Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Blogging from the Deep Woods & the Itinerant Life of a Nature Freak and Knife Hack....

A look from my back porch as dawn breaks behind me.  Last night two great-horned owls hooted in the woods pictured and several pauraques whistled until far past midnight….

Trying to keep a blog going while living in the woods is not without its problems.  There’s the availability of suitable Internet connections, for one.  And then there are the logistics of keeping a homestead going and still finding enough daylight to write blog posts.  You see, it’s not as if we have the complete array of conveniences available to those living in towns or cities.  For example, we must supply our own water, take care of our own garbage, defend ourselves (we have no access to immediate police protection this far into the woods), and also keep watch for the ever-present dangers that might precipitate medical emergencies.

Over the last few days we’ve been busy drilling a new water well.  While nowhere near as hectic as building a house in the backwoods, the process of digging a well in this locale is still problematic.  It’ll be another week before we can switch over to the new water source assuming there are no “events” in between that slow the process.  This morning my son and I were up at dawn preparing the pad where we’ll place a large storage tank.  We also needed to fill a 200 gallon holding tank for the well driller to use.  As I write these notes I can hear the rumble of his drilling machine about 200 feet from the house.

Winds are blustering through as another norther whips overland.  I’m grateful for the winter we’ve had.  In the last ten years we’ve experienced very little resembling winter and though we’re still suffering from a severe drought there have been some nice periods of rainfall which means this year we’ll have abundant wildflowers.  Last spring the entire region ranged from khaki brown to burnt umber with nary a flower in sight.

There are tens of thousands of blogs and it’s presumptuous for me to think that I have anything noteworthy to say to anyone.  What, after all, does a desert rat share with a society that is essentially urban, glued to television, infatuated with consumption, politically partisan, conservative, liberal, and otherwise so removed from the life I live as to either abhor it or romantically idealize it?  But perhaps the one who’s actually been educated in this blog is not you but me.  My contemplations on bushcraft, nature preservation and low-impact living are indeed subjective and perhaps a bit esoteric.  You see, I’m one of those oddballs who thinks we ought to fight (as in fight!) to save nature.  In other words, nature preservation is a really big deal for me.  I also view the subjects of bushcraft and low-impact living as both compatible and even synergistic.  That last statement is worthy of an entire blog post or perhaps even a book-length manuscript and perhaps I’ll tackle it someday.  Let it suffice to say here that bushcraft is far less invasive of nature than the process of mining, manufacturing and transporting materials across the world so that some naïve camper can “leave no trace” when he ventures into his favorite piece of woods.  Oh how I love stirring the pot.

I am a student of population ecology.  I’ve concluded, based on my analysis of the data, that we humans have far surpassed our maximum carrying capacity.  That makes certain issues like exponential human population growth and unrestrained immigration critically important.  This, however, is a good example of where political ideologies and economic “theories” collide headlong with science, particularly biology and above all nature preservation.  Let it suffice to say here as well that we cannot cram more and more people into any box without suffering some sort of cataclysmic event.  This is a non-refutable truth.  But in the world beyond my deep woods enclave emotions steer the boat far more than empirical evidence.  We are therefore stuck in a political and “market driven” climate that ignores biological realities.  Perhaps we’ll also stir the pot on this subject a bit more down the road.

Your emails and blog stats have taught me a lot about your personal interests.  Take knives for example.  Don’t get me wrong: I really like knives.  But it’s not the alpha and the omega for me.  I’m not a knife collector nor am I one of those who dreams knives.  I enjoy making knives and, in fact, I’ve got a number of knife projects in queue.  So in that sense I collect my own knives.  None of these knives are for sale.  Please understand that I am honored and deeply grateful for the dozens of requests I’ve had for one of my knives.  But it would become a chore—a genuinely stressful chore—if I had to go out to the shop to build knives for people.  And besides, I don’t want to deal with the litigious aspects of selling dangerous handmade tools nor am I all that gung-ho about spending long hours around metal dust.  I take all the necessary precautions from respirator to eye and ear protection but it’s still a risk.  So I make knives as I please and there is no pressure doing it that way.  If I want to make a knife then I make a knife.  Otherwise, I have gobs of knives on hand from crooked and hook knives to skinning knives to the large Woods Roamer knives and I could stop making them today and still have enough for my great-grandchildren to use.

A Few of My Crooked Knives

Woods Roamer Knives

My life in the woods, however, has taught me that though a knife is a nice tool to have it’s not really of maximum importance in a survival situation.  The fact that so many “survival experts” make the claim that a knife is the paramount item to possess is based, I believe, on repetition and not actual experience.  Yes, give me a knife and I’m very content.  But your classic “bushcraft knife” is not the knife I would prefer to have on hand if I were in a “survival situation.”  I’ll take a machete in desert or tropical regions and a small axe in the northern latitudes over any four-inch, Scandi-ground etc. etc. blade.  My second cutting tool would be a pocket folding knife.  Just remember that humans lived without any steel knives for about 40-thousand years.  And they managed to survive.  Also recognize that owning a knife does not bestow expertise.  I know a couple of fellows who own dozens of expensive bushcraft knives and neither one knows much about the woods other than how to make feather-sticks and scrape a blade over a ferrocerium rod.  I did, however, teach one of them how to make a fire using a bow-drill.  That’s all good to know but bushcraft is far more than making fire with sticks.

My next post, by the way, is on variations of the Apache Foot Snare.  I think you bushcraft types will find it interesting.  I’m going to discuss the way I think the Apache Foot Snare was really made…or should’ve been made.  And one more thing: We’ll keep this blog going a bit longer if you’d like to know more about Brushland and Southwestern bushcraft and nature preservation.  A lot more things on native plants and ethnobotany too….So keep in trouch.


  1. Arturo,a good blog as always. Any cutting tool gives man an advantage but only if paired up with skill and know how.

    Thank you.

    1. Exactly. And the key word is "cutting tool." I've made a couple of bows using just a beer bottle. Broken into shards it becomes an array of blades and scrapers. Maybe I ought to make another one and post in detail how it's done. Thanks.

  2. Well said and to the point. I look forward to those things that you plan to blog about.

    Leroy Anderson

    1. Thanks, Leroy. We're still working on the well but should have it completed by (hopefully) next Tuesday or thereabouts.

  3. I enjoy your blog but I've always thought the writer did it for themselves, having others enjoy it is a bonus.

    I did wonder about your statement "that we humans have far surpassed our maximum carrying capacity". I've long thought that when we actually do surpass our maximum carrying capacity we will know it, there will be no doubt or room for argument. When you put too much on a boat it sinks, when we humans truly are too many we will have some terrible times while things adjust, just like an over loaded boat does.

    Bushcraft, like any craft has to be learned & education takes time. A big learning curve.
    I enjoy reading about new things like the Apache Foot Snare. I tell myself that if I'm ever in a place where I can use it having read about it is far better than not ever heard about it at all, (there are a lot of silent 'ifs' in that statement).
    I think I have few illusions about using, let alone constructing a bow & arrow but I am still fascinated with the process but I am aware of the learning curve.

    One year I decided I wanted a garden to feed us, talk about a learning curve! It's a good thing the stores still sold food.
    Part of that learning curve was that when the garden did not work I had to wait until next year to try again, serious stuff. I suspect many bushcraft lessons in your bush are like that, you have to heal up (if you don't die) before you can try again.

    Then again, what do I know?

    1. Rob: You bring up some interesting points. Yes, writing (like many other pursuits) is something done to sate the intrinsic self. A lot of it has to do with personality but essentially those who write do it because they must write. Whether in journals and diaries or for magazines and books. If one's writing touches others than there is, of course, fulfillment in that as well. But writing is such a solitary endeavor that it requires a deep commitment that can only be met if the underlying personality fits.

      Regarding your question about maximum carrying capacity: I am not aware of anyone within the ecological or biological community who is seriously questioning whether or not we have already surpassed our maximum carrying capacity. Perhaps in the fields of economics but not in biology. There are always some naysayers in every group but those (as in the climate science debate) are on the fringe. But here's the important point. You will not necessarily know when we have maxed out, so to speak. It is an insidious event much like the frog that gets placed in a bowl of cold water and never jumps out even as the temperature is slowly brought to boiling. The object is not to get to the point where "the boat sinks." When that happens then everyone will obviously become acutely aware of the problem. But we must ask ourselves: Given the available data then why would we be so foolish as to allow things to reach that point? There are solutions. Some are a bit more drastic than others but pray-tell what could be more drastic than an ever increasing downturn that culminates in a dramatic collapse? This is not a debatable issue. We have surpassed maximum carrying capacity by at least three billion people. Remember that we are also growing exponentially. For humans there are a multitude of limiting factors not seen in other animals. An abrupt cessation of any of those limiting factors will create an almost instant implosion. Remember that going over maximum carrying capacity does not in of itself precipitate a collapse. All it does is create the conditions for which an elimination of any of the limiting factors would prove disastrous.

      Thanks for bringing up this important question.

  4. I'm sorry, I'm just don't seem to understand...

    You tell me we are three billion over what we can be (the maximum) and it is not debatable, yet here we are.

    There are a great many things I don't fully grasp in this world, (I did use an on-line dictionary to make sure I really understood the word "maximum"). I guess this is just another one.

    Best of luck to you sir in what ever comes.

  5. The carrying capacity of a biological species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water and other necessities available in the environment. When the carrying capacity is surpassed then the population becomes vulnerable to those factors that can predispose the population to a sudden reduction. Those factors are known as limiting factors.

    Limiting Factor: A factor present in an environment that controls a process, particularly the growth, abundance or distribution of a population of organisms in an ecosystem.

    I have included two definitions above taken off the Internet for “carrying capacity” and “limiting factor.” Perhaps you might read my previous comment again but I’ll reiterate it here anyway. We are about 3-billion over the Maximum Carrying Capacity. What that means is that we have “overshot” the population density that can exist given sufficient resources to sustain that population. Recall that I said in the previous comment that surpassing our maximum carrying capacity does not mean we are going to see a sudden collapse…unless the most vulnerable limiting factor abruptly fizzles. What that means is that once we surpass maximum carrying capacity we become increasingly vulnerable to the various limiting factors that will, upon depletion, cause a precipitous population collapse. Remember that the key words (not word) are “maximum carrying capacity” and “limiting factors.” To answer your question directly: We are still here because there have been (to date) no extreme depletions of any particular limiting factors. That however can abruptly change. It would seem that as the population continues to overshoot the maximum carrying capacity that the likelihood of a population collapse becomes more and more likely.
    I hope this answered your question.

    1. It sounds like an educated guess but that's ok. I understand what you're saying.

      I'll be honest with you, we are at the point where if you are right we need to be lucky because 3 billion people is a lot of people.
      If the technology is good to us maybe we can continue to be lucky...

    2. First of all thank you for this post. One of the reasons I frequent this blog is because of the array of topics ranging from things like the importance of knowing all about native plants to making selfbows. I am also particularly interested in subjects related to fracking, water shortages and the population bomb we are now facing. Allow me then to reply to Rob’s assertions that the concept of surpassing our maximum carrying capacity is nothing more than “an educated guess.” Let’s get past this misconception first. The concepts presented above by Mr. Longoria are NOT based on any guessing. These are well established biological principals. So let me give a couple more examples of how limiting factors play into reducing populations that have surged past a habitat’s maximum carrying capacity. Let’s take a city park full of oak trees and squirrels, for example. The squirrel population continues to surge as long as there are enough acorns to support the growing squirrel population. But then the squirrel population becomes too large and they eat acorns faster than the oak trees can produce acorns. That is a good example of surpassing the environment’s maximum carrying capacity. Then you’ll see a sudden reduction in the number of squirrels. Let’s take another example: In some areas the populations of coyotes wax and wane with the populations of rabbits and field mice. As long as there are enough rabbits and field mice to support the population of coyotes then the coyote population increases. In this case (as in the case of the acorns above) the rabbits and field mice are limiting factors for the coyotes. So when the coyote population expands beyond the ability of the surrounding habitat to supply sufficient numbers of rabbits and field mice then the coyote population drops seemingly overnight. Now this is not rocket science. It’s just basic biological reality. In the case of humans we have what has been called a “contrived ecosystem” in which we are artificially able to sustain extreme populations via mechanized agriculture and so forth. But this is a time bomb waiting to explode. Some countries around the world can no longer support their populations because their populations have exceeded the local areas ability to produce enough food to support them. But other countries are able to take up the slack and produce enough food to support these overpopulated regions. But what if “limiting factors” begin to play into the equation. For example, what if the countries that are producing food for the grossly overpopulated countries (in places like Europe and Asia) can no longer support those overpopulated countries. In other words, what if massive droughts in the United States or in some regions of South America make it impossible for those countries to support their own people and unable to ship food to Europe or parts of Asia? That is a prime example of a species (in this case humans) that has surpassed its maximum carrying capacity and suddenly succumbs to the limiting factor known as food. There are other limiting factors ranging from water to even the economy but I have given you a few examples that I hope will allow you to see that this is not any sort of “educated guess” but instead scientific fact and just plain logical.

  6. When there is too much for an environment something has to give.
    Using your examples if there are not enough acorns, the squirrels without enough food die off, the same with the rabbits/mice & the coyotes.
    When there is not enough food, "the maximum carrying capability" has been exceeded & things collapse.
    Did I get that right?
    We humans have already exceeded the "the maximum carrying capability"? The collapse just hasn't happened yet?
    In my world you find the breaking point of anything by actually breaking it. The human world is not broken yet.

    Sorry about that folks but in my world when you exceed the amount that something can carry it doesn't carry it any more. Go/NoGo
    Ships go under, bridges fall & aircraft do not get off the ground.
    If I'm not getting this then I probably don't have enough something or another to understand this, so we might as well drop it.

  7. I woke up this morning thinking about this...

    There are "maximums" and then there are "maximums"... The manufacture says this truck will carry 1000 pounds, that is a maximum, there are people who will go to great lengths to stay within that 1000 pound limit. There there are others who will put what they have to in the truck and see if it works. When the tires in back pop or the front wheels come off the ground you have actually exceeded the maximum carrying capacity of that truck.

    In both cases the word "maximum" is spelled the same.

    FWIW a theory is an educated guess until it's proven right or wrong....

    1. Rob: I kept waiting for someone else to reply but I guess I’ll jump in. First of all, how did you get the idea that this is a “theory?” It is neither a theory nor is it an “educated guess.” By the way, in science an educated guess is called a hypothesis. But that’s beside the point. Maybe it’s good you are thinking about this if it’s really about learning about these topics. So here’s the point: Many human societies have experienced sudden collapses because limiting factors affected their populations. History is full of examples of societies (human populations) that overran their resources. From severe droughts or sudden water depletions to other things that, when abruptly absent, caused the human population to plummet. Now, and this is important, it was mentioned previously that the conditions we have now are artificial. In other words, the system is contrived. And that makes for a very precarious situation. Now I have no idea why you keep harping on this but how you conceive things (in “your world”) is utterly irrelevant when it comes to biological phenomena that, when all is said and done, not all that hard to understand. In a contrived ecosystem that is artificial it is completely in the realm of possibility to see a population exceed its carrying capacity and still function—at least for a while. It will however eventually collapse. That is because too much stress is being placed on a system that cannot be sustained. What that means (as was mentioned above) is that those places that can no longer support themselves and that are entirely dependent on other places to provide their food will be the first to implode. That will be followed by more broad ranged implosions. Again, this is NOT a theory nor it is an educated guess. We see this sort of thing happening all the time in the biological world. One more thing: There are a number of excellent books on the subject. Some of them are more scientific but others are written for the lay public. May I suggest you look for some of those books? I think you will find them interesting.

    2. I'm just going to drop this, I don't speak your language. I appreciate your attempt.