Making Things You Need.
by Byron Kerns
Close your eyes. Imagine. You’re deep … deep in the backcountry, alone, and your leg is broken. Congrats! You’ve just been presented with a need - to make a thing: an improvised splint, using the man-made and natural resources at-hand. Improvisation is useful in many, many ways.
Are you craft-sy? Better be … in a survival situation.
During training, my students improvise. Sometimes it’s one item, sometimes two. Over the years, I’ve seen more improvised spears than you could shake a stick at, awesomely bodacious palmetto-woven sandals (that could definitely be sold in a store … and, worn by the buyer), an ornate lantern that an old-time ship captain woulda been proud to hang, and even a canteen from bamboo - hundreds of items of all descriptions, each made for a particular survival need.
Some people do quite well in the art of improvising. Well enough, there’s some that can improvise an item and you hold it up and look at it and think, ‘Damn. This thing could be sold in a store!’ Then, there are those that struggle and struggle with making something. Most times, these folks make something that a person will look at and say, “What the hell is that?!” The ones that struggle are usually afflicted with the dreaded disease, lackyimagination - coupled with the possibility of having never made anything in their life.
Students at our Bare Bones course are tasked with improvising a spoon or fork (no chop sticks – too easy) on the very first day. For supper, they are issued Ramen noodles and no one is allowed to eat them with their fingers. There is a need for an improvised eating utensil. At the end of the course, prior to the written test, the collection of spoons and forks (and sometimes a spork) are judged and graded. It’s interesting to see that some are proud and take home their improvised gear.
Few years back, had a student from the coastal region of South Carolina, a huge man, 6’7”, who was the best improviser I’ve ever seen. For starters, he crafted an 8-foot bow with a 4-foot arrow. A project that was outstanding, border-line mind-boggling. It must be shared that when most create a bow and arrow, the arrow ‘flies’ about 15-feet and skids to a halt in the grass. Not the case for this South Carolina dude. Aiming for above the tall trees, he launched his arrow. Up and up it went until it disappeared into the clouds. I seriously believe the arrow entered earth’s orbit and continues to circle our planet. During shelter building, he crafted an improvised shelter, with all natural materials, that could have slept 10 people. And, he did it in less than an hour.
At course end, the man showed me another item he had created, saying he wanted me to have it, as a gift. It was a planter, improvised from a unique 10-inch diameter log, 10-inches tall. He had burned out the inside, until it had a half-inch wall and two-inch thick bottom - no easy feat. I was absolutely amazed and grateful and speechless.
Snowshoes, woven baskets, a toilet paper roll holder, pot holders, woven mats, brooms and rakes – my goodness, I’ve seen and graded a bunch of improvised items. Still waitin’ on a chess board and 16-carved figurines. Gonna make this a short one. My intent has been accomplished.
Think and do improvisation. Every time you’re in the woods. And, here’s a curve ball for you – think and do improvisation in civilization. Challenge yourself and have some bodacious fun!