We live in a different world now because of the escalation of terrorism. There are people in other countries who feel that America is long overdue on being at the receiving end of foreign attack and devastation. (Pearl Harbor seems not to count, because of its distance from our continental shores.) We, who engineered the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and head the list of the planet’s most voracious consumers, present an image to many that is spoiled and arrogant. From the lessons of September 11, 2001, we have a new awareness that – within the scope of terrorism – anything is possible. Almost certainly, there is more tragedy to come.
Short of nuclear holocaust, an act of terrorism could demand from us at least a few survival skills. Consider a deliberate contamination of a municipal water source. Water from surface streams (though now almost nationally polluted) would come full circle and once again be a primary resource just as it once had been. Knowing how to render such water drinkable would be imperative. Drinking that stream water “as is” would be a mistake – one that could level you with a sickness so severe as to incapacitate you. Racked with pain, you would become, paradoxically, dehydrated and too miserable to perform the tasks necessary to stay alive.
What about an extended power blackout? In winter, if you don’t have a wood heater or fireplace, you’ll be setting up a grill or permanent fire pit outside your home. You’ll have to haul water to it – that, or make your fire pit near the stream. You already own all the containers and cookware you would ever need for collecting and boiling water.
If our system of commerce and the transporting of goods were brought to a halt, grocery stores would empty in just a few days. After depleting our pantries, we would be forced to venture outside for our food. Hunting and fishing would enjoy the revered status it once held in pioneer days. Those good at it would be renowned and in demand, but the forests and streams would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers of people trying their hands at it.
As for our other needs, virtually all of us possess at this moment a lifetime supply of shelter, clothing, and tools. But how much do we know about successful gardening? Seed storage? Or foraging for wild plants? The experienced farmer and the naturalist would become our mentors.
There is still enough wild land in America to challenge a person who is unexpectedly stranded. Every year, we hear of someone’s unplanned ordeal (or demise) in wilderness – the person who wandered off from the group, the traveler who ventured off on an unfamiliar route and ran out of gas in a remote area, the solitary adventurer who pushed his/her limits.
There are probably places in your own county that would qualify as “wild” enough to pose a problem to you if you weren’t prepared for an unexpected stay overnight. If this were a winter misstep, you would not likely succumb to starvation or thirst, but to hypothermia. Losing core temperature is man’s greatest survival nemesis in the cold seasons – especially in wet weather. (Even in summer, a cool mountain night can prove deadly to a wet person.) Hypothermia occurs when the loss of body heat reaches the point where endothermic heat cannot be retrieved by natural body metabolism. Without help afforded to the victim from an external heat source or a hot drink, this condition leads almost certainly to death.
If you think you might be exempt from the threat of hypothermia because you are physically fit and plan to fend off the deadly cooling process by running or some other strenuous exercise … think again. The debilitating stage of hypothermia slips in stealthily and soon after you had been feeling capable of taking care of yourself. It denies muscles the ability to function. Before you realize your condition, the option to exercise is gone. (I write this from the experience of a youthful misstep … and with gratitude to the kind stranger who chanced to find me.)
A most useful skill would be knowing how to insulate your clothing with materials from Nature. And how to get a fire going. If your stalled car is nearby, you would have a tremendous asset in its shelter from wind and rain. But people have frozen to death inside their cars, where building a fire is not a smart option.
You might even have matches or a lighter for an outside fire. But I have learned through my classes that, even with those incendiary assets of technology, most adults lack sufficient fire-making skills – especially in wet weather.
The last “survival rationale” is my favorite, because it is for anyone who simply yearns to be “out there” in God’s world. Survival skills integrate you with the land like nothing else can. Think of taking off on a hike or camping trip and purposely leaving matches at home. Or leaving behind food or tent or sleeping bag. Your surroundings become the source of some of your necessities. The forest reveals itself as the bearer of gifts, just as it did for the native people who preceded us. How differently your eyes would look upon each gift as you learn to revere the simplest parts of your environment – things like sticks, leaves, stones, vines, roots, and bark.
Survival knowledge lightens your load and sharpens your eye. It brings immediacy and purpose to the details of the forest. And because you use these items to your advantage and comfort and sustenance, you earn a sense of connection to the forest that will last a lifetime. You will be not simply in the forest … but a working part of it.
I live on what was once Cherokee land, so it makes sense to me to learn what they once knew to a man, woman, or child. If I discover something that at first might seem like my innovation, I know it is really nothing “new.” A Cherokee learned the trick long before my time. Therefore, as my relationship with the forest has grown, so grows my bond with these first people, who understood the value of each piece of the puzzle of the place that we should call “the real world.”
More from Secrets of the Forest: Volume 1
Reprinted with permission from Secrets of the Forest: Volume 1 by Mark Warren and published by Waldenhouse Publishers, Inc., 2015