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Articles / Living off the land -2015

Published: 2015-09-10
Category: Camps, Treks & Adventures

"I have held my hands in an anthill until they were covered with the ants, then greedily licked them off. I have taken the soles of my moccasins, crisped them in the fire, and then eaten them. In our extremity, the large black crickets, which are found in this country were considered game. We used to take a kettle of hot water, catch the crickets and throw them in, and when they stopped kicking, eat them.."
-Joe Meek

Just imagine yourself all alone.. out in the wilderness, using your abilities and living off the land.. or as some might say: aux aliments du pays.
Unless you're prepared, the strive to be in touch with nature, can easily backfire and result in such extremes described above.

I consider myself pretty much self-reliant in the woods. As long as it doesn't involve gathering food. I know my berry chart though, some mushrooms and one or two roots. Fishing is a concept I master completely in my mind.. and since hunting and snaring is hugely restricted in Sweden, this adventure had me confined to only seeking nourishment from the berry produce of the land. I was off for my first but not last living off the land experience.

Friday
Arrived at scene early in the morning. Beautiful. The lake was calm, the black-throated loons where busy diving and searching for food. The ravens which I've heard from a distance made an appearance, dancing together in the morning sky. It was going to be a hot day.

I started scouting for a site to camp. Not long until I found the perfect spot by the lake. Had to walk through a marshy area to get there, but it was worth it. I prepared the fireplace and soaked the surroundings with water, since it had been a couple of hot days making it a bit dry. I cleared some of the brush to have the perfect view of the lake facing due west. I figured it was going to be an awesome sunset. Found the perfect log to sit on, and a tripod later it was time to search for some firewood. Don't really know why I bothered, since I didn't have any food to prepare. I only needed a fire to boil water for drinking, and for some other chores I had planned. Nevertheless, a campsite just needs a good fire.

Anyway, my searching ended about the same time it started. Didn't take long until I found a sufficient amount of pitch-pine to last me well into next century! Searching for firewood is a major, time-consuming chore, so it was nice to check it off of my to-do list. Awesome!

I hadn't eaten since six o'clock the evening before, so my stomach started to rumble a bit. I scouted the surroundings thoroughly and found only a large amount of blueberries. I could easily stay here a week subsisting on blueberries alone. I spent some time and picked a large amount, ate some, and saved some for later.

I walked back to the fireplace, had a smoke and started some of the mending I'd planned. I'd lost some beads on my moccasins, and a pouch or two needed stitching. I also cut a rod and prepared it for my fishing excursion the next day. Couldn't wait to dig in on some fresh fish filet!

The rest of the afternoon was spent saving energy by reading, an occasional smoke, berry munching and drinking tea made on birch-leaves.

Due to the weather being as it was, I didn't bother making a lean-to or similar. Just a bedroll on the soft moss and berry bushes. The tops of tall pinetrees served as my ceiling for the night. A truly divine sensation it was, my blueberry cathedral!

Saturday
Woke up hungry and infirm. Probably due to old age. The loons had moved further out on the lake. I believe my presence was the reason. The ravens again made their morning flight in an easterly direction. Routines are not just a human custom. I guess all species organize in one way or another.

My routine of collecting berries began the day before. I had picked a sufficient amount so I could begin my day by devouring sweetness.

This day my plan was to do some scouting on the north shore, so I assembled my gear, filled up my canteen with water and headed out. I carried a small tin can to hold any foraging that might cross my path. Other than nice scenery and an occasional handfull of berries, I found nothing.

During the course of the day a headache gradually developed. I had enough water to drink, so I don't think that was the case. Perhaps the lack of coffee or just the all growing fatique.. or a combination of both.

I found a nice spot to do some fishing and prepared my fishing gear. I'd realized early on I needed bait, so I had previously made a digging stick, and now I proudly proceeded to find some worms. The digging was nothing but a sure loss of energy, because it amounted to absolutely nothing. The small fish which I envisioned to be caught, could never replace the loss of stamina, so I gave up.

I took off my sweaty shirt and sat in the stillness next to the water. Quite a genious move, since that brought flies to the neighbourhood. I caught three and with my hopes up, I fed them all to the small fish. Needless to say, that was the definite end of my fishing experience this time.

The digging absolutely drained me.
I headed out on a refueling spree. Blueberries galore for supper, and while I was at it, I filled up my tin cup for breakfast on sunday. I started a fire to aid me in some other chores I had planned; charcloth making and leadball casting, and to boil some more water for drinking.

After my chores I went skinny-dipping. All alone in Gods miraculous wonder. The silence was deafening. Rejuvenated, I had the last smoke of the day while enjoying the setting sun. Still warm outside. I had the fire going until about nine, and then proceeded to my whitney cocoon.

Sunday
I had such sweet dreams.. about food! Strangely, I woke up feeling I had more energy than the day before.. and with no headache.

No ravens today. The loons had increased in number considerably. Yesterday there were only 2, now they were 11.

Today I had planned to scout the south side. As the day before, I assembled the gear and headed out.. after having a wonderful but somewhat unilateral breakfast.

I was a bit reluctant and skiddish to move about in the dense forest. In fact I had been, since day one. There had been sightings of brown bear and wolf in the area, and in just two days the bear hunting season was on. Sorry to say, or fortunately, I didn't see any signs of these magnificent predators.

The lack of energy made its presence instantly, I might add. I made my way back, picked more berries and spent the remainder of the day, reading. I also had an afternoon nap. Rarely does this happen, when home in the civilized world.

About four o'clock I packed my gear and eliminated most of the signs of my campsite. I slowly marched through the marsh carefully aiming for the car. It took considerably longer time backtracking, than it did getting in.

While sitting in the car, gasping with weariness, the first thing that came to mind was: What if there hadn't been any blueberries?

Conclusion
It's reckless to be unprepared. Having a book on wild, edible plants in your bookshelf is good, but it isn't enough. It is vital to know what you're doing. The knowledge regarding hunting and fishing for survival, is hugely important. More often you realize how important it is, when you're in an actual survival condition. Food is the number one concern on the "stay-alive" agenda.

Securing a food source is one thing. You also need to be aware of actual caloric values of the various food sources encountered. Depending on your purpose, simply being full is not statisfactory. And if the energy lost searching for edibles exceeds the amount you receive from them, then it's probably not worth the effort.

To keep me thriving and active in the wild, I need at least 3000 calories/day. How much grounded cattail flour contains 3000 calories? How many squirrels do I need to consume? And.. how much extra calories is needed to haul the gear; gun, traps, mantee etc.?

Note that my adventure, was a short term, survival test based on moderate or no activity. I had an intake of approximately 300 to 500 calories/day only from blueberries. Efforts were fruitless in finding chanterelles and such. The lingonberries weren't ripe, and the blueberries were abundant, so why bother losing energy searching for something else? Berries contain more calories than mushrooms anyway. I could feel the low calorie count however. Even though I stayed put and was more or less inactive. I could easily have made an effort and doubled the intake. The problem really starts when you start increasing your activity. The loss of stamina was an incredible eye-opener. So in order to stay safe, you need to be prepared. As my old teacher used to say: You should always be ahead, otherwise you'll be behind.

/Mike Nilsson







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