American Survival Guide

DEBUNKING OLD HUS­BANDS’ TALES

25 MYTHS EX­POSED, IN­CLUD­ING A FEW WITH A LIT­TLE TRUTH MIXED IN

- By Christo­pher Ny­erges Lifestyle · Polaris Industries, Inc. · Sirius/XM Satellite Radio

25 Myths Ex­posed, In­clud­ing a Few with a Lit­tle Truth Mixed In

Ev­ery as­pect of life seems to have ax­ioms and tru­isms. Some are worth liv­ing your life by, and others are less re­li­able. The thing is, the less-re­li­able ax­ioms usu­ally have a ker­nel of truth buried in­side. Here are some of the out­door-re­lated say­ings that we hear all the time, some of them so of­ten that we tend to think they must be true. But most of these are not true, de­spite the oc­ca­sional ker­nel of truth ly­ing deep within.

NAV­I­GA­TION

All rivers lead to civ­i­liza­tion so, if you’re lost, fol­low the river down­stream.

We’ve heard it so of­ten and we’ve seen it in movies. How­ever, it’s sim­ply not so! The rea­son you hear this ad­vice re­peated so of­ten is that some­times the river will get you to a vil­lage or a town. Those who died fol­low­ing this ad­vice aren’t around to dis­pute this myth.

The North Star is the bright­est star in the night sky.

If you’re lost, you can find north if you can find the North Star, known as Po­laris, which is the bright­est star in the night sky, right? If you find the bright­est star in the sky, you’ve found Sir­ius, not the North Star. The North Star is ac­tu­ally the 48th-bright­est star in the sky, and if you don’t know how to find it, you should con­sult a star chart.

Moss al­ways grows on the north side of a tree.

When I was first study­ing sur­vival in high school, one of my teach­ers was Ab­bie Keith, who was head of the Sierra Madre Search and Res­cue team at the time. He would ask us if moss grows on the north side of trees, and most of us said yes. He’d laugh and say, yes it does, but it also grows on the east side, the west side, and the south side of trees. Moss needs shade and mois­ture and it will grow where the shade and mois­ture is great­est. Of­ten, this is the north side of a tree, or a rock

“THE REA­SON YOU HEAR THIS AD­VICE RE­PEATED SO OF­TEN IS THAT SOME­TIMES THE RIVER WILL GET YOU TO A VIL­LAGE OR A TOWN. THOSE WHO DIED FOL­LOW­ING THIS AD­VICE AREN’T AROUND TO DIS­PUTE THIS MYTH.”

or a barn but not of­ten and pre­cise enough for this to be a de­pend­able tool for nav­i­ga­tion.

Wood­peck­ers make their holes on the east sides of trees.

Yes, this is true, but they also make their holes ev­ery­where else on the tree. You can­not use wood­pecker holes for any sort of prac­ti­cal nat­u­ral nav­i­ga­tion.

A com­pass points to the North Pole.

When peo­ple say this, they are re­fer­ring to the mag­netic com­pass nee­dle, and they as­sume it points to the North Pole, or true north. In fact, the com­pass nee­dle points to mag­netic north, which is not the same as true north. Ev­ery topo­graph­i­cal map tells you the dif­fer­ence be­tween true north and mag­netic north so you can com­pen­sate — this com­pen­sa­tion is known as the dec­li­na­tion. How­ever, if you hap­pen to be in the line where true north and mag­netic north co­in­cide, your com­pass nee­dle will in­deed co­in­ci­den­tally point to true north.

“EV­ERY AS­PECT OF LIFE SEEMS TO HAVE AX­IOMS AND TRU­ISMS SOME ARE WORTH LIV­ING YOUR LIFE BY, AND OTHERS ARE LESS RE­LI­ABLE.”

HY­DRA­TION

All water can be pu­ri­fied by boil­ing.

When you boil water, the tem­per­a­ture at boil­ing (212 de­grees (F) at sea level) kills or in­ac­ti­vates liv­ing or­gan­isms in the water that can make you sick. It’s also true that most bi­o­log­i­cal haz­ards in the water are killed off by the time the water reaches about 170 (F). Re­mov­ing the water from the heat source af­ter bring­ing it to a rolling boil will be some­what more ef­fec­tive against viruses and bac­te­ria, but heat will not make salt­wa­ter or water with haz­ardous chem­i­cals, fu­els or sol­vents safe to drink.

You can fill your can­teen with water from a cac­tus.

I’ve ac­tu­ally seen a pic­ture of some­one shov­ing a spigot onto a bar­rel cac­tus and turn­ing it on to fill their can­teen. Of course, that’s mythol­ogy. There is water in cacti, for sure, but it’s stored in the flesh of the cac­tus. You can eat your water — it’s of­ten very slimy and gooey — but it isn’t in a form where you can just fill your can­teen.

Water that is clear, cold and flow­ing is safe to drink without treat­ment.

Though we’d like this to be so, it just isn’t al­ways true. Water that is mov­ing, and mov­ing over sands, has an abil­ity to self-pu­rify, but this de­pends on what im­pu­ri­ties might be present in the water. In fact, stag­nant wa­ters can be very safe in some cases, so the flow of water is only one of many fac­tors that may make the water safe or not.

The desert so­lar still is an un­re­li­able way of get­ting water.

Some­times, you get no water when you set up a so­lar still. I have cer­tainly had my share of this frus­tra­tion, even when I dug in a dry river bed. But I’ve also got­ten water so many times from do­ing this that I know that suc­cess is a matter of where I dig the hole, the time of year, lo­ca­tion and other fac­tors. Also, though much has been said and writ­ten about the vast amount of work that it takes to dig the hole, it’s never taken me more than an hour to dig the hole. And then, you just wait. You can leave that hole with its cover in place in­def­i­nitely if it’s ac­tu­ally giv­ing you water.

You can al­ways dig for water.

This is true! You can al­ways dig ... but you won’t al­ways reach water. I’ve dug small wells many times and many times had all the water we needed for sev­eral days. How­ever, water is ei­ther un­der­ground at an ac­ces­si­ble depth or it isn’t. And when it isn’t, you’ll just need to find your water else­where.

FIRESTARTI­NG

You can make a fire by hit­ting two rocks to­gether.

I have heard this many times from peo­ple who re­mem­ber some­thing like this from child­hood but they can’t re­mem­ber any de­tails. You can­not get a fire by hit­ting two pieces of flint, or chert or quartzite to­gether. How­ever, if one of the rocks is mar­c­a­site and the other is flint, you ac­tu­ally might get enough of a spark to ig­nite some char­cloth.

FOOD

You can taste-test un­known wild plants by chew­ing on a lit­tle and tak­ing note of your re­ac­tion.

The so-called Uni­ver­sal Ed­i­bil­ity Test has been widely pub­lished, even in mil­i­tary hand­books.

The only rea­son that more peo­ple don’t die from prac­tic­ing this “test” is that there are not that many plants that will out­right kill you! In other words, it only works ac­ci­den­tally, not be­cause it is a valid test.

Plants with red fea­tures are prob­a­bly poi­sonous.

It’s true that there are some poi­sonous plants and mush­rooms that have some parts that are red. But there are far more edi­ble plants with red parts, such as straw­ber­ries, wa­ter­melon and ap­ples. This old hus­bands’ tale prob­a­bly arose from the fact that there are red­dish blotches on the poi­son hem­lock stem and the Amanita mus­caria, a mush­room with hal­lu­cino­genic prop­er­ties that has a red cap.

All blue and black berries are edi­ble.

In gen­eral, this is ac­cu­rate, but it’s not worth mem­o­riz­ing be­cause there are ex­cep­tions. You still need to learn to rec­og­nize the iden­tity of berries (and other plants) be­fore you eat them.

All white berries are poi­sonous.

This is a cor­rect gen­eral state­ment, but again, there are many ex­cep­tions, such as mul­ber­ries and white straw­ber­ries just to name a cou­ple. Eat only those edi­ble wild plants that you have pos­i­tively iden­ti­fied.

If you’re un­cer­tain what you can eat in the wild, watch what the an­i­mals eat.

This has been re­peated so of­ten that you’d think it’s re­ally true. Some­times, it may be true. But not al­ways. First, var­i­ous an­i­mals can eat things that hu­mans can­not, and they can get away with eat­ing more tox­ins than hu­mans, in some cases. Also, just be­cause you watched the an­i­mal eat some­thing doesn’t mean it’s OK even for the an­i­mal to eat; did you watch to see what hap­pened to the an­i­mal af­ter it de­parted?

If you’re un­cer­tain about the ed­i­bil­ity of a wild mush­room, boil a piece of the mush­room with a piece of silver. If it does not tar­nish the silver, it’s good to eat.

Al­ways be sus­pi­cious of quick tests to de­ter­mine ed­i­bil­ity so you don’t have to take the time to ac­tu­ally study! This “rule” has been re­peated of­ten and I’ve per­son­ally met farm­ers who told it to me and said they swore by it. How­ever, you can boil a 99 per­cent silver coin with the dead­li­est Amanita mush­rooms — A. phal­loides, and A. ocre­ata, for ex­am­ple — and there will be no tar­nish­ing of the coin. So, al­though this is a myth, it does have a ba­sis in fact: a few poi­sonous mush­rooms con­tain hy­dro­gen sul­fide and will tar­nish silver. But most deadly mush­rooms will not tar­nish silver.

Any mush­room grow­ing in your lawn is poi­sonous.

False! Edi­ble and toxic mush­rooms could grow on your lawn if the con­di­tions are right. Just be­cause it’s on your lawn doesn’t make it toxic. (This one should be clas­si­fied as an old wives’ tale, be­cause my mother be­lieved this was true.)

You can’t sur­vive a rat­tlesnake bite.

No, not true. In fact, rat­tlesnake bites are a bit rare, and the fa­tal­ity rate from bites is well be­low 1 per­cent. Yes, it is a se­ri­ous med­i­cal emer­gency, but it usu­ally won’t kill you, es­pe­cially if proper care is taken af­ter be­ing bit­ten. In ad­di­tion, up to about half of rat­tlesnake bites are “dry,” mean­ing no venom was in­jected.

If some­one is bit­ten by a rat­tlesnake, you should quickly ap­ply a tourni­quet to the af­fected limb.

False. A tourni­quet, by def­i­ni­tion, is some­thing that stops the blood flow to the limb. You should never ap­ply a tourni­quet un­less it has been de­ter­mined that you must lose the limb in or­der to save the life. A rat­tlesnake vic­tim should get to a hos­pi­tal as soon as pos­si­ble for treat­ment. If

“IT’S TRUE THAT THERE ARE SOME POI­SONOUS PLANTS AND MUSH­ROOMS THAT HAVE SOME PARTS THAT ARE RED. BUT THERE ARE FAR MORE EDI­BLE PLANTS WITH RED PARTS, SUCH AS STRAW­BER­RIES, WA­TER­MELON AND AP­PLES.”

this is not im­me­di­ately pos­si­ble, the vic­tim should lie down in the shade, im­mo­bi­lize the lo­ca­tion of the bite, try to re­lax and slowly sip liq­uids. If any­thing, a cloth could be tied above the bite to slow the spread of lymph. How­ever, not all doc­tors agree on even that last point, but a tourni­quet should def­i­nitely not be ap­plied.

WEATHER

If it’s re­ally cold out­side, you can fall asleep and die of hy­pother­mia.

You can def­i­nitely die from the cold, but you’re not just go­ing to fall asleep and not wake up. You’ll wake up, feel the pain of the cold, and then if you don’t do some­thing about it, you’ll even­tu­ally die. Hot dry weather is earthquake weather.

False. There is no such thing as earthquake weather. If you study the weather con­di­tions of earth­quakes, you will see that their oc­cur­rence doesn’t co­in­cide with any par­tic­u­lar sort of weather.

Peo­ple go crazy and com­mit more crimes dur­ing a full moon.

Well, is that an old wives' tale, or an old hus­bands' tale? We’ve heard it a lot. Some stud­ies de­bunk this idea, say­ing that there is no clear cor­re­la­tion be­tween the full moon and in­creased crime, ex­cept that there is more light to com­mit crimes dur­ing that time.

Low baro­met­ric pres­sure in­creases the crime rate.

Baro­met­ric pres­sure is low when a storm is near­ing or present. Stud­ies have shown that there is an in­creased feel­ing of rest­less­ness and frus­tra­tion, trou­ble con­cen­trat­ing and quar­rel­some­ness dur­ing low baro­met­ric pres­sure. A study that was done of po­lice records of ma­jor cities, in­clud­ing New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Or­leans, showed that there was an in­crease in vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing sui­cide, when the baro­met­ric pres­sure fell be­low 30 inches. So we know there is a cor­re­spon­dence be­tween vi­o­lence and low baro­met­ric pres­sure, but no one can say for cer­tain that the low baro­met­ric pres­sure caused the vi­o­lence. For ex­am­ple, those who felt par­tic­u­larly frus­trated about their job dur­ing these times might con­sider get­ting a dif­fer­ent job.

Even when wet, wool will keep you warm.

Not quite. Wool is an ex­cel­lent nat­u­ral fab­ric, which is also some­what fire-re­tar­dant (that’s why many fire de­part­ments used to use wool gar­ments, un­til they came up with bet­ter syn­thet­ics). Wool has hol­low fol­li­cles, and the air trapped therein will al­low the wool to in­su­late you even when it's wet. By con­trast, cot­ton has no in­su­lat­ing value when wet. But does wet wool ac­tu­ally keep you warm? That de­pends on many fac­tors, such as air tem­per­a­ture, wind, etc. In gen­eral, though, while there is still in­su­la­tion value when wet, wool has no mag­i­cal qual­ity to pro­duce heat. All it can do is trap your own body heat.

These are just a few old hus­bands’ tales that we hope we’ve cleared up for you. Can you think of more?

 ?? © GETTY IMAGES ??
© GETTY IMAGES
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 ??  ?? Op­po­site page: Time-lapse photograph­y shows how all stars in the North­ern Hemi­sphere ap­pear to ro­tate counter-clock­wise around the North Star.
Op­po­site page: Time-lapse photograph­y shows how all stars in the North­ern Hemi­sphere ap­pear to ro­tate counter-clock­wise around the North Star.
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 ??  ?? Left: You can’t fill your can­teen with the water from cac­tus, but you can eat your water by eat­ing the cac­tus.
Far left: Does moss grow on the north side of trees? Yes, and it also grows on the west, and south, and east sides — wher­ever there is suf­fi­cient mois­ture and shade.
Left: You can’t fill your can­teen with the water from cac­tus, but you can eat your water by eat­ing the cac­tus. Far left: Does moss grow on the north side of trees? Yes, and it also grows on the west, and south, and east sides — wher­ever there is suf­fi­cient mois­ture and shade.
 ??  ?? Be­low: The acorn wood­pecker stores acorns in these holes it made, which are on the north side of the tree. These holes are made on all sides of trees.
Be­low: The acorn wood­pecker stores acorns in these holes it made, which are on the north side of the tree. These holes are made on all sides of trees.
 ??  ?? Left: If you watch to see what wild an­i­mals eat, can you eat the same things too?
Left: If you watch to see what wild an­i­mals eat, can you eat the same things too?
 ?? © GETTY IMAGES ?? Boil­ing kills bi­o­log­i­cal con­tam­i­nants in water, but it doesn’t af­fect chem­i­cals in water, nor does it make sea­wa­ter potable.
© GETTY IMAGES Boil­ing kills bi­o­log­i­cal con­tam­i­nants in water, but it doesn’t af­fect chem­i­cals in water, nor does it make sea­wa­ter potable.
 ??  ?? Above: The desert so­lar still, if con­di­tions are right, can be dug, cov­ered in plas­tic and can cap­ture a cup or more of water a day. We’ve got­ten up to a quart a day, and we’ve also got­ten noth­ing.
Above: The desert so­lar still, if con­di­tions are right, can be dug, cov­ered in plas­tic and can cap­ture a cup or more of water a day. We’ve got­ten up to a quart a day, and we’ve also got­ten noth­ing.
 ??  ?? Near right: Yes, you can dig for water, but you may not find it. Here, there once was water, and now there’s not.
Near right: Yes, you can dig for water, but you may not find it. Here, there once was water, and now there’s not.
 ??  ?? Red parts on plants don’t tell you much about whether the plant is edi­ble or not. These toyon berries are edi­ble when cooked.
Red parts on plants don’t tell you much about whether the plant is edi­ble or not. These toyon berries are edi­ble when cooked.
 ?? © GETTY IMAGES ?? While mor­tal­ity is higher with rat­tlesnake bites than other snakes, sta­tis­tics show only 1 in 736 peo­ple bit­ten by one will die.
© GETTY IMAGES While mor­tal­ity is higher with rat­tlesnake bites than other snakes, sta­tis­tics show only 1 in 736 peo­ple bit­ten by one will die.
 ??  ?? Above: Al­though most black and dark-col­ored berries are edi­ble, not all are. Make sure you iden­tify what you eat be­fore you eat it.
Above: Al­though most black and dark-col­ored berries are edi­ble, not all are. Make sure you iden­tify what you eat be­fore you eat it.
 ??  ?? Near left: Parker holds the deadly Amanita ocre­ata, aka “an­gel of death” mush­room. If you boil this mush­room with silver, the silver will not tar­nish, but that doesn’t mean you can eat it.
Near left: Parker holds the deadly Amanita ocre­ata, aka “an­gel of death” mush­room. If you boil this mush­room with silver, the silver will not tar­nish, but that doesn’t mean you can eat it.
 ?? © GETTY IMAGES ?? Be­low, left: The barom­e­ter mea­sures air pres­sure. Does the ris­ing or fall­ing of air pres­sure af­fect hu­man be­hav­ior?
Be­low, right: Drowsi­ness can be a sign of the on­set of hy­pother­mia. Know what to look for be­fore ven­tur­ing out in cold weather.
Is there more crime in the city dur­ing a full moon, or is it sim­ply that the crim­i­nals have more light to do their deeds?
© GETTY IMAGES Be­low, left: The barom­e­ter mea­sures air pres­sure. Does the ris­ing or fall­ing of air pres­sure af­fect hu­man be­hav­ior? Be­low, right: Drowsi­ness can be a sign of the on­set of hy­pother­mia. Know what to look for be­fore ven­tur­ing out in cold weather. Is there more crime in the city dur­ing a full moon, or is it sim­ply that the crim­i­nals have more light to do their deeds?
 ?? © GETTY IMAGES ??
© GETTY IMAGES
 ?? © GETTY IMAGES ??
© GETTY IMAGES

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