The Earth Skills Correspondence Course is a ten block course that leads students through the skills of wilderness survival, in your own bioregion. It emphasizes the mastery of shelter, water, fire, camp skills, plants and trees, cooking, safety & hazards, attitude & philosophy and instructor training. Ricardo Sierra mentors the course through e-mail, this blog and a private Facebook Group, and students are self-guided. The course provides a wealth of skills and a powerful foundation from which to build and grow in any personal or wilderness study direction.
Get more information about this learning tool here: The Earth Skills Correspondence Course

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hunting: A Practice in Invisibility

When I first began training in wilderness survival, I remember Tom Brown, Jr. talking about the concept of invisibility. I had never really imagined that as a skill other than my comic book characters who could disappear from sight as their 'super power'. I knew there were ways to do it, but had never really thought about it much up to that point.

Tom talked with us about camouflage, stalking, and movement in terms of hunting, or escape and evading your enemies, and how to use the clays, mud and patterns in nature to let a person virtually disappear in the forest or fields. When we actually did it, I could almost not believe my eyes! This summer, we actually had a TV film crew come out and Ben Gallagher made it happen, on film, and it was really cool.

However, other than hiding from people in our various scout games and such, having fun and practicing our skills, there isn't much of a modern use for invisibility. Unless you are in the military, or work as a cat burglar, or so forth! But in hunting, it is everything.

Being invisible to animals is hard. The scent issues alone are huge. Animals smell hundreds of times better than us, and their hearing is keen too. The eyesight of turkeys is phenomenal, and any movement can give an immediate alarm to everyone in the vicinity that you are hiding.

However, there are layers of invisibility, I was taught. There is, of course, the physical methods, where you are camouflaged into the landscape, blending perfectly and if the wind is just right, you are gone. Then there is the mental invisibility, where the place you are hiding is so obvious, so unique and different, that the mind of a person looking for you can't see you. Because no one would ever be able to hide in a place like that! (I once hid in a living room full of people, standing behind a couch, holding a picture frame up, and no one noticed me for over twenty minutes, then I moved the picture and everyone screamed. They still couldn't believe they hadn't seen me, though. It was uncanny!) It is important that your mind be free from thoughts, other than being a wall or a tree or rock. If you start thinking as a person, you will be seen almost immediately!

The last layer of invisibility is the spiritual. This is where the earth, or spirit, if you will, opens up and swallows you, and you are part of the spiritual fabric of the universe (aren't we all, already?) and you disappear from the earth, so to speak, as a human. You are one with everything, and no one can see you. In some ways, you could say that you cease to exist as a human being, and are instead something more, something greater, than a small human being.

Anyway, this is the sort of stuff I think about while sitting in my camo clothes (it ain't summer, people, so no clay and mud stuff now!), totally still, trying to stay warm and being watchful of the wind. I meditate, and pray, and day dream and take short naps. I have found that being without thought is very important. As soon as I start thinking like a person, I have found animals that will run away or just turn and walk the other direction, even though I made no sound and the wind was perfect. That says a lot about what animals can sense and feel. There are times when I am without thought, and animals seem to come around me very close. Not just deer but chickadees, squirrels, weasels, rabbits and mice. It also seems like there are times when the land just lets me sink in, and I forget about the cold, the wind, everything. Maybe I am just imagining it, but it is those times when the sunlight, or the wind, seems particularly alive, and the world is a magical and beautiful place, and I am a part of that somehow. It feels really good.

I am posting some pictures of antler rubs, buck scrapes and a deer hiding in the snow, that my friend Tiffany took a week or so ago. These are all things that you can look for when walking through the woods, and noticing what is going on out there. The scrapes are where the male deer scrape out the soil to make a fresh place, then they pee in the spot and leave various scents and hormones from their meta-tarsal glands in their feet that tells the female deer to leave her urine there when she is ready to ovulate. He places his footprint deep in the scrape as he does this, and you can see his track clearly! He also rubs his orbital gland near his eye on the branches above the scrape (which is almost always present), for what, I don't know. The buck will travel back and forth along his many scrapes, made along where female deer are traveling, to see if any females are ready to mate. If the scrapes are fresh, he will be back, so these are good areas to hunt if you are going after bucks.

The antler rubs occur near deer bedding areas or where they frequently travel, and they scrape up small saplings vigorously with their antler tines. The general rule is, the larger the tree rubbed, the larger the antlers and the larger the deer. Height is also an indicator in factoring in the size of the deer. I have never had much luck hunting antler rub areas, however, as it doesn't seem like the deer return to that area that much, as opposed to scrapes. It does let you know that there are bucks around, though. Which is exciting, as they mostly write the book on invisibility!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Gathering Time is Here...

I spent an hour gathering dogbane stalks on the side of the road today, and got enough for about ten bundles. The weather was perfect, about fifty five degrees F and sunny. The stalks were tough, so I had to cut them with a knife! The patch I gathered from was on the side of the road, along a field edge, and the farmer came along with his four wheeler, and about four sheep following him, and asked if I needed help with the car. I told him I was just gathering some weeds by the side of the road, and he said "Take all of the weeds you want!" and drove off, slowly, with the sheep following him around. It was pretty funny.

Anyway, the dogbane is still in my car, filling up my trunk and back seat completely. I have to pull it out, separate it and then tie it into bundles that we can bring to our school programs or use in our summer camps for making bow drill cords, bow strings, arrow fletching, bracelets, snare cord, paiute deadfall cords, necklaces, fishing line and much more. You just can't have enough dogbane laying around! I will hang these up in our barn so we can grab it when needed for a class.

It is important to keep it dry and don't let it get wet when bundled or it will all mold and be no good. I check the stalks to make sure they have good fibers, that are strong and easy to peel and process. I don't harvest the tiniest plant stalks, generally, and try to get the largest ones with the longest stalks to make the best cordage.

Dogbane has a dark brown, almost mahogany colored stalk, and the fibers are a beautiful brown red color when peeled. The large branches at the top of the stalk have fibers in them too, but are hard to process easily, so we usually discard them during the classes. The leaves of dobgane are bright yellow during the fall, so they are easy to see from the road, along field edges and damp places. They sometimes have seed pods on the stalks that you should remove if you are gathering them before putting them in your car. Once I had a large bundle of dogbane that we left in our barn because it was wet, and then made a fire in the woodstove a few days later, and got the room all warm. The seed pods dried out and opened up, spreading fluffy seeds everywhere. It was funny but a huge mess. And the fibers were so fine that they caused a huge problem with breathing, too.

We had a great vacuum party and opened all of the windows and doors to try to get it out of there.... It was a lot of work! It has happened with milkweed, in my car, too, and even mullein stalks, although that was mostly dust, rather than seed heads. And it was very, very dusty and I sneezed for over an hour!

So, now is a good time to gather milkweed, which is easy to spot with their stalks bursting with white fluff from the seeds, and mullein, for hand drills and torches, and golden rod, for hand drills, and nettles, for cordage, and grasses, for grass mats and tinder. These plants are great to gather now, before they get pressed down by the snow and begin to decay.

Gather milkweed and select the ones that are very white and clean. The ones that are greenish, or dark grey and have black splotches usually are too far gone to make good cordage fibers. The white stalks (or light grey) are the best, with silky fibers that are fairly strong.

If you can find swamp milkweed, that stuff is really strong and very fine, too. Great for bow strings and anything that needs to be tough and strong. It loves water, so check the swamps, the water ways, drainage ditches, irrigation trenches and similar places. It is a perennial, so it will grow there again and again, which is great!

Anyway, hope this helps you get out there and get your year's supply of fire making and natural fiber resources!