Earthwork Wilderness Survival Training School | 413-340-1161

Missing Conway Boy Alive After 18 Hours in Freezing Woods

NOTE FROM EARTHWORK PROGRAMS: We are so glad that Cameron was found! We wish we could have been involved in the search in some way…tracking is what we do!

But it also reminds us that we all need to know what to do if/when we are lost–it does happen. Earthwork Programs has been providing wilderness skills programs for more than 10 years. In fact, we were recently at Sanderson Academy with our Lostproofing and the Art of Shelter Workshop and we held an Introduction to Survival Skills Workshop for the community. These are truly useful skills!

Currently, Earthwork Programs is working on grants to bring Lostproofing Workshops to Pioneer Valley schools…


Missing Conway Boy Alive After 18 Hours in Freezing Woods

By Matthew Campbell
Story Published: Nov 25, 2010 at 5:08 PM EST
Story Updated: Nov 25, 2010 at 8:54 PM EST

Some are calling it a Thanksgiving miracle. A seven year old boy lost for nearly 18 hours in sub-freezing temperatures manages to stay alive.

At 9am on Thanksgiving morning, after 18 hours of anguish, Cameron Pleasant’s father can finally relax. His life is back to normal knowing his once lost son was alive and well.

Pleasant jumped into the ambulance that carried his son, hugged the EMT, then proceeded to give Cameron the biggest embrace ever.

A day before, Cameron sparked one of the biggest searches Western Mass has seen all year long.

On Wednesday night, police say the 7 year old Cameron wandered away from his backyard on Mathews Road and vanished into the Conway woods. For 18 hours, he was alone, battling the bitter cold with just a red jacket, a hat and gloves for warmth.

A reverse 911 call was sent to the entire town and soon, hundreds flocked to Conway Grammar School, where Cameron was a first grader. Almost immediately, his place of learning turned into command central for his rescue.

“State Police, EPOs, from the barracks, the Conway police and fire department,” were some of the crews assisting, says MA State Police Lt. Michael Habel.

Lines of tactical crews and hundreds of regular residents piled in. Hours went by as they all combed the woods on ATVs, but there was no sign of the missing boy.

“We listened and waited and listened to helicopters and we were just hopeful,” says neighbor Kathy Desch.

The turning point came in the morning hours. Hours after dawn broke in Conway, searchers were able to spot young Cameron, perched on a ridge.

Cameron was rescued, 3/4 of a mile away from home in a very treacherous part of the woods.

“It was extremely rough terrain, it’s very mountainous and rocky,” Habel says.

The red jacket Cameron was wearing burst through the barren trees, and made the young boy easy to spot. It led to an emotional reunion.

“I’m so delighted. I’m thrilled for them. I was wondering if it was going to have a happy ending. It was very cold last night and we were very worried,” Desch says.

All of the worries were put to rest. Cameron, despite his overnight ordeal, was well enough that an ambulance, instead of a helicopter, rushed him from Franklin County to Baystate in Springfield.

Hospital officials say Pleasant is in good condition.
via Missing Conway Boy Alive After 18 Hours in Freezing Woods | CBS 3 Springfield – News and Weather for Western Massachusetts | Local News.

Winter survival focus of talk | masslive.com

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.

via Winter survival focus of talk | masslive.com.

The Secret Life of the Black Bear

Many years ago I was awakened to the stories of our wild neighbors. Though we do not always see them, they leave so much information about the stories of their lives. There is adventure, drama, death, play, romance, and mystery. Through the years I learned how to stop, look, listen, smell, and feel these stories and attempt to reveal the mysteries. I do this through the art and science of animal tracking.

To see what our wild neighbors do – through their tracks, and their behavior through the signs they leave behind: claw marks on trees, scrapes, bite marks, digs, rubs, scat – is an initiation into a secret world. Though the world of our wild neighbors may seem one of secrecy to us; to them it is a very obvious. The sign they leave behind are markers to state who they are, what they are doing in the area, and if they are available to mate.

Some mammals are crepuscular; that means most active during twilight, at dawn and dusk such as deer, moose, rabbits, and beaver. Others are nocturnal such as our bat friends and flying squirrels. Then there are those, who like the majority of humans, are diurnal – active during the day – such as gray and red squirrels. Whether or not we have the opportunity to watch our wild neighbors up close and personal, they always leave sign of their presence and as a tracker you get to see those visual cues and smell their scents and be able to have that deeper connection and understanding of what is happening in the environment you are exploring.

Our black bear story takes place on a chilly fall day where the leaves covered the ground and the sound of the crunching under our feet echoed through the forest. My friend Mark and I were tracking through an open deciduous forest full of majestic American Beech elders, Red Oak, White Birch and Hickory. This year was a mast year for Beech and many beechnuts covered the ground. We noticed a large disturbance of leaves and as we looked closer we saw the tracks of turkey feeding signs mice,squirrel and the prints of deer and bear tracks. For a tracker all this sign could be equated to a kid in a candy shop; so much to gaze at and be excited about; so much to choose from. Aha, the treat we had to take a closer look at; the pièce de résistance, were black bear claw marks going up this tree as we looked up we saw many broken branches. They had been broken from all directions being pulled into the center. We knew this was not storm damage for the breakage would have been in all one direction of the path of the storm. We had discovered a “Bear Nest” this is a place where they climb up and sit in the middle of the crotch of a tree and FEED pulling the branches in to them then sitting on them and eating more. When bears are feeding constantly to put on weight they often are resting/ napping often too. Perhaps in the nest? later on that day when we were under the Hemlock trees we found an amazing sight. A set of bear tracks in the shallow snow with great detail. As we followed the mystery of where are they going why this direction we saw something I had never seen before. Right underneath the Hemlock tree at the base was a large clump of branches. These were not short they were rather long some 2 feet and in such a beautiful arrangement in the shape of a rounded bed. This was a Bear bed I had never known they made above ground beds with such detail and weaving of all Hemlock branches for a soft form.

So earlier in the day we found bear tracks at the base of the beech tree’s bear claws leading up the understory to eat beechnuts. Why beechnuts? Beechnuts are high in fat and bears are looking for high-energy foods to fatten themselves up to survive the winter some sources quote Beech nuts having 60% Fat. When we have a mast-year of beechnuts such as we had this year, with so many Beeches producing an abundance of fruit, the bears capitalized on this food source. You may have noticed last year that we had a mast year of acorns, with oaks putting out acorns aplenty. Bears are opportunists so whatever tree species are masting, bears will be there to put the weight on.

Throughout the summer bears are fattening up whatever berries, nuts, invertebrates and other animals they can find and just as we do they have their favorite foods. Don’t worry though, we are not on the menu of the black bear who typically stands about five feet tall with a range of four to seven feet tall. Adult males weigh between 125 and 500 pounds, depending upon age, season, and food while adult females usually weigh between 90 and 300 pounds, again, depending on age, season and food type availability.

According to Paul Rezendes, a renowned tracker in the northeast, that given the choice, Black Bears seem to prefer beechnuts even after the snowfalls. He has witnessed them digging up Beechnut under a foot of snow and putting off their sleep if there’s a good crop. Looks like this year the bears may be up past their bed time. There are years when
the American Beech do not have a “bumper crop” year and so the bears will seek out other tree species that are masting in any given year. Apparently they will even feed on White Ash seeds when the oak, beeches, and hickories are not masting. My wife and I sampled White Ash just to see what they would taste like. Arianna was not impressed
with the idea of having to eat many of these, whereas, upon soaking the beechnuts, she claimed them “quite tasty”.

Though spring to summer was mating season and summer to fall was major caloric intake season, come November a black bear’s focus is finding a denning site. They will try a number of sites before they settle on the one that serves their specific needs. A den may be a hollow tree, a cave, or an excavated den of a smaller mammal or even a small depression above ground; the main criteria is where a bear has determined to be safe and secluded. And this winter, on your visits through the woods, you may snowshoe or ski right by a bear den and not even know it.

A pregnant female will give birth sometime in January or early February and as any human mother will confirm, that under no circumstances, unless you are being heavily sedated, could you possibly sleep through a birthing experience. They are however, very efficient hibernators. In the late fall the Black Bear will start to eat less and become more lethargic, and while they are denned up during the winter they will not eat, drink or defecate during hibernation. And because their fur is so insulative, the bear’s body heat is lost very slowly, “maintaining temperatures above 88 degrees–within 12 degrees of their normal summer temperature.” (Rogers, Lynn, 1981) Still, a female Black Bear is
certainly alert enough to nurse and clean her young.

So as you step outside this winter, work on developing a deeper awareness of the beings around you. This will serve you in whatever you do in life. So go off trail into the forest, fields, swamps, and ridges. Explore the wild world around you and perhaps you too will find black bear marks on a beech tree in the middle of the woods and then say – AHA!

Learn more about Black Bears!

Read and watch Black Bear researchers such as Lynn Rogers and Ben Kilham; they have so much to share! Additionally, since it is challenging to express all the information in an article about black Bears and I want you to get outside, into the outdoors, I’ve provided a video to go along with this article so that you can go out on your own or with your family
and be able to find these things in your own forest. http://earthworkprograms.com/?page_id=800

Please be mindful and respect the Bears in their habitat.

Seeing WILD Life…Who Is Watching Whom?

WildernessWinter has come and gone, and spring is clearly unfolding: the birdsong, the wildflowers, the bursting of shoots braking through the Earth’s surface in fertile ground, the trees leafing out, the warmer days as frogs sing, and then in the spring, showers are coming as the ice melts off the mountains, bringing it down through the rivers. It’s a powerful time of change.

My daughter and I–with binoculars in hand and our favorite walking stick, backpack filled with food, water and a couple of field guides, map and first aid kit–venture into the forest, as the sun rises, with a goal of seeing wildlife and not being seen. We move quietly through the deep forest, moving like a ghost, invisible as best we can while using the Indian sign language we have been practicing.

We are so blessed to be in the middle of a magical place with such a rich diversity as we are in southern New England…a world where the boreal forest and the northern forest meet, giving us the best place to be immersed in nature. The boreal forest, also known as “the spruce-moose forest,” has mainly evergreen trees and a few select hardwoods like poplar, paper birch, tamarack and others. The northern hardwoods have such a vast amount of trees like yellow birch, sugar maple, American beech, eastern hemlock, white pine, northern red oak, cherry, and those are just a few—there are many more.

As we trek deeper into the forest, we notice the dense canopy not letting in much sunlight as the sun rises out of the east, giving us a sense of direction, but our awareness tunes into a subtle change, and as we enter, there is more light shining down on us than just a minute earlier. This is a track on a large scale that is affecting how much light which helps to make a more rich forest in vegetation and brings with it many animals and birds and the like. With our senses honed, there are signs of the animals all around us. We notice claw marks and bites on trees, stunted growth where it looks like a nursery of Japanese bonsai trees, and when we look down in the leaf litter, there are many footfalls showing worn-in paths on the forest floor, weaving in and out of the cliffs.

Passing through different habitats, we see the many deciduous leaves and all the light that shines creates a dappled look under our feet and in the area between the wetland and the cliffs. There is a lot of feeding sign called browse (little 45-degree angle cuts), taking the end of the branch clean off, almost like clippers.

Place to hide?As we expand our awareness to the area high up on the cliff, we see a good hiding place opposite of the spot we want to watch. Scanning for signs of movement, we hope to get a glance of this very elusive animal who chooses the south-facing, hard-to-access areas in the cliffs. We have already done our research; we know this animal is crepuscular, which means it is active at twilight hours (dawn and dusk). It is diurnal (day) and nocturnal (night).

Another place?Its primary food source has left sign with the angled cut that we found earlier, so we know there is a feeding area in close view. One of the traits of this animal is the ability to be motionless for long periods; even in winter, being able to lay in the snow where you can find a sphinx-like “hunting bed” while it waits to ambush its prey. To discover this body print melted out from the heat that is generated while it remains still as a shadow is inspiring! As we get down low, we find sections of hair frozen to the ice; however this time of year, you want to look for “resting beds;” places where you can make out where it has been laying down, usually under a rock overhang on a pile of leaves insulating from the ground.

resting placeThe forest is so quiet. My daughter and I take turns to scan the cliffs with our glasses. We have been watching, quietly, for almost an hour and a half. We know that patience always pays off. We also know that this animal has a very small heart and it travels a very short range compared to others of its size. By knowing this, we also could watch it hunt as it stalks its prey since it is primarily a carnivore.

While looking near the top where we have been looking all morning, in the best rays of light, we see movement–a very camouflaged tawny color with dark shades and beautiful markings, big eyes and graceful movement as we watch it stretch basking in the suns glow. It has been there all this time…watching us watching for her. So who’s watching whom? While studying us, perhaps, she senses we are not a threat.

It is time to hunt. Her preferred prey, the rabbit, helps to sustain her but also helps raising her kittens. If you haven’t guessed by now, the mystery animal is the bobcat.

bobcat babyAs we watch our cat in her natural rhythm, we are excited because we may be able to watch her hunt. Earlier we mentioned how she lies in wait in “hunting beds.” Once the prey is close enough, there is an explosion of energy–a POUNCE! From her ambush spot, bursting forth after the rabbit who has zigzagging motion to avoid capture. There is a very small window of time because she needs to not burn too much energy; if the hunt lasts longer than just minutes, she will stop rest, find another spot and start again and continue that cycle.

This bobcat needs to eat and feed her new kittens, and when she has the rabbit, she will take it to a place close by to hide it and take parts of the animal and “cache” (cover and save for later) the rest, using her front paws very much the same as our house cats. She will travel back and forth to feed her young if she has gotten a good amount of food. She will continue to hunt this area because of the success.

Thanks for joining us on our adventure into the outdoors.

Until next time happy trails…

Wild Edibles & Medicinal Plants

LEARNING FROM THE PAST AND PRESENT

There are many different plants that offer potential foods for us to experience. Our ancestors all over the world remind us to share a deep relationship with plants and the importance of a sacred balance. There are cultural tracks left behind for us to follow and learn this deep knowledge that may come directly from indigenous elders around the globe as well as a plethora of information in Ethnobotany and wild food literature.

I have had an opportunity to study with a number of authors and specialists and have integrated foraging into my life for more than a decade. These wild foragers, each coming from there own unique perspective, share many commonalities – passion for sharing their love of plants, eating wild food as a lifestyle, and the tremendous depth of knowledge they share. I have been able to integrate many of their best practices so as to add to the living book of eating wild.

Inspiring foragers with whom I have trained with include: Doug Elliot, Sam Thayer, Arthur Haines, Blanche Cybele Derby, Rosemary Gladstar, Walt Gigandet, Russ Cohen and John Kallas

As people discovered the gift of fire, many parts of the plants became available as food. It has been scientifically documented that the nutritional value in wild plants is beyond their cultivated counterparts.

There are many cycles in the natural world, and many of our classes are designed by what is available during these seasons. These cycles are all different in what they yield with many species of plants and the many parts, such as;

• seeds,
• shoots,
• corms,
• rhizomes,
• petioles,
• leaves,
• biennial stalks,
• buds,
• flowers,
• pollen.

The forager knows this and looks forward to the amazing diversity of food available in early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, early fall, late fall, and even into the winter. Through this knowledge, we learn to develop a personal relationship with these plants and the special places that they grow.

THE NEED IS GREAT RIGHT NOW TO EAT LOCAL

For ultimate health and wellness, eating WILD is the best health care insurance you can have. With these changing times that we are living in, it is important to supplement our cultivated harvest, supporting our local farmers, with a WILD harvest.

Wild Edibles

BOOKS ARE GREAT RESOURCES BUT DIRECT EXPERIENCE WITH A KNOWLEDGEABLE PERSON IS INVALUABLE.

Earthwork Programs has designed a Wild Edibles and Medicinal Plant IMMERSION SERIES to share this valuable knowledge. Join us for this unique experience in WILD FOOD and allow it to complement your current culinary habits and lifestyle.

 

Re-Awaken a Long-Lost Tradition of Gathering Wild Food as a Family!

Let’s Get NUTS!!

Hickory HarvestThere are all kinds of fall events. In addition to going for a hike and seeing the foliage, how about harvesting some nuts to prepare and eat?

There’s an amazing tree in the forest right here around us that will help us develop a stronger connection to the natural world. This is such an important part of our patterning on nature that plants seeds for the rest of our development and our ch
This tree is strong, majestic, camouflaged and blends in well with the other trees and not well known by sight, but totally worth the effort in recognizing how to find it…once you can find it. Next you have to figure out which one tastes the best because there are different kinds of hickory trees.ildren and how we will interact for years to come.

It’s not often that you hear people talk about hickories—they are not well known—so let’s go over some identification details that will be helpful in being able to develop the secret to finding this tree and some wild edible foraging skills too.

As we get started, direct your focus on looking at the different habitats in your area and aspects of the trees, bark, leaves (on the ground which may be easier to reach) and up in the tree, note branching structure and nuts and outer coating (husk). Find an area that has a lot of oaks, because we are looking for an oak-hickory forest type. Trees need to be older than 40 years for producing nuts; the younger trees will not.

Hickory TreeMichael Wojtech has a fantastic book, Bark: a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast. I highly recommend it, and this will help give you some really great images and great detail on what to look for. We are fortunate that he has shared an image with us here in the article. I am feeling very grateful for all his research and his graciousness in sharing the knowledge.Most the time when you find hickory nuts they will be right under your feet. They are likely to be in an area that has a lot of squirrel activity; also blue jays are active in eating and caching (storing) them too. There are many kinds of wildlife feeding on this bounty: deer, bears, turkey, raccoons. You may find tracks and signs of their feeding, climbing and presence. You might even find the nuts on the pavement of the roads, parking lots, and other parks, golf courses and recreation areas. (Be mindful of the use of pesticid
Start to create maps of the area of your favorite spots and begin to look forward to visiting those special places around harvesting times every year. As a forager, this is a good thing to pay attention to and develop the habit of. Create special names and stories about these places, and soon you will want to return often, whether you are harvesting or not.es where you are harvesting food.)After gathering for a little bit, you might want to add a little excitement, if necessary.GAME: Nutty Squirrels–In this activity, you are a family of squirrels. By noticing the types of trees, are you able to find from where the hickories are coming (which is the parent tree?)? This is a great way to utilizefield guides and general observation skills. How many nuts can we gather as a group in a certain time limit? Ready set go!
You can always weave in predator-prey dynamics; lots of animals and birds eat squirrels!

Hickory in ShellBack to figuring out which nuts we have. Once you have the nuts in your hand, you can find out whether or not they are hard hickory nuts or soft? Why is this important? This will help in identification and to help you be successful in picking the best tasting ones and which to gather.

Look closely at the features of the nut. Is the husk thick or thin? When I say “thick,” I mean like a quarter- to half-inch thick. “Thin” is similar to an acorn shell, sometimes thinner.

Next, you need to shell and crack your nut. If it cracks really easily, you have what’s called a “soft hickory.” If it cracks really hard and the shells are like rocks, you have a hard hickory. There are two different groups of hickories: hard and soft.
Since there are no poisonous hickories, you can experiment and may be lucky enough to find Pignut Hickory, which is a thin-husked hickory with a hard shell similar to Shagbark but a little bigger in size and more nutmeat inside. This is the PRIZE one that can double your harvesting efforts.This is really helpful because the hard hickories with the hard shell have the sweet nutmeat inside. The soft hickories have the bitter nutmeat; at least it needs to be leached (take out tannins) and can still be edible. We are going to focus on the ones that do not need the extra step of leaching. These are the Shagbark and Pignut Hickories

Hickory Shell.

I have found that Shagbark and Pignut together are excellent. There is some information out there that says Pignut is bitter, but I think they’re confusing that with Bitternut. It can be a little confusing, so let’s focus on the hard and sweet hickories this time.

You can crack nuts i

ndividually, similar to the walnuts you get in the store, using a pick and getting the nutmeat out (which really makes the effort worth it when you taste the goodness). It can take about 20 minutes, and you can have a generous handful.

Teagan Crushing Hickory NutsThere is a learning curve of breaking the nuts to access them. You will find that some of them are hard to hold and hit just right, (watch those fingers) break the nut and try to open it; you have to be careful how much force you use because too much force just smashes it then you have the shell mixed in with the nutmeat and it can be challenging to get that out.

Learning traditions from our past and developing seasonal harvesting routines for free food creates an enriching future

A Recipe from our Past Called “Powcohicora” (Algonquin Language)

Historically, the native people used hickory. The way they did it was to pulverize the nuts, crushing the shell and nutmeat together, and place all of it in a container and boil it with a watchful eye. The shells sink and everything else rises to the top and they skim the heavy liquid off the top, which is called “decanting.”

Crushed HickoriesImportant: They got a special cream off the top which is hickory nut cream, and the rest of it underneath the cream is hickory nut milk (sweeten to taste, but not necessary).

This is not only sweet but it also can be very good as a soup broth or for a stew; it’s full of oils and healthy fats (very high in calories as an easy to digest oil including the high-quality essential fatty acids shown to prevent heart disease), and it’s a good source of vitamin B1 and magnesium. They also provide protein, carbohydrates, iron, phosphorus, potassium, trace minerals, and vitamins A and C
I hope this has inspired you to get out into the fields and forest, and in a sacred way, harvest from these great beings. I also would love to hear about your experiences learning about wild food. May we meet each other underneath a beautiful hickory tree…

Welcome to the Hickory Club.

 

You’re LOST…Now What? (Part 1)

A Beautiful Hike in the Foothills of the Berkshires…

Nature ConnectionIt’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.

Pine TreeAs 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.

lost 2So 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.

stop

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.

threeThe universal sign for emergency is 3! Three loud whistles, gun shots, car horns or banging a piece of metal if trapped underground in a mine or in a building in an earthquake. Always remember 3.

TO BE CONTINUED…I’m Lost! Hike Turns into Wilderness Survival Experience

I’m Lost! Hike Turns to Wilderness Survival Experience (Part 2)

stop We last left off where I was lost and signaling for help and integrating my S.T.O.P plan of action. (S=Stop; T=Think; O=Observe; P=Plan)

sun compassSo 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
Pine TreeAs 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.

leave shelterleave shelter young girlNatural-Shelter-fix 

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
Frank-FireIt 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.

Not Just Your Everyday Campfire

tending the fireSo everybody has spent time around a campfire, right? Maybe you roasted marshmallows, shared stories, cooked yummy food and enjoyed the mesmerizing flame.

Perhaps, if we were moths, we would be drawn to it the same way they are.

Take a walk back in time and imagine our ancestors sitting around the campfire. This fire wasn’t just there, filling up the space; it was constantly being in use…in a variety of ways, such as heating up rocks for a sweat lodge ceremony, making pottery and firing the earthen ware clay pot vessels, fire hardening tools, and purifying plants and making them softer and more edible.

During my last trip to Alaska, I had an opportunity to talk in great detail about the symbolism and the detail in the carvings that were created within our ancestors’ own personal bowls. These were not just a means to an end; their artistry was an example of their love, respect and reverence for the creator—very much tied to their spirituality. These bowls were carved or shaped from the coals of fire.

How to Make Your Own Coal-burned Bowl

1-photo 2 (1)In these photographs, we show you the process:

1. Need a fire—not just any fire will do; the fire needs to have embers that will last a long time. This is done using hardwood coals, i.e., maple, birch, beech, etc.

kids cutting wood for bowls2. Need a good strong seasoned price of wood—size is up to you; 5” or 6″ round is a great beginning…pine, cedar, cherry, etc.

3. Need a way to extract coals to place on your bowl blank shows the different details that we do when we teach coal burning.

coal burned spoon4. Need a tool to keep ember in place—this could be something that will not catch fire. A green branch to hold ember to bowl blank until depression forms.

coal burned bowl5. Carefully hold bowl and secure green branch to coals and blow in ember so it begins to burn depression. (Warning: if you get a flame, blow out carefully, or it can crack your bowl.)

6. Replace coals and repeat—when the coal goes out, you simply scrape out the char with stone or a stick and get another ember from the fire and repeat.

Enjoy experimenting with these wilderness skills and add a whole new level to having a campfire.

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