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OUTDOOR SURVIVAL PHILOSOPHY
© 2006 RogueTurtle.com

Since the last issue of Clan of the Cave Turtle article, I though I might clear up any confusion there may be on why I dwell on outdoor skills and shelters so much. Too much depends on skills we are rapidly losing.

The ability to use nature's bounty to our own advantage, for both food AND shelter is what separates us from lower forms of life. If you don't know how to live without all the modern computer-chip-based accessories we own, then you are in danger of losing skills basic to our instinct. That instinct is survival. In recent history we have progressed farther and farther away from skills it took our ancestors thousands of years to develop. Which one of us "city-fied" folks knows how to find water, trap game, skin a squirrel, and cook it over a fire? Not very many. Ask today's teenager to put down his or her iPod and go for a hike in the woods to learn some woodcraft skills, and they will look at you like you have two heads. I think these kids, and others who reject our past and our history, are in for real trouble.

How do you live when the electricity goes off? Where do you go when Mother Nature turns her fury on your town and your home? Where do you escape to when fanatics and criminals invade your home or your schools for their own purposes? The first and only reaction every human being should have is survival. But, without the skills and knowledge of how to live off the land, Mother Nature will prove she has no sense of humor, and kill you quickly. Cave Dwellers didn't go to live in caves from high priced homes; they only had their caves. They moved out of them as fast as they could because nobody likes living in a cave - despite the TV commercials. Compared to the human today, the Cave Dwellers are Einstein-level geniuses when it comes to living off the land.

Fortunately, we now have more modern tools and weapons to help us survive. If you learn as much as you can about survival, and use common sense, you just may make it. After finding a good supply of clean water, we need to find shelter. Cave Dwellers had their caves, and we have to find our own shelter that is appropriate for the circumstances. We don't have the time, the skill or the desire to reconstruct the Cliff Dwelling homes found in the Desert Southwest of the United States. We need to work on a smaller scale just for ourselves. If we can band together as a unified group, so much the better. But, you can't always count on our fellow man today. In fact, I find it easier to distrust most people until they can prove themselves trustworthy. I also expect to be mistrusted until I prove myself to others. That's my philosophy, but it probably is not yours. I have lots of acquaintances, but few friends.

For years I have been accused of being a pessimist. I've been accused of expecting the worst out of people. I guess there is some truth to that. I look at it another way. An optimist is always disappointed when what the perceive to be good turns out to be bad. A pessimist expects the worst, and plans for it, and is always pleasantly surprised when things turn out to be good. So, disappointed or pleasantly surprised. Which would you rather be? "Is the cup half full, or half empty?"

You can approach living outdoors two ways: You can fight it and try to beat it into your vision of what it should be. Or, you can live with it, work with it, and try to improve it so we can use it to the best of our ability. I choose the latter. Ancient Native Americans thought that nobody could own the land because we were put on this earth to take care of it. I like that concept, except there is no way to "legally" keep others from stealing what you have worked so hard to maintain. So, to protect ourselves from thieves, we now parcel up the land into small plots, and own our own "piece of the rock".

I don't know which way is better...is there a third alternative?

The skills involved in basic shelter making are simple skills easily learned by anyone. Finding water sources and providing clean drinking water are reasonably easy to do. Fire making was for hundreds of generations unknown to humans. Now we "flick our Bic" and we have instant fire. A thousand years ago owning a Bic lighter would make you King. But learning how to make fire without our Bic lighters is much harder.

We all need shelter to survive. We've lost our heavy coat of hair; our feet and hands are soft, and we live to be 80 or 90 years old. Instead of hunting and killing our food, we go to the local grocery store where someone else has done all the dirty work. We buy peaches and bananas from Brazil sold next to corn grown in Iowa. Meat is grown in Texas, butchered in Kansas City and sold in Los Angeles. We are now so dependent on our transportation systems that we would have trouble living if something serious disrupted their service. We do this now, not because we choose to do so. We do this because we know no other way of doing it.

That's what this web site is all about. Showing you the "other" way of living. The way without electricity; the way without running water and flush toilets; the way our ancestors did it hundreds of years ago. They survived. So can we. Our generation is bigger, stronger, and better fed than any other generation. Our parents, and their parents, worked their fingers to the bone making a better life for their children. So should we. But, somewhere along the line, we have to fit in the skills from the past, to insure we can continue improving our lives in the future.

On a whim, I went to the home page of the Boy Scouts of America. In there, they show a listing of the Merit Badges awarded from 1911 to 2004. I guess the Merit Badge program shows the signs of the times. I found awards given for the following (semi-useless) programs if you base it on my belief that Scouting should ONLY be on how to survive in the wilderness:

MERIT BADGE2004TOTAL 1911
THROUGH 2004
Atomic Energy5,289122,961
Chemistry5,345268,913
Cinematography4,95042,300
Coin Collecting 5,062438,322
Dentistry 3,94291,982
Disabilities Awareness 2,31665,979
Entreprenership 1,0065,681
Fingerprinting 49,4491,227,992
Genealogy 5,714177,121
Golf 6,872104,364
Graphic Arts 2,06322,453
Journalism 1,23294,556
Law 6,400120,578
Metals Engineering029,857
Music15,33729,857
Photography15,3371,166,507
Public Speaking4,627579,374
Reading7.7831,421,927
Skating5,289143,601
Snow Sports13,041 70,813
Space Exploration24,272337,100
Stamp Collecting 1,352378,149
Theater 2,14861,153
Water Skiing 3,516207,855


I'm not saying that these subjects aren't important for kids to learn somewhere. I am questioning that the Boy Scouts of America is the place it should be taught...or is needed to advance in scouting. Times have changed. But, is "Public Speaking" going to improve your skills in the wilderness?

Maybe my conception of today's Boy Scouts is wrong. I never had those types of Merit Badges available to me when I was a Scout. Maybe, as a result of our ever-decreasing outdoor skill level, leadership is not available with those skills to teach to kids. I must be hard to be a Scout Leader when you grew up in the city all your life. Scouting is a great organization, and I only pointed out a few of the Merit Badges I questioned. There were a total of 131 Merit Badges listed, and I only questioned 24 of them. That's 18%. Depending on how you look at it, it's a low percentage of the total skills available - or, 18% of your time is being wasted when you could be learning more outdoor skills. "Half full or half empty", again.

The rest of the Scouting program, not included in my questioning of the Merit Badges, cannot be beaten. The pride of Scouting, the moral as well as physical skills, can't be under appreciated. Learning how to get along in large groups working for a common goal is invaluable. But, a Merit Badge for stamp collecting...give me a break. And golf? I detected a few "politically correct" Merit Badges too, but I didn't list them. They're needed in the woods too. Times, they just keep-a-changing.

In the early 60's, I was a camp counselor at my parents' day camp. It was a popular camp and we were always full. One day a prospective Mom and Dad came out to the camp, around lunch time, to see if it was OK for their little girl. I think she was about 8 or 9 years old. When they arrived, we had a large campfire going and were preparing to roast hot dogs on a stick. (Each camper had cut and sharpened their own stick. We sent the sticks home with the campers to prove they did it.)

When the little girl found out we were eating soon - in the woods - she quickly looked around and said in a panicked voice "But how can you cook out here? There's no electric stove."

Her Dad looked at my parents and said "That's why we're here". She was signed up that day for the rest of the summer. She was a fast learner. She took her own stick home that summer, too.

If you, as a parent, don't think its important to learn outdoor woodcraft and camping skills, then neither will your kids. Parents unconsciously pass attitudes on, as well as rules of behavior. It seemed obvious to me that the Dad mentioned above had spent a lot of time outdoors. But an overprotective Mom wouldn't hear of it. Why, I don't know. The little girl joining the day camp crowd must have been the result of a lot of negotiation because Mom showed up unexpectedly several times during the summer to check on her baby girl. Can't blame Mom. Blame Mom's parents. Mom had no skills or familiarity with outdoor life, so fearing the unknown, she tried to protect her daughter. After two days at camp, the little girl was a "veteran", and fit right in with the other kids. She had a ball.

It's tough to let go, even for a little bit, when your child is in the hands of strangers in the deep dark woods where things go "bump in the dark". Thanks, Winnie-the-Poo.

I would like to go to everyone's home to teach skills such as chopping wood with a hatchet or axe, but that can't be done. Try as I might, I cannot write an article safely teaching skills as dangerous as axe handling. You have to be there, in person, to carefully supervise kids to properly use an axe. So I'm not even going to try.

The same thing goes for handling a knife properly. I learned in the Scouts that you never pass a knife to another person with the blade towards them. I never learned it anywhere else. I learned to whittle first on sticks and then on balsa wood. I've used these basic skills hundreds of times over the past years, not only camping but around the house too. The key here is proper ADULT supervision. The first swings with a hatchet or axe are a "my hands are on your hands" type of teaching. The first few cuts with a sharp knife are the same thing. Cut, sliced or chopped fingers and toes teach a child only one thing… "I don't want to ever do that again." "Never, ever!"

So, in a real, no-kidding emergency, such as the flooding in New Orleans, what do we face? Thousands and thousands of unprepared citizens sitting around waiting for someone else to take care of them. Political careers were teetering on the edge when help did not arrive from Uncle Sugar "in a timely manner". The number of people who took care of themselves was shockingly low.

People with no outdoor skills, or at least the self-confidence to go out and try to survive, revert quickly to other instincts: Stealing and looting, shooting and sometimes killing for food. Ok, I can somewhat understand the need to feed your family. But, when the cameras started rolling, what were they stealing? Shoes, TV's, stereos, designer clothing, etc., etc., etc. One lady proudly announced on TV that she needed to steal shoes (at least 8 pair) because the "flood took all her shoes away". They looked to be mostly high cost, high healed shoes.

When the "balloon does go up", the looting, killing and stealing will be even worse. The New Orleans flood, or any natural disaster, was taken by many as a license to steal - literally. Police and National Guardsmen were instructed NOT TO SHOOT the looters. And the looters knew that. And took advantage of it. The instructions not to shoot were absolutely the correct orders to give. You don't kill someone to protect the property of someone else. No lives are in danger and until lives ARE in danger there is no justification to fire on unarmed civilians. You can protect YOUR OWN HOME AND PROPERTY, but not someone else's. Every state has strict laws on home and personal protection. Some states are more liberal than others. Don't shoot anybody in Texas, California, New York or Florida. Their laws are TOUGH.

The place to be after a disaster is miles and miles away from the scene. If that's not possible, then you need to bunker down, lock up your present location, and pretend you're not even there. Maybe the looters will leave you alone. Maybe they won't. Are you ready if they DO find you?

I would much prefer to have a shelter prepared in a safe spot in the woods, far away from the potentially deadly crowds of looters. As many times as I have seen the looting occur, both in the United States and overseas, it never ceases to amaze me how fast it starts - and how far it spreads. It is shocking. But moving to the deep "piney woods" is not something to take lightly. It takes skills that don't get practiced very much, and a sincere self-confidence that you can handle whatever is thrown at you. You and your family have to be convinced that staying in the woods is SAFER than being at home in or near a disaster area.

How's your skill level? When did you last start a fire without matches or a lighter? How much firewood have you collected in the past year? Have you actually boiled water to make it safe to drink? Have you slept outdoors without the benefit of electric lights, cable TV and a cell phone? Do you even own a sleeping bag? Have you set aside enough food for you and your family to "ride out" a disaster?

I expect that the answers to the above questions will surprise even you. These are the skills of the daily lives of our ancestors. Not too many years ago Thomas Edison brought electricity into our homes. Only a few years later, the mass produced automobile came along. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were friends. They even bought homes side-by-side here in Fort Myers, Florida. I wonder if they even had a clue as to the effect they would have on the history of the human race? Are we better off now than 100 years ago? Of course we are.

Are we in danger of losing our skills to survive without these toys? Oh yeah. That's why I started up this web site.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
One faces the future with one's past. Pearl S. Buck