Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Yule Blog

During this time of peace on earth, goodwill t'ward men, love, charity, and togetherness, I think it's important that we look back and remember the foundation of this most joyous holiday... where our traditions come from, what they really mean... why we celebrate the way we do.

I figure I'll start out with everyone's favorite Christmas song, the 12 Days of Christmas. I'm sure, like myself, many of you have often wondered what the hell this song was about, why anyone would give all of these things to anyone, and why, after being given the gift of three french hens, anyone would continue calling the giver "my true love". You have also probably wondered why we only celebrate one day of Christmas, when there are allegedly 11 more floating around.
The twelve days of Christmas, as it turns out, start on Christmas day, and end on January 5th. This is, according to tradition, when the three wise-men showed up and gave their gifts to Jesus... though you Bible scholars and historians all probably already know that there may or may not have been only three wise-men, and that they probably showed up considerably later than 12 days after Jesus was born. The song itself was written in England some time between the late 1500's and the early 1800's, during a time when it was illegal to be Catholic. So, if you find this song as irritating as I do, thank King Henry. Because Catholics (much like Jews in Germany, or early Christians in Rome) were scared of being punished should they be found, in this case by being hanged, drawn, and quartered (you've seen the end of Braveheart, right? Well they left off the worst part, where they tie your hands and feet to horses and have them run in different directions, while you're still alive, tearing you limb from limb) they had to come up with a way for children to remember the tenets of their faith without being able to write it down. So, the song was born, with each gift representing an important element. The "true love" would of course be God, and the "me" would be all of us.
The rest:
1 Partridge in a pear tree: Jesus. A mother partridge will feign injury to protect her young.
2 Turtledoves: The Old and New Testaments
3 French hens: The virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity
4 Calling birds: The four Gospels, and/or the four evangelists
5 GOLDEN RIIIIIIINGS!: The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible).
6 Geese a-laying: The six days of creation (and on the seventh day He rested)
7 Swans a-swimming: The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, reverence, fear of the Lord) or the Seven Sacraments, which are rites in which God is uniquely active, or "visible signs of the invisible at work" (Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the sick)
8 Maids a-milking: The 8 beatitudes (you know, that whole "blessed are the meak, for they will inherit the earth..." bit)
9 Ladies dancing: the 9 visible attributes of the Christian life which comprise the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)
10 Lords a-leaping: The ten commandments (which I won't recount because I'm sure everyone here has them memorized).
11 Pipers piping: The eleven faithful apostles (screw you, Judas, you don't get to be in our song).
12 Drummers drumming: the twelves points of the apostle's creed (look it up. I'm lazy and this is already going to be a long post).

You got all that? Good, because you will be tested on this.... eventually.

Now, with that out of the way, let's move on to lighter fare.

For most people, what is the one symbol of Christmas that most fully embodies the warmth, joy, peace, and love this season is supposed to be full of? More than Santa Claus (who I'm not even going to go into because I'm sure you all know the story already) or the common yet inaccurate picture of Christ in the manger in a barn, with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, friendly beasts, and angels all around. It's something that often shows up on the outskirts of that manger scene... even though, to my knowledge, it isn't even native to the area. If you haven't guessed it yet, I'm talking about the Christmas tree. That evergreen unchanging whose relatives nearest to Bethlehem would probably be the cedars of Lebanon, which don't look anything like the trees we cut down and cover with trinkets and gaudy lights every year. It might surprise you... though, if you know anything at all about human history, it really shouldn't... to know that this Christian tradition was stolen from the pagans.

When Christian missionaries got up the courage to march into the frozen wilderness in what we now call northwestern Europe and tell the French and Germans that everything they believed and did was wrong, they may or may not have been surprised to find them somewhere on the screw-you side of the receptiveness scale... so these missionaries decided that the best way to get the pagans to change sides was to convince them that we're just like them, only better.

Being up that far North in the winter is probably scary for anyone, especially if you come from a particularly superstitious people... so when your corner of the earth starts moving away from the sun, and the days become increasingly short, and the nights increasingly dark, you won't be too surprised if someone in the crowd says, "the sun is tired of us, and is probably not coming back... so we need to do something about that, or freeze to death.". So, believing that all life on earth depended on their ability to coax the sun back into the area, they would head out around the winter solstice to find the biggest, strongest sign of life in the area... which just happened to be an evergreen tree. They would build fires, and cover the trees and their houses with all sorts of reflective objects and lights as if to say, "hey Sun, come back, there's still light here! See? This is a fun place for light and warmth to hang out!"

So, the early Christians were like, "hey look, we do that too. You can come be one of us and keep your quaint little traditions!", kind of like they did with the adoption of December 25th as Jesus' official birthday when they made it to Rome and found a bunch of people celebrating the god Mithra on that day... so they showed the northern pagans they had a winter solstice holiday with lights and trees. However, being from the Mediterranean area, they were somewhat more inclined to bring the fire and the trees inside than to march out into a frozen forest.

While out on their travels in the frozen north, the missionaries also came across a friendly little group of people known as Vikings... who they also needed to steal a tradition from if they wanted to make any headway. While it may seem like telling Vikings to stop everything they do and come be nice Christians would be the quickest path to Heaven, the missionaries actually had some fortune with the Norse. You see, this was a group of people who set up shop far away from anywhere that any normal person would choose to live, but they would regularly travel the world to.... gather supplies. As a result, their mytholgy tends to have a lot of influence from other cultures. They would go out and hear stories from all over the world and think, "that kind of sounds like something this god of ours would do" and would tell everyone they knew about this story. Somewhere along the way, it's likely that they heard stories of this Jesus fellow, and decided he sounded a bit like their god Baldur. Baldur was the son of their great god Odin, who sits on his throne in Valhalla and watches the dealings of men, sometimes inserting himself into their lives and directing their fates (sound familiar?). Baldur was the most beloved of all of the gods in Asgard, so it brought no shortage of sorrow when the prediction was told that Baldur would be killed. His mother, when given this news, went all around the world, making every person, animal, vegetable, mineral... everything in existence promise that it would never do any harm to her beloved son. Everything, that is, except Mistletoe, which she decided was too fragile to do him any harm anyway (ironic, considering that mistletoe berries are actually quite poisonous). So she came back to Asgard content that no harm could come to her son, and told him that he was safe. He figured he would test her theory, and all the other gods gathered around and started throwing crap at him to see if it would hurt. Rocks, branches, tables, children... everything just bounced right off of him without a mark. Loki, god of messing everything up for everybody (but usually setting it right again... usually) crept over to Baldur's blind cousin and was like, "why aren't you throwing stuff at Baldur with everybody else?" to which Baldur's blind cousin replied, "um... I'm blind.". So Loki makes an arrow out of mistletoe and puts it in the blind guys hand, and guides his throw to pierce Baldur's heart and kill him. Baldur's mother offered a kiss beneath the mistletoe to anyone who would go to the Hel and bring Baldur back. No one could... but Baldur will return after the great battle at the end of the world, to rule the knew world which will be reborn from the ashes. So, when you kiss someone under the mistletoe, think about death, betrayal, and the end of the world this Christmas...

It was, however, actually the Celts who are most responsible for mistletoe becoming a Christmas decoration. They believed that the plant had magical powers, and hung it up in their houses during the Yule festival to protect the home, and cause beautiful dreams during the shadowy dream time of winter, when the dark force of Mean Geimhridh held the light of the sun back. This creepy festival eventually got absorbed into Christmas, giving us still another terrifying "why is that a Christmas tradition" tradition which has, perhaps fortunately, generally been forgone in recent years.

The Yule log. This is where the most "wtf?"d line in perhaps any Christmas song comes from. "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmas's long long ago." Who sits around at Christmas telling ghost stories that don't involve Ebenezer Scrooge, and why would they do such a thing? Well, Who: The Irish. Why: They're Irish... it's what they do. Since I'm pretty sure you don't have a Yule log and probably never have, except perhaps as a decoration, I'll fill you in on what exactly the tradition is. You go out into your yard, or perhaps your neighbors yard while they're off Christmas shopping, and find the most beautiful, symmetrical log you can. You absolutely never buy a Yule log at a store because that will just piss off all the sprites and spirits which are apparently just everywhere in Ireland. You place the log in the hearth, where it is lit using a scrap from the previous years Yule log which has been carefully preserved under the bed of the master of the house to keep the house safe from fire and lightning. The lighting of the Yule log must be achieved in the first attempt or else misfortune will befall your family. There is a lot of stress that comes with being the head of the household in Ireland. The task must never be performed with dirty hands because it is a sign of disrespect... and, again, pissed of sprites and spirits. The embers of the Yule log must be kept lit for twelve hours and cannot be tended while eating Christmas eve dinner. After the feast, the family sits around the fire telling ghost stories while watching their shadows on the wall. If any person's shadow is seen to not have a head, it is a sign that this person will be dead within a year. While this could be fun, I suppose, the Irish Christmas tradition that I choose to include in my family celebration is drinking, because I try not to do anything to inadvertently upset mythological or ethereal beings.

Yule logs, Mistletoe, and evergreen trees aren't the only pagan plant life to have been taken by Christians to be part of the celebration of the birth of our Lord. Holly, among many groups throughout history, has been seen as a good omen, and represented immortality due to its ability to look good in every season. It was considered sacred by the ancient Romans, and was used as a gift during the festival of Saturnalia, which lasted from December 17th to the 23rd. Holly was thought to be a favorite home to elves and faeries, who must have had very tough skin, or just not minded being stabbed by sharp leaves. Romans would bring holly inside during the winter to protect these poor little creatures from the cold.

During the early years of Christianity in Rome, many Christians continued to deck their halls with boughs of holly for fear of being turned into torches in Caesar's palace, or just made fun of for not believing in the pantheon that the Roman's stole from the Greeks. Holly became a Christian symbol when Christianity became the dominant religion in the area, perhaps as an other way of wooing more converts. Eventually it was pretended that holly was a Christian tradition without pagan roots by applying Christian symbolism to the plant. The leaf has sharp pointy edges which represent Jesus' crown of thorns, and red berries which represent the blood He shed on the cross. It is also evergreen, which is taken to represent the eternal life He bestows on all who believe in Him.

It really was convenient that the pagans had so many holidays all around the same time, because it made it much easier to decide when to have Christmas. They had Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. There was the celebration of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25th... he was an infant god, and was born of a rock by the way... which was, for some Romans, the most sacred day of the year. They had the Winter solstice. And there was Saturnalia which celebrated Saturn who was (among other things) the Roman god of agriculture. Beginning in the week leading up to Winter solstice and lasting for an entire month, Saturnalia was like Oktoberfest, Mardi Gras, and the Festival of Fools all mixed into one. Food and drink were plentiful, and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For one month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Businesses and schools were even closed so that everyone could join in the revelry. Honestly, who wouldn't want to steal all these holidays and mix them into one? It's a wonder that it took until the fourth century for the Church to decide to institute Christmas as an official holiday.

Up til then, Easter was the big deal. The delay, most likely, was due to the fact that the Bible doesn't really mention what time of year Jesus was born... a fact those Grinchy Puritans used in denying the legitimacy of the holiday, bringing frowns to children all over the world. Though there has been evidence cited by some people who may or may not know what they're talking about to indicate that Jesus was born in the Spring time, Pope Julius I (of Orange Julius fame) chose December 25th, probably to absorb these other holidays. Christmas, originally called The Feast of the Nativity, spread to Egypt by 423 a.d. and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, it had made its way to Scandinavia. Today, in Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated on January 6th, or "Epiphany"/"Three Kings day" (which is convenient for Santa because it means he doesn't have to fly around the whole world in one night) which is, for some reason, the day after the 12 Days of Christmas would end.

Having Christmas at the same time as all of these pagan festivals made Christmas more likely to be embraced by other people, but left the Church largely unable to dictate how it would be celebrated. Soon enough, Christianity had done away with Pagan religion, but the absorption of their festivals left the fun parts of paganism intact. On Christmas, believers attended boring church services in the morning, and probably spent the whole time dreaming about all the partying they would do afterward. When they left church, they would go home and celebrated Christmas like Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's day met on Spring Break and had a baby at Carnivale. Each year, a beggar or a student would be crowned "lord of misrule" and people would line up eagerly to play the part of his subjects. Poor people would go a-wassailing (drinking and singing) to the houses of rich people and demand their best food and drink... which I'm guessing usually involved figgy pudding. If the home owners failed to provide, their visitors terrorize them with mischief... kind of like a drunken musical trick-or-treat, which actually sounds like fun to me. Christmas, this way, became a time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined debt to society by entertaining the less fortunate citizens. As for how Christmas went from being about drunkenly helping the drunken less fortunate to wearing bad sweaters and spending too much money, I haven't really done any research on the subject.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adventures in smoking.

Ok, now before all of my fans in Santa Cruz and Arcada get too excited, I'm talking about smoking meat on the barbecue. Ok, now get excited.

As you may or may not know, my uncle Pat brought some apple wood with him on our hunting trip, and I took one of the unused chunks home with me. I then chopped it up into small pieces and soaked those pieces in Stone Brewing Company's Sublimely Self-Righteous ale, which you should try. It's delicious. Then I went to Safeway to figure out what kind of meat I wanted to smoke with it. It was between beef and pork, and what it really came down to was which one I could buy more of for less money. Yay economy! I found a 4.5 lb pork roast for about $10, and my decision was basically made for me. What's more, it was organic pork... so that's cool too.

After getting the pork home, I marinated it in a little bit of Hornsby's apple cider for around 4 hours, and then poured the cider in with the applewood chips that were still soaking in the Self-Righteous ale. That was a little over a week ago.

During the following week, I mentioned this experiment to a few people. One such person is the man whose man-cave we've been building so that he can barbecue any day of the year, regardless of the weather... with his built in gas grill, his detached webber grill, or his big green egg-shaped smoker. This man loves meat so much that he is not willing to settle for store bought bacon. He said, on Monday, "I'm sorry, I'm having a little trouble focusing right now. My bacon is arriving on Friday." I'm sorry... did you say your bacon is... arriving? "Oh, yeah. I have my bacon flown in from Wisconsin."
When I went back on Thursday and saw him, I said, "You must be excited, what with your bacon coming in tomorrow." and his face lit up. "Actually... it got in today!" So I asked him what exactly was so special about this Wisconsin bacon. Almost instantly, he was back in the garage, opening the refrigerator door and asking "Do you like your bacon with or without pepper?" Without. I'm facing away from him, applying stain to his front gate, and he is explaining to me that this is the only bacon that Rogue Brewery uses on their bacon cheeseburgers, which I have to try. As he comes up behind me, extolling the virtues of this applewood smoked wonder, I turn to tell him that I intend to go to Rogue some day, and am greeted by a packet of bacon in my face and the instruction, "I demand a full report on this." So, Victor, here is my report:

I decided to do a side-by-side comparison with Dailey's bacon, which is what I typically get from Safeway, and have thoroughly enjoyed. I put three strips of Dailey's in one frying pan, and put three strip's of Nueske's in another, and set both on level three heat, which is just below medium, so they don't cook too quickly and crinkle up or get too crispy. Nueske's fills the kitchen with the smell of smoke as soon as I open the package. It sizzles more, and is much darker than Dailey's. Somehow, even though it was thicker than Dailey's, Nueske's even finished cooking a full five minutes sooner. I put them on separate plates. I tried Dailey's first, to remind myself what my typical bacon tastes like before moving on to the real test. To really help you understand (though maybe this will still not be speaking your language... maybe you don't love the same things I love), I'll take another short rabbit trail here. One of my favorite beers is Newcastle brown ale. It's nothing fancy. It's no craft beer. It's reliable. You don't over-think Newcastle, but it's not tinted water, like Budweiser, or Corona, or any of the other mass produced beers you can find it sitting next to in grocery stores. One day, while I was totally not sitting alone in my room drinking beer and watching Spider-man cartoons, if that's what you were thinking, I made the mistake of having Stone Brewery's Ruination (which turned out to be aptly named), and following it with a bottle of Newcastle. By the end of the bottle of Ruination, my taste-buds were accustomed to that level of flavor... and when I moved on to the the Newcastle, it tasted like someone had switched it with Corona... and mixed that Corona with more water. Essentially, this is what happened with this bacon. Dailey's bacon is still delicious. Just like Newcastle, I haven't abandoned it... but this new bacon is just so much more.... bacony. I can understand how the company can have been around since 1933 without changing its methods or recipes. It's still family owned and operated, for the fourth generation in a row. It was like, in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, when the Pevensies all arrive in Aslan's country and notice that it is just like Narnia, only... like they're finally seeing the real Narnia that the one they knew was only a shadow of. This... this is real bacon, and all the bacon I've had up to this point was only a shadow.

I even had my mom try a piece of each, without telling her which was which. She voted in favor of Nueske's. Then, tonight, while I was smoking the pork roast, I put three pieces of Dailey's on the grill to see if I could smoke them and get the same result as frying. I could not. After an hour of smoking them at 200 degree's, they were as crispy as should be desired (though I know there are weirdo's out there who prefer burnt bacon), with none of the usual shrinkage you see in the frying pan, and considerably darker than usual. I blotted the grease off of them, and took a bite. After an hour of smoking, Dailey's tasted almost as good as Nueske's, but was thinner, and somehow still felt greasy. Now more than ever, I want to make my own bacon.

The pork had been smoking, at a pretty steady 175-200 degrees since 12:30, over plain applewood chunks, Sublimely Self-Righteous applewood chunks, and a small tin into which I had poured the excess Self-Righteous and Apple Cider mixture, and at almost 6 o' clock, the center temperature had finally reached 160 degrees. The Brown sugar/cinnamon rub (with a few dashes of salt) had long since crystallized on the exterior, making a sticky crunchy bark. The baked beans, scalloped potatoes, artichokes, apple sauce, salad, and sweet potatoes were just being set on the table. This mountain of meat was so beautiful I wish I had planned theme music for it to enter to. After letting it relax for a bit (just enough time to hurry through my salad and clear some room on my plate), I cut into this experiment in mixed flavors. The smoke ring was a full 1/4 inch into the meat. I gave a slice to my dad, to Jaason, to my mom and Silas, and finally one for me. I didn't even want to drink my beer (which was Sublimely Self-Righteous ale) for fear it would hide some of the flavor of the meat. I believe I best expressed how it all turned out at dinner, when I said, "Sometimes.... I'm a really big fan of myself.".

You could taste the pork, you could taste the applewood smoke, you could taste the ale, you could taste the apple cider, you could taste the brown sugar, and the cinnamon, and none of these flavors overwhelmed the others, each one working in perfect harmony with all the rest, and complimenting each other. It had everything covered. Sweetness, Saltiness, Savoriness, and Spiciness. It was flavorful in a way that you couldn't really over-look, but wasn't demanding. It made you take your time to really enjoy it, instead of just taking it at face value like can sometimes happen when things get smothered in barbecue sauce. This, without sounding too much like I'm praising my own genius (I am) was an intricate marvel of pork perfection. I might need to try more theoretical smoking. Up next, maybe cherry smoked chicken with a rosemary and balsamic vinegar rub, or pecan wood smoked lamb marinated in rosemary garlic lavender mint and lemon thyme olive oil. Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spooktacular Halloween Special

Alternate title: "Without a paddle"

Day 9, Oct. 31st

Happy Halloween. When I asked what everybody else was going to dress as, they said "a hunter", so I think I'll go as a mountain man just to be different.

Today is the last day of the hunt. The plan is as follows: Mark and I will walk Hinton Creek bed with the pistol, and hope not to get eaten by a cougar. Papa and Pat will walk opposite hillsides next to the creek, and shoot any elk that we scare out of hiding. It's basically the same plan as before, only in a different location, probably with more water, more danger, and more walking for Papa and Pat. Grandpa will be posted up on a mountain top at first, and then drive down to the road where it meets the creek, and take us back up to camp one at a time. Maybe Mark will carry the cougar spear I made.

Now, down into the belly of the beast.

Down here in the thick damp creek bed, it's often difficult to gauge your progress... you feel like you're moving quickly and taking forever at the same time. We've determined that it will be best if we occasionally hit a stick against a tree to give the others some frame of reference for where we are, so nobody gets too far ahead of the others. Last night's rain has clung tenaciously to the leaves and branches of every tree and bush down here, but seems to tire of its grasp just as soon as we pass by.

Mark and I were fortunate, about ten minutes in (though, again, it's hard to tell when you can't really see the sun, don't have a clock, and have been moving quickly and going nowhere), to catch a rare glimpse of a wild Uncle Pat in its natural habitat. Judging by the size of it's mustache, it must be around 55 or 60 years old, and has most likely sired about 4 bulls by this time in it's life.

All of this tromping through thick wet brush has left our pants soaked through, which has left our long johns soaked through, which has left our socks soaked through, which has filled our waterproof boots full of water. We had been told, "there are places where you'll have to climb down waterfalls". We came to the top of one such waterfall, Mark on one side of the creek, I on the other, and I decided (wisely, I believe) that climbing down the rock face in such a wet condition would be an absolutely retarded idea. Mark, apparently, decided the same thing, and we both made for alternate routes. It was only about 20 feet high, but it was only about 20 feet that I didn't want to fall. I quickly found a sizable tree that had fallen into the ravine, which still had branches on it and wasn't too rotten. It was at just such and angle that I was able to put my feet on the remaining branches and climb down them like a ladder, while holding onto the more sturdy of the underbrush with my hand so that if the branches broke away under my feet, I would at least be holding onto something that would keep me from dying or having to go to the hospital. The farther along the creek bed we go, the more I think today would have been a good day to bring a machete.

We came to a sort of clearing and stood for a bit, expecting that we were just a little ahead of Pat and Papa so we could rest momentarily. We were flanked by wooded hillsides, and the thick dark creek bed was right behind us. We stood as the lone golden spot within sight. Above us, the clear blue cloud dappled sky. Ahead of us, a mountainous granite cliff, jutting into the sky and dominating the landscape. At the top of this monstrous cliff.... a tiny flash of blaze orange which we both knew to be Grandpa and his hat. He flashed his signal mirror at us and we decided to keep pressing on. No sign of Papa, Pat, or any animals (except one grouse).

We kept moving, switching back and forth over the creek as paths became too dense on either side. After roughly a year and a half of walking the creek bed, soaked through ten times, and assuming ourselves to be making much too fantastic of time to not be out ahead of the others by at least a mile, we climbed out of the creek, and up onto an open hillside. The funny thing about waterproof boots is that they don't let water in, and they also don't let water out. The funny thing about wearing boots that are full of water is that the water sort of stays warm until you stop and stand around for a minute or so. Then it's time to dump out your boots, wring out your socks, and pull down your pants so that the sun can dry out your long johns, whenever it's gracious enough to come out from behind the clouds.

After a while (which was not long or warm enough for anything but my beard to fully dry out), we figure we must have misjudged either our timing, or their locations, and they are likely some distance ahead of us by now. Since it was sort of a "walk this way, and we'll see you when we see you" kind of hunt, and we don't have a walky-talky, we decide the safest, smartest, and driest course of action is to head back to camp, try to find batteries for Mark's walky-talky, and try to let them know not to wait for us. Mark, being in better shape than I am, was kind enough to stop and wait for me every time he got about 1,000 feet ahead of me, until I could catch my breath. I am convinced that distance up hill is longer than distance down hill. We saw more deer on the trek back. The only difference between these deer and ones that we'd seen previously was that I wished I could shoot the deer we saw before, and these ones I merely wanted to ride back to camp.

Dead tired, still soaking wet, and wondering if we'd be able to make contact with the rest of the group and let them know not to wait for us at the bottom, we made our way back to camp to find Papa and Uncle Pat already there with a fire going. Pat, it turns out, had been in front of us, and Papa was on top of the adjacent mountain trying to swim through a bog or something. In the time we spent waiting for them and trying to dry out, they had hiked all the way down to the road, and got a ride back up to camp. Grandpa, for some reason, had given his walky-talky to Pat, who already had one, and was still sitting out in the wilderness somewhere. Don't worry, we didn't just leave him there. Mark went out to pick him up. I think he just drove up and down every road until he caught a glimpse of that bright orange hat.

We've decoded to break camp a day early (and who could blame us?), head out, and spend a night in a hotel. No elk, but all alive and in one piece. I get to call Erika tonight.

I think the French said it best when they said, in Latin, "Venari, ludere, lavari, bibere; Hoc est vivere!" - "To hunt, to play, to wash, to drink; This is to live!"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Day 8. Saturday, Oct. 30th.

I burned my thumb on the edge of the stove this morning. Fortunately, I'm a manly man, and I didn't even wince until I was sure no one was looking.

Uncle Pat and my dad went up to the elk convention center this morning, hoping to find them all sleeping... or at least just standing around with their fingers up their noses. Grandpa took off with his gun and a chair, and will be sitting somewhere up the road. After we get more firewood cut (provided we can get Gabe's saw started) Mark and I will see if we can scare something up toward Pat and Papa. He refuses to carry the pistol, even though I'm sure he'd be a better shot if we got attacked by a cougar. Maybe, if we see one, I'll get the pistol out of the holster, and it will accidentally slip and land in his hand.

With the men-folk gone, Mark and I spent the morning cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood to let it dry, and kept the home fires burning. Mark did the cutting, and brought the wood to me, and I split and stacked it. The only trouble with stacking the wood around the fire is that the wood at the bottom tends to dry out fastest, and is difficult to get to when it needs to be added to the fire. Sometimes it actually catches fire before we can get to it. We got so busy with firewood that the rest of the group came back to camp before we were ready to head up and meet them.

In the afternoon, I walked up with Papa to where they'd been in the morning. We followed game trails up behind camp, and over a few hills until the wet ground flattened out and we were in what seemed like the heart of the forest. It was still somewhat cold and dark in there, but you'd catch glimpses of sunlight as it splashed on the ground, and the whole canopy seemed to be glowing green like the sludge that the Ninja Turtles rolled around in. We spread out a bit and took opposite sides of a fallen tree, and I found a small trail heading in the direction we wanted to go, so I followed it. I'm glad I did, because doing so meant I came away with a souvenir. Laying on the ground just off the side of the path, shining in a patch of sunlight as though God in Heaven was displaying it to me, signifying by divine providence that I would be King of the forest if I pulled it out of its resting place... was a mule deer antler. It wasn't quite as beautiful as I'd hoped to find. A year or two of weathering has left small cracks, and turned parts of it green... and it's nowhere near as attractive as a white-tail antler... but it's decent size, has four prongs, and hasn't been chewed to hell by wild rodents. So I'm keeping it, and happy to be doing so. Maybe I'll turn it into a hat rack that I won't be allowed to display in the house when I'm married. That's fine. It'll go better with the theme in my man cave.

After sitting at the top of a draw, looking down a drainage (these are technical terms which I have learned to use properly, I think), and across a meadow, and not seeing any elk for roughly 3/4 of eternity, we decided to head back to camp. We made another trip up to the only place where there's ever a hint of cell service, and I was fortunate enough to actually get enough service to make a call... in the rain... on speaker phone, with my phone up over my head so I could get a signal. It was good to be able to talk to Erika for a little bit, but service cut out before I was able to tell her how much I love her and miss her. Stupid rain clouds getting in the way. Oh well, I'm sure she'll be reading this.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Into the whiled: In a Rut

Day 7. Friday, Oct.29th.

One week in and only a few days left. Greeted by another beautiful Oregon morning. 40 degrees and drizzling. The whole panorama seems to be shades of green and grey. The plastic tube on Grandpa's hearing aid has gone missing, which gives us one more thing to hunt. Maybe we'll have more luck with this than with the elk. It's not in the back of the truck where he slept, and none of us noticed him having trouble hearing us last night before he went to bed, so we figure it's got to be around here somewhere.
Grandpa assumed correctly, it was back where he'd been sitting yesterday watching for elk. At least we have one successful hunt behind us.

We decided to drive up the mountain and walk back down toward camp, Papa and me walking together, and Uncle Pat and Mark walking a little ways off. As we pull the truck up to the head of the trail, what should we see a small herd of, munching on grass up ahead of us but.... more stupid deer. We walked along quietly, stopping occasionally to look for any sort of movement in the forest. Walk. Stop. Walk. Stop. Walk. HOLY CRAP THAT GROUSE ALMOST FLEW RIGHT INTO MY HEAD. Those stupid birds sound like helicopters when they're flying.

Uncle Pat and Mark, who had been moving along on our left side, saw a buck that got spooked and darted off, so they crossed behind us and went off to the right. As we're about 50 yards away from a clearing we slow down even more, so that we can be sure not to scare anything off, if anything should happen to be out there... which, given our history, is not entirely likely to be anything but deer, squirrels, and birds. Peering beyond the trees, and across the field... it looks like giant mountains of dry grass are running up the hill. Rolling, as if the field was a blanket being shaken by one end. Finally something encouraging. It's a herd of elk, and they can't be more than 100 yards away. Damn these trees!

It's no wonder elk are so hard to find. They're like giant hairy forest ghosts. With a hide the color of dead pine needles and dry grass, legs the color of fallen trees, and antlers that look like branches, they could hide almost anywhere they wanted... and their ability to be standing right in front of you one second and completely out of sight the next kind of helps me understand how more primitive people could think that gods or spirits would sometimes show themselves as animals. We went out into the field and met up with Mark and Pat, who were looking at the ground, noticing how many beds there were, and how fresh all these tracks and droppings looked. They hadn't been fortunate enough to actually see the elk. My dad was just glad that I had seen them too, so he didn't have to question whether it was wishful thinking. It was like a herd of haystacks. Haystacks that disappeared, and could not be found.

For the second hunt of the day, Mark and I are walking up a creek bed, trying to force anything that might be down there up the hill toward where the older men are sitting. I am hoping that my 'coon skin cap doesn't look too much like elk. I have Uncle Pat's pistol, my knife, machete, and binoculars... if I happen upon anything, I think I'm prepared. I hope I at least find some antlers.
Not successful. It was a good plan though.... or at least it would have been, had there been anything in the creek bed. It was, however, kind of nice to make a trek without wearing my backpack. I'm starting to get used to my boots, still not used to the elevation. Seeing as we were trying to be loud and scare things up the hill, it was a faster and more strenuous hike than any prior. Hopefully the rest of the hikes we do will not be so bad.

After meeting up with Uncle Pat and Papa at the top of the hill, Mark and I decide to head back to camp and let them sit up there hoping to see more elk. Time to try and be useful (there's a first time for everything, right?). We drove all over the mountain looking for rocks, which we collected, and filled his truck bed with, then took back to camp to fill the ruts in the (now very muddy) road, so that trucks that are not quite as manly as Mark's truck (ahem, papa's 2 wheel drive Dakota) would have a better chance of making it out of camp. After carefully placing the rocks in the deepest, stickiest of the two ruts, in the tightest jigsaw pattern we could, we figured we could compact them into place a bit, so they wouldn't move around and pop someones tire later. Again... the best laid plans. Every single rock (even one that took two of us to roll and slide into place) simply squished out the side of the rut, along with some tree branches we had put in there earlier. Screw it, we'll just have to floor it on the way out and hope for the best.

The other guys found what they described as being something of an elk convention center, with no elk. Kind of like hunting for nerds at the San Diego convention center, the day after ComicCon. The place was absolutely trashed, signs that a ridiculous number of elk had been laying there, and using it as a bathroom, but none of these elk could be found. The plan is to start there tomorrow morning, and hope we get up before they do. After that, we'll walk Hinton creek in the afternoon. Still haven't found any antlers.

The stars are so beautiful that it almost makes me sad that I see them like this so rarely. And by "almost" I mean "really". And by "sad" I mean "angry".

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Into the whiled: Mama's Birthday

Day 6, Thursday, Oct. 28th

The plan, I believe, is to take a break some time this afternoon to go up to the very top of the mountain, on the side nearest town, to try to catch a bit of a cell phone signal so that we can all call our others. I just hope the elk don't wait until then to come out of hiding. I'm looking forward to calling Erika if she's available, and if I can get a decent signal.

We're heading out early so we can try to catch the elk while they're still brushing their teeth and putting on their make-up. It's raining, and 40 degree's. Fortunately, I sprayed my jacket with water-proofing twice, so I should be well covered. My dad got this scent blocker spray called autumn forest or something... and it smells exactly like what I was talking about in my facebook status last month when I said, "Jacob Smith wants cologne that smells like the Sana Cruz mountains. Not Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz mountains." I may just have to steal it, and wear it around town... that is, if I ever go around town.

On our way out to the stock pond, we came upon a clearing and stopped inside the tree line. Papa leaned up against a tree and looked one way, I stood between a couple of trees and looked the other direction. After about a minute of standing still and being quiet (my favorite game), I see some deer coming toward us. I say, "Deer, right behind you.". By this time, they were just a little under 30 feet away, and a few of them stopped when papa turned around... but most of them just kept on like they were going to run right through us. I hesitate for a moment, deciding whether I should reach for my knife on my right hip, or my camera in my left pocket. I decided on my camera, and when I reach for it, the rest of the deer stop and look at us like, "Holy crap! You two were trees a second ago!" The five does bolted off, and were out of sight almost instantly, but the buck stuck around and posed for a few seconds. Long enough for me to get a profile shot of him. He wasn't anything too impressive, just a forked horn, but considering he almost trampled us, I was happy to get a picture. I hope I don't have to be content with that being the only thing I get this week.

We got up to the stock pond, and it seems just a little too late. The water was cloudy, and there were no elk around. We sat out of sight for a while, with the rain dripping down, hoping the trees would do a decent job of sheltering us... but it seems they were all too eager to be rid of the water collecting on them, and all too willing to dump it right on us, so we decided to hike back to camp. Along the way, we saw the tail ends of two more white-tail deer bouncing along through the forest about 50 feet ahead of us. Too bad it's not deer season.

Mark showed up around lunch time. Papa and Grandpa went up to make calls, but there's only room for two in Grandpa's car, so I'll wait around, and hope Pat goes up to call Jeanine this evening, and I'll be able to go and call Erika. I like being out here away from everything... but the one thing I miss more than anything else... more than a soft bed, more than tv, more than all my internets, is being able to contact her whenever I want.

The good thing about rain is that it disguises some of your noise. The bad thing is that my water-proofing didn't work. Second excursion, two more white tails and no elk. Seeing all this sign, and putting forth all of this effort, but not even catching a glimpse of what we're hunting... it's a little hard not to get discouraged. There have been so many near perfect opportunities for us to shoot an elk that only lacked one very important thing.

I nearly threw my phone off of a mountain. "More bars in more places" is great, provided that all those bars don't disappear as soon as you hit send. Standing on the top of a mountain, on top of a rock, in the rain, trying to call, or text... holding the phone up above my head, looking like a crazy person. Nothing. As soon as my jacket sleeves were wet enough to wring out, I decided it was time to give up and go back to the camp fire. I'll have to try again later. As miserable as all of that sounds, I really am enjoying myself. The only thing that sucks is that the one person I would most like here with me probably wouldn't enjoy it us much as I am. Really, after a long wet day like today, I'll take a covered campfire over a heated house.

By the way, since I wasn't able to call you: Happy birthday, Mama, I hope it was a good one.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Into the whiled: Hunt

Day 5: Wednesday, Oct. 27th.

The snow is still covering everything. If this keeps up, the first day of actual hunting should be pretty easy, since we'll be able to see where they've been recently, and where they were going. Also, we'll be able to see where they've peed, since it apparently looks like anti-freeze. Neon colors tend to stand out well against a solid white backdrop. It's 28 degrees, feels more like 30. The sun is shining and the air is still. Ate breakfast and heard the obligatory dad speech, "anybody have to go before we take off?". The day had already started heating up by the time we got all our snacks, emergency supplies, and weapons packed.

We came across some heavy elk tracks just up the road from camp, after crossing the drainage, but it was all muddled up and difficult to make out which way they'd gone, or how recently, so we kept going on the road, instead of following them. Through the barbed wire gate, followed the "leave it like you found it" gate policy, and made our way up to a rock outcropping at the top of a hill nestled between two, more heavily wooded, drainages that we were certain elk would be running through any minute. First wild-life sighting: two little ground squirrels... or maybe chipmunks. I don't know. They stopped their game of tag to look at us for about five minutes and then, presumably, run off and tell all the elk where we were.

Sneaking through the snowy forest like we were, my dad in front (because he had a gun, and didn't want to have to aim around me if an elk suddenly came into view) saying things like "We can stop and wait here, or keep moving. Your call.", and occasionally asking if I saw anything, kept reminding me of those levels in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare where your character is following his C.O. through a snowy forest, trying to make their way past Russian military. Slightly different though because, in the game, both characters have guns... and they're hunting people (and dogs)... and I was wearing a big blue back-pack. So it was kind of CoD4:MW mixed with Monty Python's Holy Grail, with me playing the roll of Patsy, my dad being Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, king of the Britons... and those squirrels being the French guards. In fact, I'm pretty sure I heard one of them call me a silly English Kunigit.

We followed a game trail along the creek, through a thicket (I also kept picturing scenes from Bambi all day which, unfortunately, makes me the villain in the scenario), and found more relatively fresh elk signs, but no elk. Why don't they ever just hang out where we can see them easily... and wear blindfolds... and be tied to a tree or something? That would make hunting much more convenient.

These boots were not made for walking, but that's just what they'll do. I'm in favor of any sport that includes walking through the forest, sitting for a long time, and not talking much. I should have used the bathroom before we left, like all the Dad's said. Will I never learn?

Went back to camp for lunch, and went out on a second excursion. This time we came across a lot of elk tracks and some deer tracks. The elk prints looked like a large bull and a cow. I could tell because my dad told me so. Haven't heard many shots (which is surprising, with it being the first day of the season) so maybe they're still alive and waiting for us somewhere. We followed the tracks to a stock pond that looked pretty well used. Big deep prints in the mud all along the bank, and cloudy water around them makes me think it's been visited recently. There's a good view of the field below from inside the tree line. Even without the binoculars I can see a decent number of beds out there. This will be a good place to start out in the morning. We set it as a way-point on the gps and headed back to camp. Tonight will be another night of sleeping on a mattress of shirts, but it's actually not as bad as it sounds. I don't know what all those homeless people are complaining about all the time.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Into the whiled: Near Catastrophe

Day 4. Tuesday, Oct. 26

There was snow all over the ground when I woke up. It wasn't thick, but it was beautiful. The tarp over the fire pit/seating area was sagging with it, but we got a fire going, and it all melted, and then turned into steam in pretty short order. Left-over beef stew for breakfast.

The desire to stay warm has kept us in pretty constant need of more firewood, so we've taken to cutting limbs off of the large dead trees laying on the hillside behind camp, which is mostly done with the axe and hand saw, but we also noticed that there's a dead stand just on the other side of the bathroom. This will require Gabe's chainsaw. Knowing that I have experience cutting down trees (since I had been talking about having done it for a living), the job was given to me. Cut down the tree, and don't smash the bathroom. Pretty simple. It's slightly more nerve wracking to have people watch you while you're cutting it down... especially when they're all mountain men. You don't want to look like an incompetent kid in this company. Aside from starting to cut a little higher than 18" from ground level (I guess that's the forest service maximum for felled tree stumps) all went well, the tree went where I wanted it, the saw didn't bind up, and nobody got cut in half. This is good dry redwood that we can use to dry out the other wood we have stacked around the fire pit. The thermometer says it's 32 degrees, which means it's already warming up.

While Papa and Uncle Pat make sure their sights are accurate, by shooting bottles, cans, and empty propane tanks they've set up on some logs, I carve the bottom half of the sapling from yesterday (the top half of which became Erika's walking stick) into a cougar spear. I shaved off all of the bark, and carved the shaft down til it was comfortable to get my hand around, and left a rough ridge around the pointed end so that, if any of us should need to use it, it won't just stab in and pull out. If I have to stab a cougar, I don't want to just piss it off and let it go. After I get it all fire hardened, and carve "Cougar" into the shaft, I think I'll leave it over by the bathroom so that no one gets caught with their pants down, so to speak.

Watching my dad and uncle shoot at cans, bottles, and propane tanks, while my grandpa watches them happily, it became apparent to me that boys never really grow up... they just get better toys. I can't really be sure, but I think it might be kind of the same with girls. Maybe we become more responsible (maybe we don't) or self sufficient (or not), but if you get us out of our usual lives, get us into our element, we're still those kids who pretend we're Davey Crockett surrounded by Injuns, or U.S. Marshall's hunting down the James gang... thank God that imaginative and joyful spirit never really leaves us... I think we'd be truly miserable without it.

We had piled a bunch of thick branches on the fire because they were full of sap and burned hot, and we were just getting ready for dinner. The water kettle relinquished its usual perch on the swinging grill over the fire to make way for the Dutch Oven, king of camp-fire cooking units, and instead took a place balancing on one of the rocks that made up the fire pit. Having filled the oven with what we were all sure would be another delicious meal, my dad had put it onto the grill and began swinging it back over the flames when, without warning....... his knee bumped into the water kettle, dousing the flames entirely. With very little dry wood around, we all were disheartened, and jumped up to try to figure out a solution. All seemed lost when, just as suddenly as it had gone out, fire jumped up from certain parts of the wood where sap had been oozing out. Steadily the steam turned back into smoke, and smoke into flame, and we were back in business.

The snow had melted sometime mid day, but the temperature has dropped again, and flakes are falling again, larger than before, and the wind has certainly picked up.
It's strange, out here where I don't have my cell phone or iPod on me (which I usually use in place of a watch), because I don't go by time of day. I wake up when I'm done sleeping, get up when I have to pee, eat when I'm hungry, go to sleep when I'm tired, and never once consider what time it is. Everything revolves around daylight, hunger, and energy. I assume someone must have a clock, or a watch, but I have no need for such things out here.

Into the whiled: Hike

Day 3, Monday Oct. 25th

This morning, when I was forced out of my nice warm sleeping bag by my insistent bladder, the ground was not nearly as mushy as it had been before. It wasn't that it had dried out... it had frozen solid. There was snow falling gently, the way it does in movies whenever a Christmas miracle is about to happen. The wind, pushing the soft puffs of frosty beauty around in the air like tiny dancing fairies..... or some analogy much more manly. As if fresh snow wasn't enough, we're having bacon with breakfast today. Oh joy, oh rapture. That wasn't meant to sound sarcastic.

This is the day we decided it was time to get a toilet built. There is a group of pine trees not far from camp (but far enough that we shouldn't be able to smell the toilet while cooking or eating meals) that we've decided will make the perfect support for our ghetto outhouse (and here you thought regular outhouses were ghetto). Uncle Pat is the primary engineer on this job, and it's a good working environment where the rest of us feel free to make suggestions as we see fit. We cut some pine saplings, 2 to 3 inches across generally, to be the beams the toilet seat would sit on, and screwed them at what seemed a comfortable height onto the trunks of the main trees. Don't worry, hippies, we didn't hurt the environment, we only cut small trees that were growing so close to larger trees that they would either die slowly from lack of water and sunlight, or grow taller and become a fire hazard to more established trees. Our crapper was one way in which we were protecting the forest. As one American Hunter magazine recently noted, "hunters make the best conservationists". After we put the beams and seat over the hole, we each did a dressed rehearsal to see if it was sturdy enough. The front beam sagged a little too much for our liking, so we cut a couple of legs out of some scrap we had left over, and screwed them in place. That seemed to work just fine. We wrapped it with tarps, put the shaved pine boughs on the ground at the foot of the throne (which helped mask the scent a bit, and acted as a visual barrier), and put a can full of ashes next to the seat. I also had brought a strawberry scented candle with this in mind, which I set next to the seat to be lit when the outhouse was in use. We're not complete barbarians.

With one of the most important elements of camp all taken care of, we decided to go off on a hike, to get more ideas about where we were hunting. In the fresh snow we saw elk tracks, deer tracks, and cow tracks pretty clearly... some pretty close to camp. We walked down the road a bit (or up, rather... sort of the theme of the day) and hooked off across a field into a heavily wooded area, which is where elk like to hang out. Apparently, animals that are food like to hang out where animals that try to eat them don't like to hang out. The snow is sticking to the ground less now, and the rising sun is dispatching what little had held there in the first place. We've come across a few areas that we can see they've been laying, some game trails, and a scrape (which we've established is much too low to be an elk). If you don't know what a scrape is, watch Bambi... right before we get informed about animals being twitterpated, Bambi makes a scrape on the tree, which rubs the bark off of the tree, and the velvet off of his antlers. It also sharpens them, making them perfect for when he wants to roast a bunch of marshmellows all at once... though that part got cut out of the movie because it took away from the drama of the forest fire scene. We also saw a couple of deer, as they bounced away from the other side of a clearing and into the forest.

After making a decent sized loop away from camp, and up to the top of "the bowl" (the valley we're camping in), we decided it was time for snacks. Fortunately, the top compartment on my backpack is stuffed with them. After some refreshments, uncle Pat hands me his 9mm Taurus pistol, and flips the safety into "you sure as hell better not be pointing this at anything you don't intend to shoot" mode, and I take aim at a knot on a tree about 35 feet in front of me and squeeze the trigger. This thing doesn't kick as much as my 30-06 rifle does. Perhaps distracted by the fact that the gun didn't try to jump out of my hands, I didn't see where (if anywhere on the tree) my bullet hit. I turn the gun a bit to the side, to make sure that the safety is off, but neglect to take my finger off the trigger (rookie mistake). This thing really does not take much pressure to get it to fire. The bullet darts off into the forest to my left, and the rest of the company jumps back a bit, except uncle Pat, who probably didn't even hear the gun go off. Lesson learned: the finger stays off the trigger until you mean to shoot.

Heading back to camp, we decide to take as straight a path as the trees and the barbed wire fences would allow. It worked out well to have a gps that worked off road... unlike mine. The one we used also doesn't have a russian accent, and doesn't tell you "In 500 feet, turn right." 20 seconds after you were supposed to turn. The thick brush on the way back and the lack of desire to go anywhere other than directly ahead meant it was convenient that I had my machete strapped to my back pack. I successfully chopped my way back to safety.

Back at camp, a whole lot of nothing to do.... which is actually fine by me. It gave me time to focus on important things. "What kind of important things?" you ask? The important kind.
I took the top of one of the saplings we had cut down (but turned out not to need), and cut off the smooth green bark from most of it, and carved out what I believe to be a perfectly Erika sized walking stick. Since she's not here to use it, I'll have to bring it back with me and give it to her some time. I also cut a notch on the uphill side of the already cut section of the thick part of the stick and made it look like a deer hoof. After fire hardening the whole thing, and actually burning the deer hoof section for color, it's ready for use.

The rest of the day was spent perfecting Erika's walking stick, changing something about it every time I look at it, dodging the smoke, eating, and dodging more smoke. Now I'm off to bed before any more of my words run together. Good night, Neverland.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Into the whiled: Scouting

Day 2. Sunday, Oct. 24th.

No such luck. Woke up about half an hour into the night on an entirely deflated mattress. I did manage to go back to sleep pretty quickly. The rain has cleared up, which is good because we're taking off on our first hike today, to get an idea of some good places to find elk. We piled into uncle Pat's truck and drove up a few different logging roads. Walking around on the top of Bone Ridge or something, we found a few different game trails to walk and check for elk signs (hoof prints, droppings, beds) I noticed Grandpa was walking off on his own in a different direction than uncle Pat and my dad, so I figured I'd sort of follow him. Something tucked in among the foliage on the forest floor caught my eye. Appeared to be the lower section of a deer leg. At first I figured it was a scrap that fell off of a mountain lion's table, but a closer look showed the leg to have been cut, not torn, which means that it must be human. What's more, the fact that it's still a few weeks before deer season around here means it's poachers. There are a lot of people who give hunters a bad name, but I think poachers might be the worst of them. They don't care about managing herd sizes, or maintaining healthy ecosystems, or any real sort of hunting ethics. They care about getting their trophy, their meat, or their payment, and not getting caught or having to pay. Uncle pat says a lot of poachers will sell their meat to local restaurants or the Indians.

We also saw what seemed to be the remains of a turkey, and some elk prints, droppings, and beds. toward the end of our walk I found a big pile of hair, and a hide that looked like a deer had slipped it off and left it on the floor, too lazy to toss it into the laundry bin. Further evidence that poachers just wanted to get in, get some meat to sell, and get out.

As the rest of the men stood around a little stock pond, I decided I wanted to do more exploring, so I climbed up on a rock pile and looked off in the distance with my binoculars. Uncle Pat took a picture of me, which I will probably put as my profile picture when I get back. I must say, I look like quite the adventurer.

Finally got to see the nearly full moon tonight as it crested the tree tops. Hopefully the skies stay clear.

Sitting around the camp fire, with the inconstant wind never making its mind up about where it wants to blow the smoke, is an exercise in patience/not swearing too much in front of your grandpa. It's ridiculous, and I'll probably have lung cancer by the end of the week. Going to try to sleep on a deflated mattress again. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Into the whiled

So, I recently went on a trip with my dad, up to the Ritter unit of the Umatilla national forest, outside of Dale, Oregon, to hunt elk. I'm blogging the trip now from what I wrote in a notepad while I was up there. I figure this is easier than telling everyone about it individually.

Saturday, Oct. 23rd, 2010
Day One. The Drive.

We left the house at around 3 am or something ridiculous like that. We had to get Mama to the San Fransisco airport, and we had a 13 hour drive ahead of us. We headed up 395, I think, and by breakfast time (or rather, the time our stomach's started growling and our eye lids decided we needed caffeine) we were in Williams, California. You know the place. No Starbuck's in sight (I know. Frowning emoticon) so we stopped at a McDonald's. That's fine, even though I know they're not actually food, I still love Bacon Egg and Cheese McGriddle's. There's a middle aged man and a mid 20's girl in there wearing camoflage, which of course means we're going to talk to them. They're on their way to go duck hunting. We're on our way to go Elk hunting. We're from Los Gatos. They're from Sebastopol (Seb-aa-stuh-poll). She didn't seem to remember my friend, Forrest, (who I figure she went to school with) until I mention that he was approximately 100 feet tall and was a poll vaulter, though he could just as easily have been the poll. Bellies full, eyes open, and back on the road. It's a while before we see any sunlight, but that's fine because it was also a while before we got to anywhere that was really beautiful. In case you were ever considering taking a sight seeing tour straight up the middle of California, don't. As the sun rose, so did our elevation, and we were driving up through the pillared halls of the mountain king, and suddenly through huge grassy flat-lands in mountain valleys, and then back into woodlands and up along winding roads. We'd get to look out, over the valleys as we carved our way along the side of the higher hills, at what must (in the winter) really be like a picture print by Courier and Ives. I really wish my camera was faster, and took higher quality pictures some times, because I can't fully explain how beautiful these areas were. Simultaneously quaint and vast, green and gold, antique and timeless. There are trees up here I'm not sure I've ever seen. The cathedral spires of ever-green trees that hem us in on every side are interrupted occasionally by sparkling explosions of yellow from Valley Oak, Aspen, (maybe) Birch, and Tamarack (the only deciduous conifer I know of)

The closer we got to the Oregon border, the more steadily the air grew full of water droplets. The moisture in the air and the angle of the sun gave us the rare opportunity to actually chase a rainbow. Directly to our right at first, and later moving along about 20 feet in front of us was a double rainbow.... all the way across the sky. It was even starting, at one point, to look like a triple rainbow. I couldn't even fully capture it on my camera. It was.... so intense.

We saw a pretty large herd of prong horned antelope (which I'd never seen in the wild) laying down in a field. I wanted to throw a rock at them so I could see the fastest land animal on the continent in action, but I didn't have a rock, and they seemed content to just be lazy bastards.
We had lunch at a diner in "The tallest town in Oregon", got our elk tag at a little sporting goods store, and made it up to Dale by late afternoon and met Uncle Pat at the turn off for the dirt road into camp. Fortunately, we got there with plenty of light left in the day, and got the tent set up and air mattresses inflated. Mine doesn't seem to be holding air too well, so we'll see how the night goes. It's a good thing everybody brought so much rope, and so many tarps, because we now have a covered kitchen area, and a covered sitting area around the fire in case it rains or snows like the weather report says it will. Speaking of which, tonight is the Hunter's Moon (second full moon of fall), not that we'd be able to tell, what with the clouds being so thick. The temperature's dropping, and all the caffeine's wearing off, so I'm going to crawl into my sleeping bag, put in my ear plugs, and hope I'm not sleeping on the hard ground by morning.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick

Every time I go to Home Depot, two things happen. 1) the garden center makes me wish I had my own house, and enough money to buy and plant whichever plants I chose. 2) the tool section makes me wish the Zombie Apocalypse would just hurry up and happen so the world would descend into anarchy and I could go steal the things they have there which would be useful in my attempts to survive and fight off my undead attackers. Here, for your reading and daydreaming pleasure, is a list of things which would be useful and/or necessary for a life on the run from undead predators. Not all of these things can be found at Home Depot, so you might also want to check places like sporting goods stores.

For surviving the undead:

* metal frame back pack... nothing too cumbersome... to carry your gear while leaving your hands free to fight and protect yourself.
* sturdy, breathable safety gloves to protect your hands from cuts and scratches.
* safety glasses for uv protection, and to keep blood out of your eyes.(sunglasses and vision enhancing yellow lenses if possible) yeah, sorry, they're going to make you look like a douche.
* machete (many great uses)
* dust masks so blood doesn't get in your mouth on accident.
* small bolt cutters because you never know when or where you're going to need to hide.
* Estwing 26" vinyl grip campers axe, perfect size, weight, and shape for clubbing and chopping from enough distance to keep you out of reach, as well as being useful for more typical purposes. Has soft grip with shock reduction and ergonomic shape. comes with sheath for easy carry.
* Stanley FatMax Xtreme FUBar Functional Utility Bar. Hammer, pry bar, pipe wrench. Comfortable grip. Multi-tools are great because they save space and increase your ability to maintain safety.
* Leatherman (or similar multitool) because... well really, what CAN'T you use one of these for? They're like Swiss Army knives only better. It's a good idea to get it with a belt clip.
* Camelbak. Handsfree hydration. When you use water purification tablets or can boil the water without the zombies seeing your fire, this can be one of your greatest allies.
* The most up to date survival guide you can get your hands on. This should include a list of general survival tools you will need, which should include but not be limited to
* waterproof matches.
* magnifying glass.
* light weight rope.
* metal canteen (can hold water as well as be used for boiling).
* comfortable, well broken in, running shoes.
* Knife sharpener
* etc.

You may have noticed, I did not include any guns or explosives. While I am a fan of things that go boom in the night, light and noise are likely to attract more zombies. Guns need ammunition, and the idea is to only use those things when absolutely necessary. Be a zombie fighting ninja. Walk softly, and carry a big stick.

any specific awesome tools of undead destruction and human survival you think should be added to the list? Leave its name, and a link, in a comment.

Edit: Sorry the links didn't post as links. Copy/paste into a different tab to get a better idea of what I'm talking about.