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Night Drill

Zero Shelter

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Link to Tom Brown's
Tracker School in
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Night Drill

        Late on a brisk December afternoon, I went into the winter woods to build a shelter out of natural forest debris with the intent of spending the night.  I happened to be wearing tennis shoes, blue jeans, sweatshirt, and a baseball cap.  I chose to leave my flashlight in the car.
        I began building the shelter in the last two hours of daylight.  As the sun went down and the temperature began to drop, I picked up my pace to add on more inches of leaf insulation.  Beginning to feel the sweat work its way out, I removed my sweatshirt and hung it over a limb.  By this time, it was 42 degrees.  After another 20 minutes of work, I noticed my tee shirt feeling slightly damp.  I removed it and finished the last 30 minutes of work shirtless.  I was comfortable and not sweating - a perfect balance.  If I stopped for over a minute or two, though, I began to feel the chill. 
        I finished laying the final branches onto the shelter as the full moon rose clear against the black sky.  While I ate a handful of peanuts and drank some water, I put on my shirt and then my sweatshirt and baseball cap.  It was comfortable for about 15 minutes but I was no longer working, so I began to cool a little.  The temperature had dropped to 38 degrees.
        The peanuts were fine, but Chicken and Rice soup would be better, and sitting by a fire would be a help.  So, I began the process of building a fire.  My experience with the hand drill was minimal, but I had one already made and I began to spin the drill.  I could not really detect much smoke in the darkness, and my technique was marginal, producing no coal on the first
3 tries.  My hands kept slipping down the thin drill shaft, forcing me to stop and reposition them near the top way too often.  The hot friction temperature down at the fireboard kept cooling too much between re-starts.
        I decided to give myself the advantage of adding some tacky friction to the upper part of the drill by applying pine resin to the shaft, but I had none with me.  So, I looked around for a pine tree.  Almost all of the trees were hardwoods that had shed their leaves, so by looking at the silhouette of the treetops, I could pick out two, maybe three pines within 100 yards of where I stood.  I walked to each one and felt its bark with my hands, hoping to find a sticky scar where some resin had bled out to the surface.  
I was at the last pine and had not felt any scars at all.  Feeling higher up and circling its trunk, I saw a moonbeam sparkle against the bark.  It was a single drop of resin almost as high up as I could reach.  I smeared it onto my finger and, just as suddenly, saw another droplet shining a few inches over to the right.
        I walked back over to the hand drill and took care to spread the resin as evenly as I could along the upper extent of the drill shaft.  I began to spin the tacky shaft and, this time, I sensed some smoke.  When I stopped, there was a strong red coal caught in the notch.  I placed it in a little bundle of bark fibers, blew it into flames and placed it into the kindling.
        I opened my can of soup, slid it up against the fire, heated it and ate it.  After the fire burned out, I took a slow 2-hour walk through the night woods and finally returned to my shelter.  It was 10:30 at night and I was getting tired.  The temperature was now 34 degrees, and by morning it would have dropped to 27 degrees.

        I lay on my stomach and slowly backed feet-first into my shelter.  It was built small inside and packed with leaves.I pulled in a double armload plug of leaves to seal the doorway and, as I lay in that dark cocoon of leaves, I felt at peace knowing that I was but a small part of a much larger creation. Yet, it was a world that had put its arm around me and shared something that I needed.  

From the other side of the earth, the sun had shone on two drops of pine resin in the middle of the night, and I was able to re-create its fire.  I finally gave in to the night and fell asleep.

(Will Franck - Axton, Va. - 2001)