This is not your typical “How To… for Survival” or “Best Gear for Survival” blog article. Instead, I am asking you the reader, to read this with an open mind. This is much more than that and I believe it will be the difference between you surviving… and not.
Nothing can take away from the importance of being prepared. Nor can the necessity of training and practicing certain survival skills be trivialized. Preparedness and practice are a couple of necessities of survival. But there is more to life than just surviving. the famous psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, summed it up best when he said, "everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." What is life, truly, if there is no enjoyment? While I do understand that standing in your stockpile room, surveying all of your supplies (the stacks of water bottles, the vast array of number 10 cans, the gun safe with all its hidden treasures, the neatly organized bug out bags, etc.) can bring a certain satisfaction, it is quickly fleeting. That is because you spent so much time and effort compiling these things and now your mind is running through the completed checklist, making sure you didn’t miss anything. Nope, it’s all done… so now what? (Cue that emptiness thing from earlier) The intangibles like relationships and the joy they bring will be just as important in a bold new world as the tangibles like your stockpile. I had the opportunity to learn this, quite humbly I might add, the hard way recently when I took my 9 and 15 year old sons on a backpack adventure for four days. My intent was to teach them practical skills while knocking the rust off of my own. But as Robert Burns said, "The best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry".
I began our adventure 48 hours prior by utilizing my Army training and conducting PCCs (pre-combat checks) and PCIs (pre-combat inspections). Yes, I know that this was not combat, but the fundamentals of preparedness are never-the-less just as applicable. I went over every item in my boys' packs with them so that they understood what it was and how they will be utilizing it. I showed them how best to pack their gear by having repacking mine before them. At this point, I left them to repack their stuff a couple of times (so that they were comfortable with where they put their gear). The night before we left for the woods, we did one final walk-through to make sure we weren’t missing anything. As my 9 year old starts to lay out his gear, he is coming across a deck of cards and a pack of dice. I, being the prudent and pack-weight conscious man that I am, proceed to lecture him about how extra items mean extra weight that he has to carry with him everywhere and that he needs to leave them out. No soon as I get it all out of my mouth, I look over to see my 15 year old pulling out his art pad and some pencils. So, obviously, I look at him and ask, "really?” I then begin to lay on him the same lecture his brother got. At this point (as you could imagine), my kids are less than excited about going.
Fast forwarding to us on a National Park trail the next morning, we are 45 minutes behind my super strict schedule. Frustration gets the best of me when I turn and see that my boys continue to drag their rear end. I begin to lay into them, chastising them for not staying focused and on track. Well, they let me rant for a couple of minutes before my 15 year old interrupted and said, “Dad, we are not lagging behind on purpose. We are just looking for all the things you told us to look for. See look, right here looks like the boar hoof prints. See? Right here. I think it’s a mom cuz look at all the smaller hoof prints." as you could imagine, I’m feeling a bit like an a-hole for trying to rush to find a spot to setup camp while my kids are doing exactly what I told them to do. They are taking in their environment and looking for things like game tracks, wild edibles, possible dangers. Feeling a bit like a heel, I apologize and then join in with them. While it took an extra hour and twenty minutes to get to a suitable camp, they got to experience many little things that they would have otherwise missed if they stayed with my pace.
Jumping to Night 2 of our outdoor adventure, after we have finished all of the stuff that needs to get done, we are sitting by the campfire when my 9 year old coyly asked if I would play cards with him. Without thinking, I begin to get on him for not listening to me. With a bit of sadness in his voice, he simply said, "I’m sorry dad. When you said it wasn’t a good idea to have extra weight, I thought it was worth it to bring them in case you and me had a chance to do something together. Since we were just relaxing and hanging out by the fire, I thought it would be fun." Man oh man, was I on a roll. All he wanted to do was to spend some time by the fire, enjoying a little thing that life has to offer. I promptly apologized and he began to school me in rummy for the rest of the night.
However, not to be bested...by myself, I managed to step into it again. This happened just after breakfast, the next day, when my 15 year old, sat about 20 feet away, with his back to us. Curious, I begin to approach him, when I realized that he is drawing on the art pad I told him to leave. I startled him when I forcefully asked him why he brought that stuff. I did not even give him a chance to answer before I started in about coming out to enjoy what was around us instead of drawing more cartoon characters (he is, by the way, very good with a pencil and paper). With an angry look, he held back what he really wanted to say and respectfully looked at me to say, "I am enjoying what’s around me. Until you came up... I was trying to draw a cardinal that was on that branch over the creek. See?” I look up and see a branch he is pointing to but there was no bird. Now, I am no small man. I stand 6'5", 300 pounds but after he held up his pad and I beheld a half-drawn bird, I felt no more than two inches tall. He was doing exactly what I wanted him to do (enjoying the little things), and I admonished him for it. Not only that, but I inadvertently scared away the bird which meant he would no longer have a model to draw inspiration from. It was at that moment that I realized that how much of this adventure I had missed because I was only focused on the big things: water, food, shelter, shelter, safety, etc. it was my children that showed me how much more life has to offer than simply survival.
When we got home, both of my boys were non-stop chatterboxes to their mom about all the awesome stuff they got to do. "I caught a squirrel", "I got to make the fire", "I made a fishing gig", "we saw pig tracks", “I got to put a splint on Dad’s leg”, and on and on and on, back and forth they went, bombarding my wife with snippet after snippet. I gave them fifteen minutes or so to get it all out and then told them to go get their stuff unpacked. With an exhausted look, she turned to me and said, “Wow! It sounds like they had a great time and learned a lot.". I said, "They did, but not near as much as me." She shot me a puzzled, inquisitive look and I began to explained all of my misadventures.
So remember, survival preparedness is not just years-worth supplies for every situation. Water, food, gear, and a plan is great. But It’s the little things too. You’ve got to remember the little things. It is entirely too easy to get wrapped up in your preparations for tomorrow and let today slip right through your hands. Be sure to take a minute and see the world through a child's eyes. There is soooooo much that happens at their level that we miss because they are the little things to us. You will be amazed at just how blind you’ve become.