Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lean-to on the North Coast

"You got any cheese?"- Ben Gunn (a marooned character) from Treasure Island

Sometimes you just have to get away from it all. Away from the hustle, noise, concrete, and streets, from the buildings, the just have to go far!
This day, in the old way, I hiked to a secluded cove, 
there on the scenic north coast with no tent and not even a stove.
Driftwood, and my grandfathers old pancho became my lean-to, with warmth of fire, I enjoyed one of the best beaches I've been to.

I speared some black rock fish with my brother the day before; he nailed a nice lingcod. I intentionally speared one in the eye to keep its form pristine as we hope to make a traditional Japanese fish print (gyotaku) soon. The second rockfish was to be my dinner, paired with foraged peach, plum, blackberry, and wild fruit salad.
The hike in was really pretty with vast open views of the northern Pacific Ocean.
 There was no stone-free spot above the high tide mark for my bed, and no conifers to lend me boughs for a padding, so I set to work systematically removing as many stones from a small patch as I could while the sun set. 

 I found ample driftwood for constructing the frame of my lean-to and for fire wood. Paired with my grandpa's old WWII pancho I had a nice bushcraft shelter in no time flat.

 Again, my new Black Pine down sleeping bag kept me toasty warm even in the thick coastal fog.

 I was unable to get a decent shot of my dinner plate...but trust me, this was a great meal...and 100% free!
 I woke up to a very vocal group of baby river otters wrestling and foraging in the surf. In historic times when the Russians first settled the north coast, establishing a major settlement at Fort Ross, they hunted sea otters to the brink of extinction. River otters have now moved into the inner tidal zone enjoying the bountiful fish and shellfish resources that can be found here.

 After washing up in the sea, I got a batch of cowboy coffee going on the coals. I didn't have any bacon (a bushcraft fopaux) but some sauteed salami paired quite well with the left over fruit salad, and potatoes with homemade sea salt and herbs from the garden.
 With an old chair leg I found in the driftwood pile, and a notched stone sinker, I set up a hobo fishing rig. Yet, try as I might, I had no luck. 

 So, as the tide went out, I switched my focus and gathered limpets and tegula. Many people do not know that bivalves such as mussels and clams are toxic in the summer months, yet mollusks and gastropods are edible year round.
 I paired beer battered calamari-style limpets with homemade onion rings as a nice little snack.
 While picking berries the day before, I had also came across some yerba buena...which makes excellent tea!

A week before I had purchased a butter knife from a thrift store for 23 cents. With a little modification I transformed the silverware into a fully functional crooked knife.

 A crooked knife is a wonderful Native American innovation that makes bowl and spoon carving much easier.
I also hollowed some carrizo cane I found in a creek to make a pipe through which I could concentrate my breath to get the coals forge-hot in a blue oak bowl blank. By alternating fire charring and scraping with my dirt-cheap crooked knife, I started making real progress with my new bowl.

 Of course, splitting a willow into tongs for grabbing hot coals is also essential to the process.

 I took a little walk to check out some of the local flora.

And ended up finding some nice Franciscan chert for flintknapping. Of course, this stone requires a special process known as heat treatment to make it workable, but a quick search to the recesses of my brain found a successful procedure. I used the ash that had accumulated from dinner and breakfast to help insulate the chert blanks, and built a new fire over the top which allowed the stone to slowly increase in temperature, hold at a specific threshold for a predetermined period of time, and slowly cool back down.

  The process was totally successful! I will show you the results when I get around to flintknapping again.

A few hours later it was time for a late lunch. I find that bringing a dry salami and dry aged cheese such as Asiago or Parmesan is a good way to go when refrigeration is limited. In fact I got the idea to bring Parmesan from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. In the story, the character Ben Gunn who has been marooned on the island for years keeps asking each new person if they have any cheese...the one item he misses most. Towards the end of the book, one of the men brings him a small block of dry aged Parmesan. 

With the homemade sea salt, herbs, and flour, I made a flat-bread style bannock which I seared on a little wooden grill.

 I then built a sandstone oven and got a piping hot fire going within its walls.
 I placed the bannock in my new oven topped with an olive oil sauce, Asiago, salami, caramelized onions, and the last of the oyster mushrooms from last season (re-hydrated with fresh ocean water).
The resulting pizza was absolutely fantastic!

When I was finished eating I packed up my gear and said farewell to my little cove. Sure to scatter stones back where I had slept so that only a sleuth would know that anyone had been there. Remember, always tread lightly! It is how we preserve the beauty and majesty of our pristine wild places.
Keep the old ways alive!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

High Desert Trails

“I don’t think most people would understand it. I have been beat to hell, scratched up, I think I tore a ligament in my finger, I am sunburned, dirty, sweaty, exhausted…and it feels great!”- Jesse after a recent mountain climb and mountain bike trip.
Well, the high desert was awesome once again! Arid landscapes interlaced with sage, juniper, pinion pine, and the occasional willow lined spring yielded some of the most fantastic views I have seen in years. The sunsets were stunning to say the least; vibrant red, pink and orange hues lighting up the sky among wisps of thunder clouds.

In the least likely place we encountered wild horses (who always seemed to come around in large herds and close proximity when my camera was stowed away).

We also got to see desert big horned sheep (too quick for my camera work as well). But one of my favorite encounteres turned out to be with a reptile. We noticed numerous horny toads here and there, but it was right as we took a break for lunch that I bumped into one of the most stunning reptiles I have ever encountered. I still have no idea what kind he was, but talk about a handsome devil huh?


I found a green oasis in the sage scrub. Meandering like the rattle snakes that took refuge near by, this little emerald green snowmelt stream looked like prime jackrabbit habitat to me. Armed with my old .22 pistol and a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off, I proceeded along the little creek in search for dinner. There was plenty of sign, and I drew a bead on about five of the eight rabbits I saw. Unfortunately, they were a bit too quick for me so I ended up switching my focus.


We headed down to a nice clear stream with rods and reels in hand. The pure and cool waters cascaded between riffles and pools formed by granitic boulders and fallen tree snags. On the banks we encountered fallen alders with clear evidence of the craftmenship of beavers. We also saw gorgeous groups of black and yellow swollowtailed butterflies.


To gain access to eddies, undercuts, and slack waters that might hold more prolific trout, we carefully waded across the swift river to the far bank.

Alex was the first to land a fish. He did so about fifteen minutes after his first cast. I was very happy to see him land such a nice fish, and he was completely overjoyed as this was his first ever trout!


My dad landed the next fish and I got a bed of driftwood and sage coals going on the river bank. Stripping the bark from green willow boughs, we put together a quick bushcraft grill. About fifteen minutes later we were enjoying the freshest wood smoked trout that money can’t buy!


We set up camp a bit further on down the river and I finally got to try out my new Black Pine Downunder zero degree sleeping bag. It is awesome! Light, warm and packs down quite small.


The next morning my dad moved his sleeping pad only to find a pair of scorpions had set up camp below him over the night. Looks like we’ll be laying down tarps next time!


I landed a nice trout that day and my dad casually caught another four (in addition to the three he had the day before). What can I say, he’s got a gift! While on the water we noticed a few cool looking water snakes as well. The moment they saw us they darted into the river and swam to the bottom.


After breaking camp we headed up the ridge to scout out some hard woods. Alex cut some sizable mountain mahogany for carving volume knobs and fret boards on his custom foraged bass guitars.


We also got a chance to check out last season’s pinion pine cones and see this coming season’s cones developing. Man, I hope we can make the fall harvest and maybe pair it with another rabbit hunt!


When we made it home, we smoked the last of the trout and enjoyed it mixed with cream cheese and spring onions from the garden as part of another delicious antipasta plate that also incorporated fresh crustini, olives, as well as foraged apple, boysenberries, blackberries, and figs. Though it is not traditional to pair fish with red wine, we did not make a chardonnay this year, so our homemade zinfandel was greatly appreciated!


All in all it was a great time, highly productive, scenic, rejuvenating, and exactly what the doctor ordered.

Keep the old ways alive!