Asbury Park Press (Neptune,
January 10, 1999
MICHAEL AMSEL; STAFF WRITER
WARETOWN - It is some people's worst nightmare: Your car breaks
down and you're stranded in a desolate place, miles away from
civilization. The weather is brutally cold, your fingers are
frozen to the bone and you don't have a cell phone.
No sweat, says Tom Brown Jr., author of the book "Field Guide
to City and Suburban Survival" and proprietor of a wilderness
"Nineteen years ago, a student of mine was stranded in Minnesota,"
Brown said. "Her car broke down and it was snowing badly
in below-zero temperature.
"She remembered two important things: shelter and insulation.
She used the car as her shelter, and ripped out wads of foam
rubber from the front seat, shoving them inside her clothes for
insulation. She also jammed leaves and twigs in to protect herself.
"The next day, she was rescued. Meanwhile, a 6-3 guy in a
pickup truck ... one of those macho men ... was in a similar
situation, and they found him dead. He'd frozen to death."
In 1978, Brown founded Tracker Inc., a wilderness survival school
based in Bethlehem, N.J. It attracts more than 2,500 people a
Last week, 55 people braved the frigid cold and blustery winds
in the Pine Barrens, learning about nature awareness, tracking
and the nuances of wilderness survival. They found out how to
build a group shelter out of leaves, twigs and pine needles, and
started a fire with a "hand drill" - wood twirled between
the palms, burning into another piece of wood and producing a
One night, when the wind-chill was below zero, "most of them
were lying in their shelters with just jeans and a T-shirt,"
Brown said. "Some of them said they were hot."
The people also made tools and cooking utensils out of stone and
wood. They learned how to track mice and rabbits over frozen
ground. And they discovered - much to their amazement - that
the earth turned out some edible food.
"There are over 1,000 kinds of edible plants," Brown
explained. "But you have to be extremely careful. You can't
pick every vine. Some of them are poisonous." 'At one with
the Earth' With the success of his wilderness survival classes,
Brown often finds himself reminiscing about Stalking Wolf, an
Apache Indian who lived to be 94. Stalking Wolf was Brown's mentor
and best friend. Brown said he was 7 years old when he met the
man who'd shape his life's work.
"A great deal of what I teach is based on Native American
beliefs," said Brown, a Toms River High School graduate.
"To be a good survivalist, you need to be at one with the
Earth, and that's the philosophy of Native Americans.
"What people don't understand is, these skills have been
proven for centuries. They are not some new-fangled things. They
work and save lives."
After Stalking Wolf died in 1967, Brown spent the next eight years
living at wilderness sites across the country, with no manufactured
tools, not even a knife, he said. He practiced and perfected
the skills he'd learned under the tutelage of Stalking Wolf.
Then, in 1975, a Jackson official asked him for help in locating
a missing man. Brown found the man and soon picked up the nickname
Three years later, Brown published the first of his 15 books -
an autobiography appropriately entitled "Tracker."
Expertise put to use Last year, Brown's expertise in tracking
brought a call from Texas police. Authorities were frantically
searching for a convicted murderer who had escaped prison.
"I told them he had no survivalist skills unless he'd read
my book in the prison library," Brown said. "That seemed
highly unlikely to me. I said, 'Either a friend picked him up
or he's going to die in the river."
A short time later, the prisoner was found dead in the swamps.
Fox Network and CNN have used Brown as a commentator during recent
natural disasters. When a vicious ice storm crippled Maine last
year, Brown got on the air and explained how the people could
keep warm, generate heat and light their homes without electricity.
"When weather takes a turn for the worse, and you find yourself
in adverse conditions, you can't panic," Brown said. "That's
the worst possible thing you can do.
"Keep your head up and think things out. Stay calm. Be flexible.
Make sure you find a shelter first, and try and get some liquids
into your system.
"Don't worry about food. Everyone's body can survive a week
without food, hard as that is to believe."
Brown's other books include "Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature
Awareness and Tracking,""The Way of a Scout" and