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19 April 2014
Bushcraft is an art of interacting with the world around you, taking your place as part of the natural world. Many of the skills we seek to develop come from a desire to connect with this natural world, with varying degrees of separation from pure natural tools.
A large part of the knowledge aquired in bushcraft is in the realm of physical skill. Be it tracking, fishing, trapping, carving or fire by friction these physical skills are something me can develop. As long as we hone these skills on a regular basis they are something we can always carry with us. It's also important to note that these physicals skills need to be committed to muscle memory, practised over and again until they become fully learnt. The simple theory isn't enough.
The other element of bushcraft is our nature knowledge, knowing the interactions, habitats, dangers and uses of our environment. This is the more intellectual of the two spheres but can be learnt effectively through many different systems. Thomas Elpel's "Botany in a Day" is an effective primer on how to organise and acquire this knowledge.
It's this element of our knowledge which is so much harder to carry with us. Having spent most of the last decade in Poland I have developed my knowledge of the flora and fora there. I have attuned my survival priorities to the Polish climate and landscapes and put into practice some skills such as working with pine roots and birch bark and tracking in the snow.
The New Location
This year though, I have relocated to the Ionian coast, way down in the heel of Italy. The trees are somewhat tropical in appearance; palms, lemons, oranges, figs and olives. The ground and soil itself is of a different type and so the rocks and resources available are different too. There are familiar species about, Yarrow and some Pines but with cactus and agave pouring out of waste ground too. I don't know which species are native and which introduced. It's something of a culture shock for the bushcrafter, seeing so much carefully aquired knowledge rendered useless by a change of climate.
The animal life is different too. I encounter handfuls of lizards every day, whereas I've seen a lizard once in the UK and never in Poland. Bird life is different too, being at a different point in the migrations and right on the coast. Living coastally is one great advantage though, as our mesolithic ancestors stuck largely to coasts and river banks for good reasons, they really are places of abundance.
It's humbling to have to go back to the beginning again, to build up my knowledge of the world around me from a new start. To be doing so in a place which is that much more different to where I grew up and in another foreign language simply adds to the challenge. I'll be sure to keep you up to date with how I become familiar with natural Italy.
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