Survival of the most prepared

Banner Post, Wednesday, March 29, 2006

J. Mcquarrie-Salter

He is easy to understand, affable, and most of all, incredibly knowledgeable about survival in the bush. Mors Kochanski is a Canadian bushcraft and wilderness survival instructor (one of the world’s best, it’s been said) who graced the doorstep of the Manning community recently. Kochanski, on his way to Hay River to teach a course about bush knowledge, stopped in to pass on some of his practical gems of information on the invitation of Al Wardale, Coordinator of the Junior Forest Wardens in Manning.

“The more you know, the less you carry” is Kochanski’s well-known motto about life in the bush. Judging by the information he shared and showed that evening, Kochanski doesn’t have to carry much. Considering that most people who do not survive are dead from environmental and self-imposed stresses in less than 40 hours, summer or winter, it’s a good plan to learn skills such as those Kochanski generously shared.

At the Elks Hall, tables loaded with items such as candles, willow branches, fungus (great for lighting fires), and a whole lot more, served as Kochanski’s backdrop as he chatted (and cracked jokes) about the practicalities of life in the bush, and demonstrated a number of ways to make time in the bush reasonably comfortable (including carving the tools needed for a bow drill fire, and then lighting said fire).

Clothing, fire and a knife, Kochanski said, are the most important ‘three’ of wilderness survival. Here’s a question for you. Will your clothing allow you to survive four days without a fire? Kochanski is emphatic that “nothing outranks the importance of clothing in cold weather survival”. He passed on great techniques for lighting many kinds of fires, and constructing lean-tos and so much more.

“Survival,” he said, “is knowing how to deal with the stresses. There are stresses that are lethal”. The plan is to “hold that lethal stress back as long as possible”. That comes with knowing the natural environment and using skills such as firecraft, tracking, hunting, shelter building, the use of tools such as knives and axes, foraging, hand-carving wood, container construction from natural materials, rope and twine-making and more.

Kochanski emphasized the importance of the skills people used long ago when they lived in the bush, often considered crude or backward in the modern world, but of great importance in the bush. He has written that “pure survival knowledge is a small fraction of the total knowledge used to live the ancient gatherer-hunter subsistence lifestyle”.

Actually, Kochanski has emphasized a lot over the years; he popularized the term ‘bushcraft’ in the northern hemisphere when he published his book, Northern Bushcraft, in 1987. He worked at the University of Alberta for 25 years teaching general outdoor education.

In addition to ‘Northern Bushcraft’, Kochanski has written booklets about navigation, edible plants, making nets, reading the stars and much more. He’s also working on three more publications, Sleep and Survival, Clothing and Survival and a Survival Training manual.

Currently, Kochanski is an outdoor educator with the Dawson Creek School District, working from April to June of each year, mostly with children from kindergarten to grade six.

“The main goal is to deal with what I call ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, he smiled. Kids just don’t get enough experience outdoors; it’s not like it used to be. I’m teaching kids how to appreciate, enjoy, perceive nature”.