Archive for the ‘If I could live during the Pleistocene’ Category

If I Could Live During the Pleistocene Part 14: Digging Wells

July 4, 2017

I write an irregular series on my blog imagining what my life would be like, if I traveled back in time to live in an homestead I established at a location in Georgia 36,000 years ago. (See: ) I don’t like roughing it, so I brought  many modern conveniences with me in my time machine including a professional well-digging rig.  My Pleistocene homestead in located 1 mile north of the Broad River and 2 miles west of the Savannah, but boring a well would be much easier than building a pipeline from the nearest creek or river.  My drinking water well was dug well away from my poultry yards and cow pasture, thus avoiding microbial contamination.  I also dug another well to irrigate my crop fields during droughts.

The water table was lower during the Ice Age, but I chose to live during a relatively warm climate phase within the Ice Age known as an interstadial, and the water table isn’t as low as it was and will be during stadials when glacial advances lock up so much atmospheric moisture. Nevertheless, I still had to drill deeper to reach water than if I was digging a well during modern times.

There is more water underneath the earth’s surface than in all the world’s freshwater lakes and rivers combined.  Subterranean water, or ground water, is what I tapped when I dug my wells.  Ground water exists in aquifers.  There are 2 types of aquifers.  Water trapped between rocks under pressure is known as an artesian aquifer.  A well tapping into an artesian aquifer doesn’t need a pump because the natural pressure forces the water to the surface through the well.  Unfortunately, the aquifer I tapped into is the other kind (an unconfined aquifer), and it requires a pump to bring the water to the surface.  I installed an electric pump and have a manual hand pump in case it breaks down.

Diagram of the water table.

Well Drilling Rig Water Well Drilling Equipment Drill Machine DIY Driller Tool

I would bring professional well digging equipment back in time with me, so I could have a convenient supply of water.

Animals live in aquifers.  Biologists use the term, stygofauna, to refer to this underground aquatic life.  Worldwide, there are 170 species of cave fish, and they live alongside salamanders, crayfish, tubellarians, isopods, amphipods, and decapods.  Species considered stygofauna share many traits that make them well adapted to live in these dark sterile environments.  They are blind and have slow metabolisms, so they don’t require much food.  Some are long lived–1 species of crayfish lives an estimated 100 years.  Several species of cave fish live in Georgia’s aquifers, and there are probably undiscovered species hidden deep underground.

Alabama cave fish.  A poorly known ecosystem exists in groundwater.

Well water tastes good and is nutritious because it contains dissolved minerals such as magnesium and calcium.  But this “hard” water doesn’t suit all of my needs.  It leaves stains in the bath tub, a filmy residue on dishes, and it makes my hair feel stiff.  For bathing and washing clothes, I collect rainwater in an underground cistern located next to my house.  Rain water is considered “soft” because it doesn’t have dissolved minerals in it–just sodium ions.  Numerous gutters lead to the opening of the cistern to help keep the cistern full, and I add chlorine to this water to keep it sanitary.  A screen keeps detritus from entering the cistern.  Keeping the screen clean is a frequent chore.  An electric pump draws the water into a solar-powered water heater, and I enjoy hot showers.

Image result for cistern

Diagram of a rainwater cistern.  I would use this water for the washing machine and showers because hard water is bad for clothes and washing hair.


If I could Live During the Pleistocene Part 13–Making Insecticide from Tobacco

August 15, 2016

This is the newest installment of an irregular series I write for this blog about my favorite fantasy.  I daydream that I traveled back in time to east central Georgia 36,000 years ago where I enjoy a life of self-sufficiency but with modern conveniences. (See: ) In my fantasy world I have a farm surrounded by a high stone fence that keeps mastodons and bears from raiding my garden and orchard, but it recently occurred to me this wall wouldn’t stop insect pests.  As an experiment in my real world yard, I planted peach trees from seed.  Most fruit sold in grocery stores comes from mutated varieties grafted on root stocks because fruit trees don’t produce the same quality from seed, but peaches reportedly are an exception.  Some sources claim peaches grow true to seed, while others say peaches grown from seed are inferior.  My peach trees started to bear this year, and the ones I salvaged tasted as good as farmer’s market peaches.  Unfortunately, most of the peaches fell off or were ruined because of an insect pest known as plum curculio (Conatrachelus nenophar), a little beetle in the true weevil family.  This experience made me realize I needed to revise my fantasy and make my own insecticide, if I want to have fruit at my Pleistocene homestead.  In the modern world I can buy the most delicious local peaches, nectarines, and plums; but I won’t have any fruit in the Pleistocene without spraying.

This is one of my least damaged peaches.  Most of the others fell off long before they ripened.  In some localities spraying fruit is necessary.

I won’t spray until after the petals fall off because I don’t want to poison the butterflies and bees that pollinate the flowers.

plum curculio

Plum curculio.  This species of beetle destroyed all of my peaches.  It is abundant in my neighborhood probably because of the presence of wild plums and cherries.

Plum curculios are common in areas with wild plum and wild cherry trees.  They readily adapted to fruits introduced by Europeans, especially peaches.  The adult females burrow into unripe fruit and make a crescent shaped hole where eggs are deposited.  The crescent shape keeps the larva from being crushed when the fruit grows.  Most fruit falls off the tree, and any fruit that ripens is blemished so badly it can’t be sold.  The trees must be sprayed as soon as the flower petals fall and again when the fruit is in the shuck stage.








Tobacco plants.

It is easy to make insecticide from tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum).  Tobacco is in the nightshade family, a group of plants that evolved the ability to produce toxins in their leaves.  These poisons prevent insects and other animals from consuming the leaves.  To make insecticide mix 1 cup of dried tobacco leaves with 1 gallon of water and let it sit in the sun for 24 hours.  Then add 3 tablespoons of liquid soap.  (Just think: people who smoke cigarettes are smoking insecticide.)  The nicotine in tobacco destroys an insect’s nervous system.

I’d have to grow tobacco in my Pleistocene world, but I wouldn’t smoke it.  I prefer marijuana.


If I could live during the Pleistocene Part XII–Southern Provisions

February 12, 2016

I write an irregular series on this blog, imagining how I would live, if I could travel back in time to a location in east central Georgia 36,000 years BP.  I don’t believe in “roughing it,” so I would bring as many modern conveniences back in time with me as possible.  I chose this time period because the evidence suggests it was during a mild phase of climate, an interstadial with average temperatures probably more comfortable than those of present day Georgia. Open oak woodlands likely prevailed but with some relict grassland habitat and old stands of white pines.  My wilderness homestead is located above the floodplains of the Savannah and Broad Rivers, but close enough for me to regularly exploit easy sources of protein–fish, turtles, mussels, crayfish, and ducks.  There are 2 parts to my fantasy: 1) to live in an absolute wilderness where I can look out the window and see saber-tooths, mammoths, and herds of other megafauna; and 2) the enjoyment of living off the land, surviving on whatever I can hunt, fish, raise, or grow.  I know what to expect from the fossil record and pollen studies, but I’m sure there would  be a thousand surprises, if I really could travel back to this time period.

It has been amost 3 years since I submitted a post in this series (See: ), but a book I just finished reading inspired me to make an additional post.  Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine by David Shields is about the history of important food crops grown in the low country during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Many of the food plants discussed in his book would be essential crops for my wilderness homestead.  I would grow these crops, along with many others, in my homestead garden.  Of course, a high wall, especially designed to keep out marauding bears and squirrels, surrounds my garden, and I’d probably need netting to protect my rows of grain and fruit trees from the birds.

Black-eyed peas (Vinga unguiculata)

Also known as field peas or cow peas, this species is still a valuable agricultural crop in the south.  Field peas can be used as a green manure because they transfer nitrogen in the atmosphere to the soil.  They are also used to feed livestock.  At my wilderness homestead I keep milk cows that could always use the extra feed.  Some varieties make a nutritious food for people as well.  Black-eyed peas would be an important protein substitute, if my meat supply ran low for some reason.  During the mid 19th century, a farmer in Burke County, Georgia grew at least 25 varieties of field peas.  I would grow 5 or 6 of the best table varieties.  The peas can be used as a vegetable when they are immature.  Immature peas mixed with rice make a dish called “reezy-peezy,” while mature peas mixed with rice make a dish known as “hop-n-John.”  Incidentally, I’d also grow rice in a shallow swimming pool-like structure that I could fill and drain with water.

Miller Union - Atlanta, GA, United States. Sea Island red peas.

A type of black-eyed or field pea known as Sea Island red pea.  Field peas are easy to grow and would probably be an important food, if I lived in a wilderness homestead during the Pleistocene.

Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea)

This species originated in South America.  Spanish traders introduced peanuts to Africa where an unrelated but similar legume, known as the gooba pea, was already cultivated.  Gooba peas also grow underground like peanuts but can’t be eaten unless boiled.  Africans boiled peanuts because they traditionally boiled goobas.  Enslaved Africans brought this tradition of boiling peanuts with them to North America.    I love peanuts roasted, boiled, and as peanut butter.  Peanut oil is good for deep frying and can be manufactured into soap.  At my wilderness homestead I’d use chopped peanuts as chicken feed.  I’d grow 3 varieties–the big Virginia, the oily Valencia, and the Tennessee Red.


The Tennessee  Red peanut.  I couldn’t live without peanuts and would have to bring them back in time with me.  They are high in niacin and improve sexual performance.

Sesame (Sesamum indicum)

Sesame, known as benne in the low country during the pre-Civil War era, served as an important source of fat in the diet of slaves.  Cold pressed sesame oil is reportedly an excellent substitute for olive oil in salad dressings.  Olive trees take 10 years to bear fruit and probably couldn’t survive the interstadial climate of central Georgia with its frequent ice storms.  I like salads and would definitely need sesame oil for dressings and home-made mayonnaise.  Toasted sesame oil is an Asian condiment used to flavor soups and noodles.  Ground sesame seeds or tahini is an ingredient in the Middle-Eastern staple, hummus.  Sesame seeds are great in cookies, crackers, and candy.









Sesame seed plant.  The oil rendered from sesame seeds can be used to make salad dressing.

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)

Sorghum became popular during the Civil War when both the North and the South suffered from an interruption in the supply of cane sugar.  Juice from the stalks is boiled and reduced to sugar syrup.  Skilled manufacturers can even convert this syrup into table sugar.  At my wilderness homestead I’d try to make my own sugar, though it sounds difficult.  The seeds can be used to make bread.  I’d probably use this as chicken feed, unless my wheat and corn crops failed.  If that happened, I’d be eating black sorghum bread which doesn’t rise.  Sorghum is a species of grass, and the foliage makes good cattle fodder.

Sorgho-grain américain est considéré comme un "grain ancien."

Sorghum.  This useful plant could provide food for milk cows and chickens.  Bread, beer, and most importantly sugar syrup can be manufactured from sorghum.

Watermelon (Citrellus lanatos)

I’d bring fruit trees back in time with me, but they take at least 3 years to bear.  In the meantime I’d depend upon wild fruit, melons, and strawberries for my fruit supply.  Watermelons are native to south Africa where they are spread by elephants that consume the fruit and excrete the seeds.  I’d grow 5 varieties–Georgia rattlesnake, Florida black diamond, Charleston gray, Congo, and Bradford.  In my real life garden I had great success with Georgia rattlesnake.  The Bradford watermelon descends from the same seed as the Georgia rattlesnake.  The Bradford is reportedly the best tasting melon but is too thin-skinned for shipping.  David Shields thought this variety was extinct but discovered the Bradford family still grows this white-seeded type.  Besides providing fruit, watermelon can be used to make molasses, rind pickles, and beer.

Bradford Watermelon

Bradford water melon.  Fruit trees would take a while to bear, so for a few years I would depend on strawberries, melons, and wild fruits.  This heirloom is thin-skinned and has white seeds.  Reportedly, it is much more flavorful than market melons.

Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana and F. ananessa)

North American strawberries still grow wild.  The modern supermarket variety is a cross between this and the South American strawberry (F. chiloensis).  Wild strawberries reportedly taste better but are too delicate to ship.  At my wilderness homestead I’d grow wild strawberries, and a good tasting ever bearing hybrid.

Wild strawberry glass

Wild strawberries.  I would plant a row of these and bring some quality hybrids back in time with me.  Strawberry plants produce fresh fruit the same year they are planted.


Shields, David

Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine

The University of Chicago Press 2015


If I Could Live During the Pleistocene Part XII–My Mammal Checklist

December 27, 2013

I have a recurring fantasy (and it’s an ongoing irregular series on this blog) that I’ve found a time tunnel allowing me to travel back and forth from the present day to 36,000 years BP.  The site at the other end of the tunnel is located at what today is Elbert County, Georgia about 1 mile north of the Broad River and 2 miles west of the Savannah River, and at this location I’ve established a homestead.  I produce all my own food here, growing vegetables and fruits and raising milk cows, geese, chickens, and bees; so I rarely need to return to the present day for supplies.

Map of Georgia highlighting Elbert County

Location of my imaginary Pleistocene homestead, 36,000 BP.

Varied pristine environments untouched by man offered many different habitats for wildlife here.  (Homo sapiens probably didn’t reach North America until 20,000 BP at the earliest.)  Interstadial climatic conditions prevailed 36,000 years ago–a warm spell between Ice Ages.  Oak trees predominated over pine, a situation that was reversed during cold stadials.  In the vicinity of my imaginary homestead there are moist slope forests consisting of beech, hickory, a variety of oaks, and walnut; open old growth woodlands composed of black oaks, red oaks, jack pine, and shortleaf pine; dry chestnut ridges; natural meadows; canebrakes; freshwater marshes; clear fish-filled rivers with lots of rocky shoals; creek bottoms laced with beaver ponds; brushy areas where storm-downed  trees resulted in open canopies; and recently burned over areas with dense stands of young trees.

In my imaginary life as a Pleistocene homesteader, I’ve surveyed the wildlife and produced a checklist of mammal species that I’ve collected or observed. The large animals are easy to see and catalogue, but the smaller ones are harder to collect and identify.  At night I set mist nets to capture bats–a more humane method than the one Frances Harper used in the early 20th century when he surveyed bats in the Okefenokee by smacking them down with a fishing rod.  I used live traps for small ground dwelling mammals.

Mist net for catching bats.

H.P Sherman trap for catching small mammals alive.

Below is a checklist of the mammals that I would probably collect or observe in this region during this time period.  I put question marks by the species that I might or might not find.  The fossil record in east central Georgia is very meager, and even in the surrounding states, it’s incomplete.  This checklist is simply an educated guess.

1. Opossum–Didelphis virginianus: Probably less common than today because of the abundance of mid to large-sized carnivores.

2. Southeastern shrew–Sorex longirostis

3. ?Smoky shrew?–Sorex fumeus

4. ?Longtail shrew?–S. disper

5. ?Pygmy shrew?–Microsorex hiyi: None of these 3 species of shrew are known in this region today, but they are known to have had wider ranges during some climatic phases of the Pleistocene.  At least one of these species might have occurred in east central Georgia then.

6. Least shrew–Cryptotis parva

7. Short-tailed shrew–Blarina brevicauda

8.  Star-nosed mole–Condylura cristata

9. Eastern mole–Scalopus aquaticus

10. ?Vampire bat?–Desmodus stocki–Lived in Georgia during warm interglacials.  Climate may have been too cold 36,000 years ago here.

11. Small footed myotis–Myotis leibi

12. Indiana myotis–M. sodalis

13. Gray myotis–M. grisecens

14. Little brown myotis–M. lucifruga

15. Southeastern myotis–M.austrariparius

16. ?Silver haired bat?–Lasionycteris noctivagus

17. Eastern pipistrelle–Pipistrellus subflavus

18. Big brown bat–Eptesicus fuscus

19. Hoary bat–Lasiurius cinereus

20. Red bat–L. borealis

21. Yellow bat–L. intermedius

22. Evening bat–Nycterius humeralis

23. Rafinesque’s big eared bat–Plectocus rafinesquis

23. Brazilian free-tailed bat–Tadarida brasiliensis: This species no longer occurs in this region.  It had a wider range before the Last Glacial Maximum and has yet to recolonize much of its former range.  It may do so in the future.

24. Northern pampathere–Holmesina septentrionalis: A 300 pound grass-eating armadillo that probably survived cold spells by digging underground burrows.

25. Beautiful armadillo–Dasypus bellus: As I’ve speculated in a previous blog entry (, I hypothesize the modern 9 banded armadillo is a dwarf mutation of this supposedly extinct species.

26. Jefferson’s ground sloth–Megalonyx jeffersonii

27. Harlan’s ground sloth–Glossotherium harlani: Jefferson’s prefered woodlands; Harlan’s preferred grasslands.

28. Fisher–Martes pennanti: I think this species would have a wider modern range, if not for its high quality fur.  Fisher skeletel material has  been found in the fossil and archaeological record of north Georgia.

29. Long tailed weasel–Mustela frenata

30. ?Badger?–Taxidea taxus:  There may or may not have been enough pure grassland in this region then to support a population of this prairie-loving  species.

31. Mink–Mustela vison

32. River otter–Lutra canadensis

33. Spotted skunk–Mephitis putorius

34. Striped skunk–Mephitis mephitis

35. Hog-nosed skunk–Conepatus leuconotus: This is another species that had a wider range during the Pleistocene.  The desert grassland habitat it requires completely disappeared in this region during the Holocene.

36. Coyote–Canis latrans

37. Dire wolf–Canis dirus: Probably one of the most common large carnivores in the region then.

38. ?Dhole?–Cuon alpinus: Dhole fossils have only been found at 2 sites in North America in Mexico and Alaska.  This species may have been more widespread than the fossil record indicates. See

39. Gray fox–Urocyon cineaoargenteus

40. Red fox–Vulpes vulpes

41. Raccoon-Procyon lotor

42. Florida spectacled bear–Tremarctos floridanus: This species likely didn’t hibernate and required year round forage.  It may have been as common as the black bear in Florida and the coastal plain of  the south where winters were especially mild but less so in the piedmont and mountains.

43. Giant short-faced bear–Arctodus simus: Probably a wide ranging occasional animal that would have been scary to encounter.  A kleptoscavenger that drove other predators from their kills.

44. Black bear–Ursus americanus: Probably very common in east central Georgia then.  Pleistocene black bears grew as large as grizzlies, and I hypothesize were more aggressive than they are today thanks to the big cats below.

45. Saber-tooth–Smilodon fatalis: I would have loved to have seen one of these alive and in action.

46. Scimitar-tooth–Dinobastis serum: Ditto.

47. ?American lion?–Panthera atrox: A denizen of open grassland habitat.  Unknown whether enough grassland existed to support this species in east central Georgia 36,000 BP, but it did colonize Florida during the LGM when drier conditions fostered more grassland.

48. Jaguar–Panthera onca: Probably the most common big cat in this region then.

49. Cougar–Puma concolor

50.? Margay?–Leopardus amnicola: An arboreal cat that was common and widespread in southeastern North America during the Sangamonian Interglacial.  It’s difficult to determine whether it still survived in the region 36,000 BP.  Winters may have gotten too cold by then.

51. Bobcat–Lynx rufus

52. Woodchuck–Marmota monax

53. ?13-lined ground squirrel?–Spermophilus tridecemlineatus: Difficult to determine if there were enough relic grasslands to support a population of this species in this region during this climatic phase.

54. Eastern chipmunk–Tamias striatus

55. Giant chipmunk–Tamias aristus: Fossils of this species have been found at sites dating to the Sangamonian Interglacial.  It may not have become extinct until the Last Glacial Maximum.  I hypothesize it was a year round forager, unlike its smaller cousin which hibernates. See

56. Fox squirrel–Scirius niger

57. Gray squirrel–Scirius carolinensis

58. Red squirrel–Tamiascirius hudsonicus

59. Southern flying squirrel–Glaucomys volans

60. Eastern pocket gopher–Thomomys orientalis

61. Southeastern pocket gopher–Geomys pinetus

62. Giant beaver–Casteroides dilophidus: Giant beavers favored treeless marshes, but may have occasionally built dams.  Modern beavers create habitat favorable to giant beavers by felling lots of trees and the 2 species did not compete as some scientists erroneously claim.  They ate different foods.

63. Beaver–Castor canadensis

64. Rice rat–Oryxomys palustris

65. Eastern harvest mouse–Reithrodontomys humulis

66. Deer mouse–Peromyscus manisculatus

67. Old field mouse–P. polionatus

68. White-footed mouse–P. leucopus

69. Cotton mouse–P. gossypinus

70. Golden mouse–Ochrotomy nuttali

71. Cotton rat–Sigmodon hispidus

72. Red-backed vole–Clethritonomy gapperi: No longer occurs this far south.

73. Meadow vole–Microtus pennsylvanius

74. Pine vole–M. pinetorum

75. ?Prairie vole?–M. ochrogaster

76. ?Florida muskrat?–Neofiber alleni: This species formerly had a much wider range.  They require year round green vegetation.  Difficult to determine exactly when they disappeared from east central Georgia.

77. Muskrat–Ondatra zibethicus

78. Southern bog lemming–Synaptomys cooperi

79. Meadow jumping mouse–Zapus hudsonicus

80. Porcupine–Erethizon dorsatum: Had a wider range during the Pleistocene.  Archaeological evidence suggests Indians overhunted them in the southeast.

81. Capybara–Hydrochoerus holmesi: 2 species of capybaras lived on the coastal plain of Georgia during the Pleistocene.  It’s unknown exactly how far inland they ranged. They favor grassy flooded marshes alongside rivers.

82. Eastern cottontail–Sylvilagus floridanus

83. Swamp rabbit–S. aquaticus

84. Horse–Equus ferus

85. Half-ass–Equus scotti

86. Tapir–Tapirus veroensis

87. Long-nosed peccary–Mylohyus nasatus: Probably one of the most common large mammals in east central Georgia then and would be common table fair for a Pleistocene homesteader.

88. Flat-headed peccary–Platygonnus compressus

89. Large-headed llama–Hemiauchenia macrocephala

90. Stout-legged llama–Paleolama mirifica

91. White-tailed deer–Odocoileus virginianus: Probably at least as common then as today and an important part of my diet at my Pleistocene homestead.

92. ?Caribou?–Rangifer tarandus: Fossils of this species dating to the LGM have been found as far south as Charleston, S.C.  There were probably large herds of caribou seasonally migrating just south of the glacial margin which at the time was near the Canadian border.  Some of these herds evidentally broke off and wandered south.

93. ?Stag-moose?–Cervalces scotti: May have been another rare straggler that was more common farther north.

94. ?Elk?–Cervus elephus: Occurred in central Georgia as recently as the 18th century.  Genetic evidence suggests elk didn’t cross the Bering land bridge until ~15,000 years BP, but perhaps a different lineage occurred here then.

95. ?Helmeted muskox?–Bootherium bombifrons: Colonized Louisiana and Mississippi during the LGM, but fossils are unknown this far southeast. See

96. Long-horned bison–Bison latifrons: Probably fairly common here then.

97. Mastodon–Mammut americanus: Were either seasonal or year round residents here.

98. Columbian mammoth–Mammuthus colombi: Ditto.

99. ?Gompothere?–Cuvieronius tropicalis: Another elephant-like mammal that lived in the southeast.  Climate may have become too cold for this species in this region by 36,000 years BP.

100. 9-banded armadillo–Dasypus novemcitus: Genetic evidence suggests it co-occurred with the beautiful armadillo.

If I could live in the Pleistocene part XI–The Turtle trap and my Pleistocene Pot Party and Playlist

April 3, 2013

In this irregular series “If I could live in the Pleistocene…,” I imagine what my life would be like, if I could travel back in time to ~39,000 BP and live in the geographical area later to be known as central Georgia but with some selected modern conveniences I brought  with me.  I constructed an adobe home that is sort of like a mini-castle with a watchtower and a high stone fence surrounding a farm where I raise and grow most of my own food.  I generate my own electricity and even have wires going through the time tunnel so I can communicate with the modern world.  I enjoy an idyllic life of farming, hunting, and fishing in a pristine wilderness that exists before man ever colonized the region.  I located my home about a mile north of the Broad River for ready access to fish and aquatic animals.  On previous segments of this series I’ve discussed fish traps and turkey traps.  Today, I’ll show how I catch turtles and discuss the species usually found in my traps.

My last adventure ( in November was the dilemma I faced when I ran out of soap and my concubines wouldn’t sleep with me until I made a new supply.  I ended up having to kill a big old bear  in order to get enough animal fat to make soap.  We spent the winter eating hamburgers made out of a blend of bear meat and venison.  Water levels were too high for fish and turtle trapping, but spring is here and the river level dropped.  We’re ready for a change in our diet.  The fish trap provides more food than we can eat, but we want something different.  Fortunately, catching turtles is just as easy as catching fish.  I simply constructed a small cage made out of chicken wire and attached 2 styrofoam floats to it.  The cage has no top.  Instead, a piece of wood is placed on 1 side and suspended over  the cage. A spring holds the piece of wood over the top. When a turtle crawls on the wood over the cage, its weight causes the wood to teeter, and the turtle falls into the cage.  The spring snaps the wood back in place, ready for the next turtle.

Illustration of a turtle trap.  The turtle crawls on the suspended wood to sun itself.  The wood acts like a teeter-totter and drops the turtle into the trap.  A spring snaps the wood back into place.  I place my trap in a shallow part of the river and anchor it down.

The most common kind of turtle found in my trap is the river cooter (Pseudemys concinna).  It’s also known as the chicken cooter because it affords about as much meat as a chicken.  It was a common source of protein for slaves on southern plantations before the Civil War.  Chicken cooters are omnivorous but mainly feed upon aquatic vegetation.  During winter they burrow into mud at the bottom of a water course and literally breathe through their ass–their cloaca can absorb oxygen from the water.  In real life chicken cooters are still abundant, especially in suburban ponds where humans have forgotten they are good to eat.

River or chicken cooter.

I also catch Florida red-bellied turtles (Pseudemys nelsoni).  Florida red-bellied turtles have an interesting distribution history.  Today, this species is restricted to Florida and extreme southeastern Georgia.  (An introduced population thrives on the San Marcos, River in Texas.)  However, fossils of this species were found at the Ladds site in Bartow County, Georgia about an hour north of Atlanta.  The Ladds site likely represents the Sangamonian Interglacial interval.  Florida red-bellied turtles were once more widespread through the south.  Moreover, there are also 2 geographically distinct but closely related species of red-bellied turtles–P. rubriventis of the mid-Atlantic states and P. alabamensis of southern Alabama and Mississippi.  Red-bellied turtles prefer ponds and still waters rather than rivers.  This habitat preference may explain why there are no red-bellied turtles living within a range they used to inhabit.  Red-bellied turtles must have difficulty dispersing following environmental changes that result from climate perturbations.  Arid climate during the Last Glacial Maximum reduced available aquatic habitat, and red-bellied turtles have since failed to reoccupy much of their former range.

Florida red-bellied turtle.

US auto-generated map

Range map of Florida red-bellied turtle.  Before the LGM they had a broader range across the south.  They have so far failed to recolonize their former range since the Ice Age.

Soft-shelled turtles (Apalone spinifera) fall into my trap.  This large predatory species is just as aggressive as a snapping turtle, and they have a longer neck, so I have to be careful when handling them.  They feed upon fish, frogs, and ducks. They are surprisingly fast.  In real life I once saw a soft-shelled turtle running down a hillside, and it demonstrated blazing speed–I think faster than a rabbit.  So much for the tortoise and the hare myth.

Soft-shelled turtle. They grow to 40 pounds.

Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) weigh up to 35 pounds, and when I catch 1 of these, I have extra meat for my freezer.

Snapping turtle feeding on a bream.

Turtle meat tastes like lobster.  In real life I found turtle meat for sale at a Kroger supermarket seafood department.  It was imported from New Zealand.  (Americans can’t even raise their own turtles?)  I made a delicious catfish and turtle stew.

Canebreaks 002

Turtle and catfish stew.  Has potatoes to make it substantial.  Seasoned with chili powder, bacon, and onion.  Delicious.

I’m not going to go into all the gruesome details of killing and butchering the turtles I caught.  I put some into a tank to be fed a special clean diet until we’re ready to eat them, but I did kill and clean a medium-sized snapper.  It’s important to wash hands when handling turtles because they carry salmonella just like chickens.  Some turtles provide a bonus–unlaid eggs.  Turtle eggs are good for cooking and make for rich cookies and cakes, but they have an unusual property.  The whites of turtle eggs never get hard, no matter how long they are boiled.  The white remains liquid around the hard yolk.

While my turtle stew is slow-cooking on the stove, I decided to get high and listen to music before supper.  I carried a big stein of home-made beer (made with barley and hops I grew) and a joint of my  marijuana (which I also grew on my Pleistocene farm) to the top of my 5-story castle watchtower, constructed in the shape of a lighthouse, where I can observe the wilderness surrounding my home.  This is my favorite kind of party: listening to music undisturbed by anybody–even my concubines leave me alone and stay downstairs.  I flip on the tunes, enjoy the scenery, and get wasted.  If I went back in time, I’d have to bring rock and roll music with me.  Here’s my Pleistocene playlist.  (Realize this: I play these songs in exact order while I keep getting more and more wasted.)

“Oh Carol” — Chuck Berry showing Keith Richards how to play the song.

“Can’t you hear me knocking”–Rolling Stones

“It’s only Rock and Roll”–Rolling Stones

“Got to get you into my life”–Beatles

“Yer Blues”–Beatles

“I am the Walrus”–Beatles

“You gotta fight for your right to Party”–Beastie Boys


“Longview”–Green Day

“Brain Stew”–Green Day

“Delivering the Goods”–Judas Priest

“Devil’s Child”–Judas Priest

“Living after Midnight”–Judas Priest

“Falling in Love”–Scorpions

“Loving you Sunday Morning”–Scorpions

“Animal Magnetism”–Scorpions

“Chained”–Van Halen

“Hot for Teacher”–Van Halen

“Heavy Metal”–Sammy Hagar

“Flying High Again”–Ozzy Osbourne

“No More Tears”–Ozzy Osbourne

“Sweet Leaf”–Black Sabbath

“Fairies Wear Boots”–Black Sabbath

“Still Raining, Still Dreaming”–Jimi Hendrix

“Freedom”–Jimi Hendrix

“Ezy Ryder”–Jimi Hendrix

“How Many More Times”–Led Zeppelin

“The Lemon Song”–Led Zeppelin

“Rock and Roll”–Led Zeppelin

“Over the Hills and Far Away”–Led Zeppelin

“Custard Pie”–Led Zeppelin

“For your Life”–Led Zeppelin

“I Can’t Quit You”–Dred Zeppelin

“Oh Darling”–Beatles

“Big Love”–Robert Plant

“Radioactive”–The Firm

“Social Disease”–Elton John

“Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future”–Elton John

“Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”–Elton John

“Spanish Flea”–Herb Albert

“Rise” –Herb Albert

“Can’t Keep My Eyes off of You”–Frankie Valli

Sex cures hangovers.  Excessive alcohol consumption causes an imbalance of dopamine levels in the brain.  Having sex helps restore dopamine levels.  My concubines, the Jenna Shea and September Carrino lookalikes, are going to help restore my dopamine levels following my Pleistocene beer and pot party.

If I could Live in the Pleistocene Part X–Turning a Bear into Soap

November 2, 2012

For those who might come across this blog on a random search, a word of explanation is necessary.  I write an irregular series imagining what my life would be like, if I could travel back in time to 36,000 BP and live in east central Georgia.  I brought some modern conveniences back with me and inhabit an adobe brick home that I built.  I have a garden, row crops, and a fruit orchard surrounded by a high stone wall to keep the beasts from destroying my food supply.  I raise milk cows, geese, chickens, and honeybees.  My home is heated with woodstoves, and electricity is generated from a combination of solar power and ethanol alcohol.  A wilderness consisting of open parkland oak forest surrounds my home and a variety of different pristine environments are within walking distance.  I try to remain as self-sufficient as possible so I don’t have to travel back to the present in the time tunnel through which phone lines and wires allow me to communicate with the modern world.  (I can actually watch college football from the present day on tv, while sitting in my home temporally located 36,000 BP.)

A dilemma arose which threatened the fabric of my fantasy.  I brought concubines back in time with me to satisfy my sex drive.  Unfortunately, we ran out of soap, and my concubines refused to sleep with me until I made some more–bathing with just plain water wasn’t good enough.  In other words they’ve gone on a sex strike.  I would post some photos of my concubines here but some readers object because they’re afraid a kid might see a naked boob or buttocks.  I certainly don’t share those values but in deference to the prudes abounding in American society I’ll merely post links to models who look like my concubines.  One of my concubines looks like September Carrino , and the other looks like Jenna Shea .  A man  can understand why I was quite anxious to manufacture some new soap.

My original plan was to manufacture soap from peanut oil, using peanuts I grew in my garden.  However, I miscalculated and produced enough peanuts for food consumption and next year’s seed, but not enough for soap.  I have enough goose grease to make a small batch of soap, but if I’m going to go to the trouble of making soap, I want to make enough for several years.  This means I need to kill an animal that has loads of fat.  I see deer, elk, peccary, and horses almost everyday in the grassy firebreak I maintain around my homestead, but these animals don’t have enough fat on them for soap.  Long-horned bison might be a candidate, but the herds never come near my homestead, and transporting one from the prairie located 5 miles away would be a problem.  Besides, even bison are generally lean.  The animal around these parts with the most fat is the black bear.  There has been a very large black bear tearing into my turkey trap lately.  Although I don’t entirely rely on turkey meat, it is a convenient source of protein.

Colonial era turkey trap.  Colonists dug a ditch that led under a wooden enclosure.  They baited the ditch with corn.  The turkeys followed the corn inside the enclosure, hopped up inside, and were too dumb to figure out how to get out.  Colonists collected all the turkeys they wanted without having to stop working in the fields to go hunting.  Some times they would forget about the traps which would hold scores of turkeys that would die, rot, and emit a stink for miles around.

By killing the rogue bear, I’ll not only have a big supply of meat and fat, but it will eliminate a recent nuisance.  I also promised the concubine who looks like September Carrino a bear claw necklace, and the one who looks like Jenna Shea wants a bear skin rug.  I didn’t like having to kill a bear, but I put aside my reluctance by thinking of all the rewards I would gain, if I was successful.

I started the hunt by baiting my turkey trap with cracked corn one morning.  My turkey trap is located 50 yards from the elevated platform attached to my adobe brick home.  I regularly use this platform to bowhunt for deer, elk, and peccary.  I use a bow with a draw of 70 pounds.  I find that it shoots accurately with a flatter trajectory over longer distances.  I practice 3 or 4 times a week year round, and I have no problem controlling the pull because I’m strong for my size.  (In real life I  did 66 pullups in a row a couple days ago.)  In a worst case scenario a wounded bear could charge me.  A sprinting bear can cover 50 yards in 3 seconds.  But I’m standing on a platform, and I carry a 44 magnum in a side holster, so if the bear charges, I can shoot down and hopefully hit the bear before it climbs the platform and mauls me.  Incidentally, I’m a better shot with a bow than with a rifle, thus explaining my weapon of choice.

Well, the bear didn’t show up for 2 days but my trap did continuously catch turkeys.  I opened the hatch and removed a couple for our meat freezer, and I  freed a few more, so the pen wouldn’t get overcrowded.  I gave the rest cracked corn and water and kep them captive to serve as bait.  I periodically kept looking out the window until late on the third afternoon when I saw the old boar sniffing around the turkey trap.  I grabbed my bow and rushed to my hunting platform.  By the time I was ready, the bear had ripped the roof off the trap and had grabbed a turkey with his paws.  I could hear the other turkeys  gobbling in panic.  Luckily, the bear began eating the lifeless turkey on the side of the trap facing the platform.  I had a perfect broadside shot.  If the bear sensed I was near, he didn’t show it.  Pleistocene animals have no special fear of man, making hunting easy here.

A swirling wind threatened to make for a difficult shot.  My stomach felt the fluttering of butterflies, and my heart pounded.  I took a deep breath.  I waited for a gust of wind to pass.  Overcast skies eliminated the glint of the sun, and the black fur of the bear contrasted with the cloudy atmosphere.  I pulled the bowstring and aimed.  I’m an accurate shot.  When I shoot deer I seldom miss the heart, and when I do it’s usually close enough to cause death in minutes anyway.  On one occasion I did miss but hit the neck and killed the deer instantly.  Another time I hit a kidney and never did find that deer after it scrambled into the woods, though I’m sure it died within hours.  My worst shot was when I hit a deer in the ankle, but I did track that hobbled animal down and finished it off.  In any case I hope for a quick humane kill because I can’t bear to see an animal suffer.

I let the arrow fly.  Bullseye.  The bear roared and shook in pain and rage and started to run but then collapsed a few seconds later–surprisingly going down faster than most deer or elk I’ve killed.  I waited a few minutes.  A crow or raven called from a tree top.  I decided to get to work before dire wolves arrived and disputed ownership of the carcass.

I went to the garage and drove my pickup next to the bear.  Before exiting the truck, I put a bullet in the bear’s brain just to make sure it was not simply comatose.  I didn’t want it to awake while I was butchering it.  I atttached a chain to both back paws and connected the other end to the bumper.  I dragged the bear behind the truck into the garage and closed the door behind.  I then attached the chain to a mechanical winch to raise the bear upside down.  And I proceeded to skin and butcher the animal.


This photo is  of an estimated 528 pound bear killed in Oregon.  I don’t know why the people in the photo wanted their faces phased out.

I disposed of all the entrails and organs about a mile from my homestead and set up a trailcam to record all the predators and scavengers the offal would attract.  Normally, I’d save the liver from my kills, but bear’s liver contains toxic levels of Vitamin D and is not safe for human consumption.  The bear had a 4 inch layer of fat on its back and a total estimate of 125 pounds of fat.  I rendered the fat behind my home, safe inside the stone walls that enclose my farm.  I boiled chunks of the fat with water in an uncovered iron kettle over an open fire.  As the water evaporated, the fat melted into liquid lard.  Odd pieces of meat became cracklings which I saved for cornbread.  The list of culinary uses for bear meat and fat is endless.  The fat belly makes great bacon.  I corned some meat and made sourbraten out of a roast.  Bear steaks were smothered in onions — ettouffeed.  Bear meat needs to be cooked for long enough to kill trichinosis parasites, so a bloody rare bear steak is not safe to eat.  I made bear chili, bear stew, and bear gumbo.  Ground bear meat makes good sausage and hamburger and when mixed with venison and/or turkey makes excellent meatloaf.  I used the fat as shortening for biscuits, pie crusts, and tamales as well as for deep frying other foods.  But most importantly, I made soap, so my concubines would let me in their beds again.

150 years ago, almost every family had to make their own soap.

I made 2 batches of soap–20 pounds of rose scented soap and 20 pounds of pine scented soap.  I took 20 pounds of bear lard and added a gallon of scented rainwater that I boiled with either rose petals or pine needles.  I boiled this and let it cool.  I then added 8 tbls of sugar, 4 tbls of salt, 12 tbls of borax, and 1 cup of ammonia (made from evaporated piss and water) to 2 cups of rainwater.  I mixed a gallon of rainwater with lye (made from wood ashes and water) in a granite kettle.  I did all of this outside for safety reasons.  When the lye water cooled I poured in the ammonia mixture, then added the lard. I stirred it and put the mixture into molds.  Now, we can wash with soap, and my concubines let me sleep in the same bed with them again.

If I could Live in the Pleistocene part IX–Using Applied Chemistry

June 17, 2012

For those readers who don’t regularly follow my blog but might come across this entry on a random engine search, it’s necessary to resummarize my favorite fantasy which I irregularly discuss here.  I fantasize that I live in east central Georgia 36,000 years ago before there were people in North America.  I live in an adobe brick home with a garden, pasture, and fruit orchard surrounded by a stone fence designed to keep animals from consuming my food supply.  I try to live as rustic as possible, but I did bring some modern conveniences back in time with me such as electrical generators, refrigerators, and televisions.  I’m connected to the present day through a time tunnel in case I need to see a dentist or doctor and with cables running back and forth so I can communicate through internet and satellite television with the present day.  The climate 36,000 years ago was an interstadial with pleasant conditions–much cooler than the present in summer, but only a little cooler in winter.  I have a lighthouse-like tower connected to my home so I can view the surrounding countryside, and I make forays outside my protected area for scientific research, hunting, fishing, and nature photography.  The land behind my homestead is a mesophytic slope forest consisting of beech, hickory, Critchfield’s spruce, and many other species.  The land in front of my home is a dry upland savannah with oak, pine, and grass.  Canebrakes grow along the streams, chestnuts forests grow on the high dry ridges, and there are many other interesting environments including virgin white pine forests, and an extensive burned over area where berry bushes and other second growth are resprouting.  The whole vicinity is rich in pre-historic wildlife.

Because I don’t want to return to the present, unless there is an extreme emergency, I try to be completely self-sufficient.  This requires knowledge of applied chemistry.  I need to make ethanol, lye, ammonia, and saltpeter.  Woodstoves would greatly reduce my need for electical energy, yet I would need to generate some electricity for refrigeration and entertainment.  Therefore, ethanol would be my most critical need.

These woodstoves are at least 100 years old.  They put out an amazing amount of heat.  A person could lay in this pavilion in the middle of a windy winter’s night and still stay warm, thanks to just 1 of these stoves. There is a thermometer attached to the front, but I think I’d also have an electric stove for convenience and more accurate cooking.

Wood stoves put out an incredible amount of heat.  I would have several of these in my adobe house, and in my backyard under a pavilion in case the electrical power wasn’t working, and I needed to cook during the summer when it would be too hot to burn wood inside.  Wood stoves strategically placed in the kitchen, living room, hallway adjacent to the bedrooms, and near the bathtub and toilet would preclude the need for central heating, and thus save a lot of power.  However, in my kitchen I’d also have an electric stove for convenience and precision.

I’d also have parabolic solar trough collectors to generate electricity, but solar heating doesn’t work at night nor during cloudy days, necessitating an electrical generator that uses fuel.  In previous incarnations of this fantasy I’ve suggested that I would manufacture wood alcohol (methanol) from the abundant available wood.  However, I actually studied the manufacture of wood alcohol and learned that it produces poisonous waste products and requires difficult to manufacture acids.  The thought of manufacturing wood alcohol began to aggravate and eventually ruin my fantasy.  Instead, I’ve switched to ethanol or grain alcohol (ethanol).  I learned that Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, yield the most ethanol of any cultivated plant–more than sugar cane, sorghum, or corn.  This wonder vegetable can produce up to 1200 gallons of ethanol per acre which is probably far more than I’d need.  Sunchokes grow like a weed and need little to no cultivation.  They grow in my real life yard, and I did nothing to propagate them after originally planting about a half dozen tubers 10 years ago.  They’re in the sunflower family but produce no edible seeds.  Instead, little tubers that taste like water chestnuts (but much superior in taste to the canned ones) grow at the ends of the roots.  Some little tubers always remain in the ground after harvesting, so there is never a need to replant because they regrow thickly no matter how thoroughly they’re dug.  In fact, I’ve accidentally spread them to other parts of my garden from sunchoke peels I put in my compost.

Still and boiler diagram

Diagram of a still to make ethanol.  Much safer, cleaner, and easier to make than wood alcohol (methanol), the substance I originally fantasized about making to run my Pleistocene electrical generators.  Jerusalem artichokes produce the best ethanol yield of any plant–1200 gallons per acre.  Jerusalem artichokes grow like a weed and need little to no cultivation.

Converting sunchokes to ethyl alcohol is a simple process.  Add yeast and a little sugar to crushed sunchokes to instigate fermentation.  Then boil the “sunchoke wine” and condense the steam in a still to distill the alcohol (C2H6O) into a more pure form.  Incidentally, if I was desperate for alcohol to get drunk, both the wine and the liquor would be drinkable, unlike wood alcohol which is a deadly poison.  This alcohol is good to use for my generator and vehicles.

Making my own soap requires the manufacture of lye (NaOH).  Again, this is simple applied chemistry.  To make lye, add rain water to wood ashes collected in a barrel.   Ground water has too many dissolved minerals that might interfere with the chemical reaction.  Let the ashes dissolve in the rain water.  Then to make soap mix grease (animal fat, peanut oil, or etc.) to rain water.  Boil with a mixture of ammonia, borax, salt, and sugar.  When cool add the lye diluted with rain water.  (If lye is added when the mixture is hot, it will explode.)  Shape into bars.  If a perfumed soap is desired, pine needles or flowers can be used to infuse the soap early in the process.

This is about all the equipment necessary to manufacture ammonia.

Ammonia (NH3) may be the simplest chemical compound to make.  Urinate in a bucket and add water.  Cover the bucket with a top that has air holes.  Evaporation converts the urine to ammonia, a strong base that can be used as a cleaning agent and an ingredient in soap.

Colonial manufacture of saltpeter, an ingredient in gunpowder.

I suppose I could easily bring back in time a lifetime supply of saltpeter, but let’s imagine I forgot it and want to avoid a return trip through the time tunnel.  Used in small quantities, saltpeter helps preserve meats such as bacon, smoked sausage, corned beef, and ham.  It’s the ingredient that makes those meats turn an appetizing red from what otherwise would be a dull gray.  It can also be used as an ingredient in gunpowder which I wouldn’t need because I’d use bows and arrows.  To make saltpeter (KNO3), it’s necessary to collect the nightsoil underneath the chicken and goose houses and milk cow barn.    Put the nightsoil on top of a layer of sand in a vat with an outlet hole.  Add water and collect the effluvium that exits the outlet hole in a copper pot.  Boil this liquid and saltpeter is the precipitate.  It can be scraped off copper sticks and the bottom of the pot.

I wouldn’t need gunpowder, but for the record it’s made from saltpeter, charcoal, and sulphur.  To make charcoal (which I would make once a year for grilling) all that is needed is a type of smokestack known as a retort.  Stack pieces of wood in the bottom half of the smokestack and let burn slowly. Vents need to be on the bottom half of the smokestack, so enough oxygen can enter and keep the slow burning fire going.  Sulphur is supposedly abundant, but I’d need to locate a sulphur spring and evaporate the water to concentrate the element.  The only sulpur springs in Georgia I’m aware of is clear on the other side of the state.  But I doubt I’ll have any use for gunpowder in my fantasy Pleistocene world.

If I could live During the Pleistocene part VIII–A Day in the Life

December 26, 2011

We drove from Augusta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee and back to visit relatives for the Christmas holidays.  The hotel in Chattanooga was next to some monstrous mall.  Before the drive home I wanted to exercise outdoors, but there was nowhere for a nature-loving man to go.  Chattanooga is a suburban sprawl nightmare.  So I planned to stop somewhere on the way home and take a 30 minute nature stroll.

Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga.  Our hotel was right around the corner from this abomination.  This is hell on earth for nature lovers like me.

The Etowah Indian Mounds were closed on Sunday, and the area around the nearby Red Top Mountain State Park looked like an ugly reclamation project, plus I couldn’t even find the darn place.  Then we hit Atlanta and my spirits sank.  I became bitter and contemplated canceling my Nature Conservancy membership because they’ve preserved no places close to where I regularly travel that I can use.  All I wanted was a pleasant brief walk where I could enjoy some birds and trees.  We stopped for lunch in Covington, a suburb on the east side of Atlanta, and there were almost no trees or birds in sight–the whole enclave is one giant parking lot.  There is still some rural land between Atlanta and Augusta, but by then my mood had soured further, and my daughter was driving and I didn’t feel like making her stop.  It depresses me when I think of how far I have to travel to see nature.  That’s why I’m now going to slip into my fantasy of living on the Broad River in eastern Georgia during the Pleistocene.  Here’s a typical day in the life I imagine.

December 23, 36,000 BP

I awake next to 1 of my 3 concubines at 7:00 am (my wife doesn’t like wilderness and refuses to join my Pleistocene fantasy.)  It’s nice and warm under my buffalo blanket.  I get up eager to go on an excursion.  My concubine stays in the bed–I kept her up late because I had venison liver for supper and that always increases my libido.  I go outside and milk the cow, shovel out the stall, and let her in the pasture.  I feed the chickens and geese and break the ice on the latter’s water tank.  There’s frost everywhere except near the poultry houses where the heat from the manure keeps the ground warm.  It’s sunny and breezy.  The wind has died down compared to yesterday when a cold front pushed through.  I bring in a couple of baskets of wood for the woodstoves.  Concubine #2 has my breakfast ready–grilled cheese on whole wheat sourdough.  Every single ingredient was grown and made from scratch as is all of my food.

After breakfast I go to my garage and start up my 4-wheel drive, a vehicle that runs on wood alcohol which I also manufacture.  I open the automatic door and make sure it’s closed behind me when I leave, so no dangerous animals can get inside.  The walls around my garden and orchard are adjacent to thickets of prickly pear cactus which I planted to discourage animals from climbing the wall.  More of the purple fruit than I can consume remains–available for peccaries and Jefferson’s ground sloths, the only animals that eat the fruit this time of year.  Black bears, though they don’t hibernate in the south, are mostly inactive now.

I leave the security of my fort behind and drive on the dirt road that leads to the Broad River.  I use a steam roller, every so often, to grade the road and keep it in good condition.  The first 50 yards around the fort are a mowed hayfield that I keep clear of trees so it serves as a firebreak.  Uncontrolled forest fires are a hazard of living in pure wilderness.  The small herd of wild horses grazing on it now ignores me.  There’s a black stallion, 2 brown mares, a spotted mare, and 2 black yearling colts.  I slowly drive past them and into an open woods of uneven aged trees.  Tawny grass and patches of saplings and brush grows between giants.  I pass by a small grove of black walnuts, some ancient, some of moderate age.  Several specimens are 12 feet in circumference.  The road slopes toward the river, still more than a mile away, and it leads me through a forest dominated by beech, hickory, and Critchfield’s spruce.  I stop the vehicle and examine a few of the trees.  Many are over 70 feet tall and more than 6 feet in diameter.  I hear several gray squirrels barking in alarm, and I search the bare winter tree tops for a hawk.  Instead I see a big black weasel climbing a hickory.  It’s a fisher, an animal that’s been absent in modern day Georgia since at least colonial times.

The article that went along with this photo claims fishers can take down big dogs like German Shepherds.  No way.

The barking stops and the chase begins round and round the tree.  I get my binoculars and follow the deadly race for life.  The fisher follows closely behind the squirrel, seemingly certain to catch his next meal, but the frantic rodent ventures on a slim branch and leaps to a nearby beech, escaping the fisher which doesn’t dare test his weight on that flimsy branch.

The forest sounds alive.  I hear crows and blue jays and a pileated woodpecker.  I check an old standing snag, its top rotted away.  A hairy woodpecker taps on the white oak next to it.  The oak is growing in a slight gulley and leans precariously.  Bits of bark flutter to the ground.  I get back in my vehicle, drive about 1/4 mile, and see something dead on the road.  Of course, it’s not roadkill–there’s no traffic here.  I stop and emerge from my vehicle and recognize what it is–the partially eaten remains of a porcupine.  I see fisher tracks all around.  I carefully shove the carcass off the side of the road with my foot because a quill could puncture my tire.  I’m thorough about this.  A sudden whir of wings startles me.  I catch a glimpse of several blue passenger pigeons.  These are stragglers from the main colony that passed overhead 4 months ago.  I’m not sure where the main colony is located, but I know it’s vast and surely takes over miles of forest.

The road slopes sharply and it isn’t long before I spot my 14 foot motor boat tied to an enormous 200 year old red maple.  I untie the boat, start the engine, and take the boat down the river.  Anchored poles with flags mark the locations of fish traps and passes through shoals and sunken snags.  During the dry season these are easy to find without the flags but we recently suffered a rain/sleet event that lasted 3 straight days and the river’s a little high.  I easily navigate through two red-flagged poles that mark a submerged snag and a shallow boulder.  The water is clear and I can see submerged rocks in some places and sandy bottoms in others.  Fish and mussels of many kinds are visible.

A bluff on the Broad River.  During the Pleistocene the water was likely clear, not brown with sediment from erosion.  Agricultural run off beginning early in the 19th century turned all of Georgia’s rivers muddy looking. In the 18th century William Bartram referred to this clear water as “pellucid.”

On the right is a forest of water oak and sycamore.  On the left is an impenetrable thicket of river cane.  A tapir stares at me from inside the stand of cane.  I’ve noticed that many present day nocturnal animals are active during all hours of the day in the Pleistocene.  Another creek flows into the river from here.  This creek is a long chain of beaver dams and ponds.  In fact I call it Beaver Dam Creek.  I’ve explored this area before.  It’s a mix of open marsh, ponds, canebrakes, and wet meadows grazed by long-horned bison and giant beavers (Castor ohioensis).  Beavers (Castor canadensis) inhabiting this area have felled so many trees that they’ve been forced to dig canals to safely access the more distant trees.  In the process they’ve created favorable habitat for their much larger cousins which grow to the size of a bear.  One of the beaver lodges is even located at the mouth of the creek.  An otter sits on top of the lodge and gnaws on a sucker fish.

Up above a bald eagle chases an osprey, forcing it to drop a fish.  The eagle turns and drives off a turkey vulture.  A great blue heron, oblivious to this action, takes flight.  A group of wood ducks fly overhead.  An old bull mastodon, standing on the shore, stares at me, making me feel as if I’m an intruder in his world.  The animals here have no fear of man, and I have to be careful.  I steer the boat away from him.  The mouth of the Broad River widens as I approach its confluence with the Savannah.  I near a bluff forest on the right.  I face the bluff–a 130 foot high rocky cliff.  Butternut and paw paw trees are common in the forest above.  The offspring of some of these trees now grow in my orchard back at the fort.

I spot the blue flag on top of the pole next to my fish trap at the confluence of the 2 rivers.  I cut the boat engine and tie the boat to the pole.  The current causes the boat to drift downstream but the rope holds taut.  I eat lunch–a smoked turkey sandwich, an apple, and some hazlenuts.  A belted kingfisher calls and flies along the shore, searching for minnows.  When I’m done eating I check the contents of the hoop net I placed at the funnel point of the trap I constructed of rocks.  I dump a chain pickerel, 3 channel catfish, 3 white catfish, 4 small bullheads, 2 redeye bass, 1 largemouth bass, 1 crappie, 6 spotted sucker fish, 7 bluegills, 11 redear sunfish, and 3 spotted sunfish into the livewell.  During summer I often catch shad and mullet and the occasion eel.  I have to go farther down river to catch stripers and sturgeon.  I’ve yet to find a species of fish that is extinct in the present.  I untie the rope, restart the engine, and head back to the fort.

I re-enter the Broad River, boating upstream.  A flock of noisy, green and yellow parrakeets fly by the shore.  Swans and black ducks float on the surface of the water.  The mastodon that had been standing near shore earlier is gone, but I see a v-shaped wake heading toward the front of my boat.  The head surfaces.  I quickly steer the boat away, not wanting to collide with the giant beaver.  Nevertheless, the impact seems inevitable.  The beaver sees the bow of the boat at the last moment and ducks deeper.  The water is so clear I can see the beast swimming  just over a sandy bottom.  Happily, it avoided the propeller.  I didnt want to have to mercy kill the animal.  Beaver meat is delicious but I get all I need by trapping beavers and muskrats out of my rice pond back at the fort.

I disembark from my boat back near the road and cover it with a tarp.  On the way back to the fort 3 long-nosed peccaries run across the road in front of me.  Back in the garage, I dump the contents of the live well into my aquarium where I can retrieve the fish when I’m ready to process them.  I check in with my concubines and make sure they don’t need anything before I go survey the upland part of my road.  The road to a chestnut ridge is gently rolling and goes through an oak and pine savannah.  The tree composition consists of black oak, post oak, shortleaf pines, and white pines–fire resistant species.  Tawny waste high grass and bushy thickets grow between the trees.  The road also bisects windthrows and areas blackened by recent fires. 

A flock of 70 hen turkeys forages alongside the road.  They’re headed northwest in the same direction I’m traveling. 

White tail deer in a small grove of Osage Orange.  (I don’t really know what kind of trees those are, but in my fantasy, that’s what they are. This is actually hunting club land somewhere in Texas.)

In the distance I see a herd of elk cows.  Closer, in a grove of Osage orange, are some whitetail deer.  I see whitetail deer, elk, and fugitive deer (an extinct species) almost everyday.  Even herds of caribou travel through on occasion, and less often I’ll se a stag-moose by the river.  Llamas and flat-headed peccaries are also common but I see none today.

An oak savannah.  This one is somewhere in Wisconsin, I think.

Behind a fallen oak, a bobcat is waiting to ambush the flock of turkeys which are headed right toward him.  The bobcat stares at my vehicle, wide-eyed, and retreats.  I’ve accidentally foiled his hunt.  Animals have no inordinate fear of people, but strange noises, such as my auto engine, may unsettle them.

Up ahead, a flock of vultures and magpies surround the remains of a horse.  These vultures are related to old world vultures and don’t live in present day North America.  This part of the road goes through an expansive meadow and I see 2 bull elk together–possibly part of a bachelor herd.

Past the meadow is a grove of large, virgin, white pines.  Detached from the grove are 2 amazingly enormous white pines.  Both are 180 feet tall.  In between these 2 and the rest of the grove is a colony of blueberry bushes growing between some fallen and well-decayed tree trunks.  This time of year only a few red leaves cling on the upright branches.  A storm and fire divided these 2 trees from the rest of the grove and blueberries grow in that space instead.

White pines.

I finally reach the ridge.  A creek bottom adjacent to the ridge supports another extensive patch of river cane, but the ridge is quite different.  Here, on the high rocky hill is a beautiful stand of chestnut and chestnut oak with an undergrowth of chinquapin. The wildlife has already decimated this year’s chestnut crop but acorns still litter the ground.  Here, and on the open woodlands fox squirrels abound.  A black male with a gray mask chases a reddish-colored female: first along the ground, then up and around a tree trunk.  I love these large multi-colored squirrels. 

On the return back a dire wolf lopes along the road, a big limp rabbit in its mouth.  He stays ahead of my slowly moving vehicles for 200 yards before jogging into the tall grass of the big meadow.

Back at the fort, I spend a couple hours cleaning the fish.  The pickerel and sucker fish make good pickled fish–the vinegar dissolves the numerous bones.  I stick the bass and larger catfish in the freezer.  The bass are better after they’ve been frozen anyway because the musky flavor breaks down.  I fry the smaller catfish and some of the bream for supper.

After supper I fill the generator with wood alcohol and rekindle the fires in the woodstoves.  We listen to wolves howl close outside while we watch a movie.  Concubine #2 reminds me it’s her turn tonight so we turn in.

If I could Live During the Pleistocene Part VII–The Food I Must Have

November 21, 2011

I’m writing a food-oriented blog entry in honor of Thanksgiving week.

If I’m going to live in my imaginary adobe brick home 36,000 years BP on a stone-wall protected piece of land 1 mile north of the Broad River and 2 miles west of the Savannah River, I’ve got to have certain favorite foods.  But I don’t want to travel back and forth through the time portal to go grocery shopping.  I’d suffer a letdown every time I left my pristine wilderness and returned to the decimated mess man has created.  So I’d manufacture as much of my own food as possible on my Pleistocene homestead. 

There are numerous staples of my diet I can’t live without–cheddar cheese, chili con carne, sourdough bread, fruit, vegetables, brown gravy, soy sauce, etc.

I’ve been making sourdough bread, pancakes, and biscuits from this sourdough starter since 1998.

I grow my own wheat on my Pleistocene homestead.  (In reality I have successfully grown wheat in my backyard garden.)  The weather conditions in Georgia during the interstadial I chose should be favorable for winter and spring wheat.  Setting up a stone mill for grinding grain into flour though is too complicated.  An electric home mill that I plug into an outlet is sufficient for my needs.  (I have electricity, thanks to solar power and a generator that runs on wood alcohol which I manufacture.)  It’s necessary to grow 2 kinds of wheat–a high protein variety for bread and a lower protein type for pastry.  I’ve got to have pies and cakes.

A bowl of red with a side of cornbread.  Chili con carne is my favorite dish and a useful one for converting dodgy game meats into tasty food.  For this batch I diced round steak and cooked it in the crockpot.  I more commonly use ground meat which shouldn’t be cooked in a crock pot because slow-cooking the meat that long will turn it mushy.   I use 2 tablespoons of pure New Mexican chili powder per pound of meat.  I serve it on red beans that are cooked in a different pot.

I can’t live without chili.  This is a quite useful dish for Pleistocene living.  Most of my meat is wild game.  I live in a mostly forested region interspersed with small prairies and meadows.  The most common big game animals are white-tailed deer, elk, and long-nosed peccary.  Less common but occasionally available are long-horned bison and horses.  Depending on the age, condition, and diet, the meat from these animals varies in flavor and tenderness.  By grinding the meat and seasoning it heavily with chili powder and tomatoes, I can make tougher cuts of meat taste good.  George Leonard Herter in his book, How to Get out of the Rat Race and Live on $10 a Month (a volume that deserves its own blog entry), wrote that the only way he could make coot meat taste good was to turn it into chili.  He stated that coot meat tastes like a mouthful of mud prepared any other way.  Cajuns soak coots in milk overnight to get rid of the bad flavor.  I avoid coot meat.

I do raise milk cows on my Pleistocene land, but I’m reluctant to kill them for meat because they’re like pets that provide me with cheddar cheese, butter, and cream.  So my chili is most often made from venison and/or peccary meat.  Tomatoes, new Mexican chili peppers, red beans, onions, garlic, and cumin all grow in my garden and greenhouse.

Jagerschnitzel with a side of sweet potato.  I had leftover mushroom gravy from making hamburger steaks and gravy (another good dish for using wild game meat), so I added fresh mushrooms and smothered pork chops in the gravy.  Sweet potatoes should be easy to grow during an interstadial.  The good cuts of a peccary make excellent pork chops.

I could probably eat chili everyday and never get tired of it, but I also like meats smothered in a brown mushroom or onion or mushroom/onion gravy.  Lipton makes a great mushroom-onion gravy mix that I believe I can duplicate.  In my Pleistocene garden I cultivate shitake mushrooms.  (In reality I innoculated an oak stump with shitake mushroom spawn.  I’m still waiting for the first bloom.)  Mushrooms don’t grow year round, and I wouldn’t dare forage for wild mushrooms, so I dry some of the cultivated ones when they bloom.  I make my imitation Lipton gravy mix with dried mushrooms, dried onions, flour, salt, and soy sauce and store it in jars.  I brew my own soy sauce–another magical condiment that transforms wild game meats into civilized food.  I make a fine dish by slicing tough game meats against the grain and stir frying them with vegetables.  Marinating game meats with vinegar, oil, oregeno, and salt and cooking them shish ka bob style also helps to make them tender.

Frying hamburgers in an iron skillet.  I love cooking in this vessel.  The best Pleistocene hamburgers are made out of the ribeye steak meat from a long-horned bison.  I more commonly have venison in my meat freezer.  This requires added fat.

A meat grinder is a must for processing wild game.  I raise geese for the fat.  A good hamburger requires a certain amount of fat not found in most game meats.  To make a decent hamburger with lean venison, I mix it with rendered goose fat.  (I’ve actually experimented with this in real life and it works well.)  It keeps the burgers from getting too dry, and the grease rendered out can be re-used.  Turning tough game meats into meatloaf, meatballs, and sausage is another way to make them tasty.  A meatloaf made out of 1/2 ground vension and 1/2 ground turkey is excellent.  (Another successful real experiment.)  I capture all the turkeys I need with my turkey trap.  (See

A Niles pizza burger with a salad.  Niles, Ohio is the only place I’ve ever seen a real pizza burger on the menu.  I lived in Niles from the age of 2 to the age of 13.  It’s another one of those little Italy’s where many Italian-Americans settled.  The secret to this dish, besides using real pizza instead of a hamburger bun, is to keep it in aluminum foil, like a gyro, so it doesn’t fall apart.  The salad is a mix of leaf and head lettuce dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Olives are difficult to grow in Pleistocene Georgia, but walnut oil is an acceptable substitute.

Fish and chips with a side of mustard greens.  My Pleistocene home is located close to a river for the abundant food supply.  Game, fish, waterfowl, turtles, crayfish, and mussels abound near the water.  Potatoes are easier to grow in Pleistocene Georgia than they are today because the summers are cooler.

I eat a lot of fish in the Pleistocene.  I have fish traps throughout the Broad River and in the Savannah.  Most of the fish are small bream, crappie, catfish, smallmouth bass, and sucker fish.  I pan fry these, usually dredged with a mixture of cornmeal, flour, garlic salt, and lots of black pepper.  I dip the fish in egg first so the coating sticks.  (I have plenty of eggs because I raise chickens as well as geese.)  Surprisingly large fish, even today, still swim in smaller streams.  Fish big enough to filet often get caught in my traps.

Diagram of a colonial era fish trap from google images.  My Pleistocene fish trap differs slightly.  Mine doesn’t stretch all the way across the river and has a net or basket at the point of the v instead of slats.  I remove the net when I’m not planning on eating fish to reduce unnecessary fish kill.

I sometimes use a milk or beer batter to fry these.  Fish weighing over 10 pounds can be cut into steaks and grilled over a charcoal fire.  Or they can be stewed.  When I tire of fried fish I cook them in a white wine-cream sauce with mushrooms or sorrel.  Sorrel is an easy pot herb to grow.  Vegetables in the brassica family are also easy to grow.  Brassica pollen even shows up in a couple of palynological studies of Pleistocene age sediment, proving that some type of wild mustard grew in Georgia then.  In my real life gardening experience I’ve successfully grown mustard, bok choy, napa cabbage, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, green cabbage, and red cabbage.  All grow in my Pleistocene garden.  They thrive in the long cool season.  I’ve had mixed success with lettuce.  Some times I can’t get the lettuce to grow big enough to use.  The best lettuce I ever grew was a variety known as Rouge d’River–a red leaf type.

Spicy meatball and sausage jambalaya.  I make many different versions of this famous dish–chicken jambalaya, chicken and sausage jambalaya, double sausage jambalaya, shrimp and sausage jambalaya, turkey and ham and mushroom jambalaya, etc.

I grow rice in my Pleistocene garden because I can’t live without jambalaya or dirty rice.  Brown rice is a common side dish, but for jambalaya I remove the rice bran and feed it to the chickens.  White rice makes a better jambalaya.  I use sodium nitrates to turn the sausage red.  Curing meats is another way to make game meats quite palatable.  Much of my venison is corned.

Green posole.  This is the first time I ever made this dish.

Corn grows in my garden.  It provides a vegetable and a starch and animal feed.  I manufacture corn oil and corn syrup as well.  In the pioneer days the dried cobs were used as toilet paper.  In my Pleistocene world I manufacture more modern toilet paper.  There are just some improvements I can’t live without.

If I could Live in the Pleistocene Part VI–Top 10 Most Dangerous Animals to Avoid

September 26, 2011

So it’s 36,000 BP, and I’m living in my adobe brick house/mansion/castle,  built on a picturesque spot located 2 miles west of what’s now the Savannah River and 1 mile north of the Broad River.  A time tunnel connects me to the present in case of emergencies, but otherwise I’m living in an area of the world where there are no other people.  In today’s world the only dangerous animals I’m likely to encounter are other humans and their dogs.  Gangsters, twisted bullies, or psychos could assault me at any time, but I lower the risk by staying away from low income neighborhoods.  Dogs are the only other animal to be wary of.  A few years back, I had a neighbor who was freaked out because he saw a rattlesnake which he killed by driving over it.  After this incident he seemed annoyed at me–I had let my garden get a little weedy and he spotted a corn snake in it.  Yet, this snake-phobic honcho always let his pit bull terrier run loose.  Luckily for me, it was only aggressive when I was behind the fence.  It would charge and snarl at me as long as I was in my backyard, but when I went to get the mail the nasty canine would retreat and yelp in terror.  In my Pleistocene world though I have no human neighbors and no pit bulls to worry about.  Instead, there is the megafauna.

Skull of an australopithecus and mandible of a leopard.  A leopard apparently killed this hominid.  The skull has canine marks matching those of a leopard. Big cats hunt apes by attacking them directly from behind.  Man-eating tigers are notorious for attacking humans using this tactic.  It’s an intelligent strategy.  Even a man with a gun would be killed easily.  He’d have no chance to use his weapon.

The walls of my Pleistocene adobe home consist of a double layer of the fat dried bricks.  The windows are high off the ground and have steel bars over them.  I feel safe inside.  I doubt any predator would waste energy trying to dig through the walls.  Likewise, my yard with livestock, a garden, grainfields, and a fruit orchard is surrounded by a high wall designed to make it difficult for animals to climb over.  A safety problem arises, however, when I choose to make forays outside of my fortress.  I use a steamroller to maintain a 3 mile dirt road between the Broad River and a chestnut ridge.  I attend fish traps, and I like to take boat rides.  And I survey plants and animals for scientific data.  These activities take me into the danger zone.  I’d definitely be carrying a Glock.  Here are the top 10 most dangerous Pleistocene animals in this region that would keep me on the alert.

1-4.  The big cats concern me the most.  4 of them are tied for first place–saber-tooths (Smilodon fatalis), scimitar-tooths (Dinobastis serum), giant panthers (Panthera atrox), and jaguars (Panthera onca augusta).  A big cat could sneak up on me and jump on my back before I even knew it was there.  I would have no chance to draw my gun or retreat to my vehicle.  In India tigers learn to kill people by coming at them from directly behind.  Some natives wear masks on the back of their heads–a tactic that confuses man-eating tigers and prevents attacks.  An attack from behind would mean instant death.  Pleistocene big cats in southeastern North America have not yet learned to fear man and might be more likely to attack than not.

5. I rank cougars (Puma concolor) behind the other big cats.  Pleistocene cougars were on average 5% larger than modern cougars and probably considerably bolder, but still they’re a smaller cat that I might be able to box off me, giving me a chance to use my gun.  Nevertheless, if one attacks me from directly behind, I’m in trouble.  This rear-attacking tactic may be learned.  Maybe naive Pleistocene cats would attack humans from the front.  I can only hope this is the case.

Photos from google images of elephants running amok.  The man in the bottom image was killed by that elephant calf.

6-7.  Mastodons (Mammut american) and mammoths (Mammuthus colombi) are in a tie for 6th place.  I believe proboscideans unaccostomed to people would be peaceful animals unless protecting young–a situation easily avoided.  However, when male proboscideans become ready to mate, they go berserk, attacking everything in sight, including other elephants, rhinos, and people.  Even male elephants kept in captivity often go amok.  Although I can see an animal this large approaching, a Glock might be an impotent weapon.  A gunshot might just infuriate it more.  And the great beast could overturn my vehicle, if I manage to escape inside.

I wouldn’t want to face an angry herd of bovines.

8. Long-horned bison (Bison latifrons) were likely very aggressive animals–an adaptive behavioral response to an environment populated with lots of predators.  I should be able to see them from a distance and avoid them.  However, I enjoy eating steaks, roasts, hamburgers, and chili.  If a bison wandered near my adobe home, I might want to shoot it for the meat.  Its companions might hang around or return to protect the carcass.

9. Both black bears (Ursus americanus) and giant short-faced bears (Arctodus simus) could be trouble.  I should be able to avoid these clumsy, noisy animals, but I better be on the lookout.  A gunshot would probably just piss the thick monsters off.

10.  Dire wolves didn’t use stealth, so I think I can avoid a wolf pack.  I wouldn’t want one, let alone a pack, of these hard-biting brutes to get between me and my vehicle.  I’m certain they’d have no fear of a man.  They didn’t learn to fear men until it was too late.