The tsunami last year and recent powerful hurricanes in the U.S. remind us that our lives are dependent on a complex and vulnerable network of people, products and institution that make modern life possible. But what would it take if we had to take care of ourselves? There is a man in Kansas who showed VOA's Tim Wardner just what you need to survive.
Modern living means depending on electricity, gasoline, and well-stocked stores. But we are finding out that these things are not always available. This man has always known not to count on modern conveniences. He’s a survivalist living in Randolph, Kansas.
"Everything on this property was built by my wife and I."
This is John McPherson. He calls himself a woodsman and survivalist. He knows how to live in the woods with only his hands and what nature supplies for materials.
“I've spent my whole life with this. I've spent 20-30 years just working primitive skills. And I have eight years working in a special operations unit in the military."
John McPherson lives in a remote part of Central Kansas. From his books on primitive wilderness skills, John and his wife Geri have made a reputation as leading teachers of wilderness survival for extreme outdoor enthusiasts and the U.S. Army. For John, it goes back 40 years to Vietnam.
"In my experience in Vietnam, if I had been captured and escaped, what would you need because you have absolutely nothing?"
Even with all its dependence on technology, the U.S. Army has hired Mr. McPherson to teach its Special Forces the basics of survival.
"We got to be pretty well known in the special ops community because we taught the basics, what they really needed to know. ‘What do I need now? I need shelter. I need fire, that's part of shelter. I need food, that's traps. String ties it all together. Containers to carry stuff around, to move from point A to Point B’."
Using nature's elements to make a fire for warmth, cooking and signaling comes first.
"What keeps you alive is knowing how to rub two sticks to make fire."
Also basic to survival is a sharp edge from a rock to make a cutting tool.
Making string or cord from natural plant fibers allows one to make traps for animals and tie together branches to make shelter. The ability to transport and retain water is essential, such as this water vessel made from a deer bladder.
"The bladder is a canteen. You can carry water in the stomach."
John uses stripped bark to make an ax handle. Natural cord, string, can spring a trap to catch a small animal for food.
To be able to survive with little or nothing may be the ultimate edge, a source of self-confidence; the ultimate freedom.
"That's what drew me out here and what really keeps me here. I'm free. I don't need anyone for anything," John says.