Friday, June 27, 2014

How to Make Quick Cordage

Commercially made cordage of one sort or another is available for sale almost everywhere you go so there’s no excuse not to have some in possession.  Keep a bag in your vehicle with at least 100 feet of rope as well as other items like an axe, machete, fire starter, plastic tubing, fence tool, hammer, pliers, screw driver, monkey wrench, hacksaw, tin cup, canteen and whatever else you think you might need in an emergency.  To provide more cordage you can attach your keys to parachute cord assembled in various ways like the popular cobra stitch.  Fifty feet of parachute cord in you backpack or shoulder bag and another ten on a bracelet and you’ll have more than enough cordage on you when you need it.  There are times however when you might want to preserve your cordage and instead make a quick connection between two objects by using materials available in nature.  I’m referring here to something that can be made quickly and will be strong enough to hold up a shelter frame or tie three sticks together to make a tripod or perhaps used to construct cooking platforms.  Readymade cordage is available everywhere if you know what to look for but in the Southwestern United States as well as most of northern Mexico plants in the Agave (Agavaceae) family make excellent string and rope.  In fact, if you walk into a store and buy jute string or rope it will have come from this same family.  It only takes a few minutes to make the type of cordage I’m referring to here and all you need is a pocket knife, small hunting knife or machete to cut a section of either agave or yucca.  Below are photos taken of two members of the agave family that grow abundantly in the region.

Use a section of the Century Plant’s leaf to make cordage in as little as five minutes.

Yucca is also called pita in South Texas and can be used for making quick cordage.

                                              Yucca strip

The first thing to do is cut a narrow section of the leaves of either the agave or yucca.  Be careful to keep the section as straight as possible as this will make the process easier.  Cut the leaf section by bending the spike at the tip of the leaves down slightly and then by slicing at a shallow angle into the leaf.

Begin pulling the leaf section downward until the section is removed.

Yucca section is being pulled downward.  You’ll want a section from 15 to 20 inches long.  Remember to keep it straight as seen in the photograph below.

Here’s the same process but with the agave leaf below.

Now cut the section free from the main leaf as seen below.

Some people slap the cut agave or yucca section against a tree trunk or large branch.  But if none of those things are available then simply begin scraping the pulp off the leaf using your knife, a small rock chip or a twig.  Keep scraping until most of the pulp has been removed.  I use my finger nails to remove all the pulp and I find this method works best for me.  This should only take a couple of minutes to complete.

The process from this point when making quick cordage is somewhat different with the yucca and the agave.  For the yucca I make several small cuts at the end of the leaf as shown in the picture below.

After I’ve made the cuts as shown above I begin stripping the narrow section forward towards the spike at the tip.

After stripping the sections forward towards the spike I’m left with thick strands in the photo above.  These strands dry quickly and the drier they get the stronger they become.  But you need not wait.  This simple yucca cordage can be put to use almost immediately.  You can tie strands together to make a longer section or you can employ one section for small jobs.  Some people tie yucca leaves together and this works quite well but if sliced the way I’ve shown you in the photos the overall cordage will be stronger and will dry more efficiently.

Above I am doing the same process to an agave leaf but instead of cutting into the base of the section I am simply cleaning out the pulp and exposing the fibers that will dry within a few hours.

Some have suggested that indigenous people used the spikes at the end of the leaves as needles for sewing but I don’t think the process works well if done that way.  Instead, think of the spike as an awl for making a hole.  The size of the hole will depend on how deeply you insert the spike.  If you are not going to need to make any sort of hole you can simply remove the spike and twist the fibers to make a simple cord.

This type of cordage becomes more durable the drier it gets.  By the way, above is a sneak peek of the machete Bowie I’m going to show you in an upcoming post.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mountain Hiatus...

A desert is defined as a region that receives less than 10 inches of rainfall per year.  About fifteen inches of rain descends on the South Texas Sand Sheet to the north of us and therefore it is not technically a desert.  Still, anyone living in this region would be hard pressed to call it anything else.  Green only when rains fall briefly once or twice a year but otherwise brown and dry.  The Sand Sheet is called a desert by all who must endure these two-million acres of scorched earth where yearly hundreds of people who enter the US in violation of immigration laws die and where not a single sweet water pond exists to sate anyone’s thirst.  Brutal is perhaps the best word to describe the Sand Sheet.  So at least once per year I pack up and head for mountains to the west.  Before Mexico decayed into a fascist enclave with cartels run like American corporations would exist if they could get away with it, I’d seek the mountains a few hours from here near the town of Saltillo.  Now however I must travel for a day and a half before I attain a cool altitude.  The trip this year was a mixed bag of good and sad.  Traveling west from Fort Worth through places called Abilene and Seminole and Hobbs I saw tens of thousands of wind turbine generators stretching for as far as the eye can see.  A faction of rightwing minions who take orders from rightwing media moguls abhor these turbines because they are told to think that way.  After all, the rightwing thought machine fears any sort of competition to their sacred oil/gas/coal industries.  I don’t find wind turbines particularly aesthetic but I realize that Americans demand energy and I’ve acquiesced to the presence of these skyscraping windmills.  Besides, travel farther west to locales called Carlsbad and Artesia and then Pecos and Fort Stockton and you witness greed, narcissism and our quest for energy at its worst.  I asked a fellow in Artesia, New Mexico why the town smelled so foul.  He replied, “That’s the smell of money.”  A woman nearby apparently overheard the conversation and as I walked back to my truck she approached me and said, “No, that’s the smell of sick children and trashy oil field workers.”  I nodded and she added, “This is how the earth smells when it’s been abused and ravaged.”  She walked away and I did not get her name.  About fifty years old or thereabouts, a grandmother perhaps; maybe someone who grew up in that town and knew it before America’s drug cartel called the Oil and Gas Industry moved in and took over.  I’ve been told the cartel is rapidly destroying a long stretch of Texas called the Eagle Ford Shale Region.  The expanse looks now like a gangrenous wound from the border to near San Antonio.  Please don’t bother me with comments like, “That’s the smell of money.”  That’s the same thing the Mexican drug cartels say when people complain about the wickedness of cocaine and crystal meth.

At last I reached 9,000 feet.  I arrived at a place I’ve visited a few dozen times over four decades.  Except that in the last ten years or so the place has looked drier and drier.  Gone are the lush valleys and profuse dousings of frigid rain.  Now the trees look weary and signs are posted every few miles warning that the area is in the midst of extreme fire danger.  In other words, forest fires have become the norm throughout the west.  I set up camp near a little road I first found over thirty years ago.  But this time the first half of the road was like driving through a scene from a movie about the end of the world.  A huge forest fire swept through a few years ago and though this is at the top of a mountain the higher hills lay barren with the charred stubble of once mighty trees.  I’d seen the same thing farther back as I was ascending the road to this alpine area.  A lady told me that last year a “fierce fire” overtook that place destroying thousands of acres of forest.

I drove on and reached a spot I have roamed many times.  Found a secluded site, parked my truck, hiked in a couple of miles and established my camp.  No campfires allowed and so I packed in the sort of cans and tubes that some bloggers and “modern” camping and backpacking enthusiasts think constitutes the best of all worlds.  Okay, I didn’t want to start a forest fire so I endured those things that do not sit well with me.  Piped through those metal tubes and emanating from those metal cans is the very evil that has desecrated the earth in so many places.  Places like Artesia and Carlsbad and Pecos and along the Eagle Ford Shale Region.  I kept thinking, “Don’t these incredibly naïve, ignorant and otherwise foolish backpacking enthusiasts and the bloggers that obsess over the latest gadget and buyable product understand these things?”

It was as if a cloud had descended over me even as the sky above was blue and clear.  Fortunately, for four days not one single vehicle drove down the road far below me and I saw no one anywhere.  In years passed the nights were downright cold.  But this year the nights could only be described as pleasantly cool.  I saw elk and several mule deer.  I did some birding but honestly I’ve got a lot more birds in my “front yard” here at my cabin.  I walked a lot and as usual spent most of my time identifying the plants around me.  Plants are the elixir of life.  Through plants all things on earth derive.  Each plant is a solar panel—the very thing the oil and gas industry hates—and those solar panels channel the sun’s energy through countless systems from point A to point B and onward; and if the system is operating smoothly the energy is not lost in the form of entropy but instead efficiently transferred.  So tell me: Why can’t we understand that nature is telling us what works the very best and the cleanest and is the most efficient?  Is it because modern Capitalism abhors cleanliness?

After a while I started forgetting about that world beyond my camp.  I get the same feeling at my cabin.  Of course, it’s unreal.  On my way home I stopped in the desert and collected some things that I’ll be showing you in the very near future.  I learned the San Antonio Spurs had won the championship.  Go Spurs!  But I also found out that Deep South Texas has become a mess.  Tens of thousands of people are crossing the Rio Grande because they have been told that the Obama Administration is going to give them amnesty.  Something changed on this trip and I don’t care if I sound political.  I think the Obama Administration is a failure.  Now mind you that Junior Bush and his wicked sidekick Darth Cheney were depraved.  But Obama is just clueless.  I have no favorites, folks.  I don’t take orders from either side of the aisle.  I tell it as I see it.  You might’ve heard me say this before: A woman or man who can only look right or left is bound to run into a wall or stumble over a root in the trail.  Give me someone who knows how to negotiate the woods and I’ll show you a wise person—speaking metaphorically, of course.

The land can only endure so much.  The land is now overrun by oil and gas drilling, by millions of people scrambling across the Rio Grande, by rapacity and greed.  I look up and see clouds and yet the sky is blue for as far as the eye can see.

Coming Posts
Desert Country Walking Stick
Quick and easy to make Emergency Cordage
How to make a Machete Bowie Knife


Sunday, June 8, 2014


Personal Carry (PC) is what you have on you at all times.  Whether in your pockets, attached to your belt, braced around your wrist, in an Altoids tin, a plastic pill container or a tiny change purse these are the only things you might possess when something goes terribly wrong.  Admittedly, some people take the concept to the extreme.  I guess it’s fun and games for those folks to spend hours thinking and rethinking about their PC.  And it’s humorous sometimes watching them walk around jingling and jangling from weighted carbineers and bulging pockets.  Nonetheless, the idea is sound though it need not be overdone.  Let’s begin with the premise that cordage and fire are essential to survival.  Add a pocket knife to that equation and you have, assuming you possess a few skills, the most basic PC kit.  Please spare me the neophytic rants from those who might say, “Just give me a knife and I’ll make cordage on the spot.”  I think smart guys always carry a few extra things “just in case.”  Besides, in a survival scenario one might not have a lot of time to spend making cordage or rubbing sticks to make fire.

If you are on vacation, on the other hand, and decide to take a hike into a wilderness area with plans to be gone no more than about an hour let me assure you that you’d best include a few additional items to your PC.  You need not encumber yourself with fifty pounds of backpack to walk a designated trail as long as you stay on the prescribed path.  But things can go wrong fast when people venture off a marked route even if it’s just “to go a little ways.”  A few weeks ago a member of the US Border Patrol stopped by to talk survival and bushcraft.  These guys are friends of mine and they visit now and then to see how the old Woods Roamer is doing living as he does way out in the brush.  I don’t remember how the topic came up but he mentioned that on several occasions he’s had to “bail-out” of the vehicle when pursuing illegals in the surrounding desert.  He has no time to grab a canteen or anything else.  On a couple of occasions things got dicey when he ran several hundred yards with his eyes intent on the people running ahead.  The people are invariably caught when the trap is set and they run into BP on the other side.  But after concentrating so hard on the pursuit one might turn around and find things a bit disorienting.  Yes, one can always just follow ones tracks back to the vehicle but there are occasions when people run around in circles and crisscross back and forth and tracks get covered by other tracks and the way back home gets confusing.  So let’s assume the worst case situation.  It’s 104 degrees under an unrelenting sun; you’ve got no water because you had to jump out of the vehicle in hot pursuit; you ran maybe half a mile or even more; you charged though all sorts of thorn brush not even watching where you were going because you were fixed on the bodies running away from you.  Add to that you sprained your ankle and have a nasty gash on your forearm when you ran past a mesquite branch and it snapped off at the moment your arm crossed it and what remained sliced through your skin like a sharp machete blade.  You tripped and fell and that’s when you sprained your ankle.  Believe me things like this happen more often that you’d think.  You’ve got your radio, a cell phone, your pistol and extra ammo and a pocket knife.  But that’s it.  You’ve entered a patch of dense brush and all you can hear at the moment is the persistent buzzing of hundreds of little cicadas all around you.  You radio to your fellow BP and tell them you’re a bit turned around.  They answer back and some wiseacre says, “We’re ahead of you.”  Yeah, but which way is “ahead?”  You check your cell phone’s compass and so now you know which way is North, South, East and West.  But you’re not sure if maybe you might have run past your fellow BP and they might actually be behind you instead of in front of you.  You’ve managed to stop the bleeding on your arm but you figure you’ll probably need some stitches when you get back home.  But it’s your ankle that’s really bothering you.  It swelled to the size of a grapefruit and now you’re wondering if maybe it’s more than just sprained.  You wish you had a machete so you could chop a branch to make a walking stick but that’s a pipe dream.  And so you wish you had a Swiss Army Knife with its neat little saw blade instead of that “tactical” monster that looks macho but is otherwise useless.  You’ve got a Leatherman and that has a saw but it’s back at the vehicle in your gear bag.  So this is what I told my Border Patrol friend.  “Always carry a bright yellow or orange bandana in your pocket.  Add to that a small, but loud, whistle.”  The dark green BP uniform can be hard to spot from the air.  Some BP are now wearing camouflaged outfits and that makes it even more difficult to see a hurt agent from a helicopter.  “But if you’re carrying a bright yellow or orange bandana then you can hold it up with your hand or better yet on a stick so you can be seen,” I said.  Then I added that he needed to carry a small signal mirror.  “Never bail out of your vehicle without those items on you,” I said.  “They can help get rescue to you quickly if needed.  Start blowing your whistle when you hear friendly voices nearby.”

So why should you drop a set of good tweezers into your pocket when you take a hike into the woods.  It’s necessary for pulling out thorns and cactus spines.  But even more important than that is its usefulness in extracting tiny seed ticks.  They’re called pinolios in South Texas.  Those things carry diseases or as in the case of someone I know quite well they can trigger nasty immunological responses that are life threatening.  As for the nail clippers—well, why not?   Do I need to add to the list a tin cup, small water filter and a full two-quart canteen?  Well, given the number of people who have gone walking with me in the brushlands over the years and never thought to bring water, then yes, I need to mention those items and keep mentioning them.  Mind you, I’m talking about specific times when you decide to take a hike into the woods and so you ought to add those items to your PC.  In addition I carry granola bars.

If you are over the age of 50 then you probably wear prescription eye glasses.  If you lose them or break them then you are sunk!  It won’t matter if you’re carrying twenty pounds of survival gear because without the ability to see clearly you’d might as well just sit down and start praying.  In fact, trying to negotiate the wilderness without being able to properly focus on surrounding objects is tantamount to suicide.  So always bring an extra pair of eye glasses.  A couple of decades past I and two others found a fellow who had lost his eye glasses the day before and he was hopelessly lost in the woods.  He, by the way, was only 37 years old.  A severe myopic condition made him nearly blind without his glasses.  Somehow he’d lost his glasses the day before and he’d spent the night panicked and screaming for help.  He was delirious from lack of water and was suffering from severe sunburn since he’d ventured off the trail wearing nothing more than a muscleman T-shirt and a pair of hiking shorts.  He’d taken no water, no knife and not even a flashlight.  And that is the remaining item that’s a must have if you walk a wooded trail.  In my part of the world a flashlight is in some cases more important than a knife.  When I was young I seldom carried a flashlight and I paid for it (almost severely) because I would have to run back to camp after dark.  I reasoned that by running I’d be too quick for a rattlesnake to bite.  But what happened is that one night I fell into a ditch made by a bulldozer.  It was pitch black and I didn’t see the ditch until I was falling into it.  The dozer had left a lot of protruding roots coming out of the ground and one of those roots struck me on the chin.  I wear that tiny scar to this day.  But what if it had struck me in the eye?  Lesson learned: Always carry a flashlight.  I carry extra batteries too.

Underscore the word “personal” in personal carry.  Your list will vary according to your needs.  But don’t be naïve.  Carry a few things that will come in handy where you live.  For a city dweller it might be a credit card or two.  But I usually carry the items in the photo below.

When woods roaming I pack a set of tweezers and nail clippers in my Altoids tin along with spare batteries.  Of course, I never go out without a flashlight.

There might be other items you bring along.  A machete or small axe; a dedicated fixed blade knife; leather gloves; a small pruning saw.  We’ll discuss those things and more in posts down the line.