After twenty-two years in the Army and eight years as an art director at Clemson, Alex Garcia has taken to the woods. Through EarthSkills, LLC, a wilderness self-reliance school he founded in 2013, Alex teaches students how to fend for themselves out in the wild. We asked Garcia why these skills are important in today’s modern world: if it’s all about “feeding the fire” and why he cringes at the word survival.
So, my idea of survival is spending the night in a hotel without room service. What can you teach someone like me?
In about four hours I can teach you to make fire with stuff that’s just lying around the woods.
Is being able to make fire really that important?
Yes! If you are stranded out in the woods, you need to be able to keep animals away, cook your meals, purify water, and stay warm.
But if I’m stranded, what’s the first thing I need to do?
You have to change your attitude into one of positive thinking. And that positive thinking is wilderness self-reliance and assimilation into nature. The first step of survival is to calm down, look around, and see all of the resources that are around you.
Like what kinds of resources?
For example, your shoelace or the threads in your pants are things you can use for fishing. The bark of a poplar tree can be used to make baskets for holding items you are foraging.
But it would be handy to have a knife, right?
Of course. I teach a class on how to properly use and maintain a knife. You know, it’s funny because some students will come out to the class with a massive-sized knife. But the kind of tool-making we use a knife for cannot be done with a big combat knife. Your knife has to be small; the blade should be at most three-and-a-half-inches long. The big ones look great hanging on your hip, but they’re really not functional.
So are these classes about “prepping” and the “prepper” movement?
Not at all. The intent of what I teach is not to make a “prepper” out of you—you know, somebody who is thinking about the end of the Earth or the end of our culture. The goal of the school is to reconnect people to the things we take for granted every day. Yes, it is a survival school, but the attitude and the philosophy are different. The word survival has the connotation that you don’t want the environment that you’re in. You want to get out. So, the reason I don’t like using the word survival is because what I’m teaching is really about accepting ourselves as part of nature.
Give me an example of something we take for granted
Something simple like a container, a bowl, or a cup, just something to hold water in is a necessity. Or what about a piece of rope? We see rope everywhere, but to make that piece of rope when you’re out in the woods takes know-how and a lot of time. So what happens to people in my classes is all of a sudden they start gaining this appreciation for all of the luxuries we have.
Who attends your classes?
A little over half of my students are women. I’m not sure why, although one of my students said the classes were a great place to meet men. I guess if you want to date an outdoors guy, this is the place to find him. My students are from all walks of life. I’ve had doctors, lawyers, police officers, high school teachers . . . it really runs across the board.
So what’s next for EarthSkills?
It’s slowly expanding to include multiple-day classes so the students sleep out overnight. Right now I don’t ask them to sleep in a shelter that they’ve built. But that’s coming.