Friday, February 18, 2011

Survival and The Zombie Apocalypse

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse has become the hot theme over the last two years. It is a thinly veiled metaphor for folks of all walks of life to be able to express their growing uneasiness with the way they see things are going. In expressing our uncertainties through zombies we can cross all manner of political and social boundaries. The big plus is that they resemble humans and are already dead. So, in the spirit of taking advantage of this . . . movement, it seemed important to share some topics that might be worth exploring on your own. Our school doesn’t officially cover most of these topics. We do however practice a great deal of them as a matter of fun and “entertainment purposes”.

For those of you who have been through a survival skills course, you have probably heard of attitude, shelter, water, fire, and food as important topics to be covered. Firearms, lock picking, psychological warfare, escape from restraints, hotwiring, improvised munitions, and small group movement aren’t necessarily included in the basic survival package. They are, however, things to consider in an Apocalypse of the Zombie persuasion.

Just to be clear, we don’t condone any of the above training for folks unless being pursued by zombies. Some founding father type apparently said something about the government being afraid of the people as being freedom and the people being afraid of the government as tyranny. I suppose that would make being afraid of zombies perfectly healthy, maybe even sane in today’s current climate. So train wisely.

Remember that cell phones and televisions are transmitters that there is currently no real “Right to Privacy”, and only you are responsible for your own safety before embarking on such liberties. Be also aware that time is a real issue. Jobs, sleep, family and other obligations limit what you can learn. Make a list of skill sets you want to master, another list you want to be decent at, and a third list of skills you want to be familiar with. There is only so many hours before the brain sucking hordes come out of the ground. In short, prioritize and don’t advertise.

Your essentials list should be relatively short and have some aspect of escape and evasion included on it. This list is where you will be spending most of your training time and energy. It should also include some sort of defense training or strategies. Don’t be so self absorbed that you forget to network with valuable community assets on some level with regard to this list. This could be something as low maintenance as establishing safe houses along escape routes, or as involved as cross training team members and practicing reactionary drills. Remember that “one is none and two is one” when it comes to high intensity zombie interaction.

On the decent proficiency list, a transferrable/barter-able skill is important. Something you can do that few others can gives you value in high stress group dynamics. They won’t sacrifice you to the zombies if you’re the only one who knows field expedient short wave radio, or can repair firearms. Blacksmithing, EMT skills, a cross trained person in two or three of these areas is important. Strive to be that person.

Lastly, the list of skills you are lightly familiar with should be your largest. You train in these to gain a working knowledge of how things operate. Just don’t get fooled in to believing you know something just because you saw it on you tube or read it in a cheesy blog like this one. As an example, lock picking should not be on this list unless you popped open a pair of cuffs and a master lock a few times with improvised rakes, wrenches, and picks.

Zombies are arrogant and lack creativity, but they are well trained and their ego’s give them the illusion of command and control. It is only through your training and networking that you will prevent having your brains sucked out. If you already believe you know all this “stuff”, than you are exhibiting zombie behavior. Being hungry for more ways to increase your survival and the survival of your loved ones may be the only way to prevent the spread of the scourge and allow you to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Choosing Sides

I write this as more than just a motivated former Marine. I’ve run a survival school since 1989 and I consider myself an eager student of the subject (translated: I don’t mind how you choose to feel, I don’t have any money, and I willingly subject myself to black flies, mosquitoes, and self proclaimed “experts” who will tell you all they know without ever leaving the comfort of their living room chair). I do this because it makes me feel like the wealthiest man on earth. That brings me to the point of this article. I’m looking across the landscape and seeing a whole lot of people preparing for something. Their skill sets are impressive and many of them overlap. There are old school Red Scare types prepping with bunkers, caches, shelters, and firepower. There are back-to-the-landers with permaculture and the homesteading arts. There’s the New World Order types, the overpopulation groups, the folks with specific dates, etc. Heck, for the folks who can’t find the one ideal group to call home, there are zombies.

Well, with all of you folks choosing sides, joining up with co-ops, spec-ops, psy-ops, and the pyramids with the psy-clops, I figured I should choose a side too. Now, whomever I joined up with would have to be powerful. I’m a sore loser when it comes to living, at least when it concerns my family and me. So I needed some entity more powerful than zombies and the entire Red Army combined. I needed something that could provide food, security, and stability for me and the future of my folk; some entity that was tactically sound, reliable, and proven during the long haul. I didn’t want to be tied up with unnecessary logistics and unreliable communications. After running trough the short list and going over all the candidates, in the end, I chose the Earth.

For one, she’s bigger than all of the other groups…combined! She’s been sorting through species like folks go through cheap ballpoint pens. In a real “man versus wild” scenario, history demonstrates pretty conclusively who the winner is…every time. Now you folks of a conservative nature, don’t go tuning me out just yet (Teddy Roosevelt is still one of my favorite Presidents). You can’t expect to “Live off the Land” if you don’t have enough meat to feed your family. Besides, where do you go to “get away from it all”? The city? Really? Even if it came to cannibalism, do you think that the meat there is safe to eat? Toxins accumulate in the apex species of any environment. Think about it. Besides, even if you were able to stick to wild game, have you seen the size of the deer in New Jersey? They’re the size of Greyhounds (the dogs, not the busses).

So what do I mean?

Well, my grandfather was a farmer. In WWII he threw potatoes at the German torpedo bombers. He was a merchant marine on one of the supply ships to Europe (the kind they referred to as “Kaisers Coffin’s). He was a hard speaking, levelheaded man who taught me the importance of good soil and a sharp aim. He shared that it’s okay to kill a groundhog to protect your blackberries as long as you eat it (the groundhog . . . and the blackberries). He raised nine kids, and an assortment of fruits, vegetables, and livestock, and stayed married to the same wife his entire life. He also taught me the lessons his parents learned during the depression about calorie investment versus calorie expenditure, and the importance of keeping a productive landscape. We hunted deer because we planted and took care of the plants, shrubs, and trees that the deer ate. We always had fresh eggs, a source for meat, milk, and veggies. It was hard work that benefited his kids and their children. Heck, I suppose it’s benefiting my kids now, as I see them enjoying their lives amid a landscape of people too busy worrying about a mythical future to do something in the present to change it. I’m not talking about pretending to kill zombies or starting a small garden. Those things are nice and all. I’m just talking about getting back in touch with what worked. Assume for a minute that your great-grandparents were really good at living a healthy and productive life without things like electricity. Imagine it takes more problem solving to get your food and heat sources every day, and that a healthier diet and more active lifestyle make you sharper and more robust (individually and as a species) than the diet and activity level in today’s world. Now couple that with a wild sense of stewarding the landscape. Lets get totally crazy and assume that there was this scientifically founded and religiously supported idea that the landscape’s health is directly related to the health and prosperity of your tribe, or “nation”. One last thing, and pardon me if this will make your brain explode at the absurdity of it all, but let's add the idea that we have today’s technologies, and that these technologies allow us to increase individual backyard productivity to allow for year round backyard food production in the contiguous United States.

Hmmmmm . . . with these wacky elements as part of the package, do you see where preparing for some futuristic event could get you into some really cool projects that will increase your survivability, and decrease your dependency? Beyond that, it will build a community of folks who support each other with complimentary skill sets, gardening, foraging, livestock, and hunting diversity. There will be an increase in bartering potential, and an increase in security. Before you know it, we will increase the quality of our lives, building something that used to be called “neighborhoods”, where folks talk to each other, share news, get in arguments, watch each others kids and yell for them all to get home when the street light came on. We would begin to build a real community of folks who plant with an eye toward what their neighbor might be planting so there would be good garden trades in the fall. We’d plant apples for pies and for the turkey and venison that come after them.

This stuff isn’t that old. Granted, the folks that still do it are few, and many don’t want to share what they know with strangers, but it hasn’t been forgotten. I’m siding with the Earth because the landscape is a direct reflection of my own health. The way this land is worked depends on whether I view it as a “resource” or an “investment”. More, it shows folks how near-sighted or far-sighted I’ve been; how selfishly or selflessly I’ve spent my days.

So, I can fire a rifle a bit, still learning how to pickle, and make soap, even getting a forge up and running. All that’s good. I'm learning and teaching wild edible plants, how to make bows with stone tools, listening to bird alarms and tracking indicator species to be a better hunter. More than that though, I’m having fun. Lets face it, we have this big looming event that’s coming (or not) and we get into all of this excitement about skills, and plants, and gardens and guns because in the end, it’s fun. Imagine if it were as simple as that. You work hard at something you enjoy doing to ensure the health and survival of your kind, and as a result you're rewarded with a deep sense of satisfaction and fun, and a sense of competence. It doesn’t take a survival expert to give you the importance of that vehicle. You already have it. It’s parked in your brain right next to the self-doubt and distraction cars. Which on do you plan on piloting when it comes to surviving the coming apocalypse? Maybe your apocalypse is already here. Either way, I’m having fun. Let me know how it turns out. Oh yeah, and watch out for those zombies.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Survival Teaching Story on Attitude and Perspective

“I need a rattle.”

The thought came to the snake faster than the warming rays of first light. Thus, it was sluggish and didn’t quite stick at first. It wasn’t until the energy of the new day soaked though her scales and stirred her blood that the idea compelled her unblinking eye toward her once magnificent tail. The sight brought the drama of the hawk and the drop, the scramble to find cover and the pain, all rushing in. She even shook her tail, but the expectant buzz was replaced by a dull thudding noise. No thankfulness entered her heart this morning. She did not feel a sense of gratefulness for surviving the attack. Any feelings of appreciation were now muffled by the feeling of remorse at the loss of her beautiful tail. The grief was just too all encompassing. It was hunger that drove her from her shelter.

She saw the other snakes stare and turn to each other. She kept to the low places and the corners, wanting to remain unseen, unnoticed. Her imagination built conversations between the snakes she passed, each one mocking her for her lost tail, her lack of awareness. She found a pocket gopher; it’s heat guiding her to the den. A coyote passed by and all of her attempts at rattling did nothing to break its stride. She remembered the respect her beautiful tale commanded. Again, snakes are staring, whispering. Entering the den she found her mark and feasted. While her belly was full, her heart remained empty. She fell asleep in the den. The scraping of claws startled her from her mournful sleep. A badger, taking advantage of the cool shade the hole provided, or looking for food, started to burrow toward her. He used his razor sharp claws to widen the entrance. She rattled, and nothing. She coiled, and nothing. The darkness and lack of noise left no other option. Badgers eat snakes. She struck at the center of the darkness and hit. She did it again, and again. The wall of fur paused, then stuttered before shuffling backwards. Hope faded as the mass stopped at the opening, the only avenue of escape.

The life giving sun was leaving. She had to get out or she would never survive the cold night of the desert. Slowly she inched near the badger. Not until she was close did she realize it was dead. As she crawled over the body, more snakes were whispering and staring from the rock. The burden of this was too much. Seeking counsel with the matriarch, she headed toward the sandstone ledge that housed the elders.

She was careful to hide her tail when other snakes came with in sight, but her arrival was not unnoticed. The clan mothers seemed unusually happy to see her. The elders greeted her warmly. When at last she saw the matriarch, the voice of the wisdom keeper startled her. “Why do you hide that amazing tail”, she asked. Sliding closer to examine the young snake, the Matriarch continued. “Your scars are the stuff of legend. For the last two days your story has been shared. Your encounter with the hawk, how you survived the fall to Earth, your standing up to the coyote with out flinching, and most amazing of all, your battle with the badger. Your tail holds the story of all of these things louder than any words. You should hold that tail with pride.”

Of course, snakes cannot really speak. And, even if they could, they would rarely find the energy to share this sort of thing with each other. However, the story is too important not to be told. Therefore it is up to us to find the story within ourselves when we find that our scars are holding us back, or that our tails have been nipped. These things that we believe are being told of us should be heard in a way that frees us, empowers us, becomes our badge of wisdom borne of hardship, not a prison of shame, grief, or inaction rooted in a story of shortcomings.

Folks come to our school to learn survival and we give them a list of priorities. At the top of that list is “Attitude”. After coming to classes for a year or so, they find that the list of priorities applies to more than just survival. It applies to a full and empowering life regardless of what is thrown your way.

This story was given to me after a Cherokee Elder made a statement at one of our classes. All he said was, “I need a rattle”. By the time I walked from the winter classroom to the office, the story rushed in. I typed it out as fast as I could before it left me. Now it is yours.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Primitive Skills as foundational to Permaculture

Primitive Skills-The foundation for Permaculture

Go to the window and look at your landscape. Can you identify each plant, shrub, and tree along with their edible, medicinal, and utilitarian uses? Can you name each bird and animal, their behaviors relationships and current location? Are you aware, based on the evidence provided by plant species and conditions, animal tracks and sign, elevation, and drainage, of the soil quality and characteristics? If this sounds too far fetched, it’s because you’ve been raised in an artificial landscape superimposed on the real and natural one. Our ancestors knew all of these things as a matter of survival. More so, their diet was healthier, their craniums larger, and their concern for the environment based on a direct correlation and relationship with the health of their community. At a glance our “primitive” ancestors could predict the weather, locate water, read the tracks and sign of insects, and animals, interpret the language of the birds, and read the forested landscape to determine what plants, medicine, cordage, dyes, and tools could be gathered. They could also tell the health of the ecology of the area. Can you?

Imagine you did know the answers to the above questions. How would that change your behaviors? Would you eradicate all of the mint for one year of tea? Would you harvest all the sweet fern in a rush to stock up on diarrhea medication? Of course not! Saving seeds, drying herbs, and cultivated the land for more diversity has been going on since long before the bronze age. The “care taker attitude” has been expressed and well documented in the history of this land and every continent by it’s indigenous cultures.

This in depth “native” knowledge of the landscape has had important historical ramifications for our success as a species. Arguably, whether you are a “back to the lander”, “prepper”, in to “nature education”, or just want to get in touch with something real and important, there is nothing as effective at addressing the foundational skill sets to all of these approaches as primitive skills.

Our ancestors refined their relationship with the landscape over countless generations. Motivated to be efficient and successful by their own mortality, hunter-gatherer nomadic tribes were a far cry from the club toting dolts portrayed in cartoons and insurance commercials.

So, lets get to the nitty-gritty details. How does this look? What are the ways that would make our landscape a biodiverse wild “garden” that would sustain multiple layers of life for generations to come?

First, start with the people. We use the “Thanksgiving Address” as a structure to build awareness and community from. Caretaking your landscape is no exception. What talent can you tap in to in your community? What would they feel motivated to do and how would they feel most valued? Our programs rely heavily on work-study and apprenticeships so that the people are learning as they share their skills and hard work. The key to make sure they are valued, because all hands are certainly needed.

The soil, our unspoken wealth, needs to be addressed next. Test your soils in different locations and map out what you need to do. In most cases it makes sense to adjust what you grow than to adjust the soil. Exceptions include things like high bush blueberries or other high yield or important species that you just can’t do without.

Map the understory, but include the tracks and sign as well as the important herbaceous plants. Garden pests equal meat on the table. Finding the balance will help you optimize populations of plants to attract mammals as well as provide your community with food and medicine.

Pay special attention to shade loving plants and their relatives. A healthy tree that is allowed to grow increases in value over time. Be sure to make the most out of the trees you do have to remove. Milling or using raw timbers to make out buildings, raised beds, fire wood, charcoal for your forge, ash for soap making. Like the natural world and our native ancestors, the key is maximizing a return on energy investment.

Weather, the sun, the moon and our intuition also play a role. Just like the “thanksgiving Address” we expand our awareness across the landscape with the intent to create bounty and leave more for the future generations than we found.