Whether hiking over remote mountain terrain or running your boat aground on some God forsaken lump of sand in the middle of NO and WHERE, your chances of survival will ultimately depend on varying degrees of skill and luck. The more of the former you have at your disposal the greater the weight of the latter tilting in your favor. When it’s all said and done, however, our dear sweet Mommy Nature invariably adheres to one simple, merciless prime directive: The Law of Natural Selection.
Charles Darwin, author of The Origin of Species, once said, “An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men.” As the forebear of The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection (aka. survival of the fittest), one would think he knew quite well what he was talking about. Today Darwin’s theories serve as inspiration for the cynical (and often quite humorous) ‘Darwin Awards,’ which recognize those members of society that remove themselves from the human race as a result of their ill-conceived actions. In the process, these intellectually-challenged individuals improve the quality of the reproductive gene pool by their subtraction, thus accelerating man’s ascendance per the laws of evolution and natural selection (i.e. The less dumb people that breed the better.).
In ancient times, dim-witted primordial cavemen would often stumble into situations where they’d be eaten by large toothy critters such as mountain lions, cave bears and razor-tooth chipmunks. With the charitable removal of these intellectually-challenged cavemen (and barbarians and knights and cowboys and NASCAR drivers, and so on) you might be thinking, ‘Hey now, so why didn’t we get to enjoy brilliant landmark inventions such as candied Pop Rocks, Silly Putty and personal handheld massagers centuries earlier than we did?” Well, there was a problem. Along with the evolutionary surge in aptitude something totally unexpected hitched along for the ride: a proportional growth in our capacity to feel empathy. And thus, sharper primordial human beings began assisting those of the less, uh, clever variety, helping them to avoid becoming sabre-tooth happy meals. In doing so, this likely cost us a few thousand years. Today these brave, compassionate souls comprise our modern-day search and rescue teams, firemen, Coast Guard, and the like.
Throughout human evolution, history is littered with instances of ill-conceived actions shaking hands with disaster. The fashion-setting pilgrims of Mass Bay Colony Massachusetts, for example, are a prime example of ill-preparedness. In 1620, after straying off course in the north Atlantic on a wooden boat named after a flower, these freedom-seeking pioneers fatefully arrived on the frigid New England coastline right at the beginning of winter—in a time before global warming. They had little food. And yet a select group still managed to survive the harsh northeast winter thanks to the help of Squanto of the Pawtuxet tribe, Native American subsidiary of the Wampanoag Confederation (and future resort casino proprietors). With the blessing of Massasoit, President and CEO of the local chapter, Squanto became a vital asset to those weary settlers, helping them procure food and create a more civilized world where they could burn accused witches in relative peace. But as the great 17th century scientist Sir Isaac Newton taught us: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And thus, as the new American settlers began to flourish, the local Native American populations decreased proportionally by way of communicable disease and lead poisoning (aka gunshot wounds). Unfortunately for Squanto, he would succumb to white-man’s disease, (a fatal case of irony-itus). In the end their inherent empathy cost Native Americans a lot more than a few thousand years.
After thousands of years trying to avoid extinction, one might assume that the evolution of an “intelligent” species would coincide with a steadily rising cache of common sense, i.e. the ability to ascertain whether a particular act might cause harm to oneself or others. But as we are often reminded—especially here in the instant-information/social-media age—this is not necessarily the case for everyone. There are those in society, for example, who willingly increase their own positional altitude—hang-gliders, para-sailors, mountain climbers and the like—in order to stave off another unfortunate consequence of evolution: boredom. This seriously irritates the Gods of Gravity, who make every effort to try and reverse the effect. Now some say that man was not meant to fly—and he really doesn’t. Once the man-made device that is assisting his ascendance inevitably fails him (revealed by an audible “uh-oh,” then a panicky “Oh-!#$%!”), the downward decent is rapid, no matter how hard he may flap his arms. And as everyone knows, it’s not the long screaming fall that seals your demise; it’s the abrupt, jarring stop. Thus, it’s always better to be down here wishing you were up there, than being up there and wishing you were down here. And those who remain at ground level may happily reproduce at will (which also helps stave off the condition of boredom) and further mankind’s progression up the evolutionary ladder.
Survival of the Fittest
Despite all the evolutionary progress our species has made over the last 60,000 odd years, some people still manage to find themselves in dire (aka self-inflicted) survival situations. If this should happen to you, then your knowledge and advance preparation will come to good use. Luckily here in the 21st century, all the modern conveniences have finally arrived! So first and foremost, take stock in what handy electronic gadgets you have at your disposal, and then summarily toss them into the nearest lake. Because if you are thinking to yourself, “Hey, why worry? I still have my handy-dandy cell phone, and it has topo maps and a GPS App to boot!” Be forewarned. One of the most unyielding laws of nature dictates that when you truly and desperately need it most, a manmade electronic gadget (i.e. smartphones) will invariable fail to get a signal (likely) or go dead altogether (most certainly). At this point the most efficient use you can get out of it in a survival capacity is to chuck it at a squirrel in the hope of securing some valuable protein.
While on the subject of sustenance, one of the most effective survival foods known to mankind are processed rice cakes. It is a well-known fact that by packing a few dehydrated rice cakes in any survival bag, no able-bodied person will ever starve to death. This is because the person trapped in the survival situation will ostensibly seek any and all creative, resourceful means necessary to obtain sustenance beyond ever actually having to consume one of those compressed, Styrofoam-like torture pucks. This includes, but is not limited to, grass, leaves, bark, sneakers, pine cones, bugs, worms, rocks and dirt. All of these culinary options are considerably more appetizing than consuming dehydrated rice cakes.
Beyond the obvious need of securing shelter and fresh water, an oft-overlooked hazard in any survival situation is the performance of daily bodily functions. So before you lovingly embrace an innocent sapling and reach for any old hanging leafy substance, take careful consideration of the nature of that flourishing flora, be it friend or foe? (And why is it smiling?) When you feel the urgency to do that which bears are so well-known for doing in the woods, (and why they’re called “Pooh Bears” in children’s books), think about all the sharp, pointy, sticky, and oozing-rash inducing plants living in the forest. So rather than reaching for any ole piece of forest salad, man-up and grab yourself a nice absorbent pine cone. Although somewhat uncomfortable at first, you’ll find it’s infinitely better than being lost and hungry and itchy and nauseous and feverish all at the same time.
One of the saving graces for primitive man was his revolutionary mastery of fire. True now as it was then, if you can get a good roaring fire going, you will have 1. warmth and protection from big hungry toothy critters, 2. A means by which to cook any innocent squirrels you managed to pick off with your smart phone. And 3, one of the most universally recognized modes by which to signal for help and rescue.
Creating a tension bow from a tree branch and a shoelace is a great way to transfer heat-generating friction from one dry hunk of wood to another. The act of doing so generates heat not only at the point where the two sticks meet, but also within the frantic, fire-seeking survivor himself. It also keeps your intellectually-challenged mind occupied until you lose your patience, snap the twigs, chuck the shoelace, and begin gnawing on raw squirrel meat. And should you be so lucky as to successfully signal a passing search plane, rescue is just a frantic, arm-waving marimba dance away! But as you giddily climb into the air-rescue vehicle, remember to look for where the parachutes are located. The Gods of Gravity take a very dim view of those who defy one of nature’s prime directives.