Category Archives: Blog

Metal Working and Need for Knowledge in The Great Outdoors

Technique

“Well, that doesn’t look too difficult, does it?”

I’m sure most of us have been in a situation where we’re attempting to do something new and find that the process for pulling it off is much harder than we had anticipated. Perhaps whatever we happened to see beforehand was done by a master or teacher who has years of experience on something you are just starting. This happens often in my life where the intricacies of doing something are actually much more detailed then I had thought.

I think it probably has to do with the fact that a lot of my hobbies are skill or technique oriented so when I try to attempt something for the first time, my own lack of skill is apparent.

Oftentimes, the reason for why people don’t make it outside for fishing, camping, hunting, or hiking is based around the fact that they don’t know what to do or how to do it right and to a certain extent that makes sense. I wouldn’t want to do something if I had no idea what to do which is why I always turn to the internet for help. However, the internet is so full of information that it all seems like all things are based on personal opinion.

How to compost, how to save energy, how to fish, all these things end up having a trillion methods.

The blacksmith in Japan I was taught by recently showed me an extremely eye-opening example of the difference between a master and a beginner which is shown in the above picture. He demonstrated that his hammering technique with proper heat maintenance resulted in a much smoother and refined metal grain then that of what he interpreted as a beginner hammering technique. To me, the way the blacksmith hit the metal piece was the same, to my untrained eye it appeared that nothing in his actions had changed.

The outdoors is a scary place. To some people especially who have never pursued certain outdoor activities, it’s extremely daunting to have them do something for the first time that they had no previous knowledge of.

Therefore, it is imperative that we who know photography, writing, fishing, conservation, and cooking share what we know with as many people as possible because something that may come as instinct to us may be alien to another person. In this age of knowledge at our fingertips, real people doing real things is still the best teacher than any YouTube video or online article is ever going to be.

The refinement of metal grain would have been lost to me had someone not shown me the difference in small strikes of a hammer. Then, my new knowledge has lead me into an appreciation for handmade metal goods made with the utmost craftsmanship.

The outdoors is like that. Much of what is touted about getting out and about or changing our lifestyles falls on the ears of people who need help finding the first step and the following steps down a certain path. If we’ve been down it, then it should become our responsibility to lead others.

The question now becomes; what is your metal, and how do you refine it?

 

Advertisements

Forged Knives, Handmade Goods, and How It Affects Our Natural State of Mind

Fire

(Photo of master blacksmith at AsanoKajiya handmade knife and Japanese sword company. Check out their site here.)

I think often of how when society leans further and further towards cheap, machine-mass produced goods, we lose an aspect of what is natural in the loss of value towards human made goods. I’m not saying that it will always be any better quality, but for a lot of the goods, people produce them because they feel strongly about what they make.

Having and owning goods made with that passion or attention to pride in one’s goods is an aspect of “natural” that I place great trust in.

The reason why I have such a passion and interest in the natural world is because I have a relationship with the outdoors. Along this same road, people who have a passion for the goods they produce have that special relationship with their work that is missing from most machine-made items. The human connection to the work is strongest when things are made by hand.

TheOutLife focuses heavily on Nature and the importance it plays on our lives, but nature is not only for the forests and lakes and streams but also applies to how close something is to natural. And natural goods have always been handmade. By bearing in mind that natural goods are made naturally, we gain a new way to connect with the life and wild world around us.

We need to create a pervading view that human beings are not above work and use the world in the same way a beaver may build his den or a bird builds its nest. They don’t use tools to live, they produce the means to live themselves.

Automation brings people further and further away from what being a responsible consumer means. It’s consumerism that cuts swathes of forests and automation that means people never see what the cost of living does to the natural world. Getting our hands dirty or seeing the people who do is what truly makes us value the things we own.

Recently, I took a trip to Japan and had the opportunity to forge a knife with a master blacksmith in his shop. As he talked about his art, he said that although he loves and sees beauty in his finished products, it’s the process that he sees the most beauty in. He takes his pride from the process, not the result. This view is never going to come from a machine assembly line like it does when someone has a hand in the process.

So, how do handmade knives correlate to the belief in what is natural?

They are made by hand.

And it is the human hand that will make or break the natural world.

A Woodsy Relationship

DSC_6618 (2)

In a lot of ways, I’m seeing now that at the root of the outdoors lies a necessity in having a true relationship with the solace of wooded lands. Perhaps it’s not so much the fact that people don’t care about nature but that they don’t have a reason to. Of course, we hear all the time that global warming is increasing and the ice caps are melting but we don’t really understand why it actually matters. To my life, it doesn’t. On the surface it’s just another dooms day warning. If I look right now at the kind of life I lead, it’s not apparent that anything is wrong. It’s only because I wish to see all things as close to wild and as healthy as possible that I truly care at all.

“Where does that come from?” I thought to myself.

The answer to this question is something that is of extreme importance to me, because it tells me so much about human perception towards the outdoors and thus serves as a good guide to TheOutLife’s message. When I reach out to ask people, they usually tell me that their relationship with nature was instilled within them at an early age. It’s as if the seed was planted young and grew later into action when the flower bloomed.

This means, at least to me, that children are the most affected by an outdoor education. However, it’s the children that we will pass the outdoors to in the future. Now, the question still remains, what can we do to inspire a relationship with nature? How do we reach the young adults and full-ledged adults in all their hectic lives to go outside?

I’d like to see this relationship be defined by an emotional connection to the land. Whether through trees or rivers, I want more people to speak of them with an awe and respect befitting their favorite movie or pop music band. I want to use nature as a basis for life lessons, inspiration, excitement, and happiness.

This is the connection I have with the land. To me it’s cleansing and filling and scary and soothing and summed together with all the trees and rivers and lakes and streams, the outdoors is a place I find mirrors much of life.

If the modern perception of outdoors continues to be “outside” or away from people in all its dirty, buggy messiness, then there’s no reason to protect anything. It will become too easy to pave over the dirt and pull native plants to make space for manicured lawns.

How though, how do we reach those who are not children? Those who have grown up being shipped from box to box without finding the vast open lands of the outdoors?

I suppose that’s the question isn’t it?

What do you think?

An Elk’s Call

DSC_1836 (2)

Only once, early in the morning, as the sun was barely coming up over the mountains, I was lifted awake by the piercing call of an Elk, shouting his wishes for companionship. Ever since, the elk has been my favorite animal. There’s just something else about the way the it’s call echoes hauntingly through the trees.

Moments like that where your life is intertwined within the natural world lack severely in the urban landscape and it’s the elks call I crave to hear again. It’s a sign that the silence around me has emptied the air of polluted vibrations and the calls of the earth can be heard at last.

In the city, the noise pollution is so heavy and constant that there is little you can do to escape it.

I’ve seen and heard that some much prefer the city soundscape. They say the hubbub of the city is indicative of the life thriving among its skyscrapers and asphalt. The landscape is alive with the crawling of cars and trains and busses and bikes and people, all traveling from their homes with a destination in mind. This is contrasted against the silence of the forest as dead, unnerving and boring; something easy to forego for the city sounds.

I see it differently.

The silence of the forest is the sound of thought, of a quieter form of energy. It’s different from the din of the city because it’s sensory stimulation that gives us only what we need, nothing more nothing less. In the wilderness, our body resets to a gentle thrum of life. We eat, we walk, we see, we hear; all at a level of purity.

The city is gluttonous. The sounds are loud and pervading with signs telling you to buy more, be beautiful, and that to live richly is the sure way to happiness. The air is thick with the smell of food and gasoline and humanity’s greed.

As I sit in my room, with the window open I will list the sounds as I hear them for a moment.

A finch chirping

The highway

A car with a trashed muffler

The car pushing past my room and turning into my street followed closely by the next car behind it.

An airplane flying overhead.

A truck coming down the street with a bed full of rickety ladders.

If my memory serves me correctly, sitting at a camp or on the edge of a lake means I will hear

Lapping water

Birds

Chipmunks

Wind through the forest

And… wait… that’s it. Yet although the city and outdoors have a certain level of constant noise, the difference is machine versus life. I understand that the city is this wild, frenetic mixing pot of people and sounds and ideas but whether or not we realize it the sound is deafening.

Humanity’s downfall will come when we reach a point where we can longer hear ourselves think. After all, thinking is the only thing we have. In the absence of claws and fangs and strength and speed, the only thing we have is human ingenuity.

Let’s not wait until it’s gone.

Let’s seek out the Elk’s call.

 

Cloudy Mornings and Meditative Brain Waves

DSC_5036 (2)

Studies have shown that the brain produces patterns that mimic those seen during meditation when it responds to nature or natural scenes and suggests that it is indeed meditative to hike, fish, or camp in the outdoors. These waves, known as Alpha waves, are present during deep relaxation and are thought to produce an organic sense of calm and peacefulness. This sense of comfort is closely associated with natural phenomena called “fractals” that are a specific complex pattern that our human brains instantly pick up and recognize. Because of the brains ability to predict these patterns it becomes less distracted by extraneous sensory stimulation and leads to a meditative state. It’s almost as if with nothing to react to, our entire body takes a deep breathe.

In normal life within cities and urban areas, our brains are constantly reacting to some sort of stimulation and never have a chance to slow down. Whether or not we realize it, this high-strung state of attention impacts our very ability to think. The cars we see as fast-moving predators, the airplane flying overhead distracts our ability to hear, and then our phones and TV’s and music further dampen the quiet thoughts that swirl gently in the back of our mind.

Nature, at least to our senses, is predictable and stable so it gives our brains a chance to breathe.

Now, as I write this blog post I’m sitting on a porch swing the morning after a rain storm, the air is chilled, and the sky is a beautiful mess of clouds slowly undulating as they make their way through the air. The thing is, I can FEEL those brain waves. It’s in the way the next thought and next sentence comes through without thinking as if this entire paragraph is already written in my head and all that comes next is to put it down on paper. I can hear the cooing of a morning dove and the way the birds tweet happily in the wet air, their song pausing only to eat a surfaced worm and fly it back to their young.

Although I sit on the front porch at my home right smack in an urban neighborhood, I am able to find the flow of life thick and deep when the world and light is subdued by mother nature’s natural events.

Watching Robins catch worms, writing, swinging on the porch swing with my golden retriever snuggled next me, it’s little wonder why inspiration hits strongest when nature is present. I’m so familiar with this sense of peace that it’s become an addiction for me to seek out and experience.

The world outside is beautiful. If you’re not already out there, go find where you feel happiest.

Go find some Alpha waves.

Real Memories and Manufactured Feelings: The Difference Between TV and OutLife

DSC_4606 (2)

During a recent camping trip, a bolt of lightning struck a nearby mountain and the resulting thunder was the loudest and most severe crack I think I’ve ever heard. Immediately, those at camp looked at each other in shock and the ones out gathering fire wood came running back in a half panic lacking any of the wood they had gathered. I was laughing in the way you’d laugh after getting off an intense roller coaster while some of my group wished for that sound to never again happen in their lifetime. Then, if that weren’t enough, the following downpour was so heavy that we were sitting on the table portion of our picnic table and huddled under the canopy above us. To make things even worse, the smoke from our sputtering fire started to push under the canopy after we had lowered it and so it was a cold, wet, burning lung mess as we were truly caught between two terrible options, pouring rain or choking smoke.

After the rain, bleary eyed and coughing, we emerged from under the canopy, raised it back up, and continued the evening preparations. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that at this point we had to use flashlights to see anything.

It was a heck of a way to spend the evening.

But, I absolutely loved every second of it and have decided that it is among my favorite camping memories.

It was scary like a roller coaster ride.

The moment was riveting as a car chase.

And it was as difficult as the final boss in a video game.

But, and the reason why I used simple examples, is that these things I compared lightning to are manufactured examples of organic thoughts and emotions. The video games and theme parks are just attractions that monetize the exact same feelings that we can have in the outdoors for free.

Theme parks sell fear and adrenaline when the ear-splitting roar of a thunder crack and flashing lightning will inspire in the mind and body the same fight or flight response.

Television and movies sell excitement and edge-of-your-seat anticipation when the first few seconds after a lightning strike will do the same thing as you wait for the thunder to follow.

The whole situation itself was time consuming to work around and difficult to deal with as there were elements outside of my control that I had to deal with.

In every single aspect of the outdoors there are things that will show you the beauty and danger and magic in the world but we insist on receiving those feelings manufactured and reconfigured for us on TV screens and attractions.

Fear is fear as excitement is excitement, there is no chemical difference from fear adrenaline and excited adrenaline except for your own frame of reference for that situation.

When we experience something, see and taste and feel and hear, that thing becomes a memory of something we did, not a memory of someone else’s life. For this reason, I find it hard to play video games or watch TV anymore as those actions are so empty that many times they cease to perform any function at all but a way to kill time. As humans, our lifespans are short and precious yet within that time there is so much that we could actually do.

Yet a book CAN become an experience to be paired with getting outside our house and car and reading in a hammock on a mountaintop. Books travel with you and thus become essential to you in a way that transcends videos and movies. It’s an effort to read a book, to pick it up and flip the pages instead of turning it on and passively laying and vegetating on a couch or chair. Books tell you “Take me on an adventure” and urge you to have a journey on two fronts.

Manufactured goods are nothing new and we grow up with a plethora of options before us, manufactured foods, emotions, and experiences all fall under the same title. Yet when we dig deeper and see what happens when we gorge on the easy way out, we all dissolve hopelessly into decadence.

The outdoors is one path towards real life. But, put simply, we will discover who we are in the process of pursuing things that are natural and true and honest to character building.

That is why I fight for what‘s real.

That is what I believe to be the natural way of life.

Leaving the Boxes to Claim Our Freedom: Why We Go Outside

DSC_5773 (2)

Let us close our eyes a moment and imagine two scenarios.

In the first scenario, you wake up from camping and find yourself to be very cold, arm hugging and shivering cold. It’s not the fact that you don’t have enough clothes on but the clothes you just put on were sitting in the cold air and are now doing little to help you warm up. Thinking of your options, you look at the comfort of your car nearby and getting inside, you turn the car’s heater on full blast to warm yourself for a moment. Although out camping, the car is your escape from the elements. Once heated, you shut off the car and resume your adventure in the great outdoors.

In the second scenario, instead of looking at the car you think of the way your dad told you to do jumping jacks to stay warm and you decide to take a jog. Not a simple jog though, you decide to begin bounding around rocks and trees and moss and grass, hopping to and from small boulders in the ground like a mountain goat, just for fun. Your breathing picks up and although you begin to tire, your warmer than you were before. Suddenly, you have too many clothes on and you take off the thickest jacket and set it on a camp chair. You are wide awake, smiling at your childish scramble, and ready to take on the day.

Here’s what I see. If we are out in the world confronting our difficulties and making physical memories whether they be good or bad, we are in tune with our life, limits, and abilities. To sit in the car and passively wait to warm up is a waste of the internal fire we all have inside of us. It’s an acceptable form of laziness because from a young age, most of us are taught that getting from point A to point B is the same no matter what path one chooses. Yet although the end result of getting warm was the same, the inherent process of both ways fundamentally changes a person.

On a recent camping trip, I was both option A and B. There wasn’t enough fire wood to have a morning and evening fire and recent rain kept everything damp enough to be useless this early in the morning. As the first one up, I wondered if sitting in the car wouldn’t really be cheating. I mean, I deserved it right? The key was in my pocket. I have the license, I should’ve just done it.

But to me, that’s just cheating. I don’t want to put myself from the box of the tent straight into the box of the car and continue ignoring the fire in my heart. That bit of wildness is something we all have inside of us, it’s constantly growing and itching to be let out. Whether TheOutLife is sports for you or the outdoors for me, that wildness already has the answer for a lot of life’s maladies.

I think what begins to happen is we no longer know what the rain feels like on the skin because it becomes such a bad thing.

“Oh no! It’s raining!” “Everything is soaked!” “It’s putting out the fire!”

All the time we hide in these boxes to escape weather, yet to me, that weather is another step towards a true relationship with the wilderness. To remember that we can’t control the weather or the temperature forces us to think of our own resiliency.

I could’ve just said, “It’s cold, I give up,” but instead I did what I have the given ability to do.

I lit a fire within my heart.

As I ran it burned and the fire continued to crackle long after I had sat down.

TheOutLife is all about making the decisions that will show us what mother nature really is. It reminds us that natural processes of life are experiences to rejoice in and what doesn’t kill us makes us that much stronger.

 

A Passion Found in a Relationship

DSC_5380 (2)

It’s difficult to describe the emotional connection I have to the mountains and forests. It’s as if when I’m back in my city neighborhood the world loses so much meaning and understanding replacing it with societies smothering asphalt.

I know how to fish and where they will be and what I have to do to catch one. I know how the flames of fire spark up into kindling in a certain way so I have to construct the fire carefully. I know where each step is placed and the way animals leave their memory as prints and tracks and burrows and dens. These things I no longer think about. I no longer have to question my actions because I do and think things instinctually, immediately, and with confidence. There are no convoluted aspects to learn unless the outdoors is something you have never experienced because it is all about instinct, feeling, and emotion. A love for the wilderness is a relationship with place, with the earth, and something so fundamental to the human spirit that we cannot describe to what we are attracted to.

At first, I was taught to live with mother nature, and now the skills I have most developed have no place in this modern world.

Aldo Leopold said that, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

This concept readily applies itself to any mode of outdoor recreation. Many people do not understand the learning curve in a hobby like fishing where all they have to do is “cast a line and sit on the shore” when the place they sat and the way they weighted their line and where they casted all matter to their success. As an outdoorsman, like how an ecologically minded person may see a world of wounds, I see a world of ignorance “in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

Fishing is not easy. And though I am capable of doing it, that knowledge holds no place in the world. It doesn’t matter outside of the rivers and lakes of the outdoors.

Thus, in nature is where I feel most comfortable. Suddenly, the way I’ve lived my life is being used. My knowledge is not in movies or video games or electronics, but I can start a fire with flint and steel and catch a rainbow trout for dinner.

This awareness of my passion is nothing new, I have always been this way. Going through school and life knowing the outdoor love I have curated is useless in modern times.

Yet somehow, I hold onto the glimmer of hope that my connection with the natural world will become useful. Someday I’ll be able to connect a passion with a job or existence where I’m able to continue this relationship.

Until that day comes, I write. I sometimes get to see the mountains around me. And hope that maybe through my struggle, others will find the nature in their lives as well.

 

 

 

 

A New Take on Light Pollution: Blinding Lights and Gentle Beams

DSC_5724 (2)

I recently arrived home after a three-day camping excursion, and I think one thing hit me the most out of all the aspects of camping versus urban living. Sitting at my desk and writing in my notebook, I realized how very bright and blinding the world is, when compared to the relative soft light of a thick forest. While camping, I sat on a rock in the woods. At my desk facing the window, I realized that I had to draw the blinds because the light reflects here from absolutely everything.

The cars and concrete and other windows strongly assaulted my eyes with reflected light that is unimpeded because of the lack of cover. While camping, the sun was shining brightly yet the gleam was dampened by the leaves and tree trunks so the light reaching the forest floor was reduced to a gentle speckling.

I continued my musing on this topic and realized that there are many aspects of light between the two areas that truly determine how the biodiversity of the land is supported.

In my neighborhood, the sun shines so strongly that planted flora will wilt and shrivel up because the soil itself will dry out into a solid block of dirt. To prevent this, I am required to either plant in shade, provide shade, or make sure that I water constantly.

However, in the forest, the trees protect the plants below from sun scorch (currently accosting my plants) and forces the atmosphere into a humid and damp state so that plant life on the forest floor abounds with the presence of mosses and lichens alongside what we think of as normal fauna. Although a powerful sun is present, the forest floor is healthy. The natural openings between tree limbs and spaces in the canopy where the trees have fallen expose new patches of ground where ground dwelling plants erupt. This natural speckling of light prompts biodiversity among our mountains.

The specific area I live was once prairie land with its own hardy plant species able to weather the heat of the sun. However, by adding more and more refractive surfaces around us, it raises the amount of light hitting the plants and animals in the area beyond that of simple direct sunlight.

In fact, there are recorded instances of city sky scrapers melting parked cars across the street because the amount of reflected light is focused and amplified onto it thus heating it to a melting point. Needless to say, the plastic components of the car were quite effectively ruined.

When we think of light pollution, at least in the way I thought it applied to me, it’s in regard to our ability to see the stars at night. Major cities and urban areas have so much light pollution that it dampens the light of the stars at night and some areas lack the ability to see the stars at all.

I’ve concluded that light pollution can occur strongly during our waking hours as well when the light is strongest in the sky, because we begin to create higher man-made levels of light in the area.

I could not find any studies or articles on this topic so who knows if day-time light pollution is a viable topic of discussion anyway? But stumbling across the idea while sitting at my desk, it was enough to make me think of human’s ability to cope with it.

When snow covers the ground, spending large amounts of time in the area without proper eye protection can result in a condition known as snow blindness. I wonder how that condition changes when the snow is replaced by windows and cars and metal and plastic and concrete and house paint.

Does it?

 

 

Watching Water: An Education in the Outdoors

DSC_5114 (2)

There have been many instances, especially during fishing, when my eyes pick up more information than the people around me see. Until I point out the fish or bug or bird it remains invisible to my companion. Now, this does happen often and with everyone, there are always going to be instances where someone else sees something that my eyes miss.

The thing is, there is a very significant difference in what I call my “fisherman’s eyes” than those that are untrained in staring at water. On a recent camping trip, the pond’s surface was rippling with the surface activity of many fish and I repeatedly remarked on this to which my sister responded with, “What do you mean? I can’t see anything!” From my vantage point the reflection of the pine trees made the water’s surface a dark green color so all rippling water shown with the glinting presence of fish. From her seat, the water glare made all the pond a bright white sky so I knew to angle my eyes differently.

This awareness of surface glare is not actually something that I was taught but something I instinctively understand will aid me in fishing. I have the automatic instinct to look at the water in a certain way to pick up things that others, like my sister, may sometimes miss. This concept abounds in fishing where my ability to see or feel or hear what others miss makes me a better fisherman.

In another example, I can perceive a fish bite versus a rock on the lake bottom just by years of learning to tell the difference between the two.

This phenomenon is something I think about often because it means that my mind is specifically geared towards fishing differently from others. It begs the question “What about the people that have never been fishing before? What are they to do when I see tons of fish activity and they see a lake with rippling water?” It is my philosophy that if you have an ability or specialty then it is your responsibility to share it with others.

If you have a fisherman’s eye or a photographer’s composition or even a way with words, use your gifts to help and teach others. All of us with quirky aspects have a duty to show our peers what we know to be possible.

To me, watching water for fish is second nature. I automatically crouch and cast and interpret where the fish are at. By experiencing my passion with other people, I am constantly reminded that my abilities make me a teacher. I am not a master by any means, but my education in certain things extends beyond the edge of gen-eds for outdoor recreation.

This I found from watching water. Some say fishing is boring and they can’t draw and don’t like writing and can’t cook but in all these things it takes an education to pursue. School is not the be all end all of learning, they do not teach fishing at my high school.

Thus, I must be a teacher in my field. All outdoorsmen have that ability.

The question is, what kind of education do you have?