Survival Sundays

I think it is safe to say that most male persons have a secret (or as in the case of my cousin, not so secret) crush on Bear Grylls.  I mean the guys gets to run around the world, climbing trees, starting fires and drinking/wearing his own pee- all so he can tell you how to survive in the wilderness.

What. A. Man.

The men folk in this house are not immune to his charms.  Countless hours have been spent in front of the TV watching as he lives out his (their) dreams of running, jumping climbing trees- all over the world.

I grew up in 25 B.B.G. (Before Bear Grylls) but the lack of a syndicated TV show didn’t stop my family from spending thousands of hours outside poking around, making shelters, foraging/hunting for food, cooking over open flames, flaking arrow heads and immersing ourselves in raw nature.

From a young age, I was allowed to play with fire but I was only allowed a flint starter and the rules of fire safety were extensive and absolute.  I was tutored ENDLESSLY on every possible aspect of fire building.  From the science behind fire- to how to prepare your pots and pans to cook over open flame so they don’t get all sooty (rub dish soap on the outside before you start and the carbon buildup will wash right off.)

My dad even wrote and published a book on the subject.  It sold on Amazon for a time before his death.


Given my upbringing and the boys‘ Interest  in all things survival, it’s not that surprising that sundays around the homestead have become…


In prior years, we would get packed up together and go ice skating on the bog in the woods behind the house.  I would set up camp and start a fire.  The boys would clear away the snow from the ice. DSCF9568

They would skate till they couldn’t feel their toes and then come sit and warm them and go back for seconds.


This year the bog’s is too pocked for smooth skating and our activities have turned to shelter making and fire starting.

Since they are older, I no longer help them gather supplies from home.  They will never learn if I do it for them.  This has resulted in the oldest preparing a list the night before so he doesn’t forget anything.

Enter a caption

The next morning he had amended the list to include a bottle for his brain.


I don’t know why the bottle is necessary but I do not interfere with their preparations in any way.  It is one of the reasons he makes the list, if they get out there and don’t have it, they don’t have it and it’s a fair walk back to get it.

I don’t help them carry their supplies or build their shelters and fire pits.  We all pick our respective spots for the day.


And get to work, setting up camp.

I like to pick naturally sheltered spots, the boys opted to convert a fallen tree into a lean-to.  In the winter it is nice because you don’t have to carry water to put your fire out.  Growing up in California this was an absolute prerequisite.  The cold does necessitate stating a fire before starting your shelter (in my opinion.)

The snow means that I do kind of a double fire lay.  I start with a lattice work of big sticks, then I build my starter lay on top of that.


I recommend a magnesium or Swedish striker, they are good in the damp and the magnesium shavings from the striker help to intensify the initial spark.

DSCF0798A little goes a long way. DSCF0799

Fire need three things to live and grow:

Oxygen, heat and fuel.

One of the most common mistakes I see when observing other people’s fire building is trying to put larger items on too soon, denying the fire of air and smoothing their progress.  One has to be patient when making a fire, especially out in the elements.


I got a good coal base going and went to check on the little men.


They had done very well but had yet to get their fire going (after almost 30 mins of trying.)  To their credit, they were still at it and only a little frustrated.  I gave them some tips and headed back to put some hot chocolate on at my camp.

Less than ten minutes later I looked across the bog to see smoke coming from their fire.


They were so excited and I was elated for them.  Starting a fire from spark in the snow is no easy task.  It was a little heart breaking when I realized I would have to point out they had built their fire inside their dry, wood lean-to.

We had a short conversation about the nature of heat and how fire loves to travel in a upward direction.  This time I helped them to make an outside fire lay and transfer some coals from one to the other.

When that was done everyone was ready for a little rest and hot chocolate back at my place.  We put out their fire and headed cross bog.   Shoes came off and hot chocolate was made.


I can’t think of a better way to spend Sunday mornings.  It reminds me of back home and the endless lessons I learned at the knee of mother nature with my family.  Life lessons that are so clear when you get back to the basics of when made human life viable in the first place.

Preparation, adaptability and patients are key.  I am convinced that spending time doing simple things outside is one of life’s greatest joys.  The quality of my company makes the experience divine and reminds me how blessed we are.

Be well!

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