To Build a Fire, Pt. 2

daily life

Back in February, I mentioned I was taking a Wilderness Survival course. Part of my interest was a desire to return to the outdoors. We have a few camping trips planned this summer, but I’d like to be able to hike, to see more, to be really out in the wild. The other part of my interest was to be comfortable with failure.

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Preparing to leave the comforts of a messy kitchen into the wild.

 

Today was the culmination of the course. We had a practical exam: in twenty minutes build a fire, boil water, and make a shelter. And a written exam: 25 questions, short answer. But of course, as Bruno said, we’re never really done.

It was not my best. I mean I did it. I lit my fire, I boiled water. I made a killer trucker, hitch, and slip knot to set up my shelter. But my fire was ever expanding, with the instructor having to put part of it out (this might not be me, but the wind) and I burned up my ferro rod in the fire, so if I were in a real wilderness survival situation I would be…as the kids say…S.O.L.

The written exam was worse. My sense of direction is still non-existent. Given that I was sick on the navigation day, I still have no idea how to use a compass. On the plus side, I do know what declination is. Also, in full disclosure, with the dissertation being the priority, I only prioritized studying for this exam about as much as you could expect. Still. As a normally A student, probably not my best work.

As I left, I began to fall into a “that was not perfect, or even remotely good!” meltdown. I began to fall down a shame spiral. Me: “I said EAST and it was WEST. I am such a moron! I probably seem so careless with my fire. If we were in California, we would all be totally screwed right now.” Bruno: “I thought we were doing this for fun?”

But I caught myself doing it. And I stopped. No more ruminating.Ā  I don’t feel perfect and I’m definitely going to have to pull out some Brene Brown after this, but I feel ok.

Practical knowledge is hard for me. I’ve always been much more of a theoretically minded person (thus the Ph.D. in political theory). That saying about book smarts and street smarts is basically made for me. I can read you Rousseau in French, but common sense skills have always been a struggle.

By my own measurement my “street” or rather “wilderness” skills have improved by leaps and bounds.

Before I started this class, I could not start a fire. I would have thought food would be the first thing to look for in a survival situation (first things: climate control and water). I would have no idea that blue is the best color for a shelter due to its visibility and how map north is different from true north (theoretically, I still haven’t figured out how that works in practice yet except that it involves drawing lines). The only kind of knots I could make prior to this class is the knots that form by not properly putting my necklaces away, and now I can do three different kinds. Not only can I use a knife, but I’m a proud owner of a “survivor” knife that I keep in my Kate Spade purse (balance in all things).

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Look ma! Emergency shelter!

 

I could not find my way back from a bad situation (to do: sign up for a navigation/map reading course), but I think my chances of doing ok in a bad situation have significantly improved beyond what they were in January. And that, my friends, is a success, no matter how I mucked up the test. What is not lost is my enthusiasm.

Onward!

xo, Ali

 

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