Adapt and Overcome
From the age of 12 to 18, my sisters and I were involved with a Canadian youth program called, Air Cadets. It’s a non-profit organization that promotes citizenship, leadership, effective speaking, volunteer opportunities and so much more. I loved it, not only for the sense of belonging it gave me but also for the opportunities it offered.
When I was 16, I was selected for the Survival Instructor Course (SIC) in Bagotville, Quebec. The course was 6 weeks long and covered everything from learning how to use a map and compass to catching and skinning a rabbit (which we cooked over a fire and ate. Yes, it was delicious.)
Our final test was a mock scenario, one that assumed we were lost somewhere deep within the woods – with only a pocket knife, canteen and the clothes on our backs. It forced us to use our knowledge to build our own shelter and campsite, search for edible vegetation, set up snares and keep a fire going. This test lasted for a couple of days.
Oh, one more thing. We had to do it alone.
Now (before someone calls child services) let me make it absolutely clear that we were constantly supervised. While I couldn’t see my nearest neighbour, they were really only a few meters away. We were expected to stick to the scenario and keep to ourselves, but were given whistles for emergency situations.
While I hear the course itself is a little bit different these days, it’s only struck me recently just how much of an impact it’s had on my life since.
One of the primary lessons SIC aimed to teach us youth was, Adapt and Overcome.
It’s a simple phrase, one that I’m sure some of you have heard before. A quick Google search will provide you with all sorts of variations on the theme.
It’s the idea that no matter what situation you find yourself facing, you have the flexibility to figure out how to change that situation and overcome that obstacle.
For example, in the picture above, check out that white birch crossbar above my head. It’s one of the first things you need in order to build a solid lean-to between two trees.
When I got to my site I couldn’t find a branch long enough or sturdy enough to work. I could only wander farther and farther away from my site, hunting for something that I could use. Finally, close to a tiny stream, I stumbled upon a group of tall, thin birch trees.
Now, technically we weren’t supposed to knock anything down but at this point I was frantic and anxious. I didn’t know what else to do.
So, I picked one that looked pretty dead . . . and knocked it down.*
It took what felt like ten years of hacking with my dull as a cotton sock pocketknife, but I got my crossbar.
As for the rest of the shelter, the best thing to cover it with is pine boughs. When placed correctly, they can keep out the heat, cold and even rain.
Well. There were about ten thousand Pine trees near my site. However, they’d all been stripped of their lower boughs. Some might not consider this to be a problem but when you’re tiny, it’s a huge problem.
What I did have a lot of was ferns. I was up to my eyeballs in ferns! They were close enough in shape and size that I figured they would do the job just as well. I got to work ripping them out of the ground.
As you can see from the picture, those ferns did a damn good job of keeping the sun out. (Rain? Kinda. But that’s a different story.)
What those ferns also did was slice my hands apart. It was sort of like getting about a hundred paper cuts at the same time. I cut myself pretty badly on my thumb too. So, I rinsed it out with water from my canteen, washed some of that white birch bark from my crossbar and secured it to my thumb using a thin bit of root as a string.
Adapt and Overcome.
Your went for a hike and got lost in the woods.
You’ve failed a required course and will have to overload next year in order to graduate on time.
Surprise! We’re not extending your contract and you won’t have a job next month. (In fact, while you were on vacation, we hired your replacement!)**
You want to be a writer? That’s nice. Unfortunately your work isn’t quite what we’re looking for . . .
When you’re lost in the woods, you really only have two choices. You can either ignore what’s happening to you, or you can adapt to your situation and figure out how to survive. You can figure out how to move forward.
I feel like the same applies to anything we do in life. When something happens, it’s okay to feel discouraged or disappointed, and sometimes it’s just hard to deal with whatever it is that you’re facing. The thing is, it’s okay. It’s okay to take a moment or two to adapt. More importantly, if you keep trying, you’ll eventually figure it out.
After all, you alone have the power to save yourself.
* Please don’t yell at me. It’s been 14 years and I still feel really bad about it.
** True story.
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