American Bushman

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." —Benjamin Franklin

Friday, March 30, 2007

Oceanside Expedition

Jake, Laura, and I headed for the beach yesterday for a little expedition.

We've been getting plenty of "Medicine in the Sky" (maybe too much) and the kids are definitely enjoying being so close to the Atlantic Ocean. The routine has been

  1. Breakfast
  2. Cartoons
  3. Snack
  4. Beach
  5. Pool
  6. Lunch
  7. Repeat above as necessary

Sometimes we head out looking for shells, Man O War, or other treats that may have washed up on the shore. We've seen coconuts, construction debris, a sea turtle (long ago,) crabs, snakes, and many other things that really appeal to young explorers and adventurers.

We talk about the long distance between us and the next landfall.

We discuss the possibility of baitfish, pushed shoreward by heavy winds out of the East, bringing behind them schools of fish or even sharks.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 29, 2007


Well, I blew right past the anniversary of this blog didn't I?

March 19th, 2006 was the day that changed my daily routine.

I think that first day I had less than a half-dozen readers. They were all friends and family who clicked the link I'd embedded into an email just to see what all the hubbub was about.

Now I'm getting hits from more than a dozen countries every day with more than a hundred returning visitors. My wife still doesn't read much but she's been here a few times.

There've been some postless periods but you've stuck it out and, I hope, been rewarded with something more substantial upon my return.

You must be enjoying what you're reading if you keep coming back. For that I'm grateful.

Thank you,


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Man O War

The Portuguese Man O War is coming.

These little jellyfish, also known as the bluebottle, wash ashore from time to time and last night they littered the beach. The problems presented by these creatures are two-fold. First, the sting of the Man O War can be extremely painful:

Bluebottle tentacles will cause a sharp, painful sting if they are touched, which is aggravated by rubbing the area. Intense pain may be felt from a few minutes to many hours and develops into a dull ache which then spreads to surrounding joints. The affected area develops a red line with small white lesions. In severe cases blisters and weals looking like a string of beads may appear. Victims may exhibit signs of shock. Children, asthmatics and people with allergies can be badly affected and many cases of respiratory distress have been reported in Australia. Australia Museum Online

The second problem stems from the fact that the Man O War simply looks like a translucent blue balloon which seems to draw in small children. Mine have been well educated on the Man O War and the implications of a sting so they give the Man O War on the beach a wide berth. Other kids on the beach and in the water have not been so lucky or so well trained.

If you happen to find yourself or someone else stung by a Man O War you should:

...leave the water immediately. If any part of the animal is still sticking to the skin, it should be gently lifted off with tweezers or a gloved hand. This will minimise the firing of more stinging capsules. Do not rub the area with wet sand or towel, or wash with alcohol as this will only make it worse. For milder stings, ice packs or local anaesthetic sprays are often effective in reducing pain. In extreme cases resuscitation may be needed and medical attention should be sought. Australia Museum Online

This seems to be more of a problem with heavier winds from the East (in this location) which push the Man O War and several varieties of bait fish toward the shore. The movement of bait fish presents other problems to swimmers and beachgoers but that is a discussion for another day.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Book idea

I've spent some time the past few days with author James Cannon and we were tossing around the idea just last night about writing a book.

This is something I've thought about in the past and I think I'm going to give it a go. Heck, I write this blog nearly every day already so the act of writing is not a foreign one.

I'm kicking around some ideas now and would like to get something "on paper" before heading home from Florida.

We'll see...

Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 26, 2007

Palmetto Frond Cordage

Today I planned to do some work with the Palmetto fronds that are everywhere down here. While grilling last night it occurred to me that I could make cordage from the dried fronds that were little more than litter.

Unfortunately I got up this morning with a little reminder that driving around all day with my arm hanging out the window while not wearing sunscreen is a bad idea.

So, instead, I'm laying low until the sun goes down a bit. Tonight I may go out and collect some fronds and work up on the patio.

Otherwise I'll nab some tomorrow during the day and try to shoot some pictures of the process. Perhaps I'll get Laura to do the photography while I work the cordage.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, March 25, 2007


Combine 80 degree temperatures, cool breezes, and high humidity and you've got an environment ripe for creating a problem with dehydration.

It's difficult to drink enough water here because your body isn't craving it but the combination of moving air and high temperatures cause fluid to leave your body at an alarming least it does mine.

Headaches are one of the first signs of dehydration. If I get a headache coming on I reach for my Nalgene full of ice water and take a nice long drag. I'm easily drinking four of those a day and I'm not even doing anything strenuous.

I hope to get in a nice hike tomorrow and then I'll really need the water. Too bad I've only got the one bottle. It'll be a great opportunity to get in some water treatment though.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, March 24, 2007


The humidity is everywhere. It gets in to every fiber of everything. Nothing ever feels quite completely dry down here.

We're on a strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway so feeling a bit damp all the time shouldn't be such a surprise.

One one hand, my skin, dried out by the Midwest winter, is already looking and feeling better. On the other, my books, my clothes, and the newspaper have lost that crispness I'm used to living in Illinois.

This is life in a tropical climate. It is the moisture that hangs in the air, combined with the all-year growing season, that has allowed the plants, decimated by two hurricanes just a few years ago, to bounce back so completely.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 23, 2007

Hello from Florida!

I'm in Florida for the next 10 days. We got in late last night but Laura was up early enough to get me to shoot a picture of the sunrise.

More to come...


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wildlife Discovery Center

After talking with "Mr. Edventure" at the local outdoor store the other night the kids and I decided to take a trip to the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Ed mentioned that he worked with alligators and caiman locally and so we had to take a trip to find out more. I made a call to Rob, the Center's Curator, and confirmed hours and directions and then loaded up the kids for a quick bite of lunch and a trip to see the reptiles.

We arrived just in time to see Ed heading out the door and he introduced us to Bryan Suson, the Head Animal Keeper, who showed us around, introduced us to Shelly the Gopher Tortoise, and generally entertained my endless inaccurate observations on reptiles, turtles versus tortoises, etc.

Check Jake's expression in the glass at the left edge of the image. Priceless!

He'd just realized that there was a caiman in the water right at his eye level when I snapped the picture.

Once the kids had a chance to pet Shelly, a Rhinoceros Iguana, and a very large albino Burmese Python, Bryan invited us to visit the venomous snake room which was normally off limits to guests. We, of course, couldn't wait to see what was behind that closed door. After a quick primer on the rules of the venomous snake room the kids walked through the door .

We saw the Eastern Massasauga, Lake County's only venomous snake. Of course there was a cobra, a puff adder, several species of rattlesnake, and this guy hiding in the corner. That's an Eastern Screech Owl named Squirt.

We spent quite a while there and then Bryan led us outside to the bird rescue cages where we spent some time watching a Red Tailed Hawk named Curly and a Harris Hawk named Navajo. Navajo was just finishing up a bit of what looked to be rabbit or rat (hard to tell at that point really) and Curly put on quite a show for Laura as he fluffed up his feathers, spread his wings, and danced across a beam from the back of the cage to the front.

Both kids got a real thrill from the visit and I plan on visiting again soon. I've lived here for almost 10 years now and never had a clue that this place existed until a chance encounter last night at the local outdoor store. I suspect you'll be hearing more about this place in the future.

Before I go, I want to show you a picture of two Leaf Tailed Geckos that I just couldn't see until Bryan pointed them out. Mother Nature sure gave some of her creatures some absolutely amazing camouflage.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ryerson Woods

I managed to get into the woods yesterday with a full pack and spent a couple of hours enjoying the warmer weather, the clear skies, and the quiet of nature. There was still quite a bit of mud on the trail but no more standing water. The mud did allow some easy track identification which you'll see below.

Spring is finally coming to the local woods. The snow is mostly gone and the creeks are beginning to flow once again.
The Nalgene bottle wrapped with tape provides me with water for hydration and cordage and tape in case of emergency. It also makes a quicky handle/hanger for the bottle should I need to go hands-free. Here it is hanging from a sapling as I readjusted my pack and other gear to get a bit more comfortable.
This is typical of what I saw today. Lots of dreary colors filled with explosions of activity from the local squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and robins.
Notice how the coyote tracks mirror the deer tracks. Just out of the top of this frame was an indication that the coyote had attacked the deer who lept hard to the left off the trail and into the woods. There were two additional distinct sets of coyote tracks coming from the other direction at that point.
I was shocked at how clear the creeks were today. You could easily see to the bottom regardless of the depth. The river, on the flip side, was so muddy and murky that it took me 15 minutes to decide whether or not I was seeing a beaver in the water.
I shot a picture here of the sandy bank to see if I could identify the strange larger impressions when I realized that there was what I suspected to be an opossum "handprint" right between the impressions. Looking at it further, however, I'm no longer so sure. It appears to have only four toes while opossum forefeet have five. Muskrat maybe?
It's warming up but it's no where near warm yet. This creek was flowing but still frozen toward the top of the frame.
This is the "Holy Cow!" shot of the day. Look at the tree trunk. The tree must have been 60-70 years old based solely on the trunk diameter and height. It was twisted over and over until the very fibers of the trunk separated. This only fell within the past couple of months. We've had some strange weather but I don't recall hearing about a tornado touching down so close to home.
The folks at Ryerson tap the maple trees every year and then make syrup out of the sap. They bring in students and teach them about the whole process. I caught the sap just as it dropped from the tap into the bucket. I did not dip my hand into the bucket for a taste. I would've but feared getting kicked out of my favorite local woods...

My pack weight is 20.5 pounds and would provide enough gear for an extended trip to the wilderness. It includes no food and only a little water. Where most of the weight comes from I don't exactly know. I do know, however, that the weight was tolerable while moving and wonderful to remove.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Some updates

First, I want to take a moment to point you to a new blog I've been reading. Torjus' Primitive Projects. I found him through a link on Pablo's Woodlife. He's a primitive skills practitioner and he's done several tutorials on subjects ranging from walking barefoot to making willow baskets.

AktoMan is putting the final touches on his preparation to hike across Scotland. He wrote yesterday that he had ordered and was going to try some pemmican. I've got a meatless pemmican recipe that uses peanut butter, honey, and dried fruit and will provide a ton of calories while being shelf-stable for months at a time. The kids love it, of course, and when I bring it with me to the woods, have to ration their consumption to prevent them from eating 1000 calories of it at a time.

I've got more rain coming in this week. We're already at or above flood levels here on the river so any extra rain or snow upstream is going to be coming through here. More flooded and muddy trails are in my immediate future.

I spent some time with the boys at JRE Industries last night and came away with a custom leather rig for my Sperati. Thanks guys.

I'm in the market for a kayak. My parents have a lake house, my in-laws live on the Atlantic Ocean, and I live on a river. I've been in the market for 10 years and have never actually done the research or pulled the trigger. This will all change in the short term. I was going to get a single-seat model but both kids have expressed an interest in coming along. This means a two-seater will be required. It also means I'll use up more dry storage for "emergency essentials" but I doubt I'll be able to fill the storage wells either way. The adventures will take on a whole new spin once I can get on and across the water with my gear.

There's lots more going on here but I'll save that for I hope to get into the woods for a couple of hours--before the rain.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 19, 2007

This is my knife

Several months back I traded a Dozier Pro Guide for this Carbon Steel Bark River Sperati prototype.

The Pro Guide was as new with an extra kydex sheath and the Sperati was already well used with a healthy patina. I still feel I got the better end of that deal. I had a knife that I didn't carry or use and traded for a knife that I carry and use regularly. The Sperati is now MY knife and the marks on the blade are, for me, memories.

The steel is, I believe, 1095 and it has taken on a rather unusual patina. Having one knife for every task exposes that one knife to tons of different substances. My blade has purples, blues, blacks, and varying shades of grey. The edge, of course, is like a mirror. I have sharpened this knife using a variety of methods but, having just purchased a Japanese Waterstone, find the 1000/6000 grit stone to leave an extremely fine edge with just the right amount of "tooth" for my use. I have taken a page out of Ray Mears' book and use some of the slurry to polish the flats of the blade which helps to bring out the various stains without removing them entirely.

The production version of the Sperati was made with 12C27 stainless and the bulge toward the tip of the blade was further reduced streamlining the appearance of the blade. I happen to prefer the prototype's front-end to the production model. I am sure the production version makes a fine knife but, given the choice, I'll always reach for the Carbon Steel version--because I've got the choice.

I've modified the blade slightly to flatten the spine at the swedge to throw sparks with my firesteel. This is the area from the false-edge grind forward. It has done nothing to compromise tip strength and adds a useful feature to my "one knife."

I've got lots and lots of knives. I've got lots of bushcraft knives. (My wife would probably argue that I've got too many knives...) This, the Bark River Knife and Tool Sperati, is the one I grab when I head for the woods.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 16, 2007

Take Care of Your Feet

I've always neglected to do much maintenance on my feet until it was too late to walk comfortably. I've suffered from plantar warts, jungle rot, athlete's foot, and many other seemingly minor foot ailments which, on an extended hike, can become extremely troublesome.

After last weekend's dousing, my feet were wet too long and, when dried, the soles of my feet became tough and painful. After some time soaking and grinding down the tough spots with a pumice stone my feet, once again, feel normal. It seems strange that toughened soles would be less preferable to the long-distance hiker but, in my experience, if it's painful just to stand up it's going to be excruciating to walk many, many miles.

I'm curious to hear AktoMan weigh in on the issue of foot care. There must be more that can be done in the field and a guy who's preparing to cross Scotland on foot must have a cure or two up his sleeve.

Take care of your feet, they're what are going to get you from here to there and back again...

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 15, 2007


Today's hike has been cancelled due to an abundance of water everywhere.

We've had rain and snow and rain and snow and it's caused flood levels on the Des Plaines River (again) which puts lots of standing water in all of the low-lying areas. One trail after another today was cut off either due to mud or standing water.

Places where I'd set up a temporary camp last year are covered in water. I'm not talking about inches of water here but feet.

Strange that the water level has gotten this high and it hadn't really been an issue. It's still a couple of feet below the top of the berm out behind my house so property damage isn't a concern (yet) but getting out into the woods is going to be a wet, muddy affair for sure.

The temperature after last night's rain dropped dramatically too. We had temperatures in the 70's yesterday and it was 30 this morning when I rolled outside for the first time. Whoo!

I did, however, find out that the camera will plug into the new laptop and works just as it did on the old one. That means more pictures from me going forward.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Outdoor Survival

Sam linked to a site called Outdoor Survival in his post on Sunday and I finally spent some time looking around there this morning.

I've linked to the English version although Sam assures me the Polish version is more thorough. I have, however, found the English version to be very well laid-out and "The Kinds of Survival" page offers the reader many different variables that can occur in a survival situation. It's almost like a checklist to prepare before heading off.

There's even a test you can take.

Give them a look,


Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Check out his blog here.

I spent some time perusing AktoMan's blog a while back while he was off trekking and have been reading along ever since as he's really pushing the technological envelope with regards to blogging. He's worked out posting to his blog from remote locations and, frankly, I find the possibilities astounding.

It's one thing to blog about the woods but another thing entirely to blog from the woods.

Anyway, he's off to trek across Scotland in a week and a half and I'd like to wish him luck in his endeavor.

Hey AktoMan, if you ever get the urge to have a travelling companion drop me a note. I'd absolutely love to tag along even if only for a short while.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 12, 2007

Getting Out

I did manage a bit of woods time yesterday. After a long weekend of hard work, late nights, and long days I managed to sneak into the woods for a few hours for the first time this year.


How'd it take so long?

The ground was still slightly frozen but covered with a layer of snowy muddy slop. The temperature was warmer however and the birds were starting to become a bit more active.

We've had lots of rain and snow in recent weeks and the sudden warm-up means the creeks and rivers are at flood levels.

Combine the high water with the lack of sleep and the fatigue hard work provides and you've got a recipe for wet feet...well, at least I had that recipe.

I was standing on the bank of the creek enjoying the "medicine of the sky" with my eyes closed when I suddenly pitched forward, stepped out to catch myself, and went right through the ice up nearly up to my knees. Then, to avoid going all the way in, I threw my weight back and landed on the wet, muddy bank right on my butt. That's right, wet pants...front and back--Cold wet pants I'd add...

I headed back for the little campsite and gathered some dried grasses and dead sticks and twigs and, with my Aurora and a Firesteel, got myself a little warming/drying fire going. This burned while I sat on my space blanket comtemplating how I'd managed to get so wet and marvelling at just how warm my feet felt in wool socks despite the icy water inside my boots.

I attempted to carve a spoon but the combination of tired hands, wet feet, and a lack of suitable wood had me putting off that project for another day.

All in all it was still a great day in the woods. I made a fire using my knife and firesteel and natural materials, I managed to get wet and dirty, and I got out of the house for a few hours unencumbered by the usual weekend obligations.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Woods Hands

I'm finally getting my woods hands back.

I spent yesterday working outdoors for the better part of the day. We had a party at the house last night and I needed to clean up snow, ice, and debris for hours.

Part of my strategy involved building a fire and melting the snow and ice. That worked for a while until the snow overtook the heat of the fire and put out the flames. I tried again using some Coleman fuel as an accelerant and the fire really took off. I then kept feeding and stoking that fire until I had finished clearing a path through the ice.

Handling coals and working around a campfire will toughen your hands and probably leave you with your skin less intact than before starting the firebuilding process. I know I went in with knuckles on all ten fingers and have fewer today. I am also feeling quite arthritic in my left side today. The hand, elbow, and shoulder on that side are all stiff and sore from the effort.

Still, the smell of the woodsmoke, the heat of the fire, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with every successful fire far outweighs the pain and discomfort of a hard effort.

Even after two showers and multiple handwashing sessions my fingernails are still a bit dirty looking and there are those discolored spots on my fingers from handling coals that looked cool to the touch--they weren't.

I'll bet Ray Mears doesn't have perfect skin on his hands either. He's assuredly got woods hands.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 09, 2007

Making and modifying gear

Since I haven't had much woods time this year I've spent more time thinking about gear than using it. This thinking has caused me to see some of the kit I use needing slight modification to better suit my needs.

Making the netting shuttle is only the first step in this process.

Today I'll be taking the chest pockets off of my favorite Arborwear shirt to make it more suitable for shooting. Shouldering a shotgun while wearing a shirt with chest pockets can be a little tricky if the recoil pad is gummy or sticky. I may just remove the left pocket as that's the one that gets in the way.

I'm starting to carry my knife differently too. For a time it was belt carry and then I discovered baldric carry. The knife essentially rides under the armpit and can swing freely fore and aft depending on where it's needed. Now I'm trying to wear the knife with loops around both shoulders and clipped together at the back with a carabiner. It's not the most elegant method but it's still a new way. I'll probably work out some of the kinks as I wear it more often.

The knife travels handle-up right at the level of my sternum and no longer swings side to side when I move. That's it in the picture.

Yeah, the shirt pockets are looking curly. That's another reason to remove them. Even ironing doesn't smooth them out much. You can see, however, that I heavily use the chest pockets on my shirt at this time so that may require a bit of retraining.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Netting Shuttle

I've been having a go at carving a netting shuttle using my Bark River Aurora and some scrap wood.

This knife can cut. The biggest problem I've encountered (quite a few times now) comes when carving the cutout at the front end of the shuttle. I get impatient and start to pry out sections of the wood and that, invariably, splits the shuttle at the front end. Darn!

I'll keep trying until I get one made. Once finished, I'll sand it with material from the banks of the Des Plaines River which runs through the back yard. (Let's assume that the rest of the snow's melted by the time I finish one of these.) And then I'll use it to assemble a net made of paracord first and, if I've got the patience, one of natural cordage.

I've been reading quite a bit on primitive skills recently as I've been unable to do much else while afflicted with these darned welts and I've had many an epiphany about making some tools with my knife. So that's what I'm going to do...

Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 05, 2007

Down for the Count

The silence around here has been caused by an outbreak of stress-related hives that have me covered in itchy red welts. I am able to function reasonably well around the house but taking Benadryl every four hours has me in a bit of a haze and unable to really complete many thoughts.

I've been to the doctor to get some meds so I hope to be rid of this affliction in short order.

We shall see...

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, March 01, 2007


Walking the perimeter of the house to inspect the work the carpenters and roofers are doing has led me to discover a number of coyote trails right in the back yard. This is troubling to me as I was planning on getting my daughter to spend the night under a tarp (basha or hootchie for my overseas friends) right in the back yard.

Coyotes here in Illinois are considered nuisance animals and have no bag limit and the season is open all year with the exception of deer season. In the suburbs of Chicago it has gotten to be such a problem that trappers have been called in to handle aggressive animals that are appearing on the playgrounds at local schools.

I'm not going to get on my soapbox and preach about wildlife management here but be assured that I am fully aware that trapping a few aggressive animals will not have a noticeable impact on the coyote population here. While the deer population remains mostly unmanaged (they're cute you know) old and sickly deer will continue to feed the predator population which will continue to thrive despite harsh winter temperatures and dry summers.

The result of this is coyotes in residential areas absolutely unintimidated by the possibility of human encounter. As a licensed trapper I am able to legally set traps for the coyotes but have a real problem doing so as neighborhood dogs look just like coyotes to a trap. I don't want to injure an animal that has escaped from his/her yard while trying to remove an actual nuisance animal.

Anyway, it adds a new degree of difficulty to introducing my kids to the joys of tarp camping and bushcraft...for now.

Thanks for reading,