Editor’s preclude: Just as with climate change, where we’re finding ourselves having to move from prevention to mitigation, I think permaculturists, who major in prevention of environmental and economic collapse, also need to build some of their skills in outright survival. In the future laid out before us, we never know when basic survival techniques may become critical lifelines in difficult times or for when natural disasters strike. Given that our governments are not only a root cause of these situations, but they’re also wholly inadequate to assist us in times of desperate need, personal preparedness is an appropriate response. As such, I thought I’d put up a small, initial post on the topic of survival techniques, which I hope will be the first of many such articles posted to this site, not just from myself, but also from some of our many international readers who have far more knowledge and skills to share in this area than I do — some valuable to all, and some more specific to their own bioregions. Such articles can cover every aspect of basic survival, from identifying edible and medicinal plants and roots, to techniques for the speedy building of emergency shelters, to navigation skills and dealing with injuries, and so on. Please send such posts, with photos, to editor (at) permaculture.org.au
All photographs © Craig Mackintosh
A friend here in central Europe invited me to head out of town a little to camp out under the stars. Over the last several months he has been taking some interest in survival techniques, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get out of my swivel chair, get a little break in nature, whilst also getting a little material to share with you. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)
So, latish yesterday afternoon, we packed up our kit and walked about 6 or 7kms out of town, through farmer’s fields and into the forest.
Along the way we spied and tried a few wild edibles, including some wild apples. Whilst smaller than the store-bought varieties, biting into them reminded me of the tastier varieties I ate as a child, before our soils became so depleted. As an adult, I am constantly disappointed with the mushy, tasteless and quick-to-rot store-bought fruit. (Actually, I often wonder how these industries would react if people worldwide would start returning them for refunds!) Whilst these were a little ‘tart’ (I have a small penchant for slightly sour flavours myself, so didn’t mind at all), the reaction from my salivary glands made it clear they were positively bursting with vitamins.
Not long after we came across some blackthorn bushes. If you are caught short, these could help provide you some of the nutrition you need, although due to their astringent properties, your mouth will go rather numb after eating more than a few. These are more suitable for preserves than direct eating, but are worth noting as edible for emergency situations.
With a small chance of rain, after arriving in a nice sheltered spot in the forest, under the brow of a hill and under the shelter of some deciduous trees, we decided to stop and prepare a simple shelter with sticks and a tarp.
After creating our shelter, the next order of the day was to prepare a fire for cooking and keeping warm. The forest floor was littered with plenty of dry and rotting branches, and after collecting a small store of kindling and larger branches, we looked for suitable tinder to help us get it started.
Tinder fungus, also known as tinder polyphore, hoof fungus, and touchwood.
I had never heard of using a fungus for tinder before, but I won’t forget it now. When sliced into pieces, you can simply drag the sharp edge of a knife down the exposed internal part of the fungus, grinding the brittle substance into a small pile of powder. This powder will catch a spark very easily, and once ignited will burn in a very slow and stable way.
Using ‘firesteel’, I was able to ignite a very small (around 1mm) part of the fungus powder within moments (next time we might try a bow drill). Only 1mm of ignited powder was enough. It burns so stably that it won’t go out unless you douse it with water or press it out with your finger.
We then moved the powder into some dry straw we had collected from the side of a field on the way into the forest.
A little huffing and puffing and it was alight.
We then applied our little handful of straw to our prepared kindling, and the fire was quickly ablaze.
The size of this fungus, and the small amount required, is such that you can keep it to reuse over and over again. Being somewhat of the consistency of brittle wood, it will store well. It’s not necessary to overly rob the forest of these organisms.
After some food and fireside banter, we retired.
As I slumbered I couldn’t help but think of the many ‘Partizans’ who, during World War II, hid from the Nazis in the forests of this area, and from where they coordinated their efforts. I’m sure they could teach me a thing or two about wilderness survival, as some of them spent many months doing so. This situation is one we may well see again in our increasingly uncertain future….
Finally, I dozed off to sleep, dreaming of the bear that live in the area….
P.S.: My friend’s brother is more of an expert in survival techniques, so when we can coordinate some outings I hope to share more posts on these topics.
Don’t forget to send your survival tips and tricks to me for publishing, on: editor (at) permaculture.org.au