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Stepping Back From Civilization to Survive it

Rewilding is a term that describes the idea that, if given a chance, over time everything will revert to its natural, wild state. We see examples of this in nature every day.

Many parts of the country are overrun with feral hogs, the wild descendants of domestic pigs that escaped from their pens or were turned loose. We all have seen feral dogs and cats. The wild horses of the American West are the result of domesticated horses being turned loose, beginning with colonial Spanish horses.

We see rewilding in areas that were settled then abandoned by humans and later reclaimed by vegetation and trees. While total rewilding, especially among humans, will probably never happen, this article will look at the benefit of learning and using skills from our past that can serve us again, if the modern world goes into decline.

I will demonstrate the importance of combining those skills with modern technology to ensure long-term survival.

In the Past

In the not-so-distant past, most people lived in close contact with the land. They hunted, foraged, fished, gardened and raised livestock. Each of those tasks required an intense understanding of the natural world around them and how whatever they did would have ramifications, both good and bad, on this world.

To those living in the “civilized” urban end of the spectrum, the people in the rural realm were often viewed as “wild.”

What the “civilized” people failed to realize was those who understood the patterns of life and learned to work within them were in a better position to survive whatever nature would throw at them.

Assuring food for the future: A banana tree is being planted in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Steve Sakala

Growing your own food is a skill that many avoid. It is starting to become more common as concerns about food safety and quality increase.

Anyone who believes that early humans did not alter the world that they lived in to suit their needs would be dead wrong. For as long as humans have walked the Earth, they have made changes. It is the magnitude and the methods used for these alterations that have changed over time.

Forests were cleared for gardens and pastures. Fire was used to manipulate hunting areas, and waterways were harnessed to suit humans’ needs. Because alternations were made on a small scale and over a long period of time, those areas soon rebounded, or rewilded, after they were left to do so.

The often-hard-to-find remains of old farmsteads established in the 1800s and early 1900s and then abandoned are evidence of this rewilding.

If you saw this deer track in the mud, could you tell how big the deer is and which way it went? This is one of the lessons from the old days that you should make a point to learn.

What do these tracks tell you? A class on animal tracking and experience in the field will tell you this was a rabbit being followed by a bobcat.

The skills needed to survive in those earlier times seem to have taken on the characteristics of those long-abandoned farms. Not used, the skills faded to the deep recesses of a shrinking number of minds and to the pages of books.

Skills such as woods lore, hunting, fishing (for food) and gardening (food, herbs, medicines) have all greatly diminished from their height of more than a century ago.

Today

We live in a privileged part of the world. We get our food from a grocery store, having no idea where it came from or how it got there. If we do hunt and fish, it is often for sport. Growing our own food is, for many, a thing of the past.

The fruit, vegetables and meat we eat are produced on large factory farms that overwork the land and use chemical fertilizers, herbicides and steroids to meet their production goals. We have become victims of corporate farming because our hands stay clean and our food is cheap this way.

“Thankfully, there are still people out there who not only remember the old ways, but practice them as well. 

Thankfully, there are still people out there who not only remember the old ways, but practice them as well. Better yet, many of them are willing to share what they know with those who are willing to listen and learn and do the work.

Many of these teachers are people whose work fills the pages of this publication and others; people such as Kevin Estela and Christopher Nyerges.

Wild raspberries are a real treat. Knowing when and where to forage and what to look for are lessons passed on from the past.

It can be reasonably said that those who are willing to learn the skills and lessons of the past are going through a rewilding experience. But are they taking a step backward or ensuring that they can move forward as they acquire these skills? Yes, times have changed, but humans have always learned to adapt and overcome.

At one time that meant creating modern methods to achieve our desires but rewilding means melding current and past methods to meet our needs. We will incorporate the new with the old to come up with something better to ensure our survival.

ReLearning Those Skills

Imagine yourself suddenly faced with a situation where there were no grocery stores. We talk about this all the time. Where would you get your food if this became the new status quo? Say there was no working power grid and no municipal water supply.

How would you secure and cook your food and obtain clean drinking water? How about no more smartphones or internet or any of the million other things that we take for granted? Would you make it? Would you survive or would you walk around like one of those zombies on television?

“In the not-so-distant past, most people lived in close contact with the land. They hunted, foraged, fished, gardened and raised livestock. Each of those tasks required an intense understanding of the natural world around them…”

Kevin Estela concentrates on consistency and quality as he teaches a lesson on how to make a net. Photo courtesy of Kevin Estela

Kevin Estela demonstrates how to start a fire using a bow drill. You could reclaim this ancient skill with proper instruction and some practice. Photo courtesy of Kevin Estela

With the power out you may have to go back to the old ways.

Do you know how to start a fire without the use of a lighter? Or how to set the wood in your fire to get the best, most efficient burn? Or how to navigate without a GPS by using a map and compass or the stars?

These and many more skills were commonplace in the not-so-distant past. Even in our world of handy devices, these skills, and knowing how to perform them, could mean the difference between life and death.

Where and How to Learn

I hope to point you in the right direction and give you some basics, but nothing replaces hands-on trial and error and practice. A good book such as “101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods,” written by Kevin Estela, is a great place to start.

With book in hand, actually try to do the tasks. Yes, you will make mistakes. We all do, but it is through those mistakes that we learn. It is better to make the mistakes now than to make them when the SHTF.

Keep doing the task until you don’t make any mistakes and then try the task in less than ideal conditions, such as in the rain or snow, under stress or in the dark.

Food is always a priority. This class on building a simple animal trap enables students to improve their chances of protein procurement during austere times. Photo courtesy of Christopher Nyerges

Some people learn better in a structured environment and that is fine. There are some very good wilderness/survival schools all across the country, and chances are, there is a good one near you. That said, there are also some hacks out there, professing to know skills that they don’t. Don’t be fooled. Don’t spend your money until you do your homework.

Make sure to speak with people who have attended the school first and get references. You can often find comments and recommendations in online blogs or social media pages relating to the topic, instructor or school itself.

Get your kids involved and pass your knowledge and skills to them.

Don’t confuse self-defense courses with survival courses. They are two different things. While some self-defense courses do include elements of survival skills, most are designed to teach you how to protect yourself from a personal attack.

Survival courses are geared more toward teaching you the skills that you will need to survive, such as putting food on the table and a roof over your head.

“Those who are able to roll with the punches and can incorporate the lessons from the past are going to survive.”

Under the survival category are those courses that offer plant identification, animal tracking and identification, bushcrafting, foraging and basic first-aid skills, and such. These are especially helpful and important abilities to acquire.

In a survival situation, it is essential to know the plants you can eat or use for medicinal purposes and which ones to stay away from. Christopher Nyerges is considered by many to be the best in this area.

If you have a chance to take some of his courses, you will realize the value and practicality of rewilding. If you can’t take his courses, he has put out a host of books on these and other subjects. Many of his books are part of my library, and I turn to them often.

As you wander through the woods, a road appears out of nowhere. It can speed your travel, but which way do you go, if at all? Learning how to use a map and compass and observing clues in the natural world will give you the answer you are looking for.

Building and starting fires are always skills people want to learn about. I’m a big fan of the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle and would much rather start a fire using a lighter (or matches), but what happens if you don’t have either of these? Could you step back a few thousand years in human history and get a fire going using flint and steel or by using a friction method?

These methods were used long before we had lighters, and learning how to start a fire is a vital skill not only to learn, but to perfect.

Prickly pear fruit is edible. You may not know this and ignore this opportunity, unless you took a course taught by a skilled person passing their knowledge on.

Books and articles will tell you how to do it, but a class will actually give hands-on experience. The more you do it, the better you’ll be and the more confidence you will have. Confidence in your skills and ability go a long way when times get bad. Classes from credible trainers will give you that confidence.

Our Future

So, in the big scheme of things, do I believe that humankind will rewild, that is, go feral? Probably not. There will always be some sort of technology available, and our social development and emphasis on living in groups will probably always remain important for our survival.

On the other hand, do I believe that things will change to the point where we have to forsake some of the things that we rely upon today? Yes, I do, at least for some people. In fact, things are changing as I write this. One example is the rise in popularity of so-called tiny houses.

These small shelters reduce our commitment of resources, time and space to our dwelling, greatly simplifying our lifestyle. They still provide many modern conveniences but they bring their occupants a couple steps closer to our ancestors’ simpler way of life. Many also provide the option of mobility, which can be important for survival in some situations.

The yucca plant will yield valuable fibers used for making cordage and its fruit is also edible.

Those who are able to roll with the punches and can incorporate the lessons from the past are going to survive. While I would much rather start a fire with modern technology, it is good to know that I have the skills needed to do it in ways used in the past.

You are not going to be able to learn everything at one time. You are better off doing one skill well than doing six halfway. Take your time, seek help when you need it, never give up and learn from your mistakes.

Schools

Survival schools are found throughout the country. Make sure you pick the right one. What follows are three that the author recommends.

New Hampshire Outdoor Learning Center

The New Hampshire Outdoor Learning Center specializes in all aspects of the outdoors and survival.
(603) 608-8673
NHOutdoorLearning.com

Kevin Estela’s Wilderness Education

Kevin offers a variety of survival-based courses. Check out his website for courses and availability.
(860) 214-3629
KevinEstela.com

School of Self-Reliance 

Based in Southern California, the School of Self-Reliance is run by outdoor expert and writer Christopher Nyerges. The school offers a variety of courses, ranging from basic outdoor survival to advanced plant identification. Visit the school’s website to find out more.
(626) 791-3217
ChristopherNyerges.com

Books

There is no such thing as knowing too much, and a good first step and supplement to school attendance is reading about a given topic. To get you started in your rewilding efforts, the author believes these five books are must-haves in your library and recommends them.

101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods
by Kevin Estela
Kevin Estela is well known in the survival world and his book teaches you the skills you need. With Kevin’s background in teaching, the key word here is “teach.”
208 pages
Page Street Publishing (2019)
MSRP: $21.99

Braving It
by James Campbell
This book, which is about a man and his daughter traveling through Alaska, has valuable lessons.
384 pages
Broadway Books (2017)
MSRP: $16

Call of the American Wild
by Guy Grieve
This is a true adventure of one man’s journey into the wilds of Alaska. He knew nothing and had to learn very quickly how to survive.
408 pages
Skyhorse Publishing (2015)
MSRP: $17.99

Feral
by George Monbiot
While this book doesn’t come out and discuss survival tactics, it does open your eyes to the concept of rewilding.
336 pages
The University of Chicago Press (2014)
MSRP: $15

Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America
by Christopher Nyerges
With its color photos and detailed descriptions, this book will help you identify edible plants. This book is a must as many poisonous plants look similar to edible ones.
224 pages
Falcon Guides (2016)
MSRP: $22.95

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.