By Joe Harold
First, an Introduction
I’m Joe Harold. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA and have been in the Coast Guard for over 29 years. From the time I was very small my parents would pack up the station wagon and head for the woods. I developed a healthy respect and devoted love for nature from that early age and now I spend as much time as I can in the bush getting my dirt time. I have always loved camping and woodcraft. Backpacking the Appalachian Trail is my latest obsession. I learned early that cooperating with nature instead of trying to compete with it was the way to be successful and to have a good time in the woods.
Simple Woodcraft is going to be a collection of my thoughts and experiences as I spend time in the woods. I am by no means an expert. I am not here to dictate the ONE way a thing is to be done. Simple Woodcraft’s purpose is to virtually bring you along on a little hike with me. Maybe start a fire and talk about the things that can be done out here, simply, that make being in the woods a positive experience.
So, come on along, let’s start our first little journey into Simple Woodcraft.
Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
We have all heard this mantra. It has been explained countless times by many people. Here is my take on these great words of wisdom.
When I first heard Gunny Highway rasp out these momentous words, I took heart. They immediately felt right. I found that these three words could sum up how to deal with just about every situation a person could encounter in the wild and I saw the potential for these ideas to work well with survival situations in particular.
You have probably also heard it said that the most important tool you can take with you into the bush is the one between your ears. Applying improvisation and adaptability by using your brain will help you overcome any situation.
What is improvisation? The definition is ‘To make or provide from available materials’. It is simply taking things you have with you or around you and using them to accomplish the tasks needed to not only stay alive, but to be comfortable in your environment and to thrive. Adaptability is simply changing your environment to fit your needs or your attitude to deal with your environment, so that you can be successful in staying alive. To overcome is to find a way to make your current situation either better or at least bearable.
The final goal is to always overcome. You overcome your situation, you don’t beat nature. Finding a way to work with nature and not against it is the trick to overcoming a bad situation.
I always try to have at least a few items with me at all times when I enter the woods that will help me improvise, adapt or overcome just about any situation. At the very least I try to have a cutting tool and a means to make fire. There are times though that you can unexpectedly be thrust into a survival situation with nothing at all. Using that most important tool, your brain, which hopefully you can never leave behind, is what you will need to overcome.
For me, as I improvise items at camp, my attitude improves greatly. “My” forest is about eleven acres that are surrounded by housing developments. There is no natural water flowing through these woods, but I really enjoy spending time here and practicing my woodcraft skills. In these woods, there are really no natural rocks in the ground or on the surface. I like to have a rock fire ring and also to build a nice reflector that blocks the prevailing wind and bounces that heat towards me. People like to dump their yard waste at the edge of the forest and for some wise guy; a bunch of broken cement was considered yard waste. I like to call it urbanite and it works fine as a fire ring/reflector.
For me, adaptation is usually in my head. I can make just about any situation better by going through a few mind exercises to align my attitude and make my situation better. Keeping a positive attitude can’t be emphasized enough. If you can see the bright side and the possibilities of any situation, you can overcome the obstacles that are in your way. I never let weather get me down. If I’m not dressed completely perfect and it is cold out, I will build a debris hut and snuggle down with the leaf litter to keep my core temperature where it needs to be. Fire is always our friend. I know you all have noticed how your spirits will raise up as you warm your hands over a nice crackling fire. Not only is it a morale booster, but it is an integral part of keeping you alive, with a multitude of uses such as keeping you warm, sterilizing your water and cooking our food. Fire should always be a top priority when you are in a situation that needs taking care of.
So, find a place to play in the dirt. Remember to use what you have and what you can find to improvise and adapt your environment to what you need it to be, and you will overcome each time. Just remember that without that “most important tool”, you may get yourself in trouble, so exercise it every chance you get.