Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Notes from the Director

Running a Wilderness Survival and Tracking School is not nearly as fun as learning and teaching at one. This blog is designed to help emergent skills schools avoid all of the mistakes we made and also to fill in some of the skills gaps that the other instructors aren't writing about. I know I should remain professional and detached when I share thoughts here, but that isn't possible. I have this thing bout being a human being and there is a certain degree of honesty in sharing thoughts and ideas that might challenge folks, including you. First, I want to address some "reality" shows and how they have impacted a lot of wilderness survival and nature education programs. I feel the show "Survivor" did more harm to the wilderness skills community than any other show. Instead of delving in to skills and community cooperation, or group survival strategies, it turned in to a soap opera. The newer "reality" type programs where one guy goes out with a camera and suffers by dragging himself out of the woods doesn't do a lot for the public either. Most of this is due to the producers obsession with having to get out of the situation instead of real techniques being demonstrated that could actually save lives. The shelters are usually haphazzard, the skills are barely touched upon with regard to water gathering, fire making, food procurement and real versus perceived hazzards. There is also a degree of "lack of knowledge" by those who advise and produce each show. One man slept in a metal aircraft on ice and wondered why he was so cold, the same guy harvested the aerial parts of Cattail in the fall and complained they were already past the time they could be eaten when the rich starchy tubers lay in the soft mud inches from his feet. On a similar show a man risked his life belaying off a cliff to get to a high way on parachute cord. The technique is well established, but completely unnecessary, and hardly worth the risk in a real situation. Either, might I add, is the need to squeeze moisture out of animal dung for water. This type of sensationalism is often impractical, inaccurate and at times, dangerous. There is no reason to point the finger at the host, or any one person for these productions and what they portray. Who knows what was edited and who made what decisions. The best one can do is take notes and test the skills presented on your own or against your own experiences. We are lucky here. I go out atleast once a month in a full or semi survival trip, and have instructors who do the same. We train as a staff four times a year and practice skills on our own at least twice a month related to survival, tracking and awareness. Every day I find myself learning or sharing new things within our staff and community of students and other schools. My only regret is that millions of viewers, having seen the "Survival Dude" type shows may actually believe they can whip out a bow drill fire from materials on the landscape any time they need to after seeing one episode. For more information, instructional videos, details about our staff, school, or courses, please visit