Our survivalist friend Barry and his brother Paul practiced their skills by hiking up to a secret survival shelter that they had built on the side of a mountain, where they would spend their time living off the land. Barry had invited my apprentice, Adrienne and I to join him there for the day, and we jumped at the opportunity.
Before meeting up with Barry, Adrienne and I had stopped at one of my favorite spots for harvesting Jerusalem artichokes. We now had several large tubers in our backpacks, ready for our adventure.
After a challenging hike, we finally reached the place where the shelter was built. It was so well blended into the landscape that it took us a while to see it.
The first thing we did after settling in, was to gather wood for a fire. Barry always carried the basics of a sturdy knife, a folding saw and various other survival essentials including his trusty flint and steel, but today, he wanted to show Adrienne how to use a bow drill to start the fire.
Whilst Adrienne and I were given the job of shredding pieces of hemp cordage to create the tinder, Barry used dried, dead grass to fashion a type of nest, which he lined with Thistle and Milkweed down that he kept in a pouch for fire starting. Next, we built a teepee of small twigs inside the circle of rocks, that served as the fire place, leaving an opening big enough to insert the nest.
Barry took out his fire starting kit, which consisted of an ark shaped section of a branch strung between by a cord made from braided deer sinew, a hardwood spindle, a small smooth stone with an indentation on one side and a hardwood fire board.
After using his knife to dig a small hole in the fire board, Barry put it on the ground and held it steady with his foot. He looped the spindle into the bow string and placed one end into the indentation he’d made. The other end, he held steady with the notched stone and he began to steadily move the bow back and forth, until the friction caused the hole to blacken and become deeper and wider. At that point he stopped and, using his knife, he cut a V shaped grove into the side of the fire board, into the crater he had mde.
Next, Barry placed the groove over a piece of tree bark, replaced the spindle and resumed bowing. He gradually increased the speed and pressure of his stroke until smoke began to emit from the point of the spindle. As he worked harder and faster the grove began to fill with black ash.
In less than a minute, Barry had created a smoldering coal. He stopped bowing and carefully removed the piece of bark, with the glowing coal, which he transferred to the nest. A few seconds of careful blowing and the nest burst into flame. He then slid the nest into the hole at the bottom of the teepee of twigs and before long we had a blazing fire, and hung the kettle, to boil some water for making coffee.
After feeding the fire with some hardwood split logs, and building a bed of coals we put our tubers in among the hot coals to roast.
Whilst the artichokes were cooking, Barry produced a can of beans that he had brought along. However, he did not produce a can opener. Even though he could have used his knife to open the can, he preferred to show us yet another survival trick. Finding a flat, smooth rock, he placed one end of the can against it and began scraping it in circles until he had worn away the rim, allowing the can to opened with ease.
We ate our beans and artichokes (which were delicious) and drank our coffee, and felt good that we had achieved all of this without the need for any modern conveniences.