10 Gift Ideas for the Prehistoric Outdoorsperson

Ötzi's up for anything!
Ötzi’s up for anything! Photo: © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/A. Ochsenreiter

The outdoorsy lifestyle existed before synthetic base layers, REI, or even Fred Beckey. In fact, prehistoric humans spent pretty much all their time in nature, if you can believe that. Case in point: Ötzi, a 45-year-old dude whose preserved body was found in a jerky-like state high in the Alps more than five-thousand years after his death. The bearded, five-foot-two inch tall nature-boy made a habit of running up and down the mountains in what is today the border between Italy and Austria.

No ultimate roadtrip-mobile, Whole Foods, or Mountain Athlete Training for Ötzi. But just like the climbers, hunters, and thru-hikers of today, outdoorspeople of old loved their gear. Ötzi was found surrounded by all kinds of sweet kit for his time in the outdoors: a knife and an axe, a backpack, all-terrain footwear, even a bearskin cap. And since everyone else on the Internet has already compiled holiday buyer’s guides for the contemporary outdoor lifestyle, I thought I’d put one together for Ötzi and his kin.

1. Animal sinew – Shredded tendon fiber is super tough and, bonus, shrinks as it dries. It’s just the thing for binding a flint blade into an ash wood dagger handle. When paired with a bone awl, it’s the ideal way to mend broken seams in a pair of well-worn goat hide leggings.

2. Flint from the Lessini Mountains – For crafting into fresh knife blades or arrowheads, or for getting that fire going on a cold night under the stars, Lessini flint is the finest anywhere.

3. Grass and hay – Long strands of supple grass are good for binding stuff together—the wooden supports of a backpack frame or the ankle of your deerskin boots, for example. Meanwhile, grasses cut and dried into hay make an excellent insulating layer in boots. It’s a good idea to keep several handfuls of dry hay on hand at all times, to re-stuff your boots after a stream crossing or long hike through the high-mountain snows.

4. Copper polish – Sure, that copper axe can fell a yew tree in thirty minutes flat, but it’s also a status symbol worth keeping nice and shiny. For a good polish formula, trade with some low-landers for a grass pouch of citrus fruit, as the acidic juice makes quick work of oxidization. Bonus gift: a tab of beeswax. Applied after cleaning, it helps maintain the polish longer.

5. Animal fat – Like Michael Jackson in the 1980s, practically every piece of Ötzi’s wardrobe was made of animal hide, from hat to his loin cloth, from leggings to shoes. To keep everything supple, animal fat can be used to condition leather and hide.

6. Field horsetail – Any seasoned outdoorsperson wants gear that’s lightweight, easy to use, and versatile. Enter field horsetail: it’s abrasive enough to smooth and polish a yew tree bow, yet it can also be boiled in water to help ward off an assortment of maladies.

7. Shoots of viburnum sapwood – Two words: arrow shafts. Boom!

8. Dolomite marble disk – Any copper-age dude hiking around in the mountains with a bow and arrow is going to need a way to carry all the wildfowl he pots. A tassel of leather nooses is perfect for this purpose, but how to affix them to your person? A fine Dolomite marble disk, carved be the small-fingered youth of the region, is a great accessory. Simply thread a leather strap through the central hole of the disk and secure with a stopper knot. Then pass the disk beneath your leather utility belt and you’re all set. Attractive shape and color add an element of class to any ensemble.

9. Bracket fungi – You can never have too much of this Neolithic panacea. The fruiting body of the birch polypore fungus has long been known for its antibiotic and styptic effects, and the toxic oils it contains can ward off pesky intestinal parasites.

10. iPhone – If you were to give our friend Ötzi a bath and a shave, he’d fit right into twenty-first century society, and nothing says 2013 like an iPhone. GPS for way finding, high-res camera for capturing alpine sunsets, iMessaging to check in with the missus or village elders, and the Google app, to make sure those berries weren’t poisonous.

 

More on Ötzi

Hiker’s Zen

We don’t look at the ferns or aspens or ghostly white Indian Pipe plants along the trail and say, “that’s not good enough.”
I don’t look at the ferns or aspens or ghostly white Indian pipe plant along the trail and say, “That’s not good enough.”

I like to mediate in the morning. I don’t have a shrine or even a particular belief system that I’m meditating for. I just get up early, sit down on a pillow on the floor of my dimly lit living room, pull my legs into a half-lotus position, and focus on breathing. I focus more on breathing out fully, as the inhale seems to take care of itself. I try to keep good posture, as if my body was suspended from a string affixed to the top of my skull (I read somewhere this is a good way to think of it). Sometimes it’s hard: my legs ache, my back aches. But I try to come to the meditation as if I’m going hiking on some new trail. Maybe this sounds strange; let me explain.

When I go for a hike, especially on a new trail, I don’t expect things to look a particular way. I set out walking to see what is there. Sometimes the trail will be flat and easy, sometimes rocky and full of ups and downs. Sometimes there will be water, other times I’ll see a moose. I don’t look at the ferns or aspens or ghostly white Indian pipe plant along the trail and say, “That’s not good enough.” I say, “Oh, look, an Indian Pipe!” When I come to a bridge over a babbling stream, I don’t think, “I wish this stream were deeper and those rocks were more angular!” The stream has a natural beauty however it is. The trees are in just the right places. The grass is just the right color.

This is how I think about meditation, only instead of a trail, I’m moving through my internal landscape. It’s full of strange thoughts, old memories that rise to the surface like water from a spring. I encounter fears and aspirations, feelings of pride and embarrassment, high-priority items on my to-do list. Meditation is my time to let go of the attachments I bring to all these things. I see them, but I don’t assign them a particular value and don’t let them create anxiety inside me.

Some days I get stuck on an idea, and I don’t feel my meditation went very well, but then I remember that I’m just taking a hike. Some days on a hike, it’s cold and snowy, but who could deny that a snowy hike is as wonderful as a sunny one? Some days it rains, turning the lichen on the rocks a brighter green and making the leaves glisten like jewels. You wouldn’t think, “I wish these leaves would shine brighter and the rain make a sweeter music.” It doesn’t make sense. The mountain peaks we see on our hikes are rough and asymmetrical, but they are perfect. There is no argument against their form.

In life, every day we judge our actions and the actions of those around us. It’s very hard not to. But the idea of the hike can be useful here, too. On a hike you might twist an ankle far from shelter. You might get lost, or a big storm might make it hard to find the way. You could call this bad luck. Still, when you’re alone in nature, there is nothing to do but face the difficulty. You can get angry or scared, but for what? You have a challenge, and how you feel about it won’t change that. In fact, your strong feelings about things can be harmful, as panic tricks you into working against your own best interests.

Climbing a mountain is a big challenge, but we don’t resent the mountain. We look inside ourselves for the right mindset to go up, to deal with the difficulties we meet along the way. The challenge is actually what we love. Why should we see the other challenges in our life so differently?

Photo Friday: Get Thee To Antelope Island

A view of Antelope Island from the entrance before the causeway
A colorful view of Antelope Island from the entrance area before the causeway, which bridges a pungent expanse of the Great Salt Lake.

It is a strange phenomenon when people who live very near to something extraordinary pay it no mind. I call it local’s apathy. I myself have suffered from local’s apathy. I lived in New York City for eight years and never once visited the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. I went to the Natural History Museum and Times Square twice each.

Now that I live in Salt Lake City, I make it a point to check out as many of the cool parks and preserves as possible, from the Shoreline Bonneville Trail to Arches National Park. In part because I’m new here and apathy hasn’t yet settled in. But also because I keep encountering people who have been here their entire lives without visiting the amazing natural places Utah has to offer. Antelope Island is one of those places.

My fiancée holds a romanticized vision of the American West close to her heart, so Antelope Island is a fantasy land for her. There are rolling vistas textured with decomposing stone outcrops dating back to the dinosaur age, an unlikely herd of America Bison nearly 800 strong, an old settlers’ farmhouse kept up for educational purposes, and a wild view of the Great Salt Lake, one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water. (And yes, there are also Antelope on the island.)

And all of this is just thirty miles from downtown Salt Lake City. Thirty miles! You can actually see Salt Lake City from the Antelope Island. Other than the funky Salt Lake smell and buggy summers, I can think of no reason not to go. Salt Lakers who haven’t been here yet are suffering from the worst kind of locals’ apathy.

Below are a few photos from Antelope Island to help you motivate to make the trip. More info on this unique State Park here and here.

American Bison on Antelope Island
An American Bison in repose amongst the dry grasses of Antelope Island.
The view from atop Frary Peak, Antelope Island's high point.
Atop Frary Peak, Antelope Island's high point, looking out across the Great Salt Lake towards the southern end of the island. The hike to this spot is about three and a half miles each way, with two thousand feet of vertical gain.
A view of rolling hills from the start of Frary Peak Trail.
A view of rolling hills from the start of Frary Peak Trail, hikers in the distance.
My special lady atop Dooly Knob, a lesser peak on Antelope Island.
Kristin M. atop Dooly Knob, a lesser peak on Antelope Island. A beautiful storm was rolling in as I set up some strobes and snapped this shot. We made it back to the car just before the rain started.