Practically Seeking

January 2010 (Issue 28)

We're down in Texas at the moment, where we have finished the third get-together with our Hunter-Gatherer tribe down here. What a great weekend! Well done guys -- you're learning so much and we are very proud of all you are accomplishing!
We've spent the week here at the ranch near Clifton, TX where we will be running two one-day workshops on Saturday and Sunday — Soap Making and Tracking Basics — and there are a couple of spaces available in each, so if you would like to join us we'd love to have you!

It's hard to believe that January is almost at an end, especially since that means we will only be accepting applications for our 2010 World of the Hunter-Gatherer program in New Jersey for a few more days. We've received a lot of great applications already, so if you would like to be considered be sure to get your application in before midnight, January 31. It's an amazing 6 month journey, and we're really looking forward to putting together another great Tribe for 2010!

It's been a very busy month and February is looking to be busier still, which is exhausting, but great fun. Our workshop schedule through the end of August should be finalized and posted within the next week or two, so watch for that coming soon, and if you have any requests on what you'd like to see on the Spring/Summer schedule be sure to get them in to us ASAP. We always do our best to accommodate when and where we can.

Hope the New Year is treating you well, and looking forward to seeing and hearing from y'all soon!

e & j


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

What's New

SRWK Prototype

Available for Pre-order February 8

To all of you who have been waiting patiently, the news is here! The Starnater Reliant Woodsman's Knife will be available for pre-order as of February 8, 2010!
Eddie has spent a long time getting this knife just right, and he's very excited that it has come to fruition at last. 
The S.R.W.K. will come in a leather sheath and looks to be available for under $200, which is in keeping with our commitment and practice of bringing you high-quality AND affordability.
We will have all the information and specs on the knife on our website along with the pre-order form, and will be taking some video of the knife in action so that you can see just how well it performs at so many different outdoor tasks. Heavy-duty enough to chop down a small tree or rough out a bow, yet with a delicate enough edge to carve a bowdrill notch or trap parts — and awful pretty to boot!

Workshops in Central Texas this weekend

We've been spending the week here at Starhaven Ranch near Clifton (about 40 miles north of Waco) and are looking forward to our workshops here this weekend. There is still space in both Soap Making and Tracking Basics, so if you'd like to come out just let us know -- we'd be glad to have you join us! And if you want to stay for both days there is plenty of room here on the ranch to stay overnight. Looking forward to seeing y'all then!

January 30Soap Making
January 31Tracking Basics



World of the Hunter-Gatherer
March – August 2010
Application deadline only a few days away!

We have been steadily receiving applications for our 2010 World of the Hunter-Gatherer Intensive Skills Program and are looking forward to putting together another great Tribe in the coming year.
This is a 6-month program during which participants will meet at our main location in New Jersey one 3-day weekend each month for intensive instruction and practice in the skills required to survive and thrive as a Hunter-Gatherer.
Remember, this program takes a great deal of time and dedication, and a serious commitment on the part of each individual to keep up with the skills and homework involved. It requires much work, but the rewards are incalculable!
We've received a number of great applications, and are committed to choosing a Tribe that will work well together, and will help each other to grow and to discover the true power of the tribe.
All applications must be received by midnight, January 31 so if you would like be considered don't delay.
It's going to be a great year to be a Hunter-Gatherer!!

For more information and to apply, see the Intensive Skills Program page of our website.

The Heart of the StoryTeller
A New Intensive Skills Program for 2010!

After a pretty incredible meeting with Grandfather Little Hawk and Grandmother Beverly earlier this month we have received their blessing to announce that we will be offering an all-new Intensive Skills Program this year:
The Heart of the StoryTeller
There will be many details forthcoming over the next few weeks, and a new page devoted to this program will be up on our website shortly. But until then I will tell you that this will be a once in a lifetime experience and not to be missed.
Watch for all the details coming soon!

Free Open Skills Nights

February 17
March 17
April 21
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 Flickr and Facebook pages!)


Upcoming Workshops

January – March workshop schedule

Our workshop calendar for the Spring and Summer will be posted shortly, with some great new courses in the works for the coming year.
In the mean time, here's a look at what's coming up in the next couple of months...


30       Soap Making — Clifton, TX
31       Tracking Basics — Clifton, TX


12        Making & Using Natural Cordage
13        The "GO" Bag
14        Natural Glues & Adhesives
20-21   Introduction to Bow-Making
26        Out of the Darkness: Candles, Lamps & Illumination
27-28   Drum Making


12         Arrow Points: Bottle Bottoms & Beyond
13         Arrows: Harvesting, Straightening & Curing Shafts
14         Arrows: Points, Hafting & Fletching
20         The Atlatl
21         Black & White Cooking: The Art of Cooking over Coals & Ash


Skill of the Month

Hide Glue

Cordage Fibers from Woody Stalks: Processing Dogbane

Dogbane is perhaps my favorite natural plant fiber. It grows tall and is available in abundance in the northeast and most other parts of North America, is easy to extract the fibers from, and makes exceptionally strong cordage!
The method for processing out the fibers that I prefer is one used by the Paiute, and also works well with many other plants that have woody stalks, such as Stinging Nettle, Milkweed, Velvet Leaf and more.
Cordage fibers can be extracted by all sorts of traditional methods, but I prefer this one due to the ease of storing the fibers for later use in a way that they remain tangle free -- and anyone who has spent too much time trying to extract their fiber strands from a giant gnarled mess will appreciate just how great this method is!
And hey, what else are ya going to do to pass the evenings when it gets dark so early in the winter?

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


How to Process Dogbane Fibers:

  1. Harvest the stalks by cutting them off about an inch above the ground. (Do NOT pull the whole plant out, as dogbane regrows from it's existing root stalk.) Look for plants that are a deep red color and avoid those that have turned gray. I wait to begin harvesting until the plant has gone to seed. If the seed pods have formed but not yet opened, spread the seeds from any harvested stalks to help propagate the species before leaving the area.
  2. Store your stalks in bundles in a dry place until you are ready to begin processing.
  3. With a stone flake, shell, or steel knife, start about three fingers up from the base of the stalk and LIGHTLY scrape off the outer bark. This outer bark is a very thin layer of dark red. You should see a slight color change as the dark outer fibers flake off. WHEN YOU SEE the very fine fibers begin to raise up, STOP! Those are your cordage fibers and you want to keep as many of them intact as possible!
  4. Work a small area at a time — just a few inches — and be very thorough. Scrape away as much of the outer bark as possible without disturbing the fibers underneath. Pay very close attention to what you are doing and do not allow your mind to wander.
  5. Continue scraping a few inches at a time until the entire stalk is clean.
  6. Beginning at the far tip, (what was the top of the plant) press the stalk between your fingers until it crushes in half. The stalk is hollow, and will crush down with little effort. Continue this process all the way down the stalk until you are within 3 fingers of the base. Usually this results in the stalk being broken into quarters, but if it only breaks in halves then return to the top of the stalk, rotate it one quarter turn and crush your way down the stalk again. Remember to stop before you get to the bottom! Your intent is to have an unbroken section at the base of the stalk.
  7. Arrange the quarters so the inside section of all four face up, with the inner bark showing. Starting at the top of the plant once again, move down one of the quarters an inch or two, snap the inner bark and carefully peel it away from the fibers. Repeat this process all the way down the stalk until you reach the unbroken section, then return to the top. Repeat this process for each quarter. Be careful and meticulous with this process or you can pull the fibers completely off.
  8. Once all of the inner bark has been removed from all four quarters you will be left with long and silky dogbane fibers that want to curl. Buff small sections of the fibers between your fingers briefly, carefully working your way down the stalk. This buffing process will separate the fibers a bit, and help to remove any stubborn bits of outer bark that may remain.
  9. Twist the the fibers into a loose spiral, then wrap the spiral around the unbroken portion of the stalk you left at the bottom. Continue wrapping until an inch or two of fibers remain unwrapped.
  10. Tuck this "tail" section down into one of the grooves that remain from where you originally split the stalk. You can now toss this "bobbin" of dogbane aside into a basket or bowl until needed.

When you are ready to begin your next cordage project your dogbane fibers will be ready and waiting to be unwrapped and spun up — no untangling required!
Until next time, Be Well
and Have Fun!

Remember: Dogbane does contain toxic compounds and care should be taken to store this plant out of reach of children and pets.

Eddie's Bookshelf

Making Silent Stones Speak

Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning

—The Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante

I suppose it may seem a bit odd to be writing a review for a book on preserving food in the middle of winter, but I'm sure that many of you, like me, have been finding seed catalogs in your mailbox and are already beginning to plan what you will plant once the danger of frost has passed. Such an exciting time of year!
One of the most important lessons I have learned regarding both the Hunter-Gatherer lifestyle and the Self-Reliant one is that the time to start preparing for next winter is at the end of this one. And knowing that I am choosing to plant fruits and vegetables that I will be able to preserve without the use of electricity and without destroying their much needed nutritional content is, I think, very important indeed!

Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning is a compilation book that brings together an amazing amount of knowledge collected from the readers of an organic gardening magazine in France. Les Quatre Saison du Jardinage (Four Season Gardening) is a popular and influential organic gardening magazine throughout French-speaking Europe and several years ago they put a call out to their readers to share their family recipes for preserving fruits and vegetables. The response was tremendous and the result was this book — a wonderful anthology of almost lost knowledge that has now been preserved and is ready to be attempted by all who are willing to give these "new" old ways a try.

As the title clearly states, the two most common modern methods of food preservation, freezing and canning, have been deliberately omitted. Rather, this book focuses on traditional methods of preservation that are actually superior in almost every way!
Preserving through the use of Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage and Lactic Fermentation may seem as strange and slightly weird to you as they were to me, but these preservation techniques actually purport to preserve more flavor and nutritional content, cost less, and use less energy than the more familiar ways of freezing and canning.
All preserving is done as naturally as possible, retains maximum amounts of flavor and nutrition, uses ingredients that are whole or minimally processed and locally grown, and all the methods have been tested and are easy for "regular people" to try out.
While I'm still feeling a bit timid about attempting the lactic fermentation recipes (so different than anything I have ever heard of before!) I am very excited to have some great new ways of keeping food whole and fresh both in the ground and in cold storage for months after I would normally have given it up to the frosts or dropped it into a hot-bath canner. The idea of storing my apples wrapped in dried elderflowers that will give them a taste of pineapple after about six weeks is just too enticing to pass up! And learning to preserve everything from tomatoes and beans and peppers to swiss chard and garlic and cherries and so much more in oils and salts and vinegars… I am looking at my seed catalogs with whole new eyes this year.

As it states in the Foreword to the first edition,
"Food preservation techniques can be divided into two categories: the modern scientific methods that remove the life from food, and the natural 'poetic' methods that maintain or enhance the life in the food."
Thanks to the wonderful willingness to share by the Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante, our harvest this year will be much more 'poetic'.

— Julie

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

Practically Speaking

Be Prepared for What?
        "Why, for Any Old Thing!"
(Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts)

While we are definitely NOT purveyors of doom or prophets of the apocalypse, we DO firmly believe that we all have a responsibility to be as prepared as possible for any sort of disaster scenario. (A legacy from my days as a boy scout oh so long ago!)
The recent earthquakes in Haiti have been shocking and heart-rending to witness, but if we can draw anything good from such a terrible disaster, let it serve as a reminder to us all that, in such unexpected and awful circumstances the only things we can rely on are our own knowledge and resourcefulness.
It is easy to sit back in our comfortable living rooms and watch the rubble and the rabble on the big screen, and send our donations to help the people rebuild, and rejoice as survivors are still, amazingly, being pulled from pancaked buildings, and thank the Creator that it did not happen to us.
But what if it did?
What if it does?
Or what if you are "there" when the next "it" happens?

No matter where you are, we strongly encourage everyone to have a disaster preparedness kit ready to provide those life-sustaining essentials in times of disaster. Consider having a home module with safe water, a means of purifying more water, a few days worth of non-perishable foodstuffs, flashlights that are not powered by batteries, wool blankets, and any other items you feel essential to maintain the health and safety of you, your loved ones and your family pets.
The modular kit should provide for several days of sustenance to allow for stabilization, rescue or evacuation. Remember, it can take at least a week or two — sometimes longer — for help to arrive. Personally, I am more in favor of evacuation whenever possible, because nothing good ever happens in a refugee camp. And having everything gathered in one place so you can easily pick up and go could mean your ability to leave a dangerous situation safer and sooner; and extra time could make all the difference.
If evacuation is not possible or practical, the fact that you and your loved ones are prepared to ride out the situation (think ice-storm) allows precious resources to be diverted to others who have been caught unprepared and will be in need. So not only are you caring for yourselves, you are also helping others to be cared for as well.

It has been said by those much wiser than I that "failing to plan is planning to fail". There is no substitute for learning and practicing positive self-reliance skills, but at the very least, do yourself and your family a true service; prepare a disaster kit, learn how to use the items in it, and as the Boy Scouts say "Be Prepared"!

For practical information on preparing your own Modular Emergency Preparedness Kit,
consider attending our "GO" Bag workshop on February 14

One Final Note

Spend all the time you can outdoors. I heard once that a person who only spends time outside in the summer has failed to experience three-fourths of life. Make this year a year you remember for the remainder of yours, and may those memories be grand.

Be Well,
Eddie & Julie
Practical Primitive

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