Joe Ford Nature Center's last nature camp of the summer taught young campers simple survival skills. These skills are good for anyone to have while out in nature. The time we may get lost is when we are not paying attention to where we are going or where we've been. Similar to driving a car, if we take the same route every day to work, then the terrain becomes familiar and the arrival to the destination ends without remembering the actual drive.
Technology is great, but too much use is robbing the sense of topophilia or "a strong sense of place." Relying upon on GPS to direct every move and turn dulls remembering the topography that has aided travelers for centuries -- reading maps, remembering landmarks, terrain, mountain ranges or any natural feature helps keep the brain focused, the sense of direction keener and the less likelihood of getting lost.
Getting lost can happen to anyone. Recently in the news, we heard of several proficient hikers lost for days, but they knew how to survive until rescued. If it is late in the day and rescue does not seem imminent, then some basic steps will be useful to make it through the night.
Stay calm -- A person's sense of direction in a forest can become off-balance, so staying calm will be the No. 1 thing to remember if you get lost.
Stay hydrated -- If the hike was planned, then most will have some water and food, but what if getting lost was an accident? Water will be the No. 1 need; finding it is another. Three days is the maximum that most can go without water. When looking for water, find rock formations or hills because water naturally will run downhill. It
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may only be a trickle but its better than nothing. Another way to find water is to follow animal tracks because animals will know of available water sources. Know that some plants will hold water in the stem. Locate broadleaf plants where water will collect, using them as a cup to drink accumulated water. Once water is found, be careful to know clean water from stagnant water and if the water source is safe to drink, use a sock to filter debris.
Find shelter -- Look for a spot near a large tree trunk or rocks and make a bed of a thick layer of leaves. This will help keep in body heat. Building a shelter will be a priority if rain or snow is in the forecast. The shelter will need to be simple. Find broken down limbs and branches with leaves to build a small hut and use dried pine needles or leaves to make a mattress. If you happen to have an equipped hiking pack, then matches should be available.
Build a fire -- A fire will be a good signal to alert your location, a source for cooking, and a place to keep warm. Ideally, look for a wind-resistant area, then search for dry grass to be the tinder-leaves, pine needles or small pieces of wood (no larger than a pencil) for kindling -- logs no larger than the size of your lower arm to be the fuel -- laid one end on top of another to create airflow. Keep the fire small to conserve energy and add to it as needed.
Find food -- Hungry may rear its ugly head but unlike water, a person can go long periods of time without eating. Plants will not be the go-to food source due to the low-calorie count, but also there is a chance of munching on a poisonous variety, however, depending on the season, there will be some berries that are edible. Remember mammals that have fur are edible but unless you have a way of catching them, they won't be supper. Insects that have six-legs are edible as well, but it may be ideal to forgo eating them as they may upset the stomach.
Use sun for direction -- Moss is not a good directional indicator. Yes, it grows on the north side of trees, but it also grows on the east, west and south in a dense moist forest. Without a compass, the sun is the best source of telling time and direction because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
Stop and stay put -- The best rule of thumb is to stop and stay put. Make yourself seen and heard, but be patient and wait for rescue.
The parks within the Owensboro Daviess County area are small and the trails are well marked. Most walkers and hikers are novices, who will not venture out into heavy forested terrain, but these skills are ideal for many other events. Being prepared and not scared will lead to good survival and rescue in any situation.
Nature Notes runs each Wednesday in Community. Deborah Branch can be reached by phone at 270-344-0596 or my email at email@example.com. To get to JFNC take Second Street (U.S. 60 West) to GRADD Way.