Saturday, December 1, 2012

Awareness Building Article

This post is part of a series that will be re-posted (or linked) on the New Society Publishers blog.  I will be linking article by other authors here, too.

So, you've finally been convinced that you need to prepare. What was it that finally tipped the scale for you? Was it the fast approaching end of the Mayan calendar, the possibility that something may actually happen in the very near future? Was it, as many believe, the re-election of President Obama in the US for another 4 year term? Was it the untimely demise of the mystical and ubiquitous Twinkie? I suppose that none of this really matters, because you are here looking for help. You've certainly come to the right place. I am full of it … advice that is.

Everyone seems to have an opinion as to what is of primary importance. For some, guns fill the top slot. Weapons provide the ability to defend what you've got or, for the less scrupulous among us, to take what someone else has that we want. Others believe some secret hide-away in the great north woods is the first stop to preparing for the future. This would provide a retreat from the raging hoards, who are also trying to eke out an existence. Whatever it is, this group of people tends to believe that preparing is equivalent to purchasing things to survive the coming cataclysm. The idea is that enough stuff can be stored to get through some undetermined length of time. I like to lump all of these people together as the “hoarders”. They will certainly be prepared for the short term. But, what will happen to them after they run out of the things they've stored? Will they be prepared for the longer term, future possibilities?

There are also those who start with gathering knowledge. This knowledge can manifest in the form of gathering books, attending workshops, or in building hands-on skills that may be necessary for the future. There is certainly wisdom in this approach. Given enough knowledge coupled with practical, hands-on experience, one can build shelters, make fires, gather food, and such. I call this the camp of “know-it-alls”. They believe their knowledge will sustain them through the darkness ahead. Of course, the difficulty is learning while simultaneously building enough hands-on experience to be able the skills, should the need arise. This can be tough if one is trying to hold down a job requiring 40 hours a week while also preparing for “The End Of The World As We Know It” (TEOTWAWKI).

Each of these mindsets has its merits. I certainly have stored some things to help with the future. I have also sought out the skills to help me through times where I may not have access to the services we enjoy today. These include skills that I feel could be needed for my future physical and mental well-being. In my mind, neither approach is wrong, but each on its own is incomplete. Together, they offer a more complete solution, but this is still not the whole package. The missing component is having, developing, simple awareness.

Your teachers in school probably told you a thousand times over your life, and now I am telling you again, to pay attention. Stop and smell the roses. Take your time and enjoy the scenery. Slow down. What they didn't tell you is that this is the key to a happy, healthy life.

Even as I write this, I can feel the collective gasp of surprise, the feeling that, perhaps, you've wasted a few moments of your precious preparation time by reading this. If you would indulge me for a moment more I will try to explain how this is applicable to you and the importance of it all. Of course, in this type of situation the logical reaction is fear-driven, panic based action, which is the worst reaction. So, I understand if you stop here. If you are still reading, breathe easy.

We too have fallen prey to the fear, in the past. Back in December 1999, in the middle of the Y2K panic, we started to stockpile Taco Bell salsa packets. In fact, we had a whole grocery bag full. In the worst case, we could have had salsa soup if something really happened. Our hoarding was somewhat in jest, because we didn't really expect anything to change. At the same time, there was real fear. What if things did get bad? Over the ensuing years, we have stocked up on things to help us prepare in the event that TSHTF.

For many years, I was interested in wilderness survival skills. I purchased every book and watched every movie I could find on the subject. I read books by Ray Mears and Tom Brown Jr., the US Army Survival Manual (FM 21-76), and more. As time moved on, I also added an interest in foraging and medicinal plants. I started gathering, and referring to, books, like “The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants” and “The Forager's Harvest”, both of which are excellent references. This put me squarely with the “hoarders”. Ironically, at least to me now, I had never applied these skills. I thought that since I had the books, and so I possessed the knowledge. Perhaps in some strange, twisted way I did, but I believe now that I was WRONG!

Over the last few years, I have taken the opportunity gain some hands-on experience with some of these survival skills. My family and I have taken classes on fire building. We've built shelters, including wigwams and debris huts. We learned to make cordage and birch bark baskets. So, we began to move into the “know-it-all” camp, too. We naively thought that we were now prepared. WRONG AGAIN!

We were missing what I now believe was the final piece of the puzzle, awareness. The simple ability to be in a situation or place and be able to see things for what they really are, to feel the natural rhythms and cycles, to be able to anticipate when and where things will occur. Awareness, in my mind, is a deep rooted understanding the natural world, of human behavior, of yourself. Skills and tools are wonderful, but without awareness neither can be terribly effective. For instance, reading about edible plants in “The Forager's Harvest” is a start, but without the experience of actually finding and harvesting a plant, you may find yourself a bit stumped if you ever need to find that specific plant. It does no good to know that elderberries are edible if you don't know where, or if, it grows near you, or what it looks like before the berries form, or when the berries will form this year based on this year's weather pattern. Reading about a plant does not adequately prepare you in the event that you actually need to find it for food. Enter … awareness.

Luckily, building awareness is very simple. Pay attention to what is going on around you. Take your time to notice things, even if they seem trivial now. What you observe now may be valuable in the future. Keep a record of what you see and when it happens. Remember that you are seeking to develop a feel for what, when, or where something might happen. In nature, things are cyclic and one can often make predictions based on something that is currently happening. For instance, I have observed that when the sap in the maple tree starts flowing there are tiny little buds on the tree and the stems on my Red Maples turn red. These things are easily missed, but if you pay attention you can see them change over the course of a few days. These things indicate to me that it is time to tap the trees. This awareness had me tapping very early (January) last year whereas conventional wisdom dictates that trees in my area should be tapped near the end of February or the beginning of March. I also felt like the season was going to be short, based on the weather we had experienced over the winter. Again, I was correct. The season was over in 3 weeks. In spite of the “bad” season, I was able to collect enough sap to make 3 gallons of syrup. This is the gut feel that one must develop.

There are, however, many traps to developing awareness. These may trick you into thinking you have achieved a high level of awareness. There are always more pieces of the puzzle to fit together. The traps can be so subtle that you might not notice that you have fallen for one. Here are some of the traps for which I have fallen. I am sure there are many more.
  • I have been so focused on one thing that I have overlooked everything else. I can not tell you how many times I have gone into the woods to gather stinging nettle only to completely miss the mushrooms growing along the path, or some such.
  • I have gone places where I thought I knew well only to find that there are other plants there that I may or may not know. There is a blueberry field where I have been many times over the last 10 years. Last year, for the first, I noticed that there are wintergreen plants growing under the blueberries.
  • I have gathered information and believed that I had acquired the skill. I have read about using acorns. I have even attended a demonstration of the steps to making acorn flour. After actually processing the acorns this year, for the first time, I realized that I knew nothing.
  • I have read about plants and thought I knew where to find them or how to use them. But I could not, until this year, find Hen Of The Woods Mushrooms or Chanterelles.

In retrospect, the missing pieces of awareness are easy to see. The key is that one must simply be willing to be open to the experiences and to seek out all of the pieces of the puzzle. There is also some level of awareness in recognizing what one may need and what will be available in the future.

Building awareness, of any kind, is fairly simple to do as long as you don't fall victim to the traps along the way. Keep an open mind. Proceed slowly and deliberately. Don't ever believe that you know it all, because the Universe always seems to find a way to prove you wrong. And, be grateful for the things you find and learn. You'll be surprised by how much there is to learn, see, and experience.


  1. Great post . . . 100 percent agree, it is the APPLICATION and AWARENESS of what you learn that is critical. Book learning takes you as far as the front door BUT to really learn you need to open that door and walk outside.

  2. Steve, thank you. I find it incredibly satisfying to full embrace learning.

    By the way, I harvested my first animal with my bow this year ... a turkey ... I was able to fill in a bit more of my learning. I have a post written about it, but it looks like it is going to be part of a book Wendy and I are co-authoring. More on that later.


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