Just imagine walking through a labyrinth of thorns and spines ranging from four-inch long spears to unwieldy cat claws and bull-horns. There are hardwood thorns that appear as psychotic masses impenetrable and frenzied and the cacti have spines jutting out in every direction. Some cacti like tasajillo are as sharp as a hypodermic needle and can be as dangerous as a serpent’s bite. The spines have sheaths that stay implanted within flesh where they fester and if laden with bacteria can cause life-threatening illnesses. The spines of a horse crippler will penetrate even the most robust hiking boot. Now imagine trying to keep from getting stabbed or punctured and at the same time negotiating the thorn/spine maze in absolute silence. My sons were taught to keep quiet when walking through the woods. My Uncle Trinidad Valverde, Jr. taught me the art of walking in silence even when traversing the thickest monte; and my grandfather, Trinidad Valverde, Sr. taught my uncle how to move noiselessly in the brush. If you must talk then let it be in whispers. When you move you are like a ghost remaining unseen. Sniff the breeze and check for sign while at the same time listen for any aberration from the normal. Years ago I saved someone from getting snake bit when I heard the faint click of a rattler adjusting its tail. It wasn’t rattling but was instead preparing to strike.
I know most people aren’t as obsessed as I am about silence. Occasionally people come out here to visit and they talk in normal tones and make constant noise and don’t know one plant from another and I’m going nuts the whole time. But I tolerate it even as I feel I’m committing heresy. All animals in the woods move quietly; likewise, they are always on alert. But learning to walk without making noise in thorn and spine country is perhaps an art form and reading one post on the subject won’t make you an expert. Besides, most people drive around in pickup trucks going from one place to another and if they do hike through the brush they take senderos (bulldozed paths) or they opt for established cow trails. Most woods folks know a thing or two about the plants and animals but not all that much. They simply love being in the brushlands although it can’t be said that they are ever really an integral part of the woods. I have a relative that loves to hunt and get into the brush but he always carries a 24-inch Tramontina machete and makes so much noise whacking his way across the thorns he can be heard a hundred yards away. If he happens to smack into a thorn bush or heaven-forbid he backs into a nopal or tasajillo cactus then he lets out a holler that can wake the dead. So on the times we’re together I send him off one way and I go another. It doesn’t matter because I know exactly what he’s doing at any given minute by the noise of his chime-sounding machete or occasional squeals.
So do you want the good news first or the bad news? Allow me to start with the bad news. You must learn to endure pain. Yes, you must stay quiet even when a long thorn slips past the epidermis into the dermis and leaves its mark on an unsuspecting nerve ending…or maybe taps a blood vessel. You just ignore the hurt. I hope my sons don’t hold that against me. When they were little and we were walking through the brush and one of them got stabbed by a thorn and would utter, “Ouch!” I’d whisper, “Quiet.” But now they are master woodsmen capable of moving through the brush as if nothing but wisps of breeze. Now here’s the good news: You can carry something with you that will keep the thorns away. No, I’m not talking about a machete. Those things are incredibly noisy. I do carry a knife (usually one of my Woods Roamer knives) but I seldom if ever use it for whacking brush. No, I use knives for woodworking tasks. But I do use a walking stick and that is my primary tool for gently (and silently) moving thorns aside and then walking past them. I also use the walking stick as a support when I must bend low to get under a thorn-ridden branch. By placing my weight on the cane I can keep balanced and do not strain back or arm muscles. It is an effective technique and it allows me to remain noiseless. The walking sticks I carry these days are a bit shorter than the ones I was carrying a few years back. Most of my current walking sticks measure about 43-45 inches long. I’ve got a dozen or so walking sticks in the shed and when I get ready to go woods roaming I’ll grab a stick and head out. Learning to manipulate thorns and spines with a stick takes practice but after a while you may find you don’t even need to carry a machete or any sort of large cutting tool. There are times when I’ve got nothing on me but a Swiss Army Knife. Of course, the main thing is to always carry water. I’ve touched on that in other posts but one can never over-emphasize that point. Besides, summer is approaching and another lecture on the need to carry water would be prudent. That comes next.
This walking stick is a bit longer and heavier than the type I use now. Notice the thick brush in the background. I had just walked out of that brush when the photo was taken.