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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Three Days at the River with Nothing But Our Bare Hands- Video Review

There's this really cool couple I know, Daniel and Rebekka, that inspires me to do so many self sufficient things, to homestead, and to live a green and frugal lifestyle. We'd originally considered moving out together with them and a few other similarly minded families to a semi remote place where we'd found a community of homesteaders... We were discussing so many options for cheap DIY housing, talked about yurt living, building log cabins, and making earthships...
But we never did that community together, and Daniel and Rebekka moved to a different community where they are in the middle of building a straw bale house, and are raising a herd of goats and square foot gardening.
I learned so much from Daniel and Rebekka, but one of the thing I loved most was that Daniel was a wilderness survival educator by profession, and I borrowed so many books from him to read up about how to survive if you were stranded in the middle of nowhere with no tool and no food.
I find the topic of wilderness survival to be so fascinating! We rely on so many modern conveniences in our day to day life, but you learn just how much (or little really) is truly necessary. I find learning about wilderness survival very empowering, knowing that I'd have what it takes to manage if all hell breaks loose. It also makes me appreciate the gifts nature has to offer us that can be utilized even in a non survival situation (like wild food and medicine) and appreciate all the luxuries I have even in my "spartan" extremely frugal life.
Wilderness survival also can allow you to have a cheap camping vacation, with no need to purchase and bring along any supplies to be able to enjoy yourself!

After writing my review of Botany in a Day (an excellent book on plant identification), the author of the book, Thomas Elpel, asked me if I'd want to review some wilderness survival videos that he made, and of course, I agreed! Anything to get my hands on more wilderness survival information!
The series that Mr. Elpel sent me to review is called "The Art of Nothing" and from the title alone, I knew I'd love it!

Here is my review of the first video in the series- "Three Days at the River with Nothing But Our Bare Hands."

I watched the video with my boys, and decided to do a double review- one from my perspective as an adult, and another review from the perspective of my 4.5 year old son.
The premise of the video was really cool. A father and his 13 year old daughter went to the river, spent 3 days and 2 nights there, and the only "equipment" they brought along with them was the clothing on their back.
What would you do if you had to survive for 3 days with nothing but your clothes? Would you be able to manage? Would you starve? Freeze? Hate every minute of it?
Thomas Elpel and his daughter Felicia managed to do so much, even having brought absolutely nothing with them. It was really inspiring to see what they were able to do.

The different things taught in the video were:

  • Foraging for different wild edibles
  • Making stone knives
  • Starting fire with a bow drill
  • Making river water safe to drink
  • Building a grass shelter
  • Hunting porcupine
  • Skinning and butchering
  • Making shishkebabs
  • Stir frying with no tools
  • Making a bowel movement in the woods
  • Taking apart your camp

Of the things taught in the video, I had previously read about all but making the knives, the shelters, stir frying, and hunting, but it was very nice to see them in video form instead of just reading them and seeing pictures, as it makes it so much more "real" and easy to understand and remember. For example, reading about making a bow drill or skinning an animal can be hard to conceptualize what exactly you're supposed to do, but once you see a video of it, it all makes sense.

So, what did my son think of it?

At the beginning of the video, Thomas attempted unsuccessfully to hunt a rabbit, but instead of commenting on the hunting aspect, Lee turned to his 2 year old brother and said "Look at the rabbit! This movie is like Teletubbies!" You always know a video is a hit when it's being compared to teletubbies by a 4 year old, right? :-D

Then you see Thomas and Felicia foraging for wild edibles, among them wild mushrooms. Lee, an experienced forager by now asked "Are those mushrooms edible? Why don't we pick mushrooms like that, Mommy?"

Later, when they were about to show how to make a bow drill to start a fire, Lee asked me what they were doing, I said they were going to show how to make a fire without matches. Lee then asked: "How do they make a fire if they have no matches? They take two sticks and do this?" while miming rubbing two sticks together. Huh? Where did he learn that from? We've only ever started fires with matches, never from rubbing sticks... He tells me "Peppa Pig, when she went camping! Daddy Pig made a fire by rubbing sticks together!" I found the video. The fire making is at 1:50...



Well, I have to say, that's a pretty inaccurate way to show how to make fire- the chance of anyone actually being successful making a fire by rubbing two sticks together while holding them in the air is pretty small... but if you watch Thomas Elpel's video, you'll know how to make a fire for real out of sticks, and no, its nothing like how Daddy Pig did it...

Of course, right after that, Lee asked me when we could go camping, because he wanted to do it like on the movie.

When they were demonstrating how to build a shelter, Lee excitedly pointed out "The movie is teaching us to make things with things they didn't bring! We can do that; we need to remember that, right?"

When the movie was over, Lee asked me "Is this man real? When is he coming to visit us in our house?" I told him that Mr Elpel lived far away and he was really disappointed- he wanted to meet the cool man who made the movie.

Not long after that, Lee went and turned the movie back on. I smiled. He liked it enough to want to watch it a second time? So I asked him some questions:
Me: "What did you think of the movie?"
Lee: "Its a little bit boring." Of course, that begs the question:
Me: "So why did you turn it on to watch it again?"
Lee: "Because its a little bit cool because they teach you how to make fire and food with nothing."
Me: "What was your favorite part of the movie?"
Lee: "When they taught how to make a fire with no matches!"
Me: "What was your least favorite part?"
Lee: "I didn't like all the blood from the pine cone animal (his way of saying porcupine)."

Lee was a bit disappointed by one thing in the video. I told him the name of each section of the video before it started, so I told him "This section is about pooping in the woods". He was disappointed by that section and asked me "If its supposed to be teaching how to poop in the woods, why didn't they show someone pooping?" 4 year olds....Or boys... Who knows... The video only shows you what types of leaves work as toilet paper and how to bury your waste (don't worry- without showing anything, you have to use your imagination).

Ike was watching it the whole time with Lee and me, and while he showed interest throughout the video, his only verbal comment was when they were making stone knives- "Wow, cool!"

So, the boys enjoyed it. What did I think of the movie?

Well, I did mention that I find learning about survival skills to be fun and intriguing, so it's not surprising that I enjoyed the movie.
I found that most of the skills were explained really well, so well that I feel like I'd know how to do exactly what they did if I ever in a similar place without any equipment.
I found the way that they made their shelter, over coals buried in the ground and in a grass and wood "sleeping bag" to be really cool.
The way they skinned and cooked the porcupine seemed really cool and reminded me of gutting fish and cutting up my whole raw chickens. No, the blood didn't gross me out.
The way they stir fried their porcupine, nettles, mushrooms, and wild mustard with no utensils whatsoever was really amazing...
One thing I liked was that when they showed each skill, each time they first showed the final product, and then showed step by step how to get there.

Any criticisms of the movie?
The movie is definitely not fast paced. Because it is instructional, they spend time showing you each step of the way, as they go along, so someone who isn't as interested in the topic might find this a bit slow. However, as foragers and walkers and people unaccustomed to the fast paced city life, I found the pace of the movie to be pleasant and relaxing.
The talking sometimes sounds a bit scripted and less flowy, but I guess that's understandable as it is an instructional video, not a fiction drama.
I didn't find the video to be very instructional about foraging, and felt it a little lacking in that area. Mr. Elpel didn't share so many tips about how to find wild edibles, how to identify them, how to prepare them, etc... And the ones he did prepare, he prepared such minimal amounts and didn't prepare them properly (he just fried bitter wild mustard, didn't first blanch them to remove the bitterness, even though he had made a "pot" out of an old tin can...)
Then again, there's only so much that you CAN cover on foraging in a video, and he did recommend that you check out his book for more information...

Speaking of drama, I was expecting to find this movie informative, but didn't expect to find it as amusing as I did. The amusing part of the video was the side story running throughout the video as an undercurrent.

Imagine you're a middle school student who likes hanging out with her friends in school, going to McDonald's and Burger king, and just being the typical pre-teen/teenager. Your dad asks you if you want to spend the weekend with him on a survival camping trip so he can film it and make a video, and you agree.
The first day, you're having some fun practicing your survival skills that dad has taught you for years, posing for the camera, etc... but by the end of the day, your stomach is rumbling and you're tired, and all dad gives you for supper is some cattail roots... And then when you want to go to sleep at night, you end up sleeping inside a pile of itchy grass, and you end up tossing and turning the whole night.
In the morning, you're starving, but there's no food to eat! Dad gets you out of "bed" once you finally managed to fall asleep, to help him hunt a porcupine that he found... And then he prepares greens that taste like asparagus, and you hate asparagus!
And so it goes on. As the movie progresses, you see this father-daughter teenage dynamic that evolves, starting from a girl who'll humor him and do what he wants her to do... to a girl who realizes that this is more than she bargained for, that she's hungry, wants "normal food", and just wants to go home already, but dad had planned a 3 day trip, and so it drags on... By the very end, Felicia preferred not even eating the stir fry, hungry as she was, because she was sick of the whole experience (or so it seems), and let dad eat the whole thing. (Though I can't help but wondering- if he'd properly prepared the greens, maybe they would have tasted yummier and she would have wanted to eat it.)
I could so imagine myself in Felicia's place when I was a teenager, and now as a parent, I can't help but wonder if my kids would feel the same if I tried to take them on such a trip. I have a feeling they'd enjoy the food more than Felicia did, because my kids eat foraged foods all the time and haven't grown up on Micky D or Burger King, so a few days of wild eating wouldn't have been so different for them.

One thing the movie left me wondering was- they didn't eat a lot of food. Were they just such bad foragers, etc... that they were hungry? Or is it just impossible to actually get enough foraged foods to be satiated when  eating only what you can scavenge?

All in all, I certainly recommend the video! It didn't apply to my day to day life, and even if I needed survival skills here, God forbid, most of what was shared wouldn't be useful to me because I live in a very different climate, with very few trees, barely any running fresh water, different types of rocks, etc... but for someone living in non desert areas in the US, it would be more relevant... But even though I couldn't use some of these skills, I enjoyed watching them utilize them!

P.S. I was not paid for this, I only got the CDs for free. All the opinions are my own- no one is requiring me to say nice things about it- I just really enjoyed it.


Do you find survival skills to be interesting? Would you find such a movie intriguing?
Do you think you'd be able to survive in the wilderness for three days with nothing but the clothes on your back?
If you'd take a child of yours out on such a trip, how do you think your child would feel? Enjoy himself? Hate it? Something else?

Linking up to Simple Lives ThursdayHomestead Barn HopMonday Mania

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