As it turns out, it’s not so bad to be completely incompetent at all things handy. I used to think it was a curse. I’m no Bob the Builder. I am Wreck-it Ralph. But sometimes it’s good to know nothing, to be blind of conventional wisdom. There’s a massive amount of freedom in that!
The main character in the novel I am writing is a 12 year old boy, shipwrecked on a Pacific Northwest island with his older brother. Everything they’ve learned in their private school upbringing has been rendered useless. And with the exception of some limited resources, they have to start over from scratch. (My previous post talks about the start of this character study adventure.)
It’s hard to tell, but this is a blanket, woven from grass and ferns. Yeah, it sucks. But it held together relatively well when I slept underneath it, despite it’s many holes. I had to support it around the sides with some sticks, because when I moved it too much it would fall apart.
It would have been easy to throw in a boy scout past, or maybe a detailed memory of a 4th grade report on Native American basket weaving. But I want to show a gradual shift in the characters moving away from conventional knowledge, in the same way an unused forest trail eventually succumbs to the undergrowth before disappearing altogether.
One great thing about their lack of knowledge here- I don’t need to become an expert on survival skills. I don’t need to know the way the Salish natives used cedar bark or the medicinal uses for ferns. Instead of relying on things they’ve learned in the past, the boys seek solutions through personal, real-time experience. They are going to make mistakes. That’s part of the journey.
So what to do, as the writer? Wander the forest. Experiment. Make discoveries. This has been a fascinating process. I’ve walked the woods for my whole life, but I’ve never looked at it like I am seeing it now. I have to find soft plants for bedding, sturdy plants for protection from the rain, a way to test what is edible and what to avoid (I’m not completely reckless though- I’ve taken the necessary precautions of learning the deadly and poisonous plants in our area.) I get stung by nettles and pricked by thorns. All of it relevant, all of it stimulating my senses and teaching me things. My awareness increases, as well as my understanding of my role in this environment. The forest becomes a living creature that I’m exploring from the inside.
My first experiments were making shelter and making a blanket. I taught myself how to weave 3 strands of tall dry grass, and started to weave a blanket. But it was taking too long so I started substituting ferns. There are a zillion ferns in the woods, so I took scissors (a luxury item) on my walk for a few days, and cut a few fronds (is that the word? arms? branches? leaves?) from different plants, because I didn’t want to kill them. And I always tried to get the hidden arms, so I didn’t take their strongest assets.
This is the teepee I ended up with. The big alder branches are easy to find, but easy to snap as well. But there were lots of them in a younger area of the woods, and I didn’t feel like tromping too far out. I wove the ferns in between the sticks, and layered them as best I could, and put upside down moss of the top, hoping that it would keep it alive and keep me dry.
On the floor of the teepee, I wove this mattress. I used ferns and grass again, as well as some fern/vine plant that was super soft. I couldn’t find it in any of the plant books, so I don’t know what it’s called. But the mattress was surprisingly comfy! And I used some dried thick moss for a pillow, but I wore a hoody when I slept on it, to keep the bugs out of my hair…
Anyway, I have to get back to writing the story! The pictures here have more of the details. In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about the next adventure- trying out this shelter and blanket with a night in the woods. Freaky!