Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tracker School Follow-up - Busy Summer!

Although I was committed to posting here for each New Moon - Wow! This summer has just been flying by! I've been getting a lot of extra hours at Lowe's, which is good, because it's helping me save up for a more appropriate camping vehicle (besides my dad's Cadillac!), but bad because I've had very little time to do much of anything else...including getting to the library to post to this blog more regularly. Nevertheless, I'm kind of guessing the summer is flying by for my readers as well, so I doubt many of you have been anxiously waiting my next post!

To follow-up from where I left off - I had a really Great time at Tracker School. As we were eventually informed, they usually have 14 volunteers for the Standard Class. Seven of those cancelled at the last minute so the rest of us were left to make up the difference. And we did, much to the appreciation of the camp staff. However, it also meant we did not have as much time to interact with students, review courses, etc., which was kind of a bummer. I guess, I'm just going to have to go back and volunteer again!

One of the other volunteers, Joey Yazer, acted as "camp photographer" and he's given me permission to share several of his photos here. Joey hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia where he works as a veterinarian and a sea kayak guide. Who knows, maybe a little sea kayaking tour is in my future...after I get that new car, of course!

So for the story of my week-long stay at Tom Brown, Jr's Tracker School...

Day One: Getting Lost!

Yep! That's right! I Got Lost the first day of Tracker School!

It started out innocently enough. I just followed a trail behind the kitchen into the woods to find a nice quiet spot where I could "sit" for a while, snack on some food I'd brought with me, and do a little journaling. I started heading back, and somehow got off on another trail that took me out to one of the many (many!) logging roads that crisscross through the Pine Barrens. I saw lots of tire tracks and I immediately assumed they belonged to the vans that had been busy shuttling us from the office in town to the camp. I actually had my topo maps in hand during that trip, though it was difficult to keep track of all of the minor trails we crossed on the way in. And, even though I left the maps back at my campsite, I was confident that I would see the turn-out for camp "just around the next corner" to my right, so I headed that way at a good pace.

Unfortunately, the turn-off did not reveal what I expected. So I back-tracked, but then I couldn't find where I had exited onto the road in the first place, etc., etc. I had taken a heading with my compass when I set up my tent, so I was sure the door was facing east, and I kind of new I was west of that when I went off behind the kitchen. Unfortunately, even though I had my compass in the pocket of the nylon riding vest I was wearing, I didn't remember I'd put it there until - oh, a couple of hours of wandering around in the woods! At that point, I tried to set out on a heading that I thought would take me back to camp, but I missed a critical reference point and got way past camp before I realized it.

Now, granted, I was never actually anxious or scared. Why? Well, I knew I knew how to build a debris shelter and I was at TRACKER SCHOOL, so if I was finally missed, someone was going to be able to find me! And just as it was starting to get really dark, about three hours later, I saw the lights of a vehicle approaching and smiled and waved and laughed a bit as Dan, one of the camp staffers, pulled up beside me. He had seen my tracks (which I was making purposefully obvious on the sandy road) and knew there was no reason for someone to be out that far on foot. I was definitely relieved to see him and happy to accompany him back to town where he was to pick-up one last student.

Lessons Learned: Many! There are so many things I did wrong in this scenario. A) Forgetting I had my compass on me. B) Not taking the topo maps I had with me in the first place. C) Not sure it would have been useful, but I didn't have my phone on me either, nor did I have a flashlight. D) I "sped" away from my original location without taking a few minutes to really get my bearings. Granted, there might have been a small part of me that kind of wanted to get lost! I knew I was relatively safe here and that I was at TRACKER SCHOOL...so, again, I figured someone would find me if I did not find my way back on my own.

I'm glad I did not have to build a shelter, but I think I would have managed okay if I actually had to, and under any other circumstance I would have probably started doing that much sooner rather than waiting until after the sun went down. I did have some food and water so that was good. And the whole experience certainly impressed on me the fact that...just like that...especially in an area where there are many trails/old logging roads, etc., a person can get lost. (By the way, those tire tracks...mostly belonged to ATV riders!) So learning basic survival skills really is a good idea for anyone who spends any time in the woods!

Sleep: Not much. Although my body felt kind of warm inside my sleeping bag, I woke up shivering uncontrollably!  Got to thinking I might have actually been better off in a debris shelter!

Day Two: Garlic Prep - Solar Still

I was assigned to lead the Kitchen Clean-up crews for the week. Every student has to sign-up to help in some capacity through the week, so crews for each job change each day, while the volunteers provide for leadership and continuity between shifts. It's a pretty cool system and it helps people appreciate each other's efforts. As there was a little work left over from "chop crew" I took on the task of preparing the garlic. As I explained to those who asked, I decided to remove the center stem sections from each piece before chopping it up. As I learned from a friend of mine who had attended culinary school, that little bit of plant stem in the middle of the garlic is what causes it to leave more of a lingering garlic taste in your mouth...the kind that lasts long after you're finished eating it. As I am not a big fan of that effect, I wanted to do this job at least as much for myself as everyone else. Very tedious, and a bit daunting when you have as much as a pound or so of garlic cloves to work through, but I persevered!

That same perseverance was required as we gathered sphagnum moss from the bog and blueberry leaves from the many wild blueberries growing all over the camp property for the Solar Still demo. Granted, I was much more conscientious about where I wandered during this collection process, given my previous experience getting lost in the woods! This is also when I finally got the chance to strike up more conversation with Joey Yazer. We found a lot in common when it came to our thinking about camp activities.

In addition to the above, I tried to make a Figure Four trap for the lecture the next day. Glad no one was depending on it from me, because traps and snares are definitely not my specialty. Something I need to work on a little more here in the near future! But there were others provided by volunteers Alex and Jenn, to make up for my lack of skill.

Sleep: I had a bit of a debate with Joey about sleeping with or without clothing. I was leaning towards the without part, as I understood the more skin-to-skin contact the more heat generated. His reasoning was that more layers, meant more insulation from the surrounding cold air. I added my wool blanket around my sleeping bag rather than just layered under it for night two, started without much clothing, continuing the argument with Joey in my head...until, finally, he "won" and I added some silk long-johns and pant layers back on. Still shivered a good part of the night, though!

Day Three: Pine Pollen and Acorn Day

Bright and early I headed out to collect Pine Pollen for the cammo demonstration. Again, I was much more careful about where I wandered, paying more attention to my surroundings, what the roads looked like from both directions. I came to an exit/entrance to camp where several vehicles were parked. There was also a big blue dumpster there. I recognized this as a place that I had passed at least once if not twice as I was wandering around the first night.

I had a large plastic Ziploc bag with me and I would enclose it around low hanging pine buds, tap them vigorously, forcing them to disperse their pollen, watching it spill into the bag. I soon began to appreciate the different stages of the buds, and the color that indicated a better chance of pollen - a pale yellow-green, as opposed to darker green (not mature) and light tan (too old). I also couldn't help but think that I was collecting "tree sperm" (!) and getting it all over my clothing in the process! As it was definitely "that time of year" for the pine trees, it didn't take me too long to get a tablespoon or so accumulated in the bottom of the bag.

The next task was shelling and peeling acorns for the bison acorn stew that was one of the items on the food demo menu. Master Ethnobotonist,  Karen Sherwood, brought two, gallon-sized Ziploc bags full of acorns for us to process. She assumed, since they had been frozen, and the one's she had already shelled seemed to have fairly loose skins, that the rest would also peel easily. Leaving us to the work, Jenn, one of the other volunteers, and I combined our efforts and, once again, in spite of the tediousness of the task, gave our full attention to it...for most of the rest of the day!

Karen had made the point that removing the inner skin of the acorn was considered "the polite thing to do" to show respect for the people who would eventually be eating them. It also helped to avoid any bitterness from the tannin in the skins. However, most of the acorns were not as "loose skinned" as Karen had assumed, and when we brought that fact to her attention later in the day, she decided she could probably boil them off more easily than we could peel them. Nevertheless, it took a full-crew of maybe eight of us, gathered around the dimly lit central kitchen counter, shelling and breaking the acorns into pieces, late into the night, in order to complete the task! It was fun though, as we eventually passed the time sharing stories and telling jokes...probably not that much differently from the Native Americans who would have processed acorns like this centuries ago!

Sleep: Dan graciously retrieved my second wool blanket from the car during one of his trips back to the office, so I added that to the layers of sleeping bag, liner, and other wool blanket. I slept somewhat better, although my back and neck were definitely aching from all of the focused acorn processing we'd done during the day.

Day Four:  Jerky Drying, Pine Needle Gathering, Full Moon Camp Fire

The major demonstrations for the day included building a Debris Shelter and learning camouflage techniques. I helped to clean-up the debris shelter area, but was not really that enthusiastic about getting painted in mud, ash, and leaves. I was, however, more than happy to tend the fire for drying the beef jerky! Which I did...diligently...all day long...mostly by myself!

Another great learning opportunity: Although we thought we had wood that had cured for a year, its dampness told us otherwise. So that made the task a little more challenging. I struggled at first to get the low flame Karen requested. Joey gently guided me with some instruction and, eventually, by gathering strips of cedar bark from the brush piles near the demo area, I found a way to maintain and feed the fire to keep it "just right" for drying, but not cooking the meat. My method evolved to include two or three larger "parent" sticks, which I gradually edged into the fire from a starburst pattern. In addition to these, I placed several strips of much lighter "child" wood/bark that I could add or remove as necessary to keep the flame low, but still going. It was definitely a kind of meditation/service that I was happy to provide and the final product was much appreciated by staff and students alike!

At the end of the day, Jenn, Rocco and I went off to gather some pine needles in the moonlight, to make "pine needle tea" for the meal the next day. Then I joined Joey, Alex, and several other students for a campfire sing-along. I wanted to sing my "Full Moon" song, but didn't get the chance. I finally went off to my tent, in much need of rest, especially since my back had taken another beating with all the fire feeding!

Day Five: More Pollen, Wild Food Feast

I started the day gathering more pollen for Karen's wild food lecture and demonstration. Rocco, Alex, Joey, Jenn, Vince and Conrad prepped the cooking area which included a rock-boiling station for cooking muscles, a long trench fire pit for spit cooking chickens and an adjacent trench for demonstrating direct coal and hot rock cooking of pork chops. There was also a large steam cooking pit into which whole cabbages, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and leafy greens, including the juicy bottoms of cattail fronds and lily pads were placed over a bed of hot rocks then covered with plywood, plastic tarps, and sand. Coals and hot rocks were fed from a central fire.

Vince and Karen having a laugh.
Alex tending the central fire.
Conrad using clay to secure the sandy edge of the steam pit.
Karen demonstrating rock boiling.
Chicken on the spit.
Pork frying on the hot rocks.
Rocco basting the chickens.
Karen about to "reveal" the many foods "hidden" in the steam pit.

Getting ready to serve the Wild Food Feast!

Me with my Ash Cake for dessert.

After a busy day of feasting, we gathered again around the camp fire. Thanks to Joey's encouragement, I got to sing my "Full Moon" song and then, student Mana Raven shared a beautiful story and song from Australia:
When the wind blows,
see how the leaves go, Trees
bend your branches down.
Listen very closely you can hear the sound of
roots, spreading deep below... 

I found her song to be such a gift. One that I'm sure I will carry with me for the rest of my life!

Sleep: Much better than the previous nights. Back still hurting though.

Day 6: Track and Plant Identification, Fish Fry, Sweat Lodge Ceremony

This day started with more food prep help in the kitchen. Followed by the track identification portion of the course. Each volunteer and then each student takes turns recognizing a track along surrounding trails and then identifying it for the others who follow-behind them. It is clear that there is a real skill to seeing the often faint signs.

In addition to track identification, I volunteered to help keep track of time for Karen as she presented the plant identification part of the course. It was an honor and a privilege to be able to listen-in to the discussion for both of student groups she led. I really appreciate Karen's extensive knowledge and hope that I will be able to attend her Ethnobotony course at some point in the not too distant future.

Taking a closer look at a Colt's Foot Leaf.
For the evening meal, Frank Sherwood taught the students how to clean fish and wrap them with salt, spices, and lemon, then cook them on the coals. I observed at the fire pit, and tried to help everyone keep track of their time. A few particularly creative students found some scraps of wood/bark that they fashioned into "fish plates" to carry their hot fish back to the lecture area. Another woman, who did not really want her fish, offered it to me instead. It was much appreciated as I had not had a chance to prepare my own or eat much of anything else that day!

After the fish fry, I had a little time to shop in the camp store. Tom's wife, Celeste, was there, tending the cash-box. As I made my purchase, she started to recognize me from when we had met when I was a student several years before. She called Tom over, and re-introduced me to him, reminding him of our meeting, and my intentions to ride my bicycle cross-country. I told them both a little more about how all of that had worked out. It was good to make that connection with them again.

We ended the evening with a Sweat Lodge Ceremony. Vince again assisted with building the fire pit in the designated area next to the lodge. As part of the ceremony, students bring their bow-drill fire-making kits and the first person to ignite their tinder bundle has the honor of starting the main fire, first from the eastern corner, and with each student after that working their way around to the corner facing south. Everyone continues to add their fire, their "energy" to the main fire as they succeed with their kits and tinder bundles. I remember this from my experience as a student, and just as then, there were a few students who managed to get their fires started for the first time, followed by a dramatic outpouring of emotion, including many tears. I will offer that starting a fire this way, from "scratch", was one of the most empowering experiences of my life, so I can understand why it has this impact on others as well!

As the sun went down the fire continued to burn, heating up the rocks inside it until they were glowing red. In the dark of night, with the moon rising above, the students were led into the lodge. Vince and Karen provided prayer and ceremonial "smudging" with green cedar bundles, before we began removing the rocks and transferring them to the lodge as a coordinated team. My job was using another cedar "brush" to remove any bits of ember that might have clung to the rocks as they were removed with pitch forks and transferred to metal wheel barrows. The rocks sparkled with bits of ash and stone as they came out of the fire and as I brushed them off. It was like stars from the heavens were in those rocks, and soon to be placed in the dark "womb" of the lodge.

When all the rocks had been transferred, we joined the students...all 70+ of them along with other staff members and Karen's husband, Frank, who led the ceremony. It seemed somewhat shorter than what I remember from the first time. I was glad for the extra time allowed for the volunteers after the student's left, but I could have stayed much longer, especially since I never really broke a sweat!

After coming out of the lodge, we stood around the remaining embers of the feeder fire for a while, just quietly taking everything in and appreciating all that we had experienced through the week, and the new relationships formed with warmhearted and like-minded people.

Sleep: Went well...until early morning...when the rain started to fall!

Day 7: Striking Camp - Saying Farewell to New Friends

I woke to the sound of rain on my tent. Not a good thing on the day you're supposed to be packing! I re-positioned my extra fly, to block more of the rain, as well as the tent fly itself, which I had failed to stake down at the sides. This helped prevent any more seepage into the tent itself, protecting its contents. Consequently, I was able to get most of my gear packed dry, everything but the tent and fly. They went into their respective bags completely soaked!

It was my understanding that it had rained just before the students arrived for this class, and I had this feeling that the rain was kind of "cleansing" the ground, removing tracks, etc., preparing the way for the new students who would be attending the following Advanced Tracking and Awareness course.

At the kitchen, the camp staffers were cooking up a big breakfast, with all the fixings, including eggs, bacon, and hash browns. Dan demonstrated his considerable talent at the grill, ambidextrously flipping hash browns like a true professional!

The rain continued as the students, now with their raincoats on and wet gear in tow, gathered in the "Taj" for one more lecture from Tom. I sat to his far left where Rocco soon came and joined me. Tom talked about his true awakening in Grandfather's company, a few years into his training, when he realized he hadn't really fully grasped the depth of Grandfather's teaching, his deep connection with and respect for all living things. He encouraged us to not make the same mistake he did; to not waste any time in learning and feeling into that Depth of Awareness ourselves.

Then it was time to start loading the trailers and vans and shuttling people back to the office. My pants had soaked through while sitting on the bench and I tried to dry out a little by the wood stove while Joey played his small guitar, singing and leading others in song, the women young and old dancing around him. I wish I'd taken a picture of that, but my camera was buried deep in my over-stuffed back-pack!

As the morning stretched long, and people, including myself got hungry for "lunch", peanut butter and jelly sandwiches appeared. I went back to the kitchen, but the bread was gone before I got to fix a sandwich for myself. To compensate, I opened my can of Pilot Crackers, fixed a couple of cracker sandwiches, and then left the rest behind for everyone else to enjoy along with the remainder of peanut butter and jelly.

Joey and I shared the ride to the office. Crammed in the van with several other students. All of us wet and steamy! The rain continued to pour as we unloaded. My dad's Cadillac sat at a corner of the parking lot where the water was several inches deep. I decided to move it to higher ground before loading my gear. Joey and I hugged, and said our "Good-byes."...at least for a while....

Overall, it was a week in the woods, very well spent! Definitely a blue-green square on my "Life Calendar"!

Next Stop: Millville, PA and a visit with friends, Tom Anderson and his mother, Melanie!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Back to Tracker School!

In my last post I offered up a way to track your life via a "Life Calendar" from WaitbutWhy.com.
I'm proud to say, I've been able to continue my run of "green" weeks so far for my 52nd year...


That's right. I have been accepted to volunteer for the "Standard" Course, May 7-13th, at the Primitive Camp in Waretown, NJ. En route, I'll be stopping to visit my friend, Ilona, in Maryland, and on my way back, I'll be visiting with my friend Tom and his family in Pennsylvania. Although I've checked the long-term weather forecasts, which look good for most of the trip. The last few days might be a bit rainy, so I haven't scheduled any other camp-outs or park visits on the way back...but we'll see? That may change in the next 10 days!

So there has been a lot to do to get ready for a return to Tracker School. I bought a good quality, four-season tent from REI a while back, but it was at a "garage sale" event and the tent was damaged. It originally had a clear plastic window of some kind in the front alcove covering of the tent fly, and, apparently, the previous owners had some kind of heat source under it and melted it away! Since the fabric is coated, I had a bit of trouble finding an adhesive to stick clear polyvinyl to coated nylon. This was my first attempt, and it looked fine at first...

...and then peeled right off again!

So I eventually had to come up with something a little more involved...creating a double sided binding from nylon taffeta off an old umbrella, and sewing it all together. So now my "portal" window has more of a frame around it.

Maybe not quite as neat as the first time, but it will hold better than glue.

In addition to issues with the window, the old seam sealer was cracked a peeling from everywhere. I've had to scrape that off and apply new sealant, some more of which I'm waiting to arrive from Amazon tomorrow to finish the job.

One of my other projects was making a set of moccasins. I couldn't find any good pieces of leather, so I decided to go with a basic kit. Unfortunately, my feet have really spread as I have aged and I have significant bunions on my big toes. Kind of runs in my family. So even the "Large" kit didn't give me enough space across the toes. Rather than give up, I bought a small kit as well. Used the bottom from the large one as the sole, and the bottom of the small kit for the upper toe/tongue area, with a little trimming. The holes were already punched to match, except for the ones for the string across the instep. Yah, they came out a little loose, but I'll manage. And I can get a thick sock in there with them if I want to! (And now I have some smaller leather scraps to play with as well.)


In addition to the above, I put a new zipper in my old bicycle raincoat, and cleaned it, my pants, and hiking boots before re-waterproofing them. I've sorted through some of my older clothes, including my old swimsuit from my days in the Navy...which I think I wore once while I was in boot camp. Turns out...it still fits! And rather comfortably as well! So that will also be coming with me on this trip.

I still have several other little projects, and a couple of reversible capes to leave behind for my friend Ken...from the Long Hunter group I mentioned in this post. He's running an auction to raise funds for Logan Station and I offered to contribute these a while back.

Of course, I also needed a new backpack to put all of my gear in and I found what I think might turn out to be the perfect one for me. I took advantage of a recent REI sale on this Deuter Transit 65 Travel Pack.  It features an height-adjustable harness and a detachable mini back-pack that has already worked really well for a trail hike or two since I got it. Not too big, not too small. Just right! Furthermore, for the bigger trip I'm planning now, and for future travel, the main bag has room as well as a special cover to zip over the straps so they will not get caught in luggage racks or moving equipment at the airport. And again, the smaller outer pack can zip-off as a carry-on! I was hoping to have it all packed before this post, but I'm not quite there yet. Will let you know in my next post, how that works out!

When I wrote my last post, I had not received notice from the Tracker School yet about being accepted as a volunteer and I had another blog in mind to post for this month...Building Your Knowledge Base by Starting Local. As the librarian is shutting down the computers here...I'll have to get back to that Next Month! In the mean time...here's a plate of goodies I gathered from my front yard today:

 Starting from 9 o'clock position: young Plantain leaf, two varieties of Wood Sorrel, White Clover, Thistle leaves and flowers, from 8 o'clock: Purple Violet leaves and flower, Chickweed, Henbit (a little aged), Dandelion, Pennsylvania Cress, and on the bottom, early May Apple, and older Toothwort. All of these were found around my yard! So, what's in yours?

Happy Foraging!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Art of Side Excursions - When There's So Much to Do and So Little Time!

Since the full moon of February 26th fell on a Sunday, at the end of a long work week/weekend, I found myself without time to get to the library to post anything to this blog. I really am committed to putting something out each month, but sometimes, it just doesn't work out for me to do that!

By taking myself on a little excursion to Tennessee, hitting both Kentucky and Tennessee State Parks both ways, I feel I made up for my writing lapse. It was good to get out of the local area, out of the house on a couple of non-work days (that were not cloudy and cold), and do some "scouting" around for future site visits.

But, before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to flashback a bit to something I started almost two years ago now - my "Life Calendar".

 I found this calendar after reading some really good articles on procrastination from the author of "Wait, But Why?"  It's compact design allows you to see a life-span of 90 years in the space of a standard-sized poster board (2ft x 3ft). Each block represents one week and there are 52 weeks across and 90 years down.

The blue square on the calendar pictured here marks the week when I first started using it. The squares I've colored yellow are average weeks with no significant accomplishments towards any life goals. The yellow-green to green weeks represent weeks that I did manage to accomplish something major towards my personal goals - like posting to this blog. As is easy to see, there have not been as many green weeks as yellow ones so far although I'm off to a good start for the first week of my 52nd year!

One of the purposes of this calendar is to reinforce the fact that the time we have in any given life Has a Limit! And we should keep in mind how really precious our time here is. It was a bit of an eye opener for me when I colored in that first blue square and realized that I was well past the half-way point for a 90 year life span. Granted, I may live longer than that, but the truly healthy, fully-functioning years I have left are clearly limited, and I do not want to take that for granted! In addition, given the personal history I've spoken of before, I continue to feel like I'm having to play "catch-up". Who knows if that feeling will ever go away?

Part of the reason for my trip south was to visit the closest REI store to me in Brentwood, TN. I've been thinking about getting a hiking backpack and I wanted to take some time to actually get fitted for one, although I will probably end up ordering it on-line now that I've figured out what I need. In addition, I picked up some cleaning and waterproofing solutions for my hiking boots, old cycling rain coat, and black Goretex pants.

On the way down to Tennessee, I passed through the Mammoth Cave Park Visitor's Center. I had read in The Wright Guide to: Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds that Mammoth Cave State Park has quite a few back-country trails and primitive camp sites. It's kind of funny because I was on my way back to my car, glancing at some of the literature I'd picked up, when I realized I really didn't have anything for back-country camping, which was one of the main goals of my visit. (Guess I was overwhelmed by all of the cool stuff at the gift store and historical/informational walking tour!) So I turned myself around and went back into the visitor's center and asked one of the staff about campsites. Turns out I actually NEEDED to ask in order to get an official Back-country Camping map as they only print a limited number and, consequently, only give them to people who really want them! I'm sure glad I decided to go back in!

In addition to the map, I also had one other thing I wanted to look into of a more personal nature. Sometime in the mid-'80s, I was part of a surveying team along with my boyfriend at the time, Frank Bogle. (I think...? We've been in contact since and he doesn't remember it...?) The mission of the team was to continue exploring unmapped areas of the Mammoth Cave System, a mission that continues to this day. I had the opportunity to be the first to enter a "virgin" passage and was told, at the time, that they were going to name it "Lori Lane". As I was curious if that ever actually happened, I took a moment to discuss it with the gentleman at the information desk. He was intrigued and offered to do whatever he could to find out for me, taking my contact info so he could follow-up. He called me back later that day to let me know he was putting it into the hands of people "further up the chain" (so to speak), and would continue to do whatever he could to answer my question. It was very gratifying to interact with someone so genuinely interested and helpful. As of the writing of this post, I haven't heard anything else.

From Mammoth Cave I continued south to Brentwood and the REI store. I headed for the restroom first and as I passed I was greeted by an older gentleman who worked there, and then I also heard him ask of another customer something along the lines of, "Are you finding everything okay?" It kind of struck me: a) this is a retail store...like Lowe's, and b) that's exactly how I interact with customers as well! Then I got to thinking, "Hmmm? Maybe I should consider working for an REI store at some point in the future?!"

As I came out of the restroom I headed straight for the man who had greeted me and shared my thoughts with him on working in a retail store, which he appreciated. I then explained my need to be fitted for a backpack. He helped me first to determine my torso length with a harness designed for that purpose, then through testing two styles before a young woman employee came over and showed me a third, which probably turned out to be the better choice for me. They were both very helpful, let me know there was a 20% off Member Coupon coming out soon, and also reminded me of the Garage Sale on March 18th. However, as I had already "spent my wad" for the trip I was currently on, I figured the Garage Sale was probably not in my future. It's okay though, as I still feel I made out pretty well at the one I went to in Atlanta, GA back in 2015!

From Brentwood I traveled mostly east to Cookeville, TN to visit with Eston and Peggy Evans who have been friends of mine since I was a student at Tennessee Tech. I knew Eston first as my German Professor, and then he and Peggy as something close to "adoptive parents" after my mom went into the mental hospital.

Before unloading the car, we took a quick tour around their yard and I showed them as many of the edible plants as I could pick out including Pennsylvania Bitter Cress, Henbit, and Chickweed...nibbling along the way. I managed to identify many of them in my own back yard recently, so all were familiar to me. I also pointed out that they could make tea from pine tree needles. I shared some of the small buds with them. Eston said they tasted like Gin! (I haven't consumed much gin myself, but I will keep that in mind for future reference!)

Eston cooked up a tuna and pasta dish for supper and our lively conversation continued through that and into the living room afterwards. Next morning, we went to breakfast at Grandma's Pancake House were I had some yummy Mandarin orange crepes. Upon our return to the house, I loaded my overnight bag, etc. back into the car. A few pictures later, and multiple good-byes, and I was back on the road again. It was really good to catch up with two people I feel so very grateful to call friends!

For my trip north I decided to stop at Standing Stone State Park near Hilham, Tennessee. I paused at the dam of Kelly Lake, and then headed on up the hill to the Vistors' Center.

I noted the very well developed cabin camping area, tried to identify some of the trees, and then went inside.       

In the very tiny "gift shop" area I found some really cool, weatherproof, identification pocket guides. I looked through the rack carefully, double-checked the cash I had in my purse, and bought as many as I could afford (with about 7 cents to spare)!

From the Visitor's Center I headed back down to the dam/lake area, parked the car, grabbed my camera, and headed down the trail that ran very close to the edge of the lake.

The water was really clear and looked like perfect bluegill and bass habitat. I followed the trail all the way to a large covered pier, continuing to be impressed with the accommodations. I picked up a couple of worm containers someone had left behind and headed back to the car as quickly as I could. I had gotten it into my head that if I could purchase a one-day fishing permit, I might just stay to fish since I always keep my tackle in the trunk of the car!

So back to the visitor's center for a second time! Unfortunately, they did not sell the permits there although I could access the website on-line at tennessee.gov/twra. Once there I found out a three-day fishing permit, with no trout would cost me $20.50, including trout would cost $40.50. Since I was only there for the day, I felt it was a bit more than I was willing to pay either way. However, for any future fishing trips across the state line, I now know how to be prepared!

Leaving Standing Stone I continued north on TN-136 to TN-52 towards Celina and reached Dale Hollow Dam only a short time later. I took the road to the Dale Hollow Dam Recreation Area, and, camera in hand once again, began wandering the banks and grounds, taking pictures of potential/prime campsites, the shoreline with deep clear water, and a few wildflowers along the banks (to be identified later). It was quite beautiful and peaceful (as the camp was closed and I was the only person there)!

(The flowers I later identified as Periwinkle and Speedwell.)

I drove up to and across the dam itself, continuing to take pictures along the way, scouting out other potential (shoreline) fishing spots.

 (The tree that was growing near the parking lot of the dam, I later re-identified as a Honey Locust. I say "re-identified" because, with my mother's encouragement, I used it in a "science" project when I was in, maybe, second or third grade highlighting plants that also had symbolic/religious stories associated with them - these thorns taking the form of crosses, along with the "nail prints" on Dogwood blossoms, etc.)

I was working with a bit of a time limit since I was due back at the Green River Lake Corps of Engineers Visitors' Center to lead the Friends of Green River Lake meeting the same evening. Before getting home, I made one last stop at Long Hunter Outfitters and had a little chat with Shane, sharing my experience visiting the parks, and showing him the identification guides, thinking it might be something he and Daniel, the owner of the store, might want to stock.

I made it back home in time to make a couple of sandwiches for me and my dad for supper before heading to the FGRL meeting. All-in-all, I feel it was a very productive two-day, mid-week excursion!

The follow-up has been to take all of those pamphlets I collected and get them organized! To that end, I will offer that some time ago, I already started a notebook to keep track of Tracker School/Alone Show related expenses and miscellaneous product info. It made sense to just add a few more clear plastic sheet protectors to put all of my new info and maps in as well.

As you can see, I've got my pocket for my local NatGeo topo maps, as well as other paper maps and guides. I'm a little partial to hard copies in the first place, but as I have been watching "Survivorman" episodes recently, he does tend to make a point that your phones/GPS units might not always work, especially in remote areas. Besides, it really is a lot easier to get a broader overview of your surroundings with a larger paper map compared to a smaller iPad or iPhone screen.

(I've got some more to say about maps and logistics/trip planning, but I'll save that for a future post!)

As for the next "New Moon Challenge": A) Remember Life Is Short! If you're having trouble grasping just how short it is, get your own "Life Calendar" from "Wait, But Why?". B) If you're having trouble finding time to Get Out There: Next time you take a road trip Anywhere see what parks are along the way, or could be if you left time for a side-trip. If you're on-line, be sure you zoom in on your map as those little green areas don't always show up in the more distant overview. Even if you don't plan to stay (right away), just stop and take a look around for future reference. It's not always easy to know what's available just from looking at pictures on a website. C) Lots of "left-over" winter weather hanging around in some areas as I write this (March 20th). However, some prime wild edibles are starting to grow and now is a great time to grab your guides and do some "yard work"; i.e. find whatever you can eat that's already growing in your own yard! You might be lucky enough to make a wild green salad like this one!

Consider that "ground zero" of your own personal knowledge map...something else I'll be writing about in my next post!

Until then...Happy Spring! And Happy Hunting, Gathering, and Scouting...in no particular order!

(P.S. Still figuring out how to best get these posts out on schedule! More practice required! :) )

Friday, January 27, 2017

What Would You Choose from the "Alone" Show Personal Survival Items?

I am actually going to open on a sad note: I said good-bye to "Buddy" on January 18th. He was a stray cat that showed up at our house earlier in the fall and decided to stay.  He got out onto the main road and was run over. I buried his terribly mangled body near the butterfly bushes where he would hang out to "stalk" the birds and squirrels that came to the feeder.

I have mixed feelings about his passing. He came to us with ear mites that he would not let me treat and so he was suffering from that right up to the time he died. Also, as an older cat, I was not all that thrilled by the idea of getting him neutered. I thought it might be an unwelcome change to his already fully developed character. Finally, I was concerned about what might happen to him for the times I expect to be away, either volunteering at Tracker School, or actually becoming a contestant on the "Alone" show. This is not the first time a cat has "left" me as I was in the midst of a life transition, so I hope it is actually a good omen and it was his way of freeing me to move forward. Based on what I saw, I suspect his death was a quick one. I hope he is resting in peace. 


As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently preparing myself to be a contestant on the "Alone" show which can be viewed on the History channel, Thursday nights at 9pm EST. Granted, they are not taking applications at this time, but I certainly want to be ready when they do start taking applications again, and I am orienting my life as if I will be chosen, even though I realize I will be up against who knows how many thousands of other applicants. (I think it was 5000 applicants for Season 3!) But I am perfectly okay with those odds, because, as I highlighted in my last post, it is giving me the very motivation I need to pursue goals that I already wanted to pursue anyway!

I have established a basic strategy, but, just to be safe, I'm not going to spill my guts on EVERYTHING I plan to do to prepare in this public forum. I don't want to give any would-be competitors that edge! Not that they're probably reading this blog, but why take any chances? I will continue to share some of what I am doing and leave the rest for others to figure out for themselves.

What I want to offer in this post is some of the same information that is available on the "Alone" show website with regards to what people are able to take with them. These are the lists I am working from, for instance, as I acquire clothing articles I do not already have, or experiment with various items with which I am not already familiar.

I am offering these lists to my readers for them to also consider what they would take with them. I have a printed copy of the lists below that I am taking notes on and carrying with me pretty much wherever I go folded up in my copy of Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival!

Here's the info from the show website:

Each Alone participant brings clothing, safety, and survival gear to Patagonia*. Here’s a list of all of the standard items the participants are given, as well as the master list from which they are allowed to select ten special items. Finally, there is a list of prohibited items.  
  *These items do not count towards the 10 special items, but may not exceed the approved quota for each.

  • 1 pair high leg Hunting boots
  • 2 pairs of Outdoor Pants (can unzip into shorts)
  • 1 t-shirt
  • 2 fleece or wool shirts (hooded or unhooded)
  • 3 pairs wool socks
  • 1 hat (brimmed, wool or baseball)
  • 1 bandana or shemagh
  • 1 pair gloves
  • 1 light outdoor jacket
  • 2 pairs underwear
  • 1 rain jacket and rain trousers
  • 1 thermal underwear (long)
  • 1 pair of gaiters
  • 1 pair of Crocs, Teva sandals or Keen sandals
  • 1 toothbrush
  • 1 pair of prescription eye glasses
  • 1 personal photograph
  *These items were provided to each participant and did not count towards the 10 special items.
  • 1 wool sweater (heavy)
  • 1 pair of gloves (wool/Dachsteins)
  • 1 trapper’s hat with ear protection or toboggan
  *We will provide the following items to each participant. These items do not count towards the 10 special items.
  • 2 safety tools (may consist of 1 air horn and/or 1 flare)
  • 1 rules and regulations guide
  • 1 backpack
  • 1 camera pack
  • Camera equipment
  • 1 emergency flare
  • 1 satellite phone
  • 1 emergency personal flotation device
  • 1 first aid kit (military type – tourniquet, wadding, ace bandage, alcohol, plastic bag, etc)
  • 1 small mirror
  • 1 10x10ft tarp
  • 1 10x10ft tarp (solely for protecting camera and equipment)
  • 1 GPS tracking device
  • 1 head lamp
  • 1 emergency rations pack to include water and food


  *Each participant must choose TEN total items from the following list. Selections are final. Once chosen, no items may be swapped out or replaced. These will be each participant’s unique tools used to survive in the wilderness on camera.
  • 12x12 ground cloth/tarp (grommets approved)
  • 8 mm climbing rope - 10M
  • 550 parachord - 20m
  • 1 hatchet
  • 1 saw
  • 1 ax
  • 1 multi-seasonal sleeping bag that fits within provided backpack
  • 1 bivy bag (Gore-Tex sleeping bag cover)
  • 1 sleeping pad
  • 1 hammock
  • 1 large (no more than 2 quart) pot, includes lid
  • 1 steel frying pan
  • 1 flint or ferro rod set
  • 1 enamel bowl for eating
  • 1 spoon
  • 1 canteen or water bottle
  • 1 bar soap
  • 1 8 oz tube of toothpaste
  • 1 face flannel
  • 1 40 m roll of dental floss
  • 1 small bottle bio shower soap
  • 1 shaving razor (and 1 blade)
  • 1 towel (30” x 60”)
  • 1 comb
  • 1 300-yard roll of nylon single filament fishing line and 25 assorted hooks (No lures)
  • 1 primitive bow with 6 Arrows (must be predominately made of wood)
  • 1 small gauge gill net (12' x 4' with 1.5" mesh)
  • 1 slingshot/Catapult + 30 steel ball bearings + 1 replacement band
  • 1 net foraging bag
  • 1 3.5 lb roll of trapping wire
  • 5 lbs of beef jerky (protein)
  • 5 lbs of dried pulses/legumes/lentils mix (starch and carbs)
  • 5 lbs of biltong (protein)
  • 5 lbs of hard tack military biscuits (carbs/sugars)
  • 5 lbs of chocolate (Simple/complex sugars)
  • 5 lbs of pemmican (traditional trail food made from fat and proteins)
  • 5 lbs of gorp (raisins, m&m's and peanuts)
  • 5 lbs of flour (starch/carbs)
  • 2 lbs of rice or sugar and 1 lb of salt
  • 1 pocket knife
  • 1 hunting knife
  • 1 Leatherman multi-tool
  • 1 sharpening stone
  • 1 roll of duct tape or 1 roll of electrical tape
  • 1 small shovel
  • 1 small sewing kit
  • 1 carabineer
  • 1 LED flashlight
  • 1 pair of ice spikes
  *The following items are PROHIBITED. This list is not exhaustive. Any item not listed above is also prohibited.
  • Fuel or matches
  • Bug spray/mosquito repellant.
  • Sunscreen/chap stick
  • Sunglasses
  • Beauty products
  • Map (detailed topographical)
  • Compass
  • Unapproved technology (anything with a battery or an engine, eg. cell phones, computers, watches, etc.)
  • Professional snares
  • Firearms of any kind
  • Ammunition
  • Explosives or gunpowder
  • Animal poison
  • Professional fishing rods
  • Fishing lures, flies, bait kits
  • Fishing traps
  • Food or beverage (except the options from the selection list)
  • Decoys
  • Animal calls
  • Tree stands
  • Professional bows or crossbows
  • Scopes of any kind
  • Tents or shelters
  • Stoves, pressure cookers or other cooking appliances
  • Hydration packs
  • Fire pits
  • Electric or propane lanterns
  • Inflatable boats
  • Filtration, purification devices, iodine tablets
  • Coolers or food storage boxes

 *At least for Season 3!

 I guess one thing to keep in mind is that any of this could change before new contestants are chosen, but, either way, there's a certain appeal to working within this framework just for the fun of it right now!

I will say at this point that I was lucky enough to find a pair of Muck Pursuit Fieldrunner "high leg hunting boots" at a local store for half the retail price (about $160 with tax down to about $80). I also have a "3.5 lb roll of trapping wire". I've never used it, never seen it before. I decided to get the 14 gauge instead of the 11. I also bought a Leatherman Wave multi-tool. After all, if I have heavy wire I'm going to need a tool to cut it!  Again, I may or may not share everything I come up with for using these things here on this blog. You might have to wait for "my" season to air to find out!

My New Survival Tools
Finally, I've been hiking around the Green River Lake area close to my house in part just to see what's there, but also to look for specific things. For instance, if you want to make a bow drill to start your fire, you need to know the difference between a Cotton Wood tree and an Oak!  If you want "easy" acorns, you need to know the difference between a White Oak and a Black Oak. If you want to try using natural flint to start a fire, you need to know what it looks like as well.

I will offer that I bought a $5 Mag Bar from Wal-Mart and the ferro rod broke away from the mag bar and then broke in half as I was practicing with it! Admittedly a simple case of "you get what you pay for". I have since continued to try banging rocks together and I have gotten sparks, but nothing big enough to start a fire! I'm going to keep trying though!

In the short run, I'm looking to take gear from the above lists into the woods for real "as if" practice - "as if" I were on the show. This past month I've been in accumulation mode. This month, I'm looking towards more implementation and documentation which should yield some better visuals! Also, I'm hoping to be producing some video material as that will be required with application as well.

In the mean time, over the next month, take another look at the lists above and consider what YOU would take with you into the woods to live for up to a year!