A Better Way to Build a Camp Fire


I’m not sure when the earliest humans began to use fire to cook their food, heat their living spaces and provide nighttime lighting. Some research points as far back as 1 million years. The accepted belief is that fire was discovered, not invented, perhaps started by lightning. However it came to be, at some point, our ancestors learned to start and control fire. Those first controlled fires were built of wood.

For thousands of generations, until relatively modern times, wood fires have provided comfort, light and a means to cook food.

It is difficult, today, to sit by a camp fire at night without being caught in a hypnotic stare. The surrounding darkness is meaningless; the fire becomes the sole focus of our eyes and minds at the time.

Building a camp fire is pretty easy if you don’t let your intuition get in the way. Most people, whether building a camp fire or a fire in a wood burning stove or fireplace, know that heat rises. Intuitively, they assume that the fire should be started at the bottom of a stack using paper and small kindling at the bottom, and building a stack or pyramid of increasingly larger twigs, limbs and logs. Then they ignite the paper and let the rising heat ignite the larger pieces above the starting point. This way works, but it isn’t the best way.

There is another and better way to build a fire that will burn slower, hotter and put out much less smoke. You build the stack upside down from what your intuition tells you. You place the larger logs on the bottom, and start building a stack or pyramid with increasinglyUpside down campfire smaller limbs and twigs. Finally you place some paper, tied in knots (to provide some density), on top and surround the knots with some tiny twigs. Then, you ignite the paper at the top and watch with amazement at what happens.

As the paper begins to burn, the small twigs adjacent to the paper also ignite. The heat from the paper and twigs starts heating the slightly larger twigs beneath them to the point they start to release gas that ignites. This is the stuff that would be going up as smoke if you had started at the bottom. Usually these flammable gasses are too cool to ignite and they escape with the smoke. With this technique, your fire ignites the gasses before they escape with the smoke. You can actually see small flames forming in the air as the gasses ignite above the unburned wood. The burning gas is a clean burn with minimal smoke, with greater heat that then heats the larger twigs and limbs beneath them. They, also, start to release gas that ignites. Hot ashes and sparks from the exhausted burn at the top begin to fall into the stack to create heat that releases even more gas. As this gas rises it is ignited by the flames above. This process continues slowly downward consuming every piece of wood encountered.

I didn’t believe it either when I first heard about this way of building a fire. I’m pretty scientific and I knew this wouldn’t work. Eventually, I tried it and I’ve never built a fire any other way since. Try it the next time you build a fire, whether in a fireplace, wood burning stove or campground. You’ll never go back to the other smoky way either.

Early to Bed …

Ben Franklin is credited with the quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”.  Did Ben Franklin know something in the 18th century that we’re having to learn all over again? Another Primal Way?

I don’t know about the “wealthy” part, but health (physical and mental) is being directly linked by many researchers to the quantity and quality of our sleep.  Adequate sleep is absolutely essential to restoring and maintaining our states of health. To the extent that we can stay healthy, we’ll spend fewer dollars on medical costs and maybe keep a little more wealth as well. Adequate sleep is an inexpensive solution to much of what ails us.

Modern lifestyles are damaging our ability to sleep. That isn’t to say that some people don’t have medical issues that interfere with their sleep and for them, good medical attention by their doctor is proper. Most of the rest of us, however, are sleep deprived for non-medical reasons that may have medical consequences.

Blue light exposure, after sunset, is one of the causes of many people’s sleep difficulties. primalways7Here’s why. Sleepiness is triggered, and resultant sleep is maintained, by the body’s natural release of melatonin from the pineal gland when daylight has faded. Blue light is a major facet of daylight and will shut off melatonin release. When blue light is removed and it is night, we become sleepy.  When blue light returns at sunrise, we start to become more alert.

Now, however, blue light doesn’t go away at sunset. We maintain our exposure to blue light well into the evening with computers, phones, televisions and much of our lighting. Our exposure to blue light effectively shuts off our body’s natural, primal way of transitioning to sleep. Sleepiness may still come, eventually, from carbohydrate snacking or from pills, but it isn’t the sustained sleep the body needs for health.

Ideally, we will know these facts and adopt lifestyles that turn off the blue light sources when the sun goes down and we allow our bodies to enjoy the sleep it needs. To the extent we can do that, the healthier we will be.

Knowing that few of us will do the ideal thing, adopt the Primal Way, there are some things we can do to help mitigate the impact of blue light in our nighttime environment. Go yellow! Go red! There’s a reason why outdoor yellow lights don’t attract insects. Insects don’t see them. Apparently, neither does the pineal gland respond to yellow or red, like it does to blue.

Avoid looking at light at night, other than yellow or red. Use bulbs in your lamps at night that have a warm yellow hue.  Don’t buy daylight or cool blue bulbs. If you use low level nightlights, pure yellow or red work well.

If you must use your computer at night, there are things you can do. Wear yellow, amber or red colored glasses. Even inexpensive yellow driving glasses will filter out enough blue light to help. There are also fairly expensive glasses promoted as “blueblockers” that will remove all of the blue from the light you see. Most computer monitors have buttons on them that can be used to change the color mix of the screen. You can reduce the blue. Your TV color mix can also be adjusted to filter out the blue.

Colored glasses are more convenient.  With any approach, your nighttime environment will have a greenish yellow appearance and you’ll not enjoy the vibrant colors of your computers and televisions, but you will have gone back to an old path when sleep was recognized as the key to health and wisdom. Maybe wealth as well.

Come morning, go blue again.  It will make you alert.

End of Summer’s Garden Nears

September 12, 2014


Today the summer heat of Texas broke. It isn’t 102F anymore.  It’s 65F. Of course we’ll see more warm, perhaps hot days but we’re within striking distance of fall, my favorite season.

This isn’t intended to be a weather report but the strikingly cool weather of today caused me to reflect about the summer garden I had this year.  I resumed gardening after several years. My Primal birth in March rekindled a love of touching the earth with my hands, planting the seeds of life, tending the plants  and reaping a bountiful harvest of fresh, organic and thoroughly nutritious vegetables.

I have a busy schedule so I did not try to garden more than I could comfortably manage.  I eased back into it this year. I raised only four vegetables but each produced more yield than any garden I ever have had. I planted lettuce, tomatoes, yellow squash and okra.

My timing of the lettuce and tomatoes was off a bit or I could have had homegrown salads. As it was, the outermost leaves of the lettuce heads were picked and eaten while the center head developed. When full, the heads were cut, eaten and shared. From a 4 x 8 garden bed, there was a meal’s worth of lettuce harvested every other day from April through May.

Then came the tomatoes. They went crazy. I ate tomatoes every day.  Gave away tomatoes.  Blanched and froze tomatoes. The fresh ones came to an end about a month ago but frozen ones abound for the winter.

Squash did OK.  Several meals of squash, sauteed in coconut oil, were produced, but not crazily so, not like the tomatoes before it or the okra that followed on its heels.

The okra. Never, ever, have I seen such a bumper crop of okra.  I thought the tomatoes were out of hand. Okra has been sauteed, fried, boiled, frozen and given away and it, also, wouldn’t quit.

The okra likes hot weather and there’s been plenty of that. Now that the cooler air has come in and will remain a while, I will get a breather as the okra will come to its productive end soon.

It’s all been good.  Almost too good.

Pests were not an issue this year.  I prepared my soil well by removing all grasses and covering the newly turned soil with black plastic to heat the soil in March. Then, I turned in some well composted chicken yard fertilizer into the soil and covered it again for a week before each planting.

I avoided, for the most part, watering with fluoridated municipal water.  I placed a 100 gallon stock watering trough beneath the roof’s overhang, caught rainwater and watered my plants with a bucket. On a few unfortunate occasions when summer’s rainfall was scarce, I had to resort to municipal water but I followed some urban homesteading advice and did so with a soaker hose that encircled the plants on both sides, about a foot from the rootzone. This, hopefully, used the soil’s filtering capacity to mitigate the impact of the fluoride. I cringed a little every time I had to do this.

Texas is fortunate in that something can be grown in a garden year round. I’m thinking some late fall and winter greens would be a good thing.

I’ve been dumping my grass clippings all summer into whichever beds the crops were finished in. I don’t use any kind of artificial fertilizers or pesticides on my lawn so I felt good about putting the clippings down as mulch.

I’ll rake out some of the top layers of that mulch and anything that I see that has composted, I’ll turn it into the soil, add a little more chicken yard fertilizer and cover the soil until I’m ready to plant some mustard and turnips in late October.

I just remembered how I used to plant garlic in November.  I should set aside a little space to do that again.

I cannot garden while wearing gloves.  I have to have my bare hands in the dirt.  This year I did something new.  I also gardened barefooted. That was a lot of fun.

Whatever the scientific explanation of grounding might be, I enjoyed four body contact points of grounding during my summer of gardening. I’m looking forward to trying the same thing in the cool of the coming winter.

My Primal Play


I am on the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation and only now am I realizing that I am still an infant in my Primal Ways. This is my story.

My Primal Ways birthday is March 3, 2014. This is the day when I began a new journey down an old path.

I have rubbed shoulders with Primal Ways all of my life but it hasn’t been a coalesced lifestyle.  That’s why I think of myself as an infant, learning and putting meaning into Primal Ways.

I have never met anyone else, my age, who can boast that their grandfather was born during the Civil War. It happened that my grandfather was an older man when my father was born and my father was an older man when I was born. Only two generations fell between me and the Civil War.

Why is that important?  It means that I was exposed, as a child, to many old ideas.  I heard many old stories from my grandfather who spent cold Oklahoma winters with my family and then spent summers with my Uncle’s family.  You see, the concept of Assisted Living Centers for the aged, was a foreign concept. A Primal Way.

When I got a sore throat in the winter, my father would grab my grandfather’s bottle of iodine and swab my throat.  Come morning, it was gone.

When my grandfather started getting winter sniffles, he would find his horehound candy in a bag and start sucking on the hard candy. Sniffles went away.

Come early springtime, a man with a mule and plow went from house to house in the neighborhood to turn the wintered soil of each neighbors’ garden plot. Right behind him, came another man in a pickup truck filled with composted manure to be piled next to the garden plots for use as each neighbor planted their gardens.

By summertime, the gardens were producing and being harvested.  On most days our kitchen was filled with the heat and humidity of a pressure cooker as jar after jar of fresh produce was canned and put away for the coming winter when my grandfather would return.  This was my life in the 1950’s.

By the 1960’s, my personal viewpoints were clarifying and my life’s plan was forming.  I realized that I had been raised in a backward and uneducated lifestyle and that a different lifestyle would be better for me.

After college I settled into a corporate workstyle while living with my young family in urban apartments. As the children neared school age, we decided a suburban home would be a better lifestyle.  Everything else remained the same.

There was a large backyard with a playground that the children soon outgrew.  Something needed to be done with the space so it was transformed into a garden space. From my childhood I retained the lesson of organic gardening so I wanted nothing else for my garden, all the while eating conventional pesticide laced produce from the supermarket when the summer organic tomatoes, squash and okra were finished. No canning was done.  There wasn’t enough to store anyway.  This was Primal Play, not Primal Ways.

I found a Whole Foods Market one day while driving in Dallas and stopped in. My goodness, it smelled good.  I walked the aisles as a form of entertainment.  I sure couldn’t afford their prices.  I ended up, however, buying a bottle of trace minerals from the Great Salt Lake that we all took until the bottle ran out. Boy, did we feel good! We didn’t replace it. Just Primal Play.

On that trip to Whole Foods Market I browsed a small stand of magazines and found my first “Mother Earth News”.  That was interesting reading and brought back some memories of things I heard about and witnessed as a child, things that uneducated and old-fashioned folks did. I didn’t yet subscribe but I would find copies elsewhere occasionally.  I read enough that I started to fantasize a remote cabin as a getaway from the hardships of work and urban living.

The fantasy grew and we found a small acreage in the Kiamichi Mountains of Oklahoma. We couldn’t afford to build yet so it sat, visited once in a while for short times. More Primal Play.

I smoked a pipe since college, convinced that it would not hurt me like cigarettes would have. I worried sometimes, until I heard a guy at work say he had read that for every 20 cigarettes smoked, it took 1 gram of Vitamin C to counteract the nicotine.  I wanted to remain healthy and I figured my 1 ½ oz of pipe tobacco per day was the equivalent of a pack of 20 cigarettes.  I became a 1 gram per day Vitamin C junkie. Vitamin C became my license to smoke.

I gradually was gaining weight from the skinny 129 lb. college graduate to a plump 30-something. One of my children called me “fatty” one day and I looked in the mirror;  then I weighed.  I’m a short guy and 178 lbs really did not look good.  I managed to drop some of it off and my weight hovered around 167 forever, but with continual difficulty, like the proverbial yo-yo.

Over the next 20+ years, I thought I was being healthy, as evidenced by my ability to keep my weight around 167.  I was now supplementing with every known thing that I thought an aging body might need. Long life hasn’t been a primary motivation, but I sure did not want to feel bad, however long I might live.  So I read a lot, implemented some things, and tried to supplement my way past my bad lifestyle decisions.  I still smoked a pack of pipe tobacco each day.  As income increased, I returned to Whole Foods for the best supplements and occasionally splurged on some organic produce. When my work hours permitted, I still had an occasional summer organic (of course) garden. Primal Play.

It was a good time to develop the acreage we had bought in Oklahoma so one of my now grown sons and I built a storage shed and then a covered carport and started a cabin. Trips to the land began to be more enjoyable and productive as the small cabin took shape.  Naturally, I followed the “Mother Earth News” way and built it off-the-grid.  I was now a homesteader, just like those stories in the magazine. Primal Play.

In my late 50’s I went for my every-ten-year physical examination. My Doctor did not like what he saw before him.  I almost walked out on him, convinced he was looking at someone else’s labs. I hadn’t weighed in a while but I already knew I was still around 167. Nope. His scales said 183. My blood pressure was high at 140ish over something.  He ordered me to quit smoking or find another Doctor and he insisted I have my first colonoscopy.

I had the colonoscopy and was happy to learn my colon was clean and healthy. I thought I was doing a great job of staying healthy. There was proof. Why was everything else so bad?

The key, my doctor said, was to quit smoking so I did and my blood pressure normalized.  But, I didn’t quit nicotine.  After all, I found some sites on the Internet that proclaimed great mental benefits for nicotine. I used nicotine lozenges for several years thereafter until I traced my stomach and intestinal distress back to them.  I weaned myself off of them, while having considerable cravings to resume pipe smoking.  I didn’t.

In the absence of nicotine, my weight began to climb from its renewed 167 level. It passed the 170 mark again, then 178.  I couldn’t stop it.  I was starving myself.  I drank only Diet Coke.  I was feeling my health slipping so I did another round of research and determined that I wasn’t eating enough whole grains and certainly not enough fruit.  I changed that.

I learned during my research that whole grains had lectins that prevented nutrient absorption and were probably why I got gas after eating them.  The Internet taught me to soak and/or ferment them. I bought a good supply of assorted grains from Whole Foods and had a batch of one or the other, soaking and fermenting continually.  Every day, for breakfast, I feasted on a fermented or soaked grain, cooked minimally.  I had with it, some kind of fruit.  I had fruit for lunch and sometimes drank a fruit juice. I was feeling good and knew I was on the right track. Primal Play.

I loathe exercise.  I really do.  I’ve always known it was the right thing to do and I jogged for a few years back in my 20’s.  But, despite the good feelings derived from it, I didn’t want to continue.  It interfered with my smoking. Nevertheless, I have known the benefits of exercise.  So with my new found devotion to eating healthy whole grains and fruit, I began to stair-climb at work.  It’s a six story building and was pretty challenging in the beginning. I never felt better in my whole life.  The weight was coming off and I was back down to the 167 mark.  I wanted to get below 165. But, I knew starvation did not work.  I continued to eat my new friends, whole grains, fruit and vegetables and some meats, chicken as often as I could. I targeted 1800 calories per day and figured that, coupled with daily exhaustive stair climbing would get the weight below 165 with ease. No, it started heading back up and topped 170 again.

Something new started happening as well.  In August 2013 I had to suspend my stair climbing as my left knee became swollen and quite painful. It hurt all the time. I was Primal Playing and decided to find a natural way to address the pain, cayenne pepper ointment. It actually worked pretty well, for a short time. By November, the left knee was better but the right knee began to have the same symptoms. No more stairs.  I blamed them.  I continued my increased intake of grains and fruits.

On a weekend trip to the cabin in January 2014, after the first night, I awoke with both knees doubled in size and in so much pain I barely could walk.  I slathered both of them with the cayenne ointment and they loosened enough that I could walk but with considerable pain still.  I returned home early, wondering why they were so bad.  I had done no strenuous work at the cabin or elsewhere.  I hadn’t stair climbed in months.

Monday morning I was better and the knees were returning to their normal size by the end of the week. On that weekend I did no work but the knees began to swell again.  This pattern of swelling, pain, relief and swelling again continued in a weekly pattern until March 3, 2014, the day my Primal Play ended and my Primal Ways began.

I did not want to see a Doctor for my knees.  I was convinced I was headed for surgery.  I went to the internet looking for my answers. I do not remember the search words I used.  Whatever they were, Dr. Jack Kruse was the predominant response. Where I landed painted a picture of me, my grain and fructose intake from the fruit I was consuming. I read that and I read about leptin. I read how a leptin reset can be the beginning of healing.  My leptin reset began that very day. The next morning, I struggled to get my 50 grams of protein down, absent any grains and no fruit. And the next day and the next.

The weekly pattern of knee suffering was broken.  I wasn’t healed immediately but the pain subsided day by day. In about 3 weeks I had no more knee pain. I was never hungry and I noticed my weight was dropping.  That was a side benefit at this point. I mostly wanted to be rid of the pain, but the weight loss was welcomed as well. In the first day or two, I followed Dr. Kruse’s references over to Mark Sisson’s Mark’s Daily Apple blog for my introduction to Primal eating.  I diligently adopted all I could of that as part of the leptin reset.  I studied the differences between Mark Sisson’s plan and Jack Kruse’s Epi-Paleo food plan and ate accordingly.

After 8 weeks of following the leptin reset plan, I implemented Jack Kruse’s post-leptin reset plan but I modified it to lighten up a little with some resistant starches that Mark Sisson and some others advocated.  I certainly understood their evidence of the benefits of resistant starches but as I gradually added potato starch to my diet, in opposition to Dr. Kruse’s argument, my knee pain started to return and I had to start the leptin reset over again. I am now back to implementing the post leptin reset protocol, using nuts to feed my gut bacteria instead of resistant starch.  Someday, I’ll be healed sufficiently, perhaps, to use resistant starch but it did not work for me, not yet.

Today, 6 months later, I weigh 148 pounds.  I would have been happy to be at 165. My blood pressure has been pretty even for the last 6 months, around the 110/75 level. No prescription meds of any kind. I am back to climbing stairs, the last thing I do before I leave work. I don’t have to take the 3 mg of melatonin I used to take nightly to sleep.  I bought some blue-blocker goggles that I put on 2-3 hours before bedtime, to simulate the primal yellow light frequencies of the old ways. I now sleep 7+ hours per night with no difficulty.

Mine is not a miracle story.  It is nothing like Dr. Kruse experienced personally, nor like the awesome stories I read on Mark’s Daily Apple every Friday. But, it is my story and I know this is the real deal. Someday, I hope to thank both of you personally for the contributions you made to my healing, the ending of my Primal Play and the birth of my new journey down this old path.

What I have learned about Primal eating is; this is not Primal Play anymore.  It is a small part of my newly welcomed Primal Ways.



Why Primal Ways?

September 8, 2014

What’s in a name? Why use the name, “Primal Ways”?

The “Ways” portion is easy to define.  “Primal” is more difficult. As used here, “Ways” refers to methods employed to achieve personal goals; pursue ambitions. As a whole, we can view “Ways” as our lifestyles; our styles of living.

Now, what do we mean by “Primal”?  The word means “first”, “original” or “foremost”.  I doubt we can really identify many of the first, original or foremost methods that our ancestors employed to achieve their goals and to pursue their ambitions. As used here, Primal has a broader context. Primal will simply mean the methods employed in prior times (before this current generation) to achieve myriad goals and ambitions.

summer-spring-flow1.jpgGoals and ambitions, pursued through lifestyles or ways, are primarily personal matters. But, many Primal Ways are shared commonly by segments of the population. It may be impossible to identify all of those shared ways, but the mission of this Primal Ways site is to exchange information, opinions and ideas about as many Primal Ways as we can identify.

Currently, there are numerous lifestyles being promoted as “Primal”. Diet is a huge one, being presented as a variant of the Paleo diet. Some other “Primal” lifestyles, promoted as such, include fitness, therapy, parenting, healing and spirituality.  All are valid Primal Ways, but there are many more that are not specifically presented or promoted as “Primal”.

How about homesteading, both rural and urban?  Homesteading is a huge example of Primal Ways.

How about gardening and agriculture, in general? Home gardens and a growing number of small farms are shifting to Primal Ways.

How about hunting, fishing and foraging? Can any lifestyles claim the name more than these Primal Ways?

How about the arts? Primitive and tribal music and painting are just two of many artistic expressions of Primal Ways.

How about commitments to the environment and to conservation? How about dedication to helping others? How about communication and transportation? How about education? Do these have Primal Ways we should consider?

Which Primal Ways yield greater benefits than do modern ways?  Which do not?

Old Paths … New Journeys


primalways9This is the tag line for this journey.  Are there old pathways that we have abandoned in this technological age that were better than the ones we’re on today?

Many people say so.  Are they  just stuck in “the good old days”?  Or, is there truth to be rediscovered?

Let’s discard the belief that the “good old days” were very good.  There were times when things were good and other times when things were not good.  But even in the best of their times, life was hard; much harder than life is today.  Most of us could not physically or mentally survive “the good old days”.

Past generations were adapted and accustomed to hard lives, long hours of work, inequality, oppression, wars, extreme weather cycles, little (if any) government assistance, no retirement options, no insurance, primitive medical care and many other challenges. How did they do it? How did they manage to lead meaningful and productive lives, raise their families and keep their sanity with so many difficulties and without the assistance of the advances and technology of our day?

Society has existed for a long time.  It wasn’t just born in this age of technology. In one form or another, civilization has endured for thousands of generations. They got us here, to today. I believe they had pathways through life that we have forgotten or abandoned. They had competitive advantages that tempered and hardened them to survive and thrive in whatever physical, social or economic environment they were in.

Imagine. What if the advantages they had were applied in our lives, in this age? Which of their old pathways might enhance our life experience? Are any of our new pathways today hindering us from thriving in, or surviving, the comparatively diminished hardships we face?