Tag Archives: Michael Gurnow

Staying on the Trail vs. Going Off the Beaten Path

There are hiking trails throughout some of the most beautiful places in the world. When people set out on a trip, they get to experience nature and enjoy sights and sounds around them. Sometimes when people look beyond the trail and see the amazing natural world just outside its borders, they might want to slip from the path and explore a whole new realm of nature. Michael Gurnow, author of Nature’s Housekeeper, answers a few questions about staying on the trail versus going off the beaten path. 1. Some nature lovers might find it more fun to divert from the hiking trail and blaze a new path. What are some key points to keep in mind when going off-trail?  Proceed with caution. Know—or at least get a fair idea—of what you’re literally getting into and, for God’s sake, watch where you’re going.  In my neck of the woods, to step off the beaten path means a person is voluntarily wading through waves upon waves of poison ivy. For novices, this might not seem like a huge concern until five days later, when you’ve got a massive rash even though you don’t remember having touched anything when you went hiking. And you might not have, at least not directly: People forget about cross-contamination.  When the person got home and pulled off the ol’ hiking boots, the individual unknowingly coated himself in urushiol, the active ingredient in poison oak, ivy, and sumac. While he was untying his shoes, he slapped at a mosquito on his arm and rubbed the back of his neck. He then picked a scab on his calf before mindlessly taking care of an itch on his elbow. . . and now, a week later, he looks like a sunburned leper but has no idea why. Bear in mind that ticks are like cockleburs; they crawl to the edge of foliage and wait to hitch a ride. The greater the amount of vegetation a person brushes up against, the greater the number of ticks a hiker’s going to collect.  These are the things you can bank on by going off-trail. But you also have to remember that when you step off a cleared trail and enter a forest’s uncut understory, you’re depriving yourself of a clear line of sight. A person’s more likely to spot a rattler sitting in the middle of a trail than one that’s curled up beside a tree trunk that’s fallen in the middle of the woods.  Watch where you’re going and tread lightly.  2. In your book trailer, you see a snake and run. Is this something you advise hikers to do when they come across a snake on the trail? No. I did that for comedic value. It was a harmless Greensnake. One of the first things I was taught when I did my wilderness survival training was that the only time it’s permissible to run in the woods is if you’re hunting or being hunted. It’s sound advice because by hopping, skipping, and jumping on uneven terrain—which is the definition of a trail—you risk twisting, or even breaking, an ankle.  If you encounter a snake and aren’t versed in identifying venomous predators, give it slow, wide berth. If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s not dangerous, admire it, point at it, talk to it, take pictures, then be on your way.  3. When face-to-face with a wild animal, what is the best way to react?   First of all, most people tramp, heavy-footed, along the trail and talk as they’re trucking along. Then, when they get off the trail, they complain that they didn’t see anything interesting. This is because all the noise and incessant vibration spooked the animals before the hikers had a chance to catch a glimpse of them. You’ll see a lot more if you’re quiet and walk with a light step.   As for how to react when you encounter a wild animal: It depends on the animal. I don’t have to worry about bears, cougars, or alligators at the park where I work. For me, the worst of the worst is venomous snakes. However, they’re pretty rare. I’ll put it this way: We’ll have graduate students in biology spend years hiking trails deliberately trying to spot a rattler or copperhead but never do. Instead, it’s the little things—ticks, chiggers, and poison ivy—that I have to be mindful of on a daily basis. That said, if you happen to stumble across something intriguing that you know, not think, know to be safe, by all means, revel in the glory of the natural world. A luna moth is one of the most beautiful things in nature and there’s no fear that it’ll bite your ear off if you get too close. But if you’re on the fence as to what kind of creature it is, however small and innocent-looking, keep a healthy distance. For example, rose and saddleback caterpillars are colorful and alluring . . . but they sting. As a general rule, bright colors that stand out from their surroundings indicate danger; otherwise the owner would be trying to hide its lack of defenses through camouflage, not bragging about them. Any veteran wilderness trekker will tell you, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially if you’re several miles from civilization.   4. Is it okay to feed the wildlife that we meet while hiking?   Good luck with that. Ninety-nine percent of critters in the wild don’t want anything to do with people. It’s simple survival instinct: Since there’s not a lot of us roaming around the woods on a regular basis, animals tend to play it safe by darting away once they catch sight, sound, or smell of such a large, foreign creature. The prime example is squirrels. City squirrels are acclimated to humans, so they aren’t nearly as skittish as their woodland brothers. But, regardless whether you’re able to coax wildlife to come up to you, the forest isn’t a petting zoo. Not only is it risky to feed a feral animal, it offsets the natural equilibrium of things. Remember, Nature got along just fine before you came along. Follow the wilderness mantra of “Leave no trace.” Feed yourself, other hikers and, by being out in the woods, the ticks and mosquitoes but leave everything else alone. Interview by Ginger Bock You can follow Michael on Twitter and like him on Facebook  You can visit his website at: http://primitivarum.weebly.com/

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What to Do When Hiking in Summer’s Heat

Hiking is a great way to escape from the hub-bub of a busy life, connect with nature, and get exercise. Before stepping onto the trail, some considerations should be made to ensure safety.   We asked Michael Gurnow, author of Nature’s Housekeeper, some questions on how to stay cool while hiking in summer's heat. *The following are suggestions. Before undertaking a hike of any kind, refer to your physician. 1. When you are walking on a trail, you don’t want to be bogged down by a lot of cumbersome equipment. What are the necessary items that should be taken on a hike that is 2 – 5 miles long? First and foremost is water. As to how much depends on several factors: What is the challenge rating of the trail you plan to go on? What kind of shape are you in? How hot is it and, more importantly, what’s the heat index? For any novice hiker, the best advice is “Better safe than sorry” because a 2-mile hike might sound easy, but once you factor in physical exertion, climate, and the mental and emotional stress of being in a foreign environment that’s more than likely plagued by flying insects and other alien creepy-crawlies, it can take a toll on a person pretty quick. The day before I bring volunteers out on the trail, I hand them a copy of the “Work/Rest and Water Consumption Table” by the U.S. Army. A pair of comfortable, broken-in shoes is a must. Nothing will ruin your hiking experience faster than a heel blister midway through a trail. The rookie mistake is assuming you need to rush out and buy a pair of hiking boots just to go over the hills and through the woods. The rule of thumb is not to go hiking in shoes that don’t have at least 75 miles on them. If you want to play it safe, grab a blister pack—which is a type of medicated, gel-like Band-Aid—so if you get a blister, you won’t have to limp back to civilization. Although the temptation will be there, don’t wear shorts. Slide into a pair of pants and tuck them into your socks. Although late spring is high tick season, I’ve gotten one of the eight-legged vampires when there was snow on the ground. Tick patrol will be easier if you don solid, light-colored clothes as well. 2. When you begin to feel hot, is that the best time to stop walking and take a break?  The human body is an amazing thing. When it gets overworked, it tells you that it’s time for a breather by making you feel tired. When it needs its fluids topped off, it flips on the “thirsty” switch in your brain, which you recognize by your mouth feeling dry. Listen to your body; it’s a smart little machine. 3. What do you do when you feel you are overheating? Dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are cunning, malicious beasts. Most hikers that are just starting out aren’t aware they’re suffering from the first two until they get home and realize their head hurts—they’re in the throes of a dehydration headache, which can last for hours. Veteran outdoorsmen and hikers know, “When in doubt, drink it out.” Keep an eye on your urine. If it’s dark, you need to drink more. But even with this, water-guzzling mid-level hikers often complain that they’re experiencing dehydration. It might seem paradoxical, but it’s possible to drink too much water: Water lowers a person’s potassium level, which affects the individual’s ability to process and absorb fluids. When this happens, it doesn’t matter how much you drink, fluids are running through you instead of into you. An insider trick is to take a sports drink and dilute it at a 1:1 ratio with water. Before hitting the trail, I also make sure to give myself a jolt of potassium by eating a banana, sweet potato, or tomato. It goes without saying, if you stop sweating and look down to find you have chill bumps on your arms in the middle of summer, you’re in trouble. This is the tell-tale sign that the person’s in the late stages of heat exhaustion bordering on heat stroke. When this happens, you want to control the temperature of the blood that’s going to your brain: Pour some water on a damp cloth, wrap it around your neck, and lie down. You need to create as much surface area as possible so heat can escape your body. When you’re suffering from severe heat exhaustion, it doesn’t matter if your bed is a field of poison ivy that’s hosting a tick rally: Poison ivy rashes will dry up and ticks can be picked off once you get home alive. Conversely, the effects of heat stroke can last a lifetime, or even end it. 4. For a beginner hiker, what should the length of their hike be in miles? Should the person avoid hilly terrain?  Going on a hike isn’t like taking a stroll down level, paved street or power walking through an air conditioned mall. As with any new activity, it’s a good idea to start slow. Most state and national parks host beginner trails specifically designed for novices. These are fairly level treks with shallow inclines that run less than a mile. Once you’ve traversed a few of these and have a better idea of what to expect, start heading out on longer trails, but always consult trailhead signs first. These tell you what you are facing before you launch. Short doesn’t necessarily mean easy. The other thing to bear in mind is that the average rate of speed while hiking is a mile an hour, so give yourself plenty of time while remembering that sunset in the forest takes place much earlier than in the suburbs or countryside because the horizon, due to the hills, is higher and, in the summer, the forest canopy and foliage block even more dwindling sunlight. You can follow Michael on Twitter and like him on Facebook  You can visit his website at: http://primitivarum.weebly.com/ Interview by Ginger Bock            

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“The Edward Snowden Affair” Q&A Part 1

Edward Snowden truth Q: What are the most important disclosures? A: The first disclosure, the Verizon report, which shows that the phone records of all Americans (by all major phone providers) has been turned over to the federal government for the last seven years. The second exposés, the PRISM editorials, which appeared the next day in both The Guardian and Washington Post. These prove that surveillance is taking place with our online communications. The day after that, the Washington Post rewrote its report (and The Guardian debuted the same in a little noticed article), which revealed that GCHQ and the NSA are working together. The Boundless Informant article. It shows that the NSA has hid surveillance programs from congressional oversight committees. Later reports would argue that this was not an isolated incident. All of the South China Morning Post exposés. They were the first to state the NSA has been spying on foreign nations without provocation. This includes economic and civilian espionage. The XKeyscore article at the end of July is very condemning. It depicts the nearly godlike technological capabilities the NSA has at its fingertips. The Guardian's Microsoft report, which shows that Internet corporations are willfully participating in mass surveillance. The joint Guardian/Washington Post/Pro Publica encryption editorials. They prove that no communications are safe, not even ones using secure websites or encryption technology.   Q: What kinds of explosive material has the press failed to report to the public? A: I anticipate that forthcoming disclosures from the bounty of the purported 1.7 million files in the Snowden press's possession will continue to be limited to civilian, diplomatic, domestic, and economic affairs such as revealing that the Five Eyes are spying on each other atop domestic surveillance being more invasive. However, it is clear that of the millions of classified documents, military secrets are being carefully protected. This is because the Edward Snowden press has stated that--upon the whistleblower's request--national security will not be compromised. This implies that they have access to delicate military data but have, and continue, to refuse to divulge this information. Case in point, the federal government openly stated that Chinese hackers stole millions in military R & D from the Pentagon. To assume similar espionage hasn't been ordered and executed by the U.S. would be naïve.   Q: What are the most disturbing aspects of the NSA reports? A: That the intelligence community had hid surveillance programs from Congress. A secret court, the FISC, which was supposedly created with the express purpose of overseeing the NSA and whose judgments are rarely revealed to the American public, essentially rubberstamps itself into extraneousness. How our legislators gerrymandered the law in order to grant itself almost absolute freedom to spy, such as creating the word “metadata” because “communications,” by law, cannot be surveilled. The fact that the U.S. government isn’t acting alone and, as the Snowden press has heavily implied, has other nations spy on Americans in order to circumnavigate around the Fourth Amendment. However, the most enraging aspect of the intelligence revelations is the NSA’s attitude. A classified training slide was revealed that tells intelligence agents that if a privacy law has been violated, the error should be reported but, if the government worker fails to do so, it’s “nothing to worry about.” In a September report, another series of slides refers to cell phone users as naïve, gullible “zombies.”   Q: What was the NSA's response to the disclosures? A: Instead of changing protocol to keep other guilty consciences from whistleblowing, the NSA instituted a security lock down, i.e., two-person data transfer system. Interestingly, instead of curtailing its spying as a gesture of good faith, it increased its surveillance capabilities: It opened the Utah Data Center last September. This facility has the ability to retain an unimaginable amount of data and is said to be able to make metadata immortal. Author of the "Edward Snowden Affair," Michael Gurnow  

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