Oldowan Choppers – Then and Now

One things that stuck with me from anthropology class was the oldest tools ever discovered. What kind of tools? A hand choppers of course. Dating back 2.5 million years they were found by Louis and Mary Leakey in the Olduvai Gorge of Africa. Choppers are hand held sharpened stones used for all sorts of camp tasks. They’ve been with us through all of human, and much pre-human history. (Current thinking is the oldest Homosapiens date back only 195,000 years.)

Large Pebble Oldowan Chopper

Even friends who are fully urban in orientation recognize a simple large knife or hatchet as the most basic and essential tool of all. As a child I was fascinated with them and my dad made a hatchet out of wood so I could “pretend” when I was quite young (no, not when I was 48…). No wonder the fascination continued into adult years. Such a tool can help provide fire via a bow and drill, a shelter and bed of boughs, it can procure food through spear or trap making, and it be used for defense. Warmth, comfort, food, and safety.

My fascination feels visceral, a genetic memory? I’m surprised more people aren’t intrigued by knives and axes. Or perhaps it’s more simple genetics. My dad was also interested. In the mid and late Forties he made numerous knives in a forge he built himself. He obtained the steel from leaf springs of burned out WWII trucks. Though I buy tools rather than make them, their creation interests me as well. One of the finest knife experts today is Michal Gavac from Gavko Knives.  In this video he demonstrates large knife use.

If you’re interested, his youtube page is full in informative videos. You can listen to his narration as he watches the creation of one of these supreme choppers:

Such beautiful custom craft is waaaay beyond Heroes ‘N Pirates’ modest budget. But I’ve field tested inexpensive knives. One of the most impressive, robust yet inexpensive survival knives, a contemporary Oldowan Chopper, is Mtech’s Nighthawk MX-8069. (Wholesale c. $45 + S&H – upper limit of my budget!)


Oh, to have had it on the beach for stringy driftwood I was attempting to harvest!  It’s certainly not as weighty as the stone above.  Still, heft one of these massive blades and if you’re like me, your insides will urge, “Bring on the adventure!”


The Stone Chamber

Coffee in hand Roger and I plan the day’s hike and archaeological search.


On the way, I nibble black birch twigs.  They give off a strong taste of something similar to but better than wintergreen; it’s what birch beer is made of.   Supposedly it also has medicinal qualities as a pain killer.


Mak is such a picky water drinker, this was worth a photo.  He actually drank several times during the hike but prefers only water from his home tap.  I baby my boys but that is a level of sissy-ness I try not to indulge… particularly since “we” lick urine spots with no apparent displeasure.  In his day, Jonesy would drink from almost any organic source sometimes prompting me to worry about leptospirosis.


We located the stone chamber.  Last time we were here, five or six years ago, I ran out of battery power and always wanted to come back.  Unexplained stone chambers dot the northeast.  Distribution maps I’ve seen have them from New Jersey to Maine.  I’ve been to seven or eight of them.  Many theories regarding their purpose and who built them abound but few are plausible.  Sadly, despite their antiquity and unsolved status, they are sometimes wantonly destroyed by developers and builders – with no penalty.  Also unexplained is why the academic world doesn’t study them in a serious way and shun those who do as amateurish “crackpots.”  The typical blow off explanation is that they were “root cellars” for colonists though they were documented to be here when the colonists arrived.


This one was of rectilinear design but is unusually large and with twin supporting columns.  From the back facing the entrance:


And from entrance wall facing the back:


Of course surrounded by the primitive requires equipping oneself with appropriate weaponry.  I brandished a contemporary scramasax (Kershaw’s Camp 10)…


…while Roger ate lunch outside.


No cold lunch for this archaeologist.  I made a fire in a damp spot of leaves,


and had organic chicken sausages on whole wheat, good conversation, the best dog in the whole wide world by my side… and the scramasax in case of zombies.


Mak appreciated my sweatshirt and showed his fatigue by actually lying on it.


We were out for five hours, much of it walking through woods.  Not bad for seventy-nine year old Roger, if you ask me.  Back at his place we had a simple outdoor meal of Irish brown bread he’d baked, beans I made overnight in a crock pot then brought in a sauce pan and fresh brewed coffee from a stove top brewing pot.  On our ride home, Mak and I agreed, it had been a fulfilling day even if we never found zombies to dispatch.


Route to Happiness?

“And you think that’s what she wants, to be a rich man’s wife?”
“Isn’t that what most women want?”
Esteban gave that a strange smile, “You told me once you did not grow up poor like most gangsters.”
Joe nodded, “We weren’t rich but…”
“But you had a nice house, food in your bellies, could afford to go to school.”
“And was your mother happy?”
Joe said nothing for a long time.
“I’ll assume that’s a ‘No,’” Esteban said.

-from Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane

Rituals to Mark Life Events

Grieving is personal and specific to situation.  I decided to honor Ty by wearing the “dog ring” for the weekend.  I usually never wear it because it’s so obtrusive that it catches on everything.  But out in the woods and for one weekend?  No worries.  I wore it on my left hand ring finger, the Heroes ‘N Pirates is on my right.


The other thing I did (or am trying out to see how it “feels”) is after wearing Zeus’ rabies tag for almost fourteen years, I switched to Ty’s brass star tag.  If it ends up coloring my skin or clothes I may have to look for one of his old steel ones.  Truth is much as I loved Zeus, he did bite me – four times – despite his own cloying devotion.  But I might go back to the Zeus tag some day or wear both.  In Roger’s kitchen showing Ty’s tag:


Rice, Rawhide, Tears & A Blankie

Earlier today it was me being the “strong one” helping Mak keep his spirits up.  But tonight while cooking a rice dish and listening to an audio book, the main character’s dog dies while they are camping in the mountains.  At morning wake up, he finds his old dog frozen in the sleeping bag.  Just like that all his plans go out the window and he becomes almost catatonic for three days.  Waking the third morning, for a brief moment he forgets his dog is gone and feels his weight in the sleeping bag only to then remember.  He thinks of the rifle in his pack and what he could do with it.  Then he imagines how his dog would disapprove.

It was all too much.  I ended up sitting on the kitchen floor, my back to the cabinets, tears streaming down my cheeks, hoping the neighbors wouldn’t hear.  That’s the way grief is.  It hits you suddenly, sometimes unexpectedly and you go from whistling while you work, tra la la la, to waaaah!

Mak polished off the rawhide square I’d given him (he’s getting the royal treatment to get used to being the only dog) and came over to nuzzle my face.  I held him as he slowly wagged and pressed into me.  It was his turn to be “the strong one.”  Now he is again on his bed next to the computer chair and I’ve covered him with his blankie.  Isn’t companionship grand?

Renewal in Companionship and the Natural World.

Mak and I take comfort in each other after losing one of our own on 4/17/14. We had extra good cuddles that night and next morning and again today.  But he was clingy this morning and I put his dog bed right next to my computer chair so if I drop my hand while typing, he’d be right there. (He’s next to me now.)
Maybe I was anthropomorphizing, but he looked depressed and sad on the morning of 4/19/14.
Even here, taking up the sunny window sill (with pre-smudged windows!) sadness etched his face.
We needed to get out of the house, so I took him to my mom’s and encouraged him to sit his buttsky in the copilot seat.
He was amped to come along to grandma’s, but once there fell back into gloom.
Get him out in the woods, is what I thought. So after leaving grandma’s we stopped at a wildlife management wetland. So much for moping.
Exploring the natural world together, that got us smiling.
Hitting scents and crashing through brush after prey, this dog was meant to hunt!
Often times our umbilical cord was taught as a violin string.
But dad got his fun too.  I picked a suitable place for a tiny fire and Mak indulged me by making use of my coat as a bed.
The woods dry, the fire was easily lit. But I was still glad to carry the MT-086 survival knife because in some spots the thorns were so thick I had to cut my way through. That’s at least partly why this particular place is almost never used, making it empty of people. Perfect.
Spring peepers were all around us, we heard geese and red wing blackbirds. The evening sun was low, it was great to be out there with my buddy. Before circling back to the car, we climbed a low hill, found some neat little clearings, and I vowed to bring him back there again. By the time he was back in the copilot seat, the sky had turned festive.
We saw the whole sky reflected in the river as we drove home. Yeah we missed Ty, but realistically he was too old to have done this hike. His full life’s circle closed as it must for us all. Mak and I still have a bit of time together in the sun and I aim to make our time together as fulfilling as possible. My hand rested on his velvet-soft massive head, he sighed and we were content.

Eulogy For My Old Friend

In September of 2000 I adopted a brindle male pit bull from a local pound. From the first moment I saw him, I knew I’d take him.  His initial reaction to me, though, was a low growl. I was told he didn’t like men. But it only took a moment for him to feel my goodwill and shift accordingly. In those days, I was re-homing unwanted pit bulls and it was my intent to find him a permanent home. As I drove home with him, Jonesy my retriever sat in front, and Ty named “Tiger” by the ACO, sat leaning against the backseat and looked out the open window. He was quiet, seemed anxious rather than happy. I could almost see a thought bubble over his head reading, “Now what will life be?”

He quickly settled in and as part of our pack of three. I’d put down my beloved Zeus in July of that summer and was glad to have a new member in our family.  Ty and Jonesy got along but were so different they were never close. Still, they shared modest kinship.

It’s always a challenge to re-home a dog-aggressive dog. Ty’s potential aggression towards dominant adult dogs was an obstacle and after a number of months living with us, I recognized staying with us would serve him best. He then became one of us terminating my days as a micro-dog rescue. “Ty ‘n Jonesy” – it just rolls off the tongue and for more than eight years we three enjoyed all aspects of life together.

There are countless stories I could tell about Ty, his gentleness with puppies and his playfulness with any dog that accepted him, his hours lounging on the sunny window sill.  In warm months we swam across the pond and back almost daily.  And together we logged hundreds of miles mountain biking, inline skating, hiking and walking ocean beaches. As a pack, the three of us canoe camped the North Woods, we lived primitively sleeping together in the truck, or we went to grandma & grandpa’s house for treats and snoozing.  We drove to Ohio several times and in March of 2006 Ty and I drove to Arkansas to hike, camp and explore. He was an outstanding travel companion.  He had a way of sitting in the copilot seat and looking back at me over his shoulder.  I could see the love and attachment in his eyes.

Most nights of his life he slept under the covers with me. Once in bed he’d lick his feet often to point that I’d tap his back and say, “go to sleep.” I suspect his mommy licked her pups before they slept and this was self-soothing for him.  Ty was the only pit bull I’ve ever heard of who would howl and together we had howling parties.

I often thought Ty could possibly be the most photographed dog on Earth, no exaggeration. I’m a photo nut and he was my favorite subject.  The few photos below are in no particular order and are the tiniest fraction.  This blog is full of others, I tried not to repeat.  I have thousands.

I put Jonesy down in November of 2008 and later that month took in Mak who became Ty’s best friend. They enjoyed a level of closeness never achieved with Jonesy. They often played together, slept together and acted like brothers.  Ty was more independent, Mak more needy, so though I spent a lot of time with Mak I always made sure to caress Ty and reassure him of his place in my heart.

Unlike Joneys who often took a back seat to horses and later rescue dogs, Ty was fortunate to never take a back seat. So I feel no guilt. I provided the best life I could, and with my eight weeks vacation per year, he had the highest quality of life possible for a dog who couldn’t accompany his owner to work. As readers know, my dogs are the center of my life. Because of that, their loss is poignant. On April 17, 2014 at about 18:50 I had him put down.  His life had become a struggle. He was born March 8th of 1999 and had more than fifteen years of life. I’m told by both vet and a friend who is an expert on the breed, that this is unusually long for a pit bull.

And though I can’t know what the future holds, Ty had almost 14 of my finest years on Earth, his presence gave us our premium chapter of shared existence.  For those of us who live alone with our dogs, losing one is like losing a partner, a child and one’s most steadfast companion.

Am I projecting or is Mak depressed too? Since yesterday evening he’s been subdued, lethargic. He’s poked around the rooms seemingly in search. One experienced friend tells me she’s never known dogs to be depressed over the loss of another. Yet another friend who also lived with multiple dogs for years told me it usually took several days for the pack to get beyond the hole of a missing member. And Mak is an extraordinarily sensitive dog.

But one this is sure, our home and pack is not the same without Ty.  It hurts and it sucks.  I miss him. I think WE miss him. He was a great friend and I’ll remember, love and miss him forever.


The first time I met him, a foregone conclusion to adopt.


Cradling my new baby boy. Fall 2001.


Ty ‘n Jonesy mattressing.


One of his favorite spots, the sunny window sill.


Paddling the North Woods.


A loving look from the copilot.

Yep, we howled together.

Peas in a pod.


Early autumn sun.

A hot summer day was always the best for biking The Gorge.

Stopping for a drink while biking The Gorge.


Greeting the dewy morning after snuggling a night in the truck.


My boy keeps watch as I snooze.


“Dad, I love these hikes.”


Ty ‘n Jonesy enjoy warm sun on the shores of big water.


Keepin’ him toasty in chilly drizzle.


A quick dip before a downpour in the North Woods.


Ash Cave Ohio. One of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.


Chilly evening down by the river.


A moment of levity while washing up on a North Woods trip.


A wet one from a picnic table.


Ty gags on his favorite faux pas: grass! His insistence that this CANADIAN grass won’t make him barf in the house leaves me unconvinced.


Donna saves the day by giving him cherry yogurt instead.


A spring weekend is the perfect time to hike.


Spring in a hidden hollow.


How many countless miles, dirt roads and trails did we do like this?


Napping in afternoon sun on a long camping excursion.


Thundering falls in the North Woods.


Stopping for a kiss in drizzle on remote, uncontrolled land.


Always the finest travel companion.


Enjoying a smoke on Native American spiritual land.


Playing on the bike path in the moonlight.


Checking the Ozark caves.


Night hike in freezing rain.


Climbing one of many firetowers.


Napping while stuffed with Grandma’s treats.


We never tired of running The Swamp.


Time out from biking for a kiss.


Biking The Swamp.


Hawksbill Crag, Arkansas.


Late afternoon exercise.


Keeping him warm with my down vest.


Checking out the river in flood.


Fields of snow and afternoon sun.


Our apartment in the Ozarks.


My boy tells me he loves me.


Biking along the tracks. Ty loved to chase freighters.


Late afternoon sun at the end of a biking run.

More mountain biking. We logged hundreds and hundreds of miles.

We explore one of the northeast’s mysterious stone chambers.


March 2014, his very last time at the ocean. He loved the beach!

Dogs in a Ute

Dogs and pickup trucks go together like cheese and crackers.  There’s something so right about bombing around in an old truck with one’s pal on the seat next to you.  But leave it to the Aussies to create an event around it.  They call pickups “utes,”  ute = short for utility vehicle.  Periodically they go for a world record in collecting as many dogs in pickups in one place as they can.  Sounds like fun.

Lining up to get into the festival. (Simon Brown)

And they call it “Dog in a Ute.”

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