I enjoyed this piece from Paul Kirtley, the Founder of Frontier Bushcraft www.frontierbushcraft.com it reminds me of the times I walk the moors alone and how good that feels. The picture is on one of my favourite local places, the Siperstones in Shropshire and the story of Wild Edric. to be out here is to be in touch with the spirits of this place, with all that is not human … a vital part of wilderness.
At Frontier Bushcraft we feel it’s important that bushcraft is taught in the context of
David Quammen captured aspects of wilderness and our relationship to wild lands in his deceptively simple statement, “Wilderness can be anyplace where human impact upon the landscape is small, reminding us therefore that we are too.”
It is possible to go to a DIY or home-improvement store, buy a few bits of timber, go home, make a working bow-drill set in your back yard and use it to create the beginnings of a fire.
But to me this isn’t bushcraft. It certainly isn’t wilderness bushcraft. While I’m not suggesting there is no value in practicing the mechanics of a skill in your back yard, it’s important to remember that this is only a small part of the story.
The main story is the knowledge of nature required to apply this technique in the wilds. To go into unfamiliar woodland, identify particular species of tree, find dead, standing wood in the correct condition and make your bow-drill set; possibly in less than favourable conditions. In addition, you have to be able to identify, collect and prepare available natural materials to transform an ember into a flame. You also need to collect or create good kindling and other fuel for your fire. If, in addition to this knowledge of nature, you add the skill and experience to make success of this technique a certainty, then this is wilderness bushcraft.
Sigurd Olson wrote, “Mankind was part of nature, he felt interdependent with the wilderness, and he knew that human happiness and well-being rested upon strengthening our ties to the natural world.”
When you travel in wilderness, particularly under your own steam, you feel very close to it. For a period you become locked to it. You can’t just hop on a bus out of there when you’ve had a bad day. You can’t click your heels together to get back home. You have to see it through. You are committed. You are part of a thing much bigger than you, exposed and responsible for yourself. For those who love to travel in wild places, this is a great feeling.
In the wilds, the effects of every action or decision we make is felt directly and the consequence of getting things wrong can be brutal. If you are sloppy, you will normally suffer the consequences. Detail, skill and judgement become crucial.
The mental shift provoked by focusing on detail, developing a high level of skill and using experience to temper judgement is strongly encouraged on Frontier Bushcraft’s courses and expeditions. It takes your bushcraft into a different league and you will understand the skills within a realistic context.
During wilderness travel there are often compromises, concessions to logistics, and discomfort. The fortitude that these experiences bring about is an important part of the wilderness mindset. While none of us likes to be uncomfortable, being able to put up with things and accept them as they are is liberating. A passage from The Last of the Mohicans comes to mind,
“As Hawk-eye and the Mohicans had, however, often traversed the mountains and valleys of this vast wilderness, they did not hesitate to plunge into its depths, with the freedom of men accustomed to its privations and difficulties.”
A wilderness mentality makes you resourceful and resilient. It will see you through the tough times in life and enable the best times. Keep wilderness firmly in mind when learning and practicing your skills; they will serve you well when you need them to work, for real.