The Passing of a Wilderness Living Legend
By Terry Garrett, Chief Warden of Alberta
Many of you in Junior Forest Wardens heard that a wonderful friend to our program, Mors Kochanski, passed away on December 5th. Over the years, Mors taught courses at many of our events: National Camps, Regional Campouts, Club activities, Leader’s workshops, and many more. He spent most of his life developing, improving and sharing his vast knowledge of survival and bushcraft skills with everyone who was interested in a course or wanted to share space around a campfire with him. He had many occupations over the years - Associate Professor at the U. of A., outdoor living instructor and author to name a few.
His involvement with the Junior Forest Warden program started many years ago (even before my time). As well as teaching us a variety of courses at various events, he also wrote the Junior Forest Warden Woodstravel Guide for our program. This little red binder was well read from cover to cover by everyone who wanted to spend time in the wilderness. He also developed a set of “little booklets” that were perfect to stick into your pocket and take with you while you were in the outdoors – just in case you forgot how to do something. His Bush Craft and Northern Bush Craft books (which he dedicated to his wife) were also huge successes. Then several years ago, he felt that he needed to update and add to the information in the JFW Woodstravel Guide, so in 2013 he wrote Basic Safe Travel and Boreal Survival Handbook, in which mentions that this book was originally compiled for the benefit of the Junior Forest Wardens. He told me he added lots of illustrations and about a hundred pages of information. All these books and more are available from Karamat Wilderness Ways. Mors had so much information to share; I am glad he put a lot of it into print for us to enjoy, read, re-read and share with others.
Around a campfire Mors was a fountain of knowledge and always had good stories to share or tips to make you time in the outdoors more comfortable. He often told me not to buy expensive outdoor equipment for teaching young people in the bush – you will lose too much gear that way. Instead he would always tell me about hot deals on great simple tools that he would pick up at the Dollar Store. I followed his advice, never lost any equipment and still use them to this day.
He often referred to himself as the plastic and tarp survival instructor. Mors indicated that some instructors from other parts of North America thought his techniques were a little unusual since he didn’t use just natural materials. He was always well respected for his ideas and taught all over Canada, the United States and Sweden. I am sure there were more places but those are the only ones that I can think if off the top of my head that we talked about. Thanks to his shelter building techniques, I have never slept cold in the outdoors. Though we didn’t spend a lot of time together as he was always in demand, I valued the time we shared and admired his vast knowledge.
One day I was visiting Connie & Ingo and while we were having supper, they said Mors was working on a movie as a survival consultant. So, we called him for a chat. When asked what famous actor he was working with he said “someone named Leo”. Mors obviously was not a person who was star struck, as it turned out to be Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie The Revenant. When I think about it, it makes me smile.
In recent days I have been reading lots of blogs with tributes to Mors and how his teachings had an impact on their lives. They are all suggesting that since everyone can not gather in his memory, to share time around a campfire (smoke or woodsmoke they called it) to tell stories in remembrance Mors. This sounds like a great idea for our clubs to do on their next outing. As long as we continue to share the stories and skills, the legend of this great wilderness living instructor, Mors Kochanski, will not be forgotten by our Junior Forest Warden family.
In closing here is Mors Kochanski’s credo:
“The bush is neutral. It is neither for nor against me. My comfort depends on what I can do for myself and how much I know about using the bush materials around me. Becoming angry, depressed or unhappy does little to help me in my situation. I will try to think positive thoughts and find ways to be thankful for what I have. When I am not sure of what to do I will stop, relax, and think out the situation before I act. I realize moving about when I do not know where I am or where I am going will make it more difficult for others to find me. My concern at this moment is to make myself comfortable for tonight. I shall shelter myself from wind, rain, or snow and build a fire to warm up. I will not let fear or panic rule my mind as this only works against me. The bush is inert. It is incapable of doing me harm.” – MORS KOCHANSKI, Credo from Pocket Handbooks.
Read more about Mors here: http://masterwoodsman.com/2016/mors-kochanski/
A Tribute to Mors
Mors Kochanski passed away on December 5, 2019 at the age of 79 years.
Mors – what can I say about Mors that hasn’t been said before by a great many people and said well?
Mors Kochanski was probably the best “Outdoor Living Skills” instructor in North America! He was an RCAF Survival School instructor, was with the Canadian navy, an Assistant Professor at U of A for many years, a writer, illustrator, magazine publisher and so much more. He taught survival skills to the RCAF, British SAS, Arctic Flying Nurses, Native trappers in northern Saskatchewan and an unending list of Primitive/Bushcraft/Survival students from Canada, USA, British Isles and Sweden to name just the major ones. He taught outdoor bushcraft skills to school children, teachers, adults and most importantly from our perspective, Junior Forest Wardens. Indeed, he was referred to as the “Patron Saint” of JFWs. He wrote the JFW “Woodstravel Guide” just for us. Yea!
While he has authored many manuals, pocket books, craft books, etc., his Northern Bushcraft (now called just Bushcraft), first published in 1987, is (to me) the definitive work. It is the only resource book listed in the JFW Saw, Axe & Knife Safety program. His long association with Karamat Wilderness Ways has ensured his lasting legacy, through Karamat and his many YouTube videos.
Mors was many things but at heart he was an unparalleled teacher who could span all age groups and instill the wonders and bounty of Nature in us all. He taught us not to survive, but to thrive in the great outdoors! He was our Yoda!
Mors had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and was a voracious reader. The “Library” building at his place has thousands of volumes on a wide variety of subjects.
He has left us an ongoing legacy of which I will only mention one; the Mora Knife was one of his trademarks and with it he taught us knife skills (LIFE SKILLS!)
He has now left to continue his journey and I hope it contains a little wood smoke, Mora knives, tin whistles, and boughs for the ground-to-air signal fires.
I’ll leave you with one of his many sayings, “Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re having a good time.”
His name will be added to the JFW “In Gratitude” memorial which hangs in the Hall at our Jumping Pound Camp.
– Brian McBride, Eagles Club, Calgary