Archive for the ‘desert’ Category

I checked out the video Stay alive! a guide to survival in mountainous areas from my local library.

Random comments after watching:

  • According to the host, Preston Westmoreland, if you have ever heard the idea that you could add whiskey to water to clean the water than that is not true.  Ummmmm, I have never heard that, in fact if one googles adding whiskey to water what one discovers is that most feel this is a waste of good whiskey.
  • The video visits with Peter Bigfoot, which is awesome because I really like that guy.  Bigfoot covers the edible plants of the desert.

July is the best time to eat Saguaro fruit.

  • Peter also eats the hedgehog, he mentions it is better with salt,  hey that’s what I saidThe hedgehog cactus might be a quarter of its size in summer.
  • Some plants are poisonous for some of the year and then not poisonous for other parts of the year.  Great.
  • 90% of prickly pear plants are poisonous, yikes, only eat the fruit, that was the next plant I was going to try so I am glad I watched the video first.
  • Mesquite is the “mother tree” of the desert.  He does not elaborate on why it is the mother tree.
  • To clean water use 2 drops bleach per quart.
  • If one ever needs to make a fire to signal for help while stranded in the desert, the black tubing in your engine makes for good black smoke.
  • Thank god tube socks are out of fashion.
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Part of the Complete Survivor Class from Ancient Pathways was a brief introduction to tracking.  We practiced tracking humans and then looked at animal tracks as we came across them.  Just like everything else in the class the key to this skill is practice. 

I liked how our instructor, Tony Nester, set up the tracking exercises.  Both of these exercises could be done in the backyard, and I am debating doing it some Saturday at the Firehouse in beautiful downtown Phoenix.

The first exercise we did was block off a small patch of desert, walk across the patch and then inspect our footprints.  Notice how the edges look, study what a fresh print looks like, and then return multiple times over the next couple of days and see how the print ages.

The second exercise was to track Tony for about 20 paces.  Tony had us turn around, then walked for a while and when done told us to turn around.  We tried to figure out where he had stepped.   We marked the heel print of each step with a popsicle stick so we could mark our progress.

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Once you have figured out a few steps, mark with a stick how long the normal stride of the person is. Then you can use as a guide as you come across the harder to read prints.

Get all up in the print, look at it from multiple angles. Don’t assume you will be able to read the print from several feet away.  Try to think through if the person is walking, limping, stumbling, running or anything else.

Below: Studying the print.

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To become a good (or even half-decent) tracker one would need to practice this a lot. I was reminded of the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell which is about “rapid cognition” or the ability to know something in the blink of the eye. Instinct, it turns out, comes from doing something over and over until you know something so well you process it without having to actually “think” about it. Tracking would be a great example of this.

The flip side of knowing how to track is knowing how to not be tracked. The most useful tip we covered for how to (hopefully) fool someone tracking you is to use the human inclination for open spaces. Our eyes and feet are drawn to them.  If you are trying to fool someone, look for  a stretch of desert that was narrow because of the brush and then opens up walk through the open part. Stop, then walk backwards stepping on your own prints and break off carefully through an obscured part of desert. When walking backwards you take smaller strides so when walking through the false path the first time take smaller strides so it will be easier to walk backwards later.

When Tony pulled this trick on us, he fooled up completely. He said this would not fool an expert tracker. But how many expert trackers are out there?  My hope is that one rises to the challenge of one’s nemesis.

Below: Trying to decipher a print.
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Reader’s Beware:  Some of you vegetarians and snuggly animal lovers will not like the following post.  It involves dead bunnies.

We made sticks.  Heavier on one end and lighter on the other end.  You carried two.  The idea was to throw it at a rabbit, preferrably a cotton tail and not a jack rabbit, hit the rabbit with the stick and hopefully kill, but if not at least stun it.  If only stunned, then the second stick came into effect.  The idea was then to bludgeon the rabbit with the remaining stick.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

First, it is very difficult to be accurate with a stick you just carved out of juniper.  In fact, “First” should be the mere fact you have to carve a stick out of juniper.  This is a huge pain in the ass when one is hungry for meat.

Second, Bunnies are a fickle bunch.  Not only are the very easily distracted, their first instinct is to scatter.  So after the long slog of walking  in circles to finally find spot a rabbit and (if the chance of meat does not overwhelm you) plus being patient enough to get within 20 feet, the cute little hunk of protein scatters.  Out of desperation you throw the stick, but flat-lining adrenalin on an empty stomach makes you throw the stick horizontally and the rabbit jacked-up-on-pure-rabbit-speed scatters.  Tiny little fluffy clouds of dust in the dusk wind.

Below: Practing with the stick.

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It has been said that men have run down a rabbit.  No way in God’s Green Earth I could.  Those things move fast and wild.  They go through bushes of desert plants while you have to run around them.   I was lucky enough to find two that I even had the chance to try to run down while wildly waving inefficient sticks in the air.

At one point, I had a clean perfect shot at one, a tiny little bunny cottontail.  “This is my chance to redeem myself in front of these men,”  I quietly told my self,” If I can bring back meat after all my failings with the dead traps, the ability to track, the spoon carving, the mis-diagnosed poop identification, then I will be a hero.”  I breathed in, I breathed out.  I threw the stick with all my attention, and it missed by a wide 7 feet.  The rabbit sprang.  With my second stick I gave good hunt.  But the rabbit’s fast ability to change directions dramatically got the better of me and left me panting over a stick. I retuned sans rabbitt. Alas,we did not have meat that night for our stew.

Below: The Hunt.

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This last weekend I took the Complete Survivor Class from Ancient Pathways.  I picked up a whole series of skills to practice. Notice I said “practice” because, good lord, just cause I did these things once doesn’t mean I am actually competent at any of them.   We set traps, snares, tracked, snacked on plants, made jerky and stared at a whole lot of poop.

The class had many manly men and two lovely ladies.  I think it is fair to say that I was generally the least competent at just about everything.  Except for smoking bowls, this I was good at, and by smoking bowls, I mean making a bowl out of fire.

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One of the first things we learned that weekend was to whittle out a spoon. Which was handy as I had forgotten to bring a spoon, and only had a fork and knife. My spoon was incompetent. I routinely watched, for the rest of the weekend, as people whittled out far superior spoons and then pitch them in the fire.

I was a bit nervous at the start of the weekend.  First, I wasn’t sure if I was in the sort of shape to survive such a thing.  Second it snowed the night before in Flagstaff.  I was not expecting snow in mid-May in Arizona.

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This had me concerned.  In assessing my clothes the first cold morning of the class I realized if the cold held I would not be able to stay warm without looking perfectly ridiculous.  First rule of survival is PMA (Postive Mental Attitude) which is hard to do when one doesn’t look good while doing it.  O.K., maybe the first rule is only the PMA part and I just added the looking good part.

The warmest thing I had was a thick wool poncho that I had bought years before in Mexico.  I was planning on using it for a blanket.  I have only worn it on stage for comedic relief,  and I am sure the ex-military men would have met it with scoff.    Luckily for me, things warmed up.

The first thing after setting up our tests was a walking tour of the property.   Tony Nester, our instructor, pointed out the various rat and mice nests around.  Of course, I had set my tent up right beside a big pack-rat’s nest.   Once he pointed it out, it was bluntly obvious.  I never moved my tent.  I figured if I had gophers in Phoenix, I could share space with a pack-rat.

Below:  My tent and pack-rat nest.

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The weekend was simply packed with new knowledge and things worth mulling over.   Here are all the shots from the weekend. As I reflect on lessons learned and go over my half-filled notebook, I will be making a series of posts about this weekend.

Up North, where there is winter, only the strong surivie.  In Michigan, a cat can have about one litter a year.  Here in Phoenix they can have three.  So Phoenix has a feral cat problem, much larger than cities outside of the sunbelt.  Lets assume that a feral cat living on wits alone is like living in the apocalypse.  The fact they can have three litters a year versus one provides further evidence that Phoenix is not that bad a place to be after the Apocalypse.

Thank you Tommy Cannon for showing me how!

As part of my research on how I should spend my vacation time, I have been checking out what survival schools I could sign up for.

The one I ended up settling on is the Ancient Pathways’ Complete Survivor class near Flagstaff, AZ. The class covers edible plants, deadfalls, snares, and game preparation. What I am most excited about is making jerky, I love jerky! Who doesn’t? (I mean, besides vegetarians. Sidenote: How do you find a vegetarian at a cocktail party? Don’t worry they will find you. ) At first the cost for 4 days of instruction seemed a bit steep but looking at other survival courses it is not so much. I have to get a hunting license for the class.

There are other options out there.  Here is what I have found so far:

Cody Lundin in Prescott, AZ is famous from being on the cover of Backpacker magazine, Discovery Channel, and Dateline NBC which has also added to the tab for his courses.   If money was no object I would take his Self-Reliance Symposium class, 7 days at $1790 which covers all sorts of stuff, and prepares one for living off the grid.

Another good option available for folks in AZ is the Reavis Mountain School, run by Peter Bigfoot.  The prices are more reasonable.  I took his wild medicinal, edible and useful plants class a couple of years back and enjoyed it.  Over many years Peter has experimented with about every type of plant one could find in the Superstition Mountains.  Years of trial and error (and he has plenty of error stories) made it so he knows what each plant’s nutritional and medicinal uses are.     My favorite quote from the weekend was someone asked “Peter, what plant confused you the longest?”  His answer, “MJ.”

He also has classes on “off the grid” living and other survival skills.  Bring your own coffee, he doesn’t believe in it.

Another local is the AZbushman.  I have not taken any of his classes, but I really like his videos on youtube.

The person probably best known in the United States for wilderness survival skills is Tom Brown.   For example he was the technical advisor for the film The Hunted starring Tommy Lee Jones.   His Tracker School has the longest list of classes, but his website could use a little work.   It was tough to figure out which classes were actually happening.  Plus the classes are in New Jersey, which I also find a little funny.  I figure I should take classes in AZ, because that is where I will be when the SHTF.  Wikipedia has a good links of articles he wrote for Mother Earth News.

I ended up going with the Ancient pathways because their site does not emphasize one man.    Wilderness survival should be about how anyone can do it, and by empasizing one person detracts from this in some subtile way.  Plus I am a little jealous of how manly all their names are.  My parents told me that they were going to call me “Adam” and my grandmother responded, “What?!? Adam!  As in Adam and Eve?  What else you got?”  In the moment of panic they said “Kevin”.  I think I would have been taller if they had stuck with Adam.

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Above: Kindling I tried to use at my first attempt and building fire with two pieces of wood.