By Travis Birch
The Walking Stick
There is really nothing so basic, yet speaks volumes to what it is used for. The walking stick. At some point in our lives we have all reached down and grabbed a stick to assist us with our walk. Whether to clear a path, or as a crutch to lean on, as a child or as an adult, a good walking stick helps define our gait, and a commitment to the task at hand.
At our cabin in the woods, where my family spends most of our free time preparing ultimately for living a life off the grid, we keep several walking sticks on hand for visitors as well as family members to use. Each stick is a little different. Some tall Tall Walking Stick, some short Short Walking Stick, but each distinctive in their own way.
The first walking stick I remember owning, was as a young boy. I horsed around with it for the most part. The first time it actually served a purpose, (so I thought at the time) was when I tied a blanket to it to hold my worldly possessions as I ran away from home. Three hours later, after the Lorna Doone’s were eaten my dog Max and I ventured back to give Mom and Dad a second chance. They acted as if they didn’t know I had even left.
Today we explore the vastness of possibilities a walking stick offers us. Balancing through rough terrain is first. A long stick assists crossing obstacles a little easier. It assists maneuvering through a dense path. Leading the way, pushing overgrown brush to one side allowing the user to pass unscathed.
A walking stick serves as a defensive tool. Any man, woman or child holding a sturdy walking stick sends a non-verbal message to any would be assailant that they can expect at least one good whack should they consider an assault. Along these lines a lengthy walking stick will keep unwanted critters at bay. Whether safely moving a snake aside, or using it to create a larger impression of yourself upon dogs or larger beasts is a plus. Another self-defense move is to throw it like a javelin at the face of a predator, it may create that extra second needed to run and get help.
As sure as the day is long, you will come across inclement weather at some point. A reliable walking stick is the perfect advance man for your path. Is the ice on this lake solid enough to hold me? What is the consistency of this muck and mud before me? How deep is this water? A walking stick helps in answering these questions. Even off the beaten path the walking stick assists. Traveling on your Jon-Boat, a six foot stick will help measure your water depth, “Mark Twain!” It will allow you to push off to safely start your motor at a distance, or with a hook, it can help bring you closer to the dock. Applications can be derived literally on the spot with a trusted walking stick.
A good walking stick is simple, nature can do most of the work. I stand at just under six foot tall, so I enjoy a stick that is slightly over my height. For me this means that it is less likely to poke me in the eyes while traveling. My father likes a smaller stick, about waist high so he can lean more weight into it.
First, find the stick you like. Ideally about 2-3” in diameter. I removed the bark entirely, you can leave some bark on to give it a certain preferred style. I stained my several different shades, so that it looks a little like a parfait, (it always comes back to food with me). You can paint yours if you’d like. Then apply several coats of a sealer to protect the design. My trusted and faithful friend Chester put his signature chew marks on mine to give it a little more character. I keep mine simple, and attach a rubber foot on the bottom to get traction. My father put a brass top ornament on his, and my boys started theirs with attaching commemorative emblems from visiting state parks. I finish my stick with a leather cord towards the top grip kit. It reinforces my security in keeping it close to me, and allows me to lasso small things at a distance. It’s that simple to make a walking stick part of any arsenal of trail tools.
If you don’t have time to build up your own stick, they can be purchased already finished. If wood isn’t your thing then many establishments offer synthetic sticks. They come in singles, or in pairs, and there is nothing wrong buying a stick made of aluminum, or some other element other than wood. The important thing is to make sure that when you venture outside it’s best to be prepared, and a good walking stick equips you for that.