Posted by on Jul 13, 2015 in Survival | 0 comments

I submit Richard Burton, the British 19th Century explorer, not the actor, survived a Somali spear through his cheek (which he had to leave there as he made his escape), had a habit of crashing Arabian harems, and endured many harrowing scrapes, was protected only by his dogged eccentricity and ability to creatively adapt. If ever there was a man who had the ability to think outside the box, it was Burton. From Burton to Lawrence to Bagnold, the British penchant for eccentricity seemed to generate men who made the unusual work for them.

You can cull survival catalogs until the cows come home, but some of the best gear you can have is gear you’ve invented for, or creatively applied to, your particular situation. You should cultivate the habit of invention or creative application. Odds are when you are thrust into situation, you will not have a catalog to pour over or a long term address for deliveries.

So to the world of inventive White Knights, outdoorsmen, warriors, eccentrics, and other folks worth knowing I offer the below literary episode for all of you to ponder.

He was dressed in tin armour, which seemed to fit him very badly, and he had a queer-shaped little deal box fastened across his shoulders, upside-down, and with the lid hanging open. Alice looked at it with great curiosity.

 ‘I see you’re admiring my little box,’ the Knight said in a friendly tone. ‘It’s my own invention — to keep clothes and sandwiches in. You see I carry it upside-down, so that the rain can’t get in.’

‘But the things can get out,’ Alice gently remarked. ‘Do you know the lid’s open?’

‘I didn’t know it,’ the Knight said, a shade of vexation passing over his face. ‘Then all the things must have fallen out! And the box is no use without them.’ He unfastened it as he spoke, and was just going to throw it into the bushes, when a sudden thought seemed to strike him, and he hung it carefully on a tree. ‘Can you guess why I did that?’ he said to Alice.

Alice shook her head.

‘In hopes some bees may make a nest in it — then I should get the honey.’

-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Tenniel's illustration of the White Knight, in his full eccentric glory.

Tenniel’s illustration of the White Knight, in his full eccentric glory.

The White Knight will never have nubile young females swooning. Eccentric adventure movie heros are rare. The closest we’ve come was the “MacGyver” TV series which did run seven seasons.

What set me musing on this personality trait was the following email that I snagged from Surfmatters/ I don’t know Art C, but guess we’d all get along with him famously. We Americans too can compete when it comes to eccentricity and the realm of inventive applications.

Yesterday I used my new surf mat [The 4th Gear Flyer surfmat] to traverse the pools in that granite canyon in central Arizona. I sink much deeper in the water than on my previous craft but the new mat is 40 ounces lighter and much more compact so it’s worth the trade off to me. My back pack has a dry bag inside so nothing gets wet.

Thanks again. Great product.

Art C

I don’t know who Art is, but as the photos show, he’s a dead ringer for Tenniel’s illustration of the eccentric and inventive White Knight from Alice in Wonderland. Art C has found a new desert river-crossing application for a piece of coastal gear that sure beats fashioning a coracle from vines, reeds, twigs, and an old poncho.

Art C and his 4GF surfmat in a central Arizona pool

Art C and his 4GF surfmat in a central Arizona pool

What really surprised me here, was that I was on an Explorers Club expedition to the Austral Islands in this last May and I brought my own Omni [4th Gear Flyer surfmat] with me. As it turned out I spent most of my time inland near the volcano and never got to inflate it, but I always take it when I go to interesting places near water. I was almost inclined to ask if all eccentric minds thought alike? I hope not. Too many eccentric minds thinking alike cease to be eccentric.

Anyway I pass Art C’s observation(embellished by mine) in the hope that it might have survival application in a Tsunami, or a sinking tramp steamer, or a terrorist attack on a beach in Tunis.

-Roger Crossland

About the Author

R. L. Crossland is a retired naval captain with 35 years’ service, active and reserve, as a SEAL officer ("one cold war and two hot ones.") He holds a merchant marine captain’s license and practices trial law in New England. He is a graduate of numerous military and civilian survival, evasion, and related schools. His survival interests are varied and range from cold weather subsistence to lifeboat navigation to emergency communications to assisted evasion, and beyond.