THE OLD WAYS, FEAR AND REMEMBRANCE
by Danny Heim
[photo Mila Zinkova Wikimedia Commons]
[published July 30, 2011 (10:45PM)]
Recently I was asked to do an article on bringing back old survival skills such as butchering, tanning, baking, etc. and it was further suggested that training and workshops within local communities be done on these types of things. Well this is that article, but allow me to take a sort of back door approach to the subject.
I’m back on my farm now and whoa is me. I wonder to myself that all my talk of ‘working together’ begins to sound like a distant drumbeat, ever fading over the hill. It’s fear--isn’t it? I mean, that’s what has had me second guessing myself—it’s that damn fear thing.
Of course this fear thing doesn’t come from nowhere. New Mexico is suffering drought again, big time. This is monsoon season in the Southwest and all we are getting is little pissers. I’m up there on my hill doing rain dances but my mind is on the fact we are heading towards cataclysmic climate change. So my dance becomes a prayer that climate change will wait for my death to get cranking, but then, that’s selfish. Here I am shouting “togetherness” and I’m up there worried about ‘my’ little corn patch and ‘my’ water tank.
I woke up a few mornings ago morning in fear, it was 3:30. I got up and made coffee, took a couple of sips then headed for my hill to pray to the cloud people for rain. But then I got scared and quit. You know, fear is a bitch that will slap you silly. I walk on the prairie grass listening to it crackle and break. Each step is a reminder that my crops need rain while my car needs gas and between the two I stand dazed and confused. I wish for the old way, the way of the Indian, the nomad and the bard. But my fear says it won’t come, because it’s too far away. And though it is approaching, my fear says it will not arrive in time. I fear, I fear, I fear. Help me.
Well after grappling with this fear the last few days and then finally after the rains came the last two days—my mind and heart have once again seen a different picture. And now this is what brings me to the subject at hand. You see, “the old ways and the old skills” are only something to “learn”. They are practices, tasks to perform, and in the case of the modern human being they really are more or less…hobbies. Now what the hell do I mean by that? I can hear some of you now, “Hobbies? Hey look asshole; they are way more than hobbies because they are what are going to save our ass before all this is through!”
Well, yeah, sort of. The old “ways” are one thing of which I will get to later, but as for the old “skills” you have to remember, we’ve had 200 years of innovation since we last tanned hides, weaved baskets and made clay pots. Sure, we are very likely to collapse, but I doubt that means we’ll be thrown entirely into the Stone Age.
Just because the modern systems for infrastructure, markets and government fail doesn’t mean we’ll forget everything we ever learned. So I have to ask, what are the real needs we have to acquire and learn of the old ways and skills? When it comes to actual products I’m not real sure what they may be, but I can take a pretty good guess at what they won’t be. We already have a lot of pots and pans so I doubt we’ll have to do pottery. We may not retain an entire industry for textiles but I am sure we’ll retain the knowledge of cloth and fabrics enough to figure out some way to produce them locally so that we need not wear buck skins and fig leaves. Let me cut to the quick and just say that for the most part, if we are careful, smart and resourceful I would imagine we can continue the use of many of our current products just by conserving them. I mean, a hammer’s gonna last a while don’t you think?
Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not saying we will not need to learn some of the old skills and I am sure the person who asked me to do this article knows already what I mean here. I just wish to make the point that there is no way that we will need to go back to all of those old skills, some but not all. The only reason to do that all the way would be for spiritual purposes, or out of defiance or symbolism. Hell, we have enough materials and products existing right now to last us for 200 years. Think of all the plastic products we will be able to use. I’m looking right now at two large plastic cooking spoons I can use for everything from stirring soups to spanking babies. Remember the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle and we’ll be done plenty of that if we have survived collapse.
So in regards to returning to the things of old I believe they should have more to do with the old ways and not so much the skills. This is why I opened this article with my story about my fears. At this point I have to do some apologizing to Carolyn Baker. I came on this site all fired up about working together and forming new infrastructures. I am still fired up about these things, but where I was wrong was to bitch at Carolyn for getting all spiritual and seeming to forget reality. I thought she was misleading folks into a false sense of security about collapse by focusing on what we could gain from it and not from the reality of the death it will bring about. I don’t’ take all of that back, but I can tell you my experiences since being back here on my farm after a 6 year absence have shed some new light on those opinions of hers.
So what’s that mean? It means “yeah Carolyn, you’re god damn right, we need some freaking spirituality around here!” When we speak of old ways and in many cases even old skills in most cases we are talking about a state of being. I was out here on my land freaking out because it wasn’t raining; I mean I was in a real tizzy. Then I remembered what the hell I was doing here in the first place when I came to this land 16 years ago for the first time. Let me tell that story just a bit.
I came to visit my mother who owned the land just adjacent to mine, which was not my land then. She’s a spiritual lady all the way and in the old way too. The first night of my visit, as the sun was beginning to set, she asked me to go away somewhere by myself. She said she that at sunset she usually did a bit with prayer and such and she needed to be alone. I said sure and took off to find a spot to watch the sun set for myself. What happened after that I won’t go into because it’s too personal but I will say that my life has never been the same since that evening June 27th 1995. I’ve been on a quest to learn the old ways every since. It’s taken me to as many canyons, mesas and buttes as I can get to and to just about every pueblo from Zuni to Hotevilla.
Well, I remembered that again just the other day and as a result my prayers for rain changed, at least my attitude in those prayers did. It’s not the outcome it’s the seeking; it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And this is what I have to say about the old ways. The first thing we as a civilization and as a species need to learn and to re-remember is that our survival is useless and even precarious in itself if we do not remember why we are here. We are not here to pretend to be indigenous, or to be copiers of the peoples we envy and admire. We are already those people we may seek to be; we just have to remember we are. We are those people just by the mere fact we exist on planet Earth. We are all indigenous people as soon as we remember what a human being is. It is a very simple concept; we are “the” caretakers of all life on planet Earth. When we return to doing that job, we will automatically know what to do about our future in regards to the old ways and the old skills.
Oh by the way, we got an inch of rain over the last two days…