The various schools of thought associated with the word bushcraft continue to widen as the realities of contemporary life, at least in the Modern World, alter the meaning of the word. Let it suffice to say that aside from the extreme few who claim to have spent months isolated in the boondocks dressed in skins and living a “paleo” life, most contemporary bushcrafters drive to a site, set up their modern gear and then sit around fiddling with bow-drills or carving spoons and the like. In fact for many, bushcraft has become a form of recreation where occasionally people envision scenarios where they’re cast into the wilderness and forced to survive with nothing more than a knife and a smattering of skills. How many YouTube videos have you seen where people say they need robust knives in case they are ever thrown into a desperate “survival situation.” Our YouTube friends will baton a branch, make feather sticks, spark a fire, do a little whittling, eat a couple of wild berries, and then walk back to the house (some are videotaping in their backyard) or they’ll return to their car via a public trail and then drive to their casa all the while dreaming of the day when they’ll be free of the chaos and insanity of today’s world. Who can blame them? It’s not as if they’re hunting mastodons or battling saber tooth cats, but instead busy indulging in freeway sign language or enduring the propaganda and associated distortions generated by cable news networks, plutocrats and the entrenched oligarchy. It’s a mad world indeed.
Of course, the reality of paleo life said you’d most likely be dead before the age of thirty-five if you were a man, and if you were a woman your chances of getting past your first pregnancy were fifty-fifty. Regardless, you’d be pretty much blind by the age of forty with rotting teeth, arthritic joints and any number of other ailments. Alas it seems though that the current fascinations with a “survival situation” stem mostly from underlying depressions doused with free-floating anxiety and an ever increasing sense of hopelessness about the course this world is going. After all, for a lot of people today’s world seems to make less and less sense. It turns out that the mantra of endless “growth and development” invented by some pallid and infinitely tunneled-visioned economist was not without its unintended consequences. Amid this contemporary milieu modern humans are already enduring a frightful “survival situation.” It’s intriguing (and simultaneously disgusting) to hear politicians and business moguls speak endlessly of more growth and more development and more fracking and more people and more and more and more. All the while, those of us who long for a respite in the wilds are forced into ever decreasing places. I think often of those of you who long for a quiet spot to sit and make a fire and perhaps carve a spoon or bake some bread or maybe just do nothing at all but simply live in the moment…free of noise and pollution and the interminable ramblings of those who have no interest in nature or bushcraft or quiet or perhaps even peace.
Our world population is growing so rapidly that it is indeed frightening. I would give you a number but within less than one minute that number would have already climbed significantly. It will not suffice for me to say that we are at 7.5 billion humans worldwide because that number will be archaic in a few months. Don’t believe me? Then please look here: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
Population ecologists have concluded that the world reached its maximum carrying capacity at about four billion people. We have therefore overshot that mark and are speeding into what some claim will be oblivion. This reality is nothing new to the scientists and mathematicians who have studied these facts for decades. But today, at least in some circles, there is a war on science. People are encouraged to ignore data, facts, proof and the like. Meanwhile the wood-be bushcrafter and naturalist is left to suffer an ever increasing population density with deforested lands and vanishing creeks and lakes as well as the encroaching sounds of bulldozers, fracking rigs, chainsaws, pneumatic hammers and that jet stream of autos shooting down highways at all hours. Yes, I think about many of you who must live in the chaos and yet who dream just for a few hours in a quiet spot somewhere, perhaps once a week if nothing else.
So what does bushcraft mean today in this world where unfettered industrialism is sacrosanct? Are you to simply grin and bear it? Ultimately, each one of you will be the judge of that, but if the emails I receive weekly are any indication of the mood of many fellow woods roamers then for a lot of people the boiling point has been reached. Please notice the number of YouTube videos on “stealth camping.” It seems that for many a decision has been reached to hang it all and go into the woods and camp out regardless of whom might say different. Paradoxically, the accompanying attitude is to “leave no trace,” and make invisibility the object that accompanies the silence. Compare this ethic to those YouTube videos of hobo camps and druggy enclaves where refuse is left as if it were a landfill. But not the bushcrafter or naturalist (they should be one and the same) who enters without leaving a trace, who camps in thickets and forests like a phantom never seen or heard. No trace, no sign, no smells, no colors, no sounds. The modern bushcrafter has become a minimalist who abhors impacting nature near or far. The idea is to disappear beyond the trails noiselessly as if nothing more than a tiny breeze blowing through the brush. I received an email from someone recently who said, “I’m getting old and [I’ve] been shut out all my life. At home the noise of trucks and sirens everything else drives me nuts.” So he sneaks into the woods nearby on Friday and if possible doesn’t come out until after dark on Sunday. During the week he distracts himself with bushcraft and wilderness videos. “I’ll be retiring in December,” he said. He plans to spend as much of his time as possible camping ghostlike in the nearby woods.