Here, Stewart is lecturing about emergency conditioning. “You can have all the great gear, but if you don’t have the right mindset, you’re not gonna make it,” he says. He poses a question that preppers reiterate again and again: How far would you go to keep your family safe? The key is figuring out what will motivate you to fight, imagining every possible horrific scenario, and fantasizing about it in lurid detail until you’ve overridden your flight-or-fight response and replaced it with a carefully choreographed plan. This method of visualizing the worst altercation is called “battle-proofing.” Stewart’s rationale: If you play the scenario out in your head, it becomes part of your retinue of experiences, and you can practice reacting.
It’s not about tuning fear out. "I hope I never lose fear," he says. "Fear is a warning that something is about to happen." Instead, Stewart wants to teach people how to harness fear as a catalyst for action. Stewart wants to teach people how to combine physical prowess with thoughtful rationality. “You can drop me pretty much anywhere on the planet, and I’d be fine,” he says. “My wife would get lost in a parking lot.”
One observer’s cell phone keeps ringing. In an ironic ode to self-reliance and resilience, the sound is the Mockingjay’s song from The Hunger Games films, which imagine what it would be like to flourish in a post-apocalyptic world.
Thunder rolls gently in the distance as two dozen attendees walk through the rain to meet Richard Cleveland at the edge of the pond. Unsurprisingly, preppers aren’t fazed by a little drizzle. Most continue to stroll the knolls as though it’s 80 degrees and sunny. Cleveland has angry, red wounds on his knees—probably a result of enthusiastic off-road foraging. The founder of the Earth School in Asheville, North Carolina, has been teaching programs about wild edibles for more than two decades. His slate-blue eyes blaze when he complains that Big Pharma won’t subsidize studies about herbal medicines—he claims that he has a number of friends who have cured their prostate cancers by infusing their diet with dandelion leaves, something the University of Windsor is looking into. The group follows his lead, scanning the ground for trampled herbs. He stoops every few feet to scoop and chomp on a plant like jewelweed, after which he elicits a jovial whoop. “Luscious!” he exclaims.
The foragers tromp past the pond, where kids in bright bathing suits splash in the shallow water or drift in kayaks, their yellow paddles and orange life vests popping against a sea of khaki, army fatigues, and black t-shirts bearing the phrase, “It Wasn’t Raining When Noah Built The Ark.” Richard points to an evergreen, encouraging people to guess its medicinal use. Turns out the tree is tsuga canadensis, or eastern hemlock: The needles can be steeped in boiled water for an emergency dose of vitamin C as a way of preventing scurvy.