"As a primitive-skills expert, author, entrepreneur and eco-philosopher, Elpel marches to the beat of his own buckskin hand-drum. Though his survival skills equal or exceed those of the more famous survivalists on TV, and though the philosophy behind his practice gives him a depth Bear Grylls and his ilk can only dream of, Elpel flies well below the mainstream radar. He's the Montana outdoorsman's version of those groundbreaking rock bands that inspire countless others but are too far ahead of the curve to sell many records themselves."
Wilderness Survival Living Extreme Sport? Or something deeper...
On the surface, wilderness survival as a form of recreation seems like some kind of extreme sport. You go camping - purposefully underprepared - leaving behind some or all of the gear that normal people consider essential. You might go camping in the rain without any kind of a tarp or tent to keep you dry, or improvise a way to stay warm when you have no matches or sleeping bag. You could go without food in the hopes that you can find some edible plants. You can go without weapons, hoping to improvise and kill something with sticks and rocks. Or you can leave it all behind and walk into the wilds with little more than your bare hands with the hope of sustaining yourself from there. As an extreme sport, wilderness survival living often means being cold, hungry, exhausted, and maybe a little crazy. Why would any person in their right mind want to leave the comforts of home to endure all that?
On one level, I do enjoy wilderness survival as an extreme sport. Life at home can become mundane and unstimulating, especially as a writer, spending hundreds of hours at the keyboard. I reach a point when there is nothing comfortable about being comfortable. Comfort becomes toxic, and I hunger to walk in the wilds, to feel alive, and to put myself in a situation where I am forced to struggle a bit to be adequately comfortable. Sometimes I even hunger to feel hungry. When food is just something I put in my mouth, and I no longer really appreciate it or need it, then I want to walk on the wild side long enough to feel genuine need for sustenance. As with most extreme sports, wilderness survival living is about feeling the thrill of being alive by testing one's limits, if only a little bit.
Given my philosophical bent, I think that my need for adventure stems in part from being too much in my head. A little physical discomfort helps get me out of my head to reconnect with the physical world. Jumping in an ice-cold mountain lake almost brings me to my senses. In practice, I am inherently cautious, and my wilderness survival adventures fall well within my capabilities. When I push myself, it is to learn new skills, to become more self-sufficient and able to have greater experiences with less gear.
On a deeper level, I think that wilderness survival skills could be critical to our survival as a species. I don't mean that future generations will have to go back to the Stone Age and eke out a living with their bare hands. Rather, it is essential for our species to remain grounded in the real world. We are at risk of getting lost in a virtual world, with whole generations plugged into an artificial version of reality, disconnected from nature and the physical realm. Without a connection to the land, people are unable to understand cause and effect, to know where the electricity comes from when they flip on the light switch, or to know where meat and milk comes from beyond the grocery store. How can we manage our natural resources sensibly, when the public doesn't understand where their food, water, materials, and energy come from? The future we create must be grounded in physical reality, and to get there, people must also be grounded in physical reality.
The bottom line is that the more civilization becomes removed from nature, the more essential immersive experiences like wilderness survival living become. There is simply no better way to stay grounded than to live a hand-to-mouth existence, eking out a survival living with little more than your bare hands.
About 6 years ago I picked up a copy of Primitive Living, Self-Sufficiency, and Survival Skills in a chain bookstore and my life
changed. I was 22 at the time and, as many 22 year old former boy scouts, I thought I knew everything about the wilderness. Thankfully, my arrogance never got me in trouble and left me quickly when I realized I had barely scratched the surface of what I thought I had a firm grip on.
I was working as a 911-operator at the time and your book made for difficult reading because I constantly wanted to escape the confines of the office and go wander in the woods. Something about your
presentation and writing style grabbed my attention and showed me
things that other "survival" manuals had failed to do time after time.
I've come a long way in the past 6 years and shared what I've learned with anyone willing to listen. Teaching is something I've always been interested in but never wanted to commit my time and money to a
university, however that has all changed. I'm now in school learning to be a history teacher. I really don't think I would have ever gone down this path if I had not found your book. I may have always been in love with the wilds, but I doubt my journey would have been as fruitful without your occasional vicarious guidance.
I can never thank you enough for the time you spent writing. You definitely helped change my way of thinking and introduced me to a whole new world, a more real world. A world that showed me how every
single person on this planet shares so much in common. And a hope that
eventually we might be able to live simpler and work together.