Time in the Woods

Time is the most valuable thing we have. With time, we can do anything, and after all, life itself is just a race against time. The modernization of our industries, the machines that transport us and the information technology are just about it. We are infinitely looking for how to make the best use of our finite time. It is so precious that we absolutely want to save as much of it as possible. Paradoxically, in the cities where we tend to spend more time bent on our smartphones than looking at the sky, we incredibly miss the good old time and we must run to catch it up.

There are things we can not repress forever and, as me, you probably remark that more and more people feel the need to take a break from the modern urban life in order to enjoy some time in the pure, unstressed and self-sufficient nature. For some of us, this is just about spending an afternoon in the Viennese vineyards, to relax eyes closed and to breath fresh air. To forget about time, just let it be. Others are being aesthetically sucked by the Wild and decide to runaway for longer. In between, there are these people who are comfortable with their city life but who also enjoy to spend from time to time a couple of days in the forest.

The Wild is where there’s no concrete, no store, no car and it’s dark at night because the street lamps are replaced by huge trees. If you’re going in summer, it’s full of insects twirling around you. If it’s winter time, the cold wind bites your flesh so strong that it makes you regret your comfortable apartment. You should be disturbed to voluntary put yourself in such a situation! However, some people establish their home in the Wild and manage to live there for years with only a few social contact. We are not encouraging you to quit your job and start a new hermit life, but what if you are being put there against your will? I’m sure that you’re curious to know what your options are, let’s say if you accidentally get lost in the forest after a tremendous hike. Of course, your telephone is out of battery!

You can’t become a Robinson Crusoe just like that and if you want a complete strategical and technical guide to face the situation, get some books on the topic. It’s not only about building a shelter or finding a cave to live in, your various vital needs must all be carefully answered. But for this article we will only focus about your home. You are the main character of a fictive scenario and we will go through your successive habitation types. Take it as a metaphor for the transformations that could occur in your mind, radical changes in your perception and your unexpected well-being in a genuine natural environment. From surviving to living in the woods!


The emergency shelter

The night is approaching and the sky is rather loaded. You would have liked to find a natural cave, unfortunately there’s nowhere to hide yourself from the clouds. You don’t have many options: just set up a tarp over your head and, since the temperature is acceptable, try to sleep comfortably. You don’t have any tarp? You certainly have a poncho. You don’t have no poncho? You should never start a hike without a poncho. That would have protected you this night from the rain and somehow from the wind.

  • Realization time: a few minutes.
  • Vital needs to do that: air.
  • They made it:
    • Many ultralight backpackers, people who travel with as less weight as possible. Here you see a tarp shelter offering a good protection against the rain. The tarp is set as low as possible to keep your body warmth around you. This also works with a waterproof poncho.

A tarp shelter in the forest (cc) Michael Pollak


The leaves roof

The next day, you manage to turn on your phone after having shaken it for 2 minutes, and you use your very last amount of battery to send an SMS to your best friend who will alert the rescuers. You accidentally tore your poncho-tarp while trying to fix it better. Last night was actually quite fresh and today seems a few degrees colder than yesterday. If you are not found here before the sunset, the evening promise to be harsh. You have a few hours in front of you and nothing else to do, you decide to make a shelter from the wood and leaves all around, and you prepare a fire for the night!

  • Realization time: a few hours up to one day.
  • Vital needs to do that: air, warmth.
  • They made it:
    • The participants to Reini Rossman‘s survival training learned to built this shelter with a large amount of leaves over a lean-to wooden structure. If the leaves are compressed enough, the roof is waterproof. You can install a natural mattress made from sticks and branches to isolate yourself from the ground. A long fire made from a tree log next to your shelter will keep you warm during the night.


      In front of a lean-to shelter (c) Reini Rossman


The mud hut

Three days later… still nobody arrived. You remember that your friend changed his phone number last week and that you didn’t update his contact: your SMS probably got lost in the nature, just as you! You decide to establish a new camp near a clear water stream a few hundred meters away. You get prepared to stay there for long so you see things bigger. Plus you’re tired to wake up in the middle of the night in order to feed the fire, and you got scared last night by a wild pig looking for food. You start working on a 4 walls shelter with a better isolation system.

  • Realization time: a few days up to a few months.
  • Vital needs to do that: air, warmth, water, maybe food.
  • They made it:
    • A young Australian posted on his blog some educational videos that became viral.

      In this one he teaches you how to build with your bare hand and from scratch an habitable mud hut. (c) Primitive Technology

      In this even more imaginative video, the same guy demonstrates how to make roof tiles and a more complex hut with underfloor heating system. (c) Primitive Technology

    • Geoffrey and Stéphane built in two months a small house made from wood, straw and mud. They used for that a very few tools and almost only recycled materials. They installed an old wood stove to stay warm during the cold Alsatian winter.

      Day 1 on October, 28th 2015 (c) Rachel


      Inside the house, late December 2015 (cc) dieKulturvermittlung


The log cabin

Two months later and you’re still here… You have learned to fish with rudimentary tools that you made by your own, and you know where to go for the wild berries. By the way, the wild pigs are not scaring you anymore, you even sometimes imagine them on your plate – this would be the end of your pesco-vegetarian diet. After all, it’s pleasant here and you feel much more relaxed than before, when you had to wake up every morning at 6. You may now wake up even earlier… You have once questioned yourself about it, and concluded that the answer was irrelevant. You start your day with the sun and you end it with the moon and there’s no need to know what time it is when you have it. You don’t miss any supermarket and you are afraid to return to your old apartment and discover a mailbox full of spams and accumulated bills. At the office, they probably fired you, your bank account should be red as hell. You start to make plans for a bigger habitation that will eventually be able to host a companion of yours for a day or two, just in case somebody else loses his orientation in this forest… And who knows if he or she decides to stay for longer!

  • Realization time: several months up to several years.
  • Vital needs to do that: air, warmth, water, food, maybe company.
  • They made it:
    • Henry David Thoreau, Usanian writer and philosopher from the 19th century, individualist anarchist and transcendentalist, described in his book Walden; or, the Life in the Woods two years of living near the Walden pond. While his habitation was not a proper log cabin, it was made from the wood of an inhabited farmer’s house that Thoreau bought for less than $ 30. He was mostly eating the beans he harvested and the fishes he fished.


      Reproduction of Thoreau’s cabin near the Walden pond. (cc) RhythmicQuietude

    • Dick Proenneke left civilization to live alone for about 30 years in self-made log cabins in the Alaska wilderness. He filmed the beginning of his adventure and released later a video about it: Alone in the Wilderness.


      Film still from the movie Alone in the Wilderness

    • Norman Winther is one of the last trappers of the Yukon territory. He lives with his wife and dogs in log cabins and hunt to survive. Once a year, he returns to the city to sell animal skins and buy necessary products that they can’t make by themselves. The 2004 movie Le Dernier Trappeur from Nicolas Vanier tells his story.


      Film still from the movie Le Dernier Trappeur

    • Levi, from Sopron, built this cabin with a friend. I spent an evening there and started to sleep in the hammock that you see on the foreground. Some wild pig looking for food woke me up in the middle of the night and I was happy to find refuge in the cabin. There’s a mattress inside, a small fireplace and a chimney.


      Levi and a friend’s cabin near Sopron (cc) dieKulturvermittlung


Vital needs are given according to the estimated realization times of these habitations, according to a generally admitted rule that in extreme situations, you can lose your life if you don’t:

  • pay attention for a few seconds;
  • breathe for a few minutes;
  • stay warm for a few hours;
  • hydrate yourself for a few days;
  • eat for a few weeks;
  • have some company for a few months.

The moral of the story is: once you are lost, the most important is not to find out where you are but to know what to do – you may realize that you are not that lost after all. (Adrien, dieKulturvermittlung, 16.02.2016)

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