Nature Men (and Women) – but not me

I have long been intrigued by people, real and fictitious, who are competent in nature, and are, sometimes, more comfortable in the company of nature than that of people.

Jeremiah Johnson, based on an actual man, is one of my favorite films. I read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Into the Wild with can’t-turn-away fascination. This past summer I read both Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.. And recently I watched the DVD North Face, based on a true pre-WWII mountain-climbing competition. While not obsessed, I’m drawn to these stories and return regularly to the genre, safely from my proverbial armchair.

It could be because fewer and fewer people learn and practice nature-friendly skills, I’m impressed by virtue of their rarity. It probably goes without saying that I lack these skills. But had I lived 100 years ago, would I think twice about somebody who could identify animal tracks or grow/raise/catch all their own food or live in the woods for weeks on end? Who could find safe water to drink or build a fire in the snow?

I think about my – most of our – dependence on others for almost every aspect of living. We lose electricity for a couple days and chaos ensues. All of my food, save a few herbs, comes from stores. If I was lost somewhere, I certainly couldn’t forage the land for edibles. I’m handy with a hammer and saw, but I’ve never constructed any kind of shelter. I sleep poorly on the ground.

Please know I don’t spend a lot of time fretting over these things and I’m not concerned enough to take wilderness courses or to stockpile goods. (My limited takeaway from what happened in New Orleans was that cash and water were the ideal supplies. And maybe a way to heat water or food.)

I don’t particularly like or relate to the alarmist sensibility that is not uncommon these days. The apocalyptic and survivalist ones, with their talk of emergencies, preparedness, and disasters. That’s not my reference point. I guess I more lament that learning a few basic skills about nature, about meeting your own needs, isn’t part of our education, no matter where someone grows up. I think it’s harder, like studying a foreign language later in life, than if it was picked up in childhood, so that a foundation is laid.

I suppose what I’m saying is I have no burning desire to learn how to skin a squirrel or run a combine (whatever that is; I think farms use them in producing crops or something). I just don’t like being quite so soft.

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13 thoughts on “Nature Men (and Women) – but not me

  1. Storytime with John

    Hmm it is to be admired, but most of that ilk live that life 24/7…there aren’t many who can read animal tracks, and make shelter out of left over spaghetti (or whatever!) And then on the weekend pop to the nearest Starbucks for a pumpkin latte…

    Maybe it’s all or nothing with such things…hmm…

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I see what you’re saying, but it’d be nice if it wasn’t so all or nothing… then people might not be so panicky en masse when something goes awry (like power outages, strikes, natural disasters, shortages on lattes, etc.).

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  2. John Callaghan

    When I was a youth our family lived on farm for a few years. We used as little technology as possible. We grew our own food, slaughtered our own animals (the smaller ons anyway) heated our home with wood, churned butter, made ice cream, pickle everything, made jam, milked our cows by hand and on and on. We had about twenty or so people living on a compound of sorts. I never learned to hunt though which I regret, but my parents were anti-gun. I learned how to do some pretty usefull skills and sometimes the most unlikely of people took to this way of life like a duck to water. Looking back now I realize the most important survival skill is an ability to accept a situation for what it is and to never give up. I was just reading somewhere that military special forces units look for that internal drive and an ability to never, ever, give up, when they are recruiting and training. People like that always find a way to survive.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      See, now there’s the rub. I don’t think I have that thing, that never-give-up drive. Though I can’t say I’ve ever totally been tested (and am not exactly chomping at the bit for the opportunity).

      As I read the opening words of your comment, I was thinking “now those are some useful skills” and had you not proceeded to write much the same, I would have asked had you found them useful. My family would sooner have gone on a Mars expedition than do something like live on a farm/compound.

      I guess being resourceful might be the flip side of never-give-up. And — maybe a big part of (successful?) living is accepting situations for what they are. Maybe?

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      1. John Callaghan

        Had I not lived in that environment I would probably never have learned that about myself. I think there are many kinds of being resourceful. The experience was good in some ways but painful in others. Living apart from the world while still being in the world can be hard on a child. But if you ever need some wood chopped and piled I’m your man.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          Oh yes, I can’t imagine being a child and going into that situation (very different from being raised in it from the start). I grew up in suburbs and couldn’t even fathom the lives of my same-age country cousins – which seemed shockingly different from mine.

          Good to know about the wood splitting!

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  3. Joseph Nebus

    I’m not sure that chaos really does ensue just from something straightforward like the electricity being out for a few days. It’s a bloody inconvenience, certainly, and it gets really tiresome especially if it’s the colder times of the year, but it seems to me that chaos doesn’t really ensue unless there’s good reason to think things are going to get appreciably worse quickly, e.g., by the city flooding.

    Otherwise, from what I’ve seen in things like multi-day power failures, it amounts to spending a lot more time talking with your neighbors and seeing who has a gas fireplace that’s still getting gas in, and talking regretfully how the nice duck pond is just too cold this time of year to be used for a bath.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I actually enjoy the scene you’re describing (except for contemplating a dip in the duck pond), because it forces camaraderie and a renewed appreciation for electricity. Things get problematic in large city black-outs. And/or when people can’t get their hands on money or stores can’t take their money (because machines are down).

      Sometimes, as you suggest, a single break in the system somewhere leads to multiple breaks.

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