Becoming Wild by Nikki Van Schyndel was an eye-opener for me.
Last fall I had a volunteer whose dream was to be apprenticed to a survival school. A guy in Ontario was giving a 3-month course on wilderness survival, on his acreage in Ontario. Participants would build a shelter in which they would live, learn how to start a fire with a hand-made bowdrill, track and trap animals and learn to flint knap, ie make arrowheads.
I had never heard of such a school and put it down to a modern whim on the part of both the teacher and the student.
However, this spring, the publisher of my 11th book (And the River Still Sings – out this fall) issued Becoming Wild by Nikki Van Schyndel, which showed me that primitive survival skills were something of a well-established minority cult, and that it has been going on for a lot longer than I realized.
Nikki dreamed of surviving on a desert island as a child; then forgot it while she took on a life of Olympic-standard horse show jumping, followed by being a sponsored snowboarder. One day she had an epiphany and realized the natural world was still out there. Learning survival skills at a school, plus an intensive course of studying wild plant uses, gave her the background, ten years ago, to attempt primitive living on a remote part of BC’s west coast. She was accompanied by a cat and a fellow enthusiast, Micah.
Their story is nothing short of remarkable. At first, the only food they could find was plants and shellfish. They were hungry to the point of starvation, and existing almost permanently in damp, mouldy clothes and bedding. Their leaky shelters were thick with smoke from their cooking fires. Their lovingly hand-made bows and arrows and fish-hooks proved inadequate, and it was a long time before they made the physical and psychological effort to kill a bear, which they then preserved and ate to the last rancid mouthful.
As we follow Nikki’s journey we are swept up into a world that is both uncomfortable and very spiritual. Congratulations Nikki, Micah, and Scout (the cat) for taking on a hugely difficult task, and, quite literally, surviving. Becoming Wild is a fascinating read: you can also see a bit of their lives in this video.