I learned a lot about this as a kid. My mother liked to do hands on learning experiences, and researching the oregon trail focused a lot on “living off the land.” Here’s a couple of things you writers should consider:

1. You can live off the land, but you probably won’t be very happy about it.

Wild greens have a lot… *ahem* stronger flavor than that stuff you buy at the supermarket.  The most common flavors I have found from my sampling of wild foods is SOUR and BITTER. For heaven’s sake! There’s a reason we invented farming, and it isn’t just convenience.

Draw attention to these flavors in your WIPs. Your characters are bound to be noticing the difference between wild food and farm food.

2. Wood fires change the flavor of food.

Almost every camp scene in the history of the written story has involved gathering firewood. It’s typically something the new people do. Here is something I learned the hard, painful way. Pine wood does not make for good eating. (Unless you go out and stuff pine needles in your mouth just for fun. If so, you’re good.)

If your character goes out to gather firewood, make sure he either knows what kind, or you have a suitable reaction.

3. It is impossible to creep silently through the forest.

I’ve been to the “Forest” where one version of Robin Hood was filmed. Of course you can creep silently there. It’s a carefully designed set built around protected California Oak Trees that must never be cut for any reason. You can walk under the trees easily, because there practically isn’t even grass. >_>

A real forest has this stuff called “undergrowth”. My experience has found undergrowth to consist of 90%  vines, mostly thorny vines, mostly wrapped around bushes that have more thorns and grow all the way down to the ground. 10% of it is tall grass punctuated by plants with various barbs on it, and 1% ticks/something else that makes you itchy.

Face it. You are not getting through unless you have a machette or follow the deer path, and only then if you’re okay with taking some parts on hands and knees. Watch out for that log. It’s rotten.

Even assuming you can get through the barrier that is Forest, remember that the forest is full of trees. The trees primarily drop leaves. The leaves land on the ground and become dry. The dry leaves make crunching noises when you walk. (Of course, if your hapless character has recently endured a thunderstorm, this is not a problem. Damp leaves don’t crunch. They’re just slippery. Falling on your booty does make noise!

Lois L’amore actually did impress me with his version of ‘walking silently through the forest’ which detailed timing his characters pace with the noise of the wind etc. I’m so willing to be swept away by a story with real knowledge!

4. Once you return to civilization, people are going to notice you’ve been in the woods. Yes, even if you bathe.

I’m sorry, but it’s obvious. The torn clothing. The inevitable loss of weight/gain of muscle. The lack of a proper hairstyle. If nothing else, there’s probably at least one squirrel booty hanging out of your saddlebags as he helps himself to your food. Never assume your character is going to just blend right in.

That’s it for now. If you’d like to submit your perspective, please email me at sskid2000 AT hotmail DOT com. We look forward to your guest post!