Saturday, January 31, 2015


In South Texas luffa or loofah is called estrapajo (es-trah-pa-ho).  Estrapajo grows well in warm climates and as such is perfect for the area.  Here at the house we grow estrapajo at the base of a couple of mesquite trees where the vines climb the branches into the upper canopies and when in bloom the trees are studded with bright yellow blossoms.  Over time the vines produce the long corpulent estrapajos we use for washing as has been done for centuries in many places.  The problem however is in harvesting each estrapajo from atop the trees.  This is where a pellet rifle comes in handy.

We’ve got an old .177 caliber pellet rifle here at the house and a couple of tins full of pellets so of course this gave the Old Woods Roamer a chance to hone his shooting skills and collect some estrapajo at the same time.

Each estrapajo dangles about 20 feet overhead and provides a moving target since nothing holds still around here in the persistent wind.  Compounding the problem is that estrapajo vines are fibrous and so when a pellet strikes a dried vine it simply breaks into many dangling fibers that continue to hold each desiccated fruit.  It then becomes a matter of splitting each fiber individually and that requires some precise shooting.

In about 30 minutes and around 50 pellets later I’d collected a couple of estrapajo.

Note the fibers that separate when struck by a pellet.  Each fiber needs to be severed before the fruit falls to the ground.

An estrapajo flower on the vine.

Monday, January 19, 2015


I’ve never cared much for noise of any sort.  Things like the incessant beeping of trucks and heavy machinery backing up drives me crazy.  Loud motorcycles, blaring music, honking horns, jackhammers and all the other assorted assaults on the eardrums and nervous system reduce me to a state of shock.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I love the woods.  I enjoy the natural sounds of birds and other animals or the breeze blowing through the trees.  Every step is measured to ensure quiet.  We never talk above a whisper and try to keep from wearing anything that’s going to jingle or jangle or make scraping or grating sounds.  So we shy away from plastics, metal and nylon because that sort of stuff is often noisy and besides, rattling accouterments destroy the peace.  That’s why I prefer leather knife sheaths.  Granted, I’ve made temporary sheaths out of cardboard reinforced with duct tape and from tow straps folded over and strengthened with a strip of leather from a welder’s apron.  But those aren’t proper sheaths by any means because the knife sheath in its ultimate form is made of top grade leather.  Pictured here are a couple of knife sheaths I received a few days ago from a fellow out in California named Bob Patterson.  Bob and I have corresponded now and then and like most people who visit this blog he is a man of the woods.  The folks who come to this site are independent sorts who enjoy making their own gear and learning as much as they can about the land surrounding them.  Bob’s been making knife sheaths for a while and he said he wanted to build a proper sheath or two for my camp choppers.  I sent him the specs and a tracing of one of my knives and about ten days later the two sheaths arrived.

These are extremely well-made sheaths, robust and built for heavy use.  Made of top quality cowhide, the finish is pure beeswax so the leather can be touched up as needed.  Traditional in every sense of the word, these are the kind of sheaths that add a nostalgic element to woods roaming.  Bob told me he’s always enjoyed working with leather musing that his granddad was a shoemaker and though he never met him perhaps an affinity for leatherwork was passed down through the generations.

I decided to try out several of my knives using the two sheaths Bob sent me.  My son, Matthew, was looking on and said, “Dad, I think this one will be just about perfect for that little chopper you made a couple of months ago.”  So Matthew dug through one of the boxes containing some of my knives and found the chopper he was referring to and then tried it on for fit.  “This is just right,” he said.

Near sunset we set out down a trail packing the chopper in its sheath snug in my possibles bag.  The proper knife sheath serves two purposes: It protects the blade and it protects the man carrying the knife.  No problems in either department and in addition it provided me with the other thing I obsess over: It was absolutely quiet.

Above are three additional photos of other sheaths Bob made.

As we walked we discussed what knife to place in the second sheath.  Matthew said, “Dad, you know this just gives you an excuse to make a new knife.”  I smiled and replied, “I’ve got a couple of blanks in the barn I want to show you.”  So when we got back to the house we walked over to the barn, sheath in hand, and looked at the two blanks I’d given an initial forging a few months back.  “This one,” Matthew said.  So as time permits I’ll do something that is rarely done: I’ll build a knife for a sheath instead of the other way around.  As if I really needed an excuse to make another knife.

I seldom endorse products but in this case I’m going to make an exception.  These are damn fine knife sheaths and by the way, Bob is also into muzzle loading and sells all sorts of shooting supplies.  If you’d care to contact Bob here’s the info you need:
Bob Patterson
PO Box 35646
Monte Sereno, CA 95030

Phone: 408-256-1894

Sunday, January 11, 2015


I’ve got a buddy who spent his career safeguarding the Southern Border working first with the US Border Patrol and then US Customs.  When he retired he didn’t sit on his laurels and fade away but instead spent several years working as a hunting guide in West Texas.  After that he drove an 18-wheeler for a year crisscrossing the country in all sorts of weather.  He told me he just had to give it a try.  At the time he was already in his sixties and how he was able to accomplish that feat driving in blizzards and big cities and on crazy freeways is beyond me.  I’ve determined he’s at least twice the man I could ever hope to be and I admire him greatly.  The way I see it my old friend represents what makes this country great because like many others he perseveres no matter what the challenge.  There are hundreds of thousands of people like my friend and I consider them the backbone of America.  These are folks who go to work everyday rain or snow or blistering heat and who never give up and who love the land and will fight to preserve it.  My old friend has a heart of gold and an inner strength that leaves me in awe.  I first met him over thirty years ago when I was traveling a back road heading to a little town called Brackettville in Southwest Texas.  When I stopped at the Border Patrol checkpoint this slender fellow walked out and just as he approached my truck I said, “How does my canoe look?”  I was toting a Sportspal canoe and he seemed a bit surprised by my question.   I opened the truck’s door and stepped out and for a moment he looked startled.  “Will you let me check the ropes?” I asked.  He smiled and said, “Sure, why not?  And by the way,” he added, “I’ve got a Sportspal canoe too.”  We spent a few minutes talking about those great little aluminum canoes, perfect for fishing small lakes.  The conversation was far too short but I liked the guy right off.  A few years later I too was working the border but in a different capacity and I ran into the fellow I’d met years before at the checkpoint.  He had since transferred to US Customs and was busy pursuing smuggling cases.  He was a no nonsense guy.  All business, dedicated to his job and willing to work long hours if need be.  We kept close until he was transferred for a two year stint in Washington DC where he pushed paper and stayed miserable.  You see my buddy was of the sort who just wanted to be in the woods.  In fact, he’d garnered a reputation as a master sign cutter and tenacious tracker.  I was the naturalist woods roamer journalist and he was the tracker and federal agent—two unlikely sorts who needed the woods to survive.  But after the two year stint in DC we sort of drifted apart.  He’d call me now and then saying how much he hated working in the big (congested, over-crowded) city but all I could think of was how much I admired him for never giving up—even in a situation that was decidedly not his “bag.”
          At last he returned to South Texas but by that time I was living in the Hill Country about 340 miles to the northwest.  After a while I returned to the Brushlands and we did our best to stay in contact.  A few years before he was transferred to DC my family and I were living in a little casita in the woods, a place we called The Good Earth Cabin.  My buddy would drive out to the cabin as often as possible and then go woods roaming on his own.  He wasn’t the kind of guy who needed any sort of assistance in the brush.  He could read sign a week old and could stand in one spot like a statue watching a deer or a long-distance-traveler and neither the deer nor the campesino would ever see him.  One night we were trekking along a sendero and it was pitch black and I spotted something on the ground in front of us.  I held out my hand and motioned for him to stop.  “What is it?” he asked.  “Snake,” I said.  And sure enough it was a snake crossing the trail.  He said, “How in the world did you ever see that snake?”  Of course I was proud as hell having spotted the snake and even prouder he’d recognized the Old Woods Roamer’s talents.
          When my old friend went to work as a hunting guide it was not so much for the job but to be in the wilds.  He needed the brushlands and the desert as much as he needed air to breath.  I more than anyone he knows can relate to that feeling.  We communicated as often as possible but each was busy with things related to family and work.  Then not too long ago he and his wife moved to the Big Bend region in West Texas which is about as out of the way as one can get in the state.  Still, not a day goes by that we don’t send text messages that invariably end up in ferocious arguments over who exactly is destroying this country.  We agree more than we disagree but the bottom line is to communicate and to know that neither one will ever reject the other.
          These days I seldom get to see my old pal but we always stay in touch.  Just a few minutes ago he sent me a couple of photos of the snow covering parts of the West Texas desert.  To me he serves as a near perfect example of a man who has been through the fire and come out the finest steel.  His strength, both mental and physical, astounds me.  He’s seen it all from firefights along the Rio Grande to arduous pursuits after bad guys in the Arizona desert and West Texas.  But of course there are tens of thousands of others in this country just like my longtime friend.  Just like my buddy they are men (and women) who never shy away from work.  By the way, before my friend joined the Border Patrol he spent a number of years on a nuclear submarine working for the United States Navy.  Folks, I’m here to tell you they don’t get much tougher than that.  The Old Woods Roamer could never spend days, weeks, months shut off from the sun and trees and birds and the land.  But my pal somehow managed.  And you know what?  It doesn’t matter whether they call themselves Conservatives or Liberals or Independent As Hell they keep this country going.  It’s not the billionaire aristocracy nor is it the politicians or the spin doctors who spew hate and assorted BS everyday on AM radio or through the television.  No, the real heroes are the common folk; those who just go out and do their job without whining or bellyaching.  As far as I'm concerned you're the real America.  And I salute you.

Andy in years gone by working the Southern Border

Friday, January 9, 2015


A few months back I converted a bolo machete into a survival/fighting knife.  You can read that post here.  The modification was on one of two much used machetes.   A few weeks ago I decided to modify the second bolo machete into a cutlass design replete with both re-contoured blade and a different handle.  It’s a simple project and the only tools required are an angle grinder, saw, sandpaper, and a small mallet.  You’ll also need some epoxy glue and a couple of nails.

A once over with an abrasive disk on my angle grinder polished the blades.  Afterward it became a matter of reshaping the bolo’s tip and adding the new handle. I used a metal cutting disk on my angle grinder to reshape both the blade tip and tang.

The reshaped tang allows for a sloping handle and thus a more ergonomic design.

NOTE: I used old and tarnished bolo machetes and I don’t think I would have made these modifications on brand new knives.  The polishing with the angle grinder as well as the reshaping of the machete’s tip heats the steel and therefore care must be taken to ensure it does not overheat.

The original blade length remained the same in this cutlass modification.  The new handle shape gives the machete a decidedly better “feel” and I think improves the work ability of the knife.

The scales are made from mesquite sap wood taken from a branch that was shaped perfectly for the project.  May I suggest that if you attempt this conversion you save yourself some time and energy and look for a branch that is already properly shaped.

The two bolo machete conversions are pictured above.  The smaller “survival knife” makes a dandy packing tool but then so does the bolo cutlass.  The advantage the cutlass has over the survival knife is that its length allows the user to whack woody thorn shrubs without concerns for getting pricked.  In the Thorn Forest regions of the Southwest this is an important consideration.  With that said, any 14-24 inch machete will work equally well although the point at the end of both the cutlass and survival knife allows the woodsman to use the blade as an auger of sorts for bow-drills and other camp chores.

I pinned the scales on the cutlass machete with heavy gauge copper/steel wire and then epoxied the two pieces of mesquite together to enhance the bond.  If nothing else, you’ll have hombres walking up to you saying, “Hey, that’s neat.  Where’d you buy that?”