EARTH SKILLS NEWS JULY 09
WELCOME TO THIS ISSUE OF EARTH SKILLS NEWS, an email letter sent four to six times a year, detailing upcoming classes and providing some teaching about tracking, survival and related subjects.
If you do not want to subscribe to this free newsletter, you may unsubscribe at the bottom of this email.
August 22 MOCCASIN MANUFACTURE, Frazier Park. (No prereq.) OPEN I've been wearing the moccasins I made from this design this summer, around the house, in Advanced Tracking etc., and believe me they fit so well you forget you have them on! Terry Cornett (Cherokee) shows you the nuances of making perfectly fitting moccasins. $75 includes all materials. This class has a few openings so enroll soon!
August 23 BONE TOOLS, Frazier Park. (No prereq.) OPEN Rob Remedi has gone crazy since early in the year experimenting with bone as a medium for knives, arrowheads, awls and other tools, plus we have stockpiled many deer legs for your use in the class, so that you come away with several projects. A leisurely day of project work with a lot of great information!
August 28-30 WILDERNESS SKILLS, Frazier Park area. (No prereq.) OPEN This is your last chance before fall to get solid training in wilderness survival priorities and skills. We will build shelters, make friction fire, weave a survival basket, make stone tools, traps and more. There is a huge amount of information and the class is appropriate for experienced outdoorspeople and novices alike. We hold this class at a beautiful car campsite at 8000 feet. Consider bringing your teenage son or daughter (or spouse or friend for that matter). Also perfect for outdoor leaders.
September 23-24 TRADITIONAL SKILLS, Wrightwood. (No prereq.) OPEN As they prepare for teaching this workshop, our Native American friends have called numerous times saying how excited they and their cousins and friends are to be able to share traditions and skills with us. We call this a California Coastal and Inland culture class, but here’s what we will do, and/or see demonstrated: gourd rattles, elderberry clap sticks, soapstone beads, basketweaving, toys & games, indigenous astronomy, shell beads, songs and bear-clan healing principles. Oh, and of course we will all participate in making traditional foods including seaweed and…well I could go on and on. If you are a teacher, what a wonderful way to pick up a lot of information and techniques. Old-timers and newcomers both will experience the richness of our extended family.
All other Earth Skills classes in 2009 currently have openings.
THE LEARNING CIRCLE: NOTES, THOUGHTS AND PROJECTS
I. THE MOVING FOOT STEPS AND HAVING STEPPED, MOVES ON
With apologies to Omar Khayyam’s moving finger, I’m writing here about the moving foot, because we’re freshly back from Advanced Tracking in the Sierras, where we followed trails of deer, mountain lion, bear, coyote and bobcat among other animals.
When trackers advance beyond the beginning stage, they embrace new information and techniques about animal gaits, aging tracks, and pressure releases as well as mammal behavior. Yet what really sets the advancing tracker apart from the beginning one is beginning to see tracks four-dimensionally rather than two-dimensionally.
The beginning tracker, with a track image imprinted on the brain from a book or a just-seen clear print, goes out looking for that image replicated on the soil, as though the bear stepped on a giant ink pad and then walked across a giant roll of butcher paper. This works fine if the animal has walked in nice wet sand or in mud, but the tracker “hits the wall” as soon as the substrate changes to dry sand, gravel, hard packed dirt or pine needles.
“What the heck am I looking for?” becomes the burning question, and the answer discovered by the advancing tracker is: I am looking for a disturbance that a certain sized foot, of a certain weight animal, with a certain leg length, at a certain speed, would make on this patch of ground.
Ah, now where do I look this up in the chart in my field guide – deer, one and a half inch track width, 130 pounds, 17 inch stride, slow trot – darn, no such thing! Well it’s back to my boyhood hobby of playing in the dirt. Simulate, experiment, visualize.
Yesterday I was out practicing tracking, vowing to trail the first good tracks I found. On a hard-packed slope half covered with small rocks, there were two tracks very deep at the toe and with an explode-off pressure release (= big mound of dirt) behind the track. This animal was moving uphill at a good clip. The first two tracks were about 14” apart.
Deer I considered momentarily, but a deer running uphill would spread its toes and use its dew claws, not lean forward on its toes. Though there was no detail in the track, its bottom was too wide for coyote or jackrabbit, and came to too much of a point for a cat…so I was tracking a domestic dog. I played with the soil, recreating the pressure required to create the soil movement I saw. If this was a gallop, there would be two more tracks ahead registered by about the same leg length – and there they were.
Farther up the hill, things got very dicey. One, I thought that the dog could not keep up this full gallop all the way up the steep hill and probably would slow down, creating less perceptible tracks, and two, the substrate here had changed to entirely small rocks on top of a hard-packed surface. Now what was I going to look for? Back to the dirt, I played with the rocky surface using a knuckle area about the same width as the dog’s track, using different pressures as though the dog were walking, trotting, loping.
In some places my experiments created a scuffing of dirt underneath the rocks, in others barely a pebble moved. I looked and looked, filtering out deer and human tracks on the trail that were more obvious. Eventually I found groups of dog tracks that satisfied me, and confirmation accomplished, I moved on.
Visualizing the moving foot means walking with the mind on this patch of ground, step by step with the animal at the point of contact with the earth, and from this technique good tracking will flow.
II. ARCHEOLOGY OF THE SOUTHERN SIERRA
In our April class, Archeology Tour of the Southern Sierras, we visited the Little Lake petroglyph site on private land just off of U.S. 395. Everywhere we stepped, the ground was littered with obsidian flakes, this site being fairly close to a major obsidian quarry now on the China Lake Naval Weapons Center property. From a photograph I took of the ground, I could estimate more than 300 flakes per square yard. And some of them, according to our tour leader and specialist in archeology of the nearby Coso Range, Dr. Alan Gold, were large flakes from the manufacture of atlatl points (the atlatl was not replaced by the bow and arrow until perhaps 200 B.C. in this area). Obsidian from this area was traded all the way to the California coast; chemical analysis of pieces found in San Luis Obispo confirms this.
Some of the rock art in the Coso Range, of which Little Lake is a part, dates back to the period of 10,000 to 6,500 B.C. but most of it, especially bighorn sheep images, were created between 2,000 B.C. and 1,300 A.D. There are more than 100,000 rock art images in the range. An excellent summary of the archeology of this area, with many photos, can be found in the article our leader wrote (publishing under the name of Alan Garfinkel), “Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies and the Coso Sheep Cult of Eastern California,” available on line at:
A few of our photos of this trip are shown at
We wish you good learning in the field and hope to see you in a class.