“Survivalist,” “Prepper,” “Bushcraft,” “Minimalist,” etc. — what the hell are we?

Christopher with Catherine at Hollywire TV

Christopher with Catherine at Hollywire TV

Recently, I did a little segment for a show called Hollywire TV and they introduced me as a “prepper.” I did a little segment showing survival skills for L.A. Korean TV recently, and they called me a “survivalist.” Back when Ron Hood was alive, I was occasionally paired off with him in newspaper articles – I was called a “soft survivalist,” and he a “hard survivalist.” I have been called these things and more, such as a bushcrafter, a nature man, a wilderness survival expert or teacher, a re-enactor, someone lost in the past, and many more names and titles, both “good” and “bad.”

As survival skills in general have gotten so popular, partly due to all the junk TV shows, and partly due to the fact that some guys figure they can make a buck at it, there has been a concomitant fracturing (“divide and conquer”?) of the community into various factions.

Let’s go back and I’m going to share my path, and see what these various terms mean, and whether it all really matters.

My earliest interest in the early 70s was botany and mycology. I was often called a naturalist, or a botanist, or even a mycologist. Those are standard academic terms for those specialties. “Naturalist” is the most general, of course, and there are many naturalists all over the country, and have been for centuries. Like Thoreau, and Muir, etc. I always thought of myself as an “ethnobotanist,” someone who focuses on the uses of plants. So, news folks have sometimes labeled me “Pasadena’s Euell Gibbons” (no dishonor there), or “Euell Gibbons wannabe,” clearly a veiled insult.

Remember the 70s theme: Get back to the land, back to nature, hippies, communes. It wasn’t about “survival,” per se, but going back to a rural existence. Mother Earth News arose in that era, as well as their myriad copycats.

It is from the early 70s that I got my first copy of Larry Dean Olsen’s “Outdoor Survival Skills,” and he often used the word “survivalist” to describe wilderness survival practitioners.

Around the time of the Iran Hostage Crisis of the Carter administration, the term “survivalist” got big, in part from guys like Kurt Saxon (“Poor Man’s James Bond”), and Mel Tappan. Survival shows were big, and they were held all over the country. If you stored food and had guns, you were a survivalist, and the media made fun of you.

I quickly tried to distance myself from the negative connotation of a “survivalist,” though I am still called that.

The world didn’t come to an end, and as Y2K approached, there was a new upbeat in survival products, seminars, and other things to survive the end of the world. “Survivalist” was still the preferred term.

Now, there were still naturalists and botanists and ethnobotanists and herbalists but “survivalist” was the term that captured media attention.

There were always the “re-enactors,” guys who liked to dress up in an old west period style, and they still do that today.

When Ron Hood began marketing all his wilderness survival DVDs, which are still widely copied today (on Youtube and elsewhere), he taught both bushcraft and wilderness survival skills, as well as some urban skills. Bushcraft would generally be the skills that Native Americans practiced forever, using nothing modern. Some of the more specific practitioners of these skills are called weavers, or potters, or foragers (really big now), or flint-knappers, etc. See? Each little aspect has always had its practitioners who specialized in one little area, but it all could be more or less grouped together with the term “bushcraft skills” or “Native American skills” or “wilderness skills.”

Back when NatGeo contacted me to appear on a new show, they used a term “prepper” which I’d never heard before. “Prepper” was the new “survivalist,” apparently.

Somewhere in here there have been the “minimalists” who either live in the city with next to nothing, or they like to backback as light as humanly possible. That’s the theory anyway. When I attended a few “minimalist” meetings, it was mostly very wealthy people with so, so much stuff in their homes who felt guilty about having so much.

All these terms and ideas comprised bits and pieces of what I always pursued: a way to live a better life with less, learning how to make many things I needed or how to do without, and in general, to get back into a sustainable lifestyle, bit by bit.

I am sure there are many more terms and divisions and fractionated groups that I have not mentioned.

But I think the beauty of DIRTTIME is that we have always embraced all these so-called communities. They all fit under our umbrella. It troubles me that so many fight and bicker over who is right in this little nit-pick, and how the loudest is too often viewed as the best or the “leader.”

At DIRTTIME, we’re not picking fights and sparring with those who believe they are the best… Well, I’m not saying that has not happened, but it is not what we are about. We welcome all the branches of all the arts of survival. They are all branches of one tree.

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