A few years ago, I learned a valuable lesson in outdoor skills and life skills from Eustace Conway at Turtle Island Preserve.  I was taking one of his classes on making fire by friction. The instructor, who was not Eustace, showed us how to find the materials in the woods and make a base, spindle, bow with string and handle. After our half-dozen class members had finished making the tools, the instructor showed us how to work the pieces and try to make a fire. Unfortunately, he did not show us the physical technique. All of us casually sawed away on the spindle with the bow for about five minutes, but nothing happened.

Then Eustace came by and observed us. Without saying anything, he took my equipment and started to work. He put all his body weight on the handle, which was about five times more pressure than I was exerting. Then he frantically sawed the spindle with the bow, which was about five times faster than I was sawing. Within about 30 seconds he had a coal and smoke.

The lesson that I immediately learned, without Eustace saying anything, is that he exerted about 10 times more intensity than us students were using. He concentrated on the task and bore down tremendously hard. That was the difference in making the fire or having cold food.

A few years later I saw a different kind of example of this same principle of intensity. I was deer hunting in a double tree stand with my friend and professional dear land manager Hank Forrester serving as my guide. When a buck came into view, I somewhat casually aimed at the center of his torso and fired. My bullet sailed over his back and missed entirely. Fortunately, the deer was not spooked, and he only ran a few feet.  Then he came back to the original spot where he was feeding. Hank whispered to pick out a specific hair on the deer’s body just behind and above where his front left leg joined his torso. He said aim for that hair and shoot. It took me a few seconds to figure out how to find an individual hair in my telescope out of the thousands of hairs on its body.  I remembered Eustace’s lesson, got way more intense, bore down on finding that hair, and pulled the trigger. Boom! My bullet pierced the buck’s heart and he hit the ground dead.

A third and different kind of example of intensity was with my buddy Bill Booth while trout fishing in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness of the Wind River Range in south central Wyoming.  A young cowboy who worked on the active ranch where we were sleeping each night was guiding us by horseback to a small, high-altitude fishing spot called Blueberry Lake. The trail was exposed and sketchy. The horses occasionally lost their footing and stumbled a little bit.  If they had fallen down the mountain it might have been fatal to  us riders.  I was constantly aware of the horse’s stability, or lack thereof. Or, when I was not worrying about the trail, then I was enjoying the high-altitude scenery and long-range views.

Bill, on the other hand, was concentrating on getting ready to fish. As we rode the horses to the lake, he was already rigging up his rod, reel, line and lures to be ready to fish. As we slid down from our saddles and tied off the horses’ reins, I took my time casually rigging my gear. Bill hit the ground with his gear already prepared and ran to the lake. He threw in the first cast of our group. Boom! Within a few seconds he caught the first fish of the day. Unfortunately, the ruckus caused by catching the fish spooked the entire lake and put down all the other trout. The three of us made cast after cast the rest of the day and never had a single bite. Bill was rewarded for his intensity and focus.

This same kind of intensity can work on all kinds of projects.  If you are working on something and are not getting good results, then maybe if you get more intense and bear down harder you will find success. 

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Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.