Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass by Harold Getty

Awesome book.    I’ve been raging on the book reviews lately, but I suppose that’s what happens when I can manage to get a lot of reading done.

This book was written shortly after World War II by expert navigator Harold Getty.   He draws on his experience as a pilot, outdoorsman and sailor as well as a traveler among primitive societies (Eskimos, Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, Polynesians, etc) who use this stuff as a matter of life and death.

One thing Getty makes clear is that he doesn’t believe that the ability to navigate comes from magic or a “sixth sense” that us modern-day Westerners like to ascribe to indigenous societies.   Instead he believes the ability to navigate comes from actually using your senses and developing them.   Reading this brings home the fact that in the modern world we have a lot of things done for us and it’s easy to not rely on them as much as ancient man did.

The book is divided up into about 20 chapters, some longer than others, based on navigating in certain environments or using certain mediums (i.e. urban, using plants, using the moon, desert, aquatic birds, etc.).   There’s definitely a lot of interesting information and since I read it a few days ago I’ve found myself trying apply a few things in the book.   Some things I’ll probably never apply, some things will probably be useful at some point.

I think the way this book should be used is to read through it to get an idea of what’s possible and then referring back to specific chapters later on for the specifics.   Some things I glossed over in the book such as the in-depth descriptions of the habits of certain nautical birds.   Definitely an interesting idea and I thought the general premise behind navigating through the birds was a worthwhile tidbit of knowledge, but no use clouding my mind with specifics right now.   I’ll probably check back with the book soon and try telling the sidereal time and some of the things with the sun.

Thinking beyond just navigation, this book has applications for situational awareness and permaculture.    Getty really stresses actively observing the environment and shows many ways you can get all kinds of information out of your surroundings.    He also gives some clues on how you can assess weather patterns in a specific area, which ties in with permaculture.

This is definitely a cool book and a good one to have in the collection if you’re into these kinds of primitive skills and believe that your mind is often your most valuable piece of gear.   I wish I would have read this one a long time ago while I was in the Marines, I think a lot of this information would have come in handy.    This is the kind of stuff that once you learn it, you’ll find yourself always using it.  There’s all kinds of things in this book that he brings up that I can’t believe I never thought of.   I’ve already started looking at all the trees around me a little differently now that I know what to look for.