Vermes: The wastebucket of the natural world ................

Found this interesting little article on mumblage international - some interesting points raised here particularly the ones about authors suffering "diarrhea of the hand" after all in recent years I cant think of a new manual that is in anyway unique, well thought out or encompassing skills the author can truely say he or she is totally familiar with 100% .............


Vermes: The Wastebucket of the Natural World
A Column by Leif Fredrickson

By Leif Fredrickson

Mors Kochanski, author of the Canadian bestseller Northern Bushcraft, once told me that survival writing is plagued by a “diarrhea of the hand.” The symptoms are not pretty: writers indiscriminately swallow chunks of half-masticated information, pass it quickly through their system, and shoot it undigested from their fingertips into books.

The prognosis, however, is not too bad: possible widespread acclaim.

Ray Mears, though largely unknown in America, is a celebrity in Britain. He is the host of the BBC produced TV series World of Survival and is the author of several survival books. His latest book (with a forward by Ewan McGregor) is The Essential Bushcraft, a more portable version of Mears’ much larger Bushcraft: An Inspirational Guide to Surviving in the Wilderness.

The Essential Bushcraft shares more than a name with Kochanski’s book—Mears borrows prodigiously, and without acknowledgement, from Northern Bushcraft and some of Kochanski’s other pamphlets. And indeed if Mears simply copied solid information out of older books his own would at least be trustworthy. But—call the doctor!—Mears has the terrible affliction Kochanski describes, and the result is the standard survival-writing hodgepodge of useful and dubious information that is confusing and potentially dangerous to the amateur.

According to some reviewers, and the author himself, Mears is an expert outdoorsman. “Ray Mears is a bushman first and foremost,” writes a reviewer from GQ, “and really can survive in any extreme environment. I can’t think of a better companion to have in a crisis.” The doughy Englishman does have some good meat on his bones, but it is clear from his book that he is inexperienced in at least one environment: the northern woods.

Mears writes that felling trees is not common in the bush, and evidently he is not joking. Actually it is one of the most important skills for the northern woods, especially when snow covers the ground (which can be the most of the year in some places). It is also one of the most dangerous tasks, and Mears’ tree-felling diagram contains a serious error: the undercut—it is named that for a reason—should go under the backcut. This keeps the tree butt from kicking back and hitting the faller, so it is not a trivial matter. Following Mears’ instructions could get you killed.

Less dangerous but equally impractical is this advisory: “When using your axe in sub-zero conditions warm it with your hand to body heat first to make the steel less brittle.” I have never chipped an axe in subzero conditions, but I do have a scar on my finger from resting it a second too long on the trigger guard of a rifle in freezing weather. At best your hands will be too cold to use the axe; at worst you will frostburn your hands.

A basic understanding of human physiology should be a part of every putative survival expert’s knowledge. Mears, however, repeats a common misconception about survival in cautioning against eating snow because “the amount of energy you lose will outweigh the benefit of water gained.” Water is far more important than the calories burnt to produce heat that can melt snow. Eating snow cools you down, obviously, so you don’t want to eat it if you are getting hypothermic. Otherwise, chow down—a person can live roughly ten times longer without food than without water.

These are just a few of the problems with The Essential Bushcraft that make it poor if not pernicious. Many other details indicate the author’s inexperience in the bush, including the conflation of the boreal forest with the arctic (which is above the tree line). The book contains information on desert and jungle survival as well, but considering the erroneous information about the northern bush environment, you have to take it with a grain of salt.

Beyond this, Mears’ writing is tedious and redundant. He (or they—he switches to the royal “we” sometimes) often informs the reader that what you want to do, or bring, or build, in a situation depends on a number of factors, such as weather, or your environment, or length of time, but then he does not elaborate on how those factors might effect your choice. The writing, in other words, is a bit doughy itself. There are also curious phrases like “maximum efficiency for minimal effort.”

We should all strive for efficient efficiency, really. Unfortunately, The Essential Bushcraft does not deliver; it is neither reliable nor a good distillation of facts. The idea of a single book encompassing the essential survival skills for the entire planet is ridiculous anyway. But if you just need a small book with lots of nice pictures to effortlessly tote from the comfy armchair of your den to the lavatory, this one might just be the ticket.

Copyright 2000-2005 Mumblage International


sam_acw said...

have you read Cody Lundin's keeping your Ass Alive - it's got to be the most unique.

Survivall said...

Cody's take on things is unique - makes good reading - good point Sam.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

I've heard the "don't eat snow' so many times I believed it without questioning it


Survivall said...

Dont eat the yellow Snow SBW - as for dont eat the snow FULL STOp, i'm more inclined to say if your working hard, hiking or some such a small amount of snow to quench the first has never done me any harm - but if you need water melt the snow dont eat it!!