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How to “read” Nature for survival

The soothing sound of a gentle stream running through the parted earth, the crashing ocean waves rolling to greet the sandy shore, squirrels shuffling through the dry crunchy leaves, the wind picking up and gusting though the trees as the crimson leaves shake, feathered friends singing their complex array of tunes, a bumble bee buzzing by.

Mother Nature sings to her own tune and if you stop and listen, she has a lot to say.

The native Americans and our ancient ancestors learned her language and lived by it. For most of us, finding out the weather is as simple as turning on the TV or checking the forecast on our phone. The native people looked for signs of nature which told them about what weather to expect, how to track food, find safe sources of water, which plants were safe for eating and so much more.

Predicting bad weather

When bad weather is coming Mother Nature and her friends get quiet. The birds fly lower and will gather in trees. When you live for an extended period of time outdoors you can smell rain in the distance even if you can’t see it. Before a big storm the tree leaves will move in a way that shows the bottom lighter colored side. Crickets will stop chirping and most wildlife disappear. Watch smoke from a fire. The air pressure determines what direction the smoke will go. In high pressure, the smoke will go directly up into the air. If the pressure is low, it will spiral back down around the fire. If you see the smoke spiraling back down, bad weather is likely on the way.

Finding water

As I said, Mother Nature speaks to you but you have to listen. A voice isn’t going to echo from a tree and tell you where the nearest water hole is. She will guide you to it if you keep your eyes open and have a little common sense.

To find water, look for green leafed trees such as aspens or cottonwood. Look for birds and flying bugs which stay close to a water source. Follow animal trails downhill. If you see an animal drinking from a water source, that usually means it’s safe but not always. Drink from running water whenever you can especially streams with a lot of rock which cleans the water as it passes by introducing more oxygen into it and traps particles.

Identify edible plants

Our ancient ancestors looked to nature to see what other animals were eating which helped them know which plants were safe to eat. Most wild berries grow near the edge of the forest. If deer, birds or other animals are eating them, chances are they are safe for human consumption.

Old man of the woods (edible mushroom)

If your not sure, always smell first, rub on your wrist and wait 15 minutes. If you don’t feel an itching or burning sensation take just a small nibble, chew a bit with the top of your teeth, keep it on the tip of your tongue and do not swallow. Wait a a few minutes. If you notice a super bitter flavor or any kind of burning or numbing sensation it’s best to throw it out and leave it alone. If not, consume a small quantity and wait for a few hours. If you don’t feel sick then chances are it’s safe to eat. There are some species of mushrooms that can be deadly and make you very sick so always do your research.

Stay away from anything that smells like almond. It could contain poisonous cyanide

Finding your way back

Getting lost in the woods can be scary but you shouldn’t panic. There are several ways to ensure you make it back to your starting point. It’s easy to become consumed by all the beauty around you and sometimes everything can look the same. Hopefully these tips will help you not get lost.

First of all, you always need to be aware of your surroundings. Make a mental map of everything even the sun or moon’s position as you go, keep a mental note of certain kinds of trees that are oddly shaped or stick out to you. Make a habit of breaking branches every few steps. Look at the moss on the base of the trees. Which way is the moss facing? In the Northern hemisphere moss mostly grows on the north side of trees. That’s because moss tends to prefer shady areas so that it doesn’t dry out. Remembering this will help you navigate if you lose your bearings.

These are just a few basic tips and strategies for reading Mother Nature. There are plenty more that she is willing to teach you if your willing to learn!


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