Our last field trip together was the AWCP's final exam: 5 day wilderness survival. We forged across a rushing stream to an island somewhere on the snaking Skykomish River. Day one was spent finding a campsite, building the best debris tipi we have ever seen, and making the fire. We found ourselves on the north side of the island, at the edge of the mixed forest. Dixie went to work building the bow and drill fire kit from the aged cedar that Jase had found on our hike. The three of us guys built the shelter. We lashed the ridge poles together with a zipper I had found hanging on a salmonberry bush. Our main source of debris for the insulative wall was an exotic invasive bush called Japanese Knotweed. We put about 800 pounds of this stuff on our shelter to create a 2 foot thick wall all the way around it. The gaps we filled in with sword ferns. Dixie was tirelessly working on a coal when she decided it was time to rest and asked me to bust one out. I got one and we placed it in a giant "bindle tunder" of shredded cottonwood bark; then the gal blew it into flame. We had fire by 4 pm.
Jason Cameron brought back something that made our lives extremely easy for the rest of the trip. He harvested a cooking pan about 3 inches deep by 14 inches wide. We went and gathered some stinging nettle and salmonberry chutes for our first dinner. Little did we know that we would be eating nettles and chutes for every single meal the next 4 days. On day 2 we got out of the shelter which needed more patchwork and made some fir needle tea (I call it Emergen-fir). The vitamin C rich beverage was not only soothing but medicinal to our food deprived stomachs. Jase raided a Towhee nest and got one egg for each of us to put in our nettle stew, but the eggs were already fertilized. We began the day by eating featherless baby birds. To much surprise, it was a very tasty morsel.
The rest of the week was spent gathering water and firewood, foraging for our next meals, hunting (unsuccessfully), and resting. The closest I got to a good hunt was hitting a flying merganser in the wing, knocking her off course a bit but not dropping her in the water. I threw so many stones and sticks at birds that week my shoulder is still aching. Our diet was mostly vegetarian, and every meal was a stew. We ate nettles, salmonberry chutes and flowers, thimbleberry flowers, trailing blackberry flowers, fireweed, oxeye daisy, coltsfoot, plantain, dandelion, sheep sorrel, oyster mushrooms, oregon grape chutes and more. The meat we dined upon consisted of garter snake, alligator lizard, gnat, worm, and snail... so many snails! They began to taste good after about 4 of them. The common mantra, however, thanks to Dixie (the predator) became "we need more baby birds," accompanied by a fizzing drool from each of our mouths.
There were many things we learned about wild animals, hunter- gatherer cultures, and most importantly, ourselves on this survival trip. I feel like more of a man for doing it and still have my stone knife that helped so tremendously throughout the week. Dixie brought back our fire kit and each one of us brought back a great story and many lessons. We were forced to apply the things we had learned over the last three seasons and we did it well, without getting sick or starving. What a way to end the school year!