Tuesday, April 25, 2017


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


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