Wednesday, June 21, 2017

TRADITIONAL SLICING, BONING and HUNTING KNIVES


Note: I’m recovering from surgery, doing much better and hope to get back to my projects and work shortly.

“A word as to knife, or knives.  These are of prime necessity, and should be of the best, both as to shape and temper.  The “bowies” and “hunting knives” usually kept on sale, are thick, clumsy affairs, with a sort of ridge along the middle of the blade, murderous looking but of little use; rather fitted to adorn a dime novel or the belt of Billy the Kid, than the outfit of a hunter.”—George Washington Sears, “Nessmuk”

They want Bowie and “tactical” knives with four or six millimeter spines.  They want flaring clip points.  They are enamored with ponderous blades that serve little purpose other than to look macho.  If they happen to have a sample on hand they’ll attempt to chop with it, even as the angle of blade to handle screams, “This is not a chopper.”  They tote these blades never realizing they are proclamations to inexperience and lack of skills.

But head to far-off homesteads or distant villages where people live off their knives and you’ll see something entirely different.  In those places folks don’t collect knives to sate their boredom; they own knives that function and serve specific purposes.  Used daily they are nearly always an object for butchering, boning and slicing food.  Be it a fat pig or young goat, or perhaps potatoes, carrots and onions, the knives have long blades that are immediately marked by their litheness and perfect temper.  The spines measure in the area of one-sixteenth inch and it’s not unusual to see a blade from eight to ten inches long.  These are not woodcarving blades (the folding knife serves that purpose) and their owners would never stoop to the foolishness of attempting to baton a piece of wood with their precious food knives.  Besides, every woodsman knows how to break up wood without resorting to harming their knives.  Even so, there will always be macho aberrations (what do you think the Bowie knife was/is) designed to represent fierceness in battle, bar-fights and gang disputes, but little use beyond the facade.  Travel to the African Sahara, the jungles of Peru, the ejidos of Mexico, European villages, or just about every corner of the United States and Canada and you’ll find knives similar in design and concept being used as butchering knives, food preparation knives, hunting knives and camp knives.


A few months ago I watched a relative slice up a wild hog roast he’d prepared in his smoker.  The knife he used was a twelve inch, carbon steel knife he inherited from his father who was a butcher from the mid-1930s until about 1968.  Next time I’m over at his place I plan to take a photo of his two 12-inch knives, both Green River meat cutters circa 1940.  I told my relative it was time to retire those two knives.  “Don’t you realize what you’ve got?”
“Not really.”
“Take my word for it; those are valuable pieces of Americana.”


Above is a recent interpretation of a boning knife.  The steel is 15n20 and the blade is six inches long.  I also made the denim micarta handles.


The slicing knife above has an eight-inch blade fashioned from the same stock as the boning knife.

Above is a variation on the same theme.  The blade measures 6.75"


The two knives below are lightweight, 5.25" blade lengths.  The stick tangs are inserted into mesquite handles.  One knife has a two-part handle, mesquite and ebony.





To paraphrase Nessmuk, in order to make a knife suitable for slicing and boning it must be thin.  The Old Hickory slicing knife is a good example at .055” thick.  That’s really all you need.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SEASON OF DEATH



“Keep looking for buzzards.”
“I’ll do that.”
They tell us this is going to be a hot summer.  Hotter than last year and the year before that.  It’s hard to think that it could get worse.  And it’s even harder to imagine that there’re those who want to ignore the facts that temperatures worldwide continue to rise.  We’re told that any immediate actions would be bad for the economy.  Pray tell, who but the most na├»ve buys into that sort of rhetoric?  Don’t they understand that increasing temperatures, failing reservoirs, continued droughts, doomed crops will bring about an unimagined economic collapse?  It’s as if a nightmare has befallen us.  Everywhere we look the news is grim.  And yet, people seem to hold on to their delusions as if to do otherwise is worse than the reality they have entered.


Along the Borderlands separating the United States and Mexico people still journey north.  To the south in Mexico the crime and killings and chaos seems to increase monthly.  In fact, Mexico was recently named the second most dangerous country in the world following close behind Syria.  Mexican officials refuse to accept that status.  Regardless, in the United States there is little empathy for Mexico.  On the one hand, Mexico provides the slave labor that has been the heart of American growth for over two-hundred years.  On the other hand, Mexico delivers the riches that so many in the US have become wedded to as Mexico’s drug industry pumps billions into the US economy yearly.  As one US official told me not long ago: “No one on [the US side of the border] wants to stop the drugs because there’s too much money in it.”

And so it goes.  The process is insidious; and people seem to have become desensitized to the reality of dying lands.  If you could step back a hundred and fifty years and then be transported to the present you’d conclude that things have already collapsed.  And yet, like the frog placed into a pot of water that’s brought slowly to a boil, people today go about their business steeped in avarice and rapaciousness as if resources are endless and everything will be okay.  The latest incarnation of Joachim of Fiore comes from the tech world that preaches that old and worn out doctrine that technology will save us.



The Borderlands offer a unique analogy for this time.  In the weeks to come the heat will press into the ground and then radiate back into the air; and in secluded places where shade suffers its own grief and offers little solace some will believe they can survive.  Like others on a grander stage they will put their trust in people they do not know, people who lie to them and tell them things will be better.  And when they are abandoned they will wander around lost and scared.  Their limited resources will be gone within hours.  The heat and exhaustion will make them crazy.  Their panic will overcome them and they will eventually give up and fall to the ground.  They believed without questioning because they wanted to believe.  So we will keep our eyes on the skyline watching for buzzards.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TEXAS BULL NETTLE (MALA MUJER) EDIBLE TAP ROOT AND SEEDS


  
It’s a quaint looking plant covered with fuzzy hairs and in the springtime the stems are dotted with dainty white flowers.  It grows from a foot high to four feet high, dark green, each plant isolated from the next.  Oh yes, one more thing: This evil woman, as it’s called in Spanish, will put you down.  It will turn your skin into a burning landscape.  If you get a big enough dose you may have to seek medical attention.  One fellow who lives not far from here walked through the brush wearing shorts (a bad idea) and he accidently brushed against a mala mujer.  He was taken to a hospital emergency room for observation and treatment.  But as amazing as this may sound, there are parts of the plant that are edible.  I just wonder who, centuries ago, was brave enough to pick the seed clusters off the plant, strip them of their stinging hairs and then taste them.  Perhaps he was out on the Sand Sheet, dying of hunger, and so he was left no choice but to give it a try.  Perhaps he took a bite and decided they’d be better roasted.  Or maybe he took a sack-full of seeds back to camp and his wife said, “Let’s roast them and see if that improves the taste.”  Regardless, the Native Americans who roamed this land and whose progeny makes up the majority of those living on it today did not let any edible plant go unnoticed.  In fact, they even dug out the tap root (no easy task with stick tools) and extracted the swollen tuber and ate it.  Now having just witnessed someone dig out a mala mujer’s tuber and then attempt to roast it over an open fire, I can attest to the fact that it’s not an easy task nor is it a meal worth digging three feet down to enjoy.  Fibrous and dull, it makes for a lot of mindless chewing and difficult swallowing.  Nonetheless, the tuber was eaten, or at least that’s what various sources claim, and the seeds were roasted and consumed.





Just look at the size of that tuber.  The young man holding it in the following photo, who is the baby of the family and who now stands six feet-two inches tall took about forty minutes to excavate the giant “potato.”  It weighed about twenty pounds.  I’ve never seen a Texas Bull Nettle tuber this size but I imagine there are many others among the hundreds of mala mujeres growing in the area.




Scientific Name: Cnidoscolus texanus
Common Names: Texas Bull Nettle, Mala Mujer

Thursday, April 20, 2017

MY LIFE IN THE WOODS

Living in the woods can have one of two effects: Either a person yearns to return to the city because of boredom or fear or instead becomes less and less inclined to know about or participate in the world beyond.  Perhaps I’ve always been this way but I am decidedly in the latter group.  If it weren’t for having access to the Internet I wouldn’t know about the bickering and extreme partisanship in DC.  I wouldn’t know what’s going on in Syria or North Korea or any of the other places that are, in fact, so very far away.  Last night, and the night before last, and every night before that I’ve laid on my bed or sat in my shop listening to owls hooting and pauraques whistling, the quiet and stillness intense.  I know there are places where traffic screeches, ambulances howl, strange people roam the streets, anger rages.  I also understand that most people, despite occasional comments to the contrary, have grown so used to that “normal” that they could not live the way I do nor would they want to if given the chance.  The grocery store is over an hour away and so is any hospital.  Yes, we have our own dangers out here.  Just yesterday I spotted a fresh rattlesnake track next to the porch.  Everyone went on high alert.  We didn’t find the snake but it’s around here and it’ll show sooner or later.  We’ve also seen a lot of coral snakes lately so it pays to be watchful.  One learns to never reach into anything without first checking to make sure there are no snakes hiding underneath or perhaps black widow spiders or brown recluses or scorpions.  Every now and then a venomous centipede will squiggle into my shop.  Those things always appear manic to me.  Of course, this is the world where I’ve spent my life so I don’t find any of this disturbing.  One simply learns to be careful.

People too can become a problem.  Even if we called the police they’d likely never get here—or by the time they arrived, assuming they could get passed the three locked gates each a mile apart, it would all be over.  Border Patrol, sheriff deputies, constables have all warned us to be cautious and they have politely told us that it’s unlikely anyone will get here in time to help.

For most people nature is just one more obstacle to circumvent.  A man bought some acres about seven miles northeast of here and the first thing the guy did was clear the land into an ironing board.  Ironing board seems the appropriate metaphor because now the sun beats down on his lone house and when the winds blow the top soil whirls across in brown clouds.  I keep wondering how anyone can be so ignorant to do such a thing.  I imagine he’s bought into the propaganda about “returning the land to grassland” or maybe about raising cows.  Facts are that this territory is a land in transition.  What you see today is not what you’ll find tomorrow.  It is a young ecological system and like all systems it’s moving towards increased synergy.  By that I mean that nature always wants to diversify and mature.  Grassland is ephemeral no matter what anybody tells you.  It is essentially mono-dimensional and over time the land will seek herbaceous shrubs then woody shrubs then small trees then large tree, all of it mixed and complex and thus eminently efficient.  Remember that energy flows through all systems and in order to do so effectively the system must be allowed to become complex.  Pray tell, why do you think the oldest ecological systems are so diverse with thousands of plant species?  Unfortunately, we tend to look at natural systems through the myopia of a human’s lifetime.  We cannot understand evolution’s slow march nor can we understand the intrinsic needs of nature.  Too many people out there, like the man who cleared every remnant of plant life on his acres, utilize plots of land they do not know how to manage properly.  Add to that they have little to no respect for the land.  To them the land is only something to be exploited to profit from.  We are thus left with less and less, with growing desertification, habitat destruction, polluted waters, and bleak skies.

As far as this country is going we’ll have to see what happens in the next year or so.  You may be of the opinion that all things will work out or perhaps that things will even get better.  On the other hand, you might believe it’s just going to get worse.  Honestly, I don’t know anymore.  It seems as if we’ve stepped into a mess and for whatever reason are refusing to at least step out of it.  What concerns me, as always, is the land.  If you love the land; if you are a bushcrafter, naturalist, woodsman or woods woman then you are at this very moment feeling a bit apprehensive.  You are smart enough to realize that there are people in power who know nothing about nature and don’t even care.  Call them “city slickers” if you want; and perhaps that’s what they are.  The vast majority grew up in large cities and those who grew up in smaller towns seem never to have connected with the woods.  They might talk about going hunting and fishing but it’s simply a pastime; it’s not in their blood.  Speaking on that subject, someone told me the other day, “A man who surrounds himself with gold is a city boy to the extreme.  For people like that a patch of fine woods is nothing more than a potential golf course.”

Evening before last I went walking; it’s a routine I’ve established over the years.  Carried a walking stick made from a retama branch, a bottle of water, a knife, leather gloves, and a flashlight with extra batteries.  Clouds were moving overhead and the weather report was saying a large storm was drifting my way.  I figured I had enough time to do a three mile walk without encountering any rain.  It wasn’t rain, however, that I walked underneath but instead a lightning storm that sent hundreds of steaks of lightning across the sky.  It got spooky.  I sought refuge under the porch of an old trailer that sits along the road about three-quarters of mile from my place.  My dogs, as always, were with me and they kept giving me anxious glances as the thunder merged into one continuous roar as if jets were flying directly over me.  Finally I figured it wasn’t going to get any better so I decided to do a quick walk back to the cabin.  Fortunately it didn’t rain until later but that was one scary walk.  Imagine a million strobes bursting above you and the shock waves of piercing thunder slamming into the ground.  Every time I crossed a gate I worried that a bolt of lightning was going to strike me down on the spot.  I managed a few photos from my iPhone but they don’t do the storm justice.  When I got back to the cabin someone said, “Why do you always do these things…go walking when it’s storming outside?”

The approaching storm


Dozens of lightning strikes merged as if one.

Lone strike in the woods

Monday, March 20, 2017

CLASSIC FORGED KNIVES

The term Classic Forged Knives refers to a process of knife making that harkens back to pre-industrial times.  In other words, there are no modern manufacturing techniques associated with this type of knife making.  In the purest sense this is referred to as bladesmithing.  A bladesmith is someone who uses blacksmithing techniques and equipment to make knives.  The most important piece of equipment is, of course, an anvil to which must be added appropriate hammers, tongs and a system to heat steel to non-magnetic temperatures.  All but the last requirement are specific to bladesmithing.  The modern knife manufacturer, whether operating out of a garage, small shop or large factory uses a method to produce knives called “stock reduction.”  Almost all contemporary knives are made this way.  The garage hobbyist will purchase a piece of high carbon flatbar and from that will cut out something that looks like a knife.  The large factory will do practically the same thing though they use large sheets of high carbon steel to stamp or cut out their blade blanks.  From that point on the process is nearly identical as the blank is taken through the manufacturing process from blank to final merchandise.  A bladesmith, on the other hand, takes a piece of high carbon steel, bar or rod, and heats it until the steel become highly malleable and then begins pounding it into the shape of a knife.  This is the traditional way of making knives.



Let’s set the record straight by saying that both methods make good knives if the maker is knowledgeable of sound metallurgical techniques.  I am forever harping at would-be knife makers to “learn their chemistry.”  Alas, most wannabees could not care less about ionic bonds and crystal math or a hundred other things that a top knife maker takes the time to learn.  That’s precisely why too many hobby or even “custom” knives are improperly heat treated and tempered and why you hear misinformation like, “forged steel is stronger steel than stock-reduction steel.”  Knife makers well-versed in inorganic chemistry know that pounded steel is no stronger than stock-reduced steel and what makes a piece of knife steel strong and adequate resides in (1) the specific type of steel and (2) the care taken in heat treating.



Well, I shan’t bore you with a lesson in chemistry but let it suffice to say that bladesmithing does offer one distinct advantage over simple stock reduction—that is to say if you are enamored by texture and the aesthetic qualities related to the actual forging (pounding) process.  It also brings the knife maker closer to the process itself.  A bladesmith can rise to the level of artisan while someone employing basic stock reduction will always just be a craftsman, and yes there is a difference.  Not to take away from the people who make beautiful knives using stock reduction with their nice handles and engravings etc.  But the essence of a knife is the blade and a forged blade IMO will always be more beautiful (assuming it’s done correctly) that a blank that was cut away using an angle grinder or bandsaw and then subjected to a $1,000-$2,500 2”x72” belt grinder then heated in an electric oven then tempered in another electric oven then polished with the same belt grinder.  Nifty, but mono-dimensional.  I even saw a YouTube video where a fellow bought himself a CNC machine and all his “custom” knives are made as if in a sterile vacuum chamber as not to be contaminated by germs.  I think that's stretching the word, "custom."



Check online and type “forged knives.”  There are some genuine artists out there!  Some of the more radical, cavemen types (that’s a compliment) are calling themselves Neo-Tribal Bladesmiths.  A couple or three are quite good.  They seem to be clustered in the Tucson, AZ area but I’ve heard there may be a handful of others scattered in different places.  There might even be one old hermit living in a cabin way down in Deep South Texas who's tribal, if not very neo.  Mind you, he's no where near as talented as those Tucson boys and besides he’s not quite sure what neo-tribal bladesmith actually means.  No importa.  Aqui estoy bien escondido y tranquilo.




Friday, March 10, 2017

THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH QUIET



I’ve spent a great deal of my life living in deepwoods cabins, camping in remote areas and otherwise roaming hidden trails.  Who’s to say what turns someone into a woodsman or woman but regardless there’re those who are and those who aren’t.  My childhood buddy and I would get off from school and head into the woods nearby and stay till sunset.  Our moms eventually learned to put up with our forays and by the time I was eleven I was spending weekends and holidays at either my uncle’s ranch or my dad’s ranch.  Summers were spent entirely at the ranch and at about the age of 14 I built my own secret camp in a deeply wooded area where I’d take in the quiet.  In all those years neither my uncle nor my grandfather ever discovered my camp.  Stealth is something I’ve been practicing for over 60 years.  As mentioned, I’ve dwelled in various cabins and now for nearly a decade have done the same.  Some people find this isolation hard to accept.  Just last night a friend told me that I needed to get into town more.  This friend was born and raised near Texas City in the midst of some of the most brightly lit, heavily congested, roaring noises along the Gulf Coast, Houston on one side and Galveston on the other.  I guess that’s just normal for him and though he likes the woods I can always sense a feeling of disconnect when he comes out here to visit.  I guess woodsmanship is like learning a language.  You either pick it up when you’re a child or you never quite get the gist of it.

If you read my latest book, The Sand Sheet you’ll learn about my life today and how I came to settle in this remote spot and about my eternal quest to learn the technologies employed by the pre-historic people who once dwelled in this corner of the globe.  As I see it one could spend a lifetime in these woods and never absorb everything that can be learned from my surroundings.  From studying the plants and bushcraft and ecology and birds, mammals, herps…Well, the list is as I’ve suggested, endless.  But there’s another reason for being out here.  I never was one to tolerate noise.  The silence of the deep woods is the best remedy for peace in life.  In the city I always feel an underlying stress working through me like prickles and pain from a pinched nerve.  Constant, unrelenting, day or night; the collective noise can’t be good for people.  How anyone can tolerate perpetual noise is something I don’t understand.  And yet, I’ve had people come out here to visit who immediately complain that “it’s too quiet.”  Not so much associated with noise but yet distantly related are the young people who accompany their parents and who then sit fixated to a hand computer playing video games.  That’s sad, folks.

I’ve compiled a list of the obnoxious sounds that so many people these days seem to take for granted.  For example, why is it that every time you turn a TV or computer on or off it’s got to go ding di-ding d-ding ding…or some other equally offensive jingle?  And how about the beep, beep, beep, beep of anything that’s backing up?  Yeah, it was some Washington bureaucrat’s brain storm to keep people safe.  But the backing up beeping has become so ubiquitous that no one pays attention to it!  Then there’s the ding, ding, ding, ding that’ll drive you nuts if you don’t fasten your safety belt.  Now I ask you: If I’m driving my pickup on a two-rut ranch road going ten miles an hour and there’s no traffic for miles then why must I put my safety belt on?  So I attach the safety belt behind my back so that damn dinging will shut up.  Anyway, it’s just more racket to toss into a mix that apparently most city folks seem to be forced to tolerate.  In all cities there’s a constant rumble; the coalescence of every noise being generated from miles around.  Sirens, diesel trucks, honking horns, jackhammers, leaf blowers, mowing machines, tractors, people yelling, babies crying, car radios blaring, helicopters flying overhead.  Some people I assume seem to love that sort of thing.  Well, good for them.


Yes, it’s awfully quiet out here.  No shopping malls and movie theaters or Broadway plays; no carnivals or “fun parks.”  No hamburger stands and fancy restaurants.  All I’ve got is persistent quiet with maybe a bird chirping or an owl hooting or coyotes yodeling nearby.  But then listen to those politicians and chambers of commerce types, those “developers” and Capitalists who spout endless growth.  There’s a new religion in town and don’t expect the preachers to tell you about it since they’ve all embraced it themselves. So then have you ever noticed when the sun takes on an unnatural color at sunset?  Dark clouds are building in the west.  Even the air begins to smell strange.  You can’t help but start thinking, There’s a storm coming.

THE SAND SHEET at Amazon.Com

THE SAND SHEET at Texas A&M University Press

THE SAND SHEET at Barnes & Nobles


Friday, February 10, 2017

THE SAND SHEET



It’s difficult to say what draws a man to the woods.  No doubt the reasons lie deeply embedded in those long helical strands of DNA that through a miracle of combinations and fusions creates the person.  Perhaps this is where the soul resides.  As such the soul never dies but simply becomes infused once again in the genetic matrix from which life blooms anew and passions grow once again.  I cannot recall a day of my life where anything other than the woods ruled my emotions; it was the very fever that drove me.  Society wanted to school me according to its standards; the object of course conformity.  But the woodsman seeks other forms of knowledge.  The woodsman yearns for quiet and solitude in hidden places.  The woodsman (or woman) hears music and poetry of a different sort; and reads a language that cannot be uttered by the tongue but only by the heart.  So please allow me to introduce you to The Sand Sheet, my latest book.  It’s about my life at the edge of a world known intimately by only a few.  In my world nature is kept close, surrounded as I am by thick woods and silence.  Yes, the text includes bushcraft from bows and knives and secret camps to long treks along meandering trails.  But there are also stories of the people who cross this waterless land every year only to succumb to the heat and eventually die of dehydration.  There are stories of the Indians who lived here thousands of years ago; and stories about my search to learn what hardwoods they used to make their hunting implements.  From the occasional wanderer I might encounter lost and frightened and near death to Central American gang members’ intent on thievery or worse.  Then there are the coyotes (people smugglers) who ply their trade beneath the eyes of the US Border Patrol.  The occasional Homeland Security helicopter hovering in the distance, a beam of light shooting from heaven to earth in search of smugglers and wanderers.  Most nights, however, the only sounds are the whistles of pauraques and hoots of owls.  Yes, there are the times when giant rattlesnakes come to break hearts and steal lives.  But above it all are the woods, that world that I belong to and that belongs to me.
THE SAND SHEET
Arturo Longoria
Forward by M. Jimmie Killingsworth
More than two million acres of sand, born and blown from an ancient sea beginning about ten thousand years ago, stretch across eight counties in deep South Texas.  Known as the Coastal Sand Plain, the Texas Coastal Sand Sheet, or the Sand Sheet, it is a region of few people, little rainfall, and no water.  Among the dunes and dry, brown flats, only the hardiest scrubs and grasses provide habitat for coyotes, quail that live here.
Arturo Longoria, whose cabin sits amid the sand scrub and desert motts of granjeno, brasil, and mesquite, knows this land intimately.  A student of bushcraft and natural history, Longoria found refuge in this remote and hostile country as he recovered from a rare illness.  He weaves a story as the backdrop for a steady migration of long distance “travelers,” who cross the border and into el desierto at great peril.
This book is about a harsh and dangerous landscape that has nonetheless given sustenance and solace to a writer for whom the Sand Sheet became both his home and his inspiration.
ARTURO LONGORIA is a writer and former journalist and teacher.  He is the author of two award-winning books of non-fiction, Adios to the Brushlands and Keepers of the Wilderness.
What Readers Are Saying:
“For those of us who treasure the natives and nature of Deep South Texas, it is a blessing to have Arturo Longoria as our own Aldo Leopold meets James Michener.  The Sand Sheet provides personal, and factual, insights into the nature and natural history just north of the Rio Grande.” –Colleen Hook, Director of Quinta Mazatlan-McAllen, Texas

“His book is a warning that “Destroy the plants and you ultimately destroy yourself.”  But he offers hope that if a visitor can listen and wait for nature, it reveals the truth.  The book is as prosaic in its rendering of a kaleidoscope of nature as it is wise in his quest for truth.  But his special gift is the journey that he takes the reader into an experience of beauty that cannot be imagined.  His message is that unless a person accepts this nature on its own terms, he will never recognize it when nature reveals itself in the quiet retreat of a gray fox into the dusk.  He is anxious to warn us about losing our earth, and he wants finally to know truth.  The author  has found  himself deep in the Sand Sheet, and he is dying to share it with us.” –Andres Tijerina, author of Tejano Empire

“I knew Arturo Longoria first through his book Adios to the Brushlands followed by Keepers of the Wilderness and more recently The Trail.  Spellbound, I wanted to meet this author, but I was told that he didn’t spend time in the public.  Years went by before I finally met him by coincidence at a native plant project where I learned that I also live in the Texas Sand Sheet.  Our love for the South Texas native land, native plants, and all things old and natural quickly bonded us as fast friends.  Arturo Longoria articulates what I know and love through his eloquent writing, especially in The Sand Sheet, and I always look forward to our next contact with eager anticipation, whether phone call, text message, or in-person visit. –Ruth Hoyt, Photographer, Friend, Colleague.

The Sand Sheet is poignant proof that Longoria’s first book, Adios to the Brushlands was a misnomer.  He could no longer say goodbye to the South Texas brushland than he could still his beating heart.  The harsh yet beautiful brushland is part of his very being, a powerful p art of who he is.  It explains why he chooses to live and write about the inhospitable yet beautiful edge of the desolate South Texas sand sheet.  Though most of us would never choose to live there, to see it through his eyes and in his words, is a revelation and a treasure.  Longoria sees more keenly and feels more deeply.” –Jim Chapman, Chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.



Monday, January 23, 2017

MODIFYING YOUR WORKSHOP HAMMERS

Living on a remote homestead, embracing a minimalist lifestyle, and becoming more self-sufficient requires a major change in attitude, particularly how you approach the material side of life.  We are bombarded daily with messages from the outside world telling us that we should want this or want that.  We all know people who get it into their minds that they must have something expensive even when the object they crave won’t give them anything more than something less expensive but equally functional.

Nonetheless, people steeped in the mindset of hyper-consumption can’t seem to disentangle themselves from a worldview steeped in the acquisition of stuff, as George Carlin used to phrase it. 

When it comes to forging tools I have two choices.  I can make them or buy them.  If I decide to buy them then I can pay a little or I can pay a lot.  Some tools, however, are IMO exorbitantly priced.  I would not have imagined paying more than twenty bucks for a hammer, but I’ve seen hammers going for $100, $150, $200.  To each his (her) own but I choose not to go that route.  I long ago gave up the addiction of wanting things and paying for things that I believed unnecessary.  It’s true that hammer requirements (like the tong and jig necessities) become more specialized as one gains experience but one does not need to spend oodles of dinero to acquire a good hammer.  So here’re my two cents for those of you who are starting to walk away from the American lifestyle of avarice, materialism and hyper-consumption: If you want to take up homestead blacksmithing as a hobby then modify the inexpensive hammers you find at garage and yard sales, flea markets and roadside vendors.  In learning to modify hammers you’ll expand your skill levels and you’ll find comfort in knowing that you are not as addicted and driven to spending as the advertisers, marketers and corporatists want you to be.  Of course, you can even make your own hammer.  A simple forge, a decent anvil thingy, some pick-up tongs, a couple of hot punches and a drift or two and you’ll be set to go.  I choose, however, not to go that route.  I’d rather modify a hammer I picked up at a yard sale for 25 cents or thereabouts and then get on with whatever I intend to make.

Above a modified ballpeen hammer used to make farrier’s type bolt tongs.

A 3-pound drilling hammer converted into a top tool.  It also works well for other forging projects.

A 2-pound engineer’s hammer turned into a specialized cross peen hammer.  It now weighs about 1.5 pounds.

This 2-pound engineer’s hammer is the same used for the ball peen hammer above and the rounding hammer below.


My most used hammer above is a  2-pound rounding hammer made from an inexpensive engineer’s hammer.

The three hammers pictured were all made from engineer’s hammers.  Left to Right: 1.5 pound cross peen hammer; 2-pound rounding hammer; 3-pound rounding hammer.

A larger cross peen hammer properly dressed to suit my needs.

An assortment of top tools and rounding hammers made from engineer’s hammers and drilling hammers.

Ballpeen hammers scrounged up at flea markets and yard sales.

The three hammers above were found in my dad’s garage about a year after he passed away.  I recall having seen these hammers when I was a boy.

This is the most widely used anvil in the world.  A 10-12 pound sledgehammer head is used from Nepal to Africa to Asia to Latin America to places here and there all over North America.  You can do just about anything with a sledgehammer head that you do with a big and ponderous blacksmithing anvil.  Metalsmiths, bladesmiths and blacksmiths around the globe prove me right.

Monday, January 2, 2017

LAND PATRIOTISM

Why we must fight unbridled population expansion and unfettered capitalism.

Land Patriotism is the act of advocating for the land.  It involves a commitment to keeping the country as unspoiled as possible.  I should note that land patriots are not aligned with the Right or Left; in other words, they’re not liberals or conservatives unless one opts to use conservatism in a traditional sense as it relates to conserving the land.  We are now, however, at a precipice where the destruction of the land is being conducted at an ever increasing rate.  For those who feel no connection to the land this is not an important issue.  But for that distinct minority (call them bushcrafters, woodsmen/women, naturalists or perhaps simply Land Patriots) then being stewards of the land is paramount.  Even so, we find ourselves in a situation where those who care nothing for the land are in control.  The American political/plutocratic class has developed into an oligarchy centered in rapacity and consumption.  At the center of this establishment is the worship of materialism and the concept of endless “growth and development.”  It can be argued, however, that what we see occurring today is, in fact, not development but instead a self-indulgent destruction of both the land and any sense of community.  Please allow me to give you my take on how we reached this point in American history.

Population experts have long determined that the world reached its Maximum Carrying Capacity at about two-billion people.  Note that the current world population is over seven-billion and the numbers are growing exponentially.  In other words, if the artificial production of food around the world were to fail (as a result of drought, disease, war, pollution etc.) then there would be a sudden and dramatic population collapse.  Factually, the current world human population density is unsustainable no matter what anyone might try to do.  The normal (un-artificial) maximum carrying capacity in the United States’ is about 200 million.  That means that at 200-million-people the US was maxed out.  A human population exceeding that number is essentially on life-support and can thus become subject to eminent collapse if any singular “limiting factor” plays its hand.  Therefore, the US (which now approaches 340 million people) has substantially surpassed its maximum carrying capacity.  Drought, pollution, cyberattack, anarchy, political dysfunction etc. will all create the possibility for a domino effect that will crumble the “system.”  And for those of you who have been brought up to believe that we simply must produce more food to feed the people then allow me to refer you to the writings of economist Thomas Malthus who decades ago made it quite clear that such a strategy is a fool’s game.  Malthus determined that when food is produced geometrically then populations grow exponentially.  In other words, you can never catch up!  The more food you make, the more people are born and the number of people will always outstrip the amount of food you produce.  We have thus created a near perfect trap for complete and utter population collapse.  Add to that the amount of pollution generated by the artificial production of food, and you have only hastened the inevitable downfall.  It really can’t get any worse unless you include a phenomenon that the US and most of the world has embraced where there must be endless “growth and development” in order to assure “economic prosperity.”  This ethos has for many become a religion; their god is built on the idea of consumption, materialism and rapacity.  As proof of this fanaticism note that anyone who dares fault the current system is almost immediately attacked, slandered and rebuked.

So why is the current era so dangerous?  Two things come to mind: First, exponential human population growth will create the collapse previously mentioned.  Second, human avarice wedded to narcissism is nurtured by the religion of endless growth and development.  Its practitioners seek to maximize profits at the expense of their fellow humans and by the systematic destruction of the land.  Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of all of this is that the fanaticism of endless growth and development and its corresponding greed blinds humans to thinking logically and analytically.  I can find fewer examples of this flawed thinking than the idea of deregulation.  In its truest sense, the term regulation means anything that hinders human greed and rapacity.  And de-regulation cultivates narcissism and material gluttony.

Allow me to provide an eclectic example of why the de-regulation of any complex system is dangerous.  First, all systems function in what amounts to a linear fashion.  Whether the system is biological or mechanical or based on economics it runs in orderly sequences and they are all essentially the same.  So let’s examine regulatory mechanisms going from the simple to the complex.  The one-celled organism called an amoeba is relatively simple and thus needs few regulatory mechanisms.  An amoeba has no eyes or brain or legs or muscular/skeletal system.  It has no emotions or analytical thought process.  It does not walk or run nor does it build tools.  Now compare the amoeba to a human being.  In order for a human to function properly it must have trillions of regulatory mechanisms.  In my study of biology I was often amazed that we are able to function at all.  Take the vital processes known as glycolysis or chemiosmosis.  Compared to other systems in the body these are relatively simple; but when examined in detail one finds them to be incredibly complex.  What we find is that the more complicated a system then the more regulation it must have in order to function properly.  Remove the regulatory mechanisms and you have anarchy, chaos, collapse.  The same holds for all economic systems and that includes the prevailing economic system in the US.  In other words, the more complex the system becomes the more it must be regulated.

Now let me show you what happens to a complex system that is deregulated.  Let’s assume you’re not feeling well and so you go visit your doctor.  After conducting a few tests your doctor calls you in and says: “I’m afraid you’ve got cancer.”  After you get over the initial shock I imagine the first thing you say is, “Can we stop it or maybe at least control it?”  But your doctor looks at you aghast and says, “I am so sick of hearing people wanting to regulate cancer!  Don’t you realize that cancer, when left alone, grows and develops and matures!  In fact, cancer is one of the most successful mechanisms known to mankind.  It’s beautiful.  I firmly believe in unregulated cancer!”  At that point (assuming you haven’t already walked out) you have concluded that your doctor is nuts.  But apply that same principle to what we hear many corporatists and politicians with the same rationale the doctor used and you’ll find nobody complains.  Trouble is that both cancer and what we call Capitalism must consume resources in order to “grow and develop.”  And any rapacious form of Capitalism (just like cancer) eventually kills its host if left unchecked.  We caught a glimpse of this back in 2006-2007 when a decade-long trend in deregulating the banks triggered a monumental financial collapse.  We saw the same thing with the Savings & Loan crisis and with the 1929 economic crash.  And yet, despite the evidence, despite the sound analytics behind this truth, we continue to hear people say, “I believe in unregulated Capitalism” as if it were a religion.  Perhaps for them it is their religion.  I guarantee that you would not hear those same people say, “I believe in unregulated cancer” even when the two processes are basically the same in their consumption of resources, their polluting effects and their eventual destruction of their host.

Now I fully expect to get all sorts of attacks from trolls and true-believers and those who will mentally shut down when they hear anything that goes against what they’ve been taught to believe.  In America today we have created a class of people who are easily duped and who flock to those unsound doctrines I referred to in the previous post.

ONE MORE NOTE: After a while, Mussolini began calling Fascism “Corporatism.”  Corporatism is where the government is no longer a system based on “by the people for the people” but instead by the corporations for the corporations.  That is precisely what we see happening today.  In fact, studies have shown that our politicians often ignore what is best for the people and instead do what is best for their donors, which are the banks, oil companies, Wall Street, insurance companies, big Media etc.  You can call what we see happening today Neo-fascism if that pleases you.  I and many others choose not to mince words but to instead refer to it as Fascism pure and simple and evil.  Please don’t attempt or waste time making this a Republican/Democrat argument.  The Corporatists want you to be diverted with those frivolous arguments so they can continue with their destruction of the Land.  Besides, the problem runs across the aisles in Washington and across the states and if you choose to say things like, “It’s those other guys” then you’re among the easily duped and perhaps not prone towards analytics.

Okay, enough for today.  Besides, I’d rather be walking in the woods and that’s exactly what I intend to do next.