As a wilderness and urban survival instructor I frequently concern myself with any number of potential personal or societal catastrophe scenarios. While I find no pleasure in contemplating the grim realities of existence, the wildlife biologist side of me knows all too well that unbridled population growth in any species is unsustainable.
Thus, either disease, war, civil unrest, famine, a financial crisis, water shortages, or any number of other scenarios have been part of the curriculum that I offer during a survival course. Over the years I have found that ignoring these plausible chain of events even more daunting and even downright inane.
I pen this article as we, humanity, find ourselves at the cusp of the new reality. First of all, take a deep breath – a few actually. This is NOT the end of the world or even humanity, it’s just a major bump on the road that requires a significant detour and adjustments.
Think of the countless humans that have survived and even thrived in times of war, natural disaster, plagues, etc. What got them through it? In two words, resourcefulness and self-reliance. This powerful truth leads to the logical and imperative question: what resources do we have at hand to help us become more self-reliant through these challenging times?
As we all prepare for the weeks ahead, a quick word on the key survival priorities for home self-reliance: shelter, water, and food – generally in that order. Take any of these key resources away and we are quickly in trouble.
Common sense dictates that you enact the following key steps:
1. Keep your house in good repair so that it keeps the elements at bay, even if the power goes off. Without electricity, you may find things uncomfortably cold or hot at times, though all but the infirm or elderly should navigate these issues successfully.
2. Use empty and hygienic containers to store the water from your tap. There is no need to hoard store-bought water. Further, have a way to boil your water supply if it becomes necessary to sterilize it. This might mean carefully lighting your propane stove if the power is off or using an inside or outside hearth to do it the old fashioned way.
3. Stock your home with dried, canned, and frozen foods, that will last you at least several months. Grow an organic garden. Plant an orchard. In fact, plant a landscape around your home that has many useful components to it. Forget about lawns and exotic, ornamental species. Plant native species with a wide range of uses, such as food, medicine, fuel, etc.
Do you know which wild plants furnish sustenance in the area or which can help with various medical and health issues? The vast majority of people know only the basics when it comes to wild edible and medicinal plants and are likely to do more harm than good if they experiment with unknown or vaguely identified species. Don’t! As an Ethnobotanist, I’ve taught many wild edible plant classes. I am uniquely qualified to speak to this more-than-ever vital topic and offer key suggestions.
Believe it or not, the much-maligned, yet native and ecologically important velvet mesquite tree harbors a wealth of uses in an easily identified species. Beware of the spines, that can easily impale you and which seem to hurt beyond the mere puncture itself.
If you run afoul of the spines or have a minor wound, such as a small cut or scrape, then a poultice of mesquite leaves provides an antimicrobial solution to your ailments. Just crush the fresh leaves into a paste and liberally apply to your wound, leaving the mass for up to an hour or two. Further, a tea of fresh or dried mesquite leaves is a potent medicine for curing minor eye infections, when used at room temperature.
The ripe pods of mesquite contain meaningful calories to augment or substitute for modern foods. Harvest them when they are tan or tan with reddish stripes. Avoid green pods or ones with obvious black or moldy areas. You can eat the pods right off of the tree, but never from the ground, as they can have unseen contaminants, such as fungi and mold.
You can also grind the pods into a flour when they are dry. Toasting the pods first in a slow oven and/or freezing them helps to thwart the beetle larvae that can be your bane when it comes to storing mesquite pods. Beware also that overconsumption of mesquite pod products can lead to severe constipation. Rather than eating a lot at once, try incorporating this or other new wild edible plants – only when you completely know them – within a framework of your everyday foods.
My best piece of advice? Keep and promote a positive mental attitude in regards to ALL that might come your way. Also, avoid direct social contact (get over it), become more self-sufficient, form a network of resourceful people and friends, and continue to celebrate and enjoy the unique beauty and biodiversity of our Sky islands!
Vincent Pinto and his wife, Claudia, run RAVENS-WAY WILD JOURNEYS, their Nature Adventure & Conservation organization devoted to protecting and promoting the unique biodiversity of the Sky Islands region. RWWJ offers a wide range of custom-made Survival Courses. Visit: www.ravensnatureschool.org