The Adventures Never Stop
When I first read the book Ishmael (almost 9 years now!) I realized that Civilization was going to collapse in my lifetime. My initial response was, “I must learn to live like a hunter-gatherer!” I saved up a lot of money and went to a weeklong class at one of the nations most notorious schools for wilderness survival. During this class our instructors told us that by the end of the week we would be able to walk out into the woods with only a knife… and survive. That was very exciting. I could regain 10,000 years of ancestral forgetting in 7 days! Can you even put a price on that? The money was worth it. Of course this was a lie. The purpose of this I guess was to either get you inspired enough to actually try it when you got home, or fill the class with students. Well I was inspired, so I did it. The experience lasted 2 days. It made me so uncomfortable and ill that I to this day, six years later have never tried it again.
After studying many indigenous cultures I have learned that even to primitive people, trying to survive without your tribe was not an easy task. In fact it was usually a rite of passage into adulthood. With enough practice it became easy. But this practice was done for 10-12 years before you were actually sent off to do it. That is 10 to 12 years immersed with your natural surroundings and with people who have been living primitively with that land for thousands if not millions of years.
At Jon Youngs Art of Mentoring workshops I learned that each person has an edge to his or her comfort zone. The goal of a mentor or ritual is to bring you to the edge enough times until your edge expands. What Jon showed us is that when someone goes beyond their edge, their brain literally shuts down. Of course they won’t want to try it again, like I how I will not, to this day, go on a survival trek.
I later begin to study Kamana, an independent naturalist training program created by Jon Young, among others. At first I loved it. I sat outside a lot, learned a tremendous amount about my local habitats and had encouraging interactions with non-humans. Unfortunately, the program failed me, as all programs inevitably do. The “one size fits all” ideology of this culture does not work. I began to lose interest. I was tired of identifying plants, I wanted to skin a deer. I wanted to trap some rodents. None of which you can do reading a book or exploring your senses in your urban backyard. It was able to connect me to the land, but mostly through the abstraction of books and notepads, not with family and friends and neighbors.
I went to Rabbitstick Rendezvous, a primitive skills gathering in Idaho, this year. I was surprised that most of the gathering was craft oriented. I believe making baskets is the easy part. Knowing where the willow is and when to harvest it without damaging your ecosystem is the complicated part. Sure you may know how to weave a willow basket, but do you know the willow? If you can learn to skin an animal in a few hours, why did it take 12 years for an indigenous child to be capable of surviving on their own? Because knowing the land is more important and teaches you more about living than any camp craft skill will. Rabbitstick made me realize the value of the skills I learned while doing Kamana. Primitive lifestyles are more than the artifacts they make to get food. Rabbitstick is a phenomenal place to learn and network, and I will go there again next year but is lacks connection and awareness of the land.
I find it funny when I ask Joe-blow if he thinks he could survive the collapse of civilization and he says, “No problem.” Of all the dirt time I have I would never make such a claim. At this point I’m not really concerned with surviving the collapse as much as I am concerned with breaking out of the prison of Civilization and rewilding myself. Primitive peoples weren’t surviving in the woods. They were practicing primitive, ancient, streamlined, seasonal routines that provided comfort and enjoyment and sustainability. They were also living in an environment that was full of wild foods that have now been destroyed by Civilization. So tell me, if Civilization collapsed tonight, could you live that way tomorrow? The next day? Six months from now? 5 years from now? 500 years from now? How long does it take to build that kind of culture? How long does it take to die of thirst or hypothermia or the flu (without anti-biotics)? How many people could our ravaged lands support? Is your answer still, “No problem?”
I appreciate these programs, workshops and schools for what they teach, but I believe you can’t really learn or truly know something by reading about it in a book or listening about it at a lecture at a school. That is a great first step, but it is not an all-encompassing journey. I like to use the example of learning foreign languages. You can learn it in a class or you can immerse yourself in a place where it is the only language spoken. I can take classes or read books about participating in nature, or I could go out and immerse myself in a primitive lifestyle. Similarly, most people learn Spanish with the intent to visit Mexico, but how many people learn Spanish so they can move to Mexico? I believe rewilding is about moving to Mexico, so to speak. Unfortunately for us there are no more primitive cultures we can immerse ourselves in. We must create them.
We must create them slowly and steadily. At the 7-day school I went to, the big guy told everyone that if they couldn’t survive it’s because their “skills sucked” (but didn’t you just say we’ll all be able to walk into the woods with only a knife after taking your class?). This can make you feel guilty about not being 100% primitive. Fuck that. We don’t have a primitive culture to provide for us for 12 years. But we do have modern technology and resources. We can use them to replicate the support of the culture while we build it. You first must be able to read letters before you can read a whole word, let alone a sentence. You cannot learn to read in 7 days, and that’s okay. Like my friend Devin said, this is not about primitive puritanism; there is no one right way to reclaim your wildness.
To me, rewilding is no longer means “surviving the collapse,” but a lifelong adventure of culture building. One after another, these adventures create a bigger adventure that equals a lifetime of lessons learned, skills acquired and alliances made (or broken). I have never fit into the rigidity of schooling, even in the schools I wanted to be in. That is why I have decided to say fuck the programs and go with my own. There are three principles that guide my learning; curiosity, adventure and relationships. As long as I have those I will reach my destination. Let’s get this party started.