Practically Seeking

April 2009 (Issue 21)

Okay, you're probably tired of "old adage" remarks by now, but with all of the "April showers" we've had this month there had better be a whole lot of "May flowers" coming up real soon!
It has sure been a rainy month here in New Jersey, but with this crazy 90 degree heat wave over the weekend, on top of all the moisture from previous weeks, the truth is I can't believe the way everything has just POPPED in the last few days!
Leaves are exploding onto the trees, flowers are blooming everywhere, the grass is green, the plants are shooting up, the bees are busy buzzing, and the Japanese Knotweed is growing so fast you can practically sit there and watch it get taller. Ain't Spring Grand?!

Here at home, our 3rd Hunter-Gatherer weekend is coming up quick, and it's so hard to believe that this will mark the half-way point of the program already! (Check out what they've been up to and follow their progress each month on the Hunter-Gatherer 2009 photo set on Flickr.)

We had a fantastic time and met some great new folks over the weekend at the Whittingham Traditional Archery Rendezvous, and are looking forward to heading down to the Baltimore Traditional Classic in just a couple of weeks.
It's shaping up to be a busy summer once again and we're looking forward to seeing many good friends, and making lots of new ones, as we travel to events and hold workshops around the country (and in Canada). If we're going to be in your area we hope you'll come by and say Hi.
Until then, enjoy a wonderful Spring!


What's New Upcoming Events Skill of the Month Eddie's Bookshelf Practically Speaking Final Note

What's New

Premium Osage Staves on the website

The Osage Orange from our good friend Tom McDonald has been split into staves, is being worked down, categorized and photographed, and available Osage is now up on our website ready for sale.
This is well-seasoned, straight-grained Osage with beautiful rings that looks like it is being turned into some very pretty bows. (We got to see a finished one over the weekend!)
Each stave has been numbered and photographed and posted with a description of distinctive features, so choose the stave you want, then give us a call or send an e-mail and we will get it shipped to you.
Or, if you're heading to one of the Archery shoots or Knap-ins at which we're going to be exhibiting, we'll bring it along for you to pick up there. (See our Events listing or 2009 Schedule to see where we'll be this summer.)
If you're in the Toms River area and want to come by and see them in person just let us know.
We have already sold several, so don't delay!

Proper Bowdrill Form

Our newest video is up on YouTube and has received rave reviews from the folks who have seen it so far. Julie takes you through a detailed explanation of Proper Bowdrill Form and shows how, when everything is applied correctly, a coal can be easily created in less than a minute.
Combine the information in this video with the instructions on How to Carve a Perfect Notch (available online in our Newsletter Archive) and you will go a long way to discovering just how easy and effortless bowdrill fire can really be!

Upcoming Events

Clifton, TX — June 12,13, & 14
Special Guest Instructor for June 14!

The word must be getting out in Texas, because our June workshops are booking up quick!
We're already over half full for both Medicinal Plants and Traps, Simplified and there are only a couple of spots left for Backwoods Hygiene & Improvised First Aid. If you've been thinking about joining us for any or all of these workshops be sure to send in your registration asap. (There's plenty of room on the ranch to stay overnight between workshops.)
After talking with our Guest Instructor, Mark "Doc" Wright, (Eddie's good friend, and a retired US Navy Independent Duty Corpsman) I can promise you that June 14 is going to be a heck of a day! Mark's 20 years of  submarine, ship-board and battlefield medical experience will take the Improvised First Aid workshop to a whole different level, and provide you with real-world solutions to everything from mildly annoying medical mishaps to majorly serious "what am I going to do now" situations that can occur on any camping trip or backwoods outing.
This one is not to be missed!

Baltimore Bowmen Traditional Classic
May 15-17 — Glen Arm, MD

We've attended this event for the past couple of years now and have always had a blast. The archery courses are well laid out, the site is really nice, the camping is free and the people are great. We always meet fun, enthusiastic folks and make new friends, and are definitely looking forward to going back this year. If you've been thinking about checking out a Traditional shoot, this is a great one to start with. Be sure to come by and see us!
(For more info check out the Events page on our website.)

Free Open Skills Nights

May 20
June 24 (4th Wednesday, due to Texas trip)
July 15
Come on out and join us for our FREE Open Skills nights the third Wednesday of each month. Bring a project you're working on, a plant ID guide, an animal tracking book, or just come to meet us and spend an evening hanging out.
It's fun, it's free, and everyone is welcome. We never know who will be here, or what folks will be working on, but we do know that it's always a great evening.
We look forward to having you here!

(Check out photos of some past Open Skills Nights on our new and growing Flickr page!)


Practical Primitive Logo

World of the Hunter-Gatherer — Texas
Now Accepting Applications

We have already begun accepting applications for our brand new Hunter-Gatherer Texas program!
The same information will be taught as in the New Jersey version, and in the same small group, hands-on, integrated learning style, but participants will meet for 3 days every other month (September, November, January, March and May), probably over the 3rd weekend, with the Survival Outing taking place in June.
We're so excited to be able to offer this amazing program to a whole new group of people in a whole new area of the country. We hope you're excited too, and look forward to seeing your application!
Application Deadline: July 15, 2009

Secrets in the Stone
September – November 2009

We have already begun receiving applications for this Fall's Secrets in the Stone program, beginning in September.
No matter what your current knapping skill level, if you been wanting to begin seriously learning to work with stone then this program will take you far beyond your current goals and expectations.
Our last group of participants went from having little to no experience when we began, to fluting points & artifact reproduction just 3 month later! (Check out a sampling of their work on our Flickr page.) And with a better understanding of just how much can be accomplished, Eddie plans to cover even more ground this time around!.
Application Deadline: July 1, 2009

Remember, these programs are limited to only
4 participants, to ensure the highest quality of instruction.

Upcoming Workshops

Our Spring/Summer schedule is Underway!
Be sure to check out the great workshops available on our  new Spring and Summer schedule, and here's a look at what's coming up over the next couple of months…


    2-3  Survival Skills 101
       4  Stone Tools
     22  NEW! Front-yard Foraging: An Intro to Edibles
23-24  Medicinal Plants
     29  Immediate Need & Emergency Shelters
30-31  Short-term & Small Group Shelters


     12  Medicinal Plants (Clifton, TX)
     13  Traps, Simplified (Clifton, TX)
     14  NEW! Backwoods Hygiene & Improvised First Aid (Clifton, TX)
21-22  NEW! Intro to Bow-making
     23  Shooting the Longbow
     26  Acorn Processing
27-28  Primitive Pottery
     29  Primitive Cooking


Skill of the Month

Pitch Sticks

Pitch Sticks: The Original Hot Melt Glue

Pitch -- that thick, gooey stuff that oozes out of coniferous (cone-bearing) trees, gets your hands all sticky and doesn't wash out of your clothes, is actually an amazing and highly useful substance.  Pitch (also called Resin) has been used for everything from adhesives to medicines, as a weapon and a waterproofer. The list of uses to which pitch has been put throughout the millennia are almost endless.
To keep pitch ready-for-use in it's handiest form, it is a great idea to keep a few Pitch Sticks at the ready. Here is how to make them.

NOTE: ALWAYS USE CAUTION and good judgement when processing pitch! It is extremely flammable and the fumes are toxic. Always process and use in a well-ventilated area.

(For photos to go along with these step-by-step instructions check out our website.)

How to make Pitch Sticks:

  1. Gather the "resin nodules" from coniferous (cone-bearing) trees, such as pine, spruce and fir. Look for hardened opaque yellowish bumps on the bark, as well as roundish lumps within the bark.
  2. Take some finely crushed and powdered charcoal (the black, charred pieces of burned wood from a fire) and pour a small pile onto a piece of cardboard or soapstone.
    If you do not have any charcoal available, finely crushed and powdered egg shells can also be used. It is a good idea to pour the powdered charcoal or egg shells through a fine sieve to remove any larger pieces.
    NOTE: Do not use commercial charcoal briquettes, as they most often have lighter fluid or other chemicals added into their mixture.
  3. Obtain 2 small tin cans (soup can size), a fine metal sieve or mesh screen (window screen or smaller), and a few small sticks.
  4. Put the pitch nodules into one of the cans and heat it slowly over LOW heat until completely melted. A small propane or butane camp-stove works great for this, as it allows you to control the heat quickly and easily. The coals in a campfire are equally effective. (Coals only — NO flames!)
    Remember: Pitch is very flammable! If it starts smoking it is very close to igniting.  SHOULD THE PITCH IGNITE in the can SMOTHER THE FLAMES with a pan lid, sand, or baking soda. DO NOT try to blow out the flames! The added oxygen will cause them to flare up in your face.
  5. Using tongs or pliers, remove the can from the stove and carefully pour the melted pitch through the sieve and into the second can. This will filter out any impurities, such as bits of bark.
  6. Set the first can aside and place the second can, now containing the melted and strained pitch, over a LOW heat. Very hot pitch is quite runny and cool pitch becomes quite thick; neither will adhere to your stick very well. You want it to be about the consistency of honey, so return to (and remove from) heat as necessary.
  7. Dip the end of one of your small sticks into the melted pitch, then roll the pitch-covered end in the powdered charcoal or eggshell. 
  8. Allow the pitch stick to cool until it begins to firm up, like soft taffy. While your first stick is cooling, begin to dip your additional sticks.
  9. Repeat steps 7 & 8 until you have as large a "lollipop" of pitch as you desire.
  10. If you like, you can dip your fingers into some water and use them to help form the pitch into a nice rounded shape, or roll the semi-cooled pitch on a hard surface. BE CAREFUL! The hot pitch will stick to dry skin (and everything else!) On a hot day, it can be helpful to dip the pitch stick directly in a cup of water to help it cool faster.
  11. Store your Pitch Sticks in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. Otherwise the pitch could soften or melt!

NEXT MONTH: Working with Pitch

While the finished product is not as strong as modern glues,
it will create excellent bonds and can act as a filler to seal gaps.
So check your trees for some of Nature's own Hot Glue and Have Fun!


Eddie's Bookshelf

The Forager's Harvest

The Forager's Harvest

—Samuel Thayer

This book absolutely is a must read and must have for anyone even remotely interested in Edible Wild Plants!
The one thing this book is NOT is 'just another plant book' that has been based on all of the same old prevailing literature you have seen so many times before. Instead, Mr. Thayer speaks from his personal experiences and dispels several inaccuracies that have been repeated over and over in current plant studies books. The refreshing attitude that he brings to the study of edible plants is revitalizing.
The Forager's Harvest is not a plant ID book or Field Guide in the traditional sense. Thayer concentrates his information on 32 of the most common edible plants, and ones with which he has the most personal experience.
Mr. Thayer further re-defines the definition of Edible to include only those plants that actually taste good(!) and are abundant, and relatively simple to prepare. He also discusses foods that are worth the energy expenditure to collect. I have spent a great deal of time learning plants that are "edible" but never available in enough quantity to be a viable food stuff. Thayer drives home the point that while these plants may be unique or interesting, there are many others that, if you are actually planning to make Wild Edibles a part of your everyday diet, are a far better use of your time and energy.
Hooray for this work!

In last month's Practically Speaking segment we discussed Phenology, and this book has a very good example of a foraging calendar (or Phenology chart) that will be useful for both the novice and the experienced forager. One of the nicest aspects of this book is the numerous high-quality photos of every one of the plants, and the amount of detail in which he covers each one.
Originally brought to our attention by one of our students, The Forager's Harvest has quickly become a mainstay of our bookshelf and one of our most recommended books. And we're not the only ones who think so highly of it. This book has also received excellent reviews from Tom Elpel (Botany in a Day), Christopher Nyerges (editor of Wilderness Way magazine) and many others.
Too often in the outdoor skills community assumptions are made that were based on myth or inaccuracy, then presumed to be fact by those who have no personal experience to tell them otherwise. That information is then simply regurgitated and passed on from notebook to notebook until, sadly, it becomes "FACT". I find it wonderfully refreshing that Mr. Thayer brings his own authentic and ACTUAL plants experience to benefit us all. 

Ready to try your hand at discovering wild foods this year?
Come join us for our upcoming Front-yard Foraging: An Intro to Edibles and Foraging & Gathering
workshops in May and July.

To find more information on this and other recommended books, see our website.

Practically Speaking

Live an Earth Life

Earth Day or Earth Life!

At the Spring Foraging workshop last weekend I think some of the students were surprised at both the abundance of available food, and just how tasty wild edibles can be. The Japanese Knotweed was prime time and oh so tasty, but I wonder how many folks realize how beneficial this "noxious invasive weed" is when it comes to the health and welfare of your body (and wallet)?  Did you know that knotweed has compounds that can lower LDL (lousy) cholesterol? It's also packed with vitamins A & C and is a good source of potassium. Dandelion, considered by many to be the bane of their yard, is amazing in it's vitamin and mineral contents, and general health-giving properties. (Some even attest that, when properly prepared, it can be effectively used to treat certain forms of cancer.)
So once again I ask the question that perplexes me every spring:
Why would one want to eradicate these healthful, nutritious and diverse plants with toxic chemicals and herbicides?

In many cases, simply eating them can serve as an effective control method, and help to reduce our grocery bills to boot! But instead, we are encouraged from almost every direction to spray our lawns and parks and roadsides with chemicals in order to eliminate anything that is not grass, follow a non-sustainable monocultural model, and then spend our hard-earned money on fertilizers, vitamin supplements, and medications.
Consuming these "weeds" does not pour additional toxins into the environment or onto our food, and does put healthy, sought-after and necessary elements into our bodies, in the purest and wildest form. Organic eating at it's best!

This past week people around the world celebrated Earth Day. An excellent reminder, to be sure, of the fact that our planet is in dire need, and it is our duty and our responsibility to take care of her.
I wish that every day was Earth Day.
In fact, I wish that more people would dedicate themselves to living an "Earth Life"! What would be the difference between Earth Day and an Earth Life? Effort. It takes little effort to buy a compact florescent light bulb, or shop in the "Organic-friendly" section of your local store, then pat oneself on the back for a job well done and return to the oblivious treadmill of modern life. And don't get me wrong, those are not bad things. Anything that we can do to reduce our heavy bootprint of impact on Mother Earth is a good thing. But let's face it, we are rapidly approaching the point where those "little things" are not going to be even close to enough.
It is going to take Effort. Lots of it. From all of us.

It takes effort to find a plant, identify it, prepare and consume it. It takes effort to suffer through some of the summer heat with open windows instead of jacked-up air conditioning. It takes effort to find a family farm that offers traditionally grown chicken and beef that you will have to cut up, freeze, thaw, and find new recipes to use it all. It takes effort, and it takes time.
Living an "Earth Life" is not something that is easy to jump right into, and you will no doubt face many obstacles along the way, as we do. Friends, family, neighbors, neighborhood associations, city by-laws, job commitments... all may throw roadblocks up in your path that frustrate and confuse you, take your time and energy and make you feel like giving up. But we must continue to try. We must continue to put in the effort. So we do what we can today, and make another effort tomorrow.
Earth Day or Earth Life — the consequences of each are exactly proportional, and you will only get out of them that which you make the effort to put in. I happen to feel the Earth Life way is much more rewarding. So give it a try. Get your family involved. Make some effort. And then, You decide.

Happy Earth (Day) Life

One Final Note

Now that it seems as though we are confronted each day with some additional piece of earth-shaking and potentially civilization-shattering news, more and more people are turning back toward the "old ways" for comfort and confidence, and as preparation for the possibilities that may lie ahead.
Believe it or not, this has been a small epiphany for me. I have been reminded that the reason we, Julie and I, do these things is not in preparation for some prophesied "end-times", or apocalyptic zombie-war waiting to happen.
It is because they are fun!
It is a wonderful thing to start with a stick and work the wood down into a beautiful bow. Or to hold a chunk of rock in my hands and chip away all the excess until a flintknapped thunderbird remains. To see a depression in the ground and follow it along until I scare up a deer. To come across a new and delicious plant, or create a beautiful basket, or place a new pot into the fire wondering just what colors it will turn once the ashes are cleared away...
Yes, these are all skills that will help should the unthinkable happen, but far more than that, they are a way to slow down, to play, to become aware of all the amazing resources that surround us, to sit closely in the hand of the Earth and wonder at her abundance.
It's a beautiful evening. I think we'll leash up the dogs, go out to the woods and go for a walk.

Be Well,
Eddie & Julie
Practical Primitive

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