This past Friday we had a super fun “Survival Skills Day” out in Fairhaven Park!
We had a steady rain to start the day and a good batch of kids out, excited to practice some wilderness survival skills!
In the morning, most of the kids perused the Nature table and tried to figure out whose tracks and skulls they were seeing.
One of the older youngsters was ready to get to work so I handed him a piece of cedar bark and showed him how to rub the soft inner bark with a rock to make a tinder bundle. He got the hang of it quickly and made a nice baseball sized tinder bundle. We put it in the fire grill and he tried to catch a spark off of a striker. By this time, we had attracted a few more interested parties who tried to help. Even though a lot of sparks were made, the falling rain made it super tough to light so I gave him a secret weapon - a little piece of “char-cloth” that is amazing at catching a spark and keeping a coal! This did the trick!
The char-cloth caught the tiniest spark and a little corner of black glowed bright orange… We then gently blew the whole bundle into flame - always a glorious moment! I asked the kids to try and find dry sticks in the wet landscape if they wanted a sustained fire. They scrambled and found some sticks and cones with varying degrees of dryness and tried to get it going, but the rain won this time…
Melissa saw some wiggly bodies and took everyone out across the meadow to play some games and play off some morning energy. When everyone was panting at a sufficient level, we took a water break and circled up for the day. We always like to begin all of our meetings, meals and programs by sharing some gratitude together. So we shared some thanks and heard everyone’s name in the circle and learned a classic song, “Wood, Stone, Feather, and Bone”. We then further stretched our bodies and got into the survival mind state by going to through some animal form movements before going under the story tree for snack and a tale.
I told a story of a 5 day survival trip that Melissa and I embarked on with 30 other adults at the culmination of our time at the Anake Outdoor School. The story was full of info, adventure and successful survival by our whole community and nicely set the tone for our day.
It is pretty tough to transform into a master survivalist in a 6 hour program, but we did our best to give the kids a well rounded intro to many aspects of wilderness survival. We got familiar with some early edible plants and tasted the young leaves of an Osoberry, or Indian Plum tree (Oemleria cerasiformis). Some commented that they tasted like cucumber and I do not disagree! We will definitely be munching plenty of this ubiquitous plant in the coming month.
We adventured through the forests, up and down hillsides while taking note of unique landmarks along the way so we could find our way home. One enterprising young lad even drew the landmarks and recorded our “songline” home. By the time we got through the swamp and to the clearing there was such a rumbling from our collective bellies that we could have passed for a earthquake, so we stopped for lunch.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Melissa busted out some OR Grape and scraped berberine-rich inner bark into a jar of water to make a nice anti-bacterial hand wash. If you want to learn more about this amazing plant, check out Melissa’s blog entry, Oregon Grape to the Rescue! [http://featherandfrond.org/blog/2017/1/23/oregon-grape-to-the-rescue]
After lunch, we set out a challenge to the crew to see if they could build a one person survival shelter in 30 minutes. The group split into two building crews and got to work. There was some great squirrel energy going on but after 30 minutes neither shelter was close to being done. We took a look at both shelters with the whole group and the builders we asked questions of what could be done to improve upon the structure.
When we asked if they wanted another 30 minutes to improve their shelters, there was a resounding: “YES!” and the squirrels were at it again.
Melissa and I wandered between groups and asked questions and offer a suggestion here and there, but mostly the kids were on their own. It was great to see the two groups working together for a common cause. At the end of the 30 minutes, we gave them 5 minutes for finishing touches and then checked them out. While neither structure would have been waterproof, they both did a great job and would have been a great start and way better then sleeping out in the open. I think with another 5 or 6 hours of franticly stacking debris on top for insulation, only a little rain would drip through the roof. Nobody said survival was easy! I think everyone left with a good appreciation of how much work goes into a survival shelter.
We didn’t have too much time left in the day but we very excited to start a fire primitively and share some basic fire skills. I talked about the elements of a good fire and demonstrated with a bow-drill kit. I got some good smoke but ended up busting my bow string so I switched to the flint and steel and caught a coal in a tinder bundle I had made earlier that morning. I had only collected a small amount of fire material so once the fire was lit and burning, I again asked the kids to find some small dry sticks to sustain the fire. Using various senses to test for moisture (including smell, touch, visual cues and listening for a clean *SNAP*) the kids brought some dryer material then the morning and we were able to have a nice little fire in our wood burning backpacker stove.
It was such a full day!
The children led us back following the songline from that morning and met the parents with big grins to share about our day.
Hope to have more skills day soon!