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.