September 26, 2014

Wilderness Survival Guide

Two summers ago “Chagagab” decided that after turning 15 he would attempt a wilderness survival experience. It has been three years now that this young neighbor has regularly come by our store: passing by to share the excitement of his experiences in the wild and from time to time lend us a helping hand.  At first sight, it is quite clear that he is very different from others his own age.  His passion for solitary pursuits contrasts his eagerness to share his experience of these pursuits with others. 

As soon as school started, he informed his parents of his project for the following summer and worked tirelessly all year to win the support of his worried mother, Leanne. Finally, they agreed that at the beginning of July he would venture out alone in the wild, in an undisclosed place beside a stream not too far from an untraveled ATV trail. 

His backpack was heavy with books: Jack London’s To Build a Fire, Thoreau’s Walden, Paul Provencher’s Le guide du trappeur, Miles Olson’s Unlearn, Rewild and his favorite, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild), not forgetting one from Tolstoy that he quotes from by heart. 

He also brought with him the bare essentials: spare clothing, warm sweater, hiking as well as rain boots, a sleeping bag and a mat, bailing twine, some brass wire for snares, a flashlight, a cooking pot, a bottle, lighters and other fire-making tools, a compass, a whistle, a pellet rifle, cayenne pepper for the bears (which his mother insisted he bring), bug repellent, good cutting tools (a knife, saw, and ax), not to mention several heavy-duty garbage bags for shelter. His food supplies were limited: 3 kg of rice, a few packages of soup, instant oatmeal, and a couple granola bars. Water would come directly from a nearby stream. 

To keep in touch, his parents insisted that he would leave daily signs of life and messages under a tree not far from the camping site. 

At the time of year that Chagagab walked into the wild, mosquitoes were omnipresent and mushrooms still rare, although wild strawberries and other edibles were abundant. 

The first day was very hot. After making a makeshift shelter, Chagagab went swimming in the creek. He used a bunch of ferns as a towel.  Later, he made a fire, adding polypores (Fomitopsis pinicola) to preserve the embers. On the menu that evening: soup and rice. As the sun set that evening, he went to sleep amongst a wild concert, harassed by mosquitoes in his garbage bag shelter. In these conditions, reading was impossible. 

The next day he fished without success at the nearby lake, but was lucky enough to see a moose with enormous antlers swimming slowly through the water. Hunger began to be an increasing concern, and the crayfish in the stream were all too small to relieve it. He was, however, able to shoot a partridge with his rifle and a few early-season chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) added a good fragrance to his rice. 

The third day, a tick stuck to his leg; he removed it slowly by twisting carefully. With the mosquitoes becoming unbearable and rain likely to come, Chagagab left his parents a message asking them to leave him a tent at their contact point.  With his improved shelter, he was finally able to dive back into his books and get a good night’s sleep. 

Next day, two red squirrels were on the menu for supper: tasty but still too little to appease his increasingly present hunger pains. 

On the fifth day, he lucked into a huge patch of strawberries and filled his stomach.  He soon realized, however, how an overgenerous consumption of these berries could be laxative.  Time started to pass slowly, and he began to question the adequacy of his gear. 

On the sixth day, he shot at two rabbits but his rifle proved far too weak. None had been caught in his snares yet. Fishing again proved unsuccessful. Watching a loon who appeared to swim and fish in pure abundance, he again began to think more seriously about the limits of his resources in comparison. He decided it would be wise to go home. 

On the seventh and final day, after sleeping one last time in his tent, he returned to civilisation. Having lost 2 kg during his adventure, he was happy to eat regularly again. He spent the rest of the summer harvesting various forest products, including medicinal chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) which he continues to sell for pocket money.  

What’s next for Chagagab?  He will try again, he says, but with better equipment.  Specifically, he intends to bring a stronger rifle, go to an even more remote area, and stay for a longer period of time. 

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