In the last few posts where you have seen me rambling about bushcraft, I have been very critical of the activity, and at times, admittedly, downright whiney. One may be left wondering why I waste so much time bothering with an activity which vexes me to such an extent. So, in this post, I wanted to go over some of the things I truly enjoy about bushcraft, and the value I see in it.
The truth is that the main reason why I am so critical of the activity and the direction in which I see it going is that I strongly believe that bushcraft is a valuable pursuit that has a lot to offer to the outdoorsman. Even more importantly, perhaps, it is something I greatly enjoy.
Over a year ago, I put forth some musings on the subject of defining “bushcraft”. I understand that there are many definitions out there, but as I stated then, to me, bushcraft is a compilation of wilderness skills. Bush = Wilderness; Craft = Skill
From that perspective, the skills themselves are valuable. Knowing how to navigate in the bush; how to process wood and make fire; how to find water and suitable shelter locations; how to track game, etc are all valuable skills that in one way or another will prove useful to the outdoorsman. These skills can either make an outing in the woods more pleasurable, or when things go bad, can serve to save one’s life.
I must admit however, that recently I have been thinking about another aspect of bushcraft, which while poorly defined, for me at least, seems to be true. That is, bushcraft seems to encourage and in some ways require a willingness to actively interact with the environment. While many outdoor pursuits focus on passive enjoyment of nature, bushcraft tends to require that you get your hands dirty, so to speak. More importantly, bushcraft seeks an acceptance of the fact that one is IN nature and not just an observer, or a traveler trying to shield himself from her effects.
The combination of the above two things, the skills and the mindset, is what I find so strongly appealing and enticing. Recently I read a statement from Fritz Handel, creator of the BushBuddy stove, where he said “I just enjoy the feeling that my survival doesn't depend on getting anywhere, everything I need is with me.” This echoed with me, not because I worry too much about survival, but rather because bushcraft gives me a sense of freedom when out in the woods.
When you have a good set of basic skills, and have come to accept the fact that you are in nature without that scaring or bothering you, there is an immense sense of freedom which washes over you. You can travel where you want, however you want. It is a great feeling to know that the worse thing that can happen if you get stuck out another night is that you will have to explain to your boss why you didn’t show up to work.
The mindset and skills encompassed by bushcraft, more than anything else, provide me with this sense of freedom when in the woods.
I certainly do not want to go too far here. I still find statements about being one with nature, thriving in nature, bushcraft being wisdom, etc, based more on excessive television watching than on reality. Even more so, as I discussed in my prior posts, bushcraft can be a double edged sword. In the same way that it can serve to provide this sense of freedom and self reliance when out in the woods, it can just as easily serve to destroy that freedom. Too much preoccupation with skills and reliance on a set of gear selected from a random historic period can kill our ability to travel through the woods in a direction of our choosing. It can chain us down to the parking lot as much as a fear of the woods.
When looked at more broadly however, bushcraft can offer many rewards to the woodsman. For me the ability to stand in the middle of the forest, and decide that I will cross over that mountain just because I want to see what’s on the other side; that I will camp wherever night finds me; and that I will return whenever I can, is what has always had the strongest draw for me. The skills encompassed by bushcraft and the active interaction with the environment that it encourages go a long way towards allowing me to have the confidence and ability to do those things.