Where’s Mary Today? Win a Book!

I could see this smoking dragon. Where am I?

Where could I see this smoking dragon?

Week Two of the Contest!  Guess where Mary is from the photograph above.  Answer must be the correct town, state, and exact place (business, park, museum, etc)  Enter your guess in the comments below.  If you are correct, I’ll send you a free copy of my novel, Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons!

Contest will run for the next six months as design continues for my new travel guide, From the Frio to Del Rio: Travel Guide to the Western Hill Country and Lower Pecos Canyonlands, which will be published by Texas A&M Press hopefully in April 2017.  So take a good look at the picture above and give me your comments!

Ken Kramm: Creative Naturalist

My guest today is Dr. Kenneth Kramm, former professor of ecology at Michigan Technical University and the University of Houston.  He is a Texas Master Naturalist and hosts a Facebook page on bushcraft and nature at  http://www.facebook.com/BuschcraftAndNature   and a Youtubechannel at http://www.youtube.com/user/kennethkramm?feature=mhe

Ken Kramm and friend

Ken Kramm and friend

Hi Ken. Tell us a little about your video “Prehistoric Indians of the Lower Pecos Region, Seminole Canyon, Tx.”

Seminole Canyon State Park is a wonderful park with a nice campground and interesting history.  Hopefully, the video will encourage people to visit the park and learn about the prehistoric indians who who lived here nearly 12,000 years ago.  They were attracted by the rivers, wildlife and rock shelter caves.  Guided tours of the rock shelters are particularly interesting.  Different parts of the shelters were designated for activities such as sleeping and cooking.  People slept on woven mats, which are still present in the shelters.  Over a period of 4 to 6 thousand years, the walls were decorated with pictographs.  In spite of the harsh environment, the Lower Pecos Region of Texas provides many photo opportunities for wildlife and wildflowers.

What other videos do you have on your Youtube channel?  http://www.youtube.com/user/KennethKramm?feature=mhee

My YouTube Channel includes videos on a wide range of nature-related topics 1) hiking and camping adventures (to locations such as Texas State and National Forests), 2) relaxing nature videos for meditation, 3) and wilderness survival techniques and bushcraft.   I am currently producing a video miniseries on “How To Camp Out — Advice From an American  Civil War Veteran.”   We can learn much about how to survive and thrive outdoors by following the recommendations of pioneers in the 1800s.

This one shows how to forage for dinner, including “Roly Poly Soup.” Tastes like shrimp. Honest.

 Very clever. How do you create these videos?

Topics are suggested by subscribers.  Before making a video, I research the topic using the internet, books, articles and talking with local experts.  The US Forest Service, Texas State Forest Service and Texas Master Naturalists assist with the production of many videos.    After outlining the video design, I start filming with a Canon Vixia Camcorder, point-and-shoot camera, and smart phone.  The videos are edited with Final Cut Pro X.

 You also have a Facebook page on bushcraft and nature. What is the purpose of that endeavor? http://www.facebook.com/BuschcraftAndNature

The purpose is for people to share their love of the outdoors and learn from its wisdom.  With each advance of technology, life for human beings becomes easier and better. It is now possible to talk and share experiences real-time with people from all over the world, Wow! This same technology, however, has a downside: human beings have become disconnected from the natural world. We have largely forgotten important lessons of our ancient ancestors. The “Bushcraft and Nature community” shares the best from both worlds. We use technology to communicate a our common love of the outdoors and learn from its wisdom.

Had any interesting experiences with snakes or other critters out in the wild?  

After watching sunset at Lost Maples State Park, I walked a 2-mile trail back to camp without a flashlight.  Fireflies were  numerous, so I didn’t need to turn on my flashlight to see the trail.   All of a sudden I heard awful growling /screeching.  A feral hog and her piglets were crossing the trail in front of me.  The mother decided to attack!  I was scared…. Very scarred…. I screamed, turned on the flashlight and threw it at the hogs.   They retreated.  But my heart  was pounding all the way home.

That would certainly scare me too!  Those things can be vicious.  If you had to live in a tent for the next year, where would you like lit to be?  Why?

One of the best places for year-round tent camping, in my opinion, is southern California.  The weather is moderate; food, water and shelter are readily available from nature.  And best of all the region provides unparalleled opportunities for wildlife observation and photography.

 You wouldn’t have to twist my arm very hard on that one.  Why do you believe it is important for people today to experience the natural world?

See my video on the benefits of bushcraft:

Basically

– NATURE MAKE YOU NICER: communities with more green-space have lower rates of crime and violence

–  GET A GLIMPSE OF GREEN:  hospital patients who can see green spaces from their rooms recover faster and require less pain medication;  exposure to the living world can calm the mind, improve learning and enhance intelligence

– NATURE IS THE BEST NURTURE: reduced anxiety and depression, decreased stress, increased immunity, increased energy; 50% lower diabetes risk, vitamin D production,weight loss and fitness, reduced attention deficit disorder

–  SUGGESTED DOSAGE:  Stress is relieved within 2 minutes exposure to nature, Memory and attention span improve 20% with 2 hours exposure to nature; levels of cancer fighting white blood cells increase 50 in 2 days exposure

– NATURE IS INVENTOR:  velcro is an example; hook &loop fasteners were invented after people noticed burrs sticking to clothes

I couldn’t help noticing you have an insect on your hat.  What is it?

It’s a stick insect (Order: Phasmatodea). He’s  a harmless invertebrate that feeds mostly on leaves.  They hold the record for longest insects in the world.  See Cool Facts About Stick Insects, a weird moovie – YouTube

You do something different with every video! Your videos are both informative and very inviting.  Thanks for being with us, Ken. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for sharing your love of the great outdoors with us. 

Peyote: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part III

Huichol indian yarn painting of peyote cactus

Huichol indian yarn painting of peyote cactus

Peyote was a powerful plant helper for ancient people of the Lower Pecos. Like the Huichol indians of Mexico today, ancient people probably considered peyote a sacred plant. Peyote contains the drug mescaline, which brings colorful hallucinations to those who consume it, along with nausea and other uncomfortable side effects.

Peyote has been used for at least 4000 years in the Lower Pecos and other areas for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. Mashed and dried peyote, radiocarbon dated to  4045-3960 B.C., has been found in certain rock shelters near the Rio Grande. Strings of peyote buttons have also been discovered in caves of northern Mexico.

Dried peyote buttons

Dried peyote buttons

Peyote use spread to Native American groups in the Great Plains and Southwest such as the Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, Mescalero Apache, and Pima by the 1880s. Today, only members of the Native American Church may legally consume peyote in the U.S.

Taken in small doses, peyote is a mild stimulant and reduces appetite. Tarahumara indians in Mexico often chew peyote during their foot races to strengthen them as they run 50 miles or more. The cactus also contains substances that possess antiseptic and antibiotic properties against many types of bacteria.  Mashed cactus can be applied to burns or wounds to prevent infection. The Kiowa also used peyote to treat illnesses such as flu and scarlet fever.

This shy little cactus was declared illegal in 1970 by the United States’ Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.  The cactus continues to grows wild in south Texas and northern Mexico , but is under stress from several causes, according to Dr. Martin Terry of Sul Ross State University.Peyote_Cactus

Previous posts about mountain laurel and moon flower round out this short series on plant helpers of the Lower Pecos.

 

Moon Flower: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part II

IMG_1401

Moon flower, one of  the triumvirate of powerful helping plants in the ancient Lower Pecos, is known by many names: Jimson weed, loco weed, datura, stink weed, thorne apple and devil’s weed, to mention the most common.  These plants are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which claims over 2,500 species such as potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes. Datura stramonium, or moon flower, is a fragrant night-blooming plant that grows wild all over the world, including the Lower Pecos, and can cause delirium, anxiety, hallucinations, stupor, coma and death.

The plants contain the tropane alkaloids– atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. These alkaloids have many uses in modern medicine, but also serious side effects. Atropine interferes with activity in the brain stem, ranging from motor impairment to rapid heart beat, to overheating of the body. Internal bleeding and stroke can occur. Scopolamine and hyoscyamine are also sometime known as  “zombie drugs” because of the delirium and unpleasant hallucinations they can cause.

Spiny seed pods

Spiny seed pods

The seeds and leaves are the most potent, but all parts of the plant are toxic.  Uncomfortable effects generally begin 20-30 minutes after ingestion. Effects can  last from eight hours to three days.

Many researchers agree that ancient people of the Lower Pecos used moon flower, or datura, as a plant helper to converse with the ancestors and gods.  Their shaman were undoubtedly familiar with the plant and learned to dose themselves and others carefully to prevent dire reactions.  Some images in rock art have been interpreted as datura seed pods.

Spiny dots could be datura pods

Spiny dots could be datura pods

The Hopi used this plant for divination purposes, and Carlos Castaneda wrote about it in his famous book from 1968 The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. In the European Middle Ages, the  deadly nightshade known as belladonna was often used in magical brews.

A large moon flower plant grew at the base of our back door steps when I was a child. I was fascinated by the aromatic flowers that bloomed as the summer twilight deepened ,  and I wanted to pluck them for my hair.  But my mother always cautioned me strongly not to even touch the plant, and especially never to eat it. (It was not unknown for us kids to eat a little grass with our mud pies, but then, those were simpler days, when kids made up their own games outdoors.)

There must have been a note of truth and urgency in my mother’s voice when she cautioned me, for I obeyed her on this. And I was not known for being obedient.

Once my grandfather and I were riding horseback through a field when we came upon a moon flower plant.  I still remember the sharp distaste my grandfather conveyed as he said, “Don’t let the horse get into that!  That’s loco weed.  Now I have to get out here and get rid of it.”

I asked why he didn’t want the horse to nibble it, and he said, “because it will make him loco, crazy.  Don’t let him get into it, and don’t you touch it!”  And we quickly turned the other way.P1040172

The Center for Disease Control reports a number of datura or moon flower intoxications over the past few years which resulted in trips to  emergency rooms and admission to intensive care units. In one case, a family accidentally ate datura leaves in a stew, thinking it was an edible wild herb. Six members of the family were taken to the hospital, two of them unconscious.

Moon flower is not regulated in any way in the United States, even though it can cause severe reactions. It carries no warning signs in gardens or in the wild. Archaic people knew the power of this plant, after generations of dangerous trial and error.  Modern people should be aware that even one seed is poisonous and can cause severe discomfort.

The ancient people of the Lower Pecos used all parts of their environemnt, including toxic hallucinogenic plants. A  post in January discussed mountain laurel in Part 1 of this series, and an article on peyote is coming in March.  Nature is beautiful and complicated, as we learn over and over again. Four thousand years ago in the canyon lands near the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, the people knew this well.

Mescal Beans: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part I

mt. laurel flowers

These lovely flowers of the Mountain Laurels so familiar in many parts of Texas belie their past ritual usage for  archaic people of the Lower Pecos and many other historic Native American groups. These flowers produce the potent “mescal bean,” which causes nausea, convulsions and even death when ingested. Mountain Laurels are one of three powerful plants abundant in the Lower Pecos that were used ceremonially by ancient peoples to gain visions, talk to ancestors, cure sickness, or fill other important needs.  Articles about datura and peyote,  two other potent plant helpers of the Lower Pecos are planned in the coming months.

Sophora secundiflora grows wild in the dry limestone country of south Texas, and it is often used as an ornamental shrub in urban and suburban settings. The fragrant flowers are a favorite of bees. However the pretty red beans they produce are highly toxic.

P1040493

 When eaten, even as little as half a bean can cause  nausea and vomiting, dilation of the pupils, tachycardia [excessive rapidity and irregularity of the heart-beat] followed by dizziness, mental confusion, muscular incoordination and weakness, and convulsions; in addition respiratory paralysis may occur leading to death by paralysis, according to  Martindales Extra Pharmacopoeia p 1746.

Parents and teachers should warn children of the dangers of these tempting beans, which often fall from their pods onto sidewalks and backyards.  If a young child ate even one bean, it could be fatal. Seeds contain the highly toxic narcotic alkaloid sophorine, or cystisine; don’t be fooled–they do not contain mescaline and have no relation whatsoever to the alcoholic drink called mescal.  If you suspect someone has ingested mescal beans or Mountain Laurel, take that person to the hospital emergency room immediately.

Archeologists theorize that ancient people in the Lower Pecos used this drug in ceremonies to cleanse the bodies and souls of the participants (though severe vomiting) before undertaking other trials such as vision quests. Ancient mescal beans  have been found in a number of dry rock shelters that were occupied by people in that area 4000 or more years ago, and the plants are common in the area today. The beans were included in charms and amulets, made into necklaces or other adornments, or used as parts of other shamanistic regalia.P1040501

      In a 1957  issue of American Anthropologist, James Howard described mescal bean cults among the Apache, Comanche, Delaware, Iowa, Kansa, Omaha, Oto, Osage, Pawnee, Ponca, Tonkawa, and Wichita tribes. The bean was regarded as a powerful fetish and used in ceremonies similar to those for peyote. One Apache man said “Go ahead, eat that bean. You can do miracles, jump right up and out the top of the tipi.”  You probably will jump up if you try this–but you will run to the toilet instead of through the smoke hole of the tipi.

Alanson Skinner described the effects of the mescal bean on participants in 1926.  He said that “everything looks red to the drinker for a while, then he vomits, and evacuates the bowels.”   The toxic effect also causes a feeling of stupor, which some have confused with hallucination.  The majority of literature on mescal beans, however, does not indicate much in the way of hallucinations. Many of us have suffered a hangover at some time in our lives.  It is not the same thing as “tripping” back in the 1960s.

Among the Wichita, medicine men used to administer mescal beans to spiritual novices, causing them to throw up and become unconscious.  The sharp jaw of a gar fish was then raked across the novice’s naked body to test his ability to withstand pain. This ceremony also served to ritually remove evil influences and promote good health, long life and general prosperity (Dorsey, 1904).

Native plants were used in many ways by ancient peoples, but this is one plant better admired from afar.

Interview with Scott Walters

WTY Book Cover Photo

My guest today is Scott Walters, author of the young adult novel Woman Too Young of Panther Cave, which is set in the Lower Pecos and available at www.archaicindians.us.  More information for teachers and students is available at his companion website  www.archaicindians.net.

Hi Scott.  Tell us a little about Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.

 I wanted the novel to appeal to both boys and girls.  Consequently, the story is told through the eyes of a boy while a girl figures prominently in the decisions he makes.  Had he not met her, his life would have been radically different.

The story begins when Lizard Boy, who is tired of being treated like a child, sets out to prove to his father that he is ready to enter manhood.  At the same time, Woman Too Young, a girl from a rock shelter believed by Lizard Boy’s people to be an evil place, sets out to save her people from starvation.  When their paths collide, Lizard Boy is thrust into a world of chaos and danger.  In this world, he must become a man or die.

In my attempt to make the characters relevant to modern readers, I utilized many elements of human emotion and experience.  Readers of Woman Too Young of Panther Cave will find adventure, mystery, fear, bravery, humor, uncertainty, folly, the sacred, evil, and, of course, love.

The setting is about 3,500 years ago in the Lower Pecos where three surviving paintings provide key components in the plot.

Who is the intended audience?

My initial audience was the class of fifth graders I was teaching at the time I wrote Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  I wanted to create a compelling story that would engage reluctant readers while including enough depth to challenge the more advanced students.  While writing the novel, however, I decided to set my sights a little higher by crafting a story that would appeal to as many age groups as possible.  Much to my surprise, I have received more comments and notes of appreciation from adults than students.

Why did you decide to write for this age group?

During a time in my life when I had taught at the university level and was about to wrap up my doctoral studies, I developed a passion for teaching children.  Learning to make worthwhile content relevant to young minds turned out to be one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges of my life.  I quickly learned that kids responded with great enthusiasm to truly good stories (not the politically correct stuff in basal readers).  When lessons were accentuated with stories, comprehension and retention went way up.  Over the years, I discovered numerous books that excited kids while teaching them valuable lessons.  While I had written for adults all of my publishing career,  I discovered that stimulating the minds of children intrigued me more.

The writings of Mark Twain served as a model for me and, in turn, had considerable impact on my writing and teaching.  In fact, I used The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to foster a love for reading and to improve comprehension.

Scott and Cassie Walters

Scott and Cassie Walters

What inspired you to write about the people who lived 3,000 to 4,000 years ago in the Lower Pecos?

Thank you for asking, because I love to tell this story.  My wife Cassie has been a catalyst for so many of the pivotal points in my life, including this novel.  In her fourth grade history classes, she used Texas Studies Weekly to make the subject more interesting to her students.  In one of the editions, the Archaic Indians of the Lower Pecos and their paintings were discussed.  One of the articles noted that some of their paintings could still be seen at Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site.  Cassie knew of my interest in Native American culture and history and suggested that we travel to Comstock to take the tour.  Over the years, we had passed by there several times and I never thought of it as anything more than a place to camp in the desert.  How wrong I was!

During our tour of the Fate Bell Shelter I was hooked by what I saw and what I heard from Billie Foster, our tour guide.  As soon as I returned home, I started writing.  In less than a year, the novel had undergone eight rewrites and was completed.

There is a real irony in this story, however.  American Legacy Publishing, the company that publishes Texas Studies Weekly, contacted me because of the novel.  They wanted to update their curriculum and asked that I write their fourth grade lessons.  The publication responsible for introducing Cassie and me to the rock art in the Lower Pecos became my next major writing assignment.

What do you want your readers to learn or feel after reading your book?

Above all, I want them to think that reading my novel was time well spent.  I also hope that my book will help the paintings and archeological discoveries in the Lower Pecos come to life for them.  I think it is vital to remember that the images and artifacts were created by real people who experienced life in ways very familiar to us.

Personally, I think we miss something when our discussion of an ancient people is purely academic.  It’s like reading the label of ingredients on a food product but never bothering to taste it.  In short, the Archaic Indians of the Lower Pecos were much more than the sum total of what they left behind.  While it is impossible to know any of their individual stories, we can easily imagine what life must have been like in their world.  Doing so establishes a commonality that enriches our appreciation for these ancient people and their art.

 How did you go about researching your book?

In addition to reading everything about the Lower Pecos I could find, I spent many hours visiting rock shelters and literally walking the land that serves as the setting for the story.  One moment of tremendous satisfaction came shortly after the book was published.  An archeologist who had worked in the Lower Pecos wrote to tell me that he knew the places I described in many of the scenes and complimented me for my accuracy.  I was humbled, though, when he thanked me for writing a book that appealed to one in his profession.  For that, I have Mark Twain to thank, because his style of writing often appealed to a wide range of ages.

Tell us a little about the workshops you conduct on indigenous archaic life?

Oddly enough, it has been the science community in education that has shown the most interest in my book.  One would naturally expect the social studies teachers to be first in line.  I was initially asked by an innovative consultant at a regional service center if I could introduce teachers to the science employed by ancient people in their quest for survival.  As I prepared for the workshop, I decided to include a discussion of  the science employed by archeologists to learn more about how early people lived.  Consequently, my workshops consist of these two approaches.

Since my first workshop nearly a decade ago, I have made presentations at service centers, school districts, and state-wide conventions.  In the all-day events, we do a lot of activities that teachers can take back to their classrooms.  Some of my workshops include a trip to the Lower Pecos to tour several rock shelters.

What other books have you written?  What is your next project?

My first break in publishing came years ago when I was hired as a television and movie critic for a national journal.  This, however, is where I must admit to a flaw in writing.  When I grew weary of spending hours in movie theaters and on the sofa in front of the television, I began writing novels.  When one was finished, I threw it in the closet and started the next one.  Once again, Cassie saved me from myself by encouraging me to seek a publisher for Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  To date, it is the only one that has been published.  I received an offer to publish Beyond the Shadow, a time travel novel for young adult readers, but the contract was not a good one, so I turned it down.  My other novels are about the demise of public education in our country.  As for my next project, I am deep into a sequel for Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  I am also on the verge of seeing if I can find a better contract for Beyond the Shadow.

Thanks for being my guest today, Scott. See you in the desert!