Thursday, April 14, 2016


Back in the days before kids spent all their time plopped on their butts staring trancelike into smart phones and tablets; and when television was black & white and consisted of only a couple of networks; and when the idea of getting something didn’t mean a trip to the store but instead the act of making it….kids used to spend most of their time outdoors; they were skinny and lithe; and most of all they were creative.  When I was in Junior High and High School there were only two chubby kids in the whole school.  Nowadays, it seems only about one in four is slim.  I went to a marching band contest a few years back and was amazed at how many of the kids were overweight and looked barely able to move around.  When I was a kid, the population of the United States was around 160-165 million.  There were many places to hike and roam and camp and wander without having to run into a dozen or more folks trekking down the trail or without looking across the landscape at a subdivision or shopping center in the distance.  We left our front doors unlocked, our car door unlocked and no one (unless they were suffering from paranoia) walked around packing a pistol.  Drugstores sold medicine and cosmetics that weren’t sealed because no one had come along to put poison in the jars or cans.  In High School you’d see guys driving pickup trucks into the parking lot and perched against the rear window was a lever or bolt action rifle that was considered just another tool to be used around the ranch.  I have no idea what was going on along the East Coast or out in California back then other than what I’ve seen in movies but it’s obvious those people developed different attitudes about things.  Over time the Easterners and Westerners started moving westward and eastward and they brought their mindsets with them.  The overall population climbed meteorically and so crime rose correspondingly.  Today the US population is around 360 million and growing.  With only a few exceptions, gone are the wooded enclaves where people used to find solace—and this applies to every part of the contiguous 48 states.  Go online and you’ll see hundreds of websites about Bug Out Bags and the coming Societal Collapse.  You’ll watch videos on “tactical” this and “tactical” that.  By the way, the word tactical has become the hypnotic buzz word in many circles.  The quality of life in the US is now measured in quantitative terms and as such the idea of acquisition trumps the idea of tranquility.

Oh well.  Please, however, allow me to take you back fifty or sixty years (and in so doing you’ll be going back even further) to a time when kids made things instead of bought things.  Allow me to give you one tiny example of something ranch kids did in the way back yonder.  The game was called darts.  You’ve heard of that game, I’m sure.  But in the way back, kids didn’t have the money to buy a set of darts and even if they’d had the money I doubt they would’ve wasted it on something they could easily make for free.  The darts, you see, were made from nopal cactus flowers and the spines of the nopal pad.  I have no specific recollection of who taught me to make these darts but I imagine it was my Uncle Bill who was raised in the ranch country and was always interested in woods craft.  My Uncle Bill died in 1998 but he still holds the World’s Record for an alligator gar caught on a rod and reel. I pulled the following off the Internet: The Texas state record, and world record for the largest alligator gar caught on rod and reel is 279 lb (127 kg), taken by Bill Valverde on January 1, 1951 on the Rio Grande in Texas.

So now allow me to show you how to make a dart from a nopal cactus flower and spine.

Shown above is a nopal cactus flower.  Notice the green stigma with the ovary below it.

Be careful when reaching into the flower because they are usually full of stinging insects.

Pinch the bottom of the ovary and then pluck the stigma and the ovary out.  The stigma is sticky but not very much.  Now clip a cactus spine from one of the pads.  Please be careful when you clip the spine because at the base of each spine is an aggregation of smaller spines that will prick you if you are not careful.

Now insert the rear of the clipped spine into the top of the stigma as shown in the photograph below.

The nopal cactus comes with a readymade dart board.  Ranch kids would hold impromptu dart throwing contests by assembling darts and then throwing them at a pad.  If a dart happened to break they’d simply made a new one on the spot.

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