Finding a guide: Three books of wildcraft and survival

Bushcraft books

“I’d love to hike in the wilds of Alaska.”

“I can help you with that.”

“You can”

“Absolutely.  Just one question.”

“What is it?”

“Do you want a guide or do you just want to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere?”

This opportunity was offered to me years ago.  As much as I wanted to go, I turned it down.  I didn’t think my wife would like me “camping” for six months without helping out with the bills, among other things.  The other reason was, I didn’t think I was skilled enough to last that long in the wild without support.

Oddly enough, I never considered the use of a guide, even though that was an option.  Hunters and explorers use guides all the time.  Their knowledge of the area is something I would not have going in.  It is an advantage that should not be ignored.

But what if you want to go it alone?  How do you go about learning the skills needed?  You could take some lessons.  There are schools that teach bushcraft or wilderness survival.  The classes aren’t cheap though.  They can start from $350 and go to $800 for a one week class.  (And that doesn’t include the destination cost, or the costs of food, hotel, and gear.)  Your class might cost more than your dream adventure.

You could check out Youtube for lessons, but what if the person you’d prefer doesn’t make videos?

You can educate yourself by reading their books.  This gives you the opportunity to learn new skills and work on them at your pace with a substantially lower out of pocket cost.  The downside is that you don’t have the instructor there to show you what you are doing wrong if you can’t get that specific exercise down.  (This is where having videos help.  More on that later.)

I currently have three “Wilderness survival” handbooks in my library and while there are similarities, the authors who write them had distinctly different styles.  This is both good and bad.  A person you might like from TV or Youtube might be too dry or too, “out there” in book form.  On the other hand, if you go in with no perceived notions, you will easily pick out the book that fits your personality.  This is a great advantage and will help inspire you to succeed.

Of the authors, two are widely known and the third is somewhat known.  They are Dave Cantebury, Cody Lundin, and Tom Brown Jr.  I’m going to start with Tom first

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Tom Brown Jr is the first person I heard about who was into Wilderness Survival.  It is the title of his handbook, but to say he is a survivalist would be wrong.  In the book, Tom talks about the lessons he learned from his adoptive grandfather and all the time he spends in the eastern pines of New Jersey.  His book teaches Native American skills for living in the wilderness while being a conservationist.  Tom spends many pages explaining the different shelters you can build, but goes further by describing where they should be built and what mistakes he made along the way.

 

 

 

Tom Brown Jr’s book is also the only book of the three to have a section on edible and medicinal plants.  Each plant listed has its common name, scientific name, a plate drawing, description, general habitat, (Don’t expect to read what zone or climate here) range, food, medicine, and other uses.  I’m very leery of any medicinal qualities of plants until they are cross checked for truth. The points of other uses for these plants, though, is worth the price of the book alone.   Knowing what plant is best for making a specific tool, helpful for fire, or an insect repellent is worth its weight in my opinion.

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Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival also talks about attitude, water, fire, shelter, hunting, trapping, fishing, cooking, preserving, tools and crafts.  All written as if the author is talking to you one on one.

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This is my first book on wilderness skills and is still one of my favorites.  I do recommend pairing it with a good tree/plant identification book with full photographs so you can better identify the plants he describes in his book.

 

Cody Lundin’s 98.6 Degrees (The art of keeping your ass alive) is very different from Tom’s and Dave’s book.  There are no plant descriptions here, no primitive shelter instructions, no animal track guidelines, and definitely no hunting skills.  Cody focuses on only one thing in this book, how to survive until rescued.

With such a singular focus, you’d think his book would be rather thin.  Nope.  It’s 215 pages long and is the only book of the three to have color photos in it.

 

Cody goes through the entire process of being lost to being found.  With a large amount of paper being spent on mind set.  He hammers home the fact that your outlook and attitude go a long way towards your survival when lost in the wild.  Cody brings up the truth about fear, how it affects the body, and how to control it. He talks about weather, hypothermia, starvation, dehydration, and how to avoid these problems.

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Cody guides you in making your own personal survival kit.  He keeps it basic and doesn’t include anything that a novice couldn’t figure out how to use.  It gives you the basics without breaking the bank.  (Or your back)

98.6 degrees is also the only book that mentions to not only tell someone where you are going and how long you will be, but also describe what you are driving, the gear you have with you and other ways of identifying yourself and your direction if you are lost.

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Cody writes his book in the same fashion as John Muir did when he wrote his famous VW repair guide for the complete idiot.  (John Muir the VW fan, not Muir the conservationist.)  His book is full of lush cartoon panels and interesting characters.  It fits perfectly with his Hippie image.

 

The last book is Dave Cantebury’s Bushcraft 101 – A field guide to the art of wilderness survival.  Dave’s book falls in between Tom’s and Cody’s.  It leans heavily towards early camping and long term living in the woods than it does survival.

Early camping, sometimes called bushcrafting, takes its roots back in the late 1890’s to 1910’s era of camping.  It was the first version of light camping though carrying a small amount of equipment and making what you need along the way.  Dave brings up the early eastern camping pioneers of Horace Kephart and George Nessmuk Sears and updates their philosophies to our modern times.

Dave divides his book into two parts:  Gear and camping.

In the Gear sections he defines what are the 5 C’s and ways of using the tools need for each category.  He talks about what was carried back in the day and how they can be used in today’s world. Dave shows you shelters made from tarp or branches, various useful knots, and how to make a stove stand.

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In the camping section, Dave talks about set up, hygiene, the different types of fire kays, navigation by compass, measuring distances, figuring time by daylight, tree identification and uses, trapping and processing game.

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Bushcraft 101 also comes with an appendix on edible and medicinal plants.  It is very basic.  There are no pictures or drawing of the plants, no scientific names or areas found, but it does have a wonderful description of poultice, infusion, decoction, and ash.  Something I wish Tom had done in his book.

Dave also throws in some camp recipes for your adventurous spirit.

If you want the textbook on Bushcraft/Woodcraft/Wildcraft, this is it.  If you’re hoping for a personal conversation with Dave, look elsewhere.  Dave wrote this book like speaking at a lecture.  Just the facts. Personally, I was disappointed by this.  I was hoping to have a little more one on one story time with Dave, like I did with Tom.  I wasn’t looking for what he learned from his father per say, but his lessons would hit home better if he attached a few camp stories with them.

The bright side is that all of Dave’s chapter and subchapter items can be supplemented by his videos on you tube.  You will have to search his channel to find them, but it’s a benefit that can’t be overstated.  Reading the book and seeing how he does it brings you as close to the classroom as possible without being there.

So there you go.  Three different books by three different authors with three different styles.

All bring up the basic survival needs:

  • Attitiude
  • Knife
  • Shelter
  • Water container
  • Rope
  • Lighter or other fire starter

Two talk about plants (one in depth, one extremely basic)

One talks about the proper communication needed before venturing out your door as well as having a way to communicate to others if needed for a rescue.

All will help you stay safer than you would without their knowledge.

All will give you more confidence in yourself as you practice the skills taught and the kits built.

All will make your time in the bush a little more enjoyable.

Anyone of them is worth the money.  All you have to do is choose which is best for you.

See you on the trail.

Smoking in the backyard.

I’ve recently found out about a old style of minimalist camping called Bushcraft.  It was created in the late 1800s and focuses on using skills to replace equipment so you don’t need to carry as much and keep your negative impact on the land as low as possible.  (It also is a great way for those with a very low budget to get into the hobby.)

Wanting to learn more, I discovered Bushcraft USA, a website that has tons of information on the subject.  In the forum section, there is a section called Bushclass that is chock full of lessons and exercises to motivate you.  (You have to join the forums to see this section.) It’s like scouting but at your own pace.  There are pictures or videos of how to do the exercise and a section to post your attempt at it.  The guy, Sgt Mac, who created the class broke it down into three sections:  Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.  I dove in deep and so far have done ten of the thirteen required exercises along with completing three of five electives.  I just finished an exercise of making a twig fire. You’d think it would be easy, but I figured out a way to complicate it.

Here’s how I reported it.

First, normally I would just use palm frond stalks and be done with it, but since this is a twig fire, I wanted to do it right.  I collected small oak branches three weeks to a month ago for this exercise, then I piled them up nicely by my firewood to let them age/dry. Surprisingly, its been a moist month. Lot’s of heavy fog in the morning and three showers, one two nights ago. Yep. The wood was still wet. You could bend it almost in half before seeing a split. (No cracking sound whatsoever.)

It took roughly an hour to cut up the twigs using hand pruners. (The wood had dried enough to the point of being hard to cut with the pruners)

Since I was doing this, I figured I’d try and use some Spanish moss as fire starter. Grabbed a bunch and pulled it apart until I found some that felt dry to the touch. I placed the old, half burned wood in a platform and rested the moss there as I continued to work on the twigs.

Three sizes stacked up in separate piles along with a starter set, I was ready to go.

Try out the ol’ ferro rod and…

Nothing.

I was getting enough spark. No problem there, but it just wasn’t catching on the moss. Maybe it’s too wet or needs air. I pulled at it and fluffed it a little.

Again, nothing.

Sweat was dripping off my brow. (It was 80 something which is overly hot for this time of year, even in Florida.)

“That’s it! Time for the big guns.” I went to my pack and pulled out my fire bag. Inside was the starter I knew would work. Pompous grass heads. These things are like pulled cotton and roughly six inches in size. They take a spark quick and burn hot! I took a quarter of it and shoved it under the Spanish moss.

-Skritch!- The striker scratched along the ferro rod.

-Whoomp!- The fluff lit up instantly.

The moss over it didn’t light! It must’ve been wetter than I thought. Disgusted with it, I tossed it aside.

Pulling out more pomp grass fluff, I tried again. Again it lit beautifully, but the twigs would not catch. They must be too wet and too smooth on the outside.

So I took a few that I knew to be the driest (They actually snapped when I bent them by hand.) and feather sticked them.

I pushed the twig pile aside, noticed some unburned pompous grass and hit is with the rod. As it burned I set the feather sticks on it one by one. Yay! The took! I rolled the twig pile back over the burning tinder.

-Sssssss.- The twigs sizzled. Wow. Those twigs were really wet! But they caught and man did they smoke. I’ve made many fires in this pit and this was undoubtedly the smokiest one ever. But it held and it grew.

Time for some pictures.

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That should be roughly knee high.

Pictures done, I took the rest of the twigs and threw them on. After all that work, I was damned if I was not going to use them. The flame got really high. Higher than I like to be honest. It settled down quickly enough though and I threw in my new cup and a tin of cloth for some other experiments.

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I wanted to see how quickly the cup would boil the water and make some char-cloth for my fire starter kit.  (Char-cloth is a fabric version of charcoal.  It’s made of cotton, and lights easily with a spark so if you don’t have a lighter, you can still start a camp fire fairly easy. It also burns slower than the Pompous grass puff I used so the twigs would have a better chance of igniting.)

After those were done and the twigs pretty reduced to ash, I put out the fire. Again smoke billowed from the pit as water poured onto the wood and coals.

It took a bit of work, but I got my twig fire going. I was happy.

Ten minutes after I cleaned up a siren howled outside. Gee. I hope it wasn’t for me.

Dreams under the tree

Truimph Brown 2

Two cars sit unwanted.  One in the garage, one on the driveway.  Memories of times gone by shone through the wear.  Jaunty stripes, dual pipes, and a wooden wheel recall the carefree days of the sixties while the awkward bumpers, overly large side markers, and plastic wheel are scars born from the imposed commands of the late seventies.

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Through the age, past the wear, both peer out on the road as an elderly dog in the kennel; silently yearning for someone to take them home and give them a chance to run just one more time.

The roads are full of younger pups now.  Fashion and culture dictate a new king and the Miata is it.  His reign has lasted decades and seemingly will last forever.

The old cars can’t compete.  There times, even when new, were more than double those of the Miata.  Even a Honda Fit would leave them in the dust.  The braking isn’t that much better.  Drums against disks.  Pedal modulation vs. Antilock Systems.  Dark ages against modern times.

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But the gems still shine from underneath.  There are rewards to be had.  Two cars from a time when owning meant more than just driving.  It was a time of familiarity, of courtships and relations.  Understanding the car, knowing what it can do, what it needs, how to take care of it.  A perfect primer for getting married and raising children.  Patience, loyalty, and sometimes, even hardships, would be rewarded with joy, thrills, accomplishment, contentment, and even serenity.  They’ll never be as fast as the newer cars, but no new car will ever be as intimate as these two.

There is soul buried deep within these sheets of metal.

Will someone try to find it?

Decisions

“Hurry up!” I chided, staring at the dog as she reluctantly wandered around the yard. Rain was falling moderately as a cold wind blew from the east.   I pressed myself against the wall while the dog debated to go to the bathroom or wait and see if I would flip a magical switch to make the rain stop. The rain danced off the leaves of the palms in a loud sizzling pattern as if they were landing on a tent. I shivered involuntarily as a rush of cold as a gust of wind slid along the wall.  And then I wondered about someone I’ve never met.

His name is Mitch and right now he’s probably wondering if he made a wise decision. You see, right now Mitch is somewhere deep in the wilds of British Columbia filming a wilderness show.  He’s either under some sort of tarp or huddled under a pile of branches and leaves as winters frigid fingers stretch down from the arctic.  Mitch is under contract not to divulge much about the show, including the name of the thing, but did allow the facts that it is a long term-single person production.  That means he’ll be living in the wilderness alone for a long duration of time without a camera crew or support.  He is supposed to record events as they happen and then transport them to a post office to the nearest town where the “film” (could be a chip for all I know) will then be mailed to television company for editing and release. This is a risky way of trying to do a show.  National Geographic tried it once years ago only to have the host, whose name I can’t remember, ended up having to be rescued after nearly starving to death, weeks into filming.  (He also had the misfortune of losing an entire week’s worth of film when his canoe overturned while paddling to town.)  This is probably why the TV Company behind the show doesn’t want Mitch to talk too much about it.  He might end up in the same predicament and they want to make sure they have enough episodes in the can for at least one season before announcing the show.  (They also probably want to make sure the show is interesting enough to watch without the predictable/planned arguments and tension caused by throwing opposite people and drama queens together in close quarters.)

The company, whoever they are, did a better job at picking a host for this show than National Geographic did. They did some research and picked out a dozen or so youtube bushcrafters to see who would apply. Derek, who goes under the handle of “Sargefaria” posted his audition on his channel, “The Woodsman School”.  Mitch has his own channel called, “Nativesurvival”.  He posted his last video before leaving for Canada roughly three weeks ago.

While I do look forward to the show, I have to ask myself if I would take this opportunity if it was offered. Could I spend a year alone?

I’m not talking about, “in the wilderness”. I mean a year alone anywhere:  Sailing the open seas, floating around in a space station, living in a lighthouse, or even travelling the back roads of the world.  Could I cut all ties and live with myself for a year.  No friends, no family, no pets, just myself.  Could I live without my wife?  What about my father, brother, and other family members?  What happens if something bad happens and they need me?  Would I be allowed to stop what I’m doing and fly back to be there?  Would I even know of the event or find out about it when I came back?  What would my family think of me if I wasn’t there in that moment of need?  I think about all the soldiers that had to deal with these very thoughts and events these last ten years.  It couldn’t have been easy for them. Now imagine explaining how you couldn’t be there because of a show; because of money.  How selfish would that sound?

Mitch also has a daughter. I wonder how explained it to her.  I’m sure he’ll be sending private video messages back along with the footage the company will need, but will he be allowed to do more?  Will there be phone calls in town or even visits for the holidays?  Would they help or make it worse for him after they left?  And what happens after the show is filmed?  After living alone for that amount of time, will he be able to readapt to dealing with large crowds and the diplomacy of society?  Will he be able to compromise with his wife again after doing things his way for a year without question or debate?  (I almost think a show about the re-adjusting to society would be every bit as interesting as the show of living alone in the wild.)

There are many disadvantages and hardships, but the show is also a great opportunity. Mitch will have a season to sell himself to the audience, create a larger desire for those who might want to take any classes he might create after the show, read the book he will eventually write, and buy the gear he will be using.  If the show is a large enough success, some companies might even court him to use his name on their products for a commission. He could secure his business/brand security with this adventure.  There is a lot to be gained.

Would I do it? Would I take a risk like this and live alone for a year?  I don’t know.  In my heart I’d want to.  It would be a great challenge and adventure along the lines of George Washington Sears, Joshua Sloccum, and Jefferson Sipvey.  Money wouldn’t be a problem since the company sponsoring the show would have to cover my lost wages from my regular job just to get me to even think of the project.  No, the biggest concern would be my wife.  She would have to be on board with the project before I committed. Could she handle being apart for so long a time and could she accept the risks I would be taking whatever the challenge would be.  (She already thins I take too many risks just by hiking down various paths and trails when the opportunity comes along.)  Marriage is a compromise. Would this opportunity be one of those things that got lost along the way?

My thoughts are disrupted by the sound of my dog barking. She’s done doing her business and wants to go inside. It’s cold and raining, after all.

To build a fire

It may be September, but summer is still hanging on strong in Florida. It had hit the mid 90’s again that Saturday and the usual afternoon rain hit heavily. So, of course, around 8:00, I decided it would be a great time to start a fire.

Yep. High temps and ungodly, sticky humidity just cry out for camp fires.  No?  Actually, you’re right.  This was an act of complete lunacy.

Ok. It was crazy, but not that crazy. I did have a reason for doing this.  I wanted to test myself and see if I could get a fire going without using a lighter or matches.

For a few years I’ve been watching those “survival” shows as well as various camping shows on You Tube. (Kennith Kramm is great!  So is A lone wolverine 1984)  And I can’t forget my WordPress campers.  (Lookin’ at you, Girly Camping)

This let to gear gifts. I put tons of items on my wish list as well as buying many things outright.  I don’t know about you, but I hate the idea of having all this money spent just to let it sit around and collect dust. Uh-uh.  That’s not gonna happen!

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I’ve been playing around with a fire-starter that consists of a ferrocerrium rod and striker. You shave the ferro rod with the striker which gives off extremely hot sparks.  The rod is thicker than the one glued to a metal magnesium bar found at Wal-Mart, but is smaller than the ¼” diameter that Dave Cantebury uses.  I’d scrape the rod with the striker of the back of my pocket knife just to see the sparks fly.  It was easy to tell that the back of my knife did a much better job at creating sparks from the rod than the striker did.

I also had some shavings lying in my hat. (Part of a project from Bushcraft USA forums) And then there is the clothes line wrapped up in a spool sitting next to my router on my desk.  That should be good tinder.  Along with this is a nice bucket load of dry kindling sitting quietly in the garage.  This will work.

But can I make it work?

My idea was to start a fire using the clothesline and shavings, and then building it up with the kindling before adding on the very wet wood.

I cut off two pieces of clothesline, each an inch long. Then I separated the outside weaving from the inside and shredded the outside weave while opening up the inside. Tossing it in the hat, I took the supplies outside to the fire pit.

One minor problem here. The pit is so deep that if I place the shaving bundle and shredded rope into the middle, I’m going to be stretching really far to get that spark going.  If it was dry, I’d place it all on a palm frond.  Since they’re soaking wet, I cheated and placed it on a sheet of newspaper.  I figured since the paper is just for support and transport and would not be used to start the fire, it was ok.

Now I was ready.

I took the striker and pulled the rod against it. You’re supposed to pull the ferro rod against the bottom of the striker so that you don’t accidentally knock the kindling bundle away.

One. Two.  Three pulls.  Sparks flew lightly into the air, but nowhere near enough needed to get this thing going.  I set the striker aside and pulled out the knife.  I have seen some people use the sharp edge of the knife to strike the sparks, but I didn’t want to ruin the sharp edge I worked so hard to get on this.  I used the back spine of the blade instead.  Gripping tight, I pulled again.

One! Oops!  The bundle spilled into the pit. I had held it so tightly that when the knife pulled away from the rod, the hand holding the rod moved forward and knocked the bundle away.  I quickly grabbed the bundle off the wet soil and put it back on the paper.  During the move, I could tell that the moisture in the air is getting wicked up into the bundle.  It felt moist in my hands.  Not damp, mind you, but definitely wetter than it was when I brought it out.  I needed to get this thing going.

With this added urgency I took the inner part of the cotton clothesline and pulled it to open up its fibers.

One more strike.

Fhzzzzt!

Sparks flew heavily in a shower of light and catch of the mix of cotton and wood. A flame started immediately and started to consume the small bundle with alarming speed.  The fire is started and it’s hungry!  I quickly placed the paper holding the fire into the pit before throwing some very small splinter thick pieces of wood on it.  While those were consumed, I started to build a teepee around and over it with my kindling of dried palm frond stalks.  (Dried palm frond stalks and leaves are wonderful for fires!  They have natural oils in them that burn very hot.  It burns similar to pine, but without the fumes or odor.)

After building that up came the next challenge, using wet wood. The fire wood has been sitting uncovered for a year now and that wood has been rained on constantly over the summer.  Besides the rain in the afternoon, it had rain water soaking in it throughout the week.  Only one day out of the seven did it not rain.  This wood is beyond wet.  It is soaked.

Pulling the thinnest branches out, I started to break them into proper lengths. Some parts bent rather than broke.  Other thicker pieces just crumble in my hands.  They were so wet that they were rotting!  Placing these on top of the kindling, I worried the fire might not be hot enough.  The cure for that?  More palm stalks.  Dead palm fronds stood in easy reach.  The problem was that they were wet from the rain, just like the wood.  Would they work?  I grabbed a few from the palmettos and was instantly sprayed by the water that had collected in the pockets of the frond leaves.  This was going to be interesting.  Six fronds later and I was ready.

I placed them strategically in the fire and watched in amazement as they lit up. The oil in the palm fronds really helps out.  I relaxed as I watched the soaking wood dry out and catch fire.  Plus the mixed sound of sizzling water and cracking fire was such a treat.

Finally I pushed the limit and threw in a decent log. It was four inched thick and over two feet long.  The fire would have to dry it before cutting it and then dry it again to consume it.  Would it work?

fire

Yep.

So I succeeded in my experiment. I was able to get a fire going and was able to burn very wet wood.

Was it a true test of wet weather fire building? Definitely not.  I used dry tinder and dry kindling.  I didn’t try to carve out dry wood from the inside of logs, nor did I forage for dry inner bark of pine trees.

Did I start a fire in somewhat adverse conditions? Yes!  It was dark when I started the experiment and very humid.  The tinder was absorbing moisture very quickly and had a limited time of use.  I think I did well.

Did I accomplish my goal of starting a fire without a lighter or match. You bet. Even if I hadn’t gotten the wood to take, I had built and lit a small starter fire with nothing but a ferro rod and a knife.  That was cool.

Do I recommend using a ferrocerrium rod over a lighter? No way! Lighters are so much easier it just makes sense to use them.  This was a test of a new skill and an experiment to see what I could learn from it.  It was fun to do, but in an emergency I would rather have a lighter.

I had a great time with this experiment and when I was done, I was sweaty, smoky and smelly. I was also proud of my accomplishment.

My wife just thought I was crazy.

A writer doesn’t write always.

Hi.  How are you?  Nope, I’m not dead.  (Nor is this blog.)  I’m sure you’ve been wondering where I’ve been.  I wish I could say I was swimming the Nile, hiking the Appalachians, or restructuring the entire Formula One racing series, but no, my reasons are more mundane.

My time and creativity have been usurped by family matters and a relentless growing season at work.

There were two deaths in the family and the memorials were two weeks apart.  They were for my Grandmother and my Mother in law.  I wish you had met them.  While completely apart in style, both enjoyed life and were honest about their opinions and observations.  One traveled a lot while the other stayed home, yet both of them believed that family mattered most.  They loved when everyone would come over for the holidays and reveled in cooking up a storm.  They were both modern and traditional at the same time.  I’m so glad I was able to share so much time with them.

Work, on the other hand, was a mess!  We didn’t have a lot of rain this year, but wow did things grow!  Trying to tame the wildness left everyone wet and worn out.  The humidity was so high (still is) that in the first half hour you are drenched in sweat.  It got so bad this year that I was actually entertaining the idea of going to Las Vegas just to see if their dry heat was really worse than our damp.  Then I remembered that they have no grass there, so it wouldn’t matter anyway!

Even my daydreams were stunted this season.  Normally I can come up with three or four ideas each day while at work.  Most of them will fade away by the time I get home, but I’ll still have one that is good enough to post.  Not this time.  I was lucky if I got two in a week.  I was suffering a drought of creativity.

My motivation had disappeared too.  It wasn’t just in writing.  I had planned on doing some hiking and even a little overnight camping this summer, but the heat and humidity just destroyed that notion.  I had no desire to walk around like I had been in a wet t-shirt contest, and I sure didn’t feel like sleeping in what would feel like a steamed up bathroom.  Nope. Rain check please.

But the good news is that there are some things I do want to talk about.

Remember how I longed for a travel/adventure magazine that was designed around realistic choices and not extreme buildups?  Well, I found it!

I also recently purchased Dave Cantebury’s new book “Bushcraft 101” and am looking forward to telling you all about it.

The sun is setting sooner now and a cool breeze can be felt on my skin.  Summer’s still here but I feel a changer coming.  As a writer, we might suffer from unspeakable times of creative drought, but that doesn’t mean we stop all together.  Take this time to sort things out and take a look around you.  Without even trying you’ll find something that will sew new seeds of creativity.  Then, just as quick as the drought hit, creativity and motivation will rain upon you again.

Keep the faith.

Mascots

A yellow car sits parked at the edge of a precipice.  Worn mountains cross the horizon as a thin ribbon of green meanders across the desolate field surrounding it.  At first glance, you could easily mistake the scene for a commercial, but you soon realize that the car is a toy and the scene is another achievement for a mascot.

Torchbug from Jalopnik

Mascots seem to have a curious life in the United States. Their popularity rises and falls like the tides of the ocean.

Do you remember Stanley?  You know, the little guy who usually wore a striped shirt and blue pants.  Someone would ship him in the mail to you and ask you to take a picture of him in some scenic place before shipping him out onto the next random person?  Well Stanley is one paper link on the long chain of mascots that have traveled abroad.

Flat-Stanley-St-Peters-Sq

Either before him, or around the same time, was the wandering gnome.  Unlike Stanley, the gnome was kidnapped.  Cruelly taken from his owners.  Then, after a ransom letter containing a picture of the beloved creature, the gnome was whisked across the globe. Pictures were sent back to the owners of their gnome skiing in Amsterdam, tanning on the beaches of the Caribbean, having coffee in Italy, and parachuting out of airplanes.  It ended well for the family as the gnome retuned one day with a peep or clue from his kidnappers.

Woody_London

The rule of the mascot is simple:  Send it to an interested person; Have that person take a picture or pictures of the mascot in an interesting place; Ship the mascot off to the next person.

The rules for the mascot are unspoken and more involved:

1.)  The mascot must be cute, quirky, or friendly in personality.  The mascot needs to make friends quickly with each new person it encounters if the trip is going to happen.  Otherwise the mascot will be quickly thrown into the trash and forgotten.  This is why little bears, gnomes, paper children, and “cute” cars are used frequently. A spoon, not so much.

2.)  The mascot must be small.  Shipping costs money and if the mascot is too big or heavy, the cost to ship it will severely reduces its chances of meeting the next person. (This is why even teddy bear mascots are usually six inches or less.)  Flat Stanley is the gold standard here.  Being made of paper, he could be folded up, shoved in a regular envelope, and mailed off anywhere for less than the price of a candy bar.

3.)  The mascot must be durable.  Think you last flight in coach was bad?  Imagine being squished through rollers, tossed into bins, having other boxes staked on you, traveling with no heat or air conditioning, getting tossed again by strangers, and finally being shoved into a mailbox until the recipient finds you.  Now imagine doing this over and over again.  Mail carriers take care of their deliveries, but people are people and mistakes happen.  The mascot has to be tough to handle these situations.

4.)  The mascot must be affordable.  Whenever one of these journeys starts, the owner of the mascot will be faced with the fact that they might never see their mascot again once it is dropped in the mail.  It may never even make it to its first destination.  With this thought burning in the owner’s mind, they are not going to invest heavily into the mascot.  Usually the mascot will cost ten dollars or less.  (Again, Flat Stanley was king in this area.)  You might find the rare person who will spend a bit more for sentimental reasons, but usually the mascot will be low cost.

Mascots are a great way to physically connect with your friends in a way that facebook, e-mails, and phone calls can’t.  It’s a way to share fun and happiness when you can’t be there in person.  It’s an act of faith while also an adventure on the cheap.  I see the ebb and flow of their popularity traveling forever.

Go mascot.

Sheep