Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Great Desert Boot....

 Once humans realized adding cushion and protection to the soles of their feet saved them the punctures and tears that often lead to illness and death they were quick to adopt shoes of varying styles.  Indeed, shoes were probably amongst the earliest innovations implemented by humans as they evolved.  And while there are parts of the world where people do not wear shoes this is more an outcome of poverty or the inability to obtain them than choice.  Present them with shoes and they will wear them with glee.  Albeit, the shoe industry has become a model of capitalism, and styles often have nothing to do with anything related to safety or comfort.  Witness the high-heeled, pointy-toed horrors worn by some people, i.e., the drugstore cowboy, the fashion-conscience lady, the trend-slave etc.

One of the earliest places to adopt shoes was in the deserts and brushlands.  Take a man’s shoes away and you have crippled him.  I posted an article about South Texas thorns recently and a quick read of that piece will tell the whole story.  A two or three inch puncture wound via mesquite thorn or lotebush, junco, brasil, devil’s cactus or horse crippler requires prompt attention sometimes in the form of a tetanus shot or some other sort of first aid.

But is there a perfect desert or brushland boot?  Well, there are some slight differences between classic brushland and classic desert.  Both places are dry and hot and covered with cacti and low-growing, thorny hardwoods.  Of the two I suppose that brushland is the more nefarious when it comes to potential puncture wounds and other sorts of feet injuries.  Ideally, I suppose a good brushland boot will have a bit stiffer sole to prevent long thorns from piercing into the skin.  Deserts have thorns too but not in the varieties and most certainly not in the densities of the brushlands.  Nonetheless, I have worn desert boots (sometimes called chukka boots) for nearly 50 years.

I started wearing the crepe soled, all-leather boots back in the 1960s when they were popular.  But I was never that concerned about what was “in” or “out.”  I saw the advantage of having a shoe that was lightweight, quiet and comfortable and left nary a track.  For a young fellow who was already a committed woods roamer by the age of 14 desert boots were the ideal footwear.  I owned chukkas made by Hush Puppies and Clark’s and in later years by companies that appeared then disappeared.  Not long ago I bought two pair at Target with the brand name, Merona.  The best desert boots have genuine crepe soles that make for nearly silent walking.  The leather can be suede or full-grain.  I’ve used both but have found the full-grain lasts a bit longer.

Desert boots require very little breaking in but some people may want to add a better arch support insert and I always switch out the flimsy boot laces for something more substantial.  My youngest son is a desert boot fan and he uses leather laces on his shoes.

Desert boots were worn by British forces in places like North Africa during World War II and I think they had the right idea.  The desert boot is cool (this is where the suede leather seems to have an advantage) and because of its light weight it is less tiring than heavier “military” type boots seen today.  Not long ago I ran into a couple of Border Patrol who were searching for long-distance-travelers and they seemed a bit lost themselves.  They were both wearing heavy black combat boots which I guess are all the rage these days in law-enforcement circles but I could tell they were cumbersome and hot and those two boys looked worn out.  They eyed me and I eyed them and I figured they were harmless and I guess they figured the same about me and so we talked for a minute and drank some water and one of them looked at my boots and said, “Now those look comfortable.”  “Very,” I replied.  But now and then I’ll spot their distinct boot tracks so I figure though they admired my boots they weren’t willing to actually give them a try.  I guess their heavy, black jobs are more in line with a uniform look although it can’t be said that a British soldier wasn’t a dashing figure decked out in his khakis, bucket hat, swagger stick and desert boots.  But don’t try wearing desert boots in rocky terrain or where there is ice on the ground.  The crepe soles, though nearly perfect for the eolian sands of the desert or brushlands, offer no traction on rocks or ice.  You will slip.  Just ask the old Woods Roamer.

Perhaps if there were no thorns I might opt for some sort of sandal I made myself.  That would be in keeping with the philosophy of self-sufficiency.  One could perhaps make a moccasin comparable to a desert boot and maybe I’ll try that somewhere down the line.  Back in the 1960s desert boots sold for under $30.00 and sometimes closer to twenty-bucks.  Nowadays they are much too expensive for what you’re actually getting.  Some desert boots sell in the $120.00 range and if you know anything about cost accounting you’ll also know that the profit range is substantial.  In addition most desert boots are made in places like China and, in fact, the last two pairs of Clark’s “original” desert boots I purchased were made in Vietnam.  That should make every Brit out there sad, or so I would think.  The quality is still quite good but outsourcing everything makes one a great “job creator” not for here but for over there.  Six one way and half-a-dozen another, I guess.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Day there was No More Water....

The stories, like ballads sung over and again said the jobs had played out when the industries folded because water was scarce and could be had only by those who could afford it. Then a sickness came and fires roamed the world and smoke blanketed the land like a fog smelling oddly of burning rope. They tried to take the guns but many remained. It was ammunition, better than gold when available, that became in short supply. There followed great stealing and robbing and people roamed the countryside like mice in a panic. Some said the law, or what little existed, was worthless because it protected only the rich who had their own sweet-water wells. So the poor made do with cisterns though more often than not they drank from the stagnant holdings of ditches and lakes that smelled of things they did not understand. Then the money, like the wells from which no sounds ascended when pebbles were dropped into them, went dry….
From the novel, The Trail
By: Arturo Longoria

Throughout much of the Southwestern United States people are worried about where they will get their water.  In places like South Texas droughts have reached critical levels.  Deep South Texas has been declared in an “Exceptional Drought” which is the most severe designation given to any drought ravaged area.  Austerity programs are often employed and the region has had to curtail its water use before.  But invariably the towns and cities quickly return to high levels of consumption once the immediate threat is gone.  Now and then a hurricane blows through and deposits copious amounts of water but instead of remaining watchful and careful the municipalities quickly spend their water as if their reservoirs were unlimited.  It would seem that greed trumps prudent behavior in a system dependent on reckless economic growth.  So what comes next?  Some towns are now saying they will be out of water by summertime.  Other places, despite what’s going on all around them, continue to waste water simply because their allocated amounts have not reached severely low levels.  So what is eventually in store?  Please allow me to reiterate:
….There followed great stealing and robbing and people roamed the countryside like mice in a panic. Some said the law, or what little existed, was worthless because it protected only the rich who had their own sweet-water wells. So the poor made do with cisterns though more often than not they drank from the stagnant holdings of ditches and lakes that smelled of things they did not understand. Then the money, like the wells from which no sounds ascended when pebbles were dropped into them, went dry….

Friday, March 22, 2013

Negotiating Brushland Habitat without Making Noise….

 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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Death Trap Awaiting in the Desert....

Some people have predicted that more long-distance-travelers will be coming through the area in anticipation of an upcoming immigration reform bill.  Given the current economic state I wonder what jobs, other than the most menial, are available.  Perhaps they will simply be coming north on faith alone.  Faith that anyplace is better than the turmoil they currently experience.  The previous administration’s economic debacle which essentially gave us a near depression in 2007 into 2008 will probably take 20 years to resolve or perhaps even longer given uncontrolled increases in population and concurrent political obstruction.  The idea that anyone might fix the problem in four or even eight years is na├»ve and we can look forward to years of economic instability even as elected officials argue over matters more often than not chosen to buttress the few at the expense of the many.  All the while, those living in outlying areas along the US southern border need to be watchful in case travelers increase significantly in numbers.  Of course, any upcoming immigration reform bill will not mirror the outright amnesty program the late president Ronald Reagan unloaded on the country in the mid-1980s.  Reagan’s amnesty ushered in nearly 40 million people who in many places overwhelmed infrastructures and greatly increased human population pressures.  The proposed bill, if passed, will hopefully eschew that sort of chaos.  But whether in the deserts of southern Arizona or southern New Mexico or West Texas or South Texas people will enter, as they have entered, and many will burn up in the heat or die for lack of water.  I’ve been told some people leave water containers in the desert for travelers.  We give people water on the rare occasion that they stop by thirsty and lost.  But we’ve been warned to be exceedingly careful and not take anything for granted.  When I was a kid we’d run into travelers all the time.  I remember one night when a friend and I walked thirteen miles down an isolated South Texas caliche road after getting a pickup truck stuck on a ranch.  It was nearing midnight and we heard voices.  Four men were walking north but at first we couldn’t see them in the dark.  I called out in Spanish asking who goes there and one of the men answered back, “Gente buena.”  That means, “Good people.”  Yes, they were good people and we talked to them for a few minutes.  I imagine they walked on for perhaps another twenty miles or so before bedding down for a few hours rest.  But these days they are not necessarily gente buena and we must always be on guard.  I think back on what a Border Patrol agent told me a few months ago.  At that time they had reached a body count of one-hundred in the desert to the north, The South Texas Sand Sheet.  It is an unforgiving land with no surface-water and miles of fine-grained sand making walking all the more difficult.  Why people would choose to traverse that country on foot is mindboggling but they do every year and likewise they die every year.  I never venture anywhere around here without at least a 2-quart canteen slung over my shoulder.  Even then I’m careful to keep to the shade (shade is sparse) and to move slowly so as not to overheat.  When my canteen is half-full it’s time to turn around and head back.  One can suffer heat exhaustion in minutes when temperatures rise over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and as amazing as this might sound today’s temperatures (remember we are still in Winter!) are expected to peak at 100° Fahrenheit.  People are now suggesting that this coming summer will break last summer’s record as the hottest in recorded history.  But we had hardly any winter here to speak of and we are simultaneously suffering an “extreme drought.”  Many people are noticing these horrific temperatures and the never-ending droughts and now more and more people are beginning to ask, “Can we afford not to act prudently and take the advice of honest and reputable scientists worldwide who are suggesting that the causes of this chaotic climate are manmade?”  It’s not as if we get another chance to run this experiment, folks.  Nonetheless, others continue with their heads in the sand.  Only problem is that here in South Texas that sand is getting really hot.  Now several cities to the south of us are enforcing water restrictions and the ongoing drought is expected to exacerbate.  That’s bad news.  But to quote Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does,” and the leaders of those communities continue touting endless growth and development.  It’s all about short-term economic gain but sooner or later (probably sooner than later) it will come crumbling down.  There are simply too many limiting factors that might come into play.  Best hunker down I suspect.  Only problem is that those same “growers and developers” will scream the loudest when their foolishness backfires on them.  Ain’t that the way it always is….

                     Last Year this spot was covered with wildflowers.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The secret club consisted of two brothers who were actually next door neighbors but had long before decided they were in it together and would fight whoever said otherwise.  They lived in an old gypsy wagon—one of two planted in the back of Butch’s yard and up against Sonny’s yard—and in that wagon they kept their secret symbol (a half-pound chunk of quartz wrapped in one of Butch’s mom’s prized scarves) and over the wagon flew their official flag.  They called themselves The Bull Brothers and why that was the chosen name has faded over the years but it seemed appropriate enough for a couple of poor kids surrounded by beer joints, gas stations, cotton gins and one very convenient blacksmith shop.  The shop had belonged to Butch’s father but he was killed in a car accident when Sonny was in the second grade and Butch, if memory serves, was in the fifth grade.  Afterwards, other blacksmiths rented the shop from Butch’s mom but the two brothers still had access to the place carte blanche.  Learning was a process of observation and by the time Sonny was in the fourth grade the two boys had learned to forge steel and had used their knowledge of that process to make two small push carts, several knives, a couple of sabers and some very lethal rockets that were blasted into the far reaches of the universe from the vacant lot next to Butch’s house.  It was all part of the Antnik Program which was a spinoff of the Soviet’s Sputnik launched in the mid-1950s.  In those days firecrackers were real and potent and the two brothers had a good source of supply.  Cherry bombs, TNTs, M-80s and an assortment of Mexican fireworks with roughly the equivalent power of a small stick of Dynamite guaranteed a launch system capable of propelling a red ant into the outer ionosphere.  The Antnik Program brought real meaning to the saying, “an astronaut sits on a bomb.”  Butch would light the fuse while Sonny gave the countdown.  Unfortunately, only one ant survived.  Not to be deterred the brothers set out on other adventures and built a smaller fort under the great Hunchback of Notre-Dame—a huge salt cedar tree that leaned over the fort like an old arthritic man and was said to possess spirits and from which creatures emerged at night.  One evening Butch called Sonny to come over but when Sonny ventured across the fence he saw the Great Hunchback looming over him.
          “Hey, Butch.  Maybe you better come over here instead.”
          They fought the Apaches as Cavalry and then they fought the Cavalry as Apaches.  They dug fox holes across the street near the railroad tracks and on one daring mission even laid banana peels on the tracks.  Conscience won out however and a few minutes before the train was due they ran to the tracks and removed the peels lest they cause a horrific accident.  Who knows how many lives were saved that day.  Tom and Huckleberry eat your hearts out for there was never in the history of rambunctious boys the likes of Butch and Sonny.
          Ah, but all good things must come to an end and on one fateful day Butch discovered girls.  Sonny, of course, was heartbroken for he was still too young to appreciate that great find.  Not long afterwards Butch’s mom remarried and they moved away leaving a very sad little boy.  The years past and now and then the two Bull Brothers would reunite for an evening of reminiscing and swapping lies.  Butch moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where he operated a small business and Sonny worked in the newspapers and then magazines and even taught for a while.  A few years back Sonny was informed that Butch had left and so now only one Bull Brother remains.  What happened to the knives and sabers of yesteryear is lost to time, but one artifact remains.  A piece of history found in an old box.  Constructed over 50 years ago the artifact has obviously seen better days.  A genuine late 1950s tomahawk used in battle against a rival tribe and made of Chinaberry and sandstone and wrapped in vulcanized sinew; the tomahawk is held in place by nothing more than memories.  Sonny holds it in his hand and thinks back.  Such are the laments of an old man.


In memory of Roland Bourgeois

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Clay Bowl Bird Nests....

Other parts of the USA might still be experiencing winter but here in South Texas spring has arrived and that means birds are courting and building nests.  So I’m spending a lot of time bird watching.  Years back I started making birdhouses and nesting baskets.  In the mid-1980s we lived along the banks of Falcon Lake in Zapata County at a place five miles from the nearest highway.  People showed up on weekends to make noise and generate varying levels of chaos but otherwise the place was quiet and without visitors.  The lake’s shoreline was about 100 feet from our 28-foot Avion trailer and all around was dense South Texas Brushland.  I built nesting platforms by weaving carrizo (Arundo donax) into baskets and placing them in the woods.  The doves (both mourning and white-winged) used those baskets as platforms on which to build their nests.  In the 1990s we lived in a cabin we called “The Good Earth Cabin” and in those years we built birdhouses, wove nesting baskets, set up feeding stations and watering sites.  We’ve got a place in the Texas Hill Country and have focused much of our work there on providing bird habitat for the last twenty years.  Here at our place in the South Texas woods we have perhaps created the best birding mecca of all with seven watering stations, four feeders, dozens of birdhouses and an array of bowls and baskets.  One of my favorite bird nesting platforms is a clay bowl.  Mine are mostly handmade using clays from along the Rio Grande about seventy miles south of here.  My late father (Ramon J. Longoria) owned brick plants in Mexico and when I was young I had access to good clays when I’d visit the factories.  A friend and I formed at least fifty clay pots.  Most of the pots have broken over the years but I still have several and I’ve placed them in trees close by.  Doves use clay pots more than other types of birds but I’ve also had wrens, mockingbirds, and even a green-jay use pots for nesting platforms.  It’s fun making your own clay pot or weaving bird nesting baskets of natural materials but you can always use a clay pot purchased at a nursery store or places like Home Depot or Lowe’s.  You don’t need a large pot and something around 4-6 inches in diameter and no more than four inches deep serves well.

After Easter you might consider asking people to donate their Easter baskets for nesting platforms.  Find a quiet place in the woods or around your garden and place them where they will be relatively hidden.  Remember to use only Easter baskets that are made of natural materials like cane or willow or some other wooden source.  Don’t use plastic Easter baskets and if you happen to get an Easter basket that has been made of cane, for example, but has been painted a bright color then you should strip the paint leaving the basket in its natural (non-painted) condition.  Bright paint might attract predators or those who might want to harm the nesting birds.  Those of you living in places still in the midst of winter can start acquiring clay pots or woven baskets.  In the beginning start out with maybe a couple or three clay pots and perhaps a half-dozen baskets.  Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have results the first year.  It might take some time for your local birds to get used to the contraptions but sooner or later they will start using them.  By the way, this afternoon I found where a bird built a nest inside the rotating multi-lock mechanism at a ranch gate.

I even use my old clay bowls as watering stations.

The clay bowls will last years but it’s important to secure them well to ensure they stay in place.  Take some time to examine the tree and then place the bowls in such a way that strong winds and swaying branches don’t topple them.  You can encourage nesting by placing a small container with dog hair or perhaps dryer lint and even pieces of string or fishing line cut about three or four inches long nearby.  In winter clean out the clay bowl and prepare it for the upcoming nesting period.  Make sure the bowls have drain holes to allow water or melting snow to drip out and keep the nest dry.

The great old chief looks after the safety of the birds

You must check your woven bird baskets every year prior to the nesting period.  I wouldn’t advice leaving a cane or willow basket in the tree for more than a couple of years.  They are easy to make or if you decide to buy them are not expensive and it’s prudent to replace them after about 24-months.  In a later post I’ll explain how I make my willow or cane bird baskets.  Give clay bowls and woven baskets a try and see what results you get.

A couple of bowls awaiting cleaning.

Clay bowls can also be used for bird seed

About the only nest this pot would provide is a nest for killer bees.  We’ll keep this one in the shed.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Green Madness, Koeberlinia spinosa

In the springtime it smells of rotting flesh and as such exhibits what I’ve termed carrion mimicry.  The potent putrefying smell draws hundreds of flies to the plant and those become the preliminary pollinators.  Known commonly as Junco (Hoon-Kowh) this mass of green thorns goes through several pulse blooms throughout the summer.  Subsequent blooms are not as strong smelling as the first which more-than-likely is a selective mechanism designed to diversify the pollinators.  Summer blooms of Koeberlinia spinosa have a sweeter smell than the horrific stink of the first couple of blooms in late spring and moths and bees become the main pollinators in later blooming periods.  The flowers are small and white.  The plant has no leaves to speak of other than small residual nubs that are, in effect, leaves.  However, the ultra-green stems (including the long thorns) are the site of photosynthesis within the plant.

The smell of early blooms is almost exactly the same as putricene or Tetramethylenediamine, NH2(CH2)4NH2.  That’s the smell of a rotting animal.  It’s not uncommon to wander into the brushlands looking for a dead cow or deer only to find out you’ve been tracking the scent of flowering Junco.

Junco has been used to make traps for rodents and small game.  When dried it is highly combustible and therefore makes excellent kindling.  The wood (if you can get past the thorns) is sometimes used for knife handles and small figurines.  People have planted junco around corrals and even their jacales (small mud and stick huts) in order to keep large predators at bay.  I imagine they take extra care to plant K. spinosa downwind.

Junco is one of my favorite Brushland plants because 30 years ago I spent a considerable amount of time studying its ecological role in the region.  I’ve used the thorns to make rodent traps but not much more.  I simply enjoy looking at Koeberlina spinosa and have sort of an affinity for the plant.  After all, it’s the Brushlands Green Madness.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Defining Self Sufficiency....

Becoming self-sufficient is best accomplished through a gradual series of steps especially for those living in a world accustomed to obtaining their services collectively and behaving by rote.  By collectively I mean that services are delivered for the masses, and by rote I mean living within a mode or framework determined by others.  This way of life is unavoidable in some instances but can become overwhelming at other times.  But that strategy, as designed by those who implement it, is made to be insidious and as such people are not always aware they are being pushed into tighter and tighter corners.  This, of course, does not have to center on monetary policies.  It can also revolve around other activities in one’s life.  To become self-sufficient then is to maintain and nurture self and at the same time exclude toxic behaviors, habits and beliefs.  How many times, for example, do we see people who are not only over-extended financially but are also addicted to some sort of drug (alcohol, nicotine, prescription or illegal) and who indulge in risky behaviors from promiscuity to gambling to things like never exercising?  Unfortunately, this is much too common in today’s world.

I talked to someone recently who is enduring nearly ceaseless anxiety.  The recourse chosen is a never ending regimen of prescribed tranquilizers and anti-depressants.  While this might be just the ticket for the physician doling out the dope, the patient unfortunately never gets well and life, at least from what I’ve observed, is rather pathetic.  Now what does this have to do with becoming self-sufficient?  First let me say that going from a state of dependence to independence and self-sufficiency is going to engender a certain amount of anxiety.  But remember that the anxiety state did not evolve (it was not selected for) because it was harmful but instead because it served some sort of survival benefit to our forebearers.  Anxiety, in other words, was a good thing.  But overtime the conditions under which it served as something beneficial waned and, for most people these days is looked at as a decidedly negative experience.  But what if we were to say: “Anxiety is good.  Our inner self is telling us something; it is desperately trying to give us a message.”  Seen from that perspective and our fear of anxiety might become less threatening and we can then look at it as a positive occurrence, a way of communication between our subconscious and conscience selves.  When looked at in this light we can begin our journey towards becoming self-sufficient.  Now the task is to figure out where that change is necessary and even more importantly how much of a change should be made.

First of all we must understand that the primary assignment towards becoming self-sufficient begins with acquiring the right attitude.  Without the correct world-view we will not be able to move forward in our quest towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle.  Let’s make it clear that becoming self-sufficient does not mean becoming financially advantaged nor does it mean we are adopting a minimalist lifestyle.  How are those things different you might ask?  First of all, a self-sufficient person defines the quality of life on strictly qualitative terms.  In other words, it is not measured by the number of things we have or do not have.  The person seeking financial gain is hooked into a world where things are important.  Paradoxically, the minimalist lives in that very same world but at the other extreme.  Both the person seeking a financial advantage and the minimalist gauge the quality of their lives in quantitative terms.  They are both playing the numbers game.  Self-sufficiency, on the other hand, is about inner-resource, creativity and independence.  But this independence is not because we have so much money that we can buy anything we want nor is it that we have dissociated ourselves of a lot of things so that the things that we do have are few in number.  The independence that the self-sufficient person possesses is centered on an inner freedom, a mindset (an attitude) where we live our lives through our own eyes and not the eyes of others.  In effect, we live our lives free of the need to impress other people.  And that is where we must start.  That is the attitude that almost immediately squelches anxiety or at least a good deal of it.  For, in fact, most of the anxieties we suffer today stem from the need to be perceived in a specific way by others.  That means we are dependent on our fears of what other people think of us.

I will talk more about becoming self-sufficient in future posts.  If you look back on some of my articles you’ll see that I’ve already dealt with the subject to varying degrees.  But it’s time to focus more deeply into this idea.  But before I end this piece let me make one more thing clear.  There are other places where people talk about self-sufficiency but I have not found any, in my view, that understand or comprehend the deeper meaning of the phrase.  Let it suffice for now that true self sufficiency is, beyond anything else, a state of mind.  One does not become self-sufficient because (1) it frees us from “market manipulation.”  While that might be an eventual outcome (to varying degrees) that is not the impetus for which we ought to choose a self-sufficient lifestyle.  (2) It “builds community strength.”  No, that too is not a reason.  Real self-sufficiency is about an inner-awareness, an intrinsic understanding and grounding of self and not necessarily about the community at large.  But please do not infer that I am suggesting a hedonistic self or a hyper-instrumental self, or most of all a sociopathic self.  The ultimate idea is to live peacefully and without malice towards anyone or anything.  Becoming self-sufficient is first and foremost about the inner-mind.  That is where real self-sufficiency begins.  And that’s where we will go in future posts as we develop the idea further.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Rural South Texans have heard these sorts of stories many times.  And yet, regardless of how many times the stories are told they always bring a laugh when said anew.  The stories usually revolve around some “Yankee” who comes south to work as a government bureaucrat.  Whether in the Border Patrol or Fish & Wildlife Service or perhaps the USDA these folks are stationed in the Brushlands and desert regions and to most of them the land is not only foreign and hostile it is also downright weird.  Most northerners never assimilate to the territory.  Years ago a fellow came from Boston to live in the area and though he was a nice guy he was forever letting us woods and desert rats know how inferior we were when compared to the sophisticated northeastern types.  But we liked the guy so we let his constant jabs slide and dismissed the comments as part ignorance and perhaps a little envy.  We after all were woodsmen and nature types and he was a “city slicker.”  His jabs ceased however on the day we decided to take him into the Brushlands to do some woods roaming.  Of course—and not to be sinister or anything like that—we warned him (as we warn everyone) about being careful for rattlesnakes and never picking up a rock or piece of wood without first examining it for scorpions or black widow spiders.  So we left the truck and headed into the brush.  Everything seemed okay until we’d gone about a hundred yards when our highfalutin buddy stopped cold and said, “Get me out of here.”  We turned to him and asked, “Why?”  But our friend offered no explanations other than this was far enough and he wanted out!  So one of us escorted him back to the truck and two of us remained in the brush.  After a few minutes we decided to walk back to the vehicle to see what the problem was and there we found our Boston friend bug-eyed and pale.  “What’s wrong?” we asked.  The one who had escorted him back to the truck shrugged and Mr. Boston looked at us and said, “I don’t know.”  Interestingly, after that episode our Boston buddy never said another demeaning thing about us.  Perhaps he realized that every region has its unique characteristics and people develop ways of dealing with their environments.  Take me to the big city and I won’t be happy.  I spent part of a summer years ago living in Brooklyn and I don’t think I ever adjusted to the place and never would have liked it.  Every weekend I’d coax a friend to take his car as far from the city as possible.  We’d travel north for a couple of hours but nothing ever quite suited me.  I found the region too crowded and besides there weren’t any mesquite trees and nopal cactus.  I decided to abandon the subway one afternoon and just walk home and then spent an hour frantically looking for another subway terminal because I was desperately lost.  So people can become lost and anxious no matter where they are and if they don’t know the lingo it can get even worse.  Take the Cattle Guard for example.  Here’s a typical story:
A couple of Border Patrol newbies drive up and say, “We’re looking for this little road that leads west from this road we’re on now.  Do you know where that road is exactly?”
“Oh yes,” el woods rat replies.  “Just keep going down this road until you get to the cattle guard and the little road that turns west directly after the cattle guard is the road you want.”
“At the cattle guard?” the newbies ask.
“Yup,” the woods rat says.
So onward they go the two newbies from the US Border Patrol in this land of cactus and endless thorns and rattling snakes and miles of miles of miles.
An hour later another woods rat calls the first woods rat on his cell phone and says, “Hey, I’ve got these two Border Patrol guys driving out here looking for the cattle guard.  They told me they haven’t seen anyone.”
“My lord,” the first woods rat says.  “You’re six miles from here.  I was talking about the cattle guard that’s not more than a quarter mile from where I’m at.”
“Well,” the second woods rat says.  “These boys thought you were talking about a person.”
And so the story goes.  People think a “cattle guard” is a person—a mounted cowpuncher standing guard overlooking yonder wandering moo-things—and so onward they go looking for the lone fellow standing watch.  And when they drive over this odd bumpy contraption they give nary a thought that that noisy thing is el cattle guard.

Who named them cattle guards is unknown by this chronicler but perhaps a better name would have been a “cattle barrier.”  But “cattle guard” it is and around these parts most Brushland roamers know it as such and don’t think twice about the term.  Of course, it can lead to misunderstandings and in some cases people driving for miles searching for the phantom scout standing watch.
But people learn the lingo after a while even if they never fully assimilate to the area.  If you weren’t born and raised in South Texas you will never become fully acclimated to the place.  Just like if you weren’t born and raised in the Yukon you won’t ever become a genuine part of that country.

Cattle guards are usually made of used drill pipes set a few inches apart and over a pit that dissuades cows from crossing because they can’t negotiate the gaps between the pipes.  I’ve seen old railroad railing used instead of pipes or even I-beams placed in the same manner.  Cattle guards must be maintained because as soon as the pit fills with dirt or sand it stops functioning as a barrier to keep cows from crossing.

Old cattle guards dot the region.