Sometimes Joe Blevis disappears into the woods for a few days carrying only a knife. Why, coming from New Jersey suburbs, he developed survival skills, he recently explained.
“I grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with limited access to wilderness,” he said. “When I traveled as a teenager, I was drawn to wilderness areas. I wanted to be more self-sufficient, finding myself limited to what I could carry on my back.”
When he found the Tracker School in southern New Jersey that would teach him how to use the land around him to provide basic necessities, he enrolled.
“It was a pretty instantaneous connection for me. I was immediately hooked,” Blevis said. “I took a ton of classes there, started volunteering and then did a nine-month internship. I went on to teach children and families, and that brought it full circle. Now I’ve been running programs for children, families, and adults for over 10 years.”
As founder of Winding Waters Earth Skills, in Warwick, he teaches shelter building, fire making, water collection and treatment, foraging, tracking, toolmaking and emergency preparedness.
He hones his skills in those days in the woods with just a knife.
“I build a shelter to keep me warm and dry, find a potable water source, make fire from the landscape and forage for food,” he said.
Not that every survival challenge turns out tidily. Amid recent icy weather, he recalled starting a fire and building a shelter on a winter trip in the Catskills.
“There was a huge ice storm - one that leaves everything covered in an inch of solid ice. It took everything I had to get a fire going, and a shelter set up. Definitely too close for comfort,” Blevis said. “Starting a fire took about half a day. I gave up on friction fires and ended up using a lighter I found in my backpack. The shelter took the entire rest of the day into the night. It was a big frozen mess.”
But it was shelter nonetheless.
Survival skills, he says, give him a sense of “self-reliance, perseverance, and confidence, building blocks to a connected, present, and healthy life.”
For that connected life, he recently added woodworking and skateboarding to the skills he teaches.
I build a shelter to keep me warm and dry, find a potable water source, make fire from the landscape and forage for food. - Joe Blevis