Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Is this starting to sound like a Reader’s Digest Drama in Real Life? You know, the story where that dad and the kids get stuck on high mountain ledge for three days eating lichen and drinking urine until the helicopter picks them off the precipice? Yes, I read too many of those stories as a kid too.
Our middle son, Dan, is an avid fly fisherman. He has been dreaming of the mountain lake packed full of trout that can only be found by hiking where others fear to tread. Dan is 11.
Luke, our youngest, has been aching to go on a “real” backpacking trip for a few years. He is 9.
Caleb, 16, is a hard core backpacker, wilderness survivalist, mountain biker, downhill ski racer, and experienced mountain man. He was game.
To get to the “easy” access to our wonder lake, we had to drive over a 12,000 foot high mountain pass. This particular pass has a snow cornice on top that does not melt very often. 2013? Not melted. Will not melt. Snow all year around.
So, we drove to the snow Friday evening. We were at 12,400 feet above sea level in early August. We did not get there until fairly late. The weather was stable. But light was fading fast. We had only a couple of miles to hike to get down to our lake at 11,000 feet, but there is no trail to get there and the slopes are steep. No, I mean really steep. But hey, I am the wilderness survival guy, right? What’s more, I had made the hike before, so I knew where we were headed.
We strapped on our packs and made a run for it. An hour later, we were on the steeps. The sun was gone, and there was no moon. Our headlamps were not adequate to do any route finding. We could see a few steps ahead of ourselves, but….
I was determined not to make the local news. Determined.
So, when the slope rolled steeper into the void and we could barely keep our footing and we had no idea what cliffs were below or how high those cliffs might be, I called it. No sense in becoming a statistic, right? We were nearly down, but I did not want to get there airborne. So, we climbed. Up. More up. Up on scree and rotten granite outcroppings. Up into the night, in the pitch black. Up with heavy packs while the wind blew and the temperature dropped. Did I mention my boys were 9 & 11? Caleb took it all in stride, but I knew this was a new challenge even for him.
Luke asked how long until we could stop climbing and the obvious answer was, “Until we are safe. Until we are off this slope. All night if we have to.”
But it was not all night. Finally around midnight we made our goal. There was a spire of rock I dubbed “the guardian” that acted as an earth dam. It moderated the slope from “way lose too steep to sit on” to “we won’t roll off the mountain as long as we stake our sleeping bags down”. 12,200 feet. Windy. Temperatures to drop WAY down. Bivouac.
Now before you call social services on me, please know that we were prepared. We all had zero degree bags and all the other gear to enjoy a crazy night at 12,200 feet no matter the weather. And I did stake the boys down, even though we were not on a precipice. Soon they were happily snoring while I stared in awe at the stars.
I have seen the Milky Way thousands of times before, but this was the first time that I could see the shape of the curved arm on which our solar system orbits the galactic center. This was the first time that the 10s of thousands of stars were millions. I was amazed. It made it hard to sleep. Never mind the 35 degree, 15 MPH winds. Never mind that I was lying on lumpy ground high above tree line. Never mind the mountain goat whose sleep we disturbed who was tramping around. Never mind the pica that scampered around to see what we were all about. It was the stars that kept me awake while my cozy boys slumbered.
Not my picture... From Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons
The morning dawned with a crisp crescent moon. 45 minutes later we were at the lake. An hour later we had a breakfast of fresh trout. Yes, Dan caught his fish. After eating a few, we turned to catch and release and lost count of how many lovely cut throats went for Dan’s hand-tied dry flies.
The site of our bivouac
The 180 Stove used for roasting
We stayed that night at the lake and enjoyed a lovely rainstorm--a magnificent living canvas of light and shadow, breezes and aromas. The mountains speak a language all their own. Until you have heard it and lived it, it cannot be described to you. This is why we go.
Get out there!
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Just a quick mention that I was interviewed on The Survival Podcast. The podcast airs today. Jack Spirko and I discussed the importance of love and community for being prepared for emergencies or challenging times. Special thanks to Jack for having me on the show. It was great fun.
The conversation focused on the community in which I grew up. The reason is that this community had grown out of WWI, The Great Depression, WWII, and a forced relocation that happened as part of the US preparedness efforts before the US entered WWII. These challenges to this community helped to shape it into a loving community of gardeners and hunters who really pulled together to face individual and community challenges.
This love-based approach to helping each other grew largely around the kitchen table where food grown in the community was shared and laughter and stories were swapped.
The goal of this podcast is that by sharing what a community was we can provide hope for what communities can be today. And these vibrant communities provide meaning, hope, and security for their people. At the very least, there should be some entertainment value for those interested in gardening, wild food gathering, localized history, and communities banding together to weather the hard times and celebrate the good times.
To hear the show, go to www.thesurvivalpodcast.com . Hint: There is a special 180 Stove offer for listeners!
I hope you Independence Day weekend was spectacular!
Monday, April 15, 2013
I love fire. Fire is so useful and fun! But….
If you go back to the beginning of this wilderness survival series, you will see that I chose to address survival subjects in the order of importance to survival (in my opinion). So many of you may be wondering why I have written about six survival “musts” before getting to fire. After all, isn’t building a fire one of the first things survival schools teach one to do? When people are lost, aren’t they supposed to build a fire to stay warm and to help rescuers find them? This is where I part company with many survival philosophies.
A Quick Review:
I believe that nature is our nurture. If one is skilled and works with nature rather than against nature, then the whole survival experience changes. Remember that nature is not the enemy. Nature is the source of many good things. Second, if you know how to find what you need in nature, then you will not normally need to be rescued. Third, one is not lost if one is in his/her home. Nature is our home. We leave the hustle and bustle of modern life to go back to our home, the wild and free places. This approach takes skill development and the right attitude. By learning nature’s rhythms we gain a new perspective; one that does not require us to get found or be rescued very often.
What are the two reasons most survival schools teach building a fire? First, to stay warm. However, if you have ever tried to stay warm on a cold night by feeding a fire, you know that one side roasts while the other freezes. You also know that you are going to lose a LOT of sleep trying to keep the fire going. Unless there is a shelter in place that the fire can heat, fire really is a poor solution to the cold. Certainly for long-term survival, huddling by a fire is not a reasonable survival strategy. Instead, build a warm shelter. See my blog on shelter for more information. The second reason many teach the “lost” to build a fire to get found more easily. If getting found is the goal, then by all means, build that fire. Review my blog on getting found for more information on this.
Proper Uses for Fire:
There is a third “survival” reason to build a fire which I agree with. Fire provides light and comfort. Fire can help to drive away dark feelings and fears. But if one is at home in nature, then this is normally not necessary. However, if you find yourself shaking in your boots and you need an attitude adjustment, then BUILD A FIRE. See my blog on attitude for more information on how critical the right attitude is for survival.
Why else would we build a fire? Fire is a wonderful tool that we can use to melt snow, sterilize water, cook food, harden wood, dry clothing, and preserve foods by smoking. And there is nothing quite like a hot drink and a warm meal after spending several hours in the cold. It is not critical for short term survival, but it is one of the most useful tools for extended stays in the wilderness. I love fire!
Knowing how to be responsible with fire in the wilderness is a critical prerequisite for anyone who wants to camp, hike, or live in the woods. Fire can be friend or foe. Responsibility does not only include fire safety to prevent forest fires and personal injury. Abusing the wilderness with fire proves one is immature and has little understanding of or respect for nature. This type of abuse is all too common and includes such things as making oversized fires, creating multiple fire rings in one locale, scorching trees or other plants, using a fire pit as a trash can, melting cans, bottles, and plastics and leaving them, failing to put out fires completely, leaving a fire unattended, building fires too close to surface water, and the list goes on and on.
When camping, use existing fire rings and scatter extra ones. Pack out trash left by others. Leave nature better than you found it. If you are in an area where there is no fire ring, then consider using fire practices that respect nature. One of the biggest mistakes is making the fire too large. Small fires use less wood, create less smoke, leave smaller scars, and are much easier to use for cooking. And small fires provide comforting heat and light that does not force campers to stand ten feet away.
Better yet, use a 180 Stove to contain your small fire and maximize your cooking. With the 180 Stove you can cook or boil water using only a handful of twigs. The cooking platform keeps the pan close to the flames and reflects the heat onto the pan. The stove is lighter than carrying a backpacking stove with fuel, and more compact as well. If you are not using the 180 Two-Piece Snow and Ash Pan, then scrape a little soil to the side, cook, douse, and then cover. This way no scars are left on the land. In more delicate areas or for cooking on snow, use the ash pan.
Using the 180 Stove or the 180-VL greatly reduces the amount of fuel you will need to cook your food, protects nature from fire scars, and provides a much safer cooking method than trying to balance your dinner on rocks or micro-stoves. Using these stoves also respects nature on deeper levels. No toxic fuels are pumped out of the ground, hauled around the world, and forced into wasteful canisters. No fuel spills into the ground water. No canisters go to the landfill.
What’s more, learning how to make and sustain efficient fires using natural fuels calls us back to working with nature rather than against her. And there are no valves, welds, screws, leaky O-rings, or hoses that often break in the woods. These stoves just make sense and fit the respectful approach to living in nature. They make a wonderful compliment to your fire skills.
In summary, fire can be a great friend on a lonely night and is a very useful tool for a variety of wilderness tasks. While fire is not a top priority for short-term wilderness survival, it is a necessary survival tool for the long term.
In future posts, we will discuss various fire-making techniques.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Food and eating are central to what it means to be alive. We eat several times a day and one only needs to go a few hours without food before hunger provides a powerful reminder that we need to eat. For those new to wilderness survival, “What will I eat?” seems to be one of the first questions asked. Just watch children playing “living in the wild” and one of the first things they will do is start collecting “food” in little piles and pretend to eat.
The reality is that food is not nearly as critical to short term survival as one might think. Most healthy people can go several days without food with few ill effects. Certainly attitude, shelter, and water are much more critical to survival than food. That said, food goes a long way toward helping to maintain that good attitude! And as hunger intensifies, it makes it increasingly hard to perform strenuous tasks. Few people enjoy going hungry, but by slowing down a bit and staying hydrated, most people can function well after skipping a few meals.
This posting will focus on wild edible plants. Hunting, fishing, and trapping will be touched on in future posts.
Foraging for wild foods takes a lot more time than running to the fridge or fast food restaurant. The reality is that in long term living off the land, one may spend more time searching for food than doing any other necessary activity. While there is a LOT of food in the woods, it is NOT convenient to gather or to prepare. Significant skills are required to live off the land long term, and even after many years of study and experience there will be much left to learn about edible wild foods.
But there are many simple “nibble foods” that can be plucked and chewed while hiking, building shelter, etc. By nibbling on these foods, hunger can be abated until there is time to spend on a more exhaustive food gathering effort. I recommend everyone who spends time in the woods build familiarity with local edible plants so he or she can snack along the trail. These nibble foods will often be enough to sustain one through a short term survival situation. The type of foods available is heavily dependent on the local environment. In the Rockies, nibble foods might include fireweed, pine tree growth buds or succulent pollen buds, wax currants, rose hips and flowers, grass seeds, dock, dandelion flowers and greens, and thistle stalks. In the Appalachians, add to these foods many more types of flowers and berries, persimmons, and leafy shrubs. Don’t forget about prickly pear fruit which you will find in most ecosystems in the U.S.
How many edible plants are in the picture above?
These nibble foods, like most wild foods, will have a strong and often bitter flavor. It takes an open mind and a few attempts to appreciate some of the powerful flavors of wild foods. We have trained our palates to enjoy foods with most of the flavor cooked out, and then foreign flavors of salts, sugars, and other spices added back in. Be assured though that given time you will appreciate these foods more, and will develop your personal favorites.
You will also find that these foods are seasonal. A pine tree growth bud in the spring is sweet, juicy, and tart with a notable pine flavor. Later in the year, they are bitter, tough, and taste like turpentine. If you have even bit into a green persimmon, then you know beyond a doubt that they are seasonal fruits! If you have not had that experience, then it is worth a try. Everyone should know what a green persimmon feels like. Feels? Yes, feels. It will not be a pleasant experience. Ha! The point is that it takes some trial and error to know which foods will be best at various times of the year.
The foods listed above are great for getting through an active and hungry day, but our goal is not to simply get by for the short term. The real goal is to be comfortable living in harmony with nature indefinitely. This goal does require much more practice and skill. The truth is that most wild plants are edible if one knows which parts to harvest and how to prepare them. However, there are plenty of poisonous plants growing in the woods too. It is critical to learn each plant thoroughly and to learn any dangerous “look alikes” and how to discern between the two.
Wilderness food is a rather vast subject. Scores of books have been written on wild edible plants. I strongly recommend that you purchase some field guides and spend time identifying and carefully sampling wild foods. BEWARE! Not all field guides will cover the plants adequately to discern between the good and the imposter. There are some real killers out there, so make sure you know a plant very well before attempting to eat it, and then follow some practical rules of caution. It is the goal of this post to introduce the reader to the vast and fun world of wild edible plants, but this is only an introduction. Years can (and should) be spent learning and practicing wild plants skills.
The process below is not fool proof and can lead to DEATH. The intention is to provide some information that might save a life, but this information can in NO WAY guarantee your safety. Using the below edibility test should be a last resort. It is far better to learn wild edible foods from an experienced person!!!
Testing just one part of a plant takes a full day. But if you must, to test to see if a plant is edible, start when you have had nothing to eat for eight hours. You also should not eat other foods while you are testing a plant. Start by smashing it up a bit and rub it on the inside of your arm. Wait for a quarter hour or more to see if it causes any irritation. If there is no irritation, then rub a little of the plant on your lips. Wait several minutes to see if there are any ill effects. Next place a piece of the plant on your tongue. Hold it there for 15 minutes but do not swallow. If all is well, then chew a pinch of the food thoroughly and again, do not swallow. Hold the food in your mouth for 15 minutes. At this point, if you have not experienced any burning, or stinging, or numbing, or itching, then you can swallow ONE BITE of the food. Wait eight hours to see what happens. If all is well, then attempt eating ten bites or so of the food, and again wait eight hours. NOTE! Just because one part of a plant is edible does not mean that other parts are. Each part of a plant has to be tested by itself. Roots, leaves, stems, flowers, fruit, and seeds all need to be tested individually. It can take days to prove even one plant is edible.
Again, the above testing method is not perfect. Rather than using this method, it is far better to use multiple field guides and learn from one who has years of experience eating wild foods. It is also recommended that you start by studying poisonous wild plants so as to avoid anything that remotely resembles them.
Why go to all the trouble of studying wild edible plants? It makes a great hobby that could save your life someday. It is also fun to supplement one’s backpacking diet with fresh foods at hand. But perhaps the best reason to learn these skills is that they will provide you with a far greater appreciation of nature. By learning where various plants grow and what factors influence their flavor and usefulness, one transitions from just being a visitor in the wilderness to being a part of the natural order. This is a major part of learning to harmonize with the natural flow and to work with nature rather than against it.
To that end, watch how the animals forage for food. Observe how the deer will move through an area taking a sampling of several difference species of plants, and especially how they do not eat all of a plant in an area. By taking a bit here and a bit there, they preserve the plants to continue to grow and flourish. We should harvest our foods in the same way. Never destroy a species in an area. Harvest with concern for the health of the ecosystem.
Watch a squirrel as it gathers nuts. Squirrels bury nuts to be stored for winter. Sure they eat a lot of them, but they also successfully plant thousands of new trees. We too can give to an ecosystem that gives to us. Matter of fact, it is a wise practice to give to the ecosystem before harvesting anything from it. This reminds us of the value of the natural world and will keep us from wasting and destroying, as many humans have selfish tendency to do.
By following the examples of these animals, you can even make the plants in an area thrive more than they would have if left untouched. That should always be our goal, to leave this world a little better than we found it. Help nurture the nature that nurtures you.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Safe Water in the Wild
In our previous post we visited many fascinating aspects of water with the intent of increasing our appreciation for clean, natural water and all that it means to us. Water is critical for life, mysterious in its properties, and poetic in its several forms. Protecting water should be a high priority for all of us. Whether you are in an area with plenty of water or an arid locale where water is scarce really should not change your view of this life-giving liquid. Water should be cherished and efforts taken to keep the water as pure as we reasonably can. Water really matters.
So what makes water safe to drink or dangerous? How can we make dangerous water safe? Where should we look for water in the wilderness?
Pure water is safe to drink. Water full of minerals and other contaminants can also be safe, but that depends on many factors. In brief, what makes water dangerous is not necessarily how “dirty” is seems but what kind of contaminants are in it. Bacteria, viruses, giardia, protozoa, heavy metals, poisonous chemicals, parasites, cryptosporidium, and even radioactive isotopes can be present in water and turn a nice wilderness adventure into long-term misery or even death. Our eyes cannot see these threats and sometimes our noses cannot smell them. To stay safe, one should select conservative sources for drinking water and one should always take measures to assure water safety before drinking it.
Safer water sources:
As a rule, water will be more pure at its source. Rain water is safer than river water. Spring water is safer than streams or creeks. Snow melt is safer than pond water. When in doubt, go to the source. The closer to the source that you get your water, the cleaner it will likely be. That does NOT mean that all snowmelt, rainwater, or spring water is reliably safe. But these sources are much more likely to be safe. When choosing water to drink, ask yourself the following questions:
1) How close to the source am I?
2) Are there any dead animals near the water or upstream?
3) Is the water full life such as fish and aquatic insects? Are the plants growing near the water healthy?
4) Are the rocks in the stream discolored? If so there is likely high mineral content in the water which could be a hazard.
5) Does the water have an odor?
6) Is the water flowing or stagnant?
7) Are there industries, mines, dumps, or septic systems that may contaminate this water?
Answering these questions will lead explorers to cleaner water sources. I have risked drinking untreated water from excellent sources when necessary and I have experienced no ill effects. It is not a good idea, however! And keep in mind that water that is clean one day can be deadly the next depending on runoff conditions. Also note that in a survival situation, when you get seriously thirsty, you will drink stagnant mud. I did not say you should drink mud, but you will if you are thirsty enough. So it is critical to find water before your thirst is extreme and to take steps to make the water as pure as possible before drinking it.
Water can be made much safer with just a few simple precautions. Obviously, find the best source of water that you can, then treat the water to make it safer. There are scores of good camping water filters that can be used to clean up the water. Some filter out dirt, parasites, protozoa, bacteria and cryptosporidium. Others will have activated carbon that will also remove much of the minerals and radioactive isotopes. Few can remove viruses due to their extremely small size. The good news is that viruses are DNA specific. What that means is that a virus that will make a deer sick will rarely make a human sick. So even if we ingest viruses, they will cause no harm unless they are adapted to humans.
I will not take the time and space here to go into manufactured water filters except to say that you should take one into the wilderness with you, and I have found the bag style gravity feed filters are much easier to use than the hand pump varieties.
But what happens when there is no filter? Then what? Water can be chemically sterilized or sterilized by boiling. Using chemicals, such as chlorine or iodine, to purify water will usually kill most of the viruses, protozoa and bacteria, but if the water is too dirty, then these critters can hide in the solid particles and escape the chemical bath. What’s more, the concentration of chlorine required to kill cryptosporidium is also dangerous for humans. Again, chemically treating water will not remove heavy metals and the chemicals used to sterilize the water can combine with other chemicals in the water to make even more dangerous toxins. And remember that if you chemically treat the water, you will generally be drinking the chemicals used.
(As a side note, why is cryptosporidium so hard to kill? Cryptosporidium are parasitic protozoa that travel via the fecal-oral routes as oocysts. These oocysts are extremely robust little packages of genetic material that are not easily defeated. These hard packets protect the material inside under some very extreme conditions. Matter of fact, it is theorized that cryptosporidium may have been blown to the upper atmosphere and may have actually scattered from Earth throughout the solar system. Someday we may find these protozoa on Mars for instance. Wild, huh?)
Boiling water will kill viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and even cryptosporidium, but it will not remove heavy metals nor many dangerous chemicals. Water needs to be boiled for one minute at low elevations to wipe out the bugs, but as one’s elevation increases, the boiling point of water decreases, so longer boiling times are needed. Add roughly one minute for every thousand feet of elevation, or just plan on ten minutes of boiling.
Since neither chemically treating water nor boiling water will get rid of heavy metals and chemicals, neither stand alone as 100 percent effective. This is why selecting water from a “safe” source is important. It is also why filtering the water before other treatments is also recommended. It is not difficult to make a filter in the wilderness that will remove sediments and chemicals from water. These filters should not be trusted to remove germs, so the water should still be boiled or chemically treated.
How to make a water filter in the woods:
To make a filter in the woods, it is best to have some sort of cylinder on hand. This can be a challenge. A water bottle, two liter bottle, milk jug, coffee can or bucket will all work. If none of these can be found, then you have finally found a true wilderness area to enjoy. Good for you. But then finding the cylinder will be a bit tougher. A hollow log can be used. There are several “filter” designs, but all depend on a series of gravel and sand packed into a tube with a charcoal stage in the middle. Cloth or grass can be used as a first stage to pull out the larger material in the water. The increasingly finer particles screen all but the really tiny stuff out of the water. The charcoal will absorb many of the chemicals in the water, too. Be sure that the sand and charcoal are packed tightly so water does not just run around the outside edges.
When using a filter like this, it is best to continue to run water through the filter until the water starts running clear. At first the water will be washing the sand and rocks. Once the water runs clear, then it is ready for use. Again, water from the filter should still be boiled before drinking.
Less obvious water sources:
Dew collected with a rag or bandanna
Steam collected from boiled salt water
Liquids squeezed or drained from vegetation: vines, cacti, tubers, coconuts. (Local knowledge of plants is critical for safety before attempting to get water from plants.)
Use tubing to gather water from difficult to access places like cracks in rock.
How to make a solar still:
To make a solar still, tubing, a large sheet of plastic, and a container are needed. Dig a hole around three feet deep and three feet wide. Place green and/or wet vegetation in the bottom of the hole. Place the container in the center on the bottom of the hole, and brace it so it will not fall over. Run tubing from the container up and out of the hole. Cover the hole with the plastic, and trap the edges down with rocks or dirt. Place a stone in the middle of the plastic centered over the container. The sun will evaporate moisture from the plants and soils in the hole. The cooler plastic will cause the water vapor to condense and run down the plastic into the container. You can collect or drink the water directly by using the tubing. The water in the container will be clean to drink as long as the container and plastic are clean. This method can also be used to distill urine or non-potable water into pure drinking water. Depending on the conditions, multiple stills may be required to distill enough water to keep up with hydration demands
Most tasks take longer in the woods. In our society we are accustomed to heating food in a microwave oven, getting water from a tap, and heating our homes at the twist of a dial. When we return to the wilderness, we find that basic things like shelter, food, water, and fire all take considerable amounts of time. We have to adopt a different rhythm in nature, and a big part of that rhythm is planning ahead. Since it may well take an hour to purify some drinking water, start solving the water challenges early. And finding a clean source of water can take much longer. If you find yourself in a survival situation, prioritize water right behind proper shelter. Solve the water challenges early.
And enjoy the new rhythms that nature encourages. Don’t make the mistake of expecting the wilderness to be convenient and then stressing when simple tasks take a lot longer. Seek to enjoy the processes of wilderness living. Don’t fixate on only getting the end result. Find peace in each activity and harmonize with nature’s song. Take time to truly appreciate simple, life-giving resources. Celebrate water. Protect it. Respect it.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Water. What could be more plain than water? No color. No real flavor. Just a couple hydrogens and an oxygen doing a molecular dance. These days, even in the desert, with the twist of a knob we get water. It is like a genie at our beck and call. Water cleanses our homes, washes our bodies, sweeps away all manner of nastiness; out of sight and out of mind. Do you suppose we take water for granted?
Water. We often hear that the surface of the earth is two thirds water. And we hear that our bodies are up to 60% water. Funny to realize that we are all large water bags sloshing around. So now this gets a little more personal. Water is a part of us. Without water, life on this Earth would not exist. Water is not just our servant, then. Water is us. It is a component of life. Just a couple of hydrogens and an oxygen doing a molecular dance…, with all the billions of life cells in your body.
And water carries information. While this might not yet be considered scientific fact, I am convinced it is so. No two snowflakes are alike. Why not? How many crystal designs can two hydrogens and an oxygen make? How is that possible? There must be a nearly infinite number of ways that two water molecules can cling to each other when they slow down enough to grab hold. And this foundation is built on to form a snowflake governed by the form of these first two molecules. Our digital age is based on just 1s and 0s. Two things. Our DNA is also digital, but it has four digits that define the vast, VAST warehouses of information that govern how the elements come together to form our bodies. But what about this water thing? Just two hydrogens and an oxygen but their relative positions result in a nearly infinite number of snowflake shapes. How much information could we store in that mechanism?
But what is more interesting, is that there has been shown a correlation between the structures water crystals form and influences to the water before freezing. Anger and violent music directed toward water result in chaotic crystal patterns, while love and harmonious music result in ordered and symmetrical patterns. Really?
Similarly, homeopathy, though not the usual focus of modern medicine, still gets impressive results. How does that work? A substance that creates similar symptoms to an illness is put into solution, and then the solution is diluted. It is diluted to the point that odds are there is NONE of the original substance left in final product, remedy pills. But those pills trigger amazing results. How? Information, that’s how. The water used to dilute the substance to form the remedy seems to capture instructions from the original substance. That information is read by our bodies, and the homeopathic remedy actually reprograms how our bodies behave. This information programs our immune systems. We do not know exactly how this works, but it does. What is amazing is that the more diluted the substance—the more water is used—the more potent the remedy. That is counter intuitive! But then water is often counter intuitive.
Consider for a moment that when free flowing liquids freeze, the general rule is that these busy molecules or atoms quit bouncing around so much and become denser. They lock into a solid that is smaller than the space taken up by the liquid it came from. Makes sense. This is intuitive. But not so with water. Water gets larger—less dense—when it gives up energy and freezes into ice.
So why the science lesson?
If water did not get less dense (a very abnormal behavior) when it freezes, then life as we know it may not be possible. The mountains would not be weathered by water. Rivers and streams and ponds would freeze from the bottom up trapping all the aquatic life on top of the ice. Can you imagine all those wiggly and squiggly things flopping around on top of the ice until they died? And there would be no polar ice floating around on the arctic sea. Ocean currents would not flow as they do now, and the entire biosphere of this planet would be shaped by vastly different weather systems and even climates.
Water is special. It is not like other substances. There is a mystery there in that simple molecular dance. Though water is a very plain molecule, we really have only just begun to learn how it really works.
As I type this, this morning, I have watched a sunrise followed immediately by a snow storm. This water has filled the air with trillions of individual snowflakes, all formed with the unique information of those first two molecules that grabbed hold of each other. If we could decode all the information, what would it tell us?
Would water tell the story of the creation of life? Would it tell us the secrets of the stars? Does water store information in it from the very formation of hydrogen at the big bang, or from the formation of oxygen as the plasma of stars ran out of fuel and collapsed into heavier elements?
Water. It is the lifeblood of the Earth. Without it, plants could not grow. The mountains would not crumble into minerals that the plants use to form structure and nutrition. If water did not adhere and cohere as it does, then plants could not pull water up from their roots to supply the leaves and flowers. There are dozens of characteristics of water that make life possible. Dozens that govern our weather. Dozens that shape our biosphere. And I presume that there are thousands of yet undiscovered aspects of water that shape our existence in ways we do not yet imagine. Water is not just water.
If you want to know if you are sick, then go get a blood sample taken. Doctors will analyze that bit of blood, and tell you what kinds of diseases you have.
If you want to know if the Earth is sick, take a sample of water. Is it clean? What disease does it carry? Does the water carry life-giving information that brings health and strength to an environment, or is that water carrying the stories of poisons and toxins and the abuse of the Earth. Interesting, isn’t it that a little rain water causes a garden to flourish. More tap water irrigated to the same garden does not have the same effect. Why is that? Not all water is the same.
We need to understand water is more than we have understood. We need to respect water as a substance that allows for life. Water. It cleanses. It nurtures. It shapes. It informs. It matters.
But let’s push all that aside for a moment. When it comes to survival in the woods, we can only live a few days without water. But more importantly, when we get dehydrated we lose energy, our performance level drops, we start losing the ability to stay warm, we can’t digest our food properly, our blood gets thick and acidic, the chances of stroke and heart attack increase markedly, and we begin to store toxins in our fat reserves and other tissues. Nice, huh? When it comes to wilderness survival, water REALLY matters.
Now that I have built the case for the importance of water, perhaps we will approach water differently than before. We can now better protect and respect this life blood of the planet. We can enjoy the mystery of water and perhaps even unlock some of the secrets of life and the creation of the universe. And especially, when we are in the wilderness, we can understand and utilize water better.