Monday, October 29, 2012

Bushcraft and Woodcraft and My Approach to Living in Nature

Here’s a question I’m asked often in my emails:  In your opinion is bushcraft and woodcraft the same thing and how do you define your personal approach to living in nature?

In a general sense I think people conceive of woodcraft and bushcraft as one in the same but neither term explicitly defines my interests.  Both bushcraft and woodcraft have traditionally referred to developing essential survival skills in nature.  But I am probably more interested in what’s known as ethnobotany or the way people employ native flora in their lives both past and present.  This can relate to using plants for food or medicine but it also suggests how plants are used for making shelters, weapons, musical instruments, cooking utensils, cosmetics etc...  The list is extensive and includes things as mundane as what are the favored woods used in cooking or what plants were used for toilet paper.  Of course, I have other hobbies like making knives used for woodworking or in my daily activities here in the brush.

My quest to discover what woods make the best selfbows in the Coahuiltecan Geographical Region would probably be considered a classic ethnobotanical pursuit.  It becomes a matter of performing experiments like replicating models and styles in order to perform experiments that provide data on compression/tension, specific gravity, workability with stone tools as well as drying techniques and what lengths of bows might have been favored.  The same applies to arrow making.  I find the general skills associated with bushcraft or woodcraft interesting but to be honest they don’t go quite far enough to sate my scientific interests.  One of my favorite pastimes is roaming the woods looking for new species of plants.  In fact, I find it hard to simply walk from point A to point B because I am invariably meandering from place to place examining plants.

My personal interests towards living in the woods stem from a combination of innate qualities and an education in science; but to be honest it is probably much more related to my personality type than anything else.  I have been a nature nut since childhood.  I was also lucky in that I had a grandfather who introduced me early on to how plants are used by people for both food and tools.  While I’m on the subject you might want to take a test to see where you fall in the personality department.  The Briggs Myers’ test, based on the theories of Carl Jung, is one of the best personality inventories available online.  You can take the test here if you are curious:

It would be interesting to learn what personality types gravitate towards things like bushcraft/woodcraft or environmental awareness etc.  In case you’re curious I’ve taken this test, and similar tests, dozens of times and I always score the exact same thing.  I am an INTJ.

For me bushcraft or woodcraft are ancillary components of living in the woods.  The terms were not even that well known to me until adulthood.  When one lives in the woods and grows up in the woods and has lived amongst people who did the same then bushcraft and woodcraft are tantamount to what a town’s dweller would think of when driving a car or mowing a lawn or tightening the hinges on a door.  In other words, it’s just what one does.  Live amongst native people in remote villages whose dwellings are prehistoric in design and who are experts in both edible and medicinal plants, and who track, hunt and forage as part of their daily lives and you quickly realize how terms like bushcraft and woodcraft are more the property of those who find such activities novelties—a set of skills to be learned while living in a world in which those same skills are unneeded.  A raft of television shows about people struggling to survive in the woods should be proof enough that a fascination exists about primitive living skills even if the players themselves are essentially neophytes.  In truth, expertise comes in only one form when related to wilderness knowledge: It is always regional and always the outcome of lifelong experience.  If you haven’t read this post then please read it.  

I know intimately, for example, the desert and brushlands but I am a greenhorn when in any other territory.  The scenario of dropping so-called experts into distant lands to find their way home is nothing more than drama.  Without a film crew and local experts they would all be dead pilgrims in a week or two…so much for universal expertise and welcome to the world of Hollywood.  In effect, it can be an extensive learning curve if you are so inclined and encoded.  Start at about the age of six months and never look back until they plant you or the wolves get to take their share.