Sometimes, in our line of work, when we are seeking a closer connection to nature through discovering flavour, we run into individuals who have found contact with the wild through some other quest. We met Steven Hanton last year, when he helped us set up a camp in the wilderness, giving us a place to learn new skills and explore flavours and ideas. Here, he tells us how bushcraft has shaped his life, and why some of these skills have set him up for the lockdown.
SH: “It’s difficult to confuse this one with other plants” George said, “as it looks like clover, but it grows on the shady forest floor instead of open pasture”. As I put the small, delicate three-leaved plant into my mouth, a burst of acidy lemon drew my cheeks in and my mind was blown. “You can eat weeds?” I said, amazed. “Sure” he said, “and the good news is you can eat clover too!” Little did I know as a ten-year old on Scout camp, that I had been introduced to a subject that would enchant me in my teens, consume me in my twenties, and in my thirties turn me into that dad who’s child looks like they’ve never left the bush they were born in.
‘Bushcraft’, or ‘Wilderness skills’, is an umbrella term that loosely describes a collection of skills and knowledge that people used (or use) to live outdoors for extended periods of time. In essence you combine what’s in your mind and muscles with nature’s resources to live. In my head its separable from ‘Survival’, which I consider muddling through, by hook or crook, usually for a short time. ‘Wilderness skills’ are things like rubbing sticks together to make fire, building natural shelters, having a detailed knowledge of edible and medicinal flora and fauna, and primitive technology like making bows and arrows or flint tools. But for the old-timers its more than that, often becoming a philosophy.
After my introduction through Scouts, and subsequent binge watching of shaky Ray Mears recordings on VHS, I did my first week long Bushcraft course aged 15, by the end of which I realised I was fully obsessed. Next, in a slightly rogue move, I spent my entire first University loan payment on a 7-week trip to Alaska before term began (literally picking the largest tract of wilderness I could get to) to test the very limited knowledge I thought I had. I walked and fished my way through the endless woods, solidifying my love for the wilds and reinforcing just how much there was to learn.