One day we had to make a lot of rope in hopes to catch a Springhare. We made enough rope for 6 traps which we set around an area with many active Springhare burrows. To make enough rope, we sat on the sand and used sticks to strip the green fleshy parts of a freshly harvested long pointed leaf until the long fibers were exposed and separated. Xigao and Guma were turning the fibers into cordage by twisting and rolling it on their thighs with their legs stretched out straight. This technique of rolling your hand on your thighs with the fibers folded in half and pushing two forward, pulling one back makes strong rope relatively quickly, and works for many plant fibers, even our southern California Yucca.
I was handing Xigao the fibers our group had worked while sitting next to him. Our feet were touching while we worked. I looked over and smiled to see that the outline of our feet were the same size. For those of you reading this who know me, you know I am small. I wear a women’s size 6 shoe and am 4’10”. Xigao is in his 40’s and the only difference in our feet that stood out to me was that his soles are thicker. Years of walking barefoot on desert sand may even do that to mine. Only one way to find out.
Once we had enough rope, we spread out searching for active Springhare burrows. The sun was setting and we needed to set the traps before nightfall. We were looking for burrows that had been used recently, and whose freshest tracks went in, and not out. The underground maze of a Springhare has many entrances and exits and in order to catch one with limited rope, site selection is key. We set 6 traps on 6 active burrows, hoping that by the next morning we would have at least one Springhare to share as a meal.
Xigao used his walking stick for yet another tool: Springhare Trap. He laid it down across the top of the hole and used it to stablize the trap. For the other 5 traps, we used branches found laying on the ground nearby. When we ran out of rope, we were done.
After setting the traps, we headed back to get some sleep. In the morning, we came out at first light to check the traps. At each trap, I could feel the adrenaline building as Xigao and Guma knelt down to gently pull on the rope. With each of the first five burrows, the rope came up without any resistance, empty. On the 6th trap, you could see once approaching the burrow, that the rope was taut against the branch. Xigao stood behind the trap and gently lifted up. There was movement and we could see the Springhare. Xigao used body language and pointed at it’s tracks in the sand to show us how the Springhare tried to leave it’s burrow in the early morning and got caught with the rope around it’s neck. Sensing danger, it turned around quickly and raced back into it’s burrow, but was trapped. It rested there until we came, not able to move more than the length of it’s rope.
This next section describes how the Springhare was killed and prepared for eating. Read at your own discretion.
Xigao slowly reached for the rope, pulled up the Springhare and firmly held it by the fur behind it’s neck, like a cat holds her kittens. We admired it’s beautiful fur, long tail and big feet. Xigao held his walking stick firmly in one hand, the Springhare in the other and with a quick and solid blow between the eyes and nose, the Springhare went limp. A quiet gratitude was said for the life that would soon give us nourishment.
We then set out to gather dried branches and grasses nearby to start a cooking fire. The Springhare was pit roasted on the spot and shared amongst us all. It was tender and delicious. I am so grateful for that opportunity, as it really helped me appreciate the connections between plant, animal, human, fire and community.
Being able to learn a new tool and put it into practice for survival is an empowering experience. Guma and Xigao are living wisdom keepers, practicing their traditional knowledge and teaching others for the benefit of us all.
Part 6: Coming Soon