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How you built your skill?

Posts: 634
Location: Soutwest Ohio
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I grew up in the North Eastern United States and found that it was very hard to find people with the skills and knowledge that could be relied on as mentors. I ended up doing a lot of self-teaching. Every manual known to man says the same thing; always find someone who knows what they are doing and verify with them before trusting the guide(s). That is all well and good if you can find someone. For myself, I had to focus on the items that couldn't be mistaken first, then learn all of the ones that were questionable by carefully studying them side-by-side with their known lookalikes. Some videos, a lot of reading and a few tips here and there from a person or two that knew about some specific plant if not a large number of them. Even then I had to be very cautious. One of the local 'experts' poisoned an entire college class at one point by misidentifying what he thought was wild carrot. To me, that is a novice mistake and really didn't speak well of the term 'expert' where I was growing up.

So my point is, I am curious how you came to your own knowledge. Was it a similar path to myself with meticulous research and dirt-time or were you lucky enough to have a quality mentor or plant identification group to work with?
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D. Logan, I came to my skills through early experiences, academic training in botany, and a ridiculous amount of motivation that helped me work through failures. Constant failures--learning by trial and error is a very inefficient way to learn. Many people consider this form of learning superior, but if you experiment 50 times and finally get it right on the last one, you have knowledge of 49 ways to fail. Survival and surthrival are about succeeding. I would much rather learn from a mentor and have 50 successful attempts under my belt. Life isn't long enough to relearn everything from scratch. We will never reach actual competency in wild living that way. So, back to your question. I spent a lot of time reading what I can about indigenous methods of performing various tasks and trying to replicate those experiments. My knowledge has been garnered from 100s of sources. My mentors are primarily books and research articles, some on wild food nutrition, others on medicine, others on hunting weapons, others on fiber arts, bark containers, basketry, adhesives, etc., etc. No one book has it all in one place. You will eventually learn which authors are just repeating the same old stuff and which ones have actual experience with what they are discussing. Find those and follow them (whether it be in person or via the web). Learning from someone who can show you how to do it correctly is worth the time and financial investment because it ends up saving you tremendously in the long run. I realize I'm probably not giving you the answer you hoped for, but I feel the same frustration you have experienced. At least I can spare my students from some of that "trial and error" annoyance. Best wishes.
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