Pot Pies and Woodsmoke

by Paul Sveum, Lost Creek Instructor for traditional skills and survival.

Let’s say you love those frozen pot pies. The ones that when microwaved bubble over with goo that, beyond the limits of physics, heats up to near nuclear levels. Every day you go to the store, plop a few in your basket and call it a day. Although you know that they are not the best thing for you, and admittedly you are growing concerned that they may actually be bad for you, you keep eating them because it is what you have always eaten and you know of no other way of satiating that hunger in your belly.

This is exactly why traditional Earth skills, primitive* technology, and all life ways that pre-date the modern agricultural revolution are so vitally important to our species. Get it? Cool.

Ok, I’ll explain. Just like little Jimmy Pot Pie our society is hooked on just one possibility for what life on Earth can look like, for right or wrong. This idea consists of, albeit wildly simplified, exploration, totalitarian resource consumption, unchecked growth, and expansion. This plan works very well, just like noshing down a few pot pies a day, but at some point it catches up with you, and for us that time is coming near. Now, this is not “the end is nigh” raving lunatic kinda near, but in a peak oil kinda way where the same science that got us to this point is starting to say whoa horsey!

Now, I am not saying that one way of living on earth, or eating for that matter, is better than another, but what is clear is that we as a species need options. A prime example occurred in Tasmania around 30,000 years ago. When the island of Tasmania was still connected to Australia, the people of Tasmania lived much like their Aussie counterparts, each sharing technology such as fishing nets, hunting tools, and also each others genes. As the glaciers began to melt though, Tasmania became disconnected from the mainland of Australia. This isolation caused the Tasmanian people to become more dependent on change in order to survive and ultimately lead, over the course of tens of thousands of years, to their cultural forgetting of such tools as fishnets, the boomerang, of all but the most simple clothing, and it is thought that they may have even lost the control of fire. Simply: the early people if Tasmania hedged their bets on a future dependent on quick adaptation with an apparent lack of desire to conserve ideas of the past. Now, they made it, and so did we, but it should be clear that such cultural forgetting sets up a tight rope existence, without a trampoline and funny clowns to help if things go wrong.

The hallmark of our species is our creativity, resourcefulness, and our ingenuity, but in order to utilize those attributes we need options- both historical options of what has worked well in the past and future possibilities of how to make life even better. Just like with fashion, regrettably where 1980’s style is cool again, history repeats itself- but we can only repeat what we remember. After all, how many ways can you cook a pot pie and come up with something other than a pot pie?

What we need to do as a people is to explore all life ways- the old and the new. For my part, advanced physics being slightly out of my grasp-for now, I will speak for the old ways because that is what I have dedicated much of my life to. One option we need to keep alive is the working knowledge of the lifestyles, skills and practices of the people who we used to be before the laptop, the McBarfwich, and Monsanto.

This is where learning the old ways comes in. I do not proclaim that the old ways are how everyone should live or that they represent a panacea to our current situation, but simply that we need to keep those traditional ways alive so as that we might in the future have more options of how to live on Earth. For instance, if the day comes when oil prices are too high for the average, say, plastic spoon factory to justify staying open just to sell 99 cent spoons, then we can say so what, I know what wood to use and how to carve a mean spoon, so no biggie. If we didn’t retain that bit of cultural knowledge we would be left either hopelessly slurping soup with a fork or praying that science will figure things out before the soup gets cold. My point is that by whatever means, we need to start making an effort to keep some options open, so when things change, as they always do, we won’t be caught sitting on a pile of frozen pot pies with no way of cooking them.

Traditional Earth skills represent a way of life, that by sheer dint of time, have proven to be, oh here comes that word, sustainable in the truest sense of the word. After all, any life-way that existed for at least 50,000 years must have been fairly sustainable- they must have shopped at Co-ops and driven Priuses! Now I know that not everyone is going to start carving figure 4 deadfalls and lighting fires with hand drills, but what everyone can do is to learn a little of the old ways and save them for later. There are many down to earth folks out there teaching traditional earth skills and many offer short weekend courses at a reasonable price, so you don’t need to commit a load of time or money to helping retain the knowledge it took humans a 250,000 years to perfect. We need to go into this future of ours with as many tools as we can in carry, so learn to make fire with sticks then tweet it to the world.

*The word primitive has been used derogatorily to refer to a people or a way of life that is somehow less, or under developed. I use the word primitive to mean, as the dictionary says, first, original, and natural.

From the author: This summer I am excited to be offering a full 3 months of courses with our pals at Lost Creek Adventures!  The vision of SOAR Outdoors is to help establish and grow our connection with the natural world and also do so in the most sustainable and ecologically responsible way we can. This summer’s courses are aimed at getting back to our roots- that means a summer of lighting fires with sticks, eating wild foods, living in hand made natural shelters, learning how to survive in the bush, and crafting the goods that make life possible with a few hand tools and a great deal of creativity.  We are running multiple day long workshops, two weekend long wilderness survival courses, a couple of week-long traditional skills courses, and also our most in depth and experiential course – the month long Bushcraft Semester.  All of the field based courses are live in, hands on, and outdoors.  We will be running all of our field courses in and around the beautiful Cornucopia area- from Lake Superior to the Chequamegon National Forest- and we can’t wait!



This entry was posted in Folk Arts, Sustainable Living, Traditional and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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