PAT NEAL: It is never too late to panic

AS A STUDENT of wilderness survival, it has always amazed me how often wilderness survival experts offer the same wilderness survival advice, “don’t panic.”

For example, if you are lost in the forest with night coming on and you hear the footsteps of a large creature that seems to be following you, don’t panic.

If you should suddenly come face to face with an enraged cougar, bear or nest of bald-faced hornets, don’t panic. If you fall into a river or get swept out to sea by a rip tide, don’t panic. In fact, given the temperature of our water you probably won’t have time to panic before you go hypothermic.

Personally, when it comes to wilderness survival, I like to panic at the first available opportunity.

For example, once upon a time on a wilderness survival exercise disguised as a bird-watching trip it was discovered we had only coffee beans instead of ground coffee for the morning brew.

Panic was inevitable. Panic can be a great motivator.

In a state of advanced panic, I was able to smash the beans with an ax, ensuring a satisfying morning ritual.

In that particular instance, the ability to harness panic in a constructive manner saved the expedition from the disastrous and even dangerous consequences of running out of coffee in the wilderness.

Which begs the question, might it be possible to harness the power of panic in our daily lives?

The answer should be obvious to anyone who just looked out the window and saw fresh snow in the mountains. This, along with other key seasonal indicators of the severity of the coming winter, such as the thickness of corn husks, the size and abundance of spiders, the winter coats on the coyotes to name a few, are all pointing to a disturbing repetition of last year’s “snowpocalypse.”

You remember last winter. It was like living inside your freezer with the light turned off.

Just remember, when it comes to surviving the coming hard winter, it’s a good idea to panic early and often.

It takes a village to get ready for winter. A hard winter can have a way of bringing folks together. In fact, there is a tradition in this country of neighbors helping neighbors as a way of expressing solidarity against the elements while we provide a shining beacon of humanity by enduring this adversity together.

Neighbors who have not spoken in years are often glad to see other neighbors if you find them stuck in a ditch in a snowstorm and you are able to pull them out.

Getting to know your neighbors is a good first step in winter survival. You may want to make a list of things your neighbors should have in case you need to borrow them in an emergency, like batteries, toiletries, mineral water and coffee.

In addition to the snow, cold and darkness, winter weather can leave us without electrical power for many minutes at a time.

Power outages can represent a traumatic, irreversible negative impact in our daily lives since people can be forced to endure being trapped together in the same house without television, computers or phones once the batteries go dead.

That is the perfect time to panic. Without the presence of these electronic devices in our daily lives, we could be forced to revert back to the practice of talking to one another in a manner not unlike primitive societies once did in the dawn of our history.

You were warned, prepare. This winter will be hard, cold and dark. It is never too late to panic.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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