Archive for the ‘Hermit-Scout’ Category

The Adventures of A Hermit: Year 1 Retrospective.

January 6, 2012

We should be just about done with all the ''Best of" and Top 10 Most Spectacular Vomit Moments of 2011  that clog practically every newspaper and magazine in the land. But I wouldn't be a contributing member of blogger-society if I didn't put the Hermist's fondest adventures on record.

I've come into myself this year, owning up to the role of the Hermist, and no longer trying to force the social butterfly bullshit that simply wasn't me.  Once I did that, I found, much to my surprise, a feeling of relief and also an abundance of good things.  Let's look, shall we? 


A new and entertaining friend, Cheffapetta came to visit the wilds of Austin from the Land of the Sophisticated Palate (Denver), so I had to show him a thing or two about gritty-Coke-In-The-Glass-Bottle-With-Yer-Brisket barbecue.  Wood paneled walls, duck decor, plastic plates and a roll of paper towels. You've been schooled.

they wish they had something so divine in Colorado as the Smokehouse.

 This was the year of canning. I canned practically anything I could get my hands on, from boozed-up strawberries to grilled corn to watermelon rinds and lime-slapped kiwis. I actually killed my nice stove in the process and never had so much fun. The highlight of all that sweating and domestic syrup were the get-togethers with my hermitty friends who weren't afraid to step into the kitchen with me. Now, I'd post photos of the gooey leche quemada, the swimming-in-whisky strawberries and the rows of jeweled fruit in jars, but there are other sites that do food porn so much more justice.   
Can it.
Here was our first canning party, with myself in a feverish state, surrounded by my beautiful domestic-lovin' friends. God love ya. I barely remember anything thanks to that penicillin, what a hell of a party!   

Bringing the world together around a pressure cooker...

 Part of my hermit transformation was learning a lot about how to fend for myself.  And part of THAT includes a pressure cooker, which I was afraid of, and now, am only slightly afraid of.  Just a little bit.  Thanks to David Alexander, for the story about his grandmother blowing up her stove top/roof... but that is another story.  *Do take a special note of the Mistress of Ceremony, the lovely Milan, parked directly in the center of all the quick-paced and high-energy action in the kitchen.   She knows who's in charge.

Too much canning can only lead to drunken moments like this... (drinking cold stew)

Here's Russ. The man makes an excellent elderberry wine, which he creates himself of course, along with above-pictured beef stew, and can fully stock his own larder single-handedly.  The man has amazing potential for  Hermit status...   

Where The Wild Things Are.

My role this past year was the designated wielder of the knife and spatula, cooking up outdoor meals for the people crawling through bushes, being chased by zombies, and living the primitive life.  My inner hermit got much joy out of witnessing moments like these.

This wood elf will find you. Track your ass down and find you.

I loved watching the process of Human Pathers evolving into crafty, independent diy-ers who weren't afraid of getting dirty, doing it from scratch and taking care of themselves.   

Girl kicks man's ass soundly.

  Honestly, and I know everyone agrees on this one. There is nothing better than a girl who can kick your ass.  

No, I promise you I am totally normal.

When we hosted the 1st Annual Zombie Apocalypse this past October, it was an awesome experience to watch how zombies can really put a crimp on carefully planned disorder. 

Zombies and the People That Love Them.

Plus we got to witness zombies who barely stumbled, barely moved, barely accessorized. Zombie baby, zombie kid, zombie bride, zombie gung-ho dad.  And one zombie, who was a streak of darkness, running after pathers in the pitch black.

The Fastest Zombie We've Ever Seen.


A Drill. A Vat of Glue. And An Apron.

One of my outward expressions of happiness is to create textile installations.  Its a surreal Dr. Suess meets The Stepford Wives world, with my alter ego, the Kitchen Goddess.  Somehow, working with fabric and lots of laborious applications of string, stick-pins and nails, has become my defining mark.  My college art professors would be so proud. (probably not)   

Noche De Recuedros with my buddy Rick

  Here is the floating altar, year two, that Rick and I set loose in the Woodlawn Lake.  After an intense summer drought, 'setting loose' might not be the right term, as it grazed the murky bottom of the very low casting pond.   The highlight of the year for me was the day I could step out of Vi's hair salon with my hair sprayed so fastidiously into a beehive that it took me almost a week to get it out.  I stuck two shellacked forks in my hair, put on my pink flirtin' gloves and my favorite blue chiffon apron, was handed a never-empty glass of wine and out I went ... the kitchen goddess.

There is nothing more divine than a kitchen goddess that knows her place. In the home.

 Who says art can't be fun?  With the indispensible Rebecca Coffey fronting the kitchen lines, we opened up a alternate reality of frozen housewife smiles and pickles on a stick.  View the exhibit photos here!  
The Kitchen Goddess, April exhibit

Are You There Dog? Its me...

Not a day goes by that I don't have the company of my dogs; constant companions, artistic consultants and snuffler-of-ears.  We fostered 3 dogs this year and all found great new homes, mostly with other pathers.

Fozzy Leo.

It is a great life, living out here on the hermit-stead with these fine beasts.  This final image though, is my favorite.  It has been exactly 2 years now that Milan came home with us on the day my beloved dad-in-law Joe died.  She came broken down and tired.  Since then she's slowly recovered and is now our elderly dragon-growling matron, the mascot of the hermit.  Milan the Beautiful.

Sam brings Milan up from the pond at the quarry to help her make the trip.

Happy New Year to all of you.  May good things happen. Eat good food. Pet your friends and hug your dogs.  Live that life with intention and gusto.
-The Hermist.

Livin’ La Vida Nica.

December 29, 2011
  The Hermist in the Nica It's unexpectedly cold here, after returning from 12 days in rural Nicaragua.  Of course I didn't notice it was cold before we left, having grown used to the winter 'chill' of South Texas, but I sure feel it now that I've been extracted from the humid and balmy embrace of the Nica. Nicaraguan scouting expedition It was a scouting trip of sorts, an excursion into the poorest country in Central America, where everything is double dipped in saturated color, sooty beauty, and noise.  The Nica does not sleep. nicaraguan life Part of the trip was about the medical needs of the Nica's poor. We spent several days helping out in quickly-constructed rural clinics and the area's primary hospital.  A team of 21 medical students and doctors from Michigan descended with an arsenal of pharmaceuticals and a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine, Sam with his tinctures and herbs, and me with my two hands for soft tissue massage.  medical care in nicaragua I hadn't done any massage in almost 12 years, since I burned out and threw myself into the life of an artist.  But I found that once I put my hands on all the preggo mamas and tiny toothless ladies who explained 'todos' (everywhere, to you gringos) for the location of their muscle pain .... that it was as familiar now as it was then. 
showing massage in nicaragua

working in the Rivas hospital

But I digress.  I can talk about all that some other time.  I wanted to talk about how the Nica people, in their simplicity and pared-down lives, are so much more prepared than we are, with our bomb-shelter stockpiling and accumulation of things to keep us safe.  Huh?  How can some of the poorest people on the continent be relatively unaffected if the lights 'go out' and don't come back on? Well, half the time, the lights are off anyway, with winds frequently tripping off the power and plunging the Nica into a slower but relatively unchanged pace.  life in nicaragua Think about how it is when there is a power outage in your neck of the woods.  The fridge stops its hum, there is no internet, if it was cold outside, its suddenly much colder ... otherwise the temperature of your world starts to rise quickly.  You can't cook dinner because the stove won't work.  Maybe the water purifier on the fridge won't work.  And the chargers for your phone, ipod and other electronics gives you the cold shoulder. And. THERE IS NO INTERNET! In the rural Nica, not much changes. Most of the stoves are propane, so they warm up gallo pinto (rice and beans).  If its hot (because its never cold), they just go outside to sit on the porch and cool themselves with the breezes off the coast. No car? No problem. They get on their horses (or on the I-kid-you-not, ox-drawn cart) and get going. Or they walk.  They adapt easily and don't spend any time stressing over the small stuff.  Half the time I suspect they don't even notice when the power is interrupted. 

the family 'car' scratches itself under the trees ...

I started thinking about how the US seems to be lumbering towards a nervous panicked state regarding food, resources and safety.  We worry what happens if there is an emergency and the stores might run out of food and water.  We worry about electrical shortages due to an over-taxed power system. If there is a gas shortage, we wouldn't be able to drive.  Most of us are completely unprepared for anything greater than a couple of days without life's comforts.  As a culture, we've been largely stripped of our abilities to improvise, survive and thrive as we've slipped into the comfortable embrace of convenience and security.  That is really too bad.  A nation of scrappy balls-to-the-wall miscreants is now the over-fed and clueless. 

"ok, now you don't want to eat this. this would be bad..."

On a hike up one of the amazing Nicaraguan volcanoes, I was humbled immediately by our guide, who probably hiked the damn thing, up and down, 4 or 5 times a week.  Before he started doing the hikes for wimps like me, he harvested coffee and beans from the volcano hillsides.  He could identify not only the types of trees, the dangerous snakes (and monkeys that sounded pretty uh, scary, in the background) and insects with their habitats, but he also knew which trees had the edible berries, when to pick the beans, where they grew and so much that I felt pretty much like a walking marshmallow of ignorance. 

gallo pinto. its whats for dinner.

And we consider ourselves to be the evolved ones, right?  If he had to get by for a month without electricity or trips to the grocery store, I doubt he'd notice it.  Life is abundant there, with mango and orange trees incubating hordes of fruit in every conceivable spot; and with sugar cane, rice, coffee and red beans growing on hillsides, backyards, fields and practically everywhere you look.  Chickens, pigs and cows are in every yard with horses, goats and oxen ready to move.  Meanwhile, our culture has sold off these same survival skills for technology and consumerism.   I am certainly not denying there are things that would be very hard to do without, here in the US.  I think I'd probably prefer being in a US hospital over the one I spent time in at Rivas ... but in all honesty, I'd actually prefer doing a holistic solution at home to any hospital if it was an option.  Just food for thought.  It was an eye-opening experience and I was incredibly humbled by a world that on one hand seemed so simple and rural, but ultimately, had just about everything they needed, right there. Got an opinion on the matter?  I wanna hear it. Start typing now. A couple of recent discussions about gettin' by with not much and being just fine:  The Self Sustained Lifestyle, Part one and Part two.    

The. Chomp. Zombie Apocalypse.

November 11, 2011
**by the WAY ...these photos are copyrighted and are not available to be copied or reproduced. If you want to use one of these photos, please contact The Hermist.  We'll set you up with the photographers. Some people run marathons to test themselves. Some lose weight or climb Mt. Everest or go back to school for a new vocation or get married and settle down ... all in a pursuit of a new personal best or to better themselves, to live that life fully, inspired and rich.  Others, like our group of 27 Pathers last weekend, scale their own mountains. They endured discomfort, uncertainty and hunger while trying to evade a horde of barely coherent but ravenous flesh-eating zombies that constantly tracked them down as they tried to navigate a barren abandoned rock quarry. In the dark. With no equipment. 

Its the apocalypse and we're all hungry...

Armed with basic survival skills, the Pathers were testing themselves to see how they would react in a pandemic event.  Messy, disorganized and chaotic, it was an exercise designed to push them, expose their weaknesses and help them find what they needed to work on for their own self-improvement.  Time was against the students; they were scattered as their leader was 'shot' and killed, and they had to run, unprepared, into the bushes and away from a shuffling swarm of undead zombies that re-appeared each time they thought they could pause and re-group.    Sitting on a rock and disoriented as his brain starts to slowly ooze out of his head and onto his neck, this zombie had only one thing he could focus on.  Through a cloudy haze, he can make out the shape of a Pather.  When the Pather turned on his headlamp, the zombie could then see him clearly, hear the quick drum of his heartbeat and almost smell the blood pumping through his veins. The light drew him like a moth to a flame, and in a flash, he stumbles to his feet with a thick gurgle and a hiss.  Although the shouts from his maker, El Salvador, were only muffled bleats to him, he knew what the command was.  Chase. Eat.   

sniff. sniff. sniffsniffsniff .... brainsssssssssssssss.

So why did 27 Pathers choose to do this test?  Joining a book-of-the-month club is markedly more pleasant, and its easier to track transformation by a dipping scale that shows progress.  As temperatures plummeted that night, no doubt they were cold, hungry and worn down from hours of constant running and stress.  From the start, the students were pushed off balance.  Their keys, cellphones and wallets were taken from them by a gruff  post-apocalyptic beauracratic rescue worker who then abruptly ran away, leaving them unsure of where to go or what to do. 

"remember your numbers .... remember your numbers..."

They were forced to crawl through heavy brush and were then met by rescue workers who promptly turned guns on them, searched them, took away all of their gear and ultimately offed their leader in a paranoid frenzy. 

zombie apocalypse turns nasty...

The pathers then spent the next 18 hours running. They ran from zombies, ran from El-Sal's 'minions' who were armed with the zombie virus in their guns, and they ran to beat time as the sun began to slip away and all their gear remained out of reach. They had to read cryptic maps to find gear and juggle the constantly evolving team dynamics as members of their team were captured, infected by the zombie virus, or dealing with the effects of the harsh environment without proper gear.  The students planned well in advance for what they thought would be needed for a pandemic event. They arrived in latex gloves and dust masks to prevent inhaling virus spores or skin-on-skin contact with someone infected. 

fully prepared for the zombie apocalypse? guess we'll find out!

However, they were taken by surprise once their gear was removed and all the careful planning went out the window.  An intentional move, catching them by surprise and unprepared for events that piled up in a big pile of 'not-in-your-favor', its much like life.  The teacher who came out in an 'unscripted' bellowing tirade to push them in the right direction was the slap that life gives you when the chips truly are down and every mistake matters.   Pathers were treated to double helpings of compounded difficulties well into the night, until they could figure out a way around it. Working together as a team turned into a crucial component. Never was it so important to be able to rely on eachother, both physically and mentally.

ok, you push and i'll pull. an engine block. up a cliff. no problem.

The Zombie Apocalypse was a novel approach to testing the skills each of the Pathers aquired by completing the Core Basic curriculum of very basic survival skills.  However,  a greater goal was in play behind the mad warlord dictator 'El Sal', the testy rescue team headed by Dr. Honeycutt, or the constantly creeping hordes of zombies that came from bushes, ditches and hillsides. 

If Dr. Honeycutt tells you to cough, you'd better cough.

The group signed up for more than they'd anticipated from previous scenarios.  This scenario was designed to test skills under stress. There were moments with no clear leader in charge, other planted spies giving bogus directions, and time running out to find their needed gear before dark set in.  The pathers had to learn a vital survival skill. To become flexible.  Participating in a pandemic virus scenario that spawned an apocalypse, the Pathers had to decide how best to protect themselves and reach their goal of finding an anti-toxin that could stop the march of the zombies.  With normal societal rules out the window, the rescue groups that they would normally trust became violent and paranoid and behavior became irrational.     

Are YOU talkin' to ME?!

Students had to adapt, to re-evaluate and to change their goals.  In a real-life emergency, scripted plans might be nice and minimal contact with life's unpleasantness would be the ideal outcome.  However, when that bus stops in the middle of nowhere with no one to protect you but yourself and your wits, how prepared will you be?  The Zombie Apocalypse concluded at dawn the next day, with a deep October chill over the rock quarry.  Pathers found their way back to the main camp area to de-brief and talk about their experiences with the end of society and the advent of chaos.  The zombies, squinting in the daylight, began their fade out of sight. Free from evil impulses and the raging effects of the zombie virus on him, the warlord El-Sal finally took off his always-present black leather gloves.  Students found their sequestered gear at last, and one by one, began their trips home to a non-apocalyptical world. In the pursuit to challenge themselves and their skills, the Pathers took on the uncertainty of post-apocalyptic life where all of society’s rules were changed and life happens on unsteady footing in a hectic pace.  Miles away from that book club, the Pathers took and climbed that first summit, zombies and all.  But be ready. This was only the beginning...   For more information about the Zombie Apocalypse and what is coming next, visit The Human Path. For the Video introduction coverage For an awesome slideshow page. And special thanks to the many MANY volunteers that stepped up to fill the shoes of the undead, the documenting media and so many other crucial parts of this scenario. The Hermist was tickled to work with all of you and loved every bloody minute of it. **A special thanks to Jessica Qualls and Amanda Nicole Villarreal for lending their photography skills to the Human Path.

zombie. chillin'.

Where The Dead Things Are.

November 10, 2011
Here are a few images from the recent Zombie Apocalypse at The Human Path. To see larger images, just click on one of them to start the slideshow. There will also be video that captures more of the action released shortly. Not every human and zombie are shown in the following slideshows. There will be a series of slideshows. Here are the first three, documenting the initial daylight hours of the zombie apocalypse.  Please remember that these images are not for reproduction. If you want an image, just follow up with us and we'll put you in touch with the photographer.  **A special thanks to Jessica Qualls and Amanda Nicole Villarreal for lending their photography skills to the Human Path.

Slideshow 1: In The Beginning...

Slideshow 2: On The Way To El Salvador ...

Slideshow 3: I was a Teenaged Zombie...

The Scout Knee Plant

October 21, 2011
So. I'm standing there on a narrow wood platform about 4 feet off the ground, eyeing the rope hanging in front of me, and trying to muster my courage to jump out there, grab the rope with my hands and swing from it. Looked easy enough when the other scout students were doing it, gracefully jumping into the air and dangling from the ropes. 

weeee. gonna fly through the air. or not.

I stood up there for a couple of minutes, pondering the possible outcomes.  A moment later, I jumped out and grabbed the rope (yay!), but an instant later my grip vanished and with an impressive 'oomph' that could only belong to me, I did a knee-plant in the dirt.  While I am grateful it wasn't a face-plant, I was still flush with embarassment around what I was now certain was a tribe of wood elves.  Relegating myself to balance practice while the other scout students swung from beams 15 feet off the ground, vaulting tree limbs, climbing ropes and scrambling up telephone poles into the trees; I vowed that this time I would be practicing in between these scout classes.  Clearly the most clumsy of the bunch, my feet crunch-crunched on the run as they silently glided past me in their Vibram 5 Toe shoes.  They hoisted themselves up and down ropes as though they could do it all day.  In turn, I felt like I'd suddenly grown a second left foot and was sworn to use that and only that.  When did that happen?  I have a lot of work to do.  Feeling embarassed and ox-like in the class, I blushed and tried to fade out of sight.  Once on my way home though, I thought about it and decided I like it enough to learn how to do it better.  Who doesn't want to be light on their feet, flexible, strong and agile?  I do! I do!  Being a good scout involves not only being in shape, but also developing flexibile limbs that are strong and lithe.  Fingers that can grip branches and hold the body's weight, legs that possess the strength to pull the torso up the ropes and feet that are nimble enough to fit in and twist through the crooks in trees, obstacle courses and footholds. Quadrapedal crawling and plyometrics help develop this.

here you've got good old fashioned quadrapedal crawling. try it.

A good scout must also be in control of their breathing and thoughts, to develop better awareness and also to be more difficult to detect.  We stood on rocks in the 6pm yawning sun to work on chi kung, working on proper breath, directing energy and building focus. Good scouts are comfortable outdoors, in the trees, on the rocks, the brush, the water....  Blending into whatever their surroundings are, scouts simply seem to be part of the terrain.  

natural born scouts

  Scouts are the eyes and ears of a group, often working alone in the woods, which I like.  There's a certain romantic notion to the idea of moving through the woods unseen that is appealing.  But first, balance, strength and endurance.

Running Out Of Time

October 19, 2011
My reasons for running are uncertain even to myself.  I just know that it gives me a certain feeling that is freeing and for a moment, i feel as though I can connect with the skies. I run in the disappearing pink light of twilight, just as the neighbor's dinner tables are being set and curtains drawn for the night.  I run in the morning before the sun rises, when the moon, in whatever state she's attending, follows me up and down the hills to keep me company.  My company is only the skittering rabbit along the road, the watchful eyes of what I think is a racoon from behind the juniper bushes and my constant companion, Orion, who watches me from the winter skies and leaves me lonely in the summertime. I run to improve myself.  I run to beat the clicking and barely audible sigh of life getting older with me in it.  I run to chase away the gnawing and piercing pain from that summer spider bite that sometimes still lingers.  I run to clear my mind to a blissful zen-like place where all I feel is peace and pure joy. And I run for inspiration.  Ideas come to me that evade me when I have on my thinking cap inside.  Beautiful progressions of projects and visions of brazen artwork come together in my mind. I laugh and wonder how I could have missed such an obvious/clear/brilliant idea until that moment, feet flying down the hill, chasing the moonrise or spooking that tree down there with a dozen vultures roosting... I have a week to build the creation from tonight's run, outfit it in fabric that is appropriate for Dia De Los Muertos and launch it with other floating altars for the Noche De Recuerdos down in town.  The images above are from my first floating altar last year, and I can hardly wait to manifest a new vision, care of the skies of fall.

In Hermit Shoes…

October 14, 2011
The backroads home are pitch black.  Its just me, driving home half an hour after the sun officially tucked in, with only a stain of pink left in the sky, paused and then erased into black.  There is only the occasional set of red taillights that I encounter as I drive, sailing over the curvy hills too fast, with a whoosh as the Blazer cushions back to road.  Earlier, I tried on the shoes of a woods scout and I liked it.  When I run, its me chasing something obscure away.  Before dawn or as the moon is rising at twilight and one foot after another; I follow the pavement hills, avoiding the ditches and counting off the steps.   But there in the brush, now that was something different.  Instead of skirting around all the obstacles, we went straight into them and worked with them in a flow, like a dance.  I am fresh from a long weekend in Liberty Hill where a sudden furious rainstorm dumped enough water on our outdoor classroom and field kitchen to double for WaterWorld.   I had laid my running shoes out on the porch to let them dry out.  They were caked in about an inch of mud-sludge, inside and out from my mad dash up the hill pre-dawn as the flash flood warning went out.  I was told there were sirens, but I didn't hear anything.  Of course, the rain was so loud on our tenty/tarp that machine gun fire could have also gone undetected.  Today I looked at my shoes skeptically, all that mud now solid and hard --- the ultimate camoflauge.  Standing amid the ashe juniper trees with 5 others, we discussed using the trees to increase flexibility, strength and agility.  Sounds great.  The ashe junipers are great trees, pretty friendly, and thankfully for short hermits like myself, low enough to the ground for us to just hop into. We all started stripping the dead branches away so that we could make our own tree obstacle courses.  Climbing trees was a favorite pasttime when I was a kid, but its been more than one summertime since then.   I cursed myself, thinking even those AMAZING MOROCCAN TREE CLIMIN' GOATS were doing a way better, way more elegant, and less bleeped-out job than I. But then that falls away, and as the bark smooths out under my gloves and I get the hang of swinging around the trunk without drawing blood from my legs or donking my head on the overhanging branches ... well, I get it.  Quiet and shry, there was only the sound of the birds, the occasional snap of a dead branch as one of us cleared it, and the thud of those vibran 5-toe shoes as one of the scouts descended from the tree back to the earth.  Moving slower and slower, I hung from the branches to stretch out my arms and shoulders until a deep ache set in.  A good ache.  The kind of ache you get when you are working and everything wakes up.  I watched some of the other scouts dashing through the underbrush to slide through the trees, scale them in a flash, swing over like a monkey and drop silently to the ground. They resembled wood sprites as the sun was escaping, with only a smudge of light left.  I could get to like this for sure. So now I drive home, pondering the difference between gliding in the trees and through the woods instead of running past it.  And I can't tell you what a difference there is.  This is a pair of shoes I rather like.