By Tom Brown III:
We are living in crazy times! No matter where you live on the globe (unless you are living in a cave), you have heard of COVID-19 and how it is rapidly changing the behaviors of our global society. Here in Oregon, as well as the rest of America, we have lost access to things that we take for granted. Restaurants and stores have closed, and many people are being laid off. We are being told to isolate to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the virus. Even the experts have no idea the full effect that this pandemic will have on our society. People are out of work and school, and our governments are scrambling to manage the situation on a minute-to-minute basis.
Most of us in the Western world have been living in a bubble of safety, security and comfort. When that bubble pops, people tend to panic. Hopefully, my words will serve to alleviate some of your fear.
Those of us who practice and study wilderness survival and primitive living skills know the number one rule when you find yourself suddenly outside of that protective bubble of safety, security and comfort: Don’t Panic!
The first thing that will kill you when you realize you are lost in the woods, or any survival situation is panic. When a human panics, we go from having an incredible brain that is logical and capable (most of the time) of making the right decisions that will protect us, to our base animal nature. When in panic mode, humans will do all sorts of things that will get them injured or killed. People lost in the woods have thrown away their backpack because they feel it’s slowing them down. In winter, people have shed their warm outer layers because they are getting hot and sweaty as they run through the woods seeking safety. I think that you and I can both agree at this moment, behaviors like that are insane, yet they happen often.
We have not reached that state of panic as a global society as of yet, but I feel it looming above us like a shadow. I would like to offer you a different perspective. One that will allow us to change how we think about situations like the one we all find ourselves in today.
From a young age, I learned that safety, security and comfort are euphemisms for death. We have so surrounded ourselves in the safety bubbles that encircle us as we follow the ruts we have worn for ourselves. Our lives are temperature controlled, and we have disconnected from the natural world. My father, Tom Brown Jr., often poses a question to his classes. He challenges them to search their minds for a memory that is so strong you can not only remember it but relive it. The chances are that whatever that particular memory may be, there’s a good chance that at that time you were not safe, secure or comfortable. Those are the times you are truly alive! One day are you going to tell your grandkids about the time you had to stay late at work because you had extra TPS reports to file, or will you tell them about times like today, when we are all forced outside our comfort zones, and our normal, boring routines have been shattered. When this pandemic wanes and things return to normal, I encourage you to seek “the real” continually. Many of us lead fear-based lives. We are afraid to take chances, we worry about failure and most of all, we fear change.
Just as my father does, I teach my students to embrace these things! Failure is our most important teacher. If we did everything right the first time we did it, we would never learn anything. There are skills that I have been practicing for 30-plus years, put thousands of hours into, yet I will still occasionally fail at them. When I do fail, I use it as a learning experience. What did I do wrong? Did I rush through it? Am I taking the skill for granted? No matter how many times I have done something, I can still learn something every time I do it. I often tell people, “Always be a student.” As far as change goes, that is a constant that is out of our control. It’s something we all have to deal with. How we deal with it is entirely up to us. We can allow it to upset our balance and knock us around, or we can choose to ride it like a wave. Instead of fighting it, follow it! I once read a great quote that was part of a Zen calendar. Every day had a different quote. That particular day it said, “If you can or cannot solve a problem, there is no use worrying yourself about it!”
Let us talk about fear, perhaps the most pervasive feeling going around these days. So many of us lead fear-based lives. When we choose to live in fear, we aren’t living at all. Fears keep many of us trapped in our ruts, forcing us further into misery. It keeps people from taking chances that may better their lives. When we live in fear we are a few, short steps from panic. One of the most profound quotes about fear was written by Frank Hebert, author of the “Dune” books. He wrote, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn my inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
The best way to do away with fear is through learning, which brings me to the whole point of this article. What could you have done to better prepare for this pandemic? Which skills would you like to have that would help you to take care of you and your family better? I encourage you while you are on a forced break from work or school to make a list of things to learn so that next time something like this happens, you are better prepared. Right now, I am thankful that we have a cache of food that we canned and a whole bunch of homemade soap. It’s spring and nature is full of wonderful wild-edible plants to eat, and there are many sources in nature of what seems to be the most in-demand item right now, which is toilet paper! I encourage you to learn some survival skills, pick up a few wild edible plant books, learn how to build a small garden, and start to explore the benefits of the skills that our ancestors used to live off the land. The more we learn about hunting, fishing, foraging, homesteading and wilderness survival, the less we will need to rely on the systems that have been put in place to keep our society chugging along. Times like these show us how precarious our situation is, and a little knowledge can go a long way. As I mentioned earlier, I encourage you always to be a student, try and learn something new every day. People often ask me what I think the meaning of life is and what our role is. Firstly I believe that we are meant to be caretakers of the natural world. We should honor and respect nature. We are all born of the earth, and one day we will all return to it. Caretaking is as simple as picking up trash as you walk to your favorite trout run or hunting spot. It’s identifying invasive species in your area and properly removing them. Caretaking is also being a good friend, and helping those around you any way you can.
Secondly, I think we are always meant to be learning something new. Knowledge is power. We have all heard the term “Survival of the fittest.” This term is misleading. It’s not about how strong you are, but what you know. The more knowledge you have about the natural world and our place in it, the better off you will be. Take this time to reflect on your path in life. Are you truly happy? Does your daily life fulfill you? A human lifetime is a blip in the scheme of things, and we are only given one. Will you continue to live in fear and feel powerless when situations like this pandemic arise, or will you choose to embrace life and live it to its fullest every day? The choice is yours!
Episode #: 97 (click to listen) and 98
Duration: 1 hr 18 min and 1 hr 24 min
Topics Discussed: Stalking tactics, tanning hides, fire-starting, wilderness survival, tracking, observation and more!
Bio: Tom Brown III, also known as “T3,” has been a life long student and practitioner of primitive living skills, wilderness survival and nature connection. Born in New Jersey in 1978, he grew up learning the skills our ancestors used to live close to the Earth from his father, Tom Brown Jr, founder of the Tracker Wilderness Survival School. Growing up at the Tracker School showed him the profound effect reconnecting people to nature can have not only on the individual but on the planet as a whole. After spending a few years wandering across America, he has spent the last 20 years passing on the skills he learned as a child. Currently Tom lives in Oregon and works with Trackers Earth as an adult educator and land steward. When not teaching or writing, Tom is an avid fly-fisherman, traditional archer and nature photographer.