Around 2am this morning, I woke up and didn’t know why. It was the kind of start that I usually blame a thunderclap, the dogs barking or something falling off the nightstand. Noise, that is.
This time, I deduced eventually, it wasn’t a sound that had awakened me — it was the absence of sound. The heat pump over the bed was silent and so was the one in the living space. The night light on the dresser was out. Pulling aside the shade on the window next to the bed I could see that all of the campground’s security lights were off.
I picked up my phone, surfed into the Entergy website and learned that the outage had happened at 1:49am. Estimated restoration was 4:30am.
By that time Deb was awake. To preserve our house batteries (and avoid a dead bus like we had last May), we made sure to shut off all unnecessary 12V draws. The fridge would run on LP. Since the overnight low was predicted to be well above freezing, I switched off the radiant heater in the wet bay.
There was no need to run the furnaces. We pulled the covers over our heads and went back to sleep.
When I peeked shortly after 6am, the power was still out and projected restoration had been pushed back to 8:30am. The temp in the bedroom had dropped into the mid-50s but under the blankets it was cozy and warm.
I awoke to the whoooosh of the heat pumps at 8:15am. We were back in business.
The outage was localized, only a couple of dozen Entergy customers. Weather wasn’t a factor. We have no idea what happened — but as I said recently in talking about readiness, the what and why were irrelevant to our response.
In this case we needed only a couple of fully charged phones and a flashlight by each side of the bed. Managing a shore-power outage in a motorhome (with its onboard propane and 12V electric) required a different reaction than, say, what happened at Second Chance Ranch in June.
That’s what I meant a couple of days ago when I talked about adapting our preparations.
Last night wasn’t even really a test. It is, however, an illustration.
Yesterday I hinted that we have a new project on our list — a burn barrel. Getting rid of trash on The Mountain means hauling it to the Marion County “transfer station,” which charges $2 to $3 a bag (depending on size and weight). Most folks burn their combustibles to reduce the volume of what they take to the transfer station and, therefore, the cost of trash disposal.
So we decided to make a burn barrel. We were missing one critical component, however.
Deb did a little sleuthing on Facebook Marketplace and found a guy selling 55-gallon steel drums for 15 bucks apiece. She asked him to put two aside for us, he responded with his address (several miles outside Yellville), and this morning we headed in that direction.
The drive was exhilarating, careening up and down steep and twisting county roads. At one point we climbed to almost 1,200 feet AMSL and enjoyed a breathtaking view of Yellville and the wide valley 600 feet below. As instructed, Deb messaged the barrel seller when we got within a few miles of his address. (He was doing a carpentry job nearby.)
At the bottom of a long corkscrew grade, we pulled into his driveway and up to a gate — a closed, locked gate. No one was around. Deep in that holler we had no cell reception, which prevented us from calling or texting. After waiting ten minutes we turned around and went back the way we came.
We’d gone a couple of miles when we spotted two guys framing a deck at a house on the north side of the road. Acting on a hunch, we stopped and asked if either of them wanted to sell us a couple of 55-gallon drums.
Our seller feller apologized for missing the message Deb sent earlier.
We followed him back down to his homestead in the holler, loaded two barrels into the bed of the Silverado and paid the man. A relaxed chat followed, mostly about what he’d done with his 20 acres on the banks of Greasy Creek.
Great place. Great guy.
Then it was on to The Mountain, a dozen miles away, where we dropped the soon-to-be-burn barrels, hung out with Deb’s cousin in the garage and ran down to the homesite to see how well it had handled runoff from recent heavy rains.
The verdict? Very well. No washouts at all.
Our late-afternoon drive back to Harrison was wonderful. The skies were magnificent, deserving to be featured prominently here.
It’s been almost eight years since I worked in the knife industry. During my most recent hitch in 2015, I produced content for my employer’s retail website, both in the form of product copy and articles for what was mislabeled a “blog.”
I was, in a word, prolific. In the time I was employed there (which wasn’t very long, actually) I produced almost 500 articles and descriptions, hundreds of thousands of words and more than 300 published photographs. I worked from my basement office, my days regularly stretching to 20 hours. It was some of the best work of my life.
The “blog” was only supposed to look like information that might be helpful to customers, when in fact it was a home-brewed SEO (search engine optimization) scheme. The masquerade chapped my old-school ass, and I didn’t keep that opinion a secret (which might help explain my relatively short tenure).
But y’know what? Business grew by 15% over the previous year. And to this day, all of my “blog” articles are still right there on the website. I guess they must’ve been worth a damn after all.
No, I won’t link to my former employer. What I will do is share some of what I created — one article today, maybe more in the future.
Essential skills: ‘Lazy Man’s Fatwood’
We’ve devoted an entire section of our website to firemaking, and for good reason — it’s one of those skills that everyone should learn and practice. To help you make that happen, we offer a whole range of firemaking supplies, from firesteels to complete fire kits.
But even if you never venture into the woods without one of our fire kits, you should still know how to forage for what you need to get a fire going. One of the woods-walker’s favorite materials is something called “fatwood.”
Fatwood, the resin-rich heartwood of pines, is the ultimate natural firestarter. Until you’ve watched it burn — whether you’ve harvested it laboriously from a lightning-struck tree or bought a bundle at a camp store– you don’t know what you’re missing.
There’s no question that old pine stumps produce the best fatwood, but even a living tree will push resinous sap toward any injury. When a branch breaks off or is cut, resin will fill (and eventually ooze out of) the wound.
Quite frankly, liberating fatwood from a stump or unearthing (and processing) a rock-hard taproot can be more trouble than it’s worth. If you simply want a cook fire, that’s merely inconvenient; but if you need a survival fire in the dead of winter, you may not have time to harvest ideal fatwood.
Fortunately, there’s an easier way to get the job done.
In our experience, the handiest source of utility-grade fatwood is the stubs of lower pine branches. You’ll find these stubs anywhere someone’s maintained a hiking trail or cleared a shooting lane. And they’re all over the place in suburban settings, of course, thanks to tidy homeowners.
We call it “lazy man’s fatwood.”
On a recent walk in the woods we found a suitably pruned pine tree. Using a pocket saw we lopped off several thumb-sized stubs, carefully choosing ones with a chalky buildup of resin at the cut ends.
The wood was relatively hard and it didn’t yield easily to the saw, which is always a promising sign. We also gave the freshly cut pieces the good old “smell test” — a strong whiff of turpentine confirmed the presence of turpene, the volatile compound that makes fatwood burn so well.
Next, we deployed our fixed-blade knife — on this day it was Lon Humphrey’s wonderful hand-forged Kephart — for some light-duty batoning. (Seriously, boys and girls, this is the easiest batoning you’ll ever do.) Using the knife blade as a wedge and a hardwood stick as a baton, it was a simple matter of splitting the stub a couple of times to expose the good stuff.
To spot the best-burning “lazy man’s fatwood” in these stubs, we always look for sticky, dark-orange veins of concentrated resin. We found some excellent candidates in this batch, confirming our suspicion by touching a lit match to one of them — it took flame immediately and burned strong for about five minutes. We pocketed the remaining stubs, saving them for another fire, another day.
Pro tip: For best results, especially when using a firesteel, shave fatwood into thin curls or (using your firesteel striker or the spine of your knife) scrape it into powder.
Did we mention that fatwood will burn even when it’s wet?
Remember: skills matter. As much as we love knives — and we know that you share our passion — they’re only tools. It’s what we do with our knives that brings us real enjoyment.
You might be wondering if I’m concerned about re-publishing copyrighted material. I’m not. Those are my words, crafted on my computer from my experience, and they’re my photographs, captured with my cameras.
I do recognize that it’s not Pulitzer-worthy stuff. Then and now, I’m much more interested in being straightforward and useful.
More later — maybe.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.