JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods near Ek Balam Ruins north of Valladolid in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

February 12, 2017

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PINEAPPLES FLOWERING
Here at the rancho anytime someone buys a pineapple the tufted top is cut off and planted in the ground. Before long roots form and the tuft starts growing, eventually producing knee-high rosettes of stiff, yellowish-green blades reddish-tented at their tips, such as those shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170212pa.jpg

The plants in the picture haven't begun producing pineapples yet. A view into one of the plant's center showing nothing but a clutter of dried-up leaves where the future pineapple fruit will set is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170212pb.jpg

Nowadays a few of our pineapple plants are producing apple-sized flowering heads perched atop thick, finger-long peduncles, like the one at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170212pc.jpg

In that picture, notice the violet-hued flower at the head's lower, left. The flower itself has no stem, or pedicel. The pinkish, triangular items bristling all around are spiny-toothed bracts, bracts being leaves modified to fulfill some purpose. In the pineapple's flowering head the purpose appears to be to dissuade herbivores from nibbling on the flowers and future fruit. A close-up showing a pineapple flower's cylinder-like corolla with three stuck-together petals is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170212pd.jpg

The Maya workers tell me that in a couple of months we'll have pineapples to eat. It'll be interesting to watch how the flowering heads develop into syrupy pineapple fruit.

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HOW TO BUILD A CAMPFIRE
This is especially for those in the future dystopia who may need a small fire, but who may lack commercial fire starters and properly cured firewood, and may have no idea where to start.

If you have a pot with a wire handle atop it, you can build your fire beneath a tripod, with the pot suspended over the fire. If you have a skillet, something like a wire rack from an abandoned refrigerator can be positioned atop the rocks, and the fire built beneath the skillet resting on the rack. My current morning campfires are like the latter, except that I'm using homemade adobe blocks instead of three rocks, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170212cg.jpg

For building campfires, nothing is more important than this:

Understand how campfires function so you can use whatever fuel is at hand to build them, under many different conditions.

Fire feeds on oxygen in the air, so air should have easy access to your fuel. As you arrange your fuel, visualize the fire heating up the air, which rises above the flames, sucking in more air from the sides. My current campfires with three sides closed by adobe bricks has air rushing in from the open side, so the fuel is arranged so that air can freely pass into the fire's heart.

THE FIRST FLAME:
If you can't ignite a flame by striking steel against flint, or rubbing sticks together, you need matches and you must keep them dry. Having no matches, one option is to remove a convex lens from your binoculars or a telescope, and focus sunlight onto dry paper.
Unless your fuel is saturated with some kind of easily inflammable substance, such as the resin in pine wood, you can't just put a match to a large item and expect it to burn -- not even large pieces of dry, well cured wood. You should begin with a small heap of thin pieces of fuel, like wood shavings, small twigs, shreds of paper or dry leaves.

My first step in building a fire usually is to place on the ground in the future fire's center something about the size of an egg, maybe an unburned hunk of charcoal from a past fire, around which I build a little teepee of elongated pieces of easy-to-ignite fuel, usually shavings and slivers of wood. Over this highly combustible teepee I position slightly larger pieces of fuel, more or less continuing with the teepee strategy, but making sure I'm not blocking air access, or my own access to the interior with a match. You can see a campfire at the moment when its interior teepee, partly composed of dry cardboard, has just caught fire but the larger pieces haven't, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170212ch.jpg

THE MACHETE:
When you forage for campfire fuel keep in mind your need for pieces varying in size from tiny to large. You may need to cut or chop large pieces into small ones. Machetes are perfect for that job because they can both chop through thick stems and logs, and shave off thin flakes and slender slivers. In the picture below, a machete is being used to cut slender splinters off a log. Note how the machete's tip is being pounded, causing the blade to slice downward following the wood's grain.
cutting with a machete
The idea is that once the structure's interior of small pieces starts burning, the larger pieces over them will catch fire, and once they're burning, the larger pieces over them also will catch, on and on until your biggest pieces atop the structure get so hot that they'll also burst into flame. Once the interior teepee is burning, the fire can be encouraged by fanning air onto the pile. Keep a stiff piece of cardboard handy, or get on your hands and knees and blow.

At this point, if you intend to keep the campfire burning for a long time, you can arrange larger sticks so that one of their ends burns in the fire. As the sticks convert to ash, you can keep nudging them toward the center, replenishing the fuel there.

Your luck in starting the fire depends very much on what kind of fuel you've gathered. Old tree twigs and splinters of wood that have absorbed humidity may not want to burn, even if their surfaces are dry. Especially during rainy seasons when the air is especially humid, if at all possible prepare for your campfires by storing dry fuel in sheltered places. If you don't have a shelter, cover dry fuel with a plastic sheet and secure the sides. At the peak of our rainy season, even apparently dry paper doesn't want to burn.

HIGH-EFFICIENCY STOVES:
Super-efficient, wood-burning stoves often sold on survivalist web sites generally have the same drawback: They don't permit the easy manipulation of fuel. If you're burning what you can scavenge, each piece of fuel has its own inflammability, size and shape, so each piece has its own best place in the campfire's construction. Super-efficient stoves emphasize the flow of air but overlook your need to fiddle with the fuel.
If you really need a fire and have trouble getting it going, you might consider adding a bit of plastic to it -- trash plastic being omnipresent in the future dystopic landscape. Burning plastic releases chemicals you don't want coming in contact with your water and food but, if you're desperate, a little plastic amid more desirable fuel can get most uncooperative campfires going. As plastic melts, it drips its highly inflammable, oil-like petrochemical base onto your fire, feeding it. Sometimes as a plastic source I've used the thin, transparent plastic of bottles in which purified water is sold.

Once you've finished with a campfire, remember that the embers can smolder flamelessly for a long time, being a fire hazard. Scattering the fire's remaining coals and dousing them with water or covering them thoroughly with dirt may be a good idea.

To get you more into the campfire mood, you might be interested in our essay Morning Campfire at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/p/160117.htm and Campfires & the Middle Path at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/p/100530.htm

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BELIEVE IN NATURE
This week I returned to Mérida to have the stitch removed from my operated-on eye. My friends there -- old gringos with lots of experiences behind them -- are glad to sit in the park and share their insights. From what I hear, up north folks are being bombarded with so many conflicting messages that for many it's disagreeable and hard to know what to do.

At times like that in my own life, I found it a good idea to shift mental gears entirely, and put my faith in what Nature teaches.

On one level that means that we would do well to simplify our lives along the line of natural things. A tree germinates from a seed, grows, flowers and fruits, and all the time works at an unhurried, even pace photosynthesizing its food from air, water and sunlight. As a byproduct of this diligence oxygen is produced for us animals to breathe. When the tree dies, its borrowed resources recycle into the surrounding ecosystem, to everyone's benefit. This is a simple, generous, beautiful living strategy, the essence of which can be embraced in anyone's life, and it works no matter who the President is.

On another level, Nature suggests a goal for society to work toward -- one other than the usual options of buying into right-wing or left-wing dictatorships, workers' paradises, free markets, theocracies, or whatever. Nature's goal has as its bulls-eye the target of sustainability. And that's sustainability not for a segment of the population but for the entire Earth ecosystem, the biosphere -- all living things and the Earth itself interrelating in ever more sophisticated and mutually beneficial evolutionary patterns, the sustainable end product being something gorgeous to experience.

So, each morning when you awaken, try visualizing a tree glowing magnanimously in the Earth's free oceans of sunlight and air, simply being itself to the benefit of all. And if you need a subject on which to start your day with a meditation, explore the full meaning and implications to your own life of the concept of "sustainability."

With these two models rooted in your mind first thing in the morning, the rest of the day blossoms in a gentle, smiling manner.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.