Wilderness walking with the Stowaways

My wife loves to plan out adventures. She’ll plan to leave the house for a trip to Eastern Market on Saturday. So, a week before, she’ll start to organize and plan logistics, figure out what the kids will wear, set aside diapers for Sunshine and a change of clothes for Danger, make sure that she sets aside a shirt that won’t have my gut hanging out from under it (which is harder and harder to do nowadays), and make sure we have a list, map, proper training, and a market-buddy.

I took off with the kids and a wagon, then realized we had no sunscreen, so I found a place that had lots of shade. Who says dad’s can’t plan?! I have a wagon!


And sunglasses. Couldn’t forget the sunglasses. This photo op was all them, by the way.

So I recalled a park not being far from my house, so I set out in that general direction.. And got lost. So I typed it into my phone, found it, and drove over – wrong park. But, we were here, and they were huge and interesting and had a shaded playground, so we stayed. While the kids threw a half-rotten apple at each other, that they had found under an apple tree, I consulted the map and found a nature trail on the property. It turns out that Heritage park (http://fhgov.com/Activities/Parks-Facilities/Heritage-Park.aspx) was a good pic after all! After I grabbed Danger as he was trying to recreate some Isaac Newton on Sunshine’s head, we loaded back into the car and drove over to go for a walk (irony intended). We unloaded and proceeded.


I know it has been a theme before, but I feel guilty about my children missing out on a lot of the opportunities that I had. We were booted out of the house early in the morning with a machete and a dusting of fly spray, and showed up again that night. We lived in the middle of the woods with swamps, animals, rusted cars, rivers, and other random litter-azi filling the landscape. My kids live in one of the top 10 largest cities in Michigan, have a backyard the size of a postage stamp, and think ‘foraging’ means raiding the cupboard if they get up before I do. So I am attempting to teach them about life in the woods. Forget that ‘Salt Life’ nonsense, Pine Life for the win.


What you can barely see in the picture is a Whitetail doe. We came up to a crabapple tree. I kept the lecture small, I didn’t discuss apple-whipping but I did bring up waiting until after the first frost to eat one. It went without saying that you REALLY don’t eat 20 of them in one sitting, or you will know every knot on the crapper door by the time you recover. Who says I didn’t learn anything as a child?! Peeking through the leaves was a deer!IMG_1308

Next, some snails. My kids had never seen one outside an aquarium before, and Danger was quite surprise to see that they were nowhere near water. Yes, son, the media lies to you.

I didn’t realize it, but I had started a mantra at this point. Sunshine wanted to hold it, and she wanted to touch and hold everything, which I applauded but always cushioned it with a warning. By the time we found the slugs, her question was always “dada, I hold? I no eat.” You laugh, but she needed to be reminded.

We did accomplish a little foraging. We found some raspberries. We saw some chokecherries as well – I was always told they weren’t good (the name alone suggests a certain amount of heck-no) but In Latvia, they leave it on the plate as an edible garnish. This didn’t seem like the time to start.


We then went off-grid. We hopped out of the wagon and walked over to a small stream meandering through the woods. We paused for a photo session, but Danger was being crazy and Sunshine wasn’t impressed by how much the tree was swaying.IMG_1312

IMG_1314We found another tree crossing the water, so another photo op. Danger decided that it was a bridge, and asked me to cross it. Since I know how quick I can turn a bridge into a submarine (it’s not magic, it’s that jerk called gravity), I told him to go ahead. We had to pose for pictures first, which was interrupted by Sunshine checking a knothole out to see if any turtles were emerging.IMG_1315IMG_1317

We decided to press and come back to the bridge, as I wanted to deal with wet clothes after the exploring, not before. We found a toad! Sunshine was glad it was just a toad. Up until now, everything that moved was “AH! ‘NAKE!” My shoelaces had been AH NAKE! about 10 times, as was random branches, the slug, a snapping turtle who had heard them crashing through teh woods and took off underwater, and her brother, about 15 times. So, the rustling in the grass wasn’t a snake, but was instead a slightly confused toad. “Oooh, toad! I hode, I no eat?”IMG_1319

On the way back from our off-road excursion, I authorized traversing the 10 foot stream via the fallen log. IMG_1320

Yup, made it about that far. Good on him for trying though!

A little further on, and we saw fawns! I’m sure most of you know, mother deer (probably the ones we saw) will leave their fawns alone for the day and go browse, which was probably what happened to these little guys that you can barely, if at all, see in my picture. They were tiny little dudes, they couldn’t have been more than a few months old. The kids got to see them, and we crept pretty close to check them out.

One thing that amazed me – this was a Saturday morning on a popular trail. It was a little over a mile in length, and shaded (Had we gone fishing, I always have spray in the creel. Oh well), so it was a pretty popular spot to hike, jog, or just walk. And so everyone but us passed stuff like this by! Baby fawns, and they didn’t even notice! Snapping turtle, bigger than a trash can lid, just swimming under a bridge while a power walker, fists pumping and much the same expression as the turtle, just pounded right by above his head. So many people were out on the trail, and so few saw the trail. It was pretty amazing.IMG_1322

Look up, right about heeeeeere |IMG_1324

That was enough fauna, lets get to the flora. When I was a kid, we knew exactly what we could and couldn’t eat in the woods. I’ve shared a raspberry patch with a bear before, no one argued as there were plenty of berries for the both of us. Alpine strawberries, blueberries, hazelnuts (learned real quick that you don’t touch the husks with bare hands), acorns; anything that you could eat without having to go back to the house for lunch, we did eat. I started showing them all the pretty flowers, their names, and what you could do with them (although to be honest, other than shining a buttercup under Danger’s face to see it turn yellow, I was pretty tapped out on woodland knowledge).IMG_1327

Pine cone!IMG_1328Birch bark! Funny side story – Mike Oscar and I used to work at a wilderness camp for kids. At the end of the week, he would tear off a few pieces of birchbark off a few trees, and write a little award on the piece and give it to each kid. Ranger award for someone who could do everything, MVP award, stuff like that. We had one troublesome camper who just made our lives miserable and wrapped the whole week around herself (as opposed to the one staunch camper who won hide and seek by hiding in the deep grass. “I knew you would never look for me there because you know I’m allergic to grass!” she wheezed out while we dabbed lotion on the welts on her exposed skin. Um, good job?), so it was difficult to find a meaningful award to give. Mike Oscar  suggested the Donner Party award.

“If we were snowed in on a mountain pass, we’d eat her first.”

True enuff.

After finishing the walk with stories of all you could do with a good piece of birchbark, we made our way back to the car. I’m sure the kids promptly forgot 100% of the knowledge I’d attempted to pass on to them. They liked the camp robber jay we saw, but they were uninterested in how easy it was to lure one to your hand.

What I hope they will remember, is that it’s a pretty big world out there, and that you’ll find some answers in the woods.

The woods are more than just trees, and there is a little pine sap in their blood.

Keep your head on straight, mom and dad will be back to take care of you.

Don’t eat the slugs.



Tipsy Targeting

For the record, I’m not a drunk; I just great ideas, and act upon them, when I’ve had a few sips of Grampa’s sarsaparilla. Some people get slutty, some people get angry, I just get inventive and want to build things and tackle projects.

I missed out on drinking at hunting camp – but I am a hearty believer that shooting and drinking don’t mix very well. However, drinking and working on guns is friggin brilliant!

I started my project with a purchase – someone on Craigslist was clearing out a bunch of stuff. I swapped an old Stevens 12 gauge break-open with a stuck auto-ejector (stick along with you to ram down the barrel after you shot anything) to Mike Oscar. In return, I got a disassembled Mosin Nagant. I got the way better end of the deal, don’t tell him. After I put it together, I fired it once or twice, then it stayed with my brother when i moved, then it got swapped back and forth a few times, and finally, I ended up with it at my house, I’m not sure how. The front sight was missing, from who knows where, and the upper barrel wood is longer than the lower barrel wood, probably because they’re from two different guns. Can she shoot? Not sure yet!


The missing front sight is annoying, so I stuck some safety wire over it, just to go shoot with it – I never got a chance, the range we went to insisted on brass ammo, and I only have old steel ammo for my gun. I have been looking at bent bolts to add a scope mount, and went so far as to pull the bolt out and set it in my vise, getting ready to make my own bent bolt, a job I wasn’t excited about.

Searching for tents on Craisgslist last week, I saw a guy who was selling a tent peg hammer (because the back of a hatchet is so 80s), along with a bunch of odds and ends of junk. Buried in the middle, was a couple scope rings, two 10/22 mags, and a Mosin Nagant scope mount, that replaced the front sight!  Mike Oscar had mentioned one from seeing a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-dE_tknOgk), but I wasn’t able to find one. Now this guy has one for sale!



So for $25, I picked up all the loot you see here. It was a good haul! In the plastic bag is my treasure, the Mosin mount! I later found one for $10 on Amazon. But oh well, this one is in my hot little hands, so it’s going on my smoke pole.

The first step was disassembly. That’s a pretty easy step; Mosins weren’t made for brain surgeons. Once the barrel assemble was stripped away from the wood, it was time to get hammering. At the front of the sight ramp is a pin -get a nice punch, a hammer, and carefully tap it out, making sure to cushion the  rather than put it right on steel and smack it around like it owes you money.

Then get another sip of Tullamore Dew.


At this point, I noticed another problem – the pin that lines the trigger up was pretty loose. Whether a design issue or a ‘too-many-nazis’ issue, I spent a few minutes sifting through the sawdust below my vise before found it; but once I did, I used some electrical tape to hold it into place. IMG_1339

I put some tape on the side of the action to protect it from the anvil, then put a split in the tape so it could slide out. IMG_1340IMG_1341

Once you flip the sight out, slide the spring forward and out. Now it’s time for the mount! Line it up as it looks – the bolt will go through the now empty pin hole, and the body of the mount will lie along the channel the sight used to lay in. There might be some sanding and grinding to make it a good fit, but I know you got this. You aren’t too far into the good stuff yet – I’ve only finished my first glass!IMG_1342IMG_1343

Once it’s in place, slide the bolt through from the left to the right, screw the nut on (4 mm wrench) and tighten it down. I put some lock-tite on there, because you can never be too sure. 

I thought I’d skip a few steps and save a few bullets by leveling things out ahead of time. I wrapped the gun in an old shirt, around the action where I was going to fit it into the vise. I then stuck my level on it to make sure it was parallel to the floor. Once I was sure the gun was level, I started adjusting the screws. I worked on the screw all the way to the rear first, and ran it down and checking with the level until it was level. I then ran the front screw down, making sure it was snug but not putting an undue amount of pressure on the front (it comes out in a weird spot, not really on the wood or the metal, so don’t get too crazy with it. Once that was in place and level checked again, I ran down the second screw from the back. Once I checked again, I tightened the set screws on the left side. And then, because I know how much luck I have, I checked again – sure enough, setting the set screws knocked it off. 


After it was all done, I sat back and admired my work. Not my workshop, though, because that looks like a yard sale barfed on my work bench. 


(The shirt is gone, this was just display purposes)IMG_1351

So then I mounted my scope. It didn’t work. It is a short base, so there are only a few scopes this will work with. Like, not the one I had. Because when I started trying out the rings I had purchased, the tall ones worked but put the crosshairs very low when I went for my natural cheek weld. 


The low profile rings I had were the wrong size, so I ordered new ones. Once they came in, the eye piece was too big, and it wouldn’t allow the scope to sit on the mount. So, it was time to dig the Sawzall out again (now you know why I had checked to see how much a replacement was.) More shirt wrapping, more vise work, and I had a shorter mount that worked with my scope. 


It’s off to the left a little, so there will be some adjustment. I’m not looking forward to a full day at the range sighting in this and my new 30.06, so I might invest in a laser bore sighter first. 

Or borrow one from one of you. Anyone in southwest Michigan and have an afternoon free? I’ll bring the booze!

For afterwards, of course. I have some shelves I need to build. 


We turned the Penske truck in at the York location and worked on setting up shop.  Finding a rent in Maine that is month-to-month and will accommodate a family of six is difficult.  You might as well tell your future landlord that you have tuberculosis and a penchant for accidentally crapping your pants every time you cough and that you don’t believe in showering because the bedbugs like water too much.  Really, landlords aren’t fond of children or short term rentals.  I completely understand why.

We ended up in an “undesirable” part of Maine, which actually isn’t that bad.  It’s a quiet street in a neighborhood full of old people.  The kids are having fun with the fact that there’s a sidewalk out front and a paved driveway.  They’ve gotten lots of road rash from dumping their bikes and scooters on the pavement.  The house we’re in is…..a bit of a rat hole.  I don’t say that out of a lack of graciousness, but most of the doors don’t close, there’s a pretty obvious mold problem and the 1960s carpet on the stairs smells like urine.  Oh, and every single-pane window was painted shut. 20 minutes with my knife solved that problem.  The list is much longer, but there’s really no use in writing it down.

With all of this, we’re all struggling on some level.  For me, I can’t go outside and work on something, which is what I do.  Even the three wheeler is off limits. There’s no good space to ride, it would upset the neighbors and my tools are in storage.  My wife doesn’t keep the house in tip-top shape as she usually does, because she realizes that there’s no sense in trying to polish a turd; it’ll still be a turd.  The children are tired of my paranoid speeches about watching out for strangers, staying out of the road and not having a big back yard to play.   We’ve broken our rules of excessive video gaming and movie watching, mostly because at times, there’s no other choice.


We’re having adventures as much as we can.  We’ve hit the beach several times.  That seems to be our happy place.  We’ve gone to see my family and the kids loved that. Uncle Bern cut the boys loose with axes, which they were totally into.

I’m not working yet, either.  I’ve had a few interviews, but no callbacks, which I’m not too sad about.  In most cases, I could tell that I wasn’t the right fit for the job or that I just didn’t want the job.  I’m going to try temping next week so that we can stop the negative cash flow.

What I can say is that I understand a little better why the world is so screwed up.  People live like this every day.  There’s nothing specifically wrong with this lifestyle, but I think it lacks direction, which can be bad for the human psyche.  This is why people get depressed and go crazy.  There’s simply not enough to do.  Maybe if we didn’t have the internet and social media, people would get more involved in their communities again.

It’s all part of the transition.  It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.  We keep reminding ourselves that this is the necessary step to get us where we want to be, producing our own food and being closer to the land.  It’s easy to lose sight of that as an apartment dweller.

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel…..out.




Slow and Steady Wins the Race

On the 16th, we signed papers on our house and packed up the Penske truck.  I thought I’d have more emotions about the process, but I didn’t.  It was done.  I appreciated the place for not falling down while we were birthing four children, but really, it was time to give the west a rest.



I’d love to tell you a grand tale about a wonderful road trip across our beautiful country, but really, riding in a 26′ Penske truck is a bit of a dragonfly experience.


Dragonfly (adjective):  /Drag n’ Fly/ –  Drag up one hill and fly down the other.

It’s a term that Snuffy (dad) used to use about various semi trucks he was assigned to over the years.  The Penske truck had an engine governor set on it for 70 mph and let me tell you, it worked.  It couldn’t crack 70 mph down a hill with a strong tailwind and a kick in the behind.  By the time we reached Kansas, I was praying for a downhill stretch and by the time we reached Pennsylvania, I was cursing every uphill stretch.  I’d say the average mph for the entire trip was about 55.

Kansas was the only place where I got nervous.  A 26′ moving truck is much akin to a sailboat, and let me tell you, the winds in Kansas can be forceful.  The Mrs. and kids were about 30 miles ahead of me.  They’d grown tired of waiting for me and the big yellow dragonfly miles earlier and we all decided that if they got to the campground an hour ahead of me, that would be a bonus for the kids.  She called to say that she had just skirted a thunderstorm coming from the north and that she thought I’d miss it as well.  I was white-knuckling the wheel when I talked to her and let her know that I was fine.  Really, I was lying.

By that time, the box truck was waving and humping all over the road to the point where I thought it might be prudent to pull over and wait it out.  I’d slowed down to 50 mph and put on my flashers, all the while looking out for funnel clouds that might present themselves.

Then traffic stopped.  The truck began to rock hard and quarter-sized hail started hitting the windshield started about five minutes later.



I texted my wife and told her what was happening, all the while underplaying the seeming severity of the situation.  I pulled out the handheld CB radio I’d procured at the Goodwill months earlier and cracked the on button.


I’ve heard people say a lot of negative things about truckers (as a subculture), but they are the sages of the road.  They’ve been there, done that and they fully understand the rules of the road.  CB chatter isn’t what it used to be due to the accessibility of cell phones and marine radios, but for most truckers, they are still a standard piece of kit.  I suggest carrying one of these with you on any road trip.  The handheld version limits transmission distance, but if you’re in the middle of the mess, it can (sometimes) give you a way out or basic information that you’d otherwise be lacking.

They said that the wind had blown a semi over about a mile up the road.  I put on my glasses and sure enough, I could see it laying on its side in the distance.  I held onto the wheel as the truck heaved and pulsed in the wind.  I saw people getting out of their vehicles in an attempt to get information about what was happening.  The wind was blowing.  Plenty of lightening.  Hail.  Seems like getting out of your car and walking around is a great thing to do in flip flops and shorts.  I can’t even count the number of people I saw doing just that.  If the pesky .gov wasn’t protecting so many stupid people, the world would be a whole lot more interesting for awhile.

Anyhow, the tow truck arrived and everything was uprighted and pulled away.  By the time the accident was cleared, the bad weather was done and I continued on my way.

So, for future reference:

A handheld CB radio and a pair of binoculars are good pieces of kit to bring on any road trip.  

Other than that, the trip was uneventful at a sloth’s pace.  I can tell you that I’m much more comfortable driving a truck that large than I was when I started.  If you’re considering it, don’t be afraid.  There’s an adjustment period, but it happens quickly.

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel…..out.


No Country for Old Men

…..no place to pee behind a tree, either.

I’ve been off the social grid for awhile.  I’ve been travelling.  A lot.  Here are some pictures to get you up to speed on the beginning.  There will be more posts coming.


A month ago, my son and I drove my mother-in-law from the Denver area to Phoenix.  We took the back way.  I have to tell you, if you ever want a beautiful drive, start on Highway 285 in Colorado and drive to Phoenix.  It was wonderful.

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel…..out.