Do you like being out in nature? I certainly hope you do!
But do you ever feel like you would like to take it to another level? Not only being in nature, but really experiencing it, living together with the forces of nature? Maybe bushcraft is the thing for you.
To find out more, I interviewed Johan Mees of the Dutch Bushcraft association, Stichting Bushcraft.
How would bushcraft best be described, according to you?
Bushcraft is practising the knowledge and skills needed for a long time living in nature or wilderness area. Basic skills are the collecting of wild food, drinking water and making shelter and fire. Bushcraft is the maximum use of what the natural environment has to offer. But all that with a lot of respect and care, and in doing so, leaving no traces. Bushcraft is also the studying of and learning from the way of living of early hunters and gatherers and native people who still live like that.
When and how did you become involved in bushcrafting?
For most bushcrafters, it started at a young age, playfully exploring and discover nature and all that’s living in it. This was a normal part of our childhood. At older ages, a lot of people still feel the need to ‘play’ in nature. And in fact, in our genes we are still hunter/gatherers. I think that’s the reason why a lot of people are into fishing and walking outdoors. They want to be out in nature for a longer time, but don’t really have an idea how to do that. A pity, for there is so much more to learn and discover. A few years ago, there was no universal name for this exploring of the outdoors. It was Ray Mears who called it ‘bushcraft’ and made it widely popular.
My personal interest in nature has always been there. That’s why I studied biology, worked as a nature- and mountain guide and nowadays fill my days as an ecologist. Years ago I found a new forum on the internet where people were chatting about what they called ‘bushcraft’. This forum became a place for me, where I could meet other ‘freaks’, who like to live close to nature.
What part of bushcrafting brings you most joy?
For me the big challenge and joy, is to stay in nature for longer periods of time without the use of modern gear. In the beginning, I brought a lot gear and other stuff, what I thought I needed to ‘survive’. But nowadays for me less is more. I train my knowledge and skills every day and carry with me as little as possible. Sometimes that is nothing more than a knife and some clothes. I lived like this one full month in the Swedish wilderness, that was the best time of my life. Another thing that brings me joy, is to train my ‘awareness and tracking’ skills. It’s a higher level of being in the wilderness with an open mind and a lot of confidence. For me it is no ‘survival’ but coming home!
Is bushcrafting suitable for everybody?
Yes, sure! There are many levels of bushcraft in many different circumstances. For example, you can do a lot of crafting in your own backyard, things like learning to make fire by friction with a bow drill. And when you can do that, then start experimenting with different kinds of wood. When you become more and more trained, you can challenge yourself by trying to do it in more extreme situations like a wet and windy forest with cold hands. Bushcraft has many opportunities that are accessible to a wide range of people. Some like a more tactical approach, while others prefer it more spiritual. Some are young, some are elderly. Just keep curious and inquisitive.
How could someone get started with bushcraft?
There is a lot of information to find on the internet, of course… But the best way to start is to find a group, where you can learn and share your experiences. And of course, there are also a lot Bushcraft schools where you can take a course or workshop. The most important thing is learning by doing. Another good start is to meet other bushcrafters. The best place to do that is at the bushcraftweekend. For more information about that, take a look at: www.stichtingbushcraft.nl
Do you have any other notes on nature/bushcraft?
Yes, go out and explore nature in your own area. Find edible plants, pick berries and try to track some wild animals. Spend a night sleeping in the forest and listen to the sounds of nature. Buy a good knife, make a fire and cook your food on it. Try to connect with nature and let the inner hunter/gatherer in yourself free!
I believe that Bushcraft is good for everyone, for both your mental and physical health and it will give you a lot of satisfaction. Bushcraft is more than big knives and expensive clothing (for some gear junks it is ;-). It’s about understanding how nature works and to be constantly aware of that. Go out and become part of it! (And come to the bushcraft weekend!)
To find out more about bushcrafting, workshops and bushcrafting weekends, take a look at the website of stichting Bushcraft or send an e-mail to Johan: johanmees[at]planet.nl