Your Most Important Tool

20130218-143007.jpgMy friend and I picked our way carefully down the hillside toward a small clearing. The sun was setting, and the air was becoming chilled. As we walked, our eyes and flashlights swept our surroundings – there were plenty of holes and pieces of fallen brush to trip us up if we weren’t paying attention, and we could hear the first plaintive yips of a pack of coyotes further up the hill. We’d also seen the tracks of a wild pig, and though we’d not caught sight of the animal, we knew it was likely close by.

Between us, we carried some 50 pounds of gear and supplies – warm down-filled sleeping bags, tents, a pair of butane-powered stoves and the fuel canisters that go with them. We each had a half gallon or so of water – plenty for the overnight camp out we’d planned. A gallon Ziploc bag in my pack held an assortment of food – noodles, instant potatoes, dried blueberries, coffee, and more.I had a knife in each of my front pants pockets on this trip; my friend carried two more blades and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. (Six hours after I got home from our trip, she’d call me to report that, while out on a short walk, she’d had to shoot a juvenile rattlesnake that had been inches away from striking.)

But despite what the outdoor products industry would have you believe, the most important tool in our survival arsenal wasn’t our gear, our food, or our water. It wasn’t anything we carried, nor was it something you can buy. But whether you’re facing natural hazards or human ones, it’s absolutely essential.

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Backpacking and Common Sense Prepping

20130213-210443.jpgLet me start out this post with a disclaimer: I’m using the word “pepper” here, but I don’t intend it to mean what a lot of people think it means. I’m not stockpiling guns and ammo against the coming zombie apocalypse. I don’t think the earth’s magnetic field is going to suddenly flip on its axis, and I doubt the UN troops/BATFE/black helicopter guys are going to be landing in my back yard without some advance warning that they’re coming. When you see the folks on the TV show Doomsday Preppers, digging underground bunkers to wait for whatever apocalyptic catastrophe they think will bring about The End of the World As We Know It? That’s not me. I don’t own a tinfoil hat, and I don’t expect an unannounced apocalypse tomorrow.

However, this is what I do believe: It is probable that at some point I could experience a crisis – be it natural or manmade – that would have the potential to disrupt my life for a period of time, and being able to function autonomously and to provide for my basic needs will help me through that crisis.

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Why We Make the Choice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s funny, sometimes, how the most ordinary of moments can remind you of the most profound truths. It was New Year’s Eve, early in the afternoon, and I’d been invited to a friend’s house for a potluck. When I arrived, my friend had gone to the store and her teenage daughter, “T.”, was home washing dishes and watching her young brothers.

T. is a sweet young lady and someone who, like her mother, matters very much to me. Although I know this is so, I don’t spend a lot of time consciously thinking about it. Both T. and her mom go shooting with me sometimes, and when we’re together we have an easy, comfortable relationship. They’re definitely people I consider family, despite not being blood relations.

When I arrived, T. greeted me with a broad smile and a hug. I stowed my contribution to the potluck in an overfull fridge and grabbed a dishtowel. T. washed and I dried, and then she tidied up the living room while I grated a block of cheese for enchiladas. I made a bowl of ravioli for her brother, she tidied up a stack of videos and XBox games. We didn’t talk much, merely enjoyed each other’s company while we worked.

And then, it seemed as though the zoom lens of life shifted focus, and I experienced the strangest sense of crystal clarity, almost vertigo-like in its presence. It felt like looking up at an IMAX theater screen, somehow impossibly large and disorienting.

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