One can find an endless number of survival instructors across the North American continent. Men and women who can teach us how to build a shelter from twigs and dried leaves, how to start a fire using your bootlace, and how to hunt with deadfall traps. There are people out there who can walk into the wilderness with nothing but the clothing on their back and a knife in their hand and live well for many years. These people are the truly independent ones in our society. Some of these include my heroes like Tom Brown Jr. One step and some specialized training later and some of these individuals can be dropped off out of a helicopter naked on the North Pole and one month later they are in Mexico City, driving a Bentley and wearing an Armani suit with pockets bulging out with cash. There is a tremendous variety of skills we can acquire over the course of our lives and survival “skills” are great to have. However, the “survival” concept is not a nice thing.

The word “survival” alone is an ugly word and those of us who have had to survive don’t like it much. The Oxford Dictionary defines survival as: “the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances. “ This implies extreme difficulty, or perhaps a state where one just about “doesn’t make it”. It signifies hard work and extreme exertion of personal will just to stay alive. Survival is that state, where one is down to his last breath, the last throw of the dice, and the last bullet. It is a do-or-die situation where every move may cost too much energy, or where your next decision may be your last one. It is that place where your back is completely up against the wall and whatever happens next you have absolutely no control over. It is a place of desperately seeking calm, place of turmoil, place of fear. Survival is a dark corner of our minds…

Those amazing people who have learned how to live off the land and decided to pass this knowledge on to others may call themselves survival instructors not because they want their students to suffer but because they have learned a way of life which is today considered almost foreign. This way of life which was practiced regularly by our ancestors is generally used today only in emergencies where all other methods of self-sustenance have failed or proven to be unsustainable. Therefore these skills are referred to as survival skills.  The truth is however that more likely than not, anyone learning such knowledge today will have to practice it on regular basis to retain a particular level of expertise. After a while, this turns into a lifestyle. Lifestyle is a particular way of life. To further complicate matters, there may be those who have chosen to live off the grid and those who live off the land. Both are lifestyles but both may be far removed from one another.

As mentioned before, there are many people who can walk off into the woods with a knife and the clothes on their back and be self-sufficient for years. I am not one of those people. There is no doubt in my mind that if faced with having to survive in the woods with nothing but a knife that I could hold my own, but I would be surviving. It would be hard. I probably wouldn’t have much fun. But I could do it.

My personal preference would be to prepare for such a challenge not only mentally and physically but also equip myself as best I could. That way, survival situations can be turned into something like a camping trip. Of course, the more you know the less you have to carry but the balance between how much you know and how much you can carry has to be determined on a case by case basis.

In any disaster, you will have to deal with the dangers of the situation as well as the psychological strains that will result. As an example, people who are evacuating due to a wildfire will not only have to deal with the danger to their lives posed by the fire itself, they will also have to deal with the psychological stress of not knowing whether their pets/relatives are still alive, or if their homes are still standing.  The psychological strain has a tendency to appear after the initial shock of the disaster but it will likely play a major part. It is for this reason that disaster preparedness is so important. The better prepared you are the less stress there will be on you. It is much easier to dress a wound with supplies readily available and make a warm meal from a can than to try to dress the wound with makeshift supplies and at the same time knowing that you will go hungry for the next two days.

Our modern society has chosen to keep a standing army. We have police departments and fire departments. The government makes people buy insurance when we drive. Cars come with spare tires. Everyone has a cell phone. All of these examples are forms of disaster preparedness. But even the spare tire won’t do anyone any good if they don’t know how to change it and a cell phone is useless when it is out of coverage area. So even if you believe that your world is secure because you have a cell phone and there’s a police station nearby, keep in mind that survival is the last place you ever want to be. It is that last place on this planet…right before death.


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