By: Cheryl Maguire
Recently my GPS didn’t work and I had no idea how to get to my destination. Before my reliance on my GPS, twenty years ago I would have mapped out the route before leaving the house. But now I no longer tote around a map book, so I’m lost without it.
My kids love watching survival TV shows like Running Wild with Bear Grylls and Naked and Afraid. I thought it would be fun and perhaps one day useful to learn some skills.
Michael Powell, author of the new book How to Send Smoke Signals, Pluck a Chicken, & Build an Igloo: Plus 75 Additional Skills You Never Knew You Needed Life Skills with Step-by-Step Directions and a Sense of Humor, thinks that today people are so reliant on technology they lack basic life skills.
“Aside from navigation, making fire has to be one of the most important ‘lost’ skills. Unless they have grown up making fires, even laying a basic fire in a grate indoors remains a mystery to many people, regardless of age. Outdoor fire making is even more daunting but can be simple if you know a few key principles and it could save your life if you find yourself lost in the big unknown,” said Powell.
Powell explains that starting a fire in the rain relies on knowing where to find dry tinder or being prepared by bringing some with you.
“Lighting a fire can be the difference between comfort and hypothermia,” says Powell.
To find dry tinder Powell suggests searching under a fallen tree or scrapping away the underside of rotting wood.
“You can also harvest standing deadwood where you can break into the trunk and find ‘fat lighter’ which you can use as kindling or break into small shavings for tinder. Fat lighter is the heartwood of pine trees. It is saturated in crystallized resin and can usually be found in pine tree stumps or in the joints where limbs intersect the trunk,” says Powell.
Another interesting skill to learn is forecasting the weather.
“It’s convenient to check the weather on an app on your phone, but being able to step outside and understand what’s happening on the ground, puts us a little bit back in touch with the natural surroundings,” says Powell.
Powell explains that our ancestors were skilled at weather forecasting because their lives depended on it.
“The saying ‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ means that a high pressure system is moving in from the west, which usually brings dry and pleasant weather whereas ‘red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’ means that the high pressure and good weather has already passed and continues to head east, to make way for a low front with wet and windy weather,” says Powell.
He explains how white fluffy clouds usually mean good weather, while dark and low cloud brings rain.
“Wind direction is a good indicator of weather. Throw a piece of grass in the air and see which direction it travels. If the grass travels west, it is being blown by an easterly wind (blowing from the east), indicating an approaching storm front; if the grass travels to the east, it is being blown by a westerly wind (blowing from the west) which means good weather,” says Powell.
My kids loved learning about the different life skills. The next time they watch the survival shows they will be able to say, “I know how to do that too.”