Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lobster and Nopales Salad

We had just returned from a professional conference in Berkeley. I had given a couple of presentations and after the seven hour drive back to southern CA I was looking for a chance to relax, at least for a day. Early the next morning I made my way through the insanity that is L.A. traffic. Unfortunately, none of my buddies were able to make it, so today’s adventure was to be solely between me and the sea. The fog was somewhat thick, so as I suited up, I had to scan the horizon for evidence of the distant kelp bed.

            It was the last week of lobster season, and I knew this was my only chance. Kicking out across the calm waters I began scanning the reef below, making descents now and then to investigate the subsurface topography. The visibility was a hazy three feet, but when you’re hunting lobster (commonly referred to as “bugs”), the lack of vis is not really an issue. This spot was one of my favorites, when it was going off, but if you did not catch the crustacean migration at the right moment, it could be like a desert. Among the boulders I saw numerous sizable pebble crabs, and the sea hares were thick, but only one legal bug was seen. This one however, was a very nice lobster. I made up my mind as I put the big guy on my Banksboard, to kick back in and head back down the coast to another go-to spot.

            Not wanting to change out of my wetsuit only to repeat the process moments later, I laid down my dry bag on the seat, stepped into my car with mask and snorkel still around my neck and drove to the second spot…and boy was I glad I did. I took a beautiful grass rockfish for that night’s tacos (a truly delicious fish with great texture), and spent a great deal of time peering into caves and crevices at plentiful lobsters.
The vis here was great in comparison, at least 15ft, and I was having a blast! The bugs were out in force, with numerous juveniles seen, and many other mature bugs also encountered.  A few gave me the slip (anyone who thinks lobsters are slow has clearly not had one blast out of a cave full speed at 30 ft and knock the mask right off their face). But by the end of the dive I had 5 nice bugs on the board, I had seen giant kelpfish dancing together in the blades of marine algae, and saw two juvenile bugs spar a bit on the bottom a few feet from my face. It was a good day!

            That night I cooked up a batch of grad school staple fish tacos with a side of foraged avocado in the form of fresh guacamole.
The next day it was another Mexican favorite, lobster tostadas! But in this case we were blessed with another spring delicacy, nopales! The cactus pads of the prickly pear, known as nopales in Spanish, are a frequent spring gift in California that is as nutritious as it is tasty. 
 After removing the spines and cooking them in the way my landlord and his wife had instructed, I put together enselada de nopales, using foraged avocado, juice of a foraged lemon, onion, tomato, cilantro, and spices. Matching this side dish with the exquisite flavors and textures of fresh lobster tostadas, and we were feasting like no other on the California coast once more…for a mere $1.16 a plate to boot!

A point of advice-Don’t Dive Alone! I have been diving for 18 years, and I still do not recommend it. If you want to learn to freedive and spearfish, seek professional guidance. There are good divers who would be willing to show you the ropes all up and down the coast, but do not think for an instant this is something to just go out and try on your own! After all, the ocean is wild and unpredictable, and an environment that takes years to truly understand. You wouldn’t decide to take up rock climbing by going out alone with no ropes and just have a go at a 150 ft free ascent would you? Freedivers die every year in California, so please don’t add your name to the list. Try a performance freediving class, or at the very least ask a seasoned veteran to show you the ropes.   

-Finally, when life gives you lemons, squeeze them over your fresh caught lobster and take a bite! Remember, if you need a vacation and only have a day, go on a hunting or fishing foray, it’s an opportunity for adventure and you don’t have to go far, but I do suggest you get of the house and away from the car. Keep the old ways alive!----Kevin Smith


“The forest itself was the very fabric of our ancestors’ life. It was their supermarket, their drugstore, their hardware store, all things rolled into one. It was vital that they had an understanding of all the materials that grew around them.”- Master of Bushcraft- Ray Mears----

I got out in the morning to take my dog, Abalone, for a swim in the creek. 30 minutes drive from the heart of the downtown Los Angeles metropolitan area, we found a little piece of paradise in the San Gabriel Mountains. Even in the parking lot I was reminded of the local abundance represented here. Large and healthy labsquarter, a delicious edible plant used traditionally as a pot herb, were growing up beside granitic boulders right next to my car. . Though I would have loved to harvest these, the close proximity to the road makes them ideal candidates for exposure to pollution from car exhaust, as well as pesticides commonly used by CALTRANS as part of programs aimed at keeping brush and trees from overgrowing roadways. As a common practice, it is smart to make your way beyond the roadsides by at least 50 feet before foraging wild foods. Of course, once we got 50 feet out, no lambsquarter was to be seen!

However, on our hike down to the creek many other species were encountered. The term ethnobotany is simply described as “how cultures make use of plants for food, medicine and materials.” And today, as we made our way towards the creek and past countless native and non-native species, I was reminded of my passion for this subject. My interests in ethnobotany was spurred long before I took up the study of archaeology, and is in fact rooted in foraging for local edibles in the orchards of Northern California with my brother, Justin. However, over the years, my passion for anthropology and archaeology led me to look deeper into understanding the relationship between cultures and plants.

Along the trail we first encountered wild cucumber, not an edible species as the name suggests, and certainly not an appetizing sight when one encounters the spike-ridden surface of the seed pod. But this beautiful and inedible plant had a great importance by many tribes in California in ancient times. The seeds of the plant were crushed and mixed with pigments, such as red ochre and became a great binder for applying this paint. The root, which is enormous and by some accounts reminiscent of a human form (which gives this plant another common name, manroot) was pulverized as well. This portion was scattered into still pools of likely fresh and salt water. A mild toxin secreted from this root then clogged the gills of fish, stupefying them, causing them to float to the surface where they could be gathered in baskets. After a time, the weirs were intentionally breached, or the tide came back in bringing new water which diluted the toxin allowing the smaller fish, which were not retained, to breathe more easily and return to the rocks and crevices below. And of course boys will be boys, so when we were kids, we used to make bolas with theses vines using the “spike balls” (as we called them), for weights which we would spin round our heads and hurdle at each other and our enemies…man those were the days!

The next species encountered is one I have heard uses for, but none of which I will relay here in hopes no one will try them. Urban legends are common in the city, and country legends are common in the heather; so in the country everyone seems to know a friend of a friend whose cousin used the leaves of this plant for toilet paper…and will never make that mistake again! Poison oak is extremely common throughout California. Its size can be as small as a few inches in height with leaves less than a centimeter in length when found along the cliffs of northern CA where it barely survives on the water generated from coastal fog. It can be a beautiful shrub about the size of a man along trails and creeks throughout the state. And I have even seen vines nearly four inches in diameter, growing through the center of a Douglas fir tree with a nearly 4 ft diameter trunk, emerging from the other side and climbing to heights of nearly 75ft; this form typically has leaves as long as 8 inches, and in this case must have been around 100 years old. Due to the diversity of its overall size, it makes this species particularly menacing as a single brush of the leaves can leave you with a rash that lasts for weeks, especially in spring when the oils are extra prevalent! Worse yet, this painful itching, blistering mess can go systemic, which means it enters the blood stream and will tickle you all over. As a result, wherever you instinctively scratch, this terrible rash appears. Bottom line, “beautiful sheen of red and green, leaves of three, leave them be!”

At this point, Abalone was a little frustrated with my interest in the plants and finally coaxed me into getting to the creek.

We played fetch in a little swimming hole for an hour and she swam to her heart’s content under a willow (great weaving material with bark that can be chewed in place of aspirin), mulefat (traditional Cahuilla building material for huts and windbreaks), and a sycamore (traditional Chumash material for carving bowls and platters). Finally, I thought we should have a look up a nearby draw where the shade covered the canyon nearly all day.

On the way I found a little water-starved wild mustard in the sun which gave me an idea.

We made our way up the shady draw through patches of moist ground carpeted with chickweed (delicious) and found what we were looking for, healthy large leaves of wild mustard. This plant is not native to California, however in areas such as Jammu and Kashmir, known for fields of mustard which is pressed for its oil, the green leaves of this plant have also made their way into local cuisine. I had already made a nettle saag, but I really wanted to try a traditional Kashmiri mustard green saag; and there is never a better time to forage than in the present.

We made off with enough leaves for the curry. Cooked them down with spices and added some potato chunks for texture. I fed them to my girl, Chelsea as we celebrated seven years together. She looked at me and said with a grin, “This is even better than the spinach saag!” As far as I was concerned, that was the true signal of success!

Carry an extra bag or basket wherever you may go, as you really never know, what delicacies may lay in the trail ahead, but with a forager mindset you’ll always be well fed! Keep the old ways alive! ----Kevin Smith

All That the Spring Brings: Shellfish, Mushrooms, and Wild Greens

“We are the billionaires of foraging!”-Alex Izzarelli----

I woke early and assembled the gear. I was presenting some of my research at a conference in a few days, and wanted to make sure it was well put together, so I had only one day left for an adventure and I wanted to make sure we had everything put together early so we would be prepared to do it right. Into the basket went all the essentials including a couple of strips of bacon, some rosemary, chives from my parents garden, and a couple of bottles of my Dad’s newest home brewed India Pale Ale (made with our home grown hops). I also brought about a third of the winter chantrelles, black trumpets and hedgehog mushrooms I had gathered the day before with my brother and his girlfriend.

Alex picked me up at about 10 am and we headed out to the coast for a little spring foraging. We carefully climbed down a crumbly sandstone cliff to the rocky beach below. Armed with a plastic bag, fishing license, and a water bottle, we scrambled along the algae encrusted boulders of the inner tidal zone gathering sea water, edible kelp, and filled the bag with fresh mussels in about 15 minutes time. Inner tidal foraging is very productive if you know your marine plants and shellfish, and today was certainly no exception.

From there we could see the boulder outcrop exposed at the top of Coyote Ridge nearly a mile up the canyon; our favorite cooking location. We climbed back up the cliff and made our way up the hill stopping to forage as we went. Along a small creek we gathered a few sprigs of wild fennel and a few leaves of nettle to add to our feast. We got a nice oak and coyote brush fire going at Coyote Ridge and laid down our mussels over a bed of fennel and dried bay leaves (locally foraged as well). We added a little sea water to the mix to impart a salty taste and help steam the shellfish, and placed the pot over the coals. Once the mussels were done we grilled a few strips of bacon kabob style on whittled coyote brush skewers, and sautéed the mushrooms and nettle in butter with the fresh chives and rosemary. We quickly carved a couple pairs of coyote brush chopsticks, cracked our home brewed IPA’s, sat back, relaxed and feasted like kings.

The herbs and salt water imparted great flavor to the mussels which we were thoroughly enjoying, but once tasting the mushroom-nettle medley I was really impressed with the meal. Something about the flavors in both dishes seemed to complement each other perfectly. We sat on the ridge overlooking the canyon and Pacific Ocean below, laughing at the prospect of buying shellfish. An hour’s work (if you can even call it that), and we had a meal that couldn't be found at the finest restaurant. Not only was it delicious, but as fresh as possible. And we had an intimate association with every ingredient, as we had selected each from the field and cooked each with joy. When all was said and done, we figured our total costs at around eighty cents, which comes out to forty cents each.

As always, a warning regarding shellfish and wild edibles- bivalves (clams, mussels, etc.) can only be safely eaten in the colder months as they filter-feed on toxic plankton in warmer months, so always check with the county department of health before gathering. Wildcrafting can be a fun and productive undertaking if conducted properly, however, ethical foragers must always respect private property, and in regards to health, never forage near power lines or roadsides as they are often the subject of pesticide spraying by power companies and public road maintenance organizations. Remember to forage seasonally as there is abundance out there every day, take the time to adventure even if it’s just outside your door, and always strive to keep the old ways alive!----Kevin Smith

Last of the Mushroom Harvest

“I used to dread the rain. Now I can’t wait for it to fall so I can get out mushroom hunting!”-Justin Smith----

I hadn't seen my brother in a few months and I was really looking forward to hanging out with him and his girlfriend Karen. I was supposed to enter a downhill skateboard race, but once I heard that Justin and Karen were planning a late season mushroom hunt, my priorities changed. After all, I had plenty of opportunities to be on concrete in southern California, but very few to get out in the woods. Now up here in northern California I was really craving crawling around on the forest floor looking for the gifts that a good rain brings.

We headed to a spot my brother had found a while back that had a decent population of black trumpets through most of the winter. The ground was fairly dry as there had been no rain for a few weeks, and it was pretty clear that we were nearing the end of yet another great mushroom season. My dog, Abalone, was having a good old time running around through tunnels in the thick huckleberry and fern covered slopes that make up the coastal coniferous forest floor. I even saw her climbing trees a few times; Jack Russell’s are a truly remarkable breed.

After a little searching we began spotting a few mushrooms here and there in the more shaded areas on north facing slopes. I called out when I found a couple of black trumpets as my eyes went into black trumpet locator mode. This entails standing at the foot of the mushroom you just cut and very slowly scanning the area surrounding it without taking another step. As usual, their grayish black color began to slowly stand out from the dark forest floor all around me. In a matter of minutes Justin, Karen and I had all raked in with these black chanterelles. Next Karen located a nice patch of hedgehogs while Justin worked on a cluster of winter chanterelles.

Eventually we moved on to another area where I go frequently to gather hedgehogs and winter Chanterelles, which during wet months seem to carpet the forest floor here. This time we found again that the ground was relatively dry, but on hands and knees and sometimes belly’s we found plenty of hedgehogs and yellow foots to fill our baskets.

Once back home, Karen cleaned the fungi as Justin began assembling our wild mushroom pizza. It was so simple, just dough, sauce, cheese, caramelized onion, and mushrooms, but man was it good! Each type of mushroom has its own distinct flavor and texture, and with every bite we were filled with contentment. Sharing this pizza and the joys of an every-day adventure was a great end to a very fun mushroom season.

The fruiting bodies of the mushrooms are leaving now that it is warming up, but the spring greens are abundant, so get out there away from the road and off the trail, tread lightly, harvest ethically and joyfully, and always strive to keep the old ways alive!

Fresh Fish and Salt of the Sea

Buck and I made it out for a good spearfishing session a week ago. The water was not particularly clear, but the seas were very calm and we were happy to get out. We had both been drying out way too long and were really happy to dive in and rehydrate. Once out beyond the inner kelp bed and pinnacles, we stopped off to gather some fresh sea water.

Buck had two full bottles loaded onto the Banksboard in a flash. Then we moved out to deeper water to see if we could find some pinnacles in the 30-40ft depth range. Once located, I dropped down a few times and located several cracks in the rock loaded with scallops. Working my trusty bar around the circumference of the shells to locate the proper point whereby I could pry, each scallop allowed me to slip the pry in and pop it loose from the rock below. On the surface I scraped the shells free of crabs, tube worms, algae and other sea life that reside on these tiny bivalve ecosystems. Some made their way back to the reef while others were scooped up by a swarm of señoritas, happy for the free meal. At least they were not going to waste.

We made our way shallower as I was hoping today would bring Buck his first fish…and it did! He speared a small black perch, and was thrilled! However when he got it to the surface, he insisted I shoot the photo of him “seal style” as he put it “because I would feel better if I had got this little guy with my teeth!” However, I assured him that perch have no size limit for a reason; they are the most abundant fish in our waters. And starting with a small black perch is way better than spearing a 50lbs halibut on your first dive, as you may not top such a catch in 20 years. Buck agreed with a grin and loaded his catch on the Banksboard.

We are opportunistic foragers in many ways, today we were hungry and our freezers empty. We did what we could and happily harvested a small group of the abundance we encountered. The scallops made excellent sashimi, and the fish made a great college spearo staple-tacos on the cheap!

We cooked down the fresh sea water into a thick cloudy slurry, placed it into dishes and allowed it to evaporate in the sun for a few days.

Then we scrapped the bottom of the dishes to find more tasty, fresh sea salt than we could use in a month!

This was a truly great little everyday foraging adventure, and left us with food for the table, the freezer and a tasty homemade garnish as well.

Remember, even on the days when the sea is not clear or the big fish are not near, when the sun does not shine bright, do not lose sight. There is fun to be had by field or by flood, when the forager spirit runs in your blood. Always strive to keep the old ways alive!

Forage the West for a Taste of the East

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime”-Chinese proverb... I will never forget sharing a meal with four Indian kids in Jaipur. They liked that I was trying to speak Hindi and that I liked Indian food, and they insisted that I try the meal their grandmother had prepared for them. I was with some rajputs (high class) who had been great hosts themselves, but they literally frowned on me for sitting with these “commoners.” But, I am an American, so what can I say, as soon as I saw I was not supposed to sit with people “below my class,” I was all about it! After all, I hail from the land of the free, and these kind souls just offered to break bread with me; as far as I was concerned I was honored to sit with them and try grandma’s curry. We sat on the ground and ate laughing and joking in a mish mash of English and Hindi, and to this day, the best palak paneer I have ever had was made by the grandmother of my four good hosts, and happily eaten on the ground in Jaipur, India… Well, even though the sea was calm last weekend, she was certainly far from clear! Perhaps a plankton bloom had occurred or maybe there were just more particulates concentrated in the water column; after all we were there at low tide. But as Nicholas Santos made his way toward the kelp covered reef below me, he disappeared into the murk after only a few kicks…bottom line, the vis was not good. Hailing from northern CA however, I am certainly used to that! Unfortunately, the fish were also pretty few and far between as opposed to a month ago. I remembered the same thing happening last year about this time, so we figured they must have moved off of the reef for deeper water. In any case, we managed enough fish between us that everyone went home with a meal. Reilly took a nice kelp crab home as well which he later told us was sweet and delicious!

We had three or four harbor seals shadowing us all day; even approaching up to a few feet away from us on the bottom which was pretty cool. But the real high point of the day for me was when I heard in the distance the hoots and hollers that I recognized instantly as a successful shot! Making my way around the reef I could see both Reilly and Mitch were working hard. Moments after I kicked up, Reilly lifted his head with a big smile and shouted “Mitch got one!” I looked to Mitch, who only nodded with a content grin for a moment and then plunged his face back into the water to look for more. He had landed a nice sized rubber lip perch, his first speared fish, and was very proud and already planning how he was going to cook the fish when we finally hit the shore.

The next morning I got out with my dog, Abalone, for a little hike. She was really amped to go for a swim, so I walked her along a little creek in the Angeles National Forest until we reached a series of small pools. It was hot for February, around 80°, so she swam her little heart out while I skipped rocks and looked for edible plant foods in the shade. I ended up finding a nice little patch of spring stinging nettles which I promptly gathered and carefully stuffed into my backpack.
Once back home, I decided to try a recipe I had been formulating in the recesses of my brain for nearly 11 years. I had learned to love Indian recipes while traveling northern India in my late teens, and a combination of the traditional cooking of the region with my newly acquired spices, and adding freshly foraged ingredients, seemed like a culinary experiment worth trying today! I substituted nettle for spinach (similar tastes), used a foraged lemon to separate the curds from the whey from a quart of whole milk to make the paneer, and made up a batch of nettle saag paneer. Once I had tasted it, I realized that there was no way I could eat it in good consciousness without sharing the fine food with some of our foraging rabble. I invited Bill and Buck Franklin over for lunch the next day and we served up a meal consisting of homemade aloo mutter (North Indian potatoes and peas), roti (traditional flat bread), and the spiced fish fillets from our recent spearfishing trip. We laid down a freshly foraged ground cloth of banana leaves and served the foraged fusion in an abalone shell I had dove for up north, a stone bowl I fashioned a couple years back, a scallop shell from last year’s harvest, and a stone slab from a northern California creek. We ate with contentment, and speaking of seasonality and tradition, began hatching plans for adventures to come. Bill said he liked the nettles better than spinach, and Buck remarked that it was the best lunch he had enjoyed since moving to L.A. As the cook, I was of course, very pleased.
This was just another day, and another excuse to feast like kings on the bounties that our local environment can yield. Remember, we are just like you, and if you wish to enjoy the fruits of a good harvest, get out there and do it! Forage safely, forage ethically, and always keep the old ways alive! - Kevin Smith

Stone Tools and Winter Waterfowl

“Long as the new moon returns in heaven a bent, beautiful bow, so long will the fascination of archery keep hold of the hearts of men.”- Maurice Thompson, The Witchery of Archery, 1878---- I had fashioned five composite arrows equipped with flu-flu fletching (legally required for shots on the wing) from local materials gathered in the woods with my buddy Nicholas Santos. Mainshafts were heat straightened carrizo cane, foreshafts were carved from toyon wood, hafting cordage was twined nettle and dogbane, hafting glue was prepared conifer pitch, fletching was made from wild turkey wing feathers from a bird I got a few years back, and I knapped the stone points from local chert and obsidian that I had gathered as well.

I should pause here and explain that as an archaeologist, I have a passion for traditional technologies and hope to spread the joy of learning the crafts our ancestors mastered through the generations. However, if this post influences others to gather and fashion your own arrows (which I sincerely hope it does), then I insist you proceed in an ethical manner. Please respect archaeological and sacred cultural sites! This becomes especially important when gathering stone. DO NOT gather obsidian, chert, chalcedony, etc. arrow heads or tool stone that is fragmented, as even the latter is often the result of the work of ancient flintknappers. What may appear to the untrained eye as a natural broken cobble of obsidian is easily recognized by archaeologists as a core and an artifact. If you seek to gather your own stone (which I encourage) then look for road cuts that yield stone that would have not been exposed to indigenous flintknappers, take only what you need, make sure if permits are required that they are first acquired, only gather stone with full cortex (weathered rind) and in their unbroken state, and finally do not take natural and unmodified stone from areas exhibiting artifacts such as flakes, cores and bifaces. That being said, such road cuts do exist and that is exactly where my stone originates.
My bow was still in manufacture (shark skin sandpaper and flake stone scrapper-planes take time to work with), so I was hunting with my girl’s maple longbow that I had carved for her from a big-leaf maple in the Trinity Alps years ago. The mist hung low over the pasture lands in wisps of white and gray interlacing the large outstretched branches of old coast live oaks. The morning was still and quiet and the northern California air was sweet with the smells of winter. My brother Justin had kindly loaned me his kayak for the week and as I covered it streamside with burlap, earth-tone rags, and my Grandpa Hunter’s old green WWII air force blanket, my mobile blind was ready. I changed into the makeshift ghillie suit I had made from rags and old hunting cloths, strung the bow, and pushed off from the bank onto the calm waters. As I paddled slowly out into the flooded wetlands dotted with willows, cattails, and tules, the only sound was the quiet trickle of water dripping from my kayak blade with each stroke. The fowl were plenty, and the shots that day were many, and through I brought home no birds, my smile was wide for days after. Some shots hit so close I half expected to see feathers fly, but no birds ended up in the bag. But that’s why it’s called hunting and not shopping! All in all this was an experience I will never forget, and I can’t wait to give it another go next season. Remember, when foraging, hunting and fishing, if you’re not smiling by the end of the day, you’re not doing it right! Keep the old ways alive!

Gluten Free Dutch Oven “Blappleberry” Crisp

 I got an apple wood fire going, and knowing it was going to be a while before it burned down into a nice bed of coals, I added the cream to my good ol’ shakin’ jar and started agitating it like mad. The cream thickened into whip cream within fifteen minutes, and separated into butter and buttermilk in another five minutes.

The butter went into the fridge (my Mom explained that it needs to be cold to make the biscuit crust flakey), and we started coring the apples. Usually, we’d be using our own heirloom organic winter apples, but I was up north later this year as my wife and I had been working hard applying to PhD programs. Alas, we were forced to buy apples. But the blackberries were home foraged! Mixing the dough, my Mom walked me through the inner workings of the gluten free biscuit crust as she worked the cinnamon and local honey into the blackberry apple medley with her hands.

My mom is hands down the greatest chef I know. Many folks assert this about their moms, but rest assured, my mom can out cook anyone! I owe a great portion of my adventuresome spirit when it comes to cooking and eating exotic foods to her influence, so today, cooking a blackberry-apple crisp aka. Blappelberry crisp, with her was a real treat. Now there is cooking, and then there is cooking! Today, we were using a time tested method, the Dutch oven. My girl had bought me a new Lodge Dutch oven for my birthday knowing that I love to cook and have a love for the old time ways. I had been looking at it each night after working on grad school applications, and it seemed like an eternity before this moment; we were finally going to try it out!

The coals were glowing, and I was getting hungry, so I added 1/3 of the coals to the bottom, 2/3 to the top of the oven and sat back patiently. Every five minutes I rotated the lid a quarter turn clockwise, and the oven a quarter turn counter clockwise to help even out any hot or cool spots and ensure even cooking. The aroma was beautiful! Apple wood smoke and layers of baking dough, sweet cinnamon, and fruit; by this time my belly was not just growling, it was howling! Though Dutch oven cooking takes time and patience, we were greatly rewarded this day with a fantastic dessert made fresh from the coals. The whole family enjoyed the bounty of our efforts, and I can’t wait for the next time. Remember to enjoy quality time with those who are closest to you, try new things and time tested traditions, and always strive to keep the old ways alive.

A Traditional Fishing Kit with All Stone Tools

 I finally found the footage we shot last year of carving composite bone fishhooks, twining plant fiber cordage fishing line, and pecking and polishing grooved stone weights with all stone tools. Unfortunately the resolution is a bit lacking, and I had some weird glitches pop up while editing. But even though the video is a little choppy, we think you’ll enjoy it, as we certainly had fun making it!  Foragers, Buck, Bill and I had spent the afternoon under a nice old sycamore using sandstone and granitic rocks for abraders and meta-volcanic flakes for saws, knives, and wedges. We worked (if you can call it that…I would be more inclined to call it fun) through the afternoon carving yew wood I had cut in Northern CA, and bone we had gathered in the mountains. I had traded a good Chumash friend for the dogbane that we twined into fishing leaders. Nicholas Santos and I had gathered the cattail leaves that became my main line in the San Gabriel Mountains; and the pitch we used to glue the hook points to shanks was from conifer resin I had gathered in the eastern Sierra Nevada’s. Traditional technologies are great for so many reasons; one in particular, is that they are free! Additionally, by taking part in the manufacture of tools that our ancestors relied on for their daily subsistence, we gain insight into the ancient life-ways that led to our very existence. Finally, by gaining first-hand knowledge of traditional technologies, your perspective of the natural world that surrounds you will be vastly broadened. After all, in order to produce our fishing kit with all stone tools, we had to first gain a knowledge of local ethno-botany (how cultures made use of plants) and geology (to understand the principles of our lithic raw materials). We had a lot of laughs during the process, and we hope you have fun watching the footage. Now, if the sea will just calm a bit, maybe we can get out there and see if our fishing tackle really works! Get out foraging soon, don’t take yourself too seriously, and always strive to keep the old ways alive! -by Kevin Smith


Remembering Lobster Opener

“You got any lobstahs?”
-The Jerky Boys

My older Brother Justin sat on a brick wall in the front of CSULB with his dive gear in a huge dry bag reading Norse mythology. I cruised up slowly and rolling down the window whispered in the creepiest voice I could muster “Hi there little boy, would you like some candy?” He got a good laugh shaking his head and muttering as he threw his gear in the back. It had been about a month since the last time we got to hang out, and it just happened that the fisheries conference he had been attending also coincided with lobster opener. We painstakingly made our way through southern California traffic while we caught up, stopping off briefly to get an ocean enhancement stamp, lobster card and gauge for Justin. That night we mapped out our strategies for the following day…lobster opener.

I woke Justin with a cup of coffee in the morning, and we were on the road pretty early. He still needed to pick up a rental weight belt as he was not able to bring his on the plane ride down, so we made our way to a local SCUBA shop first. The seas were calm, and the water looked pretty clear as well. We were now getting excited as we hurriedly cruised down the coast to the shop. A half an hour later we had the lamest neon-green soft weight setup you’ve ever seen loaded into the trunk as I drove and Justin cut a breakfast burrito in half. When we got to the spot we know solely as the Kwiki Mart (because the drive is short and the “shelves are always stocked”), we stepped out and looked over the waters again enjoying our breakfast.

Two overweight SCUBA divers approached us with curiosity. “Hey, how do you guys get down there?” they asked, motioning to the beach below. Believing they had not seen the trail down the 15ft slope, I replied “Oh, there’s a path right there”. The pair looked at the trail with heads shaking and replied “That’s a crazy trail, is there an easier way down?” Doing my best to keep from bursting into laughter as I looked at the short little path, I replied “Yeah it is pretty sketchy, I always seem to get banged up climbing down there, but that’s the only way down.” The pair looked at each other again and said “Well good luck guys, we’re gonna try a beach with less of a hike then that!” referring to the 20ft between them and the sand. As they drove off, Justin’s jaw dropped. “Did that seriously just happen?” he asked with a grin. “I know, man,” I said with a chuckle, “and I hear that kind of thing all the time down here!” He shook his head holding his side laughing and replied “That would never happen in Northern California!”

We got our gear together and carefully descended the treacherous six steps to the beach below taking great care to spot each other. Once on the sand we were suited up in record time. I suggested we work the shallows a bit during high tide, and as the tide went out we could work our way to deeper water. The sea was a clear 15ft of visibility and we were plenty happy with that. Justin had a bug in the bag within 10 minutes, but after passing by countless shorts over the next half hour we realized that someone had likely hit the shallow sub-tidal zone hard at midnight the night before. Making our way to a further reef I secured my Banksboard to the giant kelp canopy and told Justin that this was where Kirby had seen bugzilla the previous year. “This is good reef, have at it and I’ll be at the second rock looking for fish,” I said as I kicked away.

The longer we stayed in, the clearer it seemed to get as the current brought in new clean water. I had a couple of sheephead on my board in the first hour but was soon distracted watching a lone two-spot octopus defending himself from the attacks of an aggressive garibaldi. On one drop I found a couple of sizable rock scallops that had apparently broken free of the reef in a storm. But contrary to what I expected, they were thriving on the bottom at the base of a pinnacle. I picked them up from the sandy sea floor with a grin and loaded them onto the board. About that time Justin popped up and hollered “Kevin! Thanks for putting me on this spot man, it's killer!” I kicked over to see his progress only to find that my Brother had limited out before I had even found a single legal bug!

“You know man,” I said with a hi-five, “I am not even surprised!” It is just Justin’s style to swim out to my spot and show me how it’s done. When we were kids, our parents, Barbara and Hunter, thought that there might be something wrong with me because I didn’t learn to swim until I was five years old. After all, Justin had been holding his breath and swimming under water since he was two! Still, at a relatively young age we both chased our Dad’s fins into the cold northern California waters and learned an appreciation for freediving and spearfishing almost instantaneously. But it was Justin who excelled in this arena first and I later followed his example. At the age of ten, wearing an old flea market wetsuit our Dad had cut down and glued together, Justin routinely brought in rockfish, lingcod and abalone. When I came of age to make the switch from perch to big fish, Justin loaded his speargun for me over and over (I was still too young to pull the bands). It was on just such a day that I landed my first lingcod. Justin always has had a way with the sea and the calmness he feels in the water is contagious. So this day in the warm waters off the southern California coast, was no surprise at all.

We stayed out for a total of six hours that day enjoying the calm blue-clear waters. We had no plans, no obligations and no time restraints; it was all about enjoying the dive. Justin scouted out another sizable pair of bugs which I wrestled from a nice cave, the latter of which was the largest of the day and took nearly every ounce of my strength to break free from the rocks. Justin found a few more sizable scallops on the bottom and swooped them up like he was on an Easter egg hunt. We kicked back in with big smiles and rode a nice wave in on the Banksboards. Once on the beach we admired the catch and the view, breathing the deep sighs of contentment that only a good freedive brings.

That night we relived the day and feasted with my wife Chelsea. California spiny lobster burritos were on the menu, fresh from the sea and unparalleled in flavor! It was good to get a little time in with my Brother again…and to think ahead to what the fall mushroom hunts and winter Dungeness crab dives might bring! Keep the old ways alive!