What is a "tiehacker"?

"Tiehacker" is a term originating in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri. It referred to a class of people from WAY back in the hills that made a living cutting trees into ties for the railroad. I first heard the term from my wife shortly after we married. I had been working outside all day and was dirty and stinky. She had learned it from her father, and thought it just meant "a bum". Never having heard it before, I looked it up. Although I am not really a bum, I thought it was interesting, and I do have a life-long love affair going with the Ozark hills, so ... there you have it!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Seriously, I want to know who decides the "rules" for "bushcrafting".

I have been an outdoorsman most of my 56 years. My very earliest memories are of going fishing with my Dad and my Uncle, and family camping trips. I did my time in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I've done overnight backpacking trips. I've floated countless streams. I've caught just about every kind of fish that exists in Missouri and Illinois waters, and eaten most of them. I've done more solo camping trips than I can even begin to count. I can build a fire a dozen different ways, and cook more dishes on a campfire than many can on a kitchen stove.

Admittedly, much of this is in the past, and because of current and chronic health issues most of it will have to remain in the past. But that doesn't take away my qualifications for doing this little rant.

I recently watched a delightful young man (with autism) try to make his first fire with a ferro rod. It was a damp and windy day, and his fire materials were not ideal. Yep, he "failed", and he had to use a Bic lighter to get it going. And he apologized for "cheating". Friends, that is NUTS! Why should this young man, just starting out on his first outdoors adventures, think that he had somehow "cheated" by using a lighter?

I also recently watched another person, a woman outdoorsmanperson, carve a beautiful spoon with a really whimsical look to it, and sort-of-apologize that it wasn't really a "bushcraft" spoon. Says who?

I have kibbitzed on countless Facebook debates concerning the difference between "bushcraft" and "woodscraft" and "outdoorsmanship" and "camping" and several other terms. These things can get downright heated, as the keyboard commandos and internexperts get their grooves on.

The last I heard, there was no governing authority over our hobbies. There are a few widely respected, almost legendary, individuals such as Mors Kochansky and Ray Mears still around. But there is no person or group of persons that has the right to tell you or I how or how not to camp, what gear we can and can't use, what method is acceptable and what isn't. Nobody!

Mitch Mitchell, of the Native Survival YouTube channel and History Channel's "Alone" fame, thinks that friction fire such as a bowdrill is the ultimate fire-making skill, because it requires absolutely no unsustainable materials, no matches, ferro rods, no chemicals, not even pieces of steel. But he also carries a lighter and flint-and-steel most of the time. So is he "cheating"? Is he violating his own dictum? No, of course not. Sure, if you can master a bowdrill fire, you are pretty much set even if you find yourself completely naked. A sharp rock to shape your kit, a little natural cordage for the drill, and you'll have fire. Doesn't mean it is wrong to carry and use alternative means. It isn't breaking a "rule".

I just watched another guy fly a tarp over his tent, as added protection during a rain-storm. And he all but apologized for it, because it "usually isn't done". So what? Did it work? Did it serve to keep him and his gear dry and comfortable during a storm? Then WHY should it be considered "wrong"?

Bottom line is this, people. There are certain rules of safety that of course we should all follow. Boil your drinking water. Cut away from your body. Don't look down the barrel of a gun. Don't eat a plant unless you are positive that it is not poisonous. Keep your matches dry. Don't break through the ice to go swimming. You get the point.

There are certain rules of physics that can't be violated. Gravity hurts, so don't fall down holes or out of trees. Crap rolls downhill. Heavy crap rolls downhill faster. Don't stand and wait for it to magically go around you. Whatever goes up, must come down. Don't be underneath it. Again, you get the point.

Then, there are certain temporary rules put into place for a specific time and reason. These usually involve skills challenges. Can you build a sustainable fire in the rain using just your ax and locally found resources and no other tool? Can you put together a kit that in the aggregate weighs no more than five pounds and then spend at least 24 hours out in the woods with only that kit and the clothes on your back? These kind of challenges and little games can be a lot of fun and educational for everybody involved.

But to start declaring general and arbitrary rules that are supposed to be "for everybody" is just plain ridiculous!

People, get out into the woods and fields. Stay safe. Have fun. Enjoy the beautiful nature that God has given to us. Take photos. Draw and paint pictures. Use whatever gear you have or want, and don't listen to those that say you MUST have this or that, or that you CANNOT use this or that. There is just not enough time for that kind of crap in my life, and I suspect not in yours, either.

OK, done ranting.

God bless!
Ron and the Debster

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  1. Well written and very nice to have your thoughts. I have my own definition of the whole thing, and what you have said here makes all the sense in the world. Take care, have fun and enjoy nature.

  2. Thanks, Bruce. Always appreciate your thoughts. Take care, my friend.

  3. Everyone wants to tell you what is right or wrong but as long as you break no criminal laws I say have fun and enjoy yourself and I probably should mention I hate following rules

  4. Me too! I can't stand rules either. LOL! Thanks for commenting.

  5. Dawn Southpaw BushcraftJanuary 22, 2016 at 2:56 PM

    I agree completely. Thank you so much for featuring one of my videos. I love my funky spoons I think they have character LOL. I personally love the diversity within the outdoor community. It offers different light and many different ideas for people to learn from. Thank you for sharing this. It make perfect sense to me!

  6. Well said, Ron. Just get out there and enjoy it with whatever works while studying different ideas and methods.

  7. well written, Thanks for your Insight