By Travis Birch
The process of building a life off the grid is more of a marathon than a sprint. Slowly acclimating to the more rudimentary ways is fun, and requires practice to fine-tune certain tasks. So we spend a good amount of time working and living in town. When business takes me out of town one of the things I do is put together a ditty bag. This is a bag of bathroom essentials that I use to clean up to start or end the day. Deodorant, teeth care and overall hygiene awareness bits and pieces fill the bag and are at hand when needed.
My boys take note, and they prepare their toiletries and sundries in a similar style. Then my youngest asked me if we used the same things when we go out and do some primitive camping. Sure enough, we store the basics at our cabin in the woods, but I took for granted my scouting days and the things we did to get us through the weekend with the lightest pack as possible. So the boys and I planned a primitive weekend with just us and Chester. Our travel packs included just one blanket per person, and pocket tools and equipment. Our hygiene would come from Mother Nature, and our footprints in the wild would become minimal.
We weren’t at our campsite for more than an hour when my oldest son needed to evacuate himself. He took the folding shovel and went downwind to dig out a latrine. Since our supply of toilet paper is at the cabin, the woods offered us sphagnum moss to do the trick. It is easy to come by in our area. It maintains moisture which makes it good to use, and it is always replenished. Moss has been used to dress wounds when nothing else is available during times of need. It absorbs up to 20 times its weight when applied to bodily fluids. This then breaks down quickly into the ground.
That evening as the fire dwindled we needed to brush our teeth from our meal of fresh fish. I showed the boys how we did it back in the day without our toothbrush. I cut a small fresh twig off a branch. I skinned the outside of the tip. I chewed on the end for a minute making the working end frayed, and giving it a larger application area. With the frayed end, I addressed each tooth and gently worked the gum line. When finished I grabbed some charred wood that I pulled from the fire at the start of a day. This brittle charcoal was cooled and broke easily in my hands. I put some small pieces in my mouth and worked the bits around my teeth. A quick rinse or two and most of everything is gone. This isn’t the best tasting toothpaste you can buy, but does the job and works to kill the bacteria that grows in your mouth. Plus the coarseness cleans the mouth and tends to whiten your smile over repetitive use.
We rose with the Sun the following morning and visited the latrine. We didn’t need to bath that morning, but we discussed the best way to attack that activity without soap or shampoo. Ideally, you start your fire and then head off to the river. I bring a pot of steeped nettle leaves to rinse through my hair after a couple of passes in the current. The cool water wakes you up, and then the nettle tea washes through my hair. This strengthens the overall body of the hair follicles and moisturizes the hair while caring for any dander issues. While swimming I run pine branches across my body. This natural scrub brush loosens any stuck on dirt or grime. Then I head back to the fire and throw some fresh branches on it. The fire helps dry you off, and the smoke envelops your body masking any off smells that you’re dealing with. If you’re hunting the smoke helps you become one with nature and disguises your scent. Plus, living for any long period of time in the wild, the ripeness of society tends to go away after a while. If it is winter time, I will build a sweat lodge from branches. Fashioning a teepee of sorts around a fire. The deep sweat cleans the pores and gives your body an overall feeling that every nook and cranny of your body has been attended to. If you’re up to it, jumping into a cool river or spring will invigorate your senses.
Finally, a fresh handful of pine needles is nearby, and I will run it over my armpits to give them each a coating of freshness. Other fragrant trees and flowers may offer different alternatives to deodorant as well. But to reiterate from above, you will be surprised how much you don’t notice things like your personal smells after a little time in the wild.
The weekend ended for us with everyone learning a little more than we started with. As for Chester, he enjoys curling up next to me at night as much as I do. My faithful four-legged friend is the perfect warming device for a cool autumn night.