Thursday, April 15, 2021

New Edition of Larry Dean Olsen's "Outdoor Survival Skills"

“Outdoor Survival Skills” by Larry Dean Olsen 7th edition now available.


Foreword and Photos by Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges has been an author and teacher of ethnobotany and survival skills since 1974.  This new book is available at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

 

The Legacy and Lineage of Larry Dean Olsen

Anyone who has been teaching outdoor survival skills for any length of time has undoubtedly heard of Larry Dean Olsen.  He was born in 1939 near Jerome, Idaho.  After Olsen graduated from Brigham Young University, he began teaching survival field trips through the college’s Continuing Education Division in 1968, sharing his love for the outdoors, and his intense interest in the skills of the local indigenous peoples.

At the time, there were scant few others teaching the skills that sustained indigenous peoples for millenia.  As a Mormon, Olsen was devoted to always being ready, including being able to survive in a harsh wilderness.  In addition, there were very few native peoples teaching the old ways of plant uses, flint knapping, trapping, and fire-making because most were too occupied just trying to stay alive in the modern world.

As part of his outdoor training, he would take students into the desert of the Great Basin area and live off the land for a week or longer. They had to learn how to eat wild plants, trap small game, make fire with local materials, build a shelter, weave sandals, find water, and more. It was a grueling adventure.

He wrote “Outdoor Survival Skills,” first published in 1967, which described all the survival skills he’d been teaching. His book has long been considered the definitive classic book on the subject.  The book has been updated every few years and remained in print all these years. 

Larry was the originator of the Rabbit Stick Rendezvous, a gathering for a week where people could camp out and learn the skills in a more leisurely manner.  The event – and various knock-offs -- continues to this day, continued by students of his.  His students began the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, and Larry continued to work at the Anasazi organization, which he co-founded, which gave guidance to youth in the wilderness.

Larry was perhaps the most visible person teaching and sharing the extreme art of living off the land.  It is not an overstatement to say that everyone today teaching these skills has some lineage, direct or indirect, that leads back to Larry Dean Olsen.

I remember when I first found a copy of the original edition in my older brother’s things. He was a camp counselor and thought the information would help him.  I took the book and studied it, and it became a part of my life as I pursued learning  outdoor survival skills and the uses of the many plants that the indigenous peoples used.

Olsen’s book became my “bible” of a sort – the key to the actual application of every skill needed to stay alive without the assistance of civilization.  I was amazed that such a compact resource even existed.  I began to practice making fire with the bow and drill because of this book, and I learned the process of weaving sandals from cattail leaves.  I also started making primitive weapons and traps, and I began the dangerous path of flint-knapping, which is the art of flaking a piece of obsidian or other hard material to produce razor-sharp arrow heads and spear points.  It’s dangerous because if you don’t do it right, you take off pieces of skin, as I did too many times.

My school friend Nathaniel and I often practiced the skills together.  We had heard about the budding Rabbit Stick Rendezvous, and wanted to attend a session in Utah. But for us, in high school at the time, getting the money together and traveling there was insurmountable for us.  As I recall, the cost for the week was something like $70, but it might as well have been a million dollars for us.

Still, Larry was like an idol to us, you could say he was our cult leader in our secret wilderness sect.  We worshipped him from afar.  No, we had no golden idol, but we invoked his name at nearly every occasion. 

Over the years, I would quote   Larry in the many books and newspaper articles I wrote.  Eventually, around 2004, I became the editor of the Wilderness Way magazine, and called upon Larry for some advice, and to write for us.  We talked on the phone, and shared e-mails.  I never got him to write for us, but I did get lots of good advice.  I never managed to get to the gathering that he started either, though I followed many of his journeys and adventures from afar by reading reports from other students.

I was saddened when I heard that this gentle giant died in 2019.  I had always wanted to meet him, and to learn at his feet.  At about that time, I was asked if I could update Larry’s classic book! What an honor it was to be a part of the Olsen lineage.  I spent many months lightly editing the text, and adding some charts and short paragraphs where I felt it would enhance what Larry wanted to say.

The hard part of the revision was to provide all new color photos for all the skills listed in the book, including new photos for the various wild plants described for food, medicine, and other uses.  Though I have been teaching for over 40 years, I was only able to draw upon my last nearly 20 years of photography with a digital camera.  Whereas the original black and white photos had the feeling of going on one long trip with Larry, my pictures were picked from many classes over a long period of time, with men, women, children, and people of all walks of life. In many cased, we had to go into the field to take brand new photos of certain skills or crafts.

 


 

The result is the 7th edition of “Outdoor Survival Skills,” a book I am proud to be a part of.  I hope that the memory of Larry Dean Olsen lives on, and that the introduction of new photos in a revised book will continue to inspire a whole new generation to learn these most fundamental skills.

 

 

 

Monday, January 25, 2021

A FEELING OF CALM DESCENDED UPON US


... Memories, inspired by the events of January 20, 2021...

[Nyerges is an educator and author of nearly two dozen books, including “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and others. Information on his classes and books is available at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

Over 20 years ago, when I was living in Highland Park, my wife and I wanted to get another dog as a companion for the one dog we already had.  We were away from home a lot, and we felt that our one dog would not feel lonely and would feel content with another dog. We went to a lot of dog rescue places, and were starting to feel that we simply would not find the right dog.  Finally, one night, we decided to accept a dog which seemed to have been abused, and which needed a good home. The dog’s name was Mona. Mona was a bit older than we were looking for, but she seemed very appreciative towards us as we were taking her to her new home.

We did our best to help Mona fit in, but she really was what you might call a “problem dog.”  Initially, we attributed it to the fact that she had been abused when younger, in various ways.  I recall the first bath I gave Mona, which actually seemed like the first bath she ever received.  She didn’t ever like being in a bath, and I always had to struggle to keep her in the tub.

Very soon, Mona because very protective of us, and would wildly bark anytime anyone approached our front gate.  She would throw herself against the gate with such great intensity that her mouth would be bleeding and people never got close to the gate.  Neighbors spoke about our “killer dog.”

We quickly saw that Mona might not work out, and tried to find another home for her. Various people came and sat with Mona, trying to see if it was a good fit. But she always maintained a low unfriendly growl, and no one could grow close to her, and we never found her another home.

She got along well enough with our other dog, but I always felt very alert whenever I walked her, keeping on a harness and using two leashes so she didn’t get away and wreak havoc on the neighborhood.  Once, a dog not on a leash approached her, despite my trying to scare the stray away.  Mona went right for the neck of the little dog, and was only able to tear the little dog’s flexible skin before I could pull Mona away.   I was horrified.

I continued to walk Mona and try various ways to “civilize” her.  But while walking her, she would often snap back at me and bite me. I was bit four times, mostly superficial cuts that ripped my pants or shirt.   I learned to be more careful when I walked her, because I realized her own neck skin had been cut at one time, and it probably hurt her every time I walked her with a neck collar.

During the time we had Mona, I lost a full-time job and by this time, we actually had three dogs, which means, three dogs to feed.  It now became even harder to come up with the money to buy all the dog food, and I found sources of low-cost and even free pet food in the community. I knew that whatever happened, I would not take Mona to the pound, which almost certainly meant sure death.

Mona was always a challenge, and I always had to check my fences for weak spots because I always feared that if she got out and killed a neighbor’s dog, or attacked a person, the financial aspect alone would be devastating.  Fortunately, nothing bad like that ever happened.  Still, I was never at ease, never calm, never letting down my guard as long as we had Mona.   We got so used to living in subdued stress and fear that we felt it was “normal.”

Eventually, Mona was displaying some obvious signs of pain and distress.  I took her to our veterinarian. The vet told me that Mona had a certain infection, and that he could operate and fix the condition.  Mona would cost me another $1000, but I said OK.  He called me later to let me know that Mona died on the table, before the operation could begin.  Obviously, I was sad.  I went to pick up Mona’s body and I buried her under a fruit tree near where her doghouse had been.  My wife and I went to bed and slept well.

The next morning, we stood in our front yard looking out into the neighborhood. There was no Mona.  We expressed our sadness for her loss and for the hard life that she’d had. We also noted that suddenly, inexplicably, a deep transformation of the atmosphere had taken place.  We noted a feeling of calm, and peace, and that we were not experiencing inner anxiety at whatever might happen next if Mona got out.  It was an odd mixture of sadness for that being we took in, and simultaneously calmness, freedom, peace.  We stood there for perhaps 30 minutes, basking in the mixed atmosphere of both sadness, and calm joy.  A feeling of calm descended upon us.

 

I have not had that particular unique feeling for a very long time.  The memories of Mona flooded back to me at noon, Wednesday, January 20, 2021.

 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

ENCOUNTER WITH AN UNKNOWN SAVIOR

ENCOUNTER WITH AN UNKNOWN SAVIOR


Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is a writer and teacher of self-reliance topics. This article is part of a book Nyerges is working on about his youth, tentatively titled “Out of the Loop.” For more information, go to www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

On average, about 10 people die from drowning every day in the United States.  About 20% of those deaths are children under 14 years old.  When I was 6  or 7 years old, I almost became one of those statistics.

I was the youngest of five boys and all of us had a history of attending the Boy’s Club down on Villa Avenue, just west of Los Robles Avenue where we lived. Since a bus stop was located just across the street from our home, we could easily hop on the bus and take the approximately two mile or so ride closer to downtown Pasadena, exit on Villa, and walk to the Boy’s Club. 

I enjoyed the Boy Club and the complexity of life that occurred there.  There was a small train that could be ridden around the back 40, there was the art classes, the metal shop, the wood shop, and the game room.  Every summer, they held a Tom Sawyer Day with numerous special events.  And there was the swimming pool, which was the center of social life at the Club in the summer.  When the Boy’s Club was still fresh and new to my young eyes, it was exciting to walk down the long corridors, enter the noisy locker room, and then enter the pool.

On this first time swimming there, the pool area was a cacophony of men, women, boys, girls – I presume that the Club opened the pool to anyone and everyone who wanted to swim there on the hot days of the early 1960s.  It was crowded!

I was there with one or two older brothers, and some friends of theirs.  I was told to stay in the shallow part of the pool since I didn’t know how to swim.  Since I had never been in a deep pool before, I assumed that I probably didn’t know how to swim and so I agreed to stay in the shallow side. 

The pool was very long – I remember about 150 feet by perhaps 50 feet – though this is just a memory-guess.  The shallow section was where you could enter by means of these cement steps, where you just walk into the water. And for me, that meant the water would come up to my waist in the shallowest section.  Once I was in the pool, it was very crowded.  I didn’t know anyone, and my brothers and their friends were off somewhere having a good time.  So I just walked around, and noted that the pool very gradually got deeper as I walked westward.  So eventually the water was up to my chest.   I walked back into the shallow area, and back to the deeper part of the shallow area.  How far out could I go before it was too deep? 

I tried to look into the water, to see the bottom, but it was not easy. For one, there were a lot of people moving around in the water, and so the water was not still and clear.  So I just kept walking.  Suddenly, the shallow section rather rapidly became deep, and even though I could feel my feel slipping out from underneath me, there seemed to be nothing I could do to prevent going under. I went under, and I don’t recall if I panicked or not, but I remember flailing and trying to get my head above water.  It seemed like an eternity and I felt that everyone who was good in the world had abandoned me.

As I flailed about, suddenly a hand grabbed me and pulled me into the shallow water, and I could touch the ground again.  The man looked at me with concern – actually, he was an older boy, older than me, perhaps only 14 or 15.  He looked at me and asked me if I was ok.  He told me to stay in the shallow water, and then he disappeared.   I stayed in the water, and looked around for a bit.  No one seemed to have been aware of what just happened.  And the boy who saved me seemed like a god in my eyes.  He was a handsome black boy, obviously in good physical shape, and I remember the neat trim of his hair, and his serious expression.  Now he was gone, and there was no one to tell about how he rescued me, no name to put to the deed.

After I got out, I never saw the boy again.  He either merged into the crowd, or he’d departed.  I told one of my brothers what happened, and he just said “Oh,” as if maybe I was making it up. I never told my parents.

The Boys Club of that day was like a United Nations gathering. About half of the boys who went there were black, and the Latino and white boys were more or less equally divided. Asian boys were a minority.   The Boys Club was a good introduction for me to the world as it is, and whenever I encountered overt or subtle racism, I often thought back to my many interactions at the Boys Club, including the camp adventures in the San Bernardino National Forest.  Bad behavior came in all colors, and obviously, so did good behavior.  The nameless boy who saved me from drowning that day didn’t know me, and didn’t hang around to receive any praise.  He did not ask my name, age, race, or religious when he saw me flailing in the water.  He did a good deed and he moved along.  I learned more from him that youthful day than I ever did from the vast majority of preaching preachers, and philosophizing philosophers, and other teachers who purported to tell me how to live my life.  

It’s sad that racism is still such a viable part of the American way of life.  I still look forward to the day when we can treat everyone the same, based on the quality of their character, and what they do, and not on their origin or racial characteristics.  Though it is obvious that we have a long way to go, the solution lies not in some governmental edicts, but in the choices of individuals to go beyond their mostly mental barriers, and get to know people outside of their own groups.   In that sense, my active participation in the programs of the Pasadena Boy’s Club was one of the most positive formative experiences of my life.

In time, I spent a summer with my older brother learning how to swim.  We went through the swimming program from rank beginner to the highest rank, which took us nearly to the end of summer.  My brother and I were the only two students who stuck with the program week by week, five mornings a week,  until the very end, until we could do every stroke forward and backward, stay under water a few minutes, and have no more fear of ever drowning.  The cost of the swimming program was a few dollars for each week, for five days of instruction of about an hour and a half each class. It was perhaps one of my parents’ best investments ever.