Sunday, July 5, 2015


Matt Graham isn't the first author to discuss the value of nature to the human spirit, but he is arguably the most committed. As a modern-day hunter-gatherer, Graham only occasionally steps into the bounds of what we would call civilization. The rest of the time, he's walking across the country, free climbing to incredible heights, and otherwise living off the land, crafting his own tools and shelter, hunting his own food; living skin-to-skin with the wilderness. Epic Survival is his attempt to impart some of the lessons (both practical and philosophical) that he has picked up along the way.
With fewer and fewer people identifying with traditional religions or theologies today, many  struggle with finding greater spiritual meaning in their lives. The relationship that Matt has fostered with the ecosystem is one way of invoking the kind of resonant emotional connection to something larger than oneself without appealing to the “old man on a cloud” school of spirituality. Don't be fooled, though: if nature is a God, it's closer to the Old Testament kind.

With all the childlike wonder that Graham discusses the soul-fulfilling experiences he's had in the wilderness, he makes no qualms about the dangers. He bluntly states that “If you don't pay attention and respect [the land], it WILL kill you.” This pragmatic reality is one of the things that keeps the book grounded rather than floating off into flowers-in-rifles hippie territory. Numerous times, Graham and co-writer Young go into great detail on how to construct sandals, hunting tools, and traps, complete with hand-drawn diagrams. This is definitely indicative of Matt's background as a wilderness survival teacher, and it shows. The combination of his wisdom and experience, and Josh Young's skills as a multiple time bestselling author means that the complexity of the information need not be compromised for the sake of clarity.

There are a few points where Graham floats dangerously close to the naturalistic fallacy, stating his belief that “any time that we rely on technology or gadgetry instead of nature, we harm ourselves in some way.” I doubt that those with diabetes who are reliant on insulin would feel the same way, nor would those dying of Ebola feel as enthusiastic about nature's inherent benevolence. However, these moments are few and far between. Furthermore, this book is a tale of a journey, both literally and figuratively. The stories in Epic Survival's chapters range from Graham's early twenties into his late thirties, often times looking back with the cringe-inducing clarity of hindsight at the hasty or preachy decisions made in the enthusiasm of youth. In that same vein, I feel willing to forgive his perhaps 
overreaching perspective on nature, only because there are areas of our lives where we may all may “drink the kool-aid” from time-to-time, only realizing as much after the fact.

In sum, I think that for the broad range of experiences, useful information, and potentially mind-opening philosophies within, Epic Survival: Extreme Adventure, Stone Age Wisdom, and Lessons in Living From a Modern-Day Hunter Gatherer is worth the read. Just make sure to sit and count to ten before you trade in your converse for a set of yucca fiber sandals.

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek at The Rogue's Gallery and One of Us. Check out his FB page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman, for more musings from the dark corners of the internet. Plus the occasional cat photo.

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