Friday, October 15, 2010

"Wilderness" Retreating

Well, I’ve just returned from my annual retreat in one of Manitoba’s wonderful provincial parks. It was great, once again a time to relax and clear my mind and feed my soul. One night, sitting around the campfire, the discussion turned to the big What If? Once again, someone raised the prospect of retreating to the ‘wilderness’ of a provincial park. Just in case there is someone out there thinking that this might be a good idea, let’s look at why (in my opinion) it is not.

The first ‘pro’ that was raised around the campfire that night was the isolation. While in the event of a major crisis, it might be a very good idea to get out of the cities, thinking that tens of thousands of other Manitobans that regularly visit the parks won’t have the same idea is na├»ve. You’ll be isolated all right, along with thousands of others with the same idea. Which brings me to part two of that idea: Most of the parks in Manitoba aren’t really isolated. There are good roads or even highways to most of them, as well as communities nearby that service the tourist trade. There are some parks that are hard to get to, but they are mostly in the northern reaches of Manitoba, with fewer resources.

The second problem concerns non- natural resources such as medicines, tools, ammunition and so forth. As discussed in my last post, sooner or later you’ll be looking at running out of something, and the likelihood of being able to buy, trade or make what it is you lack is even slimmer in the provincial parks than in many other locations. So assuming you get the isolation you were looking for (unlikely) you aren’t too liable to find too many others to trade with for resources. And if the more likely scenario of having thousands head for the hills occurs, what resources there are will quickly vanish with no way to replenish them. You’re screwed either way.

Yet another problem is the idea of using natural resources. At least one person around the fire that night was convinced that they could live off the land in the unspoiled wilderness. This is perhaps the most enduring fallacy of survivalist thought. The fact is, it’s not that easy even where game is abundant. It takes a lot of time, skill and physical effort to sustain a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and even if I wanted to try it, a provincial park is the last place I’d like to attempt it. Generally, the more southern parks tend to be pretty heavily managed and manicured, mostly bare of larger game, and what little there is would be quickly hunted out. The same goes for the smaller creatures.

Even gathering plants would be iffy. While there are many useful plants in Manitoba, most of them don’t produce an appreciable amount of food energy versus the effort and time it takes to obtain and process them. It’s going to take a whole lot of burdock or cattail root to keep you from starving to death, and even then, they are available only during certain seasons.

I can hear some of you say that you plan to garden when you get set up. Even that can be a difficult proposition as many parks contain unique environments that are just not well suited to growing crops. And what will you be eating as you wait for your garden to grow? What if it fails?

I don’t want to discourage anyone from wilderness retreating, but a dose of reality is needed. Provincial parks are what city folk think of as wilderness. Even rural and farm dwellers really have little idea what wilderness is really like. In reality, the paths are few, the resources hard to obtain and the living far from easy in most unspoiled wilderness.

If living in the woods were that easy, humanity would not have invented agriculture and the technologies to go with it. We wouldn’t need communities or social groups. We’d all be a bunch of modern day Jeremiah Johnsons living the good life. Truth is, the mountain men were dependent on society for markets for their goods and as a source of supplies. And they died from accident, disease, starvation and conflict at a far higher per capita rate than many others.

Don’t get the idea that I’m discouraging people from finding isolated areas to which to retreat, or from planning on hunting, fishing and gathering as activities to supplement their food stores. I think it’s a good idea. What isn’t a good idea is to think a provincial park is the place to do so, or that they can rely on resources in the countryside to take the place of proper preparations now, especially the stockpiling of food.

If you must have your woodland fantasy of a cabin by a lake in the deep woods, fine. Just make sure that the cabin is stuffed full of your preps.

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