More Urban Awareness

by Brian Griffin February 26, 2020

More Urban Awareness

The hustle and bustle of our lives can keep us in what feels like a state perpetual motion. And our endless running to make the ends meet, the sense of always being in a race with time, can create a sort of mental tunnel vision. It can narrow our focus to such a small point that all we see are the goals we've set and how quickly the time is ticking away. The rest of the world around us can become just a blur in our periphery, as we go through our day on autopilot.

Some of us have become more aware of our surroundings and the hazards within, usually the hard way, and have learned to make at least some contingency plans. So we carry various small kits to cope with life's little reoccurring emergencies. Like small first aid kits for cuts and splinters, a way to make light if the power goes out, a way to create warmth if the power goes out in the winter, and a way to cut things. With an awareness of our dependency on water, having a portable water purification system on hand is almost never a bad idea.


A lot of us enjoy spending time in our local parks when we can, I know my daughters and I always have. Whether we're playing ball, throwing the frisbee, picnicking, or a long day of some of all of it. It's good for us to get outside and let off steam, but being aware of hazards in urban spaces can make our time out more enjoyable and in some cases much safer. We can't control the behaviors of people any more than we can control nature's, short of simply removing them both from our environments or us from theirs, and to me that doesn't sound like much fun. But we can adapt our own behaviors to the environments we frequent.


A lot of parks in temperate regions have a few varieties of toxic plants growing in them. I'd much rather to learn to identify those plants and avoid them than complain about them, which would likely just get our parks sprayed with dangerous herbicides that we can't see and thus can't avoid.

Contact dermatitis can be painfully annoying, but I have friends who can't keep the rhyme of 3 and 5 straight because they don't encounter the situation often enough for it to stick. So to help with that I teach them a story of 1, and then they can expand their knowledge from there. Because Poison Ivy – which is so common here it may as well be the Tennessee State Wildflower – is the main culprit for contact dermatitis here in the south, and it is the 1 vine in our parks and woods which is “hairy”. So if they learn to look for the hairy vines, then they will probably figure out in time that the “leaves of three” are usually the worrisome ones. And for those who have severe allergic reactions to urushiol, the vine itself can be just as hazardous in the autumn and winter.

Even when the leaves are gone the urushiol oil is still present in the vines. Skin contact with just the vines and stalks can bring about a reaction for some people, and burning it as a tinder material or a fuel for cooking (or for warming) in a public barbecue grill can be very dangerous for anyone in the area who is allergic to it. Fire doesn't destroy the urushiol oil it vaporizes it, and sends it traveling through the air as steam. If inhaled that steam will cause a much worse reaction inside the lungs of anyone who breaths it than the oil would cause on their skin. In this instance Poison Ivy can be deadly.


I don't fish the river here anymore, in fact it has been decades since I put a line in this water, but I did fish here many times as a kid. And even decades later, once you've had to remove fishhooks that were deeply buried in your flesh, by forcing them on through and out (because fishhooks don't travel in reverse), it becomes an experience you will likely never forget. So even though I don't fish here anymore, my eyes still automatically watch for rogue lures when I'm near the water. That's how I found this one, stuck in a piece of old cloth right beside the concrete of the river walk.

Even if you're not into fishing yourself, if you go near bodies of water that contain fish it is a good idea to watch for things left behind by those who are. Removing a fishhook from a child's foot is an extremely unpleasant experience, and removing one from your own body isn't exactly fun. Having at least one good multi-tool on hand is very helpful, and having two is even better. Case in point, as you can see here, it was much easier to just cut a small section of the cloth than to pull the hooks out of it.


For some people it may seem like I'm stating the obvious when I say it can be a bad idea to venture beyond the end of the lighted and watched-over paths in parks at night. Yet for some of the younger and less experienced the lights and cameras in the open areas can create a false sense of security in the entire park, which can embolden them to go where they probably shouldn't go at night. So be careful if you venture out to where the wild things grow after dark, you could find yourself much further out of your reckoning than you like.

As an example at first glance this camp, which was located in woods just off the trail about 200 meters down that darkened path in the previous image, appeared much like any homeless camp. And having been homeless myself in younger days, I tend to sympathize with some of the homeless people I encounter today. So after observing the camp from a distance for a few days, and only ever seeing the one guy there, I was initially interested in seeing if I could/should offer him some help. It was early autumn and winter was coming.

The trail to the camp was well-worn and very clear, but it took an odd circuitous route around to the right side of it and then entered the camp at an angle from the rear. The entrance and interior of the camp were well hidden from sight of anyone on the trail by the tarps and bushes. For privacy I assumed, which wasn't surprising.

It wasn't until I walked into the main area that I saw the rather disturbing scene waiting behind those tarps. It was not a camp at all, but what appeared to be a cul de sac set up as an ambush site. Even worse it appeared to be one that targeted children. A little girl's dress was displayed very prominently, and very neatly compared to the rest of the chaos, hanging spread out on the side of a shopping cart at the opneing. Looking at the layout of the area as a whole, it reminded me of a fox trap with the dress being used as a type of bait. Then there was more children's clothing and a few toys partly hidden under debris deeper into the cul de sac, which was set up in a way that any child caught within it would have great difficulty in escaping.

On the other side of the entry trail there was an area of flattened grass and weeds behind some small bushes. It looked like a deer or coyote bed, except it was littered with junk food wrappers and and cigarette butts, which gave it the appearance of an observation post. At that point I left and got the authorities involved, and in a relatively short period of time the man was taken into custody and removed from the area.

I was later told the guy was a previously imprisoned pedophile with a long record. While this is definitely the exception rather than the rule when it comes to homeless camps, I have never in my life been so glad I went through advanced infantry training in the Army. Having been trained to recognize ambushes allowed me to see that odd camp for what it was, rather than just being confused by it like the other passersby in the area said they had been.

We live in a really beautiful world full of wonder that is certainly worth enjoying. But even though our world is much improved today over the world our ancestors saw in the dark ages, there are still some serious concerns and some very real threats lurking out there, and awareness is an essential skill to survival in any environment. It can be very dangerous to let the things on the edges of our world become such a blur we don't notice them. Paying just a little more attention in the areas we wander can make a huge difference in the overall quality of our lives and the lives of those whom we love.




Brian Griffin
Brian Griffin

Author

Brian Griffin is an author, photographer, wilderness and survival skills teacher, knife enthusiast, outdoor gear researcher and product development consultant. He has a decades-long history of using and developing outdoor related tools and gear.



Leave a comment


Also in Articles

Disaster Prep
Disaster Prep

by Kevin Estela September 23, 2020

Unless you’ve been half asleep, you probably have noticed 2020 is a year for the books. COVID 19, double...correction, quintuplet hurricanes, murder hornets, civil unrest, can we get a break? This year, the fabric of our society has been tested. We’ve seen how the masses will react to the prospect of quarantine and when the opportunity to lash out at the system was presented. Toilet paper was hoarded, ammunition was gobbled up by panic buyers, cities fell to riots deemed “mostly-peaceful protests” by the media, and the public was thrust into the position of seriously considering the lack of safety provided by the government and the benefit of self-reliance.

Read More

Bugout On Foot
Bugout On Foot

by Kevin Estela August 26, 2020 2 Comments

If you’re someone who participates in survival discussions, you’ve probably heard of the term “bug out”. Bugging out has been popularized by movies like “Red Dawn” and books like “The Road.” You may have entertained ideas of running to the hills or what you would do if some sort of emergency made its way to your front door. There may be a particular event you’re readying yourself for the decision to leave your most valuable investment (your home I’m assuming) and risk your safety to get away. Recently, I had the opportunity to be a guest instructor at the Fieldcraft Survival Bugout On Foot Course in Prescott, Arizona. This course was designed to teach students the reality of mobility on foot and better prepare them with approximately 70 hours of instruction and practical field exercises over 5 days. The students participated in an extensive after-action report and now have a wealth of takeaways and this month’s blog is meant to share some of the most important ones with you.

Read More

Back to Baxter: A Story of Then and Now
Back to Baxter: A Story of Then and Now

by Kevin Estela August 05, 2020 3 Comments

The year is 1999. Britney Spears burst onto the scene with “Hit Me Baby One More Time” and Keanu introduced us to the artificial world of The Matrix. We were less than a year from the anti-climactic Y2K panic and new millennia. In August of 1999, I was enjoying a great summer off from my freshman year of college and some new-found freedom from an ex girlfriend. My good friends from high school, Nate and Frank, were interested in hanging out again and we were all looking for an adventure. After high school, we all went separate ways but what bound us as friends was the interest we had in the great outdoors and that would unite us again for an epic road trip to Baxter State Park and summiting Mt. Katahdin. That was then. That was over 20 years ago when I was just a teenager who was looking for direction. Since then, I only returned to that part of Maine once in 2003 to summit it again. Now, it has been 17 years and so much has changed in my life. Now, it was time to go back, it was time to seek out adventure again, it was time to give into the draw of the mountains.

Read More

Knives & News

Sign up with your favorite email.