Let me start out by saying that for this post I will be using the term “bushcraft”, not in the way that I ordinarily do to designate wilderness skills, but rather in the way it is usually used these days, to designate the activity itself.
I have to be honest, when I first started my blog, I wanted to make it clear that I am not a pure bushcrafter as I saw people use the term. I am a mix of a lot of things. I don’t pretend to live off the land. I carry what I need, and have nothing against technology. Once I started writing however, I found myself pulled in the direction of what is typically called “bushcraft”, largely because I found the prospect of using natural resources rather than gear enticing. Because of that, I joined all the forums, started going to meetings, and tried to learn what bushcraft is really about. What I write about here comes from those experiences.
Well, I quickly became disillusioned with “bushcraft”. It hit me at one point last year when I realized that I was going into the woods almost every weekend, practicing skills, and then coming home, while the whole time rarely being more than an hour from the road. It struck me that I was practicing and preparing for some event that never seemed to come. Yes, it’s fun practicing to start a fire using different methods, but what was the point if I just went home afterward. I remember spending a lot more time in the backwoods before this “bushcraft” thing.
Then I started looking around and what I saw with other bushcrafters seemed to follow the same pattern. We would sit around a camp fire, not too far away from the road, split a stick or two with the latest $500 knife we got, cook some bacon and then exchange stories. I can not recall a single instance where someone said something along the lines of “Let me tell you about this trip I did crossing the Sierras with just an axe and a blanket”. The stories were always about who can light a fire the fastest, or has the best knife, or can make a fire from one stick, etc, etc.
I started wondering, what’s the point? As bushcrafters we spent a lot of time talking about living off the land, thriving in nature, relying on the resources around us, and so on. We naturally stick up our noses at those people who are “just backpacking”. After all, they are just passing through nature, while we have this deep understanding that allows us to live in harmony with it.
The reality however did not match our words. Sure, we can light a fire with a bow drill while the average backpacker can’t. However, I would look at backpackers who did extraordinary things in the woods under extreme conditions, climbing mountains and crossing forests, while we sat around the campfire talking about from where each of our wool blankets was imported. We seemed to prepare for all these extraordinary trips and adventures that those “mere backpackers” were doing; we talked about how much better we would be at it because of all our knowledge; but the trips never came.
This made me question everything I was doing. I decided to stop practicing and start doing. It seemed that we were all practicing these skills with the only end goal of impressing the other people at the next meeting. We had gathered all this knowledge that we never used other than to show others that we had it.
In the pursuit of skills, I had lost the spirit of adventure that originally drew me to the woods. I didn’t start this so I can barbeque in a camp site, carve spoons, or coordinate my wardrobe, so it looks more “authentic”. I got into it because I wanted to be like the explorers of old; travel through the woods; living with the gear I had on my back; discovering places I had never seen. I love the feeling of freedom when I know I can go wherever I want in the forest with the gear I have on my back. What I love even more than that however is actually doing it.
What good were any of those skills, if they were never used to support any meaningful experience in the woods? What good is having all that knowledge if someone else without it is doing more backwoods travel than I am? What good is being self sufficient in nature if we are always in sight of our cars?
There is no reason why bushcraft can not be used differently. For some reason, at least from what I have seen, it is not utilized in that way at the moment. And to be fair, there is no need for it to be anything other than what it already is; it just wasn’t what first inspired me to go into the woods.