It has been said that Alaska’s upper Yukon River valley is the harshest, most unforgiving environment on the planet. Local humor quips that there are only two seasons here –winter and the Fourth of July. This is a land of incredible extremes.
By Brian Heaphy, a contributing author to SurvivalCache.com
“THE INNER ELEMENT”
Dark, six-month winters known for prolonged periods of 40, 50, and even 60 degree below zero temperatures are followed by intense, fleeting summers that are punctuated by 90 degree temperatures and punishing, large-scale thunderstorms. If you’ve never found yourself out in the open, walking into 40 mile per hour winds at 45 degrees below zero, you just don’t know what you’re missing. Such environmental conditions call for a healthy metabolism and a “bullet-proof” wardrobe. There simply is no “faking it” for the person who continually lives their life out in the country here. The margin for error is scant –and the penalty for mistakes can be very costly. A person simply has to know what they are doing in order to stay on the positive side of life’s equation from day to day.
Despite the obvious antagonism of the environment, the greatest threat to a person’s well-being here may surprise you. Indeed, the most formidable obstacle to survival in any location comes from within –and it falls under the collective heading of “misinformed” or “faulty” metabolic conditioning. This is to say that a person is many times more likely to fall victim to “self-defeat” than they are to lose a wrestling match with the bears or succumb to an untimely weather event –and self-defeat is certainly a very bitter pill to swallow. As such, the balance of my writing over the next several months will focus on the proper understanding and care of your greatest ally in any survival situation –your own physiology. To a lesser extent, I will discuss equipment, techniques, and mindsets which will tip the odds in your favor should the dark side of nature ever come to call.
By way of introduction, consider that the human body is designed for survival. This cannot be argued against. If it were not for such inherent inner programming, few of us would have survived the “arena” of our elementary school playgrounds. That is to say that the “trauma” we experienced in the form of skinned knees and gashed elbows etc. would have left us to bleed out. While this is an obvious over-simplification, it is none-the-less true. There are countless inner-workings which are designed to “keep us swinging” –if only we will let them. As previously mentioned, it certainly pays to enlist your body’s inner genius as your ally –and not (knowingly or otherwise) treat it with “contempt.” If you don’t give your body what it wants, it may take it from you –and it may do so at a very inconvenient time. Like it or not, this is where the battle of survival is most often won or lost.
These things said, I invite you to study the following words of the late Walt Whitman: “Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” The implications of this statement are many –and they are very far-reaching. A number of years ago, I adopted this premise as my own uncompromising standard –and I worked hard to make it my life’s reality. Now, it very well describes my daily existence –and it clearly defines my relationship to the natural world.
Next time, I will begin by examining various mindsets and lifestyle choices that put modern man at odds with his inner workings –and thus significantly reduce his potential to survive in all manner of situations and circumstances. It is inevitable that my overview may initially “irritate” some persons and earn me the discontent of others. This is certainly not my intention. As such, I will offer the following words by George M. Trevelyan in advance –as an antidote for any possible contention: “The truth is a hard deer to hunt –for what man, after seeing his quarry, can turn away?” For me, these words cut to the bone every time. The direct implication is that, once a fresh truth registers with one’s inner person, he must choose whether or not to enlist his will and embrace potentially significant change (and inconvenience) in order to abandon his present course, and travel in a wiser direction. The obvious alternative is that a person can knowingly disregard the truth, and then choose to continue along the way toward self-limited performance and a lesser quality of life. Amazingly, some of us do.
All Photos By: Brian Heaphy
Editor’s Note: Former U.S. Navy SEAL Officer, Federal Officer, and Wilderness Guide, Brian Heaphy now makes his home in Alaska’s remote upper Yukon River valley. While practicing a subsistence lifestyle, he photographs Creation & writes about “Living on purpose at the speed of life.” ™
Brian’s survival experience spans arctic, desert, jungle, and maritime environments. His exceptionally broad base of outdoor living skills likewise affords him a very unique perspective to write from.
In addition to his writing, Brian’s striking Yukon River-scape photography has also become very popular. He currently formats his award-winning images for sale as premium quality note cards, inspirational verse greeting cards, traditional prints, and stretched canvases (www.brianheaphy.com). Brian’s work may also be seen at fine art galleries, museums, and gift shops across the State of Alaska.
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