Friday, 18 May 2007


Shelter from the skin up

Habitat, shelter. The first shelter is our skin. People who spend there lives outdoors are more conditioned to deal with the elements. They're thicker skinned. If you're used to staying indoors with central heating etc, camping may be an uncomfortable experience and so might going out for the night forgetting your coat because you didn't know it was a bit colder than it had been and freezing!
So here's a picture of one of my doorsteps. In this one I'm in the Swiss Alps on top of a mountain on Swiss Independence Day, having a small celebration watching the fireworks going off from all the other mountain huts. Here my shelter is a blanket purloined from our mountain hut and a fire. We'd spent all day climbing and the physical exercise kept us warm, but exertion also made us more suceptible later on when our bodies were refuelling. It's a good idea to look at how other mammals have shelter, where do deer go when it rains? Our minds contain the best shelter, in it we have the imagination to bend the natural world to protect us and that knowlege is the most reliable bricks and mortar. That and practice because our comfort level relies on our expertise.

Stay out of the wind, stay dry, moderate your body temperature according to conditions. If you have a cold shower every day and proper exercise your circulation will be good and so will your ability to bear hot and cold temperatures. Of course you don't have to but it helps you feel 'alive'. Learn about what happens if you don't have shelter when you need it, about the symptoms of hypothermia, heat stroke and heat exhaustion, about wind chill, immersion foot. These are the reasons we have shelter see if you can think of some I haven't listed.
You can spend your time 'surviving' or you can spend your time 'thriving' its up to you. You can spend all your money on gear or you can spend your time on finding the knowledge.
The Eskimos have a story about a women who was caught in a storm three days from her village it was the sort of storm that would kill one of us, caught out in the open. What did she do? She sat down, for three days and waited for it to pass, and then she walked home. The Eskimos say that if you don't have enough clothes on that you can sit down and fall asleep, then you're not wearing enough.

Find out how to build a fire with minimum resources? What local fuels are good for fires?Why? Where shouldn't you build a fire? What are the three main conditions you need to have fire?
What can being able to build fire do for you? What building materials are freely offered in nature?

Head out for a night's camp in sensible weather see
(The Backyard Bushcraft Experience), with the right equipment (find out if you don't know) but this time make your shelter from what's around you. What is the safe way to make fire? What can put a fire out? What is the nature of fire? (how does it behave?)
Every instalment I will be asking these questions and the depth to which you answer them is up to you. I will point you in certain directions that may offer other ideas.
The houses that we build for ourselves vary historically, from the cave we have chosen to make our home, to the Whale bones and skins that the native people use on the Skeleton coast. To a skyscraper in a big city, a grass hut on the plains of Africa, or the wattle and daub of saxon England, or a cardboard box/tarp for an unlucky person on Oxford Street.
Would you know how to build a log cabin, a debris hut, how to put up a tarp and hammock (which knots to use), or a tent different from your own. Do you know how to use snow as a building material? Do you know how a brick house is built? ( my father does because he was a builder). The more you know the more versatility you have. What questions you answer depend on where you want to go with this. I for example don't know how to build a fire pit correctly in a tipi. I've slept in a tipi where someone else had built the pit and it was very smoky when you sat up. I read that tipis were used on the plains where a constant wind would blow usually from the same direction and that fire pits were built with tunnels to channel air so that it burned in a way that was less unhealthy. I still wouldn't know how to build one right now unless I looked it up.
What I would like to learn is how to build a fire that pilots used in the war and partisans in the forests of europe, that is a two pit fire with a tunnel leading from one to the other, where the air from one pit allows the fire in the other pit to burn with its flames just below ground level so they cannot be seen and you can rest pans directly on top of the rim of the hole. It sounds simple enough so i'm going to try it out.
What you learn is up to you, but trying out different things is great so long as you pay respect to local resources and don't over harvest. Stopping and asking a plant/object if you can use it and waiting for an answer isn't just superstitious. It reminds you to consider the effects of taking the resource from out of its environment - whether that will have a good/bad outcome for everything else that may rely on it as 'home', and saying thankyou serves the same purpose.
Finally, there are technologies today that are simple and unpolluting. There are methods of design that allow us great benefit without harming the planet. Look at strawbale design and cob, which offsets the costs of building waste (one of the biggest waste products) becasue it is a renewable material. Yet it is long lasting and amazing at reducing heating/cooling cost, while at the same time being (apparently) more flame retardant than an ordinary brick single shell house. Think about adobe houses and stoves that use the least wood and have the least emissions for efficiency. Things that last. A new technolgy is the solar cooker, which is like an aluminium upturned satellite dish that uses the power of the sun to cook food and boil water. It's a great idea for solving fuel use around the world but where does the aluminium come from is it worth the damage of that extraction process?
Actions must be taken after weighing things up on balance. Just because cob/strawbale are brilliant sustainable design materials doesn't mean we should all go out and build one when there a lot of empty stone built homes witting around waiting for some insulation!
Here also is where the social problems of homelessness, displaced persons and immigration raise their heads. There are solutions; there are ways to solve these problems now. A lot of the ideas around property and ownership are just that ideas. Even the red tape though it appears as a material part of our reality, it is still just an idea, and tehre fore within our power to remove or instigate at will. This is something we have to remind ourselves. Our social landscape is mutable, it is able to be affected by us in a good way. The law isn't set in stone, if there is something within our history that is causing suffering today, we can change it today - that's what we're good at.
I find I have a lot of distaste when it comes to 'private property', the whole world could end up as 'private property' and that would be a sad thing. It's already happening like that. Our waters are being bought up, our lands already been carved up. Even the moons and stars are being dissected and sold off by someone! Today and in the past, people have learned to live respectfully in 'commons'. What does that mean? What kind of societies, tribes, co-operatives demonstrate that and how do they make it work? We have to know these things, because our futures rely upon them. I believe our hearts are broad enough to solve these problems, I think our vision just needs a little encouragement.
'Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last' Martin Luther King
(what a powerful affirmation)
Mi casa es su casa

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Related Articles:-
Course Outline,
An Introduction to Shelter,
The Backyard Bushcraft Experience,
how to remove a tick
Return of the Tribe,
Ultimate Fitness Program...
How to put up a Tarp and How to put up a Hammock
Progress is Process - Training program
What to do about sports injuries
Learning to Identify Plants
free medicine, free health

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tags - strawbale, cob, commons, habitat, new technologies, sustainable living, hunter gatherers, tribes, survival, course, solar power

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