Wilderness Survival vs. Primitive Living – Part 2
Wilderness survival conjures up images of accidents, getting lost, and general mishaps. These are serious threats to your life and must be dealt with in an efficient and expedient manner.
Primitive living skills are at the other end of the survival spectrum. These are the skills and knowledge that all of our ancestors held at one time. These skills have evolved with humans for many, many generations. But if you look back far enough you will find that your relatives held this knowledge. They had to, or you wouldn’t be here today.
These are skills that take care of the basic needs such as food, shelter and water. But it extends beyond the basics into fine arts such as bowmaking, cordage, clothing, containers, hide-tanning and more. As we evolved, you can see a direct correlation between the size of our brain and the complexity of tools that we created and used.
One of the oldest skills is working with stone tools. The first step for ancient hominids was simply recognizing that one could use a rock as a tool for smashing acorns or throwing at prey. This skill developed into the fine art of flintknapping – creating arrowheads, atlatl dart points, hide scrapers, and dozens of other tools and weapons.
As naturalists we journal a tree, say the Western Red Cedar, and see that this one species made the difference between surviving and thriving. It is no wonder that many natives of the Northwest call this “tree of life”. There is a reverence for these species that cannot be understood by reading about them. These species were believed to hold a spiritual energy as well.
Often I go to museums and see functional weapons, like a sinew-backed Pacific yew shortbow, that are incredibly beautiful. I try and mimic these ancient craftsmen and make my own weapons. I use a bandsaw, a drawknife, metal rasps and files, sandpaper, and nylon string. And I still think that it takes forever. Then I try to put myself in their moccasins: basalt, obsidian, chert, sandstone, horsetail. It was another world.
So how do we bridge the gap? We modern Homo sapiens can start by following what intrigues us. Have you been intrigued by arrowheads since you found one on that hike in the hills? Try out flintknapping. Have you always wanted to make a bow? Start with bowmaking.
When in doubt, fire-making is the place to start. C’mon, it’s fire. When humans learned that fire could be used for keeping our bodies warm and cooking food an obsession begen. Then we learned that you didn’t have to wait for a lightning storm to use it: fire could be made at any time if you had the skill. Can you imagine seeing someone make fire for the first time? I still get a feeling of awe within me when I make a friction fire coal. It is buried deep in our DNA.
Primitive living skills are endless. There is no way to master all of them. For some folks they are not that exciting. For others, they are all-consuming. Being able to rub two sticks together can instantly grab the attention of youth and adults alike. Having something to physically show people, like a buckskin shirt, can inspire people beyond what your words can say. Primitive living skills can be an instant doorway into nature connection.
It’s these skills that brought us to where we are today. The irony is, while they brought us here, they are no longer “necessary” to move forward as a species. But I would counter that to truly know where we are going, we must know where we’ve been.
So give it a try the next time you journal a plant or a tree and see that it can be used for a dye, friction fire, or cordage. There’s an old saying “The learning is in the doing”. That couldn’t be more true with primitive living skills.