Security takes various forms depending on the situation. For those who man the Southern Border of the United States as US Border Patrol the object becomes twofold. Foremost is the job itself to safeguard the border from incursions related to illegal entry and drug smuggling as well as watching for those bent on gaining access into the country in order to commit nefarious acts. It’s not a glamorous job and, despite the ongoing attempts by the BP brass to drum up publicity, most agents go about their work as it is perhaps meant to be: A job that allows them to spend a lot of time in the woods as well as a means to support their families. You’ll never hear about agents becoming infested with pinolios or seed ticks when they tromp through nearly impenetrable brush along the Rio Grande nor will you hear about them walking up on six foot rattlesnakes in knee-high dry grass when in the upland brush. And unless something goes terribly wrong you’ll not hear about them smashing their way into weed and coke-filled hideouts while keeping an eye out for gun totting bad guys. This, of course, brings up the second object in the security equation: The need to protect one’s self. The idea of protection however is not one-dimensional. A sidearm is imperative but should never be the only means of defense. For that matter neither should a cutting tool. A few weeks ago several Special Ops Border Patrol stopped by the cabin as they often do to examine my latest knives and learn a bit more about survival in the South Texas Brushlands. I always look forward to their visits and it was on that occasion that I gave each of them granjeno walking canes with instructions to always keep them handy when cutting sign. “Use these canes to probe the ground in front of you,” I said. About ten days later one of the BP called me to say the cane I’d given him had saved him from a nasty rattlesnake bite on two separate occasions. And so it was yesterday that a couple of Special Ops BP drove to the cabin to inspect my latest knife creation as well as talk brushland survival then later have me accompany them to cut sign through a large patch of stubble grass, sun-burnt shrubs and fine-particle sand. This, my friends, is a sign-cutters worst nightmare. Even over rocks a good tracker can spot idiosyncratic anomalies that indicate where people have traveled. But on fine-particle sand (especially when the wind is blowing) tracks become obliterated in as little as an hour. It’s also difficult to tell exactly how old a footprint might be since even fresh tracks on fine-particle sand appear old if compared to tracks seen on other types of soils. We’d had an incident the day before when two women and a man walked up our driveway scared and defeated. They’d been wandering through the brush for four days with nothing but a couple of bottles of water (now empty) and three cans of peaches (two of them already consumed) and all they wanted was water and for me to call the Border Patrol to come pick them up. Now listen up all you survivalist wannabes who love to talk about the latest character changes on those amateurish TV survival shows and who wouldn’t last ten days in the woods if it were the real thing. What I witness out here is genuine survival! I see it on almost a weekly basis. I encounter people who have faced extreme conditions, some of them for up to a week walking in temperatures as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit with little to no water, with no backpack full of gear, with no knife, no matches, no food, and no flashlight or ferro rod. I find them panicked and sick. I find them disoriented, gone crazy from lack of water. I find them wild-eyed and in shock. And I find what’s left of them after they succumbed to the heat and their tongues swelled up to where they could no longer talk or even breathe and they collapsed on sunbaked sand and lapsed into unconsciousness; and hopefully they died quietly because when night came the wild hogs sniffed their scent and by morning all that’s left is a scattering of blood-red bones. By noontime the buzzards have finished the task of sweeping away any vestige of who they might have been. The three folks who walked up to the cabin even as the dogs barked furiously were nearing the end. The older woman was suffering from acute dehydration. Her 14-year old daughter was scared though in better shape than her 39-year old mother. The 27-year old fellow with them was weak and disoriented. They were weeping and pleading for water. “Please call la Migracíon,” they said. So I called the Border Patrol then asked them to sit under a mesquite tree while I brought them water and some peanut butter sandwiches. I knew it would take an hour at least for the BP to make it out to my place so we began talking about what they’d just gone through as well as their long journey across parts of Central America then through Mexico and ultimately to the ranchlands along the South Texas desert known as The Sand Sheet. I’m saving that talk for a book I’m working on about this life I live since the telling would be too long for a blog post. When the book comes out I think you will find it interesting as well as informative.
Yesterday when the Special Ops fellows were here they wanted to look at my knives as always. When I showed them my two latest machete choppers pictured in this post one of them said, “Arthur, now you’ve got to let these go. This is what we need.” I smiled and then shot them a price and he said, “Done deal.” To which I countered, “Okay, let’s try them out on that mesquite over there.” So in 95 degree heat I had two young fellows whacking away at the mesquite and then a brasil that needed pruning. And that was that. I’ve been asked to make some more of these heavy machetes. And so I will.
These are robust, full-tang machetes designed for cleaving whatever needs to be cleaved—and again we’re talking situational scrutiny here. They are ultra-sharp with shallow convex bevels. Made from 5160 leaf-springs they are differentially tempered with three different Rockwell hardness calibrations at the bevel edge, the spine and at the juncture of the handle. The scales were epoxied onto the ¼ inch thick tang then pinned with brass. The blades run 10 ¾ inches long and the dark machete’s handle measures 5 ¾ inches while the antiqued machete’s handle measures 6 9/16 inches.
The three who had survived four days in the desert were in remarkably good shape considering the ordeal they’d just been through. But these are people who are used to hard times, accustomed to living without many of the niceties Americans and Europeans take for granted. In other words, they’re tough. Besides, they’d never do anything as foolish and downright stupid as troll the backwoods or deserts butt naked. But then again neither did they have a film crew within feet of them ready to whisk them off to a comfy bed and nice meal. Like I said, this is true survival. But lest anyone think romantically or foolishly regarding these scenarios let me add that the issue, especially here on the US/Mexico border, is complicated. Homesteaders, particularly those living within a few miles of the Rio Grande, are robbed, their buildings are raided, mounds of trash liter their properties, and many of them live in fear of who might be lurking in the woods near their houses. We too have had things stolen and on a couple of occasions people arrived who would obviously take us down if they got the upper hand. Guns, dogs and knives don’t play trivial roles in these parts. A New York-based TV production team doesn’t stand by to catch everything on film. Yes, we’re opinionated and look on people who proclaim they’ve got “twenty years of expertise teaching survival” as neophytes. We’re not all that impressed either by anyone who comes along and says he was a former sniper or tactical Army guru in the Middle East or some such nonsense. No, this ain’t Hollywood and we keep our clothes on and live quiet lives or at least try to keep things tranquil. This coming week the Border Patrol will show up to talk knives and ask questions about survival from an old man who’s spent most of his life in the woods. We’ll swap jokes and they’ll want to see some selfbows and river reed arrows. Questions on Intel; and even small talk about family and how my dog that got bit by a rattlesnake a few weeks ago is doing. I’ve got more requests for walking canes and I’m happy to give the BP what I’ve got. I guess I’ll get more requests for heavy machetes too. But that’s going to cost a few nickels.