I have been busy since I got back from my week off the grid. It’s amazing how quickly one falls back into the routines and habits of daily life after a vacation from phones, computers and the internet. In an effort to prolong the experience and continue learning, I have been reading more the Foxfire series of books which attempt to summarize the knowledge and stories of generations of Appalachian mountain people. The subtitle of the first book says it best:
“Hog dressing, log cabin building, mountain crafts and foods, planting by the signs, snake lore, hunting tales, faith healing, moonshining, and other affairs of plain living.”
These books contain nearly all of the information necessary to survive and thrive in the wilderness. Everything from how to fashion various traps and snares, forage for food, identify native flora and fauna, and the home remedies used to treat common injuries and illness (probably caused by the activities in the book’s subtitle, I’m sure). It’s amazing how much these people could do for themselves before the internet came along to change everything. Thanks to the internet and TV, I probably know a little bit about a lot more topics than they did. But they have me beat in terms of depth of knowledge about any one particular area. They had to…their lives depended on it.
While reading, I can’t help feeling a little inadequate compared to previous generations of simpler and more self-sufficient people. For example, if I was lost in the woods I wouldn’t know which plants are edible or which trees provide the most sinewy bark for making rope. I couldn’t build myself a log cabin with just an ax and a forest full of trees. Before reading these books, I wouldn’t have known which woods are the best for starting fires or weaving into a basket. Without electricity and a wireless connection, even a powerful computer is nothing more than a few pounds of worthless silicon and plastic.
The question that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is this: are we as a people actually as smart as we think we are? Collectively, yes. But only when given the tools to tap into this communal knowledge. In terms of practical knowledge without the use of a computer, cell phone, or TV? The Appalachian mountain dwellers have us beat hands down. Most of us can hardly survive a power outage or weak wireless signal for more than a few hours. You have to respect anybody that can survive on only what can be found in a few square acres of forest and the knowledge passed down through the generations.