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Survival: The Last Laugh

Chapter 2 - Something New... Innovation

By Ron Hood, Ed.D. (ABD)

Introduction | 1 - Beginning | 2 - Innovation | 3 - Woods Master | 4 - Exposure

The First Step

The first step in a survival situation, the very first step, is to use the most powerful survival tool available to us. The mind. When we stop and think, if even for a moment, we have begun to program ourselves for success. By giving in to mindless activity, we hasten the end. Luck may intervene, but it's chancy. If you stop to think, panic, fear, and all of those counter productive irrational states can be held at bay. If you dig into your mind, grit your teeth, and shout, "I'm gonna make it!" you will.

Some people have suggested various methods for achieving emotional peace and intellectual and spiritual clarity. Meditation, prayer, exercise, primal screams, and even... well... taking a dump. It has been my experience that fear mitigates focus and enhances the need to... dump.

No bathroom? That's OK.The act, right out there in the midst of all that stress, will seem oddly humorous. Humor will assist your attempts to relax the icy fingers of fear that are sure to grip your spirit. You may find prayer and/or meditation a bit easier to utilize while you perform your enlightening. The main point should be clear. The very first act you should undertake is to think. Use the Rule of Threes to assist you with your priorities and to help direct your thoughts. When you begin to focus your mind muscles on your predicament your chances for success skyrocket.

Some Thoughts for Thought

While you are thinking about the situation, you may actually be threatened by inactivity. In so many words, if you discover that one of the Rules of Three is already affecting your thoughts, you'd better be doing your heavy thinking a little later. I'm certain that you can imagine some conditions when it would be foolish to sit on a log, chin in hand, just thinking... a cold wet wind blowing... you get the idea.

When you do think, what sort of ideas should you toy with? I'm certain you'll have many thoughts that will serve no good survival purpose, i.e. The date you will be missing that night... who might come to your funeral after they discover your body... the strange and malevolent animals lurking in the dark. You will be full of useless and possibly undermining memories, thoughts, and ideas. Try to stop yourself when you feel them coming and refocus your thoughts on the problems at hand.

Of course, all of this assumes that you are alone. Companionship is no guarantee that the same thoughts and feelings will avoid you. Indeed, it is possible that you will need to deal with the fears of a companion(s), as well as your own. Individual idiosyncrasies, being what they are, offer no tried-and-true formula for response to a threat other than this: the the person with the most survival knowledge and skills often becomes the leader. Good luck!

A Few Suggestions

There you sit, benighted. Take the time to get a good look at yourself. Examine closely the clothing that you are wearing. The clothing can serve as a focus for your thoughts. For instance, if the temperatures are high, you might be better off loosening some of the garments in order to use them as insulation from the hot atmosphere or sun. If the air temperatures are low, there are steps you can take to increase the insulating value of your clothes. There will be more about this later.

Do you have a belt? If so you might be able to use it as part of a tool. Can you start a fire? People have been found dead of exposure in forests full of dry tinder and fuel with matches in their pockets! Examine the contents of your pockets. Loosen your boots if they feel tight, tighten them if they feel too loose. House keeping chores of that sort will give your productive subconscience a chance to do it's job.

Is signaling practical? Some years ago, so the story goes, a hiker in Southern California got lost in the dry foothills near Los Angeles. Not wanting to waste any time he decided to build a small signal fire. His body was later found in the center of a brush fire caused by his signal fire. Think!

The walk to survival begins with these steps:

Think a little.


Think a lot.



Sleep? Of course! You don't feel well if you don't sleep under normal conditions. You need to rest even more during a survival emergency. Provided, of course, that your last "act" will allow you the time. Make the time.

Innovation, A New Idea

Just a few words about an idea. Not my idea, your idea. It tickles me when I see the expression of pleasure on the face of students of mine after they have made something, to do something, from something, that does something else. Is that clear? What I'm trying to say is that one of the most useful and rewarding skills a survivalist can learn is the ability to make things from other things. Take a belt for instance; it can be sliced (with some effort and a little jig to hold the leather) into long thin strips. These can, in turn, be double twisted (more about that later) into rope. Once the rope is available, all manner of permutations are possible. You can make a sling to take small game, a cord for a fire bow to make fire, a bow string, etc. And if things are really hopeless, you can hang yourself!

Other parts of the belt may be useful. The buckle may work to remove tops from soda or beer bottles. The sharpened buckle post may work as an awl for drilling leather. It may even be possible to break the buckle into parts for fishing gear. The buckle can be used as a trigger mechanism for traps and crossbows, or... See what I mean? Take a good look at what you are wearing and start practicing innovation.

What uses can you put your shoe laces to? List them and try. Next time you load your backpack, take a close look at the items you plan to carry into the wilderness. How can each item be used in a different manner so that perhaps some other item can be left behind? The weight you save can be carried in another more interesting form, or maybe you can just cut your pack weight. A lighter pack may allow you to lift your head to see the wilderness through eyes unclouded with fatigue.

Take a close look at the pack itself. You can empty the pack bag and use it to cover some portion of your body should the need ever arise. Sleep in your pack? Sure, why not? Mice do it.

Look at the frame of the pack, a heavy rock can crush the tubing flat. My God! Why would you do a thing like that? It's sacrilege! Consider this: if conventions and conservatism stop your innovations, you may seriously hinder your chances at a long full life.

Back to that frame tubing. I know a fellow who lost his pack into a mountain torrent. The pack was washed downstream through rapids and finally over a rather evil waterfall. It was seriously modified by it's encounter with the rocks at the bottom. The contents of the pack and the pack bag were scattered and lost, but somehow the battered frame, still attached to the sleeping bag, floated to shore. Hours later, my friend retrieved the now modified frame and soggy sleeping bag. He decided that his journey into the woods was over. Three days from the road head, no matches, night coming, and his food feeding fish at the bottom of the torrent. He had a problem. What to-do?

First step, think. He did. He took the frame, which by that time looked like metallic spaghetti, and smashed a part of it flat. He worried that part free, converted his shoe laces into a short rope, cut a few pieces of the appropriate kinds of wood, punched a dimple into the aluminum with a rock, and presto! A fire bow set. He used the aluminum as a bearing surface for the fire drill, the shoe laces as a cord for the bow, made fire, and started his survival odyssey. Because of his innovations and his skills, he managed to turn a possible disaster into a fine adventure. A story, incidentally, he loves to tell again and again and again... I sometimes wish that he had a second story to tell, just for variety.

It is clear that there may have been other things he could've done and perhaps come away with a little more story. The significant part remains, he survived. And he did it through innovation and imagination. Now maybe if he had taken the aluminum of his pack, combined it with the nylon from his sleeping bag, made a hang glider, and... Innovation has it's practical limit. Remember, too, that there are always those could of's and should of's. They are easy to imagine after the fact.

Incidentally, could of's and should of's are fine. They demonstrate the exercise of the innovative process. Usually they represent alternative answers to a problem. As I have said before, you are trying to develop a solution to your situation. If you survive, you succeeded. Anything else is only a matter of degree, of class, or of comfort.

Remember, too, a rule called Occam's Razor. Basically Occam's Razor states, "The simplest effective solution is the best solution." Effective and simple... keywords for innovation.

Later, when we begin to explore survival kits, you'll see some of the many ways things can be modified. There will be few hard-and-fast rules. The contents suggested for survival kits can be changed to suit your personal needs. The kits will give you a handle on survival that can help carry you through your situation. Funny thing though, after we've decided just what items are useful in your survival kit, we'll see how similar items can be made, and functions performed, by materials found in nature.

Incidentally, if the suggestion of an alternate use for some item didn't occur to you, relax. Many ideas are so obvious that they are difficult to recognize at first. Anything that has already been done resides in the vast unconscious. By opening yourself to innovation, these concepts will leak into you and you will have an idea. Survival originality is self-enhancing. Once you try innovation, you'll probably start using it.

Occasionally, I hear someone mumble phrases like, "I can't do things like that." or, "I can't do that kind of thinking." "Can't" is bad news, and a bad word. "Can't" must be dropped from your vocabulary. "Can't" implies external control. Self-control and choices are what a competent survivalist is looking for. "Didn't" or "won't" seem to be a closer description of the kind of concept you need to exercise when you begin to feel powerless. While these words are still negative they carry with them the germ of control we need. "I can't do that kind of thinking" becomes "I won't do that kind of thinking." Then you can ask yourself, "Why not?" Why not indeed!

Everyone can innovate, but many don't. You have to start trying. Start by opening bottles with something other than a bottle opener. Try eating with something other than a knife, spoon, and fork. Try chopsticks, sucking, slurping, and picking with your fingers. Try walking on your knees to change your horizon or to pretend that your leg is broken. Make an effort to modify the use of things you normally use. Innovate, modify, originate.

Practicing Innovation

I've been pushing the idea of innovation. Maybe you've already been innovating. Perhaps you can make strange and wondrous things out of dirt, rocks, and bat's eyes. Good for you. Then again, at least for the moment, maybe you can't. You may not know how to get started.

The starting point, or a starting point, might be to decide what items you need to assist your survival. One way to start that process is to think about the most elementary actions you will be required to perform. Once you have chosen some basic actions, you can look about you for ways to do these things. Look at the following six jobs and try to think of a way to do these things with the items you have with you right now.

Six things that need doing:







Let's try the first one, cutting, and play with it for just a moment. Let's also assume that you don't have a knife with you.

Suppose you have a metal belt buckle. You should be able to grind it flat along one side to give you a knife edge. The grinding can be done with a smooth stream stone. You may also be able to take the stone itself and hit it with another stone to create a sharp flake suitable for cutting. Is there a piece of trash nearby, perhaps a tin can? The lid is quite sharp. (I'm certain that you have personal experience with that fact!) If it can cut your finger, it can skin a small animal or cut apart edible plants. Do your boots have an accessible and removable steel shank like the one found in Vietnam jungle boots? To find out, peel back the inner lining on the bottom of the boot (Don't do this to expensive boots!). On a jungle boot the shank is visible as a dark plate of steel about 1 inch by four inches and easily removable with the fingers.

If you go into the wilderness frequently, you've probably noticed the carcasses of dead animals. Mostly these gross manifestations of once living things are to be avoided. For the survivalist, however, the bones are a treasure throve of smelly delight. They can be removed, scored, split with a stone, and ground to sharp edges for knives and arrowheads. Things like the hooves and skin can be converted to glue through repetitive boiling. Rotten, leathery skin can be treated to make a sort of stinky but serviceable leather, good for tools, shoes, and cordage. Even if your situation is short term, knowing that you know how to do these things will contribute to your self-confidence and sense of well being.

By now, you've got the idea. Work with the words I listed first. Make a catalogue of the possible uses for items that might be able to do the jobs listed and don't hesitate to get a little far fetched. In a real survival situation you'll likely avoid doing involved tasks, but the practice will help you to find easier ways to do simple jobs. After you are familiar with the strategy, try figuring out a few jobs you know need doing and follow the same patterns with them. If you can think of a job, it is usually possible to do it... eventually.

Remember, too, that though some of your tasks can be done using the more or less conventional primitive technology, they may be impossible for you until you have the necessary skills. That rock I mentioned earlier, for instance. The primitive peoples were able to make excellent stone tools from rocks found here and there. They also had as many hours doing it as you have had reading or watching TV. They could recognize the best types and textures of stones suitable for cutting chores. They knew how to hit the material just right. They were able to manufacture the length, thickness and shape they needed. Of course, you should still try making stone cutting tools. You will learn what they learned. In the meantime, you can cut a material with stone by smashing it into its component molecules until it can be pulled apart. This act is called crushing. You can crush hard, as in sundering, or you can crush softly to crack nuts. Think.

Sex and Survival

There's that word again. Only this really isn't about sex. It's about the sexes. Somehow -- very incorrectly -- the word got out that survival experiences are too rugged for most women. I know that some women readers will bristle with incipient indignation. Don't. I will attempt to explain.

Survival skills are not limited to the male. It seems obvious that it took two sexes to make the species work. There remains the image of some hairy brute, club in hand, heading out into the primordial jungle to do battle with some loathsome creature. Meanwhile, his woman sits home grinding flour in a stone bowl held firmly by grimy thighs. Let's stop right there. Who is keeping the family alive? It should be clear that it takes both of them, with a careful and appropriate distribution of labor, to stay alive.

The man may see himself as the hunter. So be it. Who gathers the firewood and the edible plants? Who makes pots and starts fires? Who makes shelters and sets small traps? Who brings water back to camp and cleans skins? The answer is as simple as the system. They both do. About the only truly exclusive jobs are related to procreation. Women make babies, men make it possible for them to do so.

Of course, there are certain jobs that seem to be easier for the male to do. Whatever programming is responsible for this is most probably there as the result of structural differences. As a rule, men can lift greater weights. They have an inclination to do the heavy manual labor type chores. Women generally enjoy allowing them the option to do this sort of heavy, sweaty work. It is true, too, that I've seen many women happily assume the heavy chores and as happily discard them once they have help with the work. Countless times I've seen guys performing mildly incredible feats. Lifting trees, crushing boulders, and biting bears on the bottom. It fascinates me because so many of these Herculean feats are unnecessary. The lifted tree can stay and become a seat. The boulders might metamorphose into fireplaces and the bears are best left alone. Women and men are instinctive survival companions as soon as they know that they can do it together. A lot of guys and gals already know this.

One day, during a three day survival experience with some University students, I came upon a male student breaking wood into arm sized pieces. Sweat stood out on his back as he labored to produce his load. Finally, he looked up in triumph, gathered his wood, and led me uphill to his camp. He and another fellow were sharing the camp with two women and both of the guys had decided to gather wood. When we arrived, he tossed down his burden, sat on a rock, and tried to catch his breath. I looked around and saw no one else. He seemed disappointed that neither of the ladies was present to witness his feat. Just then I heard a crash up the hill from the camp. We both looked up just in time to see half of a dead tree slowly thump its way down the hill toward camp. It stopped ten feet from us. As I looked at half a thousand pounds of broken wood. I heard the euphonious tones of the male slave's camp mate. She had gone up the hill to kick down the wood. She never broke a sweat. Think!

One other thought related to this sex thing. Women, as a rule, can survive lower temperatures than men. The difference is probably related to the physiology required for child bearing. According to studies, the woman's body will begin to react to reduced temperatures sooner than a man's. This reaction begins as a constriction of the blood vessels in the surface of the body and is perceived by the woman as cold. The constriction reduces heat loss and in this manner saves the energy to be released to the body core later. The energy saving reaction is a defense presumed to assist the survival of the, as yet unborn, fetus. It is not necessary for the woman to be pregnant to achieve this heat loss protection. It is a part of the physiological programming.

Of course, there are many variables such as conditioning, fat accretions, energy reserves, etc. that can effect this presumed advantage. There is also a minor drawback. When blood flow to the skin is reduced to stop heat loss, the skin cools. Next, the brain receives signals from the cooling skin telling it that things are cold. The brain makes this information available to the conscious mind and the woman feels cold even though a man in the same conditions might not even sense the temperature drop. She will continue to feel cold while males around her remain warm and feel warm to her. Later, when their warmth is gone and they are dead, she will still feel cold.

Most often, survival emergencies can be met with skill and technique long before the final, fatal calorie is withdrawn from the body. In the mean time, the ladies tend to feel colder than the guys.

A Sum Thing

Looking back on what we've discussed, you can see that, from my point of view, the most important thing you need to do in a survival situation is to think about what you are doing. You need some things to think about so that the thoughts will be more than just the idle chatter of your memories. You have to start considering the idea of survival not as something you study, but as something you do. If you do that, you become a survivalist and a survivor. If you ever become a participant in a survival emergency, you will probably notice a comforting and, at the same time, disconcerting phenomenon. The intensity of your participation in the emergency will increase to give you the concentration and strength to do whatever is necessary. After the first night or two, you might even enjoy it.

Ron Hood
Copyright Ron Hood 1995

Introduction | 1 - Beginning | 2 - Innovation | 3 - Woods Master | 4 - Exposure

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