Monday, October 3, 2011

Old Fashioned

For those of you who have read James Kunstler's Witch of Hebron, you'll already be familiar with a certain section of the book, but for those who haven't, I'll briefly detail a small part of the story (and leave out spoilers, as it's quite a good read).  As part of some other action in the story, a carbon fiber fly rod and modern spinning reel get broken beyond repair, with one of the characters reminiscing about how it represented the height of materials engineering and would probably never be duplicated again. 

That Mr. Kunstler included this passage speaks a lot to his true grasp of what collapse really means, and serves as a reminder of what we stand to lose once the process really accelerates and the things we have built can't really be replaced easily, if at all.  Take not just fly rods, but consider the idea of not being able to go into a Wal Mart or Bass Pro any longer, and buy your choice of outdoor equipment for those adventures into the RV park campground.  Or, also consider that your outdoor adventures are going to be a whole lot rougher in the future than plugging in a bug zapper and reaching into the cooler for a beer. 

Our ancestors in America -- both native and colonial -- faced the problems of outdoor travel and survival, and often thrived, in spite of rough conditions, while making use of the materials around them and often being forced to be relatively self-sufficient out of necessity, not choice.  Imagine taking a trip cross-country on horseback, or on foot, when roads were little more than muddy wagon-trails, when the idea of a hotel hadn't even been considered yet, and you have to carry your supplies with you on your back, not in the trunk of your car.  However, through the ages, a store of mythology and assumption have been built up around the actions these people took, and how they lived, to where real outdoor survival has taken on something of a surreal veneer at times.

Back in the 40s, one writer, Ellsworth Jaeger (who was also a college instructor on these topics), seeing that there was an increasing interest in people getting back to the outdoors as a reponse to the horrors of World War 2, set out to write a guide called Wildwood Wisdom (here on Amazon) on how things were done back before technology began to affect outdoor life, and is a contrast to other works which assume that the reader has at least some access to modern technology, or isn't dealing with a long-term survival situation.  Instead, his work focuses on life at the point in time right before the West began to really be tamed, when there were still plenty of people who lived in a style that hadn't drastically changed for thousands of years. 

Just as an example, there is plenty of information on how to craft low-tech outdoor clothing, and how it was done back in the pre-industrial period, even including how to lay out a pattern for a buckskin jacket, or a shirt made from a wool blanket.  Other chapters include information on cooking, foraging, shelter, etc, but from the perspective of how it was really done, not someone's modern reinterpretation of how they think it might have been done -- or should have been done.  Even more important, Jaeger's writing focused on day-in and day-out life, not emergency survival situations that most books are focused toward. 

There have been a number of books on the subject written over the years, but I'm not aware of any that have been as comprehensive and down to the basics as Jaeger, or had as much of a focus on the practical daily life skills that people would have practiced away from the "civilization" of the time.  While the Leibowitz Society advocates and practice preserving ideas from the modern age, such as cosmology and higher mathematics, the other focus is on the ability of people to survive from day to day in rough conditions, making a book like this invaluable for anyone who sees the collapse coming and is working to prepare for it.