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I’m reading survival books. It’s not something I should be doing. In fact I think there is a clause in my relationship contract which prohibits me from doing so—in an effort to head off nightmares and other late-night terrors. I know survival programs on television are definitely off limits—the “I should be dead” franchise sort of thing.
I’m the type of person who has an endless capacity and energy to think through worse case scenarios. Dick jokes that I have a better utility belt than Batman. But beneath that jovial layer of kidding lies the hard reality of a mind always whirring noisily with “what-if?” schemes.
I spent too many hours as a child sitting in the laps of men who had survived Bataan, or who were Japanese POWs in WWII. I listened to everything. And I learned early on it it was always important to wear sensible shoes and carry a couple essentials.
Of course over the years those essentials grew to include things I could survive without—my journal is ultimately a luxury even though it is how I process; dental floss is an essential. (In a pinch I can use dental floss to lash small things together.)
I don’t actively seek out the survival section in the bookstore (Yes, there is one!). Despite that avoidance I have ended up over the years with quite a number of books that have SAS (Special Air Service) in their titles. If push came to shove (and with my dislike of heights it would have to come to that) I could fashion a rudimentary harness and repel down the side of…well something. I could lash things together to make longer or stronger things; I could braid and weave a hat from non-poisonous vegetation; and I know not to eat a diet solely consisting of polar bear liver—you’ll die of vitamin A poisoning, something North Pole explorers have understood since 1596. (I try to keep up.)
Mostly I just try to keep myself out of any situations involving polar bears. I dated a geologist in college who spent his summers in the arctic doing research. He told me polar bears could smell you 20 miles away, upwind (i.e., the wind is blowing towards you—you should smell them way before they smell you). You do not have to be someone who had the privilege to work with two amazing scent dogs to understand how incredibly awesome a feat that is—and how overwhelmingly demoralizing it is for anyone lower than a polar bear on the food chain.
Even with the prohibitions and restrictions in my life centering on survival books and media, the other day I found myself in the survival section of Barnes and Noble. It is next to “Sports.” (At least in the HarMar store.)
I was looking for books on golf for my father’s birthday. All the golf books were in the “how to create the perfect swing for the rest of your life” mode.
Since my father is 83, even though he is healthy, I thought any books in that vein would appear too tardy, an afterthought, or simply in bad taste; almost an affront or commentary on his skills to date (which actually are excellent).
So in order to avoid what could only be interpreted as an “ironic” gift, given my record in the family as “lippy,” I rounded the corner of the bookshelf and started to search through the vast miscellaneous sports section, in search of a mis-shelved golf book or a sports memoir of someone my father might have enjoyed—someone who didn’t use steroids.
Suddenly the subject on the shelf changed to biking, and then abruptly the titles were all “Survival.”
If the books had been less shopworn (and why is that exactly?) I would have come home with many more titles. What I purchased were the following:
SAS and Elite Forces Guide, Ropes and Knots: Essential Rope Skills from the World’s Elite Units, by Charles Stronge (Isn’t that wonderful? I couldn’t make this shit up.)
“Includes step-by-step guides and expert advice for each knot.” (Don’t you love it?!)
(Note to self—they seriously need help designing covers! It’s arguably the most unattractive book I’ve ever purchased.)
As promised the book is full of diagrams and instructions for knotting. Did you know that a jury rig is the knot used to lash a broken mast together so you can still sail home? (The last time I was at sea I was 14 or 15—but it’s good to know, if for no other reason than people are always talking about jury rigging something or other out of nothing; it's fun to know where the phrase came from.)
What struck me immediately upon opening this book is why doesn’t anyone who wants to try out for “Survivor” read this book and know all this before they ever show up for the show? Useful knots like the Palomar knot, the Jansik Special, and the Turle knot would benefit anyone trying to fish. Knowing how to set a snare or make a basket trap might have helped several contestants in their bid to win the one million dollar prize.
If you’re interested in knots you might want to check out this book. If you’re going on “Survivor,” read it without delay.
I also purchased:
Getting Out Alive: 13 Deadly Scenarios and How Others Survived, by Scott B. Williams.
I’ve only dipped into this book. I can’t do more than that. I have to look away…Maybe that’s why people read these books—the same people read these books as puddle and rubberneck around car wrecks. (I simply cannot even look at a wreck—even before my first responder training.)
This book has descriptions of what you can expect on day 1, 2, 3…of your ordeal. (Just watch the original “Flight of the Phoenix” with a wrenching performance by James Stewart and a marvelously nuanced and balanced performance by Richard Attenborough if you want to see what happens to your body in the desert.)
Interspersed throughout these chapters are “cases.” These are short blurbs about actual events. Often they don’t turn out well.
Each chapter ends with a list of tips like “10 Top Tips for Making It Out of the Jungle Alive.”
(For me, in a book on survival I guess I would like all the tips please, even if there are 11 or 15.)
The book is totally hampered by the lack of an index, which pegs it as a book for voyeurs, so I cannot give it a recommendation, though its chatty presentation may help you remember some of the information should you later find yourself in the middle of an "ordeal."
I’m still puzzling over the scenario of a woman who drown in 1988 in with one leg stuck in Alaskan tidal mud. As the tide recedes the mud, which is a fine silt, captures whatever gets stuck in it like cement. On the date in question equipment was needed to pump the young woman out. They didn't have time to set up the equipment. The tide returned while she was being held up by a state trooper; supported until the water covered her head and she drowned.
This is beyond tragic for all parties involved.
What I don’t understand is why someone didn’t tourniquet her leg, amputate, and get her the hell out of there, before the water came back in? Hindsight is 20/20, but this is the way my mind works 24/7. Maybe you don’t want to go to Alaska with me.
But I tell you this, if I die before you in any scenario where there is no food, I insist that you butcher my carcass and feed yourself. If the situation is reversed you can bet I’m going to fricassée your ass, with a selection of edible plants and wild herbs, all topped off with a wild berry reduction.