Ask ten people what the word survival means to them, and you’re liable to hear ten completely different answers. Some would say survival is you against nature in a desperate, debilitating struggle to make it out of the woods alive. Others would conjure up images of anti-government extremists organizing militias, burying grain and ammunition, waiting for a major catastrophe or global war. The majority would be somewhere in the middle. A few might even define survival as an entertaining show on TV. Maybe one out of ten people would think survival is pretty cool, and that knowing how to live off the land would be a good thing.
My introduction to survival training came 18 years ago when I signed up for a week-long program at Tom Brown Jr’s Wilderness Survival School in New Jersey . After reading several of his books, I took the plunge. I went with the intention of learning how to track animals so I could become a better deer hunter. As a child, I was one of those nerdy kids who caught butterflies, and basically everything else that moved, just so I could take a closer look. Nature fascinated me, and I read everything I could get my hands on about animals and insects. In a nutshell, I thought I knew a lot about Nature before I even went to Toms introductory class. Little did I know, my world was about to be turned upside down. In one week this man showed me that I didn’t know anything about Nature, and what I had learned was superficial at best. I was missing over 90% of what was there to be seen and experienced, walking right past it all. Emotionally, I was crushed. I thought I knew Nature! “Why had I been missing so much?” … It was because no one had ever taught me the skills to be “Aware.” School certainly hadn’t taught me such things. After all, now that we’d become a civilized society, I didn’t need to have that knowledge anymore, right?
So many unanswered questions swirled through my head…
In that week, I learned how to make fire by friction, build a shelter (one that would actually work) and purify water. In addition, I learned animal tracking, amazing Nature awareness skills, how to identify wild plants for food and medicine, how to procure fish and game in the wilderness and so much more.
At this point, some of you might be asking. Why in the world would anyone need or want to learn survival skills? After all, everything we need, we can buy… right? Maybe you’re right. I would ask all of you however.”Why wouldn’t you want to learn these skills?” Our ancestors all knew these skills and without that knowledge it’s doubtful that we’d be here today. “When did our relationship with Nature and our learning how to be self-reliant go out of style and become so unimportant?” It’s obvious to see how this disconnection has impacted the environment and ourselves. With so many people in the world today, perhaps we need these skills now, more than ever. Survival teaches you the difference between your needs and your wants. Nature is a powerful teacher, when you open your heart to it. For me, it’s all about learning to live in balance with the Earth.
My journey over the past 15 years has taken me far. What started as a curiosity has changed my life. Learning survival skills has deepened my relationship with Nature and has made me a better person. It has introduced me to a growing network of people who have dedicated their lives to sharing the gifts of Nature with others. Though I teach, I’m still learning, still a student. There is so much to learn and experience in this lifetime. Tom Brown re-introduced me to my child within, which is so full of wonder and curiosity…I will never forget.
So remember, survival need not be a scary word. “Survival is your birthright.” Knowing how to take care of yourself and live in balance with the Earth is empowering. Survival skills can change your life and the choices you make on a daily basis. As a result, these choices can have a positive impact on the environment and leave the World a better place for generations yet to come. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
When you know the skills, “Survival” becomes a word of comfort.
Wild Wanderings with Richard Cleveland, teacher of outdoor skills at Earth School in Tryon, NC – a self-trained Naturalist and local fishing and nature guide. For info about his programs visit www.LoveTheEarth.com .