Chick Wetherbee

Chick Wetherbee -- Naturalist

Chick WetherbeeIf you are lost in the woods with nothing, you need four things to survive: shelter, water, fire, and food, in that order. Shelter, keeping warm, is the most essential – hypothermia, which can start at 55 degrees F, can be deadly. Shelter can be constructed from whatever you find around you.

Chick Wetherbee has been teaching wilderness survival techniques for about 30 years. He training covers fire building without matches, constructing a shelter from what is available, finding water and something to eat.

“In the woods there is enough to eat, maybe not what you’d want to eat. People don’t want to change their routine of eating.” But unless you are a specialist, he said, “don’t try mushrooms. I know knowledgeable people who have died from eating them. New Hampshire has two deadly plants, poison hemlock and Pokeweed, but a whole bunch that will make you sick.” Pokeweed is a tall, over four feet, shrubby plant with long clusters of purple berries. Poison hemlock looks a lot like Queen Anne’s lace, he said, “but it has a purple stem. Purple is the color of a lot of poisons.” Deadly nightshade is related to the potato and the tomato, and has a purple flower It is poisonous, but not fatal.

Survival is an instinct, Wetherbee said. “We use survival methods in our daily life without thinking about it. You are observing, aware of your surroundings, always in peripheral vision mode, picking up what is going on around you.” That is a necessity when driving.

Charles “Chick” Wetherbee grew up in Milford, a younger brother of historian Fritz Wetherbee, and he has been many things during the past 80 years. From bartending at Amherst Country Club and the Milford VFW, to inventory control at Data Products, to running a restaurant, he’s tried many things.

“I was working for the Liquor Commission in the ‘60s when I heard about an opening at Sanders Associates. Royden Sanders was quite the inventor.” He took three years off from Sanders to run a natural foods restaurant in Portsmouth.

“Natural just means no chemicals or growth hormones,” he said. He is the family’s main cook, he added, “and I drink organic coffee.”

Chick WetherbeeHis wife, Marie Fortier, opened a natural food store in 1975. “It’s all natural foods, remedies and supplements. She moved Earthward to West Milford in 1985 and that’s where I joined her.” He and Marie moved to an old house in West Wilton in 1986. She owns Here Today Antiques on Main Street and Chick now assists her there.

Here Today“I’m not retired,” he said. “I’m still teaching classes in fire-building.” He will be offering classes this fall at The Root, an organic farm on Route 101 in Temple.

Earthward, last located on Route 101A in Amherst, closed recently for lack of products, a consequence of the Corona pandemic. His son Matthew is continuing the business online. His other son, Chuck, is a metal detecting enthusiast.

“I know about natural foods,” Wetherbee said. He is a certified herbalist and holds degrees from Trinity School of Natural Health in Warsaw, Indiana. “Between survival, herbs, and natural remedies, that’s me today. There are natural plant remedies for most things such as plantain for itches, and jewelweed for poison ivy. You can eat all of a dandelion, root, leaves and flowers. People ate dandelion greens in the spring, among the first plants, as a tonic after a long winter when food was no longer fresh. It served as a body cleanser.” Lambs’ quarters, sometimes locally called pigweed, is another natural green. It is grown as a crop in Asia, and is also used as a soil enrichment.

“Every job I’ve had, I’ve liked. Looking back, I enjoyed them all.”

Being involved in the natural world, he said, includes spirituality. “I got into that because of a bad boss, learning the technique to cope with him.” He added, “Spiritualty is native, being able to be walking down a trail and know there’s a deer ahead of you. You can feel it. It’s within you. That’s what the school did, helped me understand what’s out there.”

Now, he works at the store with Marie, does all the cooking, and will be teaching survival techniques again soon. He does not plan to retire any time soon.

“I’ve been around,” he said, and he’s still going.

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