Let’s not be romantic. Industrial civilization is no utopia. For every creature comfort we have, something or someone pays the price. The wilderness is no fairy tale either. Nature is neutral, but she is almighty. If we watch up close a wildfire or a lightning storm we are quickly reminded of who calls the shots. I can not tell you what civilization is or is not; you have to watch it for yourself, but it is hard to see it for what it is if you are embedded into it. We live our entire lives living in civilization and only rarely venture outside it. Maybe we spend days or weeks camping outside, but almost no one gets to live for a long time outside its realm. We live like fish that do not know that they are in water.
When my partner and I embarked on our 6 month adventure we wanted to experience a different world. A world closer to the place where our ancestors lived for thousands of years. We wanted to have a similar lifestyle to the one that 99% of humanity had. After all, we still have a hunter gatherer body and mind. We were designed by nature to live sustainably. We are meant to have active lives and spend most of our time outside in a natural environment. We are meant to live in small groups and work communally.
Living in the wilderness was a therapeutic experience for us. It allowed our mind-body to slow down, and it forced us to live simpler. Life is simple after all. We need just a few things to live happy and healthy. And nature can remind us of that. Living by ourselves taught us self reliance, problem solving and the importance of living and working in groups. We learned a lot throughout our time in the bush. Our adventure was a long experiential learning period. It really sparked our interest in fishing, hunting, gathering, and bushcraft.
I wanted to live in the forest to change my allegiance from the civilized world to the living world. Having civilization as our middleman for every part of our lives blinds us from the reality that everything there is comes from nature. Through habit we internalize in our minds that food comes from the supermarket, water comes from the tap, and energy comes from the grid. In reality food comes from a healthy biosphere, water comes from precipitation, and energy comes from the sun. It is this change in perspective that I wanted to undergo.
Sometimes people say that it is extremely hard or impossible to live off the land… but we all live off the land. Another important reason for us was to have a glimpse of what it would be like to live in a more harmonius relationship with our surroundings. The way we extract resources and waste them in order to keep up with an ever expanding industrial civilization has left us with a sick relationship to the planet. We take and take, but we don’t give back or try to reduce our harm.
Through fishing, hunting, and gathering we quickly learned that we need to take from nature and harm in order to survive. There was no way we could collect blueberries without stepping and harming ants, moss, and blueberry bushes. It would have been almost impossible to trap and kill a fish without causing pain or harm. There is no way around it, we have to take lives to feed ourselves; even vegans depend on civilization and industrial agriculture and all their destructive systems. But all this “taking” has another side… it has a “giving” aspect. Every time we discarded the remains of a fish we fed a gull or leeches. After eating blueberries we propagated blueberry seeds in fertile grounds.
Hunter gatherers depended on a specific area for survival. They would take care of that area, because they needed it. If there was a patch of cattail and they needed to eat the starch stored in its roots they wouldn’t kill off the entire patch of cattail. They would have to eat only a sustainable amount otherwise the next season they would have diminishing returns. In fact our ancestors developed win-win relationships with plants and animals. For example, harvesting wild rice actually helps expand the territory of the rice much more than if it is not harvested. The tragedy is that civilization has turned us from being in a balanced and symbiotic relationship with our territories, into ever expanding societies that ravage their local resources and then the resources of far away lands.
We wanted to start developing a sense of place. If we were raised as hunter gatherers we would know the names of all the plants and animals around us. We would know how to take care of common injuries with local medicinal plants. We would have an intimate knowledge of the land where we grew up. For us it is never too late. We are beginning to learn more about the place we inhabit. This lack of an intimate connection with our place probably leaves us with a void. We have nothing important to fight for other than our beloved ones. And the planet is not a beloved one because we haven’t formed a strong bond with it.
Unfortunately the trend nowadays is for isolation from our surroundings. Many people spend most of their leisure time in front of a screen. Even outdoor activities like non-consumptive outdoor recreation teaches us to “leave no trace”. We are taught to interact with the wilderness without having an impact on it. We are supposed to have a neutral impact. Instead of teaching people to relate and form connections with nature, to fall in love with it, we are taught not to mingle with it. Media commonly portrays the image of a fierce, chaotic, hostile nature; whereas by our ancestors it was probably viewed as methodical, fertile, abundant, and the source of all there is.
As outdoor enthusiasts we go into the wilderness like astronauts go into space. We bring prepackaged, freeze dried meals. We carry state of the art stoves and propane gas. We wear hundreds of dollars in expensive technical fabrics. And we camp in our ultralight shelters that are made by wage slaves at the other side of the world. When we go into the wilderness we are still tethered by an umbilical cord to civilization as if we were visiting an inhospitable place. I want to gradually transition from the astronaut mindset to the “I belong here” mindset.
We spent 180 days in the wilderness to continue learning, undergo a transformation, and challenge our notions.