If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I don’t focus on primitive skills, but I do like to share the bits that I learn as I go along. By “primitive skills” I mean the use of materials found in the natural environment for the purpose of making life in that environment possible and/or enjoyable. Examples might include the making of natural cordage from willow bark, fire by friction, lean-to shelters made of sapling poles thatched with branches, birch bark containers, the knowledge of edible plants, lichens etc. In other words, ancient survival skills (in fact, there are still groups of people living today who use these skills on a day-to-day basis, so they are not strictly “ancient”). The focus of this blog post will be my personal reasons for learning about and practicing primitive skills, some tending to be more romantic and some more practical.
Primitive skills are useful. The more things you know how to make or utilize, the less critical a forgotten item becomes. Of course, only “primitive” items can be created in this way (you’re not going to build a radio out of a coconut), but the necessities can be had.
Primitive skills are valuable. Should a person with primitive skills become stranded or lost in the wilderness, they will have much better chances of surviving the situation because they will know how to use the products of nature to protect against her perils. Granted, your average ordinary person will most likely not end up being stranded in the wilderness within their lifetime, so primitive skills might be less important to them. It’s a different story for those of us who do go there on a regular basis, though.
Primitive skills are meaningful. I can’t explain why, but I feel a certain sense of connection to the earth, my ancient ancestors and primitive peoples of every age when I make something out of bark or wood, eat wild plants, berries and lichens or use some other primitive knowledge or skill. If only temporarily, it helps me to escape the hectic modern world full of digital this and plastic that and to exist out of time.
Primitive skills make me feel more accomplished and independent. Each time I learn a new edible plant, a new aspect of a lichen or a new way to utilize this wood or that stone, I feel like I am boosting my personal self-sufficiency. Each and every time it gives me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, sometimes large and sometimes small. As I learn, I feel less like a child who is dependent on the modern world for my wants and needs.
I’ll admit that primitive skills are not always compatible with modern outdoor pursuits. It can be ridiculously time-consuming (and often unfeasible) to build a natural shelter every day or to boil water with hot rocks in birch bark containers etc. while on a two-week backpacking trip where you are trying to cover a lot of ground. The same kinds of examples can be given for other activities. This is why, like a few other contemporary bloggers, I see primitive skills as “tools in a toolbox”. I collect them as I go along and enjoy using them from time to time when needed or desired. I personally find them to be a fantastic supplement to modern gear, materials and methods, rather than a replacement.