What does bushcraft and wilder camping mean to me? Well, apart from its practical application and the fact that I think it’s just good fun. For me, I get a deeper sense of meaning from it. Especially when spending nights alone in the wild with little and basic equipment. Meaning that I desperately need in this confusing world where everything is now coming under question. I believe, it’s about getting rid of the fluff and peeling away the layers of useless, material baggage of the modern world and condensing down what you actually need in life to some basic tools and priorities.
If you think about it: the human mind and physiology has been moulded by hundreds of thousands of years of hunter gatherer evolution. Well over 90% of our existence on this planet. Therefore, practicing these skills connects me with what I can only describe as the primal fundamental human reality. Like a memory of something that I have never seen. Like acting out distant knowledge encoded in our very DNA. In the woods I feel whole and I feel human.
In many hunter gatherer societies, boys were initiated into manhood by being banished alone into the wilderness to fend for themselves. To allow the “boy ego” to die and for them to return a man. Perhaps this is the origins of what Joseph Campell described as the “Hero’s Journey”. A story represented in myths throughout cultures and ages all around the world. I see the solo journey into the wild as a metaphor for life and an exercise to better understand ourselves.
The wilderness represents chaos. When the walls of your reality break down and the comfort of order disintegrates. You are alone with your thoughts, there is no one else to rely on and your only companion is a few basic tools in your backpack. Then like King Arthur’s knights, you must willingly enter the part of the forest that seems darkest to you and confront the shadows that are awaiting in the abyss.
But your mission is clear. You must setup or build a shelter to maintain your core body temperature and establish a microclimate of order. Create fire -man’s greatest companion- to provide the energy potential to make water safe to drink, food more nutritious, manipulate resources in your environment to make tools and banish the beasts of the darkness. With each of these challenges overcome you plant a seed of order in the chaos. You find new appreciation for the simple things in life and become grateful for what little you may have.
But in synchrony with the chaos of the wild, there is also space, harmony and a stillness. Sensations that we are we so deprived of in modern life. Free from distractions, your evening entertainment is the crackling fire accompanied by the forest symphony. Its a chance to reclaim your attention and be alone with your thoughts and see what your thoughts actually are. Content with the primal attraction of staring into the flames of your camp fire, you commune with the ancestors. The passage of time seems less rigid and less relevant.
Its a chance to observe the way of the forest; many life forms performing a slow, cyclic dance of life and death; struggling for survival yet effortlessly being; competing yet cooperating simultaneously.
In the abyss of the wilderness, perhaps something inside of you may die and something new will be reborn. On returning to the known world, many things may not seem so scary any more. You have a whole new appreciation for the simple things in life: The joy of clean running water; the wonder of a hot shower; the cosy security of a solid shelter and the marvel at the easily available food from all around the world and the indescribable contentment of sharing a meal in the company of loved ones. The experience is a reminder of what is actually important and can be used as an everyday meditation of gratitude. A useful tool I have found to get me through the harder days in life.
Despite our need to create habitable order from the chaos of nature; I don’t believe that nature is something that we must battle and subdue. Nor separate ourselves from and contain as ornaments of purity, only to admire from a distance, never to be touched. For you cannot separate the organism from the environment and what you do to one you do to the other.
For as Chief Seattle said “Man did not weave the web of life-he is merely a strand in it”. Therefore, I believe we must relearn how to be active, responsible participants in the natural world. We must not suppress, but integrate our wild nature, immerses ourselves in the wilderness and be aware what we have evolved to be.
The forest is the site of the rite of passage and without the woods, we humans are stuck in a hall of mirrors, bound to reflect only our man-made world and ideas.
I think wildness is essential to human wellbeing and as John Muir once said “Thousands of tired, nerveshaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity“.
I feel like we can all benefit by reconnecting to our wild origins and experience feeling human again.
– adapted from a video transcript by Tom Langhorne – YouTube channel ‘Fandabi Dozi’