Saturday, December 29, 2012

Traveling Bushcrafters

Traveling Bushcrafter's Hidden Campsite

I assume most of us have seen those television survival shows where one or two people amble off into some sort of “survival situation” replete with film crew, medical staff, local guides, cell phones, GPS equipment, and in some cases local caterer.  Millions of bored folks eagerly sit in front of the tube watching these shows and then get on their favorite “bushcraft forums” and discuss who did what and how they supposedly did it.  But out here in the wilds we’ve got our own shows to watch and we watch them on a weekly basis.  Now these bushcrafters move through sans film crew or back-up squad and if they have to walk barefoot it’s not because they want to or because they subscribe to something lame like, “This is who I am.”  These traveling experts don’t say things like, “I’ve been a bushcrafter for twenty years.”  They don’t even know what bushcraft means and they probably don’t care.  They try their best to move through unseen, like ghosts or shadows keeping to the trees and as far as they can from habitations.  Mind you, the majority of people wandering through these parts are decidedly not bushcrafters of any sort.  They come from big cities to the south and from Europe and Asia or even Africa.  I’ve met many of them.  A few years ago a group drifted through from Bosnia.  They were scared, lost, hungry and panicked.  That’s a frequent scenario and if you’ve kept up with this blog you know that bodies are frequently found east and west of here—the remains of people who trekked through with no idea of what they were getting into.

But now and then some real bushcraft types move through and though we seldom see them we do find evidence of their presence in the area.  A wickiup hidden in a thicket, a small campfire dug into a hole, a snare trap made from hastily spun agave fibers, a tiny drying rack made to jerk javelina or hog meat.  A neighbor told me of finding a clandestine campsite a couple of weeks ago and a few years back I found where somebody had taken up residence in a deer blind (a small tower people climb into to shoot deer), and last summer I found the remains of an impromptu shelter somebody had fashioned using some discarded sheet metal.  These people come from the jungles or deserts to the south.  They have lived their lives without electricity or motored vehicles.  I’ve encountered dozens who, though from Mexico or Central America, speak little Spanish.  About ten years ago I ran into a man who had made camp in an extremely thick area.  He had a machete either pilfered from somebody’s barn or hunting cabin or perhaps he’d traveled with the long blade from his homeland.  His Spanish was so mixed with Indian words that we communicated poorly.  He was from Central America and in the last few years we’ve seen the majority of people coming through are either from El Salvador or Guatemala.  When I asked him about his sojourn he simply shrugged and smiled and I got the impression his concept of going somewhere was different from mine.  He was camped and that was all there was to it.  He smiled a lot but I didn’t smile back and kept beyond reach of his machete.  He must have decided that if one fellow could find him then others might too because when I went looking for him the next day he was gone.  From the remains of his campsite he’d been parked in those woods for about a week.  He was using a couple of discarded beer bottles as water containers.  When I cut his sign to get an idea of how he was living I found he was sneaking to a windmill about a half-mile distant at night to fill up.  I found where he’d been making tea from colima leaves, Zanthoxylum fagara.  Colima has been used as a sedative.  There was a small pile of pecan shells so somewhere along the line he’d picked some pecans.  I put the man in his mid to late thirties and he was puro Indio from the jungles.

A lot of people seem to think that bushcraft is basically about knowing how to make feather sticks and bow drills.  They talk about “practicing their skills” and on weekends venture into the woods and make fire with sticks and whittle out wooden spoons.  That is most certainly a part of bushcraft though only a small part.  The biggest part is knowing plants both edible and medicinal.  Some people claim that knowing plants is of little use because you’ve got to eat meat.  But that’s not true.  Dietary diversity is essential because you need a well-rounded diet with both protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fiber.  These traveling bushcrafters know their plants.

A fellow who lives in the area who goes by the name, Tres Manos, (Three Hands because he can do the work of more than one man) came from an Indian village in central Mexico.  When he was eleven years old he and his two older brothers walked across the desert all the way to the Nueces River about 125 miles north of here.  They lived mostly on plants but were able to trap a few nopal rats here and there.  His stamina, even today at 36 years old, is phenomenal.

Last night temperatures dipped here into the mid-30s.  Not too cold when compared to other areas to the north but I imagine some of these traveling bushcrafters were probably in the area.  Huddled in a granjeno mott perhaps drinking tea brewed from salvia (Croton sp.) or from colima.  It was cold enough to keep the rattlesnakes away and the scorpions and centipedes too.  They probably slept on the cold ground and may not have even made a fire so the Border Patrol wouldn’t smell any camp smoke or spot a fire from a helicopter.  The majority move through and never get caught.  Traveling bushcrafters.