Blogging has taught me a few things about myself, the land around me and people in general. Unless you’re trying to make money off a blog (and there’s nothing wrong with that) then there’s no reason to write about anything that you don’t find interesting. If you’re passionate about a subject then it will probably be the main impetus of your blog; otherwise, the blog will fizzle quickly. As you might have gathered over the last few years my passion is nature. It’s not about buying things for camping or hunting but instead about living in the woods quietly and peacefully. Yes, I like knives and bows and arrows but I make my own instead of buying them with the exception of a few pocket knives. I visit knife forums and selfbow websites only occasionally. I do, however, read a lot about subjects relating to ethnobotany especially as it correlates to primitive technologies. Lately, I’ve been spending time reading as much as possible about how various grasses have been used around the world to make everything from arrows to dwellings to musical instruments, watercraft, fences, and the like. You might recall a recent post about the “Columbian Exchange” and the war on Phragmites australis as an “invasive species.” For those of you who enjoy bushcraft then phragmites is a plant you might consider studying. As recounted in the previous post it has been used extensively for many things. I make all my arrows from phragmites but I’ve also lived in huts that were thatched with the reed and years ago I had an opportunity to ride in a boat made from carrizo. Even so, phragmites is not the only grass species employed for bushcraft projects and in future posts I hope to discuss those other grasses in detail.
There’re a lot of excellent arrows in this stand of carrizo.
I see an annual circle completed when spring arrives and not in the middle of winter as is generally the custom. In other words, the new year unfolds with the emergence of flowers and trees leafing out. The new year begins when I see bobwhite and scaled quail coveys break into pairs and when I encounter new bird’s nests in the trees around my cabin. The coyote’s songs take on a different quality as spring approaches and other animal behaviors are also altered around this time of year: The white-tailed deer, for example, become more elusive as do the javelina. Soon I’ll start seeing quite a few Painted, Indigo and Varied Buntings in my front yard as well as Hooded and Altamira orioles. The bird list is extensive and not a day goes by (perhaps not even an hour) that I’m not watching out for birds at the feeders and watering stations.
And then there are the smells of springtime. You see South Texas is probably the first place in the United States where spring shows up. One of my sons lives far to the north and he just sent me a text saying, “Here we go again.” He was referring to the latest winter storm about to hit. Two of my other sons report sleet in their area. Even though the same blue-norther is blowing through as I write these notes, it will be mild compared to most other places and will do little to deter the springtime that has already begun. All around the huisache trees (wee-sach-eh) (Acacia farnesiana) are blooming with bright yellow flowers that are nothing less than beautiful. The flowers’ fragrance is indeed tranquilizing and in fact the blossoms are distilled to make an ingredient for perfumes. The bark of the huisache can be used to make a black dye. People in parts of Mexico and Central America sometimes press the seeds to make cooking oil. But the best part of the huisache is the honey derived from its flowers. I’ve written about this before but it’s worth repeating. The only way to get pure huisache honey—the nectar of the gods—is to find someone who has placed hives in the middle of a large huisache grove and then buy directly from that person. Of course, that’s difficult to do. One more note: Huisache nomenclature suffers from the same academic nuttiness that has besieged other plants. Perhaps one of your former biology teachers told you that scientific names are the definitive moniker of any plant or animal. Well, unfortunately that doesn’t hold anymore for plants. There are so many synonyms that my advice (if you’re not a professional botanist) is just stick to the common name in your area and learn how to identify the plant and if you’re interested in bushcraft or ethnobotany then find out as much about the plant’s uses and then be done with it. Also know that the botanical community will continually fumble around with all sorts of names and only they will find the process edifying. So here goes: Huisache is not only known as Acacia farnesiana, but also Vachellia farnesiana and it was formerly called, Mimosa farnesiana. The plant’s family name went from Leguminosae to Fabaceae but it’s the same thing because both refer to the “bean family.”
One more note: I’ve been asked in several emails what makes a person passionate about the woods. By the way, “the woods” is the universal metaphor for nature. Facts are that there is no definitive answer to that question. Some answers have been proposed but I find all of them lacking in both empirical proof and substantive logic. Furthermore most of the research in that regard is too crammed with variables to be worthwhile—at least in my opinion. Some have suggested that one must be introduced to nature at an early age by someone who is passionate about nature in order to become both an ardent and zealous nature lover. I’ve seen many examples of that occurring but I’ve also seen plenty of instances where people were exposed to nature via a “nature person” and they did not develop any sort of infatuation towards the woods. And yet there are others who had no such encounter with a nature person and yet as children they developed a deep seated affection for the woods. This brings up the nature/nurture equation with all its obstacles and additional questions. I am increasingly convinced that a driving passion for nature is as much a product of genotype as it is derived from any nurturing experience. In time I’m convinced that will be proven true. Anyway, as springtime approaches may I wish all of you nature and bushcraft folks, Happy New Year.