By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
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By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The raggedy Jeep shudders on rocky back roads, low gear jolts through clumps of shaggy bush juniper. "They're edible, just like the books say," Lundin tells the backpackers, "but I think they suck." A lone cow stares dumbly from the shade of one of the squat trees.
"There's the native slow elk," he says.
"Check out that rack," says Sheldon Oien, a 35-year-old TRW engineer, referring to the munching beast's stumpy horns. Oien, who used to do a lot of backpacking before life gave him a wife and kids, saw Lundin's brochure at a Tempe outdoor-goods store not long ago and said to himself, "That's for me."
"Yeah, mount that sucker," says TRW buddy Dan Bush, who is 28 and Oien's subordinate at TRW.
Lundin curls the Jeep into a clearing off the road, which has virtually disappeared into brush. Heat has begun to set in, on the way to 90 degrees. Lundin gets serious, slipping his feet into rickety sandals for the hike, laying out the accessories he has brought along for all--large, single-edged bolo knives, foot-long files, minihacksaws, gourds grown by a guy in Utah.
On this weekender, Lundin lets participants bring their own gorp, cheese 'n' crackers, sleeping bags, whatever. The point is to learn a few basic skills. Other trips are more harsh, allowing only gear made in previous sessions like this one.
Far away from anything, the breezes blow freely, and there is no sound but bird-chirping, the rustling and jostling of backpacks, the crunch of rocks underfoot.
The path starts to slope down into the canyon. Lundin stops and picks at a short, bushy shrub bearing red berries the size of pearls--squawberries, he says. Here, have a few. They're tangy, pleasant jolts of sweetness--Lundin calls them nature's SweeTarts--with a marble of a seed inside. The bushes grow straight like a willow and were used by native peoples because "they make really killer basketry material."
"That's one of the reasons they call it squawbush," Lundin says. "It was a derogatory term, because the native women used them a lot to make baskets. But it's a pretty neat plant, kind of a little pick-me-up. You don't often find something in the woods like that, that everlasting gobstopper type of candy."
Down, down. The trail thins out along rocky ledges, urges the group through stubborn, prickly bushes and finally spills out onto a verdant riparian creek bed. The creek is a belt of green winding along the bland desert terrain of the canyon; nearby marshes teem with bullfrogs and dragonflies.
Further downstream, the creek is a light breakfast buffet. The weekend includes a 90-minute sampling of various edible plants, a knee-deep salad of veronica, watercress, mint and the king of the edibles, the reedy cattail. Oien will take meticulous notes.
Also on the agenda: Cody Lundin, Primitive Guy, will attempt to catch a fish using nothing but his bare hands.
But all that is still off in the future. Feet pound through the dust in a silent trek toward a destination known only to Lundin. Far removed from the groping fingers of civilization.
Apparently not far enough: Down a sloping trail run, an Icee cup lies thrashed in the dirt.
Nobody's signing up for Lundin's courses to advance the species. Making fire without matches isn't going to get you that assistant manager's position at the office or pay the cable bill. Lundin's students generally want to become more self-sufficient, to be able to pack lighter.
But along with the skills, he advocates a way of thinking, both primitive and future-minded, a leave-no-trace philosophy that espouses responsibility to one's environment. That focus is unlike the sometimes militaristic mentality taught in some of these "survival" courses, which emphasize getting out of the situation at all costs--and if you have to eat the last blue-beaked heron on Earth, so be it.
Lundin looks at the cup for a second. "See the BB holes?" he asks. He sounds like a parent who's gotten one too many calls from the principal's office about a troublesome kid.
"Very classy. I'll take care of that on the way back."
About two and a half miles into the canyon, whose walls now rise 300 feet on either side, Lundin has the backpackers throw down their stuff on a lumpy patch of dirt and sand under a big velvet ash. This is home for the next day and a half. Clumps of wayward brush housing a snake or two embrace the ash's trunk, brought there by winter waters that have sprinkled giant wood croutons all over the place. The creek breathes just behind an adjacent stretch of trees and weeds.
The group sits campfire-style on the dirt, legs crossed, fingers kneading random blades of stray grass. The Primitive Guy explains what is to come.
We'll be cutting branches, he says once introductions are complete. We'll be using wood, maybe eating fish or whatever. But remember, he says, there's a hole in the Earth somewhere because of those backpacks you carried in. Out here, you'll be directly responsible for your impact on the environment.
Oien, the bespectacled TRW engineer who spends most of his days working with air bags inanimate and otherwise, is just happy to be out of the office. He's read books, but, of course, there's nothing like being out in the field. "I always wanted to go on something like this," he says in a voice as deep as the canyon.