Monday, March 26, 2018

The Nighttime Head Call

Here’s a post on truth and reality.  It’s maybe more truth and reality than you want, but there ya’ go.  It’s a delicate subject I wouldn’t bring up in most camping posts, but it’s a real-life necessity---the middle of the night head call, pee, leak, seeing a man about a horse, or whatever you nickname your pressing relief.  For those that are younger, taking a pee bottle along is considered a convenience.  As age takes over, a sufficiently larger bottle is a priority on the pack list.  The first consideration is that your middle-of-the-night call to nature will not only interrupt your deep sleep, but also that of anyone around you.  That is one good reason for even couples to use separate tents.  Weight is not really as great an issue as it used to be, making a two-man tent advisable even for solitary campers.  There is not only room to move around, to change clothes, to have a dry place for gear, but also to get in and out of the tent or relieve yourself without destroying the sleep of others and otherwise being a nuisance.  Proper clothing and food, and some other items, are strongly recommended for any trip, but sleep is essential for performance, mood, and enjoying the trip.  The call of nature is also one of the issues that will make a tent preferable to a hammock for older folks. 
And there’s the ugly subject of age.  I remember, barely, being young enough to sleep through the entire night without having to get up.  The greater the number of birthdays, the greater the number of nighttime head calls.  More birthdays also mean you don’t sleep as well, your body doesn’t regulate temperature as well, and with poorer circulation, legs and especially feet, tend to get bitterly cold.  Once you become a senior citizen, are having prostate problems, or have already had prostate cancer, the number of head calls can easily be four or five times a night.  This is why some older folks head off to bed before the campfire burns down.  If you are likely to lose at least a half-hour of sleep as often as five times a night, it is going to take some time to get enough sleep to rise rested and cheerful in the morning.  Add to this the other aspects of old age, like snoring and flatulence, and you can quickly see how you may want to give some thought not only to your rest, but to those close enough to be disturbed.  You don’t want others to start fantasizing about how greatly their lives might improve if you were mysteriously to drown in the river. 
There are a few suggestions that may or may not appear obvious.  However, I’m not even going to attempt the subject of hygiene and comfort for women.  That’s totally beyond my experience except for having seen the plastic devices that enable them to pee standing like a man, or without having to remove all their clothing to get the job done (the Female Urination Device), and for being able to pee in a bottle at night rather than traipsing through the woods in the middle of the night and rain.  Here’s a review of a number of these devices by Backpacker Magazine.  (  I love the added warning at the end---“Do not pee into the wind.”  There’s a lesson the boys learn at a very tender age. 
First of all, carry a container that enables you to relieve yourself without having to get out of the tent every time.  That’s a real asset especially if it is freezing cold, pouring rain, or you don’t want to carry mosquitoes back into the tent on your return.  It is best if you carry a couple or it has enough capacity that you don’t have to leave the tent all night.  A cheap disposable container, like an empty wide-mouthed energy drink bottle, is fine if large enough.  There should also be a bottle of water in the tent, so the obvious initial requirement for a pee container is having one with a unique shape, or that tape, a bunch of rubber bands or something has been added to the outside surface, to make it impossible to confuse it and the water bottle in the dark.  An error won’t be fatal, but it will certainly be disgusting.  The bottle should hold enough to be used at least two or three times without having to get out to empty it.  A pack of disposable wipes, like baby wipes or towlettes, are also nice for cleanliness and freshness. 
Now we get into the ‘fun facts’ part of the post.  Many campers and gardeners alike have learned to keep small critters away by collecting urine and then pouring it around the tent or veggies in the garden.  This proves that there is indeed money available to do research on anything.  Yes, studies indeed prove that this truly works.  However, there’s a caveat.  Animals apparently know as much as humans about the food chain, and where they and you are on the list.  If animals that invade the camp are smaller than humans, they recognize the mammal that left the scent, and are inclined to stay away.  This means that tents and packs may be protected from rodents and similar small animals by this practice.  For years I thought this practice applied universally, however, more recent studies have shown that animals higher on the food chain, like bears and mountain lions, are actually drawn by the scent.  In this case, advertising who you are may have a harmful side-effect, like getting you invited for dinner.    

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Down the River

Down the River, by Edward Abbey, pub. by E.P. Dutton, New York, 1982, pb, 242 pp.  The first word is that this is not a paddling or camping book.  Abbey is a good author, and the book is well written, but the title does give the impression that there is something here that isn’t; that is unless you are looking for some whitewater rafting or Sportyaking, and even that is just mentioned in passing.  The book is a series of short stories or essays on a variety of topics.  The message here is the same as in “Freedom and Wilderness,” which is a call against the stripping and development of the American West. 

In spite of service in the military and employment as a park ranger, Abbey was so outspoken against the government and its policies of managing public lands that the FBI kept a running file on him for most of his adult life.  When he learned that the FBI was watching him, he said he’d be disappointed if they weren’t.  It’s a blessing that he passed away in 1989 and isn’t here now to see what is going on with Trump, Ryan Zinke, and Scott Pruitt and their open destruction of all things related to nature and the environment.  Abbey devoted his life to preserving the nation’s natural beauty. 

Abbey wrote 23 books, both fiction and non-fiction, and three anthologies.  Several were made into movies and documentaries.  The two listed as his best and most influential were “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and “Desert Solitaire.”

Abbey is capable of producing some memorable smiles.  For example, he complains about the conspicuous and attention-zeroing sound produced by the opening of a can of beer.  He supposes it “would be helpful if some clever lad invented a more discreet, a more genteel mode of opening beer cans.  A soft, susurrate, suspiring sort of …s i g h… might serve nicely.  A sound that could pass, let us say, for the relaxed, simple, artless fart of a duchess.”  Now there’s an image to conjure every time you open a beer!  Another memorable quote of his, which he in turn attributes to Louisa May Alcott, is “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

Some of the topics covered in “Down the River” are the court proceedings for trespassers and protestors at an atomic weapons manufacturing plant, the beauty and simplicity of the family farm, Thoreau, bears, glaciers, river rafting, fire tower employment, and Sonora, Mexico.  My favorite was the story on the mining ghost town of Bodie, CA.  However, if paddling is what you are after, you may wish to draw a line through this title.  It’s good reading for any lover of nature and the environment, but off target for those wanting the pages to conjure up the sound of the paddle.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Camp 1 of 12

I hate to say it out loud in case someone is actually paying attention, but I made a resolution to get out paddle/camping at least once a month through the coming year.  Yeah, I know this is no big deal for those living in places that have real paddling water, but here on the edge of the ‘Great American Desert,’ getting out on the water has proven to be a bit of a challenge.  Suddenly I was faced with the 30th of January.  What to do? 
One of my other on-going challenges has been showing up in paddling country with enough clothing to meet any weather adversity without looking like I’m hauling a load from a Goodwill truck.  I’ve too often ended up leaning toward the latter.  What I needed was an outing to try out some combinations that could fit in a 20-litre drybag, and yet provide just not survival, but comfort.  It was to be 22 degrees, so I just went out locally so I could run for home if I screwed up too badly.  Along with a 15-degree mummy bag, I carried a second pair of wool socks, one pair of Cabela’s Polar Fleece bottoms, a long-sleeved tee and sweat shirt, pull-over hoodie, knit watch cap, and rabbit fur-lined gloves.  In actual practice, I’d replace the sweat shirt with a fleece top or wool sweater.  Besides the warmth, they’d also pack smaller.  I slept very comfortably. 
Night #2 was more of a challenge.  I turned in with the same outfit, but the temperature had made a sudden 34-degree upswing.  I wasn’t in too long before I started shedding clothing.  I got rid of the gloves, watch cap, wool socks, and fleece bottoms and left the bag completely unzipped.  The warmer temperature was a blessing, but the sudden temperature swing to 56-degrees set up a terrible wind event with sudden hammering gusts to 40 and 50mph.  I was being shaken and buffeted, and the noise was so clamorous that sleep was impossible. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Honey-Do List

A shelf of pictures on an otherwise empty hallway wall.

Having just (a decade ago) finished building a new house, I wasn’t in a rush to start driving holes in the walls to hang pictures.  Maybe the elapsing of  a bit of time would help us prioritize pictures, decide where to hang them to best advantage, or do anything to avoid plastering old holes just to drive more.  At any rate, Jean had framed pictures sitting in closets, under the bed, and behind doors that she wanted hung rather than hidden.  Finally it was decided that our picture hanging efforts would begin with a review of gallery hanging systems, or what they call “the art of hanging art.”  I’m not one with any real need for hanging art, but the idea of being able to move, change, or rearrange pictures without having to spackle and repaint the walls had real appeal for me. 

The five shelf brackets hold the shelf securely to the wall.
Our first solution was found at the House of Antique Hardware (, which offers a system that I had seen in a library a long time ago.  A specialized molding, shown in the link, is added to the walls of the room to create a wall picture hanging rail.  Then, there is a wide selection of ‘S’ shaped hangers that hook over the rail.  Using a 65-pound-test clear, braided fishing line that is all but invisible allows you to hang almost any size picture from the railing anywhere and at any height.  The rail becomes a permanent highlight of the room’s appearance, while pictures can be moved, rearranged, or removed for painting, without having to touch the walls or molding ever again. 

The second solution was for smaller pictures and those in the 8X10 to 11X14 size.  We have a hall that runs half the length of the house leading to a guest bath and bedrooms.  It was clear except for a thermostat.  I decided a shelf would display them nicely, and a railing on the edge of the shelf would keep them from falling off in any one of Oklahoma’s up to 600-or-so fracking earthquakes we get a year, or being knocked off while someone is carrying something down the hall.  Again, they could be changed or rearranged without having to punch holes in the wall.  The railing, what is called a fiddle rail, has a maritime historical background.  It puts a railing on the front of a shelf or counter top that is high enough to prevent contents from falling except in the worst of sea conditions, while at the same time not limiting continual access to the books or implements normally stored there.  The fiddle rail is set on top of a series of turned wood spindles, which represents the hardest part of the assembly.  The antique Victorian wall brackets are no problem.  They just represent drawing a design pattern and then some time sitting in front of a jig saw.  Getting all 66 (in our case) spindles in place between the shelf and the rail before the glue starts to set, however, is the tricky organizational feat. 
Between the pictures of kids and grandkids on the shelf is a picture of
the chime tower at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA.  It was
on a bench between the tower and waterfalls that my wife and I became
engaged 55 years ago.

There are several ways to attach the wall brackets that the shelf sits on.  The method I used has several advantages.  A keyhole bracket fitting is easy to find at almost any hardware or home improvement center.  If the wall bracket is wide-enough, say an inch thick or more, an inset can be routed into the side going against the wall that will make the metal fitting invisible.  With lumber of ¾-inch, an inset is cut in the edge of the wall bracket that will just barely be detectable.  These are hung on screws in the wall that can be adjusted in and out to the correct length to make the shelf secure.  With this method, not only is it convenient to just lift the shelf off the screws to repaint the wall, but it is also great for renters who would want to remove the shelf and take it with them when they move.  Now my wife can display pictures anywhere and everywhere, and I never have to touch the walls.  Not only does this shop job check another item off the honey-do list, but it helps keep tools and skills sharper for the next canoe project.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Paddle Art

This is a paddle that was used by both of our Oklahoma granddaughters when they were much smaller.  When they out grew the paddle, it collected dust in the shop.  I was inspired by the paddle art done by Sanborn Canoe Co. of Winona, MN.  In fact, you will see this design comes from the one titled ‘Scout.’  Using the paddle the girls had started canoeing with just made it all that much more special for us.  I personalized its design a bit more by doing two things.  On one side I wanted to add a Native American design, and this one of the grizzly bear claw comes from the Pacific Northwest.  I also wanted to preserve the paddle maker’s logo on the flip side, and the beavertail designation.  The logo had been used and abused to become worn and scratched, so I looked up the original design on Google, and did my best to repaint it.  If you want to get an artisan paddle, check out Sanborn’s paddle site at:  I really was drawn to this design for some reason, but was told that the colors clashed with our décor, so I guess it will go in the office.  I guess that shows how silly I am, because I didn’t even know we had décor.  That’s what happens when you don’t live in a log cabin. 

I had a time finding the logo on line, because it doesn’t appear under Beaver Paddles or beavertail, but Caviness Woodworking.  The company does oars and paddles that ship all over the world.  They became the largest paddle and oar manufacturer in the business, and have put paddles in almost any boating or paddling store from Walmart on.  Caviness was started in the 1940’s in Calhoun City, MS, by Jimmy Caviness.  They started making brooms and furniture, but with the large number of lakes around Calhoun, gravitated into paddles and oars.  They have been so successful that they are now being run by the 5th generation of Caviness’.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Gift of Beauty and Memories

Credit: Arni Photography

We’ve enjoyed Kenneth Arni’s wonderful photography for years.  He travels a good bit, but his day-to-day operations are from his home at Fenwick Island, Delaware.  Most of his work runs from Bombay Hook, DE, south to Chincoteague, VA.  My wife and I follow him on Facebook, and the first thing you will see here in the blog’s right column is Arni Photography, where you can view his work.  His greatest treasures include wildlife, avian, and landscape photography.  There are so many of his pictures that we’d love to have to enjoy, but we’d have to live in a gallery.  Finally, we encountered this shot above from a Chincoteague marsh, with frost on the grass and glaze ice on the still water, and a beautiful sunrise.  Christmas was rapidly approaching at the time, so I decided this picture on our own living room wall was to be our gift to ourselves.

The Chincoteague Marsh matted and framed on our wall.

Chincoteague strikes a chord with me for two reasons.  One, if you enjoy oysters, Chincoteague is the gateway to heaven.  My parents were friends with a couple in Chincoteague.  The man was an oysterman.  A couple times a year we would head down there to visit, and one of those trips would always be in late fall or winter so Dad could get a several gallons of oysters.  Two gallons were always for us, and the balance would be for whoever wanted to chip in for fresh bivalves.  For a young kid, the ride from Delaware to Chincoteague, on the Virginia Eastern Shore, was a road trip that never seemed to end.  There were two compensations, however.  The oysterman’s wife always had the table straining under a load of food that made the dining room look like Thanksgiving.  The second was that my brother and I always got turned loose for the day.  How much trouble could two young boys get into in a marsh?    

The Chincoteague Pony, also called the Assateague Pony.

The second reason was to see the Chincoteague ponies.  A small channel separates Chincoteague and Assateague Island National Seashore Park.  The feral herd of ponies, which are actually horses, but called ponies because of their small size, live on Assateague.  Since food is in such short supply on this spit of sand, there is a round-up each year so some ponies are culled from the herd to prevent starvation.  The source of the ponies is a topic of historic disagreement.  Some say the ponies swam ashore from a Spanish galleon that foundered offshore in a storm.  Others believe that the first colonists kept them on the island to avoid the livestock tax they would have to pay if they were on the mainland, but that leaves the question of how the colonists got them.  Maybe both stories are true.

Oyster tongers at work in the shallows.

Our favorite story comes from the oysterman’s false teeth.  Perhaps unlike the pony stories, which can’t be proven, this story is true.  Oystermen, especially tongers, live a very close hand-to-mouth existence, so when he got a new set of ‘store bought’ false teeth, it was such an investment that it was a huge deal.  His wife had urged (ordered) that he not wear the false teeth on the boat to avoid the risk of losing them overboard.  We don’t know why he was defying orders, maybe he just forgot to take them out, but he was standing on the side deck of the boat working his tongs over the side.  The teeth still didn’t fit exactly right, and he was coming down with a cold.  One sudden sneeze was all it took to send his upper plate overboard.  He spent most of the afternoon tonging more for teeth than oysters.  They not only represented a big financial loss, but he would catch holy hell from his wife every day from now ‘til death do us part.’  The rest of the story was picked up on the opening day of oyster season the following year.  He went out to his favorite spot to start tonging.  He dropped the tongs over the side, worked them, and pulled them up into the boat to dump the oysters on the sorting board.  There, in the first tong of the year, was the upper plate of his false teeth.  Domestic peace at last.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Osprey are lighter in color than most raptors.  They are brown over most of their slender body with a white head and breast,  a brown band that extends from their back, through their yellow eye, to the prominent black beak.  They are commonly found where their perch gives them a good view of their hunting waters, such as the top of a post, tree, or navigational marker where they love building huge stick nests so they can hunt from their 'living room.'  They have rebounded well since the end of DDT pesticide use that had killed their populations off to endangered levels. 
During their 15-20 year lifespan, they can fly 160,000 miles during migrations.  The oldest recorded osprey lived to be 25 years, 2 months.  In 2008, one 2-3 year old bird was observed to fly 2,700 miles from Martha's Vineyard, MA, to French Guiana, South America.  They are excellent fishermen.  Their success rate is 1 successful catch out of every four dives, and often as high a catch rate as 70%.  Their hunting time between catches averages 12 minutes.
All their eggs do not hatch at once, but are spread over about 5 days.  Seniority ranks their place in the nest, meaning the first born get fed first.  In good hunting waters, all the chicks survive, but when food supply is more scarce, the younger chicks may starve to death.