The low-light days near the winter solstice always get our attention as humans. The daylight hours are short, and the long lasting star-filled nights are often clear and the frigid temperatures make us shiver. Naturally, we seek the warmth of shelter, and we sleep more. Humans are animals too, and it is interesting to compare our behaviors to our forest kin.
If we suddenly found ourselves in the wild as natural humans without food, clothing, or supplies, we’d immediately be forced to be resourceful, cunning, and wise, or we’d soon perish. Only the strongest would survive. Some people are shocked when they find out that domestic dogs and cats generally cannot survive in the wilds; they have lost their wildness. How well do you think you would cope as a “wild human”?
Undoubtedly, we’d start with the basics clothing, food and shelter. Wind and cold temperatures would alert us to a need for warm clothing. Skins and furs from animals provide an obvious solution, but hunting or trapping an animal is a tricky feat. It seems reasonable to hunt an animal with a gun, but with a spear? Those are tough odds. It is important to note that predators are not always successful in their hunts.
Let’s just say we got lucky and found an elk that had broken its leg, starved and died. Fortunately, the coyotes, fox and magpies had licked the elk’s skin clean. We wished we had a pocket knife to cut arm holes through our newly-found skin, however our teeth will have to suffice and we gnaw through some rough openings. We’d surely need a hat for our head and some kind of shoes.
How to sew would be a question that would come to mind. Suddenly, a bone chip for a needle, another bone fragment for an awl to poke holes, and some strips of hide for thread seem like a reality. How about a length of tendon to use as a quick-draw waistbelt? Crude, yes, but you’re a survivor.
Wild animals and birds have adapted over time to have appropriate insulation for survival. For instance, a porcupine possesses two kinds of fur. A dense soft downy inner fur that provides insulation, and coarse outer guard-hairs which provide protection from wear and tear. Similarly, elk possess hollow hairs that trap warmth by creating dead-air space. Birds have downy insulative feathers near their skin that are covered over by contour feathers that overlap like a shingled roof.
The cold wind blows and we feel the need for shelter. We could think like a flock of nuthatches and all crowd together in a protected nook. Or, thinking like a bear, a cave would be handy, but are rather scarce in these parts. Thinking like a mouse, we could burrow into the snow. Or we may think like a beaver and build a lodge from limbs.
We could build a lodge from broken limbs and boughs and then cover it with snow. With some leftover strips of hide we could fashion a primative door that faces southeast to catch the morning and afternoon sun. Woodpeckers choose the orientation of their nesting cavity in this same way.
As for food, gathering is great as long as you can plan ahead. For instance, squirrels cache pinecones and mushrooms. Clark’s nutcrackers store seeds. Elk and bighorns store fat. Beavers cache limbs. If we had foresight, we’d harvest and store berries, seeds, and dried meat.
As for hunting, a club, a spear, and some baseball-sized rocks would all be handy. Other hunting techniques like snare and traps could be devised only by a few who really knew how. A band of hungry humans could scare elk off of a deadly cliff. The real hunter comes out when it’s the difference between your life and death.
In nature, only the strong survive. It take a lot of willpower to survive cold snaps, to weather brutal storms, to be hungry and keep searching for food, and to stay healthy, alert and resilient. When we notice “simple animals” in our daily lives like squirrels, magpies, or porcupines, may we be reminded of how resourceful and strong-willed these animals are as survivors.