Week 52: A Failed Year in Review

This last week marks my first year as Urban Scout. I have taken some time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. I have listed my accomplishments and my failures and used that debrief to outline ideas and goals for intensifying my rewilding in the following year. I never made my full plan public, for fear that I would totally fuck it up. Of course, I did, and now I will share it with you so that you can laugh with me (or at me!). To say that I bit off more than I could chew sounds like a complete under statement.

Take a look at my plan.

Urban Scout Year One Project Plan

Overall Project Goals

1. The main goal is to acquire shelter, water, fire, and food without participating directly in the civilized economy; to hunt, gather, grow and trade for items needed to survive.
2. To replace all civilized belongings with primitive foraged materials.
3. To make and distribute seed balls; encourage the re-growth of food sources.
4. To document the yearlong project on Digital video.
5. To create the beginning to the Underground Railroad away from civilization.

Weekly Goals

Every week I will have a series of goals. These are subject to change throughout the year. I will take suggestions from people as well as come up with more ideas.

1. Learn 1 new plant every week minimum.
2. 1 hour secret spot and journal every day.
3. Weekly Sacred Question journey. (i.e. what toxins are found in city animals?)
4. Learn 1 new trap/hunting method a week.
5. To produce a 5 minute video for web streaming every Saturday.

Guidelines (to strive for)
I feel like in order to connect with the elements I need to sleep outside. Building primitive shelters with be a difficulty. I will allow myself to sleep in a sleeping bag if need be. While I want to practice and use primitive shelters, without a longhouse, teepee, etc. it’s not primitive living.
Must sleep outside
Sleeping bag is okay, primitive shelters are preferred.

The natives of the NW went nearly naked almost year round. I would like to mimic this as much as I can.
Shoes and shirt only when neccesary for access and health.

Urban water sources carry lots of parasites and poisonous chemicals. I will allow myself to drink from the tap since indigenous cultures had clean streams to drink from. I will learn techniques for cleaning water as well.
Water can come from tap
Boiled from source preferred
Rain catchers preferred

Fires must be started with primitive tools

This is the biggest deal. How will I feed myself? I don’t have the luxury of my indigenous parents hunting for me. So, when necessary, I will buy food to replace them. For now I will dumpster dive too. I haven’t decided whether or not I want to go all primitive or remain urban. I will also keep a log of everything I eat and in what quantities and what time of year.
Store bought (in order not to starve)
Dumpster okay (for now)
Must be gathered/hunted/traded for

Food must be cooked over a fire
Only primitive ovens or stoves

I’m not trying to do anything illegal here. I’m not going to take a shit on the side walk of downtown Portland. Besides, in the forest you can dig a hole anywhere really. In the city I can do that sometimes… but who cares.
Toilets are okay, outside encouraged

I don’t think bathing will be that big of a deal… until the winter.
No indoor showers or baths.
Hot water heated by fire okay.
Dr. Bronners soap okay, primitive soap encouraged (teas)

This is an experiment. It’s more or less “Urban Survival.” I feel like resources in the city are much more limited than the forest. In order to reach all there is, I’ll need a quicker way to get around as well as carrying heavy loads.
Bicycle okay (for now)

I’m shooting a documentary, running classes, and learning to use the Ham radio. So I need electricity to charge my camera batteries, computer batteries, cell phone and Ham radio batteries. I don’t want to use Grid electricity so…
Solar Powered only.

Cell Phone/Ham Radio
My mother has insisted I keep my cell phone for emergencies. I’m cool with that for now. When I get proficient at Ham then I’ll just buy her one, my girl friend one, and who ever else I need to, then ditch the phone.

I plan to start with modern tools and replace them with primitive. Here is a list of the tools I wish to make, replace or ditch:
1. Knife
2. Clothes
3. Water container
4. Cordage/Rope
5. Backpack
6. Bicycle & Basket
7. Sleeping bag
8. Shoes
9. Axe
10. Rabbit Stick/Throwing Stick
11. Traps (Snares & Deadfalls)
12. Bow & Arrows
13. Fishing Spear
14. Tree Fort
15. Bowls for cooking
16. Awl
17. Needle
18. Hide Scraper

Current Confusion/Concerns
These are things I find myself confused or concerned about. In this department I gladly accept feedback and ideas. Please help me!
How do I store food?
Where do I get Salt?
What are the laws about Fire in the city?
What are laws about killing squirrels, nutria, raccoons, etc?

Tribal Network
Primitive Living is not wilderness survival. Indigenous cultures had the village. Some were nomadic, some seasonally nomadic, some were semi-permanent and other were permanent. In order to replicate the village I had several friends who are letting me build secret camps in their back yards. This way I will have a place to cook over a fire, a place where I can cache things, and a place where I can sleep.

Houses with fire pits
Mo Fo & Nancy
Eric & Nancy
Emily & Shaun
Big T
Little T

Green spaces
Forest Park
Oaks Bottom
Tryon Creek
Laurelhurst Park
Mt. Tabor
Powell Butte
Tualatin Valley/Nike woods

Sunday School
In order to pay for my expenses (Cell phone, food, emergencies) every Sunday I will run a 6 hour survival skills workshop. Each Sunday will focus on a specific aspect of making your living as a hunter/gatherer: shelter, water, transportation, fire, hunting, self-defense, camouflage and silent movement, etc. From time to time we will have guest instructors from local wilderness arts and sciences school, TrackersNW.

Weekly Video
Every Saturday I will edit together a 5 minute video of my weekly activities; how I got food and water this week. At the end of the year I will have so much footage I will edit a feature length version of my experience.

Ask Urban Scout
I will run an advice blog from urbanscout.org. people can ask me questions about urban survival and anything else.

The Website will be the axis of the Being Urban Scout project. With the weekly videos, the calendar for the Sunday school, and the published blog. As well as other forms of merchandise.
Short video
Secret of Sustainability
Feature length script

I have to say, I completely failed this project plan. I mean, completely! When I read over this plan, I can feel some part of me laughing at how idealistic it sounds… but than another part of me feels angry at that part and still believes that I could have followed this plan to a T if I just had more courage and less addictions. Of course, I don’t feel bad or guilty that I failed miserably. I recognize that I have psychological, physical traits that prevented me from a total follow through.

I didn’t use my solar panel once. I built one shoddy scout pit and never slept in it. I rarely slept outside. I rarely lived nomadically. I cooked over a fire probably less times than fingers on one hand. I only hunted once or twice and failed miserably at it. I showered with hot plumbing nearly every day, never once using hot rocks. Did only a few video blogs. Made only a few primitive tools. Bought 99.9% of my food at the store. I dumpster dived once. I did one or two Sunday School classes…

Basically, I didn’t do 99% of what I said I would. I made my first mistake in thinking I could do this alone. Urban Scout the character in the film does not have a tribe. I didn’t really consider this going in. I quickly realized that my initial plan wouldn’t work at all. I realized I needed a culture of people following these guidelines.

Reflections on my failure.

The above plan sounds great but lacks an understanding of necessities outside of basic survival skills.

Free, secure storage probably proves the most difficult element to a neo-hunter-gatherer. My original plan involved storing my things at various friends houses for free, not too much in one place as to become a burden, but just enough for it to not feel like a big deal. This failed because when I needed some item or other, I didn’t have it readily available and had to travel quite a bit. This inevitably led me to just not go the extra distance to get the object (such as a field guide) to follow through the a task (such as learning new plants). I realized that having all my stuff in one place carried more efficiency and had better results with following through with things. This simply meant I had to pay for storage space. This meant I needed a way to make money. If I lived in a hunter-gatherer culture I could keep all my things together and not have to pay for storage. I would also need less things because they would take the form of other members of the culture. For example, the knowledge in a field guide would exist in an elder who would teach me such things. Rather than have the knowledge stored in an external physical object, they stored it in their bodies and always carried it with them.

Nomadic hunter-gatherers set up base camps that stayed at for weeks, than carried all their belongings with them. Others had camps already set up they would seasonally travel to, carrying small provisions and tools with them. They also had security of their possessions from raiding in their numbers. I wouldn’t need to worry much about someone stealing my stuff if a member or two of my tribe always guarded the base camp. Homeless people have devised a similar system carrying their things in shopping carts. If I had more courage, I could have built a shelter in a park and stored things in 5 gallon buckets underground. Refrigeration also comes into play here. I need refrigeration to keep my meats. I can’t process a deer alone and dry it all out by myself. I could dry and store the meat, but I don’t know how. Again, this takes time and skill that I don’t have. If I spend all my time going back and forth for tools and firewood and water, where do I have the time to learn something new? Also, I would need a place to store the dried meats. This made me pay for electricity.

I tried building scout pits, but the soil has so much clay in it that it holds water. I tried building a debris hut, but you have to have materials to build and in the city, they appear scarce. I realized that homeless people all ready figured out the portable shelter; a sleeping bag for insulation and tarp for a shingle. The people of the NW coast lived in long houses. Not scout pits or tipis, but houses. Since I decided to pay for storage, refrigeration and gas, I decided to just live in a house.

I had no real system for collecting water. I could have developed one, but it would have cost me in other areas like transportation and storage. For example, I could have collected water in containers from free drinking fountains and carried it to my camps. But what do I store the water in? How do I carry it the great distances? If I use a bike, which I did, I need to pay money to maintain the bike because I can’t use primitive means, I must involve myself in the industrial economy. Also, what kinds of primitive containers could I make to haul a lot of water? I could have dumpstered 5 gallon buckets I suppose. But it all comes back to energy efficiency. If I spent all of my time gathering water and firewood, I would have barely enough time to actually learn more plants to eat. I could have collected rain water during the rainy months, but not the summer. I could have collected river water and boiled it, but fire proved difficult as well. Not to mention the amount of pollutants in the river water (dioxin, prozac, etc.) that boiling doesn’t get rid of.

Of all the things shipped into the city, they ship “yard debris” out. This means that finding firewood proves difficult. In order to cook all my food from a fire I would have had to spend tons of my time foraging for wood, carrying it great distances. This proved to labor-intensive for me to carry out. Especially if I had tried to boil all of my water. Now, I could have stolen from the many wood-piles in peoples yards but that just ups the overall risk of the lifestyle, something I didn’t want to do. So I cooked on a stove. Which meant I had to pay for gas.

If I couldn’t get a fire, I couldn’t heat hot rocks to heat water to shower. So I showered in a civilization shower. I also felt weird about shitting/pissing in public, giving the cops another reason to fuck with me and also feeling quite bashful about doing my duty out in the open, or even weirder at hiding in the bushes. Since none of my roommates felt cool with the humanure tip, I shit in a toilet.

The more research I did, the more scared I became of eating animals in city limits. But really, I hunted a squirrel once, and failed. I felt so bad I didn’t try again. I don’t want to fuck up animals. I need to learn trapping and the bow and arrow. This will take time and from everything else that went wrong, I gave that up for a while. Instead I foraged a few roadkill animals that I found. I foraged a bit for plants during the late summer when berries and things go off. Other than that, my plant knowledge and addiction to the internet began to keep me indoors.

All of this amounts to getting sucked back into the vacuum of civilization from lack of tribe. All of these difficulties become more efficient with more people. With 10 people foraging firewood, you find enough pretty fast, if everyone cooks on the same fire. If 10 people collect water, you get enough fast. If 10 people forage different areas for food, you get it fast. If 10 people can process one deer, it happens quickly. If you can have 1 or 2 out of 10 people watch everyones stuff, you don’t have to worry about security. If you have 10 people together, you don’t have to worry about someone robbing you. If you have 10 people you can distribute evenly supplies like tarps and field guides. And the biggest issue for me: If you have 10 people foraging, you don’t have to do it alone.

Building The Culture

I realized pretty quick that the only way for rewilding to work meant creating the culture of rewilding. We need tribes of people-who-rewild, not islands of individuals across the world. This made me drastically change my strategy for year one. Once I switched gears, I accomplished quite a bit of stuff.

As I realized the difficulties that I faced without a culture, I realized I needed to express the ideological principles behind rewilding in my own terms and perspectives. I began writing my book Born To Rewild, posting the chapters as I write them.

I started www.rewild.info, a forum, wiki and place to encourage local rewilding communities in March of 2007 and a year later we have 338 members. Almost one for every day of the year. We have had 3 rewild camps around the country, with both success and failure. We have 214 articles on rewilding skills in the wiki.

To date www.urbanscout.org has had 24,834 unique visitors, 153,118 pageviews from 112 countries.

I ran a week long rewild camp in Portland that garnered an article in the Oregonian.

The DCAC flew me to D.C. to build an installation about rewilding.

I had a production company in L.A. courting me for a realityTV show. (it fell through, but shows that the growth of rewilding).

Butchered my first roadkill deer.

Won the “Poseur, Hipster, Douchebag of the Year Award.”

Brain-tanned my first deer hide.

I used my internet prowess to hunt down and attract a potential rewilding mate, Penny Scout.

Overall the last year had so much learning and culture building. I feel like some day a plan like the one above will come to fruition with a group of people, but we still have much work to do and fun to have. This year I plan to go a lot easier on myself and not have such a rigid structure. This year I will work a part-time job to pay for rent, bills and food while I supplement that with foraged & gardened foods. A much more humble approach, with a bit more understanding and a lot more focus on the cultural aspects.

Year2 Goals

1. Acquire more food without participating directly in the civilized economy; hunt, gather, grow and trade for sustenance.
2. Finish my book, Born to Rewild.
3. Learn horticulture and permaculture principles and put them in practice.
4. Hunt and kill a deer with a .22 or bow and arrow.
5. Learn more native ethnobotany.
6. Go on week long backpacking/survival trip in the summer.
7. Continue to document this project on www.urbanscout.org.
8. Continue building the underground rewild-road away from civilization.

Show your support and appreciation for Urban Scout

17 Comments on “Week 52: A Failed Year in Review”

  1. come to waldron island – you have to cook outside everyday and gather wood as well as water.. – come for a week and then go on your survival mission!
    i believe in you scout

  2. Man, I feel your pain. I had big plans for this past year, too. I had very few successes, and far too many failures. One reason I failed is lack of time and motivation, but my main obstacle was lack of tribe as well. I learned pretty early on in the summer that my husband and I couldn’t go it alone, and quickly went to looking for people in my area that shared my interest in rewilding. I even put an ad on Craigslist looking for people. What I came up with were a few crusty kids that really weren’t into rewilding, but more just into partying in the dirt. So that didn’t work out, and I have yet to find anyone locally. I know they exist, I just can’t find them.

  3. The culture / sangha / community of practitioners is essential.

    I don’t have the same rewilding focus–basically, I’d like to live in & of the “wilderness” with a small, portable internet connection & I’m open to other non-primitive ultralight tech (cf. ray jardine).

    If you’re ever in the SoCal region–let me know!
    + search for “walking sangha cfu”

  4. Scout, nothing you do is a failure. I’m blown away by all the insights you gained over the past year. Above all, I have really loved the honesty you have expressed here. An amazing contribution. You are a wonderful human being and I am so proud to know you.

  5. I love your candor and honesty. Thanks for sharing your experiences and inspiring me in my rewilding quest.

  6. Hey Erin,
    Yes. Waldron Island. Maybe when I finish my seasonal job?

    Hey Ssgovoni,
    I feel your pain. Have you seen my article on how to run a rewild camp? I’d check it out. It might give you some ideas at least.

    Hey Colin,
    Interesting plan! It looks exciting.

    Hey Marie,
    Thanks for your words of encouragement. Mostly I was joking about being a failure, or at least I don’t see that word as a negative thing. 😉

    Hey Rob,
    Thanks for your words of encouragement!

    Haha, it would be funny if now I was living in a van and you were going to live in a debris hut. I guess I live in a motorhome now which is just a van with a bed and more space. 😉

  7. Hey Twokniveskatie! Long time. Ears good; I carry ear plugs with me to every show. Though, I had a run in again with alcohol a year after the ear incident; tattoos, black outs and waking up in a pool of my own blood. Yeah. That was interesting. Back on the wagon since. You can read about that mishap in my “High Spirits or Hungry Ghosts?” blog.

  8. uS, you didn’t fail in my book. That list you made is a lifetime list, and I think your blog illustrates clearly the work that it takes to seriously take this project on.

    Secondly, you mentioned that you realized that you can’t do this work alone and that is important for all of us. Why are rewilding and survival scenerios always about “one man, alone, must find his way…”? In truth, our genius as humans is our social cooperation in conjunction with our mad skills. You’ve built a hell of a network in this last year, and that is a big time success. big time.

    oh – and I dig the redesign.

  9. This isn’t a failure! It was a trial that pointed out the stumbling blocks to modern primitive living. Now you can work on creating a modern version that’s actually going to work in modern times. I think it was a great success.

  10. Hey Scout,
    I have been really inspired reading your blog this past year. My wife and I hope to eventually buy our own way out of society and try to move people toward rewilding. I can definitely see where you must feel like a failure for not meeting the specific goals that you set out for yourself. Nevertheless, what you are doing is having an impact; on yourself as well as on others. I want to extend an invitation to you with regard to your plan to take a survival outing this summer. I have a group of five or six that are planning on going to Colorado in July and we would like to invite you and Penny. If you are interested drop me an email.


  11. Pingback: W53 | Urban Scout: Rewilding Cascadia

  12. It’s been years since I’ve butched a roadkill deer, and thats the only thing on here I’ve ever accomplished. Better kick into gear before I accumulate an overload of rust, or the entire shebang starts falling to pieces. Hope the former doesn’t come at all and the latter comes after I’ve made something of this endeavor. Thanks for blogging, budro.It warms me to see someone taking the nature seriously. So precious, so sick, so sad.

  13. The year wasn’t a failure at all. The goals were mostly about being wild, rather than becoming wild. You’ve learned what rewilding is about, and you’ve blogged the hell out of the process. You’ve touched many lives.

    To me the gap between wilderness and civilization is a paradox that we must bridge before Nature destroys us. By choosing to do your work in the city, you are in the sacred and paradoxical space where the two meet.

  14. Indiginous people took millions of years to perfect their skills. The inuit are my favorite. They really followed the way of the polar bear in targeting seals in the winter, spending hours waiting for the seal to come up a breathing hole. If meat went bad they welcomed flies to create maggots they could eat. Modern education doesn’t even teach people to balance their checkbooks.