Updating Website- Checking Links

27 April 2009

Thanks to all who visit and comment on my blog and the Desert Explorer website.  I am currently doing some updating to my files in Dreamweaver. In trying to make it all more manageable and orderly, I have found that some links are not updating themselves.  If you visit the site and have trouble navigating to certain pages, please jump to another page and give it a try.  I am working on checking and updating all the links.  Feel free to email broken links to me and I will fix them straight away.

The aftermath of a well-planned and successful five day backpack- no water, one power bar, a bunch of dirty socks.

The remnants of a well-planned and successful five day backpack- a ziplock stuffed full of trash, no water, one power bar, a bunch of dirty socks.

Wilderness Kids- Survival Skills for the Four Year Old

24 April 2009

When we go hiking my son carries his own Camelbak with water, snacks, his bird guide and a few survival items including a whistle and a flashlight.  I have stressed to him since the very beginning the importance of being prepared, of having all he might need with him, just in case. As a father I feel one of the most important things that I can do for my son is to teach him the skills to stay alive in the bush. Of course our frequent practice of primitive skills goes far beyond the average person’s idea of being prepared, and of being self-sufficient. For the average hiker these skills are not entirely necessary, to say nothing of the average four or five year old. But it is very important that they know what to do if they become separated from you on a hike.

A note on terminology- I avoid using the term “lost”.  “Misoriented” is a term used in the U.S. Army roughly translating to being lost.  The philosophy is that you never really become “lost”- you are somewhere on your mapsheet and the mission depends on your continuing. “Misoriented” in this context is always proceeded by the term “temporarily”.  There are psychological advantages to never allowing yourself to become “lost”, but rather “temporarily misoriented”, and to teaching this perspective to your child. With that said, I personally have never been lost in my life, and never will be. I stress this point to my son as well.

The Basics of Hiking Together

The following discussion assumes that you are teaching your child wilderness skills as you hike, discussing topics such as trees, plants, rocks, animals, and even the weather.  It is assumed that you are carrying a map and compass, and that you are actively teaching your child about them, allowing him or her to use them as you hike.  Teaching children about nature in general and about maps, about how to find north with or without a compass, and about basic navigation techniques empowers them and will help them develop a healthy relationship with the wilderness. For more on teaching children wilderness skills, see our Wilderness Kids pages.  For more on land navigation see the Maps and Navigation pages at the Desert Explorer website.

The first thing to teach your young one before you ever take your first hike together is to stay close, at least in sight distance.  Children are naturally and healthily attached to their parents- they want to be near us.  They stay close to us at the grocery store, and keep us in sight at the park for example. Hiking in the bush should be no different.  Talk to your children about the potential dangers where you are hiking- this might be a stream, animals, steep slopes, or thick brush where you could be quickly separated.  Explain to them that you are not in your back yard, that they need to stay close, closer than normal- stress the importance, but do not scare them with it.  You want them to enjoy the wilderness, not to fear it.

Each situation will be different, but if my son and I are following a discernible trail, I often let him take the lead. I then have him in sight all the time. If I lead I am constantly turning to check on him.  We often hold hands and walk together on our hikes, taking in the sights and discussing everything we see.

If We Become Separated

Should we ever become separated my son knows what to do.  I have taught him that if he cannot see me, cannot hear me, if I do not answer when he calls for me, that he should find shade and sit down. I have taught him to be calm, have a drink of water and continue to listen and call for me.  In his pack he carries a very loud survival whistle.  He knows that this is not a toy- it is to be used only in such a situation. That is his next step; get out the whistle and blow it at intervals.  This whistle is so loud that there is little chance of me not hearing it.

My procedure is the same if we become separated- I stop and call for him, listen for him, and wait for the whistle. With him stopping in place and sitting down, I am given the advantage of being able to easily follow my backtrail and locate him.  He knows that if he stops and sits down he is making it easier for me to track him.  If I cannot find him on the backtrail, I can find where he wandered off our trail and begin tracking him to where he sits.

Thoughts on Being “Lost”- Panic or Calm?

Panic is the primary danger to people who become misoriented in the bush. Once a person realises they have lost control of their situation, that is, they are lost, a downward spiral can quickly occur.  Stories abound of hikers hundreds of feet from the trail, or a mile from a road, heading off in absolutely the wrong direction, thrashing through the brush, leaving their gear behind, exhausting themselves, and putting themselves in extreme danger.

The thought behind stopping immediately could have saved many hikers from uncomfortable and unplanned nights in the bush, and worse.  When people are lost, out of panic, they often begin to travel aimlessly-  to wander, to cross their paths again and again, or to travel in circles looking for the lost trail or a recognisable feature.  For rescue personnel who might be tracking them this makes the job all the more difficult.

The first thing to remember if you do “become lost” is to remain calm. Sit down, take a drink of water, and relax a moment.  Then consider where you have come from and where you are heading.  If you calmly and logically assess the situation, chances are you will quickly realise where you went wrong.  If you are indeed unable to find your way back, you must remain calm and gain control of the situation. For more information on how to address being lost, and a survival situation in general, see the Survival Kit pages and the Primitive Skills pages at the Desert Explorer website.

The Four Year Old Flintknapper- More Thoughts on Teaching Children Primitive Skills

18 April 2009

This post is a follow-up- or perhaps a continuation- of the post titled The Four Year Old Archaeologist. In this post I discuss how I have been teaching my son about lithic technology- stone tools- and how to make his own. For more on teaching primitive skills to young children, see the Wilderness Kids pages on the Desert Explorer website. Also see our Primitive Skills pages for explanations and introductions to some of the skills.

My son Nicolai and I make it a point to practice some form of primitive skills at least once a week.   We build countless fires, have recently spent time tracking many coyotes, identify useful plants wherever we go, throw sticks and spears, and now have begun flintknapping together.

I introduced Nicolai to stone tools- ancient ones and those I had fashioned- when he was about two years old.  I showed him points, explained how they were made, and what they were used for.  On our frequent trips to the desert I would pick up any lithics I found- a scraper, part of a point, a core, and lots of debitage (the smaller pieces left behind during the tool making process)- and let him hold them.  We even visited and camped near a quarry sight where I explained the process of curation of raw material and how stone found in one location can be carried to other locations hundreds of miles away.  Finally,  I carefully explained the processes  involved in making each piece of debitage or stone tool he was holding, giving him an overview of the flintknapping process as follows.

The Process of Making a Tool

First you find a cobble- a suitable looking piece of the raw material.  You remove the cortex (the weathered exterior surface) from the cobble by striking it with another cobble called a hammerstone, of a different material.  The best hammerstones are river cobbles; elongated, rounded, with smooth surfaces.  You find an appropriate looking surface on the piece of raw material, called the platform, and strike away.  The idea is to remove long flakes from the core that can be used to make points, scrapers, blades, or numerous other stone tools using more refined techniques and other flintknapping tools such as a deer antler pressure flaker.

Beyond the technical description of how a tool was made, I include in my explanations things like why we found the piece where we did- deposited in the bed of a wash by moving water for example.  I also explain my thoughts on why the people who made the piece chose that location to use it- maybe they chose a wooded hillside that had a good view of a pocket of water below, and waited for deer to come and drink there.  I talk about why the toolmaker may have left the tool- it may have been stuck in a wounded animal that they could not catch that later died in the area.  Or it may have broken during use, striking a rock or the bone of a target, and was then discarded. If it was a flake tool or a scraper, it may have been more of an expedient tool, made, used and discarded in place.

Now when Nicolai finds a flake he tells me about it.  He can explain the flintknapping process, and has a solid grasp of how the various tools were used. Now we are beginning to discuss the process in more depth, differentiating between the different flake types- primary, secondary and tertiary flakes- and investigating the actual reduction process which takes place during tool manufacture.

Making Our Own Stone Tools

At home in our back yard primitive camp Nicolai has watched me work away at large pieces of obsidian, making smaller pieces with a hammerstone.  He has watched closely as I use antler billets and tines to make my blanks into usable tools- blades, scrapers and points.  Now he has begun making his own.

Nicolai arranging his core and getting ready to strike off a flake.

Nicolai arranging his core and getting ready to strike off a flake. He is very serious about the process. Note the safety glasses.

I know that he always pays very close attention when I explain or demonstrate something to him, and when I answer his questions. This is natural for children, and as old as the process of toolmaking itself- the child sitting with the parent or other elder learning the lifeways of his people.  From the very first time Nicolai picked up a core and hammerstone I could tell by his technique that he understood all I told him and had watched me carefully.  From the way he sits, how he looks for the proper platform, how he holds a core in a piece of leather tightly against his leg, to the way he holds and strikes with the hammerstone, he is on his way to becoming at least a functional flintknapper, if not one who shows skill beyond the average level. It may not be long before he is critiquing my stone tools and teaching me new techniques.

For more information on flintknapping and recommended titles on the process, visit the Lithic Technology page on the Desert Explorer website.

Homemade Backpack Journals

5 April 2009

Whenever I head into the bush I make it a point to carry empty pages to fill, especially if I am traveling alone.  Being alone in the desert prompts all kinds of thoughts and ideas in me, and I make extensive technical notes along the way on all my treks.  Being an ultralight backpacker, I avoid any unnecessary weight. Instead of carrying a heavy, bound journal, or a too-small notebook, or even just some empty sheets of paper from my printer, I create and carry a signature or two of Tyvek covered pages.  In bookbinder lingo, a signature is simply a number of sheets of paper folded in half.  I turn these folded sheets of paper into a booklet by wrapping them with a Tyvek cover and stitching the pages and cover together. Eventually I will bind these signatures  filled with adventures and desert inspired stories into books.

Tyvek journals, numbered for order and with text on the covers notes specific trips and dates.

Tyvek journals, numbered, dated and with trip locations noted on the covers. The five new journals on top are for my upcoming two week Escalante trek.

You can use any type or size of paper you desire in your booklets.  I prefer paper of a little heavier weight, and not just printer paper, and tend to stick with something close to 8 1/2 by 11 inches in size.  My signatures, or booklets, are usually 5 to 7 pages. My wife Mia, a bookbinder, has made travel journals for our family trips by interspersing writing pages with heavier, watercolor quality paper so we can include paintings and sketches of our travels. You can see more of her work at Photo-Mia.com.

Travel journals from the studio of Photo-Mia.

Three of our travel journals, of odd sizes with more complex designs. We design them at least large enough to mount 4 by 6 photos.

Tyvek backpack journals are simple to create.  Materials needed are 5 to 7 sheets of paper, a piece of Tyvek at least 1/4 inch larger in both dimensions than the paper you have chosen, and a length of thread.  You will need a ruler, needle, awl, and scissors.  We use waxed linen thread from our bindery for our books, but heavier embroidery thread can also be used.  If you don’t have an awl, you can use your sewing needle to punch the holes in the paper and Tyvek cover.


Tools and materials needed to construct Tyvek backpack journals.

Instructions for Assembly

Fold your chosen pages in half.  Fold three to five lighter bond sheets at a time.  Put all of the sheets for the booklet together and make sure they are properly aligned all around.  Next you will need to measure out holes for stitching.  Four holes is adequate.  Measure down the spine- the folded edge of the paper- on the inside and mark your holes in pencil.  You can lay them out as you wish, for example measure one inch from each end, top and bottom,  and mark for a hole, then divide the remaining space in the center of these holes by three.  Mark the two locations in the center of the outside holes.  If you are planning to make a series of these booklets for later binding together, be sure to lay them all out the same.

Marking location of holes in folded signature.

Marking location of holes in folded signature.

Now you are ready to  punch the holes.  Hold all the aligned sheets tightly together and punch from the inside, where you have made pencil marks, out.

Punching holes in folded signature.

Punching holes in folded signature.

Next is the Tyvek cover.  The simplest way to lay out the cover is to cut a piece that is larger than necessary and trim it later once the booklet is stitched.  Fold the piece of Tyvek in half.  Place the already punched pages inside.  Holding the cover and pages securely, push the awl back through the holes in the paper to make matching holes in the Tyvek. Be sure that the Tyvek does not slip as you punch the holes.  You are now ready to stitch.

You will need about 20 inches of thread for an 8 1/2 inch high booklet.  Starting inside at one end, push the needle through the first hole outward.  Leave about 4 inches of thread remaining inside the booklet.  Move down to the next hole on the outside of the spine and push the needle back in.  Holding the far end of the thread securely, tug the working end to make sure it is tight. Do this after moving through each hole.  Move down to the next hole on the inside and thread outward.  Continue this process working down, and then back up to where you began.  The two ends of the thread should meet when finished.  Remove the needle from the thread and tie the two ends securely.  Trim the ends, leaving about 1/4 inch remaining.

Stitching journal.  Begin at one end, working down, then back to start point.

Stitching journal. Begin at one end, working down, then back to start point.

The final step is to trim the Tyvek cover.  I push the Tyvek firmly against the sheets of paper inside so that it leaves a faint line on the outside of the cover.  I will then trim outside of this line, being sure to leave about 1/8 inch of the Tyvek extending beyond the edge of the paper.

Cover with edges of signature inside burnished to show through. This helps with trimming the cover down to size.

Cover with edges of signature inside burnished to show through. This helps with trimming the cover down to size. Bottom edge has already been trimmed.

To read about more homemade gear for backpacking, visit the Homemade Gear pages at the Desert Explorer website.