don’t remember the first time I heard the word “bushcraft” used but I do remember that I have never liked the term. Despite my negative feelings toward the phrase it seems to be the most popular and newest subset of the survival world. From Instagram hashtags, to TV shows, to outdoor suppliers, bushcraft keeps slapping me in the face and I hate it. What gives?
My dislike for the word is curious to me. As a craftsman who has gained awareness, appreciation and a million life lessons from my craftwork, I love the word “craft”. It implies process, skill, sturdy hands, attention to detail, and a love for your art. I want to be a craftsperson. Furthermore, the word bush is neutral at worst. I do like calling myself a “bush hippie” as it seems to add some wildness and grit to the normally airy and woo woo “hippie” term. We can thank Australia and England for the term “bush” as a term for wilderness. Nothing wrong or unsettling there.
If the words “bush” and “craft” are in Fine standing with me, then why do I still feel so annoyed and angry after seeing another post of a knife sitting on a stump with the hashtag “bushcraft”? Why do I want to punch a kitten after going to the store and seeing a “bushcraft” knife for sale?
It wasn’t until I went and met with one of my respected teachers that I realized why I hate the word bushcraft. Ben, now in his mid 60’s has been a primitive skills instructor for at least 30 years and has been hunting and fishing his whole life in Georgia. We got to talking about survival, flint knapping and all things outdoors as we do and he said something like this,
“It’s the same thing I saw happen to fishing and hunting in the 70’s. It went from being about skill and knowledge to about how many gadgets you got!”
It clicked for me! Of course that’s why I hate bushcraft!!
I realized then that the large majority of bushcraft posts I see aren’t about skill but are instead about what someone has purchased, what cool gadgets you have, what type of spelted wood is in your knife handle , and what angle bevel your knife edge has. My perception is that “bush-crafters” are usually more concerned with who’s got the coolest gadgets and the sharpest knife and everyone’s EDC (every day carry) items. And when things are all that takes to enter the “bushcraft” club, the club itself is devalued.
So the question comes about: how can we as outdoors folk go beyond things?
We need to shift the focus from “things” (that are easy to obtain) to things that are hard to obtain, states of being that require dedication and commitment.
Things like dedication to your craft, the joy you find in the process of making something functional and beautiful, the creativity of making something new and novel, the connection and poetry you feel when you deeply connect with your landscape, the gratitude you feel when you interact with another non-human life form, the lessons you have learned from pushing your edges and coming out of the experience a better human.
All of these things might have been part of the original intention of the word bushcraft, but once again our consumer and capitalistic society took something awesome (connection to nature, craftsmanship, and creativity) and packaged it and sold it as a commodity, which in turn ruins it completely. Once you take an experience, something that cannot be purchased, and then turn it into a commodity for purchase, you cheapen the thing itself and thus deprive yourself of the journey it normally took to get there.
Similarly, the word “survival” got high jacked by our consumerism culture and has thus created TV shows and products ripe for purchase. As with the goal of my school, Holistic Survival School, I want to reclaim the word survival. My goal as a teacher is to not post about items for purchase but rather convey the feeling one can have when connected and proud of something you’ve experienced while out in the bush. When people ask to buy things from me (bows, drums, hides) I usually respond with “I would much rather teach you how to do it yourself! :)” In fact, here is a list of our upcoming classes.
So instead of buying things online go play outside. Let’s reclaim the words bushcraft and survival and make it more about the journey not the end goal.
Instead of dedicating yourself to things, dedicate yourself to a long term relationship with the natural world — I will be more impressed with your process and dedication than I ever will with what knife you’re using, but even more importantly, you will feel the difference when you focus your awareness and intention on your internal and self motivated feelings as opposed to crap you bought at a store.
What do you think? Do you agree? Where did I get it wrong?