When I was a kid we often went out into the woods and wandered with no specific purpose. Eventually, someone would come up with an idea that a few of us would become involved in. One day it was digging to China, another was digging an underground fort, next it was a tree fort. We explored, roamed and challenged ourselves. Movies and stories about people like, Daniel Boone, Robin Hood and Native Americans really inspired me to get in nature and be comfortable there.
Of course, as we enter our teens and early 20s these kinds of adventures mixed with testosterone morph into camping, partying and risk taking. This often lethal combination leads directly to a life threatening situation, which wakes us up to the realities of life; our life is fragile; hubris can get you killed quick; and that nature still has the upper hand.
When you realize that nature still has the upper hand, you either shelter yourself in the comfort of civilization or you decide to step up your game and learn how to work within the dominant force of nature. That is the moment you research wilderness survival and bushcrafting, you come across names like Mors Kochinski, Ray Mears, and Les Stroud. You might watch some reality survival shows, and you might even buy a knife. Then you will find yourself practicing how to make fire, build shelters, hunt and all kinds of other skills.
During the decade of my 20's, I had a more than a few run-ins with that dominant force and towards the end of my 20's, still alive, I realized that I needed to step up my game and learn the basics. Having gone to art school and taking art history helped me understand how primitive cultures used natural materials to make things. I started carving wood. Also, my parents were hippies and made hand sewn leather and sheep skin jackets for us. They sold some too! My father also made these possible bags for your belt but his were for pot and pot paraphernalia (during the 60's and early 70's). After dropping out of art school, I started carving wood because it was accessible. This path grew to carving a few very large totem poles (the one pictured on the right I carved sometime in 1990), which helped me develop a lifelong admiration for primitive cultures and how they lived. It was a natural progression to tie together art and wilderness survival skills, otherwise known as bushcrafting.
Many people will argue about the meaning of bushcrafting, but to me it means the constellation of skills one needs to live in the woods without electricity or gas powered machines. So many of us will make spoons, cut wood, build fires, study plants and their uses. Bushcrafters don’t necessarily want to live in the woods, even though they dream about it daily and they don’t have disdain for modern conveniences but they/we see value in keeping the skills alive for a few reasons. Keeping these pre-industrial skills alive is empowering because you can live and thrive in the “real” world. I say this because modern technology and our society is dependent upon a steady stream of oil and other means of harvesting energy all dependent upon very complex technology. Take for instance, heating your house; most houses are not equipped with a fireplace. So you are left with propane, electric or solar. Solar is dependent on batteries. At some point these technologies will need to be replaced and most individuals cannot do that themselves they rely on the vast and complex means of production that is our society. If you juxtapose that previous sentence with the simplicity of wood fired homes and products made from wood you can see my point. Just to be clear, I am not advocating that we all become Luddites. I know wood supplies would quickly dwindle. My point here is that most of us live near resources or in places where primitive people survived and thrived with the very same resources we take for granted or even despise. Common weeds which many of us pour expensive chemicals over were used to make life saving cordage, medicines, and literally thousands of others things. I can’t tell you the pain I feel every time I see a development going up and that ubiquitous massive pile of wood resources being hauled to the city dump often to be burned off.
So the bushcrafter learns and appreciates the skills and knowledge of the people from before the industrial revolution. They don’t expect to live off the land and shun the use of modern technology. They simply want to become more in tune, closer to the environment in which we live in and what better way to do that but by using the materials found near by.
Now that I spent the first few paragraphs explaining what bushcrafting is, I will try to explain some of the benefits I get from doing bushcraft.
The main benefit I get is ironically enough, because bushcraft is mostly physical activity, a cognitive one. Ask yourself how many tulip poplars you passed by in your life and have you ever once imagined that you could make a knife sheath or a basket to carry water in with it’s bark, and consider that there are infinite items like this to be made from natural materials all-around us in everyday life. So from my point of view there is this part of us humans that is dialed into innovation and outside-the-box thinking which is an integral part of bushcraft. By taking the raw materials from nature and making useful items that have aided in human survival is what bushcraft is all about.
The real underlying benefit of bushcraft is tapping directly into human creativity at its earliest stages by connecting with our ancient side. I believe that humans feel better about themselves when they are participating in activities in which we needed to survive on the African savanna. We needed to make tools so we looked at nature in its raw form and figured out how we could manipulate those materials to bring about better chances for survival. Just look where we ended up? We put a guy on the moon!! Impressive but many of us have lost track with the baby steps it took to gets us there and those are the very same baby steps that lead us back to mother nature.
I have written many posts on Tai Chi and how it connects us to mother nature and when we are disconnected we feel depressed, dis-empowered and alienated. Tai Chi and bushcraft do similar things they are both connected because they originated long before the modern era when we had to acknowledge the power of nature and work within that hierarchy of power, and not against it. Since this connection with nature is deep within our DNA we need be as close as possible to it or we risk becoming alienated from it and really a large part of ourselves.
Another, benefit is that if we are ever without power or get lost in nature we have the ability to make it through unscathed. I also think it is important to teach these skills to my sons because they can get lost or who knows what the future will bring with climate change lurking on the horizon. It is a simple fact that humans can find themselves in short supply of technological resources and may once again need to make some of their items from the materials around them.
Bushcraft is a great hobby that has multiple benefits for your well being, as well as your own survival. Plus practicing these skills keeps them alive because it was developed by people who lived before the advent of technological advances. While technology is amazing it creates a consumeristic type of dependency that dissuades one from taking the initiative and making their own stuff. So go out and make your own stuff and see how rich you truly are with the resources around you.