Friday, September 6, 2013


The Northern Midwest of my youth was often like living in a time capsule or living diorama of life a century out of date. Growing up under the care and tutelage of great grandparents born in the late 1800's no doubt added to the time warped towns, woods and country roads I was free to roam. Beyond things still being taught in Scouts and summer camps, volumes of seemingly ancient guidebooks and Victorian wisdom still in active memory was the tail end of an age where it was common to allow children to learn how to use tools safely by way of self injury. A world less fettered and free to act as both home and hands on learning lab. It really was great and while some of those skills are no longer terribly PC, they remain useful.

Even if you weren't blessed with that sort of environment there are numerous books like Wildwood Wisdom, first published in 1945, still on shelves and websites. One of my favorite books is a 1967 edition Scouting Fieldbook For Boys and Men that first served my uncle through his scouting years and then mine. My elders didn't call it "survival" by the way. It was simply, "camping". If you were merely surviving you were clearly doing several somethings wrong and shouldn't be out in the woods in the first place. I suppose that's what inspired me to write this post, the idea that there are many kinds of camping and not all of them rely on much gear or even any high tech gear and that doesn't have to mean you are "roughing it". In some ways, roughing it is a state of mind. So, a minor re-framing of "the great outdoors" and the addition of a handful of basic skills changes the experience of being out there quite a bit.

I like "glamping" as much as the next person and having a big tent you can stand up in, a propane grill and cooler full of food is great when you aren't packing it in but the bulk of my camping has been with far less, often little more than an army blanket and a pocket knife. The big secret isn't that someone handed me a pocket knife at age five and said, "Try not to cut yourself." (I still have a scar on my thumb from that day), It was probably just being outside and getting used to it, out there, somewhere beyond the power outlets, pavement and climate control, just hanging out. Beyond a pocket knife and blanket, the radical improvements in comfort offered by an old sailboat mainsail, a coffee can and a metal spoon are exponential. A wine bottle makes a good water bottle once it's viniferous contents are gone. It can be amazing how far simple things go when you embrace how little humans "owned" in the past, how little we actually need and acquire a handful of skills.

I'm revisiting a book I haven't read in years but, like countless readers before me, have found lasting value within its pages. To paraphrase Thoreau, I support the idea that a [person] should be able to walk into the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on their back and feel like they left something behind. That idea holds meaning for me both in terms of being open to the idea that our natural surroundings are enough as well as the idea that we should be able to look after ourselves beyond mere survival. In essence, short of overcoming an injury, being lost in the wilderness can, and should, actually be fun.

1 comment:

  1. Count me in for the fun. I will bring a small fluffy truffle-snuffing pig to help us survive... er, I mean, to help us camp!