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The lightning streaked out with long white angry fingers as it reached out in the dark early evening sky. A loud crash of thunder sounded in the forest a few seconds after the lightening flashed. The rain was falling harder now as the man looked desperately for some type of shelter. He was lost, and had been that way since the night before. Somehow, during the hunt that afternoon, he had become separated from his hunting buddy in an area he did not know. And, of course, he had not been carrying a map, compass, or survival gear with him. Now, after hours of chilling temperatures, it had started to storm.
While the man may not have had a survival kit or other needed items with him, he was far from helpless. He had been a Boy Scout in his younger days and also carried years of outdoor knowledge with him. As he mulled over his situation, he looked for shelter, and remembered what he knew about being lost. His first step was to stop and find shelter, according to the Scouts, and that he fully intended to do as soon as he found suitable shelter from the rain. It was then that he noticed a short squat pine tree mixed in with some much taller oak trees. He evaluated the oak limbs that were nearby and decided they were still alive and not likely to fall during the high winds of the storm.
Getting on his hands and knees he crawled up under the lower limbs of the pine and pulled out his razor sharp hunting knife. He noticed the area under his pine tree was completely dry and had not yet been affected by the storm. Quickly he trimmed a few of the bottom branches off and in a few moments he had room to sit. Under the tree he knew he would stay dry, unless the storm started pounding rain exceptionally hard. He could see his breath and realized the temperature had dropped dramatically in the last hour. He needed a fire.
He knew from the Boy Scouts that he would have been in good condition if he had carried a small plumbers candle. But, he might as well wish for a million dollars, because he would not get either. He considered the dangers of having a fire under the pine and knew any fire he had would have to be extremely small, or he could set the tree on fire. Quickly, using his knife once more, he dug two holes in the dirt, both about eight inches long and perhaps four inches wide. He made sure the holes where approximately eight inches deep. The digging of the holes warmed him up as he worked, and for the first time in more than twenty-four hours he was not cold or wet. Once his two fire pits were completed, he ventured back out into the angry talons of the storm.
Rained pelted his body as he located and removed pinesap, a light orange colored lump found on evergreen trees. Using his knife he pried the sap loose and put it in his coat pocket so he would not lose it. Then, checking under other trees he removed as much “squaw wood” (small pieces of dry and dead wood) as he could carry. He soon returned to his shelter with his arms full of the wood. Of course it was wet now from the trek to the shelter, but not overly so and would dry soon enough.
As soon as he was back under the protective limbs of his tree, he pulled his knife and removed a few pieces of bark from the trunk of his shelter. He was careful not to completely circle the tree or he could kill it. He merely took two pieces of the dry bark that were about four inches long and an inch wide. Once more, using his knife he shaved the dried bark into very small and narrow pieces of tender. Now, he had to think, how could he start the fire without matches? He had tender, kindling, and fuel, but what he needed was an ignition source.
He pulled everything he had from his pockets and stacked in beside him, next to the tree trunk. He found a half of a pack of gum, his car keys, wallet, an ink pen, and one pack of paper matches. He must have stuck them unknowingly into his pocket the morning before the hunt after fixing breakfast at camp. With his hands shaking with excitement, as well as not just a little fear, he opened the cover to the book of matches. There were three of them left and one was obviously very wet. He had two chances to get a fire going. He knew that his fire preparation had to be done properly, or he would be without a fire.
In the bottom of one fire pit, he would start one first, then use the flames from it to start the second one. He figured two very small fires would keep him warm and not be so dangerous a single bigger one under the tree. He opened his wallet and removed some papers he did not need and shredded one of them up very fine. He then took the second one and tore slightly larger pieces. At that point, he placed a lump of the pinesap in the fire pit, placed a few pieces of the shredder paper and the shaved bark on top of it. He pulled a cartridge from his belt and very carefully removed the bullet with his knife. He used caution as he removed the lump of lead to insure the primer on the bottom of the brass shell was not struck. He sprinkled the gunpowder from the cartridge on his pinesap in the fire pit.
He pulled the first match from the book of matches and struck its head on the striker pad, it immediately burst into flame. His hand trembled as he placed the flame to the gunpowder. With a quick flash the dry powder ignited and the man, surprised by the flare up, dropped the still burning match. But, he realized with anxiety filled eyes that he no longer needed the match, his fire was burning!
For the next few minutes, as his fire grew slowly in size, he would add slightly larger pieces of wood to the blaze. Once the first fire pit was burning well, he started the second one. The second fire pit was anti-climatic, when compared to the first, because his immediate need for fire had been satisfied. Of course, it did not hurt at all to know his chances for survival had gone up considerably with the first fire. He knew at the moment the first fire pit ignited, he would survive.
The remainder of his night was very cold and uncomfortable. He did not sleep, as far as he knew, any longer than a few minutes at a time. The rain had quit sometime after midnight and it had grown much colder. Dawn was breaking as he added another small piece of wood to his fire. His clothing, still damp from the day before, seemed to cling to his skin. He was concerned about hypothermia and subconsciously moved closer to his two small fires. Holding his shaking hands over the small flames, he watched with aching eyes, as the fire danced and darted in the cold morning air. It was then he heard the voice calling his name.
Within ten minutes of yelling back at the voice, he was sitting before a large fire wrapped in a blanket, sipping on a hot cup of coffee, and nibbling on a chocolate bar. While his body temperature was low, he was not hypothermic yet. He gave a crooked smile as he looked over at his friend and knew his situation was over. He leaned back against a large log in front of the fire and decided he had learned a great deal from his wet night in the field. Never again would he venture out without a survival kit, poncho, and without at least a couple of high-energy bars. He had survived, this time, but would he be so lucky the next time?
Survival in the woods is a serious matter of life and death. It is never easy, but can be much harder without the proper knowledge, equipment, and determination to survive. I suggest that all of you consider at least packing a survival kit and first aid kit anytime you go out. It could be the only life assurance policy you have. Rain makes survival harder.