground creating a dark puddle of gummy goo that quickly mixes with the soil.

In my part of the world the mesquite is Prosopis glandulosa and is a member, like all mesquites, of the legume family.  The family name, Leguminosae has grown unpopular and now the name Fabaceae has found favor among those who argue such points.  Leguminosae derives from the word, legume.  Fabaceae derives from the Latin word faba for bean.

There is perhaps more misleading information about mesquite in Texas than any other plant.  Like political partisans, people either hate it or love it.  I talked to a “range scientist” once who loathed mesquite.  But his point of view seemed less scientific than economic.  He wanted grass to feed cattle.  His world revolved around that one thought and he seemed unable to consider mesquite eclectically.  Another fellow I met swore that mesquite was “not from Texas!”  No sir, he said.  It’s a “foreign invader.”  I guess this sort of thinking is pervasive in some places.  But here are the facts: Mesquite is a native of all parts of Texas.  It’s been here since before the first colonizers wandered into the area over ten thousand years ago, end of story.  The name mesquite, by the way, is believed derived from the Aztecs and was Castilianized into the word we know now.  But there are other hypotheses as to its derivation.  Let it suffice to say that, like many other words in North America, its roots are Native and ancient.

Whole cultures, particularly in deep South Texas, revolved around the consumption of mesquite beans and prickly pear pads.  In ethnobotanical terms, the mesquite was for many Indian people in South Texas what the buffalo was to Indians living on the plains.  The beans were used to make bread and a sort of porridge.  They were pounded by using wooden pestles in either dirt holes or more frequently in concavities carved into fallen mesquite trunks.  An alcoholic drink atole was made from mixing mesquite beans and water.  I’ve slept in dozens of mesquite-made shelters called a jacal, (ha-kahl).  Mesquite branches or saplings form the jacal’s frame both for the walls and roof and then mud mixed with grass is packed nearly a foot thick to form the walls.  The roof is usually woven grass or carrizo.  These structures, by the way, are very energy efficient and from an engineering perspective are better suited to the heat of South Texas and northern Mexico than your conventional brick veneer dwelling.  They are nearly infinitely cheaper to build too.

Indians used mesquite charcoal and water as toothpaste.  The leaves, mashed into something reminiscent of papier-mâché, were used to treat headaches as it was pressed along the forehead.  And yes, guess what: Mesquite sap was used to treat diarrhea.  I guess it does plug you up afterall.

An acquaintance called me up a few days ago and asked what local Indians used to haft arrow points to shafts.  There are documented reports of the local Indians using mesquite sap.  They used the sap not only to secure the arrow points but to attach feathers as well.  There are reports that mesquite sap was used as a water-proofing material to line the inside of clay pots.  But I question that report and consider it inaccurate.  Mesquite sap dissolves quickly in water and thus it’s unlikely it was used in that regard.

My grandmother, Rafaela Guerra de Valverde would take mesquite sap and drop it in a jar full of water.  It would quickly dissolve and then the kids would take that to school and use it as glue.

One more thing: Mesquite honey is nectar of the gods.  It is light, nearly clear, in color.  It’s like no honey you’ve ever tasted.  You will only find one other plant that approaches mesquite in the  production of heavenly honey and that is the huisache, Acacia farnesiana, equally hated by the “lets knock everything down and plant grass to raise cows” crowd.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We Can't Ignore The Data!...

I was unaware of a UV Index (ultraviolet light radiation) of anything more than 10 until today.  When I checked my phone’s weather application I noticed the UV Index at 11.  It’s been hot; in fact, it’s been so hot that we can’t work outside from about 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  Temperatures don’t go below 95° Fahrenheit until around 7:00 in the evening.  A few days ago the temperature went up to 109° F with a Heat Index of 112° F.  Add to that a high UV index throughout the day and there is always a risk of heat prostration and dangerous sunburn.  But a UV Index of 11 suggests the potential for life-threatening skin damage.  Here’s the EPAs official wording on a UV Index of 11.  A UV Index reading of 11 or higher means extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Try to avoid sun exposure during midday hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 liberally every 2 hours.  Take all precautions. Unprotected skin can burn in minutes. Beachgoers should know that white sand and other bright surfaces reflect UV and will increase UV exposure.  Try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.  Seek shade, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.”

I heard about two people who suffered from heat stroke within the last month.  Neither has fully recovered and I was told that it may take several months before they are back to normal.  People with blue or green eyes are particularly sensitive to intense sunlight.  It becomes painful walking around without dark sunglasses in such extreme brightness.  I know of three people who had cataract surgery within the last year as a result of sun damage to their eyes.  An ophthalmologist told me that there are increasing numbers of cataract cases as a result of current climate changes. Statistics also show the amounts of skin cancers are on the rise.  The alarming data indicates that skin cancers are up for people under 30 and this is something new.  I am beginning to wonder if this is not the beginning of some sort of end.  Is this a preview of life in a world of worsening global warming?  Perhaps it’s time we face those who for whatever reasons, be they greed or stupidity, deny the data indicating global warming is real.  In the past few months even more facts and figures have been gathered proving that global warming is not only a genuine phenomenon but is being caused by humans.  Perhaps the most damning (and embarrassing) was the research conducted by a group of scientists that were funded by a couple of billionaires who have spent millions trying to debunk the reality of global warming.  Contrary to the wishes of these billionaires the researchers concluded that global warming is factual and is being caused by human activity.

I wonder about the minds of those who go to such lengths, who stop at nothing, who will distort and falsify without remorse, guilt or anxiety and will propagate falsehoods and bribe elected officials.  For what else do you call a political donation from people like those two billionaires…and what would you call any politician who cow tows to those types?

And yet those naysayers and propagandists are out there and they have the money to promote their deceits.  But then what should we say of those who buy into those sorts of deceptions?  What sort of mechanism is at work in those who are so quick to ignore the data, who bray and bark when more evidence emerges that global warming is being caused by humans?