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.





Increase Your Situational Awareness With Keep In Memory (KIM) Games

I’ve heard a few questions on podcasts recently about how one can increase their situational awareness skills. The phrase “situational awareness” gets thrown around, but little is ever said on how to develop this elusive skill.

Everyone already has some degree of situational awareness or else you wouldn’t be a live to read this, unless you have a very protective mother.    It’s a skill and a mentality that takes a little bit of extra effort to develop.

When I was in the Marines we had a sergeant come to us who was a former sniper.    Snipers must have excellent observation skills and the ability to take a good mental picture.   There’s so much more to being a sniper than just being able to shoot straight and I always thought it was funny when civilians would suggest that they could’ve made it as a sniper because they think they’re good at shooting pumpkins of posts or whatever.

This sergeant introduced us to KIM games, as we were working up towards a deployment to Iraq.   Not to sound over dramatic, but having a keen sense of situational awareness really was an issue of life or death there.   The enemy blends in with the local populace and uses that to his advantage.   Attention to detail and picking out things that weren’t right allowed you to spot IED’s, detect if someone was acting funny or full of shit and other clues about the task at hand.   As infantrymen, we spent a lot of time patrolling through the town which was technically all “indian country” and there were no real secure areas outside of our little base.   We had to constantly be aware of everything going on around us while doing our jobs.

He laid out a poncho and placed about twenty items on it.   We had a minute to look at the poncho and then make a mental note of what was on it and how things were laid out.   Then we went outside to do some exercises or other tasks to break our concentration for a little while.   Then we came back in and tried to draw a picture of what was on the poncho.    The first time had predictable results, but it improved as we became acquainted with how our minds work on these things and had the idea that details are important hammered into our heads.

This can be done at home if you have someone willing to lay out a bunch of items on the kitchen table or something before you go to work and then when you come home try to remember what you saw.   It’s understandable if your spouse doesn’t want to play along with that one though.    You can also do it with the way cars are parked on your block, license plate numbers, the clutter on a coworker’s desk, the arrangement of books on a shelf, anything at the grocery store (i.e. try remembering the order of the aisles or take note of what was in the produce section).   The possibilities to do these kinds of exercises are endless.    You will find yourself getting better and doing a better job of observing your surroundings.

I think many people take things as they see them and don’t pay much attention to these kinds of details.   When you start acknowledging details to yourself, you’ll start analyzing them and it makes it easier to pick out things that aren’t right.    Me, I think I’m hyper-vigilant.  In some social situations I spend most of the night scanning the crowd to the point where it’s difficult to loosen up.   I can usually pick out the people that are going to cause some sort of incident with a good degree of accuracy.

I think this is the ultimate preparedness/survival skill.  Noticing things that aren’t right can give you a few extra moments to react to something or back up that gut feeling you’re not sure if you should act on.   It makes your neighborhood safer if you have an idea of what everybody’s general routines are, what vehicles you typically see, what lights are on (for example, the people who lived across the street from my grandpa knew something was wrong if his kitchen light wasn’t on when they woke up).

It also helps improve your “bullshit detector” abilities when dealing with the people you interact with.   If you think back to the old Encyclopedia Brown books (or any other detective novels if your background in that genre is more distinguished than mine), virtually all of the mysteries were solved by catching someone in a minor detail and then everything else begins to crumble down around them.   When you observe things and make a mental note of it, you never know when it might come in handy or for what reasons.

Keep your head on a swivel.