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  • Writer's pictureIsaac yelchin

Think You Can Survive in the Woods?

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

Presented below are fantastic drawings created by students of Lemay Street Elementary school, Van Nuys, California who went on a nature field trip with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains outdoor education program. These field trips are annually sponsored by the Havasi Wilderness Foundation. These lucky students were exposed firsthand to the precious nature of the Santa Monica Mountains and taught by experts about the land and its creatures. They also learned how Native Americans engage with the very same natural areas they were invited to explore.

If you found yourself alone in the wilderness of Southern California would you be able to survive? Would you know what to eat? Maybe you will try to hunt the obvious rabbits and squirrels, but sprinting around after a much faster mammal will only leave you hungry and tired.

You could eat that strange mushroom over there, or those berries, but is that really a good idea? You may end up in a much worse state than just being hungry. And you want to make sure you're on high alert and not curled in a fetal position clutching your stomach while the green eyes of a mountain lion find you within their gaze.

We constantly seem to forget that until recently in the grand scheme of human history we all lived directly off the land. We fought the lions, tigers, and bears, barehanded; and ate what we could catch or what grew around us.

Even in Southern California, this is easily accomplished. The secrets lie in the plants. There are over 100 different edible plants in California's wilderness. You can make salads, berry pancakes, or even some yucca french fries, using only the earth's resources.

Head down into the creek and search the banks until the mud has consistency and holds together when you squish it between your fingers. You’ve now found clay, highly common among most creeks in Southern California. Mold this with a little water into a few bricks which will dry quickly in the hot sun. Now stack your bricks together and build yourself a small oven.

Now you can mold anything you might need out of clay and fire it sturdy in the oven. Make a small bowl, and a short pestle. Then you can wander off into the woods in search of some acorns. Easy enough to find scattered around the bottoms of oak trees. Follow the birds if you are having trouble. Take these acorns and head back to the stream.

Here you have two options, if you find a small pocket in the creek that has water gently flowing, place your acorns in there and let them sit for a day. This will slowly remove the tannins from the acorns and make them safe to eat. However, you may be hungry RIGHT NOW! So in that case take those acorns and toss them in a clay pot you've made and boil them for about 15 minutes.

Once the water turns brown the acorns should be free of most tannins. Now shell the acorns and place the soft meat inside your clay bowl, fill it up and get to squishing! Turn those acorns into flour, and bingo! Now you have the basis for acorn pancakes. Add some water and berries and fry them right up using your clay oven.

What a life you can live in the Southern California wilderness! This of course makes things seem a little easier than they probably are, but it's possible. All humans lived directly off the land for most of history. The RCDSMM educates student visitors to Topanga State Park that native groups, as the original stewards of these lands, have incredible insights into how to live in reciprocity within the natural landscapes of the Santa Monica Mountains and have done so successfully for thousands of years. Since these students are in the field, learning, seeing, and experiencing, they will remember these lessons for the rest of their lives.

We love the work the RCDSMM is doing and encourage you to sign up for volunteer events to continue spreading the love of our natural world, and put your hand in to take care of it! Or if you are a teacher, reach out to the RCDSMM directly and schedule a field trip for your class.

Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.

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