Are you ready for New England weather?
When cold temperatures are sustained, bodies of water freeze. This creates a new environment for both humans and wildlife to adapt to. Travel is made easier, though precarious, on ice-covered lakes. Games are created, and the ice becomes a playground for ice-hockey and ice-skating. People still need to eat, and fish is still readily available, as long as you can create a hole in the ice for ice-fishing. Be safe–the ice can be unpredictable if you don’t know how to read it. So safety first: check out our blog for research and videos (the best I have seen).
(These videos may not be suitable for very young children…parents may want to view videos first.)
“And then I made fire with sticks…legit sticks…fire… literally blew fire into existence with sticks. Mind blowing…absolutely mind blowing!” –Joe Sharkey, IT Professional
So after working on signaling with sound, I decide to make a sun compass. Time is important right now so I only take 3 minutes to put this together. I get a straight branch and place it in the ground and mark the tip of it where the shadow ends with another shorter stick. The next part of the sun compass is time. As the shadow moves every 15 minutes, I mark it again. This allows me to form an accurate read on the sun’s trajectory and gives me an east/west line while getting other things done.
Off in the distance I hear the call of a woodpecker; I have an intuitive hit that this is important somehow but not sure at the moment. Birds are excellent allies because they know their place and are specialists and depending on the type of bird will indicate habitat.
A New Paradigm in Being LOST
There’s a lot of “charge” in the word “lost”; so much focus on the psychological fear of being lost. Things arise in the mind, like “I’m not going to have enough water, warmth or food.” This is a fear of the unknown. Let’s shift our paradigm about being “lost”.
Indigenous people all over the world lived (and live) so close to the earth that they did not call what they did on a daily basis survival. They did not consider where they lived “wilderness”; something separate from their lives. Historical research in ethnobotany as well as speaking to the native peoples directly, has taught us that it wasn’t about being lost, it was about “being”; it was not about surviving, it’s about “living.”
We can learn from this recognition of a close relationship to the land. In this paradigm, you are part of the forest. If you are at home in the woods, you are never truly lost. Knowing your place, the plants and wildlife as part of your community is what will nurture a healthy at-home mindset where ever you are.
Thinking of the forest as “home” starts by knowing your plants and their uses. What parts of them are edible, medicinal, and in what season? What edible plants have poisonous look-alikes and what are clues to proper identification? What trees are good for firewood, for tinder? As you get to know your plant neighbors, they become your allies in better understanding the habitat you are in.
Building a Shelter and Knowing Ecology
As I scan the land and see what it has to teach me, I notice an area where there are a lot of small pines, and interspersed are large pines, 80 to 100 feet high. Why is this important? Because pines decompose slower, and they accumulate a huge layer of the debris that forms a thick mat. This is exactly what I’m looking for to create that insulative layer in the form of a sleeping bag. Clustered together they create a natural shelter from wind and rain while allowing sun exposure because the branches die off near the bottom. All of these decisions play a role in location; that’s why it is requires skill to be able to read the land.
I will not camp directly under the great pines where the bark is peeling and are probably infested with ants. That was what “that little bird told me.” The woodpecker’s activity tells me the tree is rotten inside and could become a potential blowdown hazard. I don’t want a tree falling on me. Also, lightning can strike the same place more than once so I am scanning for lightning scars.
Location! Location! Location!
Earlier, my sun compass lets me know how much light I have left to work with and this is crucial since I need to set my priorities. I choose my site and start building. It is very important to be able to read the land topography. A great shelter in a poor location equals a bad shelter; as the saying goes “Location. Location. Location.”
There are clues on the land to know where water pools even though the site looks inviting. By learning what plants grow in moist or wet soil, you learn that even when there is no water present, the plants tell you of a tendency towards moist soil conditions, hence, do not build your shelter in that spot. For example, when you see moss on the ground you know the soil will be damp. So I need to continue searching for a drier area.
Building My Shelter
I start with two leg-sized diameter logs, a little longer than my height laying down. Make them parallel like train tracks, which creates a container for all the small sticks I quickly throw into the middle, making a raised bed. This is vital for staying warm because you need to create a layer of dead air space between you and the ground as insulation. The reason is that the Earth is bigger than you are and the heat from your body will transfer to the Earth; this is called conduction. This is how you get cold from laying on the ground even if you are out of the wind. My bed is made out of a jumble of sticks and a thick layer of needles and leaves. This is really “comfy”; I’m not kidding!
Telling Time by the Sun
Marking the shadow on the sun compass again, I measure with my hand how much light I have left. With this method, each finger width represents 15 minutes; a full hand is an hour. I follow the path of the sun with my hand, and I realize I have 3 hours of light.
Since I used the S.T.O.P rule and stopped early enough in the day, I have plenty of time and light to take care of all of my basic needs, and even wander from my anchor point.
The Importance in Developing Skills and Training
I have slept out before when practicing making shelters and sleeping in them throughout the year to hone my skills. I have slept in home-made shelters under clear skies, rain, snow and freezing temperatures. My record lowest temperature is 15° below freezing in February with no fire while wearing jeans, fleece top, rain coat and hiking boots. This was to simulate for me a lost-hiker scenario. After teaching many classes on wilderness living skills and survival, I have the confidence and skills and freedom to be at home in the woods and not afraid of being lost. My hands-on knowledge enables me to share my personal experience so others can have confidence when they are learning and gain that sense of freedom.
Home Away from Home
It is an amazing sensation being deep in the forest surrounded by the night with a glowing campfire for warmth and companionship. Everything is done! I have created my home away from home – a bed and shelter that keeps me warm enough even without a fire; my plastic bag to catch rain, dew, and drinking water; my sun compass for navigation, a safe fire location and firewood comprised of tree species that throw lots of heat, light and will burn long and steady over time.
Enjoying the experience of the setting sun, the sound of the owls in the trees, and crackle of a bright, warm fire, there is a real peace that washes over me. This is a gift to experience and learn from. I am camping; thriving, not just surviving.
It took me getting lost to truly find the gift of the present moment.
A Beautiful Hike in the Foothills of the Berkshires…
It’s a beautiful spring day, and the sun is going in and out of the clouds. It’s cold at night and warm during the day…just right for the maple sugaring season. It’s been a cold winter, and I look forward to being able to get into the outdoors, and now is my chance.
I decide to go into the foothills of the Berkshires to go for a hike. I think I’ll take with me some basic essentials: a day pack, water bottle, bag of gorp, lunch, a way to make fire and light, heavy duty trash bag and a small first aid kit.
I tell my wife that I’m going for a day hike. I tell her I’m going to park the car at the trailhead…just in case. I always plan ahead like that.
When I get to the trailhead, I notice that the temperature has really changed; it’s a lot warmer, possibly mid-40’s. I’m wearing hiking boots, quick-dry pants, a fleece and the wind/rain jacket.
As I enter the forest, the tall trees, like pines, oaks, birches and beech, are all around me. I feel a sense of peace wash over me. As I walk on the trail, I start to let go the details in my head and about the things I need to take care of—at home or for work, like returning emails, making phone calls; it all seems to get further and further away from my mind as I keep walking deeper into the forest.
I walk for a few hours or so, and I begin realize my body is starting to heat up now. I need to take off a layer; it’s really important not to sweat. This is a really good principle to follow in the outdoors—the no-sweat principle. As I walk I pass several streams, and I see the spring wildflowers, hear songs of the birds as they fly overhead, it is quite serene.
I journey on for a good part of the day stopping for a light snack and then a hearty lunch, drinking water periodically. Continuing on, as I head deeper into the woods, I hear the call of the red tail hawk above (“keer!” pause “keer!”); we all know this sound (the movies have played it over and over…it is often heard, especially when a wilderness scene is shown on the screen). I love that sound.
I thought I would be able to tell where the trail is, but as I get deeper into the wilderness, the trail is marked less and less. I take a few steps closer to one of the blazes. Normally it has a white painted marking between 4 to 6 feet high. When I look really close, I notice that part of it has painted over brown.
So I’m able to tell for about a half an hour but then all of a sudden, I can’t seem to find the trail. I look around and it all seems to look the same. It doesn’t look like there’s been any maintenance out here for quite some time.
I try to retrace my steps; backtracking is something that I’ve read about where you try to follow the path that you came in on. But it is really difficult to see. I try to remember the key parts of tracking: notice a crease in the leaves from the weight of the foot, the area that was dug up by the heel or possibly the drag marks of my hiking stick or the tired footfalls. None of these things worked.
There’s a moment when you have to decide to cut off any other possibility, and take action and allow yourself that recognition that you’re lost!
Once you decide you’re lost, it becomes easier psychologically; you know you need to do something…some kind of lost protocol…but as you decide that you’re not lost, you keep telling yourself “oh it’s gotta be right up here.” “I know the trail is just up ahead.” “No, I’m not lost, just a little disoriented.” It’s thoughts like these that have you get farther away from the last place where you knew where you were…thoughts like these can keep you getting deeper and deeper lost in the woods.
When lost, this is an important acronym to memorize: S. T. O. P.
Stop: This means do just that. Don’t go any further. This has been an emergency protocol and has been very effective. It’s used by the Scouts, outdoor organizations and guide services, search and rescue and many others. When you stop, you also need to calm down; you may want to sit down and take a few breaths and get centered. This is important. Not only are you not going any further, you are also creating what’s called a “scent pool.” This is the term for when particles of scent flakes are falling off your body, onto the ground and the trees around you. It is a concentrated area where, if search and rescue are using dogs for searching, this will be really helpful for the dogs to locate you. This is also why you hug a tree when lost.
Think: A lot of things can be going through your mind at this time. You’ve accepted the fact that you are lost. This is very important step. You need to prioritize your thoughts. Think of your basic needs: shelter, water, fire, signal, food and first aid for the first 72 hours. You may have to spend the night.
A wilderness guide used a good analogy–the first hour or so, the search area can be represented by the size of a business card on a map, and a few hours later, it is the size of open newspaper!
Observe: Use your senses. Do you smell the smoke of a fire; listen for the sound of a roaring river; see the direction of where the sun is traveling across the sky; notice where you are; look for catching features on the landscape, i.e. rivers, streams, trail junctions, dominant boulders or trees, a ridge that you can get a bigger view to see a field or lake in the distance, or a road, a fire tower.
Plan: It is important to create a plan for yourself and know your plan and take ACTION.
This could be marking your area with bright clothing, create a visual signal that creates a contrast to the environment (red coat, orange poncho, etc.). You want to come up with some “what if’s” scenarios, such as “if I hear a vehicle, helicopter or people yelling, what do I do?”
Do you have a way to make noise or a bright light if it is dark and they are searching at night? Sometimes it is easier for the rescuers to see fresh disturbance of tracks at night with lights at a low angle (tracking tip).
It is now late afternoon, and as I make my decision and it begins to slowly sink in that I am here for the night…perhaps longer…I begin to take action. Although it is warm now, I remember the nights have been cold. Before I launch into creating an insulative layer up off the ground and sheltering me from the elements, my first action is making some noise. I get a good solid stick and look for a dead tree that is close by for a better resonance when I hit it. A solid live tree sound will not carry. I also have a skill of whistling with an acorn, and that is extremely loud. I know there is no one searching for me at this moment, however I may find another hiker or a farm house or logger in the area.
On November 11, 2013, Frank Grindrod made his first primetime appearance! Here’s the segment from Chronicle, Main Streets episode (you can scroll in about 2:49 minutes to see Frank’s portion about wild edibles; or you can watch the whole segment to see some of our community).
Here’s a video from Boston Globe Magazine writer Neil Swidey with Scott LaPierre about emergency preparedness…
Winter survival focus of talk
Published: Thursday, February 03, 2011, 10:30 AM Updated: Wednesday, February 09, 2011, 9:32 AM
By Kathryn Roy
While they occurred more than two years ago, the ice storms of 2008 reverberate in the minds of Western Massachusetts residents whose lives were turned upside down due to the extreme weather.
Residents in the hilltowns and other areas across the Pioneer Valley were left without power for days.
The incident reminded Frank Grindrod of Williamsburg-based Earthwork Programs of the importance of knowing winter emergency skills, both inside and outside the home.
Earthwork offers emergency preparation talks, emergency survival and self-sufficiency workshops all over the region.
Grindrod, Earthwork’s founder and director, said the ice storms taught that being prepared for any weather-related emergency is essential if you live in New England.
If a weather forecast indicates a big winter storm is approaching, that’s the time to start preparing. Homeowners who have wells should gather bottled water for sanitation and cooking, in the event that their wells are inoperable due to a loss of power.
“We go through the house and talk about how to utilize your home if you don’t have power,” Grindrod said of his classes. “Some people have a generator, but a lot of people don’t realize your heater may not work on a generator, or you have to plug it into whatever unit you’re using.”
While most people have cordless phones these days, Grindrod said it’s important to have a corded phone as well.
“When the power goes out, those cordless phones stop working,” Grindrod pointed out. “Even though you still may have a line to your house, you want to get an emergency land line phone so you still have use of your phone in the event of a power outage.”
Grindrod recommends that in the event of a power outage or other emergency, residents need to become aware of their surroundings and to be able to accurately assess the situation.
“With that land line, you can call the electric company to report the outage and get an estimate on when it will be turned back on,” he said. “You may have someone down the road from you who doesn’t have power, even if you haven’t lost yours or if yours has been restored.”
Grindrod said with the 2008 ice storms, there were elderly and disabled people who weren’t able to take care of themselves and needed help, but no one knew of their situation.
“Some of them died; some of them used the stove in their house like a camp stove and got carbon monoxide poisoning,” he said.
Grindrod also recommends being prepared for emergencies when traveling. Cars should be stocked with water, non-perishable snacks, blankets, decent gloves, a flashlight and flares.
“If your car goes off the side of the road, one thing you have to think about is, ‘Do I stay in my car or do I leave my car?'” he said. “If a plow is coming through, you might have to leave your car if you’re in a place where you might get hit.”
Those who stay in their car should only run the engine as the car is cooling off. They should also get out and clear any snow out of, and around, the exhaust pipe.
“If you’re going to run your car, you want to make sure you crack your windows and always have blankets,” Grindrod said.
When traveling in wintry weather, or going out in the woods to hike or hunt, it’s a good idea to give friends or family an estimated time of arrival and a phone number.
“If you have a situation where someone is lost, the quicker you’re able to alert search and rescue or EMS, the quicker they’re going to be found,” he said.
In his classes, Grindrod talks about how to be prepared to survive three days in the wilderness. At home, the preparedness is different.
“Our focus is about having some basic skills to be confident and to be comfortable; it’s about knowing what to do and being able to take care of your kids at the same time,” he said. “You could try to play games with your kids, to see if you can do without power for three hours or so at home.”
To learn more about Grindrod’s talks and workshops, visit www.earthworkprograms.com or call (413) 522-0338.
Earthwork Programs will also travel throughout the Pioneer Valley to offer workshops for larger groups.
By Barbara Thomke
– February 6, 2011
After I spent the morning of Saturday, January 8th exploring the new world of Nordic Skating at the Lake Morey Skate-A-Thon, I was intrigued by an afternoon class offered in the Winter Skills Day series at the Hulbert Outdoor Center in Fairlee, Vermont called Emergency Survival and Self-Sufficiency Skills. I didn’t go to prepare myself for overnight treks in the winter wilderness, sleeping in hand crafted snow huts at 10 degrees! But I do sometimes venture into the backcountry for day-long treks on skis, so I thought it might be useful to expand my knowledge on this topic beyond what I gleaned from my Girl Scout days of yesteryore. What I learned: how to stay warm if I got lost, or what the best emergency items are best to carry along in a pack might just save me from trouble . . .
Carrying a pack of emergency supplies and checking your equipment function may be the two most important actions you can take prior to an outing. (Barbara Thomke photo)
Frank Grindrod, our instructor, a kind and gentle man, set the scene for his class of seven by showing us a video of a woman who cross-country skied alone with her dog in unknown territory, got lost, then broke through ice and fell in a river and shivered with the pooch until they were found hours later. Scary! But by the time our class was over we had a new awareness of how to take care of ourselves at home or in the woods, and had learned about the most important thing of all – being prepared. From the dozens of tips we learned, here are the top ones that I personally took with me from our class:
Outdoors – Always take with you a small kit of essentials, no matter how near or far you plan to roam, Here’s what Frank recommended:
* A signal mirror, large plastic bag as a rain protector or container for water, a magnesium striker for starting a fire and a space blanket. Why? Hypothermia (low body temperature) is the #1 winter killer.
* A tin cup to heat water in or to melt snow into water
* Extra clothing such as gloves, scarf, socks, goggles, upper body layer
* Duct tape – the universal fix-it
* A pocket knife
From 12″ of toilet paper we learned to make a wick. Using a cat food can, the cordage, and cooking oil, a small heat and light source can be created. It burned for a half hour! (Barbara Thomke photo)
At home – Frank recommended stocking up a couple of days before a storm is forecast:
* Flashlight and/or headlamps plus extra batteries. Matches and candles – the ones that burn for 9 hours that you can purchase at a camping outfitter. To increase the light effect through reflection, place a mirror behind or underneath these light sources.
* Canned and dry foods, especially lentils. Soak overnight and allow to sprout for increased protein punch and green food. Soak rice and beans overnight for quicker cooking. Store in food-grade plastic containers along with powdered milk and honey.
* A small stove and fuel.
* A crank-operated radio and a crank lantern could be called essential gear.
* Store water in food-safe plastic containers, cooking pots, and your washing machine. Because your water source may not be treated when the electricity goes out, purify water by bringing it to a ‘dancing boil’.
* Create a ‘warm room’ by draping plastic over doors and openings to trap the heat of a woodstove or other heat source – though be sure it is ventilated.
In the car – carry these items:
* A wool army/navy blanket which can be used to sleep in, as a coat, to keep an injured person warm. Wool continues to keep a body warm even if wet.
* A metal cup, duct tape and Yaktrax for traction on your feet if you walk for help.
* Water in a metal container (could be heated), or in plastic. Fill only 3/4 full to allow space for freezing.
* A bunch of asphalt shingles to provide tire traction if your car is stuck in the snow or on ice.
Visit Frank’s website for lots more good advice on this topic of how to be prepared to deal with hypothermia and other winter emergencies as well as a listing of programs and classes he offers.
Two weeks after I took this course my husband and I were on a vigorous backcountry skiing tour near our home in northern Vermont. We were only 15 minutes into the initial uphill part when the snap attachment on the kicker climbing skin of Bob’s right ski broke apart. Then the whole skin peeled off the base of his ski and lay in the snow behind him. Luckily we were able to secure the skin again with the duct tape I now carried in my pack!
“Thank you, Frank!”, I thought many times as we continued the rest of our nine mile trek without a further glitch.
P.S. I carry the duct tape wound around a pencil. The pencil can be handy to write with or punch a hole, and it makes it easy to unwind the tape. Plus, you can carry a reasonable amount without the bulk of a duct tape roll.
Editor Note: Most old hands at backcountry skiing carry duct tape in their pack emergency kit as Barbara suggests, but also wrap 25 feet of it around a ski pole just below the grip. You never know it’s there until you need it . . .