Thursday, January 15, 2015

What would you like in a field bag? And, a quick update around the grounds

For years, I've worn a hand-me-down shooting vest while hunting in the field.  My cousin offered it to me a while back, and it's been out with me a number of places.  However, though useful, it never did fit quite right, and the blaze orange back is faded, a button and zipper pull are now missing (having both fallen off), and the velcro design of the flappy front pockets grab onto my other clothing.

While perusing various online establishments, looking for cool leather work to attempt, I have come upon a couple of nice belt pouches.  What I've realized is that I just might be able to design and build my own pouch (or sporran, possibles bag, man-purse, whatever you want to call it) for the field.

I also know some of you out there who have varied and interesting experiences in the field, and I want to know what you might find useful on a bag for the field.

So far, I know that I'd like a bag that I can fit a box of shotgun shells, a bumper (for teaching retrieving), a water bottle (or flask, but just for the size), a pair of gloves, a tiny first aid kit, and still have room for collecting stuff (perhaps mushrooms or other food).  I also would like a separate pocket that I could line with a plastic or wax-paper baggy for the kind of dog treat my dog cares about (greasy).

It would definitely need a couple of D-rings, and maybe a dog leash latch.  Last, it would have a game strap.

These are my ideas.  Please let me know yours.

I can make a decent pull-string pouch, but the one I'm designing will need to have a bigger mouth

Updates around the house and garden

We've decided to finally end the pond.  Instead, I've filled in the hole with leaves from the walnut tree, and we hope to build a hill with a couple of nice rocks, and perhaps a little trickling stream at the base (we have the pump and liner from the pond, after all).

There has been a wonderful uptick in the number and variety of birds visiting lately, including a bluebird and two extremely violent hummingbirds.  These two went at it hammer and tongs (and yes, the hammer and tongs were precious, being so tiny).  At one point, they almost ran into my son.  One finally got hold of the others leg, wouldn't let go for quite a while, and then the two separated very quickly back to corners of the yard, like somebody had rung a tiny bell ending the round. 

I have purchased a small smoker that fits into my barbecue, and hope this weekend to smoke three pheasants from a recent hunting trip (where my dog was amazing, unlike a recent snipe trip, where she was horrid.  More on both very soon).

Pictures to come soon, too.

Monday, January 12, 2015

My newest hobby, perhaps a little side job?

Last year, I found myself wandering through a nearby Harbor Freight store.  If you ask yourself, "does this happen to him very often?", then I know you are unfamiliar with Harbor Freight (or, you make a decent living, in which case you probably don't read my blog, either). And if you are reading my blog, and you haven't heard of Harbor Freight, I must warn you to stop reading right now.

Harbor Freight is unlike any other store you may visit.  Like many stores, it sends unsolicited advertisements in the mail, filled with enticing deals.  However, these deals really are enticing: free flashlights, head lamps, utility scissors, sometimes without any purchase required!

In the size of a thrift store, Harbor Freight carries everything from pop-up sunshades to Rambo knives, from solar-powered lawn lights in the shape of hummingbirds to anvils, from hand-planes to arc welders.  I bet you didn't even know you needed a 4" table saw, or a 35 watt solar power kit, or a combo disc and belt sander; but for forty bucks?  You now realize, in a daze, that these are exactly the things you were looking for!  You just didn't know it.  And though their motto is fitting ("quality tools at ridiculously low prices"), it should probably be something closer to, "marginally effective products that pretty much do what you'd expect of them, -- with a free flashlight! -- at ridiculously low prices." (No need to wonder why I don't work for an ad agency.)  But when you are staring down a bench-top drill press, that kind of nuance gets lost.

In my case, it was an $8 pyrography pen kit that got me (don't ask my wife, or she'd probably add to this list).

If you aren't familiar with the pyrography pen, it does just what you might imagine: it writes with fire (actually, just a really hot tip, heated electrically in this case, but "fire" sounds much better).  More commonly known as a woodburning pen, it can also burn other things (like your house down, if you aren't careful).  As I looked at this deal, I immediately thought about cutting some leather arm guards out of an old leather shoulder I knew I had in the attic, and shooting tabs, too, in my new role as an archery instructor.  With this pen, I could possibly design some nice things to them, add that extra little touch.  I knew that other pens go for $30+, and a stamping set for leather tooling would set a person back $40, at least -- and all the hammering would keep my family awake and annoyed.  But for eight smackers, who could say no?

Not me.

I bought the kit, which came with a number of different tips (and can also be used for soldering).

What I didn't know was that something inside of me that had been trying to get out would find a way through this pen.

The next thing I did was head for the local library for a design book by Lora Irish, the, "Great Book of Celtic Patterns" (yes, I'm a cheapskate, which is why this story starts out with a trip to Harbor Freight). I first made a copy of a design by Ms. Irish (an amazing artist, by the way, with a great website) -- an arm guard with what was supposed to be a fierce Viking-styled wolf.

Lesson #1:  The mouth is a very important part. Rather than looking like he (and, by affiliation, I) might just eat you alive, an accidental upturn of the pen at the corner of his mouth gave him a rather cheerful look.  If you smile brightly while saying, "I'm a wolf!" an octave higher than your speaking voice, you'll catch his look exactly.

Strangely undaunted by my first attempt at "art", I took a trip to my local Tandy Leather Supply shop.  ANOTHER WARNING: this place is amazing.  Everything for leather work.  Stamps, tools, dyes, finishes, little tools for slicking and edging, buttons, conchos, rivets, skivers... everything.  And piles and piles of different types of leather, from vegetable-tanned, vanilla colored sides to deerskin with bullet holes in them.

I'd opened a door I immediately knew I should have opened thirty years ago.  I'd been into Tandy Leather before, but for some reason, this time was different.  I felt like I was just about to start something.

To quote Paul Simon, after "reeling in infinity" in that place, I bought a pack of leather stains in eight different colors, an edge beveler, and a plastic creasing tool that also slicks leather.  I ran home, stained my arm guard "bison brown", and finished the edge.

I stepped back and looked at it, and I'll be danged if I didn't make something that didn't just look like a ratty piece of leather strapped to my arm.  I saw all the mistakes, but I also saw a potential I hadn't felt in some time...

Not exactly a fierce wolf in the Celt-Norse style, this fellow just looks amused at my shooting prowess.  He also might have gingivitis.
My next projects were gifts.  I'd forgotten to make my first arm guard as a gift (it is an idea taught to me long ago by an old acquaintance), which is probably why I'd been so sloppy with the artwork.  I found an absolutely gorgeous piece my wife had picked out during our trip to D.C., where we'd visited the Museum of the American Indian, copied it, and made an arm guard for her.

Still learning.  This time, learning how to dye leather, and learning the effects and interaction of pyrography and dyes -- and getting a small sense of the Northwest style of art, which is geometric and aesthetically amazing in its relationships.
Next, I built a leather quiver my daughter had designed, carved a few shooting tabs, designed and burned a "celtic" black phoebe, and started burning a pictish boar onto arm guards.  I branched out, bought a strap cutter, and made bracelets, a sporran for Rubén, and covered a metal camp cup in leather. I picked up George Bains' amazing work, "Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction", learning (painstakingly) how to solve celtic knot patterns, and re-opened a book I'd bought on our honeymoon over eleven years ago, "Northwest Native Arts: Basic Forms" by Robert E. Stanley, Sr.

At the Pleasanton Scottish Highland games, where my brother in-law and I set up a booth to teach basic archery, I also brought along some of my leather work, and sold a couple of arm guards and bracelets -- a wild success for me, considering I'd never tried to sell any piece of art or craft of mine in my entire life.

Trying to solve a fairly complicated, intricate (and small) beautiful celtic border with birds, I reached the end of the pyrography pen's capabilities.  I couldn't get the pen to make the very thin lines I needed for the double lines of the birds' tails.  Instead, I had to solve for a thicker and "simpler" knot, which came out good, but made me realize that $8 -- in my hands, at least -- has its limits.

The end of the line for my $8.  I can (and will) still use it for larger patterns, but the detail for that border was just too much for me+it. (The eagle and bird patterns are from George Bains' book, taken from the Book of Kells.)

What could I use to create more detailed and intricate patterns?

Why, a leather tooling set, of course!  They only cost around $40. A leather-carving swivel knife can cut very detailed, tiny designs, and with some basic stamps, I could make them pop.  For Christmas, then, my loving family bought me a basic 7-piece tooling set.

I don't think they quite know what they've gotten themselves into.

My first real tooled project, Aix sponsa (wood duck).  It started out as practice, and became a Christmas present for my cousin.

 Sales at the Highland Games really lit a fire under me, and I've officially added leather work (arm guards, bracelets, and belt pouches) to my side business. Our name, "Wild Spirit/Old Soul" tries to split the difference between the young 'uns who are interested in the popularity of archery right now (the, "Wild Spirit" part) and the old fogeys (like me), traditional archery guys, and maybe re-enactors who might want some leather goods (the, "Old Soul").

If you know anyone interested in leather work, please send them my way and I will do my best to accommodate them.

I just hope my family can get used to all the hammering.

A deerskin and vegetable-tanned leather possibles bag for my friend, Holly.
The front panel of Holly's bag.  Some of this was with a pyrography pen, but the more detailed work was a pencil on wet leather.
A collection of bracelets.  They are quite fun to make!  The designs are of the Pict/Celt school -- even those fish are Celtic salmon.

My son, Rubén's, sporran (also called a belt pouch, possibles bag, or man-purse).  This was my first attempt at a bag, and was a lot of fun to make.

An arm guard with a very basic knotwork border and brass lace hooks.

A more traditional, long and thin arm guard, with my rendition of a Pictish wolf.  Not my best edge work, but the wolf is very savage looking and fun to draw.

Arm guard with a Pictish boar and nickel laces and grommets.

An arm guard for my daughter, Phoebe.  I tried to "Pict-ify" the bird in the fashion that they reserve typically for mammals.  Oh, well, I'm learning. Also, she wanted the natural look of the vegetable-tanned leather.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Splitting the Difference, and preparing for a New Year (with resolutions like a nitwit)

What with Hippo back at his blog (warning: graphic content), and with even Holly Heyser posting for the first time in years, I've decided to give this writing baloney another go.

A new year...

I hope everyone has a great one, though if history is an indicator of future results, don't bet on it.  I feel a bit bad knowing that my 2014 was darned good, while many I know had a pretty, or a very, rough year. Professionally, I'm still wildly stressed out, but personally, I was blessed to get to watch a four and a seven-year old. Seeing the world through their eyes and their perspectives expands my own experiences of this great, big World. I remain married to an amazing woman who took a full-time lecturing position at UC, Davis. I got certified to teach archery, and also began leather work (armguards, belt pouches and the like), which I find very rewarding.

The final week of this great year summed my year up nicely: We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (which is nice, but not as nice as they charge you for, so no link here), and the next day, spent a morning watching big surf.  We then visited my old workplace at Seacliff State Beach, where I learned (yet another) revolutionary surf fishing technique and caught a surfperch for the first time in years and years. The next day, I hunted with my brother in-law, and my rescue dog of unknown bloodlines found every bird in such short time and with such efficiency as to put our shotgunning to shame.  She still runs a bit far in open country (she works amazingly tight in thick brush), and she doesn't retrieve, but her nose is impeccable.

I am truly blessed and try real hard to be thankful.

But while I was enjoying a great year, others were struggling with leukemia, nearly losing a toe (or a life) to venomous snakes, putting down family pets, losing loved ones.  My heart and prayers go out to those who had a rough year. 

This year is prepped to be another good 'un, but requires some effort on my part.  My archery business needs tending including a website, as well as advertising and such.  I couldn't decided on a name, so I picked two:  Wild Spirit/Old Soul.  I figured I could capture the increased interest in archery by the young and hip with the "Wild Spirit", and perhaps get a curmudgeon or two to buy a leather armguard or possibles bag with the "Old Soul" moniker. 

I also need to step up my archery practice, which has suffered in recent weeks.  I'd like to try one of those friendly traditional archery competitions I run across from time to time, but have been too scared to give a shot.

So, like millions of other morons, I've made a list of New Year's resolutions.  I've even put my resolutions up on a handy-dandy, shame-inducing calendar posted to the refrigerator, so I can consciously ignore them by actually looking down in disgrace on a regular basis.

There are no diet goals, nor goals to be a "better person".  Rather, these are concrete objectives, weekly increases in hours spent on my business, archery, art, or gardening, along with some monthly goals, in check-off fashion -- perfect for failing on paper.

As this is my Agrarianista blog, I suppose a garden and field update is in order.  We picked our oranges yesterday, after a fourth day of below-freezing temps, and they look great!  We saw a five-and-one-half fold increase in yield over last year's harvest: eleven oranges off our three-foot dwarf orange tree (thankfully, the oranges aren't dwarfed).  Our rose also has a load of rose-hips in need of harvest.

We lost the flowers off our pineapple sage, which doesn't help our resident hummingbirds, so I'll be putting out a feeder today.  And speaking of feeders, the bird feeder that Rubén and I built this Summer has been getting visitors -- mourning doves, scrub jays, white-crowned sparrows.  Our giant trees also hold some overwintering Sierra birds.  Pacific-slope flycatchers and chestnut-backed chickadees take refuge here, among others.  Of course, the yellow-rumped warblers are back, too.

The walnut has done its job, providing leaves for cover and conversion to soil in our raised beds.  The boysenberry was pruned far back last Fall, and the pomegranate has gotten a first pruning, too.

We are filling in the pond, which has become more trouble than it's worth, and may put in a hill with a sizeable rock or two.  We may also add a small stream, since we already have all the materials (pump, liner, and water).

In the field, we had a First Annual Kilted Snipe hunt at a friend's property, and had a great time!  We got three fools to show up in kilts (including myself), and one "liberated woman", my cousin Kevin.  J.R. Young, kilted, was the only one of us to get birds -- two snipe -- although there were quite a few.

God bless, and may you all have a great 2015.

Maybe my best work so far -- a deerskin and veg-tanned leather belt pouch for Holly.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Me, Certifiable

Back in March, I took a class that I hope will kinda change my life: a two-day seminar on archery instruction, at the end of which I received my Level II Archery Certificate.  I have always loved archery, and though I'm no Howard Hill, I am comfortable with a bow, and comfortable showing folks how to draw and loose an arrow.

The certification course, taught by Nico Gallegos of Ohlone Archery (a great guy), was extremely informative for my own form, and also a great confidence booster.  If you are a bowhunter, I highly recommend getting at least a Level I certification from this man, and/or lessons from him.

When I got home, I talked with my wife, who, it turns out, is enthusiastically supportive of this attempt at a sort-of small business, teaching and coaching archery.

Yes, that means I was granted permission to purchase all kinds of archery gear and accoutrement.  I picked up three bows -- two PSE's (a Razorback and a Razorback Jr.), and an OMP -- two dozen arrows, three bag targets, and some PVC pipe and toilet bases for stand quivers. 

I also bought a nice fletching jig and feathers (not vanes), and my daughter learned how to fletch.

Shooting the light-drawing bows (20lbs. at 28" draw) has also done wonders for my own form, as I am able to draw, think about individual parts (anchoring, expanding, etc.), and correct prior to the shot.  I should have bought one years ago.

To stay close to my love for the atavism in archery, I carved a few leather shooting tabs and leather arm guards, but I also bought a couple of armguards and a tab, to provide some options for students to try out.

Next, I made a deal with our local taekwondo dojang, Southport ATA, run by two amazing teachers and also friends, David and Anna Jung.  They jumped at the chance to provide a space for me; and really, what better place to arm children then at a martial arts school?

My first seminar went well.  7 students showed up, most between 10 and 12 years old, (though a couple of dads also shot), and most of them black belts, which made a huge difference!  These kids had great physical awareness, and required only a little tip here and there.  They all quickly took to it, and were smacking the targets in no time.

David was also happy with the seminar, and offered to give me one day per month.  And, with a good city Parks and Recreation department, a local outdoor range, and some enthusiasm, the opportunity exists for me to grow.

I must admit, I am still extremely nervous.  I'm good enough at archery, and I've been doing it long enough, to teach the basics, but still, I haven't been up in front of a regular class in eight years.

My confidence has been helped a great deal by a few people these past few months, however, and I feel I'm up for the challenge.  Nico, the Jung's at Southport ATA, and, of course, my wife, have all provided the boost I needed.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Writer's block, so... more on gardening and other backyard pursuits

Still no piece on hunting with the nephew, I just can't seem to get it out on paper.  However, I have done quite a bit on the back yard, and I've started back into archery again.

First, a pic:

This is how real estate folks sell houses: a panorama shot of my back yard.  Images are closer than they appear.

Yes, the barren grass stands out, but what I see are improvements:  thriving trees and vines, a pond that is still mostly keeping it together, and a straw bale with a target in it. At right, the spectre of the shed looms...

The biggest good news for our yard is that the boysenberries are growing vigorously, the pomegranate survived my hacking at it over winter, and the fig is finally producing, keeping me from cursing it.  It already has figs the size of my thumb. (Tom, I have great hopes for your figs, too!)

We've also put peas into the ground.  Typically, this is getting close to being too late in the year, but I think we'll get a few in a couple of months.

One of the more labor-intensive activities was tying up my boysenberries.  I'd neglected them over the winter, and they needed to be raised up off the ground, untangled, and some of the old vines removed.  I'm no expert on pruning them, so I erred on the side of caution and kept all the vines coming up that were close enough to be tied onto the trellis.

Two years ago, I'd cut river reed from one of the nearby levees, drilled 5/8" holes into some redwood 2x4's, and trained them up.  Over time, the river reed (Arundo donax, a local invasive) had deteriorated, and so I pulled out the old cross bars and considered replacing them with some hardwood 5/8" dowels from the local big box yard store.  One trip and a price of $2.85 per dowel convinced me that a quick trip out to the levee to cut my own new river reed would add a nice touch of rustic charm to the back yard.

Ah, the rustic charm that comes from being a tight-wad... a river-reed trellis.
But my favorite "improvement" was the purchase of a straw bale for use as an archery target.  You see, I've been meaning to start up again, but couldn't bring myself to grab my gear and make the five mile drive to the archery range for the three or four shots I'd be able to physically make before wearing out my atrophied muscles.  Pretty pathetic, I know.  But the target in my back yard, plus signing up for a certification class to teach archery, have lit a fire under me, and I've been shooting nearly every day for the past ten days.  I'm even up to nine or ten shots a day.

Squirrels, beware.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

General updates around the house (or, of irons and fire)

Something to keep me coming back to blogging, and while I work on a larger piece on hunting planted birds at a club with an armed 12 year-old, here are some updates to my house and garden work:

-My friendship with Hank and Holly continues to pay dividends -- in the past two weeks we've had roast duck, duck legs and dumplins, and duck coconut milk soup.  Soon, I expect my children to start quacking.

-I realized, while thinking about making spaetzle for the first time but just making dumplings, instead, that chicken and dumplins (or in this case, duck and dumplins) are basically fat, Okie noodles.

-We've had quite a bit of rainy weather, but I've still been able to work up the nerve to glue up a handle and recurve tips for what I hope will become my wife's flatbow.

-I've also picked up a very old project I've put off for far too long:  my in-laws knives.  I used a Dremel tool and a grinder to design some knife blades a number of years ago, but never could get good enough with gluing up and carving the handles.  Well, last week I took out the old odd pieces of hardwood I'd been carrying along with me picked out the chunk of purpleheart, cut it and glued it. It was quite a morale booster.

-Last and most definitely not least, we picked up some plants for the garden:  tomatoes, garlic, onions, strawberries, a bell pepper and some marigolds.

Soon, I hope to hammer out a great story of my adventures with the armed 12 year-old.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Quick pic of the stitching pony

For Hippo -- here's the stitching pony in action (actually, I was just modeling it).