Posts tagged wilderness

BOOK REVIEW: How to Survive Anywhere

How to Survive Anywhere

I read this book after arriving home from hiking last week, and came away from it feeling like I’d learned some useful tips for future trips.  The most interesting sections I found were the discussions of edible foods, which contained several commonly found entries I’d not heard of being foodstuff, and the discussion of making ropes, which I was able to put into practice immediately using dried palm leaves from the neighborhood and other shreds of string around the house.  It’s kind of addictive, like meditation.

In fact, putting things into practice before you need them could have been the unstated theme of the book.  After all, do you want to be figuring out how to coax fire from a magnifying glass AFTER the disaster when you’re already tired and hungry?  The main focus is on preparing a site, making utensils, tools, and weapons for your later survival. Places to find potable water are discussed, as well as how to purify water that isn’t so palatable.  But once you’re settled in, you’re on your own. There isn’t a lot of discussion about HOW to use things once you make them, but if you follow Mr Nyerges’ experienced advice (he’s a respected teacher who has lived in MANY different improvised and off-grid places) and practice, then you should be all right when the disaster hits.

Recommended especially for people who want to more closely examine the potential for survival in an urban setting, as he covers this topic very well.

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Bathing Al Fresco

Ah, nothing like the wilderness to make you reevaluate your relationship to material goods. This past weekend, I arrived on the trail as the clouds and fog lifted from atop the mountains I was entering. A man told me it had been raining for three days… not good news (or so I thought) in the flash-flood prone desert. But it turned out, hiking after the rain was like a hidden secret ritual for many, who avoided the 100+ degree weather by following a storm through the hills. It was beautiful.

Superstitions after Rain

My hiking buddy and I set up camp by a lovely spring-fed stream in the heart of the wilderness. Barely any signs of humans passing through the area in decades, so the water was about as clean and refreshing looking as any can be. I wanted to go for a swim in the natural rock pools and then bathe in the open sun. But when I pulled my shampoo bottle out of my bag, and then looked in the water at the bullfrog tadpoles and other life, I couldn’t bring myself to use any unnatural products in such a pristine place.

Of course, I wouldn’t have thought twice about using that same shampoo at home, though it all ends up in the same water somewhere downstream. Conversely, I wouldn’t have touched water that had a tadpole in it at home, no matter how clearly I could see the bottom. As I said, sometimes it takes a little unfamiliar scenery to make up evaluate our own habits without colored lenses. So I chose to forgo the bath and simply enjoy a swim. Lovely.

When I arrived home, I was determined not to let this happen again, to find myself a potential life-killing polluter in one of the few places not already actively under attack by humankind. So I started researching natural soap, remembering something about “soaproot” from somewhere back in 5th grade when we studied the pioneers crossing the great American plains. Turns out, there are SEVERAL “soaproots”, and had I known what I was doing, there was likely one of them within fifty feet of the proposed bathing locale.

Ever found yourself in a similar bind? Here’s the skinny on natural soap:

Soaproot2

Indian Soaproot, Bouncing Bet, Soapwort

“Wherever Poison Oak grows chances are you will find Soap Root growing. You can harvest Soap Root anytime of the year and it looks the same year round, except for having tall flowering stalks in the spring. The part to use is the bulbous root, so you will need to dig it up. Usually one bulb is all you will need. Peel off the brown, furry outer covering until the white layer underneath is exposed. While using, keep it in a plastic bag to keep from drying out.” – naturalfamilyhome.com

This is the most commonly known of the soap-producing plants. It produces a nice lather for washing both body and clothes, and according to legend, it was also used by the Apaches to catch fish by putting it in the water. It has the most “bang for the buck” of lathering plants.

Yucca

The yucca plant comes in a wide variety of species, but all share the potential for lather. Some people recommend using the root for bathing, but using the root kills the plant. For a small task like bathing, you can simply pull off one leaf from the plant, shred the leaf into strips, and rub them back and forth in your hands with water until a lather forms. (Incidentally, this is also the first step in making yucca twine, another useful thing to know in an emergency!) Use this mix like a pre-soaped washcloth. This plant is so common in the Southwest, you can find it everywhere from ornamental gardens to the untouched National Parks. If I had known, I’d have had a yucca bath that day.

Wood Ashes as Cleaning Agent

Wood Ashes

In an emergency situation, you can wash your skin or pots and pans, etc with ashes from a campfire. It’s important to use clean ashes and not to leave them on your skin too long… ashes are caustic, as they contain lye, an ingredient used in making store-bought soaps.

Buffalo/Missouri Gourd, Mock Orange, Callabacilla

Small triangular leaves and a very spreading habit, this vine has small, orange shaped and sized gourds and a thick taproot that can be up to five feet long. The gourds can also be used as sponges. There is less lather in this plant than others.

Soapberry Trees

These grow in the Southeastern and MidAtlantic states, and are one of three varieties. They have small berries which lather when crushed in water.

Wild Lilac, Myrtle, Buck Brush

Grows in the Western states, covering the land with blue and white flowers in the Spring. The flowers can be used as soap, and are very fragrant, leaving the body perfumed.

Southern Buckeye

A Southeastern plant that is best for washing clothes and fabrics. Like the soapwort, it can stun fish when thrown in water, though this is illegal and should be reserved for survival situations.

Read more about soap plants here

Survival outline that includes a few more saponin-containing plants

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A Memorial to Nature

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend it than getting as far from lots of people as possible to enjoy the splendors of Nature.  So I’m headed into the woods again to get lost for a few days. Stay posted when I get back for inspiration from the trail!

walking away

Happy Memorial Day, Everyone!

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BOOK REVIEW: Coming Out of the Woods

Coming out of the Woods, Wallace Kaufman

Wallace Kaufman’s website

Coming Out of the Woods - Wallace Kaufman

I first picked up this book because Mr. Kaufman is an alumnus of the same university I attended, and was a self-proclaimed naturalist. Well, I thought, at least we have something in common. The forest he describes in his tale border the ones I spent several weeks in on my college no-impact wilderness trip, so I felt immediately familiar with the place names and general environment he described on each page. But even if I hadn’t been there before, the way in which this story is written literally walks you through the forest, seeing everything with the trained eye of someone who not only observes, but understands the awesome forces which shape natural (and not-so-natural) history. I learned a lot about ways to detect past human presence in an area simply by observing the trees and bushes around you.

But this book is more than a tale about the woods themselves. It’s about living in the woods, humankind’s constant struggle to understand, adapt, and coexist with nature and her varied forms. As such, and as a tale of fatherhood, this book really shines. I found myself wanting to visit Morgan Branch and sit myself in the cool waters running downhill to join the larger stream. To sit alone and listen to the squirrels and birds and bats fly overhead while old-growth trees wave gently overhead. To help break ancient rocks and lift them into place for a self-built house’s foundation. Truly scenery so lovely deserves the loving documentation it receives in Coming Out of the Woods.

Of course, if you see the title, you’ll understand that all tenures have their end, and this is no exception. What would possess a man who has escaped society by the first Earth Day to rejoin it by the end of the millennium? For the answer to that, you’ll have to read the book!

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Into the WILD: remembering your journey

A broken wireless internet card has been all that’s between me and a few postings here lately. So this post will be a little down & dirty on formatting. But it’s been a busy few days nonetheless. Yesterday, I found my journal from the wilderness trip that I did in college, complete with a grocery list of the food supplies that thirteen of us carried into the woods for two weeks. For your enjoyment, I’ll reprint that list below. Besides the obvious humor in peeking back in on my newly minted adult mind (I left home for the trip on my 18th birthday), I truly enjoyed refreshing the inspiration for what eventually led me down the road to this blog. You see, even though it was a very important time in my life, it wasn’t until I read my old words that I remembered the daily excitements of it, no matter how hard I’d tried to remember. Reading ten pages of foods I wanted to eat when I got back to civilization, listed as I sat alone in a field of blueberries on my two-day “solo” at the end of the trip, was as entertaining and revealing as any life lesson I could hope to relate from the experience without aid of a book.

What does this have to do with off-grid living, you ask? By keeping a journal of my progress throughout that trip, I created a living document that I can return to multiple times in life, that others can also use, should they have the opportunity, to inspire and learn a lesson or two about the experience. Of all the myriad papers I wrote in college, this first one, the one I wrote for myself, is the most relevant and important to me. When you start your walk away from the grid, or even just a new project along the way, you have a prime opportunity to keep a journal of your activities. It’s easy to wonder why you bother when taking time from your day to write something down that already happened. This is normal. The gem of journal writing is best recognized after that journal has sat in the back of your closet a few years, and you honestly can’t remember who your inspiration was when you were (insert age here). That’s when the refresher course can save you having to make mistakes over again because you’ve wandered off your path.

Solarious is my off-grid energy journal, which doubles as a repository of great ideas and inspirations I see along the way. No doubt, I’ll be looking back at this great experiment in alternate living one day with similar emotions as to the trip in college. Of course, this is a different forum from an 18 year old’s diary, and personal details are necessarily a bit more brief here. But the point is that when you have that day (and you will, we’re all human) when you wonder, “How the heck did I get here? Why is this so important to me that I’m willing to forgo thirty minute showers, an Escalade, and Big Macs?” you’ll be able to go back and talk to yourself from a more rational mindset and check yourself back into the program. Unless you’re superman and you never have doubts or forget anything, in which case, stop reading now and start saving the world. The rest of us hapless humans need people like you on the case!

Here’s the grocery list (for 13 on a zero-impact trip of 2 weeks) from Project WILD: (1=can, mostly)

1 sweet peas
1 maple syrup
1 butter
2 tuna
1/2 bagels
Bag rice
3 blocks cheddar
1 strawberry jam
2 spaghetti
3 tomato paste
1 lima beans
2 bags prunes
1 smoked eel
1/2 bag peanuts
2 blocks monterey jack
Bag cous cous
Bag refried beans
3 boxes graham crackers
2 packs pesto sauce
4 cans tomato sauce
3 bags pita bread
Bag veggie chili mix
Bag grits
Bag animal crackers
Bag oatmeal
2 beanie weenies
11 bags cocoa mix
Bag banana chips
1 pineapple
Bag macaroni
Bag granola w/ raspberry
1 fishsteaks
2 pinto beans
1 mayo
Bag tang
1 soy sauce
Bag cream of wheat
Box rye crackers
1 english muffins
7 oranges
2 bags dates
1/2 bag raisins
bag pancake mix
1 apple butter
1 sardines
1 hot sauce
1 black beans
3 cans carrots
1 peanut butter
1 can mandarin oranges
bag jell-o
1/2 bag apple rings
1 spice kit
Bag pretzels
1 dijon mustard
1 green beans
13 pop-tarts
Bag plain granola
Bag mashed potato mix
1 onion
Bag apricots
1 marshmallow fluff
1 “mystery can”
11 packs spiced cider
1 vegetable oil
1 honey
1 honey mustard
3 slices bread
Bag powdered milk
Bag tortillas
Bag fruit punch mix
Bag lemonade mix
Bag brown sugar
2 cans corn

And iodine for water

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Water – the flow of life

Well, back to the presses. Out in the wilderness, I had a lot of time to think about the importance of… water. Read up about the good ole frontier days and you’ll surely come across stories of unfortunate souls who trusted their senses to mother Nature and were in turn gravely mistaken. Water is so essential to life, it quickly beats out food as a survival determining factor.

In the mountains, I packed in water this time, but in the past have relied on purification at the source, when I knew such sources to exist year-round. If you are running from the grid, or even just remotely thinking that the world might be headed in a bad direction right now, it would do you well to know a bit about consuming water from nature.

There are, of course, several methods of purification from which to choose, and many devices too. Some opt to boil water, sterilizing it. In a warm sunny climate, you can do this with your solar cooker. Studies have shown that setting water out in the sun even for a few hours can effectively purify it for drinking. So set a windowshade around it and see how fast you can achieve the same effect.

Or you can buy a filtration device that fits onto a standard bottle, designed with campers in mind. While this option is quite effective, you will need to plan ahead and buy some. So don’t wait for doomsday to hit before relying on this tactic. A nice option is the Clear Brook Portable Water Filter Bottle.

Or you could go old-school and purify your water with iodine. Again, buy ahead. The thing to remember about iodine is that you need the kind sold at camping gear stores, not the kind sold in your local drugstore with a TOXIC tag on it. The pharmacist I spoke with couldn’t remember what the difference was, but the vehemance with which he said it convinced me that using the regular kind was not good at all. If you do this, your water will taste funny, or at least a little funnier than the other options. Use orange peels, tang, gatorade powder or something of the like to tint the water and make it tastier. If you’re surviving in the desert, opt for something that replaces electrolytes so you don’t get sick from salt loss in your sweat.

While we’re on that subject, try to minimize water loss by staying in the shade, wearing hats and other protective clothing, and putting on sunscreen of some sort. You WILL get dehydrated if you get overexposed to either heat or cold. Don’t eat snow or drink saltwater, smoke cigarettes, or eat lots of sugary candy.

Where do you find water when you don’t have any? Well, if you have the luxury of a nightfall, you can collect water from the condensation in the morning. Either use a tarp or something that will channel the water into a vessel. Some places recommend dragging your legs with heavy socks on in the morning to collect dew and wringing them out. You can also take advantage of plants’ natural process of emitting water at night by tying a plastic bag around a leafy tree branch overnight. Or you can use creeks, if they are flowing. You can also dig in creek beds that have recent looking covers of algae or places that are more lush than their surroundings. Usually there will be water below. Seek out root vegetables, coconuts, melons, fruits, and other foods that have a high water content. Just be sure to do a little taste test before eating the whole thing if you don’t already know what type of plant it is.

Of course, most of the time, we aren’t running headlong from civilization, we’re inching out there by enjoying what nature has to offer on our terms. When you’re hiking and packing in, bring foods that provide both water and nutrition. I like carrots, because they withstand the beating of being in a pack, they taste good and require no prep, and they retain moisture for a long time without rotting. But other good options are oranges, small apples, fruit cocktail cups, canned meat such as tuna, and things like grapes. Try growing what you will take, if you’re able to plan in advance, or tailor your garden to include such plants.

If you are implementing a hydro collection system for your home, the same principles as above apply. You simply amplify your design to work on a large scale and plan for optimal long-term placement of devices. You’ll either dig, collect, desalinate, divert, or pump your resources. And of course you can also generate power or heat from it! Think long and hard about the quality of water that you consume. Wars are fought over this very issue, and societies have fallen or disappeared in response to changes in water conditions. It is the very building block of life, and becoming self-sufficient in this department will be an enormous step away from the powers that dictate how you occupy your space on earth.

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Link Bonanza: medicinal and edible plants

Balsam Fir Pitch

Medicinal plant list

More edible and medicinal plants

Articles about Australian medicinal plants

Forage with Wildman Steve Brill

Whoa! That’s a lot of information! While we’re on the topic of edible plants… when planting your garden, why not plant things that do double or even triple duty, providing medicine and or nourishment along with shady beauty? While every locale has its own host of plants that fit this bill while still thriving ecologically, you may be surprised to find that plants you’ve known and loved for years have different uses than you’d imagined. Take the above article on the balsam fir. My house growing up had one in the front yard. I knew it as the good climbing tree, and my mother no doubt saw it as “that darn tree that ends up all over the kids’ clothes”, but neither of us ever thought that the sticky pitch might have other uses. Again, knowing more about your local environment can only enhance the pleasures of living there, and bring you more into balance with nature. Happy reading!

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