OBSERVE, ADAPT, SURVIVE
Studying your environment pays big survival dividends.
The act of surviving any situation involves as much mental might as physical strength. Sure, physical well-being plays a large part without a doubt, but it is those people who understand the situation and who don’t let the mental pressures beat them down who will survive.
One way to deal with the mental pressures is knowledge, which will lead to understanding the environment you find yourself in. Whether you are in an urban environment, a desert or a swamp, knowing what that particular environment can offer you and how you can best utilize its resources will help ensure your survival. All the fancy, top-of-theline equipment will do you no good if you don’t use your brain to recognize the assets available around you.
Every year, I travel to an area I am unfamiliar with. I spend about two weeks studying the environment. I learn as much as I can about the resources—both manmade and natural—that can be utilized if I ever find myself in a bad situation.
I speak with, and listen to, native elders about how their people have survived for thousands of years. I watch birds and animals, because doing so will teach you a great deal if you are willing to take the time to observe them. I try to learn about the best places to shelter and the areas to stay
away from. I learn which plants are edible, which ones will kill you quickly and which ones have healing properties.
Can I gather all the information I need in two weeks? Of course not, but I can gather enough to keep me alive. The learning process is an ongoing process. A Pequot elder once told me, “Nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something.” If we stop learning, if we stop asking questions, we are already dead.
ALL THE FANCY, TOP-OF-THELINE EQUIPMENT WILL DO YOU NO GOOD IF YOU DON’T USE YOUR BRAIN TO RECOGNIZE THE ASSETS AVAILABLE AROUND YOU.
THE LEARNING BEGINS
As soon as you step one foot beyond your comfort zone, the learning begins. I am very comfortable in a natural environment: I grew up in a rural area. I have hunted and fished most of my life, and I grow as much of my food as I can. As soon as I step out of that environment and enter a city, I am on guard.
Unfortunately, most airports are in cities. I always make sure to arrive early so I can get a “lay of the land.” No weapons are allowed in airports, so I must rely on my mind as my primary defensive tool. I locate all exits and find nooks and crannies where bad things can happen … and then, I stay away from them.
I sit with my back against a wall so nobody can get behind me, and my eyes are always moving, trying to locate potential threats before they can do any harm to me or someone else. I credit this heightened awareness to my 12 years of enhanced
U.S. Army training.
Sometimes, my wife travels with me. She, unlike me, is comfortable—no matter where she is—almost to the point of throwing caution to the wind. This raises my survival senses to new levels, because I need to protect her as much, if not more, than I do myself.
When I get to wherever I am going and can get out of the city, my senses (which have been on overdrive) can relax. They don’t turn off, because every new place can produce unseen and unknown dangers, but the intensity is different. I can then truly engage my learning mode and am open to the lessons being presented.
WATCH AND LEARN
We all know people need food, water and shelter to survive. No matter where we are, we need these basic things. To find them, all we need to do is keep our eyes and ears open.
Water. Even in places such as Arizona’s Sonora Desert, one of the hottest and driest places I have ever found myself, there is water. How about the Florida Keys? These islands, which are surrounded by saltwater, do have natural freshwater sources. So, how do you find them?
The very first thing I do when I get myself into an area is find a water source. I do this by looking at the vegetation. All plants need water to survive, but some need less water than others. Some flora, such as mangrove trees, can survive in brackish water (a mixture of both fresh and saltwater). People can’t drink brackish water, but the mangroves indicate there is a freshwater source nearby—because you can’t have brackish water without freshwater. As you get closer to the freshwater, you will start to see trees such as maples and oaks, bulrushes and cattails. Don’t rely on the presence of mosses, because these plants have the ability to take
AS SOON AS YOU STEP ONE FOOT BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE, THE LEARNING BEGINS.
moisture out of the air.
Sometimes, as in the American Southwest, the water will not be obvious. It might be underground, or maybe it will only be a small seep among a pile of boulders. In these situations, I look for both plants and animals or signs that animals frequent the area.
All animals need freshwater, so let them lead you to it. Follow game trails if you’re able to find some. Just be careful: Predators often hunt near water sources.
Continue to watch the plants to identify possible sources of water. In the Arizona desert, many of the plants growing there can live with very little water, but there are
also a few cottonwood or willow trees. These trees are great indicators of a good source of freshwater.
Shelter. Now that you have found a water source, what about shelter? The tendency to build your shelter extremely close to the water is one that many novices fall prey to. Don’t do it, because this mistake can kill you in more ways than one. You found this water source, so that means others—both two- and four-legged—will find it also. Remember: You aren’t camping; you are in a survival situation, and the competition is on for everything that can sustain life.
Like my native ancestors before me, I want my shelter on the highest ground possible. First, it is drier than areas close to the water. A sudden rainstorm could flood the lower area. Believe me, you don’t want any part of that. In addition, biting insects tend to be less problematic the higher up you go, and there is more fuel available for your fire.
High ground gives me the ability to survey the surrounding area, enabling me to detect both food and possible danger. Higher ground is also easier to defend.
Keep in mind that there are always things out there that will try to get you. Building your shelter on higher ground will make you much safer. Just be very careful you don’t signal your presence, which is also easier to do at higher levels.
Use available materials to construct a shelter that will protect you from the elements and possible threats and that blends into the surrounding area. If you keep all this in mind, you should be all set. There are many different shelters and ways to make them— way too many to discuss here. Knowledge of building several types of debris or expedient shelters should be something you have before venturing into unknown areas.
Food. While I always carry some food with me (see the sidebar on page 74), the ability to secure food is needed for situations lasting longer than a few days. You probably won’t know how long your situation will last, but it makes sense to investigate your food options sooner rather than later.
My father used to say, “If it walks, crawls, flies or swims, you can eat it.” While this is
THE ACT OF SURVIVING ANY SITUATION INVOLVES AS MUCH MENTAL MIGHT AS PHYSICAL STRENGTH.
not entirely true, it does drive home the point that food is all around us. The roots of cattails are edible, as are the young shoots of ferns, called “fiddleheads.” Many berries are edible, but use caution here, because some are poisonous. In a true survival situation, you can set snares to catch birds and small animals. That water source you found probably has some fish, frogs, snakes (once again, use caution here), all of which make a good meal.
Man-made. Humans have been part of the environment for thousands of years. Take advantage of what past human
IN TODAY’S WORLD, IT IS VERY EASY TO GET COMPLACENT AND NOT TAKE SERIOUSLY THE PREPARATIONS FOR DEALING WITH THE CHALLENGES WE’LL FACE IN ANY VARIETY OF SURVIVAL SITUATIONS.
occupation has left behind. It could be in the form of shelter or supplies. You never know until you find these opportunities.
If there is an old, abandoned structure of some sort, it was put there for a reason. Perhaps it was an area of good hunting or fishing. Maybe it indicates a reliable water source. Chances are, both were available at the time it was built, because the builders had the same basic needs we do today. Being able to recognize these features in the environment where you find yourself could save your life.
Survival is simply the ability to stay alive. In today’s world, it is very easy to get complacent and not take seriously the preparations for dealing with the challenges we’ll face in any variety of survival situations.
There are people who say all we need is to own the latest and the greatest gadgets in order to survive. However, the most important tool humans have is our brain, along with the ability to use it. People have survived in this world by learning to deal and work with the environment around them. We can, too, as long as we are willing to be good observers and listen to the lessons being taught.
PEOPLE HAVE SURVIVED IN THIS WORLD BY LEARNING TO DEAL AND WORK WITH THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND THEM.
Snakes, such as this one in Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp, make great food sources.
Right: Proper footwear is a must at all times. The coast is a great place to gather food, but always wear something on your feet because of hidden dangers such as rays, lionfish, scorpionfish and urchins. These Chaco sandals are perfect because of...
Near left: Shallow coastal waters are easy to access and can yield food, such as this large hermit crab.
Lizards seem to be everywhere, whether in the tropics or the desert, and they make an easy meal. Never pass them up.
Frogs are always good sources of food. But be careful, because some are poisonous (this one is not). If in doubt, leave it alone.
Even in urban areas, food can be found outside grocery stores.
Be aware of potential dangers— both natural and man-made. It is the ones you don’t see that will get you. Mangroves indicate freshwater nearby. Other broadleafed trees indicate higher and drier land, as well.
Above: Cattails, rushes and reeds indicate fresh water. Left: This black racer in the Florida Keys is a great food source … if you can catch it.
Above: This area is a great place to gather food; it is also dangerous. A cut here can lead to an infection that could take you out of the game. Right: This area screams danger. Don’t linger here. Get to higher and drier ground.
Old Man’s Beard is a lichen found almost everywhere east of the Mississippi (this image happens to be of the Corkscrew Swamp in Florida). It makes great fire tinder. Collect it as you go so you will have it when you need it.