Archive for February, 2011

To me, something that is “natural” is something that has been around for a really long time.  I’m thinking of humans and our traits that have lasted 500,000 years or more.  If something has lasted that long then there must be a reason.  It has beaten the test of time. And I think that to change something that has been working for so long deserves careful thought, experimentation, and consideration of all the possible outcomes.

Here are some things that have been around for a very, very long time.

Walking on uneven ground.  Being cold and hot.  Getting all of your living needs directly from the land you lived on.  Being surrounded every day by people that love you and have known you since birth.  Needing your spouse for your survival and for your family’s survival.  Children learning through play, stories, role modeling and careful mentoring by a large group of varying-aged people.  Making things with your hands.  Eating high fat, low carb diets.

Of course there are millions of examples of things we do in our culture that are new to our species and evolution.  Many of these things – walking on uneven ground for example – have been that way long before we were even human.  There are also many things in our culture that are totally natural, like economics.  Supply and demand has been around since life on earth began.

Emotion is a simple and very effective motivator to an action.  We evolved to feel really good when we do things beneficial to our survival.  And to feel bad, anxious, or uncomfortable when something isn’t right.  This is why I think learning primitive skills and experiencing aspects of natural living feels so good.  If we kept staring at computers all day and eating high sugar diets for 10,000 more years then that would probably feel really good too.

view from the highest point

In other news, I just got back from a great family ski-trip in Winter Park.  Here are some pictures: 

Winter Park village

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Good Trackin’

We saw some nice tracks on a recent San Diego Tracking Team (SDTT.org) transect.  Check them out:


foggy morning


Can you find all four species?


found this cottontail incisor in a bobcat scat

ground squirrel scats

lizard scat

norway rat


small type of egret

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Here are some pictures from the Native Plants class with Mike Crouse which I was lucky enough to get to participate in this morning.  We had the class in the desert surrounding Borrego Springs.  We learned 75 plants and it will take all of my neurons to remember two or three next time I’m in the desert.

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“You guys want to hear about times when I turned invisible?!”  This is a catchy line that I’ve used to get kids to settle down for a story.  It never fails.

I think animals are very attuned to the “vibes” that people put off.  In my close encounters with animals I was always putting off the same vibe.  Very mellow, happy and relaxed.  And no thoughts in my head.  Sometimes it seems like animals hear thoughts louder than spoken words.

Here are three examples of times I “turned invisible”.

The first happened when I was living in Colorado. I was sitting on the intramural sports field at CSU watching the moon rise. It was a huge beautiful yellow moon coming up on the horizon. It was pretty late, probably 11 or 12 at night. As I sat there taking in the colors of the moon and the sounds of the night and feeling the wet grass on my legs I saw something bobbing out of my peripheral vision. I realized something was coming towards me but I didn’t want to look over. I sat there watching the bobbing get bigger until it was right in front of me. A long legged, scrawny red fox. It came right up to my outstretched feet and started sniffing them. I sat there watching. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. To have a truly wild animal right there sniffing my feet was awesome. After a few good sniffs it had enough and continued on its way. I watched it trot off and went back to my moonrise, totally blown away by what just happened.

One morning in New York state I went for a walk. It was early summer and the grass was all covered in dew. Up ahead on the trail I saw two baby bunnies playing. I stood very still, relaxed myself, opened up my peripheral vision and all of my senses and just waited. I knew already that animals were drawn to this kind of energy. Ten or fifteen minutes later the bunnies were at my feet licking my toes and chewing on my sandals. Eventually they must have picked up my scent cause they took off in a flash all of the sudden.

Another afternoon in New Hampshire I was sitting in my backyard flint knapping. I thought this experience was interesting because I wasn’t being still or quiet at all. I was banging rocks together. However my energy was the same. I had no thoughts in my head. I was totally absorbed in the process of trying to make something beautiful when I heard fluttering and felt something on my head. I waited, wondering if what I thought had happened, had really just happened when a little tufted titmouse flew off my head, down to my feet and started hopping around.

All of these experiences are very special to me but I don’t think that I’m special because I get to have them. Nature opens up to anyone willing to be patient and pay attention and no matter how long you have to wait, its always more than worth it.

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Tricky tracking

These two tracks are from the same animal.  One track is a perfect coyote hind, the other looks a lot like a domestic dog track.  This is a good example of how hard it can be to tell coyote and dog apart.  I think trackers mistake the two very frequently. 





Here are some more pictures from where I live.

white-tailed antelope squirrel

California ground squirrel in what looks like a lope

California ground squirrel territorial belly drag

plants were making springs long before people

California plates= transition complete

Cougar country

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Bear trailing

This is a story that to me, was a spiritual experience.

I was tracking behind my house in New Hampshire a couple months ago at the sand pit I would go to nearly every day. In all of the times I had gone there I had never seen bear tracks or heard of bears being in the area. On this particular day I decided to go check out a road that bordered the sand pit that I had never been to. On the road I found fox tracks and as I bent down to see if they were from a red or gray fox I noticed right next to them a faint but clear line of toes and a big heel pad. It was a fresh track of a small black bear. I felt a buzz in my body which I have felt many times before when I was about to have a spiritual experience. I took out my camera to get a picture of the tracks. Being in the sand pit all the time takes a toll on my camera and often when I turn it on it will read “lense error” and turn itself off. That was the case this time so as I searched up and down the road for more tracks I repeatedly turned my camera on and off over and over again praying that it would work and I would have proof that there really was a black bear in our backyard.

Miraculously the bear left no other tracks besides two or three clear ones in a line. The road was surrounded by sand which I searched with painful scrutiny for tracks but I couldn’t find anything. There were deer tracks, turkey tracks, fox tracks but no bear. I slowly became obsessed with finding and following the trail of this bear so I started combing larger circles around the original set of tracks on the road. Hours passed and my circles grew to be miles. I was tracking the entire landscape in my head thinking of the most likely route for the bear to follow. I found a river that would definitely funnel the bear one way and I gained more inspiration. I found many other exciting things like the kill site where coyotes took down a deer and the feather of a red-shouldered hawk. I had never found a hawk feather before so that was really cool for me.

Eventually it started to get dark and I reached the end of the sand pit two or three miles from the road where the tracks were. My camera still refused to turn on and I finally admitted defeat. I took the lesson from this experience to be that even huge things are going on right under my nose that I don’t know about. Big animals can sneak by without me ever knowing because I wouldn’t even have seen those tracks if I wasn’t bent over looking at fox tracks on a road that I never go to. As I turned to make the long walk back to my car I looked down and saw them. A long string of beautiful clear tracks from my bear. I had walked right over these tracks a few minutes before without seeing them. It was almost dark now but deep down I knew that if I gave it one more try, my camera would turn on. And it did- just long enough for one picture before going back to the lense error.

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one of the traps with deer bait

I was lucky enough to get to take part in a cougar capture attempt with wildlife veterinarian Winston Vickers.  He is trying to catch a collared cat whose batteries are low.  Yesterday he got word that a kill was made and that the cat was feeding on it for the past couple days so we hiked two traps up into the mountains and set them at the kill sight.  We waited until midnight and then had to leave.  It’s not easy to convince a wild animal to walk into a steel cage.

bighorn sheep have cool hooves made for maximum traction

This sick yew was killed by the cougar we are trying to capture

cougar research requires a lot of gear and a lot of work

Distinctive claw mark from this cougar

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Elm bow

Here are some pictures of an elm tree I cut down with my stone ax.  The ax worked great.  It only took about 15 minutes of chopping to get the tree down and cut it to length.  I want to make a bow of all stone tools but I cheated on this one and used steel wedges to split out the stave.  Now it needs to dry for a while before I go back to work on it.

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Here is a knife I made.  The stone is chert from central Texas.  The handle is Osage and the black stuff is pine pitch which is made by boiling pine sap and mixing it with charcoal. 

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