Monday, March 2, 2009

CAMN at WestCave Preserve

Our day began with speaker Mary Jo Galindo, Ph.D. Principal Investigator for SWCA, Environmental Consultants here in Austin. She spoke at length about the heritage of Indigenous peoples of central Texas known as the Paleoindian wanderers from 12,000 years ago... their hunting and gathering lifestyles and artifact collections. The Gault site here in Texas is supposed to have more information (yet to be released) on Clovis cultures than any other site, world wide. The thing I remember most about the talk is that so many of the sites are being lost to development, some sites call in an archaeologist before developing, but even then they are under time pressure and the remains that are excavated are often numbered and sit in the basement of some university waiting to be investigated further...meanwhile many of the sites are sitting under overpasses and malls. Some land owners set up "Buy and Dig" operations selling off their "rightful" property.
The texture of the desert is dangerously beautiful and after today's class even more profound. We were at West Cave Preserve, about an hour outside Austin, just past Hamilton Pool for our class on Saturday...the class I'd been waiting for from the beginning!

This unique spot of land is managed by John Ahrns a true naturalist in the most pure sense of the word. You are not allowed to just peruse the hiking trails but must be lead, on a walk/talk by the man who has watched over this land from when it was a trashed-out parking lot to the pristine state it's in today. You stay on the trails and not a leaf is overturned. You have the opportunity to see nature at work being lead by a seasoned guru who contemplates the meaning of every day, season and lifespan of the forest life.

This is a handmade basket of tools...the part of the class I'd been dieing to take was the Fiber Arts...the lost craft of the indigenous people here in central Texas. It appeals to my doop- decorating nature and the inner fiber artist in me that stood shyly watching the old German ladies at the park crochet until I got the nerve to ask in my broken German...blumen? I was seven and have been crocheting, macrame-ing and weaving ever since...I wanted to learn to cord. And we did!

Our instructor, Charlene Farris a fellow MN who has a fascination with all things fiber explaining how the idea of a basket may have come from investigating birds nests, along with the need to carry more than your hands could hold.

We learned how to make cord baskets in Girl Scouts, not the girls scouts of today who slumber-party and call it a "camp-out." I was part of the TOFS, Troops on Foreign Soil and we camped in the Black Forrest...my mom was the leader and we worked for years on our badges and raised enough money to visit the Girls Scouts Chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland...camping, hiking and youth hosteling along the way. (Thanks, Mom.)

It looks like a toasted tortilla, but this is a purse made out of prickly-pear. They've also been found at archaeological sites with fish inside...great for poaching!

We made sandals out of sorrel fronds after carefully removing the spines...they had been soaked in water for 48 hours prior to insure pliability.

Here Charlene is mashing Red Yucca fronds that had been boiled and soaked to soften the fibers for easy separation. The smell was fresh and had a slightly citrus-asparagus aroma that made my mouth water.

Cord, rock and fiber...yea! The essential part of a sandal...the thong! It was surprisingly easy!

Our next mini-course was with David Croft, Master Naturalist on Flintknapping (from the German word knap, meaning to break) and the use of the atlatl. Here he's showing us the beautiful Georgetown Blue Flint...part of what made central Texas "rich" before the black gold. There are only 3 sites in the world where flint can be found.

Tools of the trade.

Flintknapping is a beautiful precise art form...it was amazing to watch him predict the wave of the force on the rock upon impact. The above shot is his example stone...seeing the form in the rock requires a lot more work than the simplicity implied.
Careful hands preparing to strike.

Here John demonstrates the full body force necessary for the refining work on the blade, known as pressure flaking...the break always happens from the bottom. The tool used is an Ishi Stick so named for the last wild Indian in California who shared his knowledge with anthropologists of the day.

Demonstrating the posture for atlatl propelling; the world record for distance with the atlatl is over 300yards...I think this should be an Olympic event! The atlatl was used in the Middle Paleoindian Age from about 8800-6000BP. John learned the craft of flintknapping from his teacher at Wild Basin Preserve, classes are ongoing.


John Ahrns, West Cave Preserve Manager covered the history of the preserve and volunteer opportunities before leading us on a walk to the cave. He's the archetypal grandfather I never had...needless to say, I was on his heels soaking up the wisdom and patience like a child.

It was beautiful but nippy, around 55 degrees...not bad for February.
So inviting...

Male "Spice wood" flower, used by pioneers as a substitute for Allspice.

I love the tall trees of the riparian areas...seems we have mostly scrub in town.

It's a delightful walk and I had no idea what was coming. He explained how he had brought his children with him while he build the trails...ah my fantasy childhood!

I don't think I have to say anything here...


May flies catching the sunlight above the pond.

A cool and quiet cathedral.

If you're still you can hear the rocks seep. In wet years this is a waterfall...hard to imagine.
We're looking at all the oyster fossils in the wall...back when central Texas was beach property...or under the sea.

So many kinds of moss and ferns!
There's the drip...dripping water.

The beautiful grand base of a Bald Cypress...they are so glorious when their feet are in the water.

More from the inside of the cave...


I wanted to show my class for scale...there were about 15 of us all in the cave.

The walk back was all up hill, and when we hit the flats the sun was playing on the meadow and it seemed about 20 degrees hotter...probably the hike.

Over the years John has collected Mesquite stump to make a natural fence.

Our final speaker was Matt Warnock Turner, author of Remarkable Plants of Texas...a book all you gardeners must own! Matt is an entertaining speaker with a strong sense of story. He's the son of a botanist who holds a degree in creative writing and enjoys learning about his surroundings through the thread of a story. He's a gifted teacher and his enthusiasm made it impossible to not hang on his every word...in fact I went back to hear him speak at the monthly meeting and was thrilled to learn even more about some of our natives and how we've survived and thrived because of them. I also have to say something about the gorgeous architecture of the facility...it's stunning and...they don't do weddings!

Delicate blooming lichen.


Agarita "little-sours" blossoms previously used for ringworm and as an aniseptic eyewash.

Closely related to the prickly pear is the Christmas Cactus or tasajillo, it's super mean in the wild but can be eaten in a pinch.

After we'd taken a hike with Matt and learned about several plants and how they were used we had a chance to try some old time Texas treats...Agarita jelly, Napolitos and cookies made out of Mesquite bean flour...looks like scat, tastes sort of like ginger and sawdust...not unpleasant though!

My favorite class so far...as illustrated by the prickly pear:) There are many volunteer opportunites at WestCave and they also have star parties though they're booked through April, so get on out there!
If your not hiking, then...Happy Gardening!

9 comments:

vbdb said...

I don't think I've ever been as informed or entertained by a blog post - and I've read a lot of them. Thank you for this wonderful introduction to our local treasure.

ConsciousGardener said...

vbdb, that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about one of my stories! Thank you, and it was good to hop onto your blog and see that your back at it! I look forward to meeting you in person in Chicago! whoohoo!

katina said...

man you do a lot of stuff! :)

the prickly pear purse was pretty cool.

Sunita said...

What a very, very interesting post! I loved it and envy you for having the opportunity to do all this. Lucky you! I love reading about ancient times and primitive techniques.Yes, I loved 'The Clan of the Cave-Bear' too :)
The Prickly Pear purse was so interesting! Will you post in detail about how its made? I cant get enough of this... love it!

ConsciousGardener said...

Thanks you'll. The purse is just de-spined and then slit down the middle, dried and sewed up the sides with the home-made cord...long process for something that will eventually rot...still cool. I think they may have dried them on rocks in the sun...there's not a lot of absolute knowledge...mostly supposition.

Bob said...

We had Mat Turner at our last Native Plant Society meeting. You are right, he is very entertaining and funny as well. I had to buy one of his books. I live for that kind of stuff.

ConsciousGardener said...

How's that Native Plant Society anyway Bob? I've been meaning to check it out...Matt Turner is really making the rounds with his book, he's scheduled to speak at the Great Outdoors this week as well!

Lori said...

Oooooh, that fiber arts seminar looks like so much fun! You take a lot of cool classes, and since I balk at doing the same because I doubt I'd be able to hear the instructors, your posts are really compelling reading. Thank you so much for making them!

Also, I think I've gotta keep an eye out for Matt Turner's book now. :)

ConsciousGardener said...

Oh Lori I could have just sat on that patio all day! She had a lot more knowledge than time, but she did bring a lot of samples!