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Sam Coffman is luring folks back to the land in the face of global insecurity

Photo: Micahel Barajas, License: N/A

Micahel Barajas


One definition of survivalism has to do with making it in nature without all of society’s fluff: going primitive. The other definition, perhaps more familiar, involves stockpiling Triscuits and forbidding anyone to use the chemical toilet until the bombs start falling: going paranoid. And while both consider civilization a pretty flimsy concept, Sam Coffman, founder of the survival school The Human Path, worries that those bunker-lovers have hijacked a term that really has more to do with integrating the human species with the rest of life on Earth than with putting up more walls between people.

Survival schools, he says, reflect a range of beliefs, “from people who live in bunkers and who are counting their ammo and want to shoot anybody who comes on their property, all the way to people who are singing ‘Kumbaya’ and dancing around the trees.”

The Human Path teaches “primitive skills” that span burly topics — building fires, tracking prey, and hand-to-hand combat — alongside pastoral themes — local herbs, field medicine, and permaculture. So Coffman’s mission is to integrate the need for security with a love for nature in the two qualities he hopes to teach every student: adaptability and awareness. The school’s motto: “To be the best possible person you can be in the worst possible circumstances.”

This sweep of knowledge came from a variety of sources. During the ’80s he was an interrogator for the U.S. Army in Germany, and during the ’90s he was a Special Forces combat medic. The rest of his life to date has been marked by an immersion in nature, some of it involving only a knife and an elk-skin.

Something in the alchemy of these experiences made him worry about the human race. Namely, will there be one in the future? So about a year and a half ago he created his school. “When I first started teaching this stuff, it was just all random skills, it didn’t really tie together. And now it does, because the thing that ties it together is the survival of the species.”

He thinks the version of society we’ve got is a “mutually agreed-upon hallucination.” If you get mugged, for example, it squashes “that illusion that you had that you were in complete control of your life, because culture and TV and internet and YouTube and ‘The View’ and everything told you that this is what your life actually is.” Don’t rely on corporations or the government or daytime television to come to your aid when things fall apart; why, just look at New Orleans. When disaster strikes, he says, surviving for six months with your Triscuits ain’t going to cut it. “What you have to do is understand, how do we re-enter into the world? How do we do that without recreating all the same bullshit and all the mistakes that got us here in the first place?” Coffman wants to teach us how to once again make friends with Nature, that old spurned chum, when civilization up and quits on us.

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