Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wasted Time or Fun Time?


   All of my time in the woods down home wasn't spent just hunting, fishing or trapping. There were many days I was either bored and just wanted something to do and even more when I just wanted to be alone and away from everyone. One thing about a kid and especially a teenager is how bored we can get even when we're doing something that was supposed to keep us from being bored. When I was hunting I could sit under a tree or in a stand for hours without hardly moving but put me in the woods on the off season and i could seem to stay still for longer than 15 minutes, I had to DO something!

   One of the main things I enjoyed doing was making camping spots. I had several scattered from close to Wilson  to deepfork bottoms and from outside Okmulgee to Henryetta that I actually used but I also put in a lot of time and effort on some that I never used once they were done. This is what I built most of the time.

    I spent three days one summer building a wickiup by the creek that ran through my uncle's land. I didn't know that was what it was called when I did it. I'd never heard of or even seen a picture of one but it's one of those things that come to you if you do much camping. The whole idea of shelter is just something to protect you from the weather. It's pretty easy to prop a bunch of limbs against a log and cover them with leaves. If you do it right, you have a space that will keep you dry and kind of warm,  If there's nothing to prop the end of branches then it's natural to figure you can lean them against each other and cover them. I got a feeling that's how folks came up with the teepee. If you have animal skins to cover the branches with that works great but if you are trying to use leaves it gets a little harder. Leaves just don't want to be piled against something that's to steep. If you try that you'll see that the next idea to pop in your pea brain is that if you bend the branches over and keep them lower it's lots easier to pile loose leaves on top of it and if you add enough you can cover the whole thing. Anyway, that's pretty well how I came up with the idea. After my first attempt just using what ever branches I could find didn't work out to well I switched to long thin branches (willow, just because there was lots growing along the creek). I dug a circle groove in the dirt the size I wanted the shelter to be. I stuck the big end of the branches in the groove and bent them over until I could stick the thin end in the same groove on the opposite side. That didn't work as well as I thought it would! The ends kept popping out of the groove. Tried digging it deeper but still had the same problem. So I said to hell with it and went home.

   I couldn't stop thinking about what I was doing wrong that whole night so I was back first thing the next morning to try an idea I'd had while eating supper. I cut three of the longest branches I could find and made a ring the same size as my groove by tying them together with grape vines. Then I tied one end of a branch to the ring, bend it over in an arch and tied off the other end. It worked! I kept adding more branches until I had a nice little dome. I even figured out how to bend one into a smaller arch and tie it to the up rights to use as a doorway. I was down right proud of myself right up until I tried covering it with leaves. Turns out I didn't have enough branches because every time I dumped an armload of leaves on it, most of them just fell through. I could add more limbs but if I added to many it was going to get hard to tie them to the ring. Then it downed on me that it would be easier to weave limbs around the dome so it would look like an up-side down basket! I spent the next couple of days cutting enough limbs to cover the entire thing. It was a lot more than what I really needed for shelter but I had that basket picture in my mind and just kept adding them.. I ended up spending a whole week working everyday on getting it just the way I wanted it. I was pretty proud of it when I was finally done, and what did I do with it? I sat inside of it for an hour or so and admired it, then I went home. I never camped there and not only did I never use the shelter by the time I went back to the spot a couple of years later the only thing left was a few limbs. To a lot of folks that was a totally wasted week and since I never used it I can see where people might think that. However, building it gave me something to do, something I wanted to do and I got to learn how to build a good shelter that came in handy later in life so to me, it was a fun way to pass a summer week.

   There's one that as far as I know may even still be there. I was heading down to deepfork to do some hunting and decided to take a short cut instead of walking all the way around the road. There used to be a place where everyone dumped their trash off the side of the hill above the river bottoms It was a pretty steep hillside and a real pain to walk down but if you got down it would save a mile or so of walking. I just wanted to cut through the woods at the edge of the trash pile so I didn't have to try climbing over all the garbage. I was about half way past the dump when I noticed a piece of corrugated steel sticking out of the pile. I worked my way to check on it just because. I didn't really want it and had no thought of doing anything other than just checking it out. You could find lots of stuff in that dump but this was something you didn't see very often. There turned out to be three pieces, each about 8 feet long and in not bad shape. They still had the nail holes in them but they weren't bent up or anything. Not sure where the idea came from but I thought that if I took them along with me I could think of some way to use them as a roof for some kind of house. The first problem with my plan was figuring out how to carry them. I had my 22 with me for hunting and since I didn't have any kind of sling on it I had to spend some time prowling around to find enough rags that I could rip up and make one. Next came the problem of moving the steel. I don't know how many of you have messed with this kind of material but for those of you who haven't I'll tell ya, one piece is kind of heavy and three was a lot more than I could pick up. Back I went, hunting for a piece of rope or something that I could use to tie them together so I could try and drag them down the hill.

   I had arrived at the dump just after daylight and by the time I found enough old cloths that I could rip up and braid something close to a piece of rope it was getting up toward noon. If I would have had any since I would have just bagged the idea and went on about my business but I had a plan. To be truthful I had a vague idea but I was sure a plan would show up. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail of how hard or how long it took me to drag those things down that hill. I will say that by the time I got them to the old roadway at the bottom of the hill I was skint, bruised and dog tired! It was so late in the day all I could do was stash them close to the road and head home.

   I was back early the next morning and spent that whole day dragging them down the road and along the river to a spot where I could get them down close to the water. Dragging them down the road wasn't to bad since it was an old railroad and since the rails and ties were gone it was pretty smooth. Fighting them through the brush and briers to get them close to the river was something else! The next day I brought a hatchet and even remembered to grab some bailing wire of a fence on the way over. The spot I'd picked had a pretty steep bank leading down to the water and I came up with the idea that I could use the steel as a roof for a fishing spot for Stanley and me. I found a couple of trees that were about 6 foot apart and didn't have any limbs close to the ground. I cut down another tree and trimmed it to make a cross pole. I wired it between the two about 5 foot above the ground using the wire. Next I got the steel up on the cross pole and shoved the opposite  end into the bank as far as I could. Once I got all three of them up and over lapped it made a pretty nice roof. Now I had to dig out the bank under them because it was to steep to sit on and since all I had brought with me was a hatchet I was done for the day. I ended up spending most of my free days that summer working on that place. I dig out the bank so I had a flat floor. I added branches stacked along each side to keep the wind out. I even found an old car seat in the dump and drug it all the way down so we'd have something to sit on. The only thing that was wrong with it was that I had put it in a spot where Stanley and I never went fishing so even after all that work, we never used it.  


        This is another thing I spent countless hours trying to make Just, what looked to me like a simple fish trap. Trust me, a lot of good willow trees gave up their lives before I was even able to come close! This is a picture very similar to one i found in the school library. Looks so simple doesn't it?

   Figuring out this part was real easy but trying to build the actual trap working just from a couple of descriptions and a drawing for a person that once knew how to make them but couldn't actually remember was a lot harder than I thought. I took me well into my 20's before I was able to make one that even came close to looking like one in the picture. I thought it was just an outside shell. You start with a big hoop on the front and added smaller ones to get the length you wanted. Then you would just tie willow limbs to the outside, I managed to make several of those over the years and never caught a single fish in any of them! It wasn't until I was in Alaska and went to a museum where I finally got to see one that I realized the trick is the inside cone! That keeps the fish from just swimming back out! I did have some luck with fence traps in both deepfork and salt creek. Those just involved building a fence out of tree branches from the bank out toward the middle and down stream. You would leave a small opening at the end by the bank then build another fence in the shape of a circle off that end. Lots of fish will swim up-stream and end up following your fence to the end then get trapped in the circle. Of course even with that you could spend a couple of days building the thing and may still not catch anything. A fishing pole was so much easier but it was still fun to try and do one right and it did pass the time!