“Dirt Time” is going out there and actually doing something in the woods. Awareness, Shelter, Water, Fire, and Food/Medicine are the topics I normally pursue when I head out to the real and natural world. Some warnings before you leave the ranks of the Chair Borne Rangers and barrel out the door armed with your shine unobtanium rambo knife, stainless steel water bottle and “Scorched Earth” (trademarked) Ferro Log. If you are really serious about pursuing this “fo reelz”, stop before you hurt yourself or do decades with of damage to your local forest. Seriously. We have the worlds finest youtube knowledge in our heads, but our muscle memory, our awareness, and what is going on outside are not always going to synch as seamlessly as the soft blue hue of the computer screen does to our frontal lobes.
I want to share a methodology, one tried and proven approach to prolonged and successful enjoyment in the out of doors with minimal gear. It isn’t survival, well, except in the beginning, but that’s just how we learn which skills we are really bad at and how to fix them. After that it isn’t bush craft, because, while we enjoy deep fried donuts in a dutch one full of hot bear fat, the goal is to be good enough to go in without any tools. Shhh….don’t tell anyone. Just sneak toward that goal over a series of decades while everyone else get all fluffed up about how irresponsible it would be to go without. Remember, you are not learning to “go without”. Your learning to DO without. You want to be so experienced that when your lighter comes it feels a little like failure. Next, feel that way about your ferro rod when your off the landscape hand drill doesn’t go as planned. Now, here is the important part. Don’t rush it. That’s how you break things. Deer aren’t running all over the place out there and neither should you. Start small and stay focused.
There is an order to skills development that is critical. Getting tweaked about having an order in survival is fine if you want to stay at “survival” level”. Once you get tired of suffering until you get rescued, we’ll move on to further skills development. A craftsmen is first an apprentice (survival), and their mentor shares the skills of the craft in an order that build upon itself. This order is: Awareness, Shelter, Water, Fire, and Food. Now lets begin.
Your awareness is based on choice. You choose to see the world through the lens of a worker, a parent, a boss, a gardener, or a commuter. Beyond your genetics you are formed by on two things; the environment you choose to immerse yourself in, and what you focus on in that environment. Developing your awareness is nothing less than increasing your operational intelligence by creating new neural connections. It takes effort and should be an ongoing work out in your daily life. Make it fun. What color were the waitresses shoes? What was the last thing you said to your mom? Where is the nearest source of drinking water rom your location? How about outdoors and away from plumbing? Right now, which way is south? Awareness needs a work out because we killed most of the things that eat us. Compare a deer and it’s awareness to a cow and you get the idea regarding how we have devolved ourselves.
In the woods, this means as soon as you realize you are a Meatloaf concert in full swing crashing into the Vatican during Sunday Mass, STOP. Wait until you hear the birds singing. Now wait until the songs start to fill in closer to you. Now listen for the silences all around you. This process should take about an hour, but it won’t. Your overdeveloped logical mind will be screaming at you to keep moving. It has been fed, pampered, and put in control for so long that you will convince yourself to you have to “go”. When your done with that we’ll eventually be able to walk with the deer, but right now that’s just far fetched mumbo jumbo. Walk with the Deer, Really. Come back in a year.
Shelter starts with the clothes on your back. I like wool because it is silent, it fuzzes me into the background, and it keeps me warm when it is wet. I also defer to footgear that is, above all else, comfortable. My sons second hand Nike’s are the best moccasins I own. They’re free (to me), light, and flexible. They are sensitive to the ground yet I can still run and climb trees in them. Being pre-worn has made the soles soft enough to feel the ground, and that is really important. When we look for shelter we ant soft and dry ground to help insulate us from conduction. Going up in elevation and looking for oak or beech stands is a good guideline in these parts, but so too is being able to feel the soil beneath your feet. It should give a little and feel warm and dry. Squishy or dense soil that is cool to the foot is dense and wet and will rob you of your core temperature.
Water sources are important in this modern world. Just don’t get hung up over all the patented chemicals circulating through your veins and arteries. We poop in our drinking water, what do you expect? Too many folks get wrapped up in the grief of what we are doing to our ecological supports. If it moves you than do something about it! Life is the only sexually transmitted disease that is 100% fatal, so enjoy your stay and learn to minimize risk through educating yourself about your water supply. This goes for your house as well as your landscape. Biological and Chemical contaminants are everywhere. What issues are facing you and your water supply? Can you make water carrying containers in the wild? From what? Do you have a container you can put on a fire in order to bring your water to a boil? If not, get one.
So, you’ve located the most secluded spring you can find, picked the dead frog out of it and filled your stainless steel wide mouth water bottle with all of that life giving savory goodness. Time to boil it. How are your fire making skills? Here is another fine example of your personal investment in dirt time. Most folks will begin this journey by rushing out there with a box of matches where they will scrape the ground with their foot to make a bare spot. Then they will pile up a bunch of wet wood and will proceed to lighting that wood until they run out of matches. Redundancy in systems is going to make your initial experience more enjoyable and it will make you feel like a super hero. A lighter to back up the ferro rod to back up the bar drill set to back up the hand drill gathered off the landscape. Thankfully, you made a sweet shelter that doesn’t rely on fire just in case two paragraphs ago.
Food, the never ending quest. Our ancestors moved when food got scarce. Sadly, there is nowhere to move to. We have to be held accountable to the healthy and bounty of our own “hood” if we plan on making it for any period of time. You can make that sound as ominous or as casual as you so choose. Soil health, edge areas, plant diversity, animal diversity, wise use and care of natural systems, these are elements that will help you to increase the yield of your landscape through the years. Remember that the best time to plant a fruit or nut tree is ten years ago. The second best time is today. We don’t plant fruit trees just to have pies, it helps us have venison too.
Your personal investment in dirt time should be charged with passion, focus, and thankfulness. Each foray into the real world that is the out of doors is a gift. We always learn something and grow ready for the next time. Use your logical mind as an ally by developing methodologies toward self reliance, beyond survival, and with a deeply connected community of skilled practitioners.