For two days, seven ‘students’ and myself were guided by Mark Suter, a master survivalist and primitive living skills guru. We learned not just to survive but to thrive in winter weather using our wits, skills, and natural, local resources.
And yes, it was below freezing overnight. We deserve ‘polar bear’ credit.
Machetes are actually useful.
I thought machetes were an anachronism from bygone explorer days, or else a ridiculously hyperbolic tool. I thought they were only used for shock effect or for cool book titles. But no, we used them – often, for all kinds of tasks – and shared, because I don’t have one. Now a machete is truly, unexpectedly, on my shopping list.
The best plant-learning is experiential.
You might think remembering plants is not your forte, but when you interact with a plant intimately – hunting for it, identifying, tasting, harvesting, cleaning, cooking, and eating it, or fashioning it into a digging tool or soap or rope – recognizing a species will be like recognizing a family member.
Sometimes it’s ok to cut down a tree.
Let me be perfectly, completely clear: we had express permission to harvest certain plants. Cutting a tree is NOT a normal part of leaving no trace or enjoying a wildlife preserve. This was a survival skills class, and some skills require using trees. (It was weird to cut down my first tree, even if it was a sapling. Watch for a later blog about the experience.)
Soapberry and poison ivy have differently-shaped leaf scars.
This was very practical information where we set up camp. The two plants share shady habitat, look similar when the tree is young and the poison ivy grows in shrub-form, and are deciduous (lose their leaves). Here’s a drawing I jotted. I’ll go back and take a photo soon.
This is a great way to build teamwork and camaraderie.
Our group bonded very quickly because we were meeting a common challenge: group survival. Gathering wood for a fire, leaves for a shelter, plants to eat… lashing fallen logs together, clearing sleeping space, hunting for animal signs, sharing tools and expertise… The bond we formed and time we shared were deeply gratifying.
I highly, highly recommend this trip (and other primitive living skills classes) if you want to:
- feel an all-encompassing sense of accomplishment
- develop profound respect for European settlers and Native Americans
- deeply appreciate modern conveniences
- feel more comfortable and able outdoors
- change your perspective.
- ‘Spider queen’ brings tarantulas back to Lewisville Lake wilderness area (wfaa.com)
- Family survives freezing temperatures in wilderness AP-US-Missing-Group-Surviving-Subzero/577 (americanlivewire.com)
- Cassie DePecol Dazzles on the Discovery Channel (everyjoe.com)
- 12 survival schools that could save your life (usatoday.com)
- Why Outdoor Training and Certification Is Invaluable (thinkoutsidenbr.wordpress.com)
- Nevada Desert Survived with Stones Warmed by Fire (godguidesme.com)
- Choose the Perfect Campsite (allstate.com)
- Survival Friday: One Log DIY Rocket Stove (modernhomesteaders.net)
- “The Eternal Battle” The Success of the Wilderness Act at 50 (orsierraclub.wordpress.com)