Hunter-Gatherer

Rewilding, Dispatched

Off the keyboard of Peter Michael Bauer

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Published on Urban Scout on January 7, 2015

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For years now I’ve had a google alert set up for the word “Rewilding.” I like to check the pulse of how the mainstream is perceiving it, as well as the multiple permutations that it has taken between conservation biology, and humans returning to hunter-gatherer lifeways and culture (and the inevitable merging of the two that will take place at some point). I was surprised one day when I was alerted to a news article about a racehorse in Europe named “Rewilding.” For a long time I followed Rewilding’s success. Horse races are disturbing to me. Still, I wondered if it was a sign; should I “put it all on Rewilding?” In spite of the horrible animal cruelty of horse races, I loved getting headlines that began, “Rewilding Takes Clear Victory…” Was the universe telling me something?

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One sad day I got an e-mail alert. Rewilding had been running full speed when his leg bones buckled and turned to jello. He fell under the weight of a useless leg and had to be euthanized right there on the race track. Upon reading this I burst into tears. I cried and cried. I was inconsolable. It was silly really. Yes, it was sad the horse died. Yes, it is sad that horses are forced into this kind of performance slavery for human entertainment. But beyond that, I had psychologically projected the essence of the rewilding renaissance into the success of a racehorse as though it were some mystical metaphor. For that reason, I was heart broken when Rewilding was dispatched.

Projecting an idea onto a specific set of sounds we call a word, in this case the cultural movement of returning to ancestral lifeways, I am always disappointed when the system kills it. Horse races by nature are disgusting and exploitive of horses. Just as civilization, capitalism, and empire are exploitive of humans, and their ideas. I am similarly heart broken when I see an idea as ripe as rewilding, as deeply needed as rewilding, grasped up, beaten into submission, and forced to parade around as something it is not in order for someone to make a dime. The meaning of rewilding maimed, destroyed, dispatched.

…Which is why lately I have been considering changing my name to Peter Rejuvilicious, culturally appropriating a folk medicinal practice that has been disproven by science, bottling it and selling it to wealthy white people with orthorexia for $250 a pop–and all the while calling it rewilding. In phase two of this new master plan, I will write an e-book that is just a rehash of every wilderness survival skills book out on the market. I will market it as the Survival Bible and call it “The Surbible.” Oh by the way, I just trademarked that. It’s now SURBIBLE™. It comes totally free when you subscribe to my spam service.

surbible

In case you can’t tell… that last paragraph was satire.

As more and more people over the last few years have begun using (and abusing) the term “rewilding,” I’ve been thinking a lot about the rise in its popular use as the latest buzzword. Nothing is more frustrating than to see people co-opt the term from the rewilding community and water it down (usually for their own commercial purposes). On top of that, I get insulted when I see people clearly copying my work and the works of other rewilding catalysts. It’s even more insulting when those people act like they invented the term, but don’t even understand where it came from, what it means, and fail to honor those who have been doing it for a long time.

In my collection of blogs Rewild or Die, I wrote briefly of how I came to the word rewilding. I didn’t go into much detail, but after looking at this I’ve realized how important lineage is to me, and so I feel the need to share it with you. When I found the word rewilding, it was a subpage on a (now-defunct) webpage (www.greenanarchy.info) of a particular anarchist ideology called Anarcho-Primitivism. The site described the concept of rewilding in a single paragraph. This paragraph described the entirety of the lifeway of rewilding:

For most green/anti-civilization/primitivist anarchists, rewilding and reconnecting with the earth is a life project. It is not limited to intellectual comprehension or the practice of primitive skills, but instead, it is a deep understanding of the pervasive ways in which we are domesticated, fractured, and dislocated from our selves, each other, and the world, and the enormous and daily undertaking to be whole again. Rewilding has a physical component which involves reclaiming skills and developing methods for a sustainable co-existence, including how to feed, shelter, and heal ourselves with the plants, animals, and materials occurring naturally in our bioregion. It also includes the dismantling of the physical manifestations, apparatus, and infrastructure of civilization. Rewilding has an emotional component, which involves healing ourselves and each other from the 10,000 year-old wounds which run deep, learning how to live together in non-hierarchical and non-oppressive communities, and deconstructing the domesticating mindset in our social patterns. Rewilding involves prioritizing direct experience and passion over mediation and alienation, re-thinking every dynamic and aspect of our reality, connecting with our feral fury to defend our lives and to fight for a liberated existence, developing more trust in our intuition and being more connected to our instincts, and regaining the balance that has been virtually destroyed after thousands of years of patriarchal control and domestication. Rewilding is the process of becoming uncivilized. -www.greenanarchy.info

Rewilding was about a new way of living, a new story to live by. I don’t know who wrote this beautiful paragraph, but thank you (If you find this page and contact me, I will give you proper credit if you so desire). On this site, there was a link to the (now-defunct) website, www.rewild.org. On their website, they had a definition of rewilding:

rewild v. to heal from domestication & rejoin the community of nature; redefining a relationship with nature on nature’s terms; to return an area to a more natural or wild state; to return a captive animal to its natural habitat.

Though I found this definition online, I believe it was first written by the people who wrote the zine Reclaim, Rewild, who also later created rewild.org. I believe these are the same folks who founded the Wildroots Collective, but am not sure about that detail. 2004 was a big year for human rewilding. Along with this zine, John Zerzan’s Green Anarchy Magazine published an issue dedicated to the topic. I loved this definition. However, it felt too long. I shortened it in a way that I would would encompass all of the main points. Also, it had no synonyms that would help people understand the word even more. I had a t-shirt with the definition of “unschooling” on it, that included a few synonyms to help people grasp the concept (my favorite was “auto-didact”). This gave me the idea to add synonyms to the definition of rewilding. The definition I came up with was this:

rewild, v : to return to a more natural or wild state; the process of undoing domestication. Synonyms: undomesticate, uncivilize.

My edits to the definition didn’t change the original, core idea. I created www.rewild.info (now living at www.rewild.com), an online forum for discussing rewilding. I put this definition on the “splash page“. At the time there were many bloggers venturing into the territory of rewilding. The three people who had blogs entirely dedicated to rewilding and who had written the most, were me (under the moniker Urban Scout), Jason Godesky (Tribe of Anthropik), and Willem Larsen (College of Mythic Cartography), later Wilderix (Rix White), Miles Olsen, and Penny Scout (Emily Porter). People started linking to the forum and within a few months there were many conversations going on about rewilding. Finisia Medrano’s web master linked up with us and all the hoopsters began influencing the direction the subculture was taking. Pretty soon the conversations became super “advanced” and we required new people to read up on rewilding before beginning to have conversations there, so we wouldn’t have to tread over the same ground, but could keep building on what we already had in order to go deeper and deeper.

It seemed as we went along, that the definition on the front page was too vague for people who were new. In one of my blogs I tried to articulate the definition to be more obvious to new people, and offered this:

Rewild, v; to foster and maintain a sustainable way of life through hunter-gatherer-gardener social and economical systems; including, but not limited to, the encouragement of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental biodiversity and the prevention and undoing of social, physical, spiritual, mental and environmental domestication and enslavement.

No one was ever happy with this, as rewilding is something so deep, and requires so much work undoing the mythology that our culture has pounded into our heads about indigenous and “primitive” people. This definition wasn’t meant to take the place of the simplistic one, but to augment it: un-doing domestication means abandoning civilization. Abandoning civilization requires a revolution. Rewilding is a renaissance that requires a revolution. It is a movement that addresses environmental destruction and social injustice simultaneously. This has been articulated by many rewilders, including myself. Though, for a couple years there, I, as Urban Scout, was the loudest proponent of rewilding on the web and in the press. Most friends of mine understood what I was doing with the persona of Urban Scout; hipsterfying the aesthetics of rewilding, but without sugar-coating or changing the ideology behind it–putting it in a shell that the mainstream would accept more readily. Those who didn’t get the satire sent me angry private and public messages. Kevin Tucker, a prominent Anarcho-primitivist (and author of For Wildness and Anarchy), wrote me this e-mail:

Scout,
You and the other ‘primitivist’ bloggers are fucking douche bags. I’ll give you credit for having a sense of humor, but then you err on that side. Trying to make rewilding just some new hipster shit is pathetic. You’re selling yourself and no one who will still be around in a few years will have bought it. Benefits for fucking fashion shows and dance parties? I imagine you might mean well, appealing to other hipsters or what-the-fuck ever, but you’re only making a mockery of yourself. Perhaps that’s your intent? Urban Scout is, after all, just a character right? Fucking PATHETIC. The rantings, daily affairs, and love life of a fringe blogger do not constitute a primitivist site. The sooner you realize that the better off we’ll be when the hype fades and y’all stop trying to co-opt valid shit.
For wildness and ANARCHY,
Kevin Tucker.

I’m certain he is still proud of it to this day, and wouldn’t mind me reprinting it here, as he has assured me in the past that his friends sometimes come to my blog “for a good laugh” at my expense. Kevin didn’t know me personally or see Urban Scout as an expression of authenticity because he didn’t understand the satire. I always thought that they mostly hated me for aesthetic purposes. I didn’t look like one of them; I was a “hipster.” Back then I would throw this kind of thing back in people’s faces. I turned his e-mail into a Madlibs-style contest, in which the winner of my choosing would receive a signed photograph of yours truly. I’m not posting this here to drudge up old drama. I don’t really care about this anymore, and I understand his frustration and anger.

He was wrong though. I didn’t co-opt rewilding. Co-opting implies changing the meaning behind something for your own purposes. I was just giving rewilding a superficial change, a quasi-hip facelift. Not an ideological one. Now, though, I think I actually understand where their frustration with me was coming from. The hipster culture I was appealing to is centered around an obsession with novelty. This is part of our culture at large, but was especially true (and still is) of hipster culture. Urban Scout (from the audiences perspective) was simply just another novelty to be consumed, like Jack White recording an ICP album of Mozart covers. Urban Scout, the hipster, made rewilding appear as a novelty. Seeing this now, I understand why those who hold these ideas close to their hearts, were pissed off. In spite of this, many people were able to see through the hipster facade and satirical aspects, and understand the sincerity and deeper meanings of rewilding. In fact, a graduate student from Indiana, that I had never met before, wrote a dissertation on how activists use language to recruit people. She included a chapter on “Anarcho-primitivism” and wrote this:

In these mock-mainstream encounters, anarcho-primitivists revel in the contradiction between mass media spectacle and primitivist sentiment. By using blogs, YouTube, and red carpet events, they acknowledge the success of corporate, technological strategies of “selling” ideologies, and they insist that their anti-technological perspective can best be spread through the media that they hope to destroy. When they announce their simultaneous love and disdain for E! Entertainment Network’s brand of consumerism, primitivists produce a critique of the media while guarding themselves against co-optation. Because they produce slick, shiny promotional materials, the mass media has no need to alter the anarcho-primitivist message if it wants to sell it. Urban Scout can therefore have quite a bit of say in his own public representation. As long as his images look professional and corporate, they will appear as he created them.

In 2008 I compiled my “Philosophy of Rewilding” blogs into a book called Rewild or Die, but didn’t publish it officially until 2010, all the while adding updates to the book. In 2011 I finally went on a West coast book tour. During the tour my car was totaled by people who were angry with things I had written in the book and on my blog. Originally I thought that it was anarchist vegans who were mad that I wrote about veganism in my book. The reality is that I don’t know the exact person who did it, so blaming members of a subculture seems counter-productive. The point of mentioning it here, is that it shocked me. I wasn’t born with a thick skin. On my blog I acted as though things didn’t bother me, but they did. I realized that life in the lime light, and one where I am inciting people to total my car, is not the one for me. After my book tour I basically stopped blogging altogether and I’ve spent the last few years creating Rewild Portland, a local non-profit dedicated to creating a rewilding community in my home town of Portland, OR. Rather than be snarky on the internet, I’ve been sincere in person (and a little snarky).

(A side note to this, is the problem with commercializing aspects of rewilding at all, including my non-profit Rewild Portland. For example: charging money for classes, books, information, community, etc. That is a related matter, but is the topic of a whole other conversation. If you are interested in continuing that conversation, join in on it!)

Others published works as well. Finisia Medrano published an auto-biography (Growing Up in Occupied America). Willem Larsen published a collection of his blogs (College of Mythic Cartography). Rewilder Miles Olsen, wrote a book Unlearn, Rewild (New Society, 2012) and used the definition I created for the Rewild Forums in it. Miles’ book is great, and he was one of the first people to contribute to join the Rewild Forums and shape the conversations there. You should definitely check out his book if you haven’t already.

Many of us who made this initial online push for rewilding haven’t had time to pay much attention to the online world of rewilding for the last two or three years. The rewild forums quieted down for a while without a core group of people driving conversations. We had all talked about it enough, and went to work to rewild our lives in the physical world.

In the last year or so there have been a few websites popping up with people claiming to be “rewilding” but gutting the meaning of it, and using it as a new buzzword for anything “Paleo.” It has been confusing, because some are even using the word as a synonym for just going on a hike in “nature.” As if “returning to a more natural state” simply means sitting at the base of a waterfall for 15 minutes a day. It’s even *more* confusing when you look at the most commonly known definition of rewilding, and that is actually conservation rewilding, which explicitly excludes humans (also off-topic but interesting, and is probably the origin of the term in popular use). Human rewilding is the kind we are referring to.

A couple of these people have even become internet famous through modern internet marketing campaigns, seemingly plagiarizing cherry-picked elements of the conversations from the Rewild Forums. All the while, failing to give any of us any credit or linking to any of the websites. Lineage is important to follow because it keeps people on track with the growth of a movement. What is most disturbing about this trend is that it mis-directs what rewilding means from the larger subculture of rewilding, and attempts to close it off in a vacuum of self help routines. Though these sites may add to elements of rewilding culture, they do not add to the rewilding culture overall, but in fact are reducing it by deluding the goal from walking away from civilization (and/or dismantling civilization) to simply taking in a breath of fresh air at the park, or walking in synthetic “barefoot” shoes. With free e-books on things like, “10 Simple Things You Can Do To Rewild Your Life” none of which include returning to a hunter-gatherer way of life, or challenging the pervasive hierarchical culture that is destroying the planet. Rich people have always been more active in nature, now they get to be smug about how healthy they are for it.

It is strange that these people would use the word rewilding, without doing some research. Google “rewilding” and the rewilding wikipedia page and rewild forums are in the top hits. These websites are businesses. It’s hard to imagine they did no research into a word that they would be using as part of their brand. The wikipedia page of rewilding is listed under a subsection of anarchy. Yet these sites have no ties to the driving analysis that begat rewilding, or the culture surrounding it. It is hard to miss that there is a radical foundation to a topic, even with minimal effort. One of the reasons I take major offense to this (other than lack of credit, changing the frame and goal) is that tacking the term “rewilding” onto a capitalist venture of “self-help,” that only benefits the rich (and mostly white), is simply bad publicity for the rewilding movement. People who are doing actual rewilding (the kind that benefits the entire planet, not just a muscle grouping in your abs) such as: planting back wild foods, assisting Natives in land reclamation, bringing these skills and ideas to communities of color, and communities with economic disparities, will be discredited. It’s bad publicity because it makes it look to the general public as if rewilding is just something for self-absorbed, rich, white people, who just want to look good naked, rather than a cultural movement for all people to reclaim an ancestral lifeway of serving the earth through the tending of the wild–with any means necessary. It’s the intention, the goal, that is important here.

You don’t go to a tree sit to climb trees, you go to a tree-sit to stop a logging operation. There is a purpose beyond self. Rewilding, like tree-sitting (protecting wild spaces by any means necessary is another aspect of rewilding) is rooted in a purpose beyond the self. So, the idea of “rewilding yourself” is a misnomer. Rewilding isn’t about YOU. You’re mental and physical health are important… just as breathing, eating, and sleeping are important. Rewilding isn’t some narcissistic, masturbatory meditation, health, or fitness program. It’s about serving the community of life and the land, in the face of Empire.

These people are climbing trees for fun and calling it tree-sitting. Yes, climbing trees is important for participating in a tree sit, but it’s not the goal. There are people on a facebook page for one of the websites that ask “Why is the wikipedia page for rewilding listed as a subsection of anarchism.” This is akin to “Wait, I didn’t know we we’re learning to climb trees in order to stop a logging operation?!?” It is clear from statements like these that the meaning of rewilding is being lost of these people. Anti-civilization, anti-empire, and anarchy (in the general meaning of a “stateless” culture that self-governs) are at the root of rewilding. Rewilding originated from social and environmental activism, not the survival skills world, not the dieting world, and not the new age meditation world. The core of rewilding has always been about planting back seeds (actual seeds) for a future beyond our own. The children of our future (if there are any) won’t care how good we looked naked, they will care if we planted food for them to eat. Of course, we need to take care of ourselves in order to do awesome rewilding stuff like planting back seeds on the hoop, so nourishing traditions are things we need to focus on, but they are not the reason for the season.

I would say that if your objective is to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the fullest extent possible, then you are rewilding. If you are just doing paleo diet and going camping to feel healthier, that is not rewilding. I didn’t make up this definition, though I have played a role in crafting the culture that surrounds it. This is just what it means to the culture of people who are attempting to walk away from civilization and create something new. Why do definitions matter? People must have a shared reality in order to work together in that reality. I once got into the most insane arguments with a man who refused to share reality with me, claiming that “nothing is real” and that “there are no such thing as facts”. These arguments looked like little more than philosophical masturbation to me, than practical thinking for taking actions to create a sustainable planet. While I agreed in the philosophical sense with him, it didn’t help anyone to make choices in the real world.While I don’t believe in the concept of “facts” I do believe that we need to have shared observations of reality. We can observe that agriculture destroys the soil. If we can’t have that shared reality, we can’t work together to change our subsistence strategy to one that builds soil. Similarly, if we can’t have a shared reality of what it means to rewild, the word might as well mean nothing at all. The more we clearly define an idea, the easier time we will have using it for practical purposes. If you don’t have “planting back” the land (reciprocal land management strategies) listed as the main “fundamental” of rewilding (the main thing that separates indigenous lifeways from civilized), then you haven’t been at it very long and are just bringing the same concepts of civilized mentality-> rendering the term “rewilding” into just more of the same. For this reason, it is easy to tell who is new to rewilding and who has been at it for a long time based on where they put their emphasis. Agricultural civilization takes more from the land without giving anything back, whereas “hunter-gatherers” give back more than they take. A simple example of this is taking a single Camas bulb from the ground, but planting dozens of camas seeds in its place. Newbie rewilders tend to emphasize primitive skills, foraging, and enact the individualistic “mountain man” cliche, which is missing the whole point of rewilding. Foraging is not rewilding. Foraging, while planting back the seeds of the plants you are foraging, and under the threat of Empire, is rewilding.

The last chapter in my book was called, “Rewilding: a Term to Throw Away.” In it I spoke of how the word could change over time to become something else, and lose sight of the goal. The vision is what is important, not the word. We were rewilding before “rewilding” was a word to describe rewilding. It doesn’t really matter if these people continue to run the word rewilding into the ground. If people are alive in 500 years, it’s because they will have returned to a hunter-gatherer way of life. In the moment though, as someone trying to prepare people for the changes we are experiencing by uniting them under a common term, it is really, really annoying.

An Energy-Related Reason Why US Healthcare Outcomes are Awful

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on September 9, 2014

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Back in January 2013, the US Institute of Medicine published a report called U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. This poor health outcome for US citizens is in spite of the US spending twice as much as a percentage of GDP on healthcare as other high-income nations.

As an example of the problems the US has, the report showed the following exhibit, pointing out that the US has made much smaller advances in life expectancy since 1980 than other high-income nations.  The US is now seventeenth of the seventeen countries analyzed in male life expectancy, and sixteenth out of seventeenth in female life expectancy.

Figure 1-6 Female life expectancy at birth

I am sure I do not know all of the reasons for the US divergence from patterns seen elsewhere, but let me try to explain one energy-related reason for our problems. It has to do with a need to get a wide variety of nutrients at the same time we need to balance (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes), in a period of time when the food we eat is increasingly of the “processed” variety. There may also be an issue of eating too much animal protein in our food mix, thanks to today’s ability to ramp up meat production using grains grown and shipped around the world, using fossil fuels.

An Overview of Energy-Related Modifications to Food

If look at primates in general, it is pretty clear that all of the nutrients such animals need come prepackaged in the food that they gather with their limbs. They get the level of exercise they need from gathering this food and from their other daily activities. They have a pretty good balance between (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes), without any special effort.

We humans have been modifying food for a very long time, dating back to the days of being hunter-gatherers. Our earliest changes were successful from the point of making humans more dominant. They allowed us to grow larger brains and allowed human population to grow.

The changes made in recent years, thanks to abundant fossil fuels, seem to be excessive, however. The new processed foods are often missing necessary nutrients and fiber, providing mostly empty calories. It becomes a balancing act to get enough of the right nutrients without filling our bodies with calories we don’t need. Some foods (juices, added sugars, very finely ground grains) are sufficiently different from natural foods that our systems don’t react properly to such food. Also, the exercise our body was expecting is often much reduced.

The way our current system works, the food that is closest to its original form is hardest to ship and store, so tends to be highest-priced. The most calorie-dense, over-processed food tends to be cheapest. As a result, the least-educated people (who tend to be poorest) tend to be most damaged by our poor food supply. According to one study, at age twenty-five, men with less than a high school education have a sixteen-year shorter life expectancy than men with a graduate degree.

Remaining Years of Life_prbOf course, at least part of the problem is the disproportionate lack of health care of less-educated US citizens. There are no doubt effects related to feeling like second-class citizens as well, because of reduced work-opportunities for those with poor educations. But having to work around a poor food system with an inadequate income is an issue that likely plays a major role as well.

How Did Humans Develop Larger Brains?  

There is a popular belief that eating meat made us human. While meat eating may have played a role, there seem to be other factors as well. National Geographic in an article in the September 2014 issue, The Evolution of Diet, observes that modern day hunter-gatherers typically get about 30% of their calories from meat. When meat supplies are scarce, they often live for long periods on a plant-based diet. The article says, “New studies suggest that more than a reliance on meat in ancient human diets fueled the brain’s expansion.”

The point National Geographic mentions is the one I have brought up previously–the theory advanced by Richard Wrangham in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. It seems to be the ability to control of fire, allowing humans to burn biomass, which set us apart from other primates. This allowed us to cook food, and in doing so, allowed the food to be more easily chewed and digested. Reduced chewing time freed up time for other activities, such as making tools. Nutrients could be more easily absorbed from cooked food. The fact that the food was easier to chew and digest allowed chewing and digestive systems to shrink, and brains to increase in size. It probably also made it easier for more human children to survive.

Furthermore, we now know that some other primates eat meat, so humans are not unique in this regard. Chimpanzees even hunt animals for their meat. National Geographic reports that baboons eat birds, rodents, and even the young of larger mammals, such as antelopes and sheep. But meat makes up only a small share of their diet. We also know that when monkeys are fed a diet that includes very much meat, they gain weight and experience degenerative diseases like humans.

Food Processing: A Little of a Good Thing vs. Too Much of Good Thing

The experience with cooking some food back in hunter-gatherer days shows that a little help in getting more nutrition from foods can be helpful. Plant cell walls are made of cellulose. Cooking vegetables helps break down these cell walls, making nutrients more accessible. There are other ways of processing food–pounding meat to make it more tender or using a blender to chop it into fine pieces. Humans have been milling grains for a very long time.

But it is easy to overdo the processing of food, especially with the help of fossil fuels. Grains can be ground very finely, far more finely they would have been ground, years ago. Sweeteners of various types can be derived from sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn, and added to products of many types. Parts of fruits and vegetables that are deemed “less desirable” such as skins can be removed, even if these parts have a disproportionate share of the nutrients in them.

There is even a second order kind of change to the food supply that can be put in place. For example, before recent “improvements,” cattle ate a mixture of grasses and digested them in their four-part stomachs that are designed from that purpose. Now cattle are being fed all kinds of foods that are not suitable for their digestive systems, including corn and dried distillers grain, a byproduct of making ethanol from corn. There are many other shortcuts taken, from hormones to antibiotics, so as to produce more meat at less expense. Our bodies aren’t necessarily adapted all of these changes. For one thing, there is much more fat in the beef, and for another, the ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids to Omega 6 fatty acids is badly skewed.

There is the additional issue of whether plants actually contain the nutrients that they did years ago. Many of us have learned Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, which states that plant growth is not controlled by total amount of resources available, but by the scarcest resource. In other words, a plant needs all of its nutrients–just adding more of the most abundant nutrient isn’t good enough. But Liebig’s Law of the Minimum doesn’t remove all deviations in nutrient quantity. Plants will still grow, even if some of the trace elements are present in smaller than the usual quantities. Adding fertilizer (or even crop rotation) does not entirely fix this situation. We still end up with soil that is deficient in some micronutrients. This situation tends to get worse with time, as our sewer systems send human wastes out to sea.

In recent years, we have been hearing more about the role intestinal bacteria play. The processing of our food is especially likely to remove the less digestible portions of our food that these bacteria depend on for their nutrition. This adds yet another dimension to the problem of food that deviates from what our bodies are expecting us to eat.

Thanks to fossil fuels, processing of all kinds is cheap. So is adding sugar, artificial colors and artificial flavors to help cover up deficiencies in the original crop. The shortcuts farmers take, including heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, are ways to produce food more cheaply. The food we end up with is inexpensive and convenient, but doesn’t necessarily match up well with what human digestive systems are adapted to.

What Kind of Exercise Do We Need? 

The story I keep reading is that we need a certain amount of high-intensity intermittent exercise to help our bodies operate as they are intended to. Running for even an average of five or ten minutes a day is said to reduce cardiac causes of death by 30% to 45%, and to increase overall life expectancy by three years. We can easily imagine that hunter-gatherers quite often needed to sprint from time to time, either to avoid predators or to catch potential prey. The finding that human beings need short bursts of high intensity exercise, such as running, would seem to be consistent with what our ancestors did. We also can’t sit for long periods–something our ancestors didn’t do either.

How about strength training? One thing that occurred to me when I visited India is how unnatural it is to have chairs to sit on. Much of the world’s population, even today, sits on the ground when they want to sit down. Needless to say, people who don’t sit on chairs get up from the floor many times a day. This is a type of fitness training that we in this country miss. We in the West also don’t squat much–another type of fitness training.

Even with the beneficial effects of exercise, some researchers today believe that food plays a more important role than exercise in obesity. (Obesity is linked to ill health and shorter life expectancies.) A recent study by Herman Pontzer and others compared the energy expenditure of the Hazda hunter-gatherers to Westerners. The study found that average daily energy expenditure of traditional Hazda foragers was no different from that of Westerners, after controlling for body size. The body seemed to compensate for higher energy expenditure at times, with lower energy expenditure at other times.

Conclusion

It seems to me that our appetites don’t work correctly when we fill ourselves with overly processed foods that are lacking for essential nutrients. We don’t stop eating soon enough, and we quickly feel hungry again. In part this may be from eating foods highly processed foods that would never be found in nature; in part it may be because the foods are missing the micronutrients and fiber that our bodies are expecting. Low-income people especially have a problem with such diets, since diets rich in fruits and vegetables are more expensive.

Many people believe doctors can fix our health problems. Looking across countries, diet and public health issues tend to be much more important than the medical care system in the health of a population. With most chronic health conditions, doctors can only take bad health situations and make them somewhat better. High rates of illness and increased mortality remain, similar to what we see in the United States.

Many of us have heard about the so-called calorie restriction diets of monkeys. This is a misnomer, in my view. In at least one version of it, it is a comparison of monkeys fed a low calorie diet that provides a wide range of nutrients found in vegetables, with a diet typical of Americans. If, in fact, we humans also need a wide range of nutrients found in vegetables, we should not be surprised if we have similarly poor health outcomes.

NYT 31aging_graphic_lgAccording to the graphic, Owen, 26, is affected by arthritis. His skin is wrinkled and his hair is falling out. He is frail and moves slowly. His blood work shows unhealthy levels of glucose and triglycerides. Canto, 25, is aging fairly well.

I personally have been eating a diet that is close to vegetarian for twenty years (heavy on vegetables, fruits and nuts; some fish and diary products; meat only as flavoring in soups). I also cut way back on processed foods and foods with added sugar or corn by-products. When I first changed my diet, I had a problem with arthritis and was concerned that I was at high risk for Type II diabetes. I lost weight, and my arthritis disappeared, as did my blood sugar problems. In fact, I rarely have reason to visit a doctor. In many ways, I feel like Canto on the left.

As I pointed out at the beginning of the post, we need to get a wide variety of nutrients at the same time we need to balance (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes). Back in hunter-gatherer days, this was easy to do, but it is increasingly difficult to do today. Besides cutting back on processed foods, eating a diet at that is low in meat may be a way of doing this. Studies of people who eat mostly vegetarian diets show that they tend to have longer life spans. There is also direct evidence that diets that are higher in animal protein tend to shorten life spans. These findings don’t necessarily correlate with studies of what works best for losing weight, which is what most people are concerned about in the short term. Thus, we are deluged with a lot of confusing findings.

Food and health problems are issues that tend to strike a nerve with a lot of people. I can’t claim to be an expert in this area. But stepping back and looking at the issue more broadly, as I have tried to do in this article, can perhaps add some new perspectives.

BLOG-A-THON: Save Eustace Conway & Turtle Island

Off the keyboard of RE

Published on the Doomstead Diner May 12, 2013

Discuss this article at the Doomsteading Table inside the Diner

Every day on the Internet these days you get treated to something VERY WRONG in our society, but rarely is it possible to do much about it.  I am not certain even in this case of complete TRAVESTY and STUPIDITY much can be done to put a stop to it, but in this case it is so ABHORRENT, so RIDICULOUS, and at least for Diners so UTTERLY against all our principles that every means must be undertaken to at least TRY to STOP it.  So with this article, I begin a Week Long Blog-a-thon to raise awareness and assist someone who truly has lived a life by principles of living in Harmony with Nature

Out there in the Boonies of North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains there is a man named Eustace Conway who built a life for himself as a Modern Day Mountain Man, on the Model of Jeremiah Johnson.  Jeremiah was a Fictional Character, Eustace Conway is not, he is a VERY REAL Person, and what he built and what he stands for is now under attack by the megalithic State that defines our lives in the Age of Oil.

Pretty much from nothing at the age of 17 Eustace Conway walked out in the Appalachian Mountains and taught himself how to live off the land as a modern day Hunter-Gatherer.  That this was even possible at all without running afoul of the Law before this is remarkable in itself, but not only did Eustace survive this way for the last 40 odd years or so, he actually earned a living in the Monetary sense at the same time, as a Teacher of Primitive Living skills.

He didn’t just earn it and spend it either, since he lived mainly off the land, he spent about none of the money he earned, and so some years ago was able to buy a patch of land of 1000 Acres he dubbed “Turtle Island”.  On this land he build numerous structures, Barns, Cabins etc and created a School for Primitive Living Skills.

North Carolina Building Codes Council: Alter NC building codes to exempt structures at Turtle Island Preserve.

What’s the PROBLEM with this?  The problem is said structures are not “Up to Code”, he doesn’t have flushing toilets and so forth and Sprinkler Systems for Fire Prevention aren’t installed, yadda yadda.  Anybody who has ever worked in the Building industry or run any kind of Commercial enterprise knows how much money it takes to bring everything “Up to Code”.

So the local Goobermint Apparatchiks wanna shut down Turtle Island.  Given the state of the world, there is probably no more important example of how to get off the Oil Economy and become self-sufficient as Turtle Island.  Besides that, it is ludicrous to say these buildings are “unsafe”, since prior to around 1900 or so just about everybody lived in such buildings without toilets and sprinkler systems.

Here on the Diner, besides myself we publish the work of numerous Bloggers all concerned in their own ways with the collapsing Oil Economy and Industrial Civilization.  On almost every one of our Blogs in the Commentary you will find many MORE people concerned with the problems we face, along with the constant Search for Solutions.  Here is a man, Eustace Conway who provides a very REAL and SUCCESSFUL model who now faces seeing his Life’s Work be destroyed by an ever more invasive and omnipresent Fascist Goobermint.

To all my Blogger Friends and Cross Posters here on the Diner, I say we CANNOT LET THIS STAND. We need to use our Bully Pulpit here on the Internet to do the best we can to PUT A STOP to this.  So with this article, I am kicking off a Week Long BLOG-A-THON to Raise Awareness and lend support to Eustace Conway and Turtle Island in the best way we can, with what we do as Bloggers.  This week I ask all my Blogger friends to contribute an article to support Eustace Conway, to Sign the Petition yourselves as I have done and to ask all your readers to do the same.  Together, we all get 100s Thousands of Page Hits/Day.  The Petition only needs another 8000 or so Signatures to meet the 25,000 requirement.  If we muster up all our readers, I am certain we can meet this number of Signatories.

Below I am publishing the Petition written by Dan Tingen, Chairman of the Turtle Island Community published on Change.org.  Please go to that website and sign it, and contribute what you can to keep the Turtle Island Preserve functioning and growing and providing a great example for our Nation and ALL PEOPLE on how to move off the Oil Economy and Reverse Engineer back to a more sustainable way of life more in harmony with the only home we have, Mother Earth.

RE

North Carolina Building Codes Council: Alter NC building codes to exempt structures at Turtle Island Preserve.

Dear Friends of Turtle Island Preserve,

Turtle Island Preserve is in danger. Please read this letter, and, if you feel moved to do so, carefully follow the suggestions for support provided at the end.  

Recently, local county government authorities have targeted Turtle Island Preserve, attacking our way of life, and forcing our educational camp to close to visitors.

On the morning of September 19th, eleven county officials (being paid by tax payers) barged into our living room unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome. A large caravan of county vehicles blocked our private road, miles away from any public area. The men (some armed) presented a search warrant two and half miles into the interior of our private land, a most intimate zone of refuge where we do not even take visitors, and then spent the next half of the day violating our privacy and photographing our buildings and personal homes. The unwanted invasion team came prepared with topographic maps, aerial photographs, GPS equipment to discern coordinates, laptops, pages of highlighted photographs of unknown origins, and even a county 4-wheeler to more easily get around the property. Much time and tax-payer money had clearly been spent preparing for this deployment against our 501c3 non-profit education center.

The primary focus of this action centers on our buildings and construction methods. The American heritage buildings that we keep alive and teach about are “unacceptable” in today’s modern world. The very building techniques and materials that all of our ancestors thrived with are now being deemed unacceptable and targeted as illegal because they don’t fit into the cookie-cutter code status that is so extremely far from what we are about. The buildings and lifestyle of our working farm and education center teach about true American freedom. The invasive attack was a surreal wake-up call to the illusion of the American myth: “Land of the free.”

Those of you who have visited Turtle Island Preserve know that our structures are unique in that they are built with materials harvested here on the farm and adhere to natural and historical methods. Our buildings are unquestionably structurally sound, but do not fit the wording or application of modern building codes, as the methods used to build them predate the conception of modern building codes.  The veteran, licensed engineer we hired to assess the structural concerns expressed by the county stated that our buildings are “Better than code.” If modern, cookie-cutter buildings fit our purposes or needs, we would have built them. But they certainly do not.

To comply with current, modern building codes and regulations, with no variance or allowance for natural, traditional, historical, cultural or educational models, is at the very least a compromise to our integrity, our mission, and our value to the community and the world.  If we were forced to function like every other public facility, the values, ethics, and practical knowledge we teach would be lost. Trying to force a modern framework around a facility that is specifically designed to be primitive does not make sense. The methods we teach go back tens of thousands of years. The modern building codes go back only 40-50 years.

For the past twenty-six years, Turtle Island Preserve has been a functioning farm and education center for primitive skills, cultural heritage, and traditional/natural living. We are run by volunteer laborers and administrators, good citizens who believe in the worth of volunteering their time to share natural traditional living in hopes of making life for people more meaningful and our impact on the earth a gentler footprint. Our non-profit education center has brought thousands of people from all over the world, of all ages, faiths, and socio-economic backgrounds and enabled them to develop a personal relationship with the natural world.  In many cases, these are people (usually children) who would not have the opportunity to gain that experience elsewhere.  What they get here, they keep forever.

Eustace Conway, full-time volunteer director of Turtle Island Preserve for the past 26 years, now faces the threat of criminal charges. That’s right, for dedicating his life to celebrating and preserving American cultural heritage, his American government is condemning his interest in exercising what he believes is an inalienable human right to build and live in the traditions of our ancestors. He said, “If this was a joke or something out of a science fiction novel about corrupt government control, maybe I could laugh about it… but it is very, unbelievably, maliciously true… and I can only cry about it, and ask for the voice of friends to support me and citizens that care about the ‘American Dream’ of freedom to speak up for their rights and interests now.”

Our recent studies show us that there may be no variance for any private, state, or federal interpretation sites that exhibit natural/primitive historic structures or practices. The recent attack on our home and lifeways makes us question the confines of our state building and county codes on our most fundamental freedoms of American heritage, Appalachian regional culture, and a three million year precedent of inalienable human rights concerning structures and living.

We are working with legal counsel and structural engineers to present a clear and thorough assessment of our structures, practices, and mission to authorities who are not personally familiar with Turtle Island Preserve. We have drawn up a petition and begun a letter writing campaign, all of which we’ll present to the North Carolina Building Codes Council on December 10, 2012 in the hopes of educating the council about the unique importance of Turtle Island Preserve and securing a variance for our continued operation without sacrificing our integrity and commitment to historic structures and natural lifestyle.

We need your help in raising a voice. This matter will not be resolved positively without your support. Please help support Turtle Island Preserve by taking the following steps:

1.      Sign the petition at www.change.org.

2.      Join the letter writing campaign! Write your own letter in support of Turtle Island Preserve, or use the attached letter – just print, sign, and send to the Chairman of the North Carolina Building Codes Council.  Either way, be sure to send us a copy of your letter, too.  

It is impossible to overstate how important your swift support is to the future of Turtle Island Preserve.  With the North Carolina Building Codes Council meeting just three weeks away, we need all the voices we can get, and as quickly as possible. Please set aside a few minutes to sign the petition, send a letter, and stand with us as we work to save Turtle Island Preserve.

Keep checking Facebook for updates, and for more information on the Building Codes Council meeting or if you have any questions at all, please email mail@turtleislandpreserve.com or call our office at 828-265-2267.

In appreciation,

The Staff and Community Members of Turtle Island Preserve

Addresses:

NC Building Codes Council

Dan Tingen, Chairman

322 Chapanoke Dr.

Raleigh, NC 27603

 

Turtle Island Preserve

2683 Little Laurel Road

Boone, NC 28607

The Last Nomads and the Culture of Fear

Off the keyboard of Toby Hemenway

Published on Pattern Literacy on January 3, 2013

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

My wife and I went semi-nomadic in 2010, traveling the mountain West for almost two years. Not having a settled home was eye-opening, and taught me a lot about one of my perennial themes: how much humans lost when we became domesticated by agriculture.

For a committed permaculturist to give up a home and yard seems almost hypocritical, since a core tenet of permaculture is to deeply know a place and community. But our nomadic yen was strong. We were ready to leave the buzz of Portland, and in that fiercely Greened city I was feeling redundant. Yet no other place was calling us to live there. So, Kiel asked me, “Do we have to live anywhere? Why not travel?” Permaculturists are often asked to arrive at a new place and rapidly assess local resources, climate, culture, and the land’s character. Nomadism seemed a good way to hone those skills.

Kiel and I put our house on the market in the spring and moved into a small motorhome. We wandered though the Sierras, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Montana, slowly, with long stops. Over time, we settled into a pattern of two or three month stays in a modest rental house, punctuated by a few transition weeks in the RV while we traveled to and explored a new place. We fell naturally into a pattern of moving with the seasons, and getting to know a place in between.

We both had a vague feeling that this journeying was going to be important. I quickly found that, indeed, my landscape-reading skills improved—we learned to spot, even in high desert, those hidden east-facing ravines that stayed cool and moist and boasted vast biodiversity in their sweet microclimates. And we learned the social landscapes as well. The small towns of rural America no longer felt like the ones where we both had spent our childhoods. Now, too many rural hamlets looked and felt like clones of the same suburb, each having a vacant core bypassed with sprawling parking lots dotted with indistinguishable WalMart, Costco, Applebees, and Rite-Aid stores. As we roamed, we knew that larger understandings awaited us. The one we felt everywhere was that the world is shifting beneath everyone’s feet, and learning to be nimble and flexible will be a valuable trait in weathering the shocks of Peak Oil, climate instability, and economic collapse. But the tug of nomadism felt so deep that we suspected there was more to it than honing skills or a break from home. And after one special stop, some of the pieces fell into place.

We spent the summer of 2011 on a ranch off the northeastern corner of Yellowstone Park, in the shadow of the Beartooth range. Having grown surprisingly fond of the grasslands around us, we wanted to venture deeper into them, and spent a day east of Billings, walking the famous battlefield on the Little Bighorn where in 1876 Custer met his end. After arriving, we joined a graying crowd of retirees for a ranger’s lively talk on the battle. He had a keen sense of drama, and pulled our gaze across the very landscape where it all happened. Pointing south, he showed us the cloud-covered Wolf Mountains where Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse took those many of their people who refused to become Christianized farmers on the newly mandated reservation. The gully right in front of us was Deep Ravine, where a few of Custer’s men fled before they, too, were killed. Our minds’ eyes easily painted pictures, and I felt a growing sense of sadness, but not just for the many who had died where I stood.

The battle at Little Bighorn had been a victory for the plains tribes, but their war—and way of life—was lost soon after. A few years before, in 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty had mapped a huge reservation across adjoining corners of what are now South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Cheyenne, Lakota, and Arikara people, among others, were moved there. Tales of gold in 1874 in the Black Hills spawned a surge of miners and settlers onto the reservation, in violation of the treaty. The US Army drove out some of them, but thousands more streamed in. Disgusted, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, the Hunkpapa leader Gall, and other warrior leaders brought thousands of their people into the unceded Indian territories, a chunk of northern Wyoming where treaty declared “no white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy.” Here the native people could hunt bison and live as they wanted. But in 1875 they were ordered back to the reservation. They refused. The Indian Agencies branded them as hostile, and hot-headed George Custer came as part of the multi-pronged force sent to bring them in. The army’s humiliating loss at Little Bighorn spurred the US government to pour more troops into the Indian Wars, and within a few years most of America’s indigenous people had been forced onto reservations, killed, or driven into Canada.

As Kiel and I walked the battlefield, we spotted signs of the fight. I was moved by the pathetically shallow pits that Major Reno’s outnumbered men had scraped with their mess plates in an open meadow, trying to hide from a ceaseless hail of arrows and bullets. But I was more struck by what the land around us was saying. Here were enormous expanses of grassland and sage, with trees in the valleys and on the mountains, as far as we could see. It was rich land, and, having spent weeks in nearby Yellowstone where the valleys are tracked with renewed bison herds, it wasn’t hard to grasp the riches this land had held. It once swarmed with tens of millions of deer, elk, bison, bear, wolf, trout, and birds. The plains people lived amidst this abundance at choice seasonal camps across an enormous territory where sometimes hundreds of families gathered. They were hunters and foragers, not farmers, able to trust that the land would provide for them, that there was enough for all without working the soil or clinging to a piece of ground. On the river below us had sprawled the huge encampment of families that Custer had attacked: at least 7500 Cheyenne, Lakota, Arikara, and others. Migratory people from many tribes, living on this land without owning it, all having converged there in 1876 after Sitting Bull had told them of his auspicious sun-dance vision: headless US soldiers falling from the sky, “raining down like grasshoppers.”

I stood looking at these now fenced, divided, roaded, bought and owned lands and the cattle and sheep grazing on them. Barbed-wire fences netted the grassland to the horizon in every direction. It made me numb, knowing that we—my ancestors and their companions—had taken and tamed every bit of this huge landscape, the unceded lands and much more, taken it away from those whom our eloquent ranger called “the freest people in the world.” We did this because, if I can use George W. Bush’s words more honestly than he ever did, we hated them for their freedom.

The war between farming people and nomads is as old as farming itself. It’s not that the two cultures are incompatible. But the mind of a farming people can’t conceive of harmony with foragers. The minds of agriculturists can’t conceive of harmony with much of anything. I’ve known gentle farmers. But I’m using the word “farmer” here as shorthand for a bundle of concepts, principally for the “civilized” mind that views the wild world as a threat to be subdued or a fragile, off-limits temple, rather than the one source of life and home that can always provide. When humans were domesticated by agriculture about 10,000 years ago, one of the key prejudices bred into us was that the only way to survive was to control nature. We can easily see how this applies to wild, exterior nature: You survived winter not by learning what food the land still held, but by hard laboring to make the land give up a hoardable surplus. But more importantly, we have tamed our interior nature as well. Those who wouldn’t subdue their own wild nature were brought under control. To use the communal grain storage that farmers were told would let them survive winter, to have your fields protected from thieves, to buy protection from the powerful, farmers have always paid the local strongman. If they didn’t pay their tithe to those who guarded the grain surplus, the leader’s goons would force them to, or run them off, or kill them. The root of the word “lord” is “hlaford,” or “keeper of the loaves,” showing the ancient relationship between controlling grain and controlling people. And when the same elites wanted to build their monumental tombs, you worked for them, or they took your crops and enslaved your family. It wasn’t just plants and animals that were domesticated.

We traded a great deal to become civilized. There’s a lot I like about civilization, from writing and the Constitution to ethnic restaurants and my iPhone. But Hobbes’s famous dictum, that the lives of “savages” were “nasty, brutish, solitary, and short” is nonsense written by a man who rarely left his desk. As I’ve written before, the advent of farming and the civilization that it allowed brought a decline in lifespan, health, leisure, and freedom. Famine is far more common among farmers than among foragers. Lifespan and health didn’t return to pre-agricultural levels nor did the certainty of famine recede until the unsustainable splurge of the oil age gave us the equally unsustainable technologies for converting whole ecosystems into food, medicine, and machines on a titanic scale. Both leisure and freedom have been in decline since farming began. Labor activists, the poor, and any post-9/11 traveler can attest that this process is still underway. I no longer see America’s increasingly ignored Constitution as a glorious step forward, but merely one of a long line of progressively more desperate holding actions against the immense power of elites to suppress the elementary rights of their subjects. To what state have we declined when only the revocable permission of the powerful can guarantee our basics? We gave up a staggering number of freedoms to have our food source guaranteed.

Why would anyone trade their freedom for poor health and a life of slavery? I’ve come to doubt that people became farmers voluntarily, and there are many recent examples of hunter-gatherer groups who took one look at farmers, saw what the trade entailed, and said no thanks (see Chapter 6 of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel). Foraging peoples are almost always converted into farmers by a combination of terror, coercion and the extinction of even the memory of an alternative. The people who once roamed the unceded lands of Wyoming could tell you how it was done, as could those all over the Americas, Australia, and Africa. Why should we believe it was ever different? Farming and the civilization it spawned are grounded in fear and oppression.

We can only speculate why people took up farming, but none of the common arguments explain our sacrifice, and they often contradict each other. One theory is that the climate deteriorated, making it necessary to settle and intensify food production. But an opposing theory is that humans found “gardens of Eden,” places so lush and productive that they settled there, had too many babies amidst the abundance, and then needed to grow more food. There are other guesses, too. What all the theories fail to explain is why: If agriculture is more work than hunting, shortens lifespan, increases disease, doesn’t prevent famine, and reduces personal freedom, why would anyone do it?

I can think of two good reasons, and together they form the heart of our culture: fear and coercion. The two theories I cite above, and most of the others, are based in scarcity. According to them either inhospitable climate caused hunger, or overpopulation caused hunger. Hungry people would be receptive to an alternative, even at the cost of leisure and freedom. They might resort to farming, especially if a charismatic leader were there to encourage them. But when conditions improved, wouldn’t they go back to hunting? Two other theories show why this might not happen. One is the Social Hypothesis, in which “Big Men” (the anthropologist’s term for strong but informal leaders) use a complex blend of loans, promises, and status to boost village food production for potlatch-style feasts that, while feeding many, increase their own power, in part by showing how good life could be under their rule. Once centralized power over food is in place, the leaders and their enforcers can hold onto it easily. Another theory is the hunter-ruler concept, in which an early farming village is raided and enslaved by well-armed hunters who find they like being at the top, and remain as a powerful and parasitic elite. Yet another is that people gathered at sites like Göbeckli Tepe in Turkey that predate agriculture, to build enormous temples under the direction of an elite priesthood. These huge projects outstripped the carrying capacity of the land, and the priests supervised additional workers to grow food for the builders—and for themselves.

Whatever the cause, farming creates a surplus that must be stored, and that leads inexorably to a concentration of power into the hands of those who control that surplus. In an agricultural society with its specialized labor, dependency on food storage, taxation of the masses, unequal land access, and controlling elite, Henry Kissinger’s cynical strategy is true: Food is an instrument of power. And that is why a farming civilization cannot tolerate nomads or hunter-gatherers. Nomads need nothing from civilization. They can’t be controlled.

As I looked over the immense grasslands that spilled to the ends of Montana’s big sky, I wondered why my ancestors had insisted on taking it all. In this immense land, wasn’t there enough room for Sitting Bull and his clan to pull their travoix through one corner of it, hunt bison and make camp? But I quickly realized that it wasn’t about having enough room. It was about control. A wild people can’t be coerced. Make them pay taxes? There is nothing they need from the government, and much they don’t want. Christianize them and make them farm? The land is the source of spirit and offers abundant food for the gathering, while farming would kill all that. Offer them a fenced parcel? The land belongs to everyone and no one.

Can you see how frightening all this is to a people raised to believe in original sin, the mercilessness of God, the virtue of hard work, the value of being meek, the need for law and order, the certainty of Hell for the fallen, and all the other fear-based indoctrinations driven into us by an elite whose first need is compliant servants? We could never live in harmony with people who wouldn’t play according to those rules. That way lay chaos, and a freedom that we find inconceivable and terrifying. To trust that nature and the land would provide everything we need meant that all our hard work has been a waste—that we’ve been foolish slaves all our lives. We couldn’t stand to have our world view undermined that way. The idea that out there were free people living in a deep union with nature while we toiled behind the plow, quaked before a vengeful god, and tugged our forelocks respectfully at our betters—that was intolerable, to the toilers, yes, but especially to the elites who ruled them. The wild humans had to be domesticated, or killed. Always. Everywhere. Or else some of us might stop being afraid.

And that has been the trajectory of agricultural civilization. A trade of freedom for order and supposed security, made at the expense of health, cultural diversity, and leisure as well. Foraging and horticultural people don’t have a Bill of Rights because they don’t need one. There is rarely enough concentration of power in their culture great enough to take their rights away. They have art, music, shelter, language, food, tools, justice, medicine, history, play, wisdom—and freedoms in a sense so profound that I can only get glimmers of it. For all that we have lost, the only significant gain I can think of (Big Pharma? The military? Welfare? Freeways? Processed food?) is writing. The rest becomes unnecessary when you leave the culture of fear. And I suspect someone could have come up with writing without civilization.

Can a farming civilization ever stop being afraid? Only if it is no longer brainwashed into the belief that domination, labor, and order are what protect it from the caprices of an untrustable nature. Can it ever allow other cultures to exist alongside of it? I’m not sure. I have a vision of farmers living only where farming has proven to be more or less sustainable, in large river valleys like the Nile and Mississippi, while nomads, foragers, and some horticulturists live in the hills, the smaller valleys, and the delicate lands that agriculture can only destroy. But that would demand that those farmers not fear the freedom of the nomads, and so far, that hasn’t happened. I hope we can mature to that point. I wish someday the descendants of Sitting Bull, as well as mine, can ride again across unfenced plains to hunt bison and gather in transient villages along the Little Bighorn, and anywhere.

My wife and I are not true nomads, and couldn’t ever be. Those days died in 1876. Our nomadism relied on fossil fuels, landlords with furnished rentals, farmers to sell us food, and the whole bloody infrastructure of civilization. I have no illusions about whose shoulders—and corpses—I’m standing on. But I’ve now had the chance to stretch my leash far enough to glimpse the larger features of a culture grounded in fear-mongering and violence, whose very laws, values, work ethic, and traditions enshrine the domination of the many by the powerful few. That is a culture that is killing a planet.

I’m still struggling to stay out of that culture. When I was about to graduate from the prep school that my father strained to afford, and I was blindly following my ordained trajectory by applying to college, a vague unease hit me. I remember telling a friend, “I know that all this schooling has bred me for it, but I don’t really want to contribute to this culture.” That has stayed with me. Sometimes I haven’t had the strength of character to stay true to that vision. Since those days, I’ve moved in and out of mainstream culture a couple of times. But this episode of nomadism has helped firm one thought: that at the end of my life, I hope I’ve done more to stop this culture of fear and create alternatives to it than contribute to it. And I will always be grateful for the gift of clarity and commitment given to me by the freest people in the world on that day overlooking the Little Bighorn River.

 

Is Sustainable Agriculture an Oxymoron?

Off the keyboard of Toby Hemenway

Published originally on Pattern Literacy

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

Jared Diamond calls it “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.”(1) Bill Mollison says that it can “destroy whole landscapes.”(2) Are they describing nuclear energy? Suburbia? Coal mining? No. They are talking about agriculture. The problem is not simply that farming in its current industrial manifestation is destroying topsoil and biodiversity. Agriculture in any form is inherently unsustainable. At its doorstep can also be laid the basis of our culture’s split between humans and nature, much disease and poor health, and the origins of dominator hierarchies and the police state. Those are big claims, so let’s explore them.

Permaculture, although it encompasses many disciplines, orbits most fundamentally around food. Anthropologists, too, agree that food defines culture more than our two other physical needs of shelter and reproduction. A single home-building stint provides a place to live for decades. A brief sexual encounter can result in children. But food must be gotten every day, usually several times a day. Until very recently, all human beings spent much of their time obtaining food, and the different ways of doing that drove cultures down very divergent paths.

Anthropologist Yehudi Cohen (3) and many subsequent scholars break human cultures into five categories based on how they get food. These five are foragers (or hunter-gatherers), horticulturists, agriculturists, pastoralists, and industrial cultures. Knowing which category a people falls into allows you to predict many attributes of that group. For example, foragers tend to be animist/pantheist, living in a world rich with spirit and in which all beings and many objects are ascribed a status equal to their own in value and meaning. Foragers live in small bands and tribes. Some foragers may be better than others at certain skills, like tool making or medicine, but almost none have exclusive specialties and everyone helps gather food. Though there may be chiefs and shamans, hierarchies are nearly flat and all members have access to the leaders. A skirmish causing two or three deaths is a major war. Most of a forager’s calories come from meat or fish, supplemented with fruit, nuts, and some wild grain and tubers.(4) It’s rare that a forager will overexploit his environment, as the linkage is so tight that destruction of a resource one season means starvation the next. Populations tend to peak at low numbers and stabilize.

The First Growth Economy

Agriculturists, in contrast, worship gods whose message usually is that humans are chosen beings holding dominion, or at least stewardship, over creation. This human/nature divide makes ecological degradation not only inevitable but a sign of progress.

While the forager mainstays of meat and wild food rot quickly, domesticated grain, a hallmark innovation of agriculture, allows storage, hoarding, and surplus. Food growing also evens out the seasonal shortages that keep forager populations low.

Having fields to tend and surpluses to store encouraged early farming peoples to stay in one place. Grain also needs processing, and as equipment for threshing and winnowing grew complex and large, the trend toward sedentism accelerated.(5)

Grains provide more calories, or energy, per weight than lean meat. Meat protein is easily transformed into body structure—one reason why foragers tend to be taller than farmers—but turning protein into energy exacts a high metabolic cost and is inefficient.(6) Starches and sugars, the main components of plants, are much more easily converted into calories than protein, and calories are the main limiting factor in reproduction. A shift from meat-based to carbohydrate-based calories means that given equal amounts of protein, a group getting its calories mostly from plants will reproduce much faster than one getting its calories from meat. It’s one reason farming cultures have higher birth rates than foragers.

Also, farming loosens the linkage between ecological damage and food supply. If foragers decimate the local antelope herd, it means starvation and a low birth rate for the hunters. If the hunters move or die off, the antelope herd will rebound quickly. But when a forest is cleared for crops, the loss of biodiversity translates into more food for people. Soil begins to deplete immediately but that won’t be noticed for many years. When the soil is finally ruined, which is the fate of nearly all agricultural soils, it will stunt ecological recovery for decades. But while the soil is steadily eroding, crops will support a growing village.

All these factors—storable food, surplus, calories from carbohydrates, and slow feedback from degrading ecosystems—lead inevitably to rising populations in farming cultures. It’s no coincidence, then, that farmers are also conquerors. A growing population needs more land. Depleted farmland forces a population to take over virgin soil. In comparison, forager cultures are usually very site specific: they know the habits of particular species and have a culture built around a certain place. They rarely conquer new lands, as new terrain and its different species would alter the culture’s knowledge, stories, and traditions. But expansion is built into agricultural societies. Wheat and other grains can grow almost anywhere, so farming, compared to foraging, requires less of a sense of place.

Even if we note these structural problems with agriculture, the shift from foraging at first glance seems worth it because—so we are taught—agriculture allows us the leisure to develop art, scholarship, and all the other luxuries of a sophisticated culture. This myth still persists even though for 40 years anthropologists have compiled clear evidence to the contrary. A skilled gatherer can amass enough wild maize in three and a half hours to feed herself for ten days. One hour of labor can yield a kilogram of wild einkorn wheat.(7) Foragers have plenty of leisure for non-survival pleasures. The art in the caves at Altamira and Lascaux, and other early examples are proof that agriculture is not necessary for a complex culture to develop. In fact, forager cultures are far more diverse in their arts, religions, and technologies than agrarian cultures, which tend to be fairly similar.(3) And as we know, industrial society allows the least diversity of all, not tolerating any but a single global culture.

A Life of Leisure

We’re also taught that foragers’ lives are “nasty, brutish, and short,” in Hobbes’s famous characterization. But burial sites at Dickson Mounds, an archaeological site in Illinois that spans a shift from foraging to maize farming, show that farmers there had 50% more tooth problems typical of malnutrition, four times the anemia, and an increase in spine degeneration indicative of a life of hard labor, compared to their forager forebears at the site.(8) Lifespan decreased from an average of 26 years at birth for foragers to 19 for farmers. In prehistoric Turkey and Greece, heights of foragers averaged 5′-9″ in men and 5′-5″ in women, and plummeted five inches after the shift to agriculture (1). The Turkish foragers’ stature is not yet equaled by their descendants. In virtually all known examples, foragers had better teeth and less disease than subsequent farming cultures at the same site. Thus the easy calories of agriculture were gained at the cost of good nutrition and health.

We think of hunter-gatherers as grimly weathering frequent famine, but agriculturists fare worse there, too. Foragers, with lower population densities, a much more diverse food supply, and greater mobility, can find some food in nearly any conditions. But even affluent farmers regularly experience famine. The great historian Fernand Braudel (9) shows that even comparatively wealthy and cultured France suffered country-wide famines 10 times in the tenth century, 26 in the eleventh, 2 in the twelfth, 4 in the fourteenth, 7 in the fifteenth, 13 in the sixteenth, 11 in the seventeenth, and 16 in the eighteenth century. This does not include the countless local famines that occurred in addition to the widespread ones. Agriculture did not become a reliable source of food until fossil fuels gave us the massive energy subsidies needed to avoid shortfalls. When farming can no longer be subsidized by petrochemicals, famine will once again be a regular visitor.

Agriculture needs more and more fuel to supply the population growth it causes. Foragers can reap as many as 40 calories of food energy for every calorie they expend in gathering. They don’t need to collect and spread fertilizer, irrigate, terrace, or drain fields, all of which count against the energy gotten from food. But ever since crops were domesticated, the amount of energy needed to grow food has steadily increased. A simple iron plow requires that millions of calories be burned for digging, moving, and smelting ore. Before oil, one plow’s forging meant that a dozen trees or more were cut, hauled, and converted to charcoal for the smithy. Though the leverage that a plow yields over its life may earn back those calories as human food, all that energy is robbed from the ecosystem and spent by humans.

Farming before oil also depended on animal labor, demanding additional acreage for feed and pasture and compounding the conversion of ecosystem into people. Agriculture’s caloric yield dipped into the negative centuries ago, and the return on energy has continued to degrade until we now use an average of 4 to 10 calories for each calorie of food energy.

So agriculture doesn’t just require cropland. It needs inputs from vast additional acreages for fertilizer, animal feed, fuel and ore for smelting tools, and so on. Farming must always drain energy and diversity from the land surrounding cultivation, degrading more and more wilderness.

Wilderness is a nuisance for agriculturists, a source of pest animals and insects, as well as land that’s just “going to waste.” It will constantly be destroyed. Combine this with farming’s surplus of calories and its need for large families for labor, and the birth rate will rise geometrically. Under this brutal calculus of population growth and land hunger, Earth’s ecosystems will increasingly and inexorably be converted into human food and food-producing tools.

Forager cultures have a built-in check on population, since the plants and animals they depend on cannot be over-harvested without immediate harm. But agriculture has no similar structural constraint on over-exploitation of resources. Quite the opposite is true. If one farmer leaves land fallow, the first neighbor to farm it gains an advantage. Agriculture leads to both a food race and population explosion. (I cannot help but wonder if eating high on the food chain via meat, since it will reduce population, is ultimately a more responsible act than eating low on the food chain with grains, which will promote larger populations. At some point humans need to get the message to slow their breeding.)

We can pass laws to stop some of the harm agriculture does, but these rules will reduce harvests. As soon as food gets tight, the laws will be repealed. There are no structural constraints on agriculture’s ecologically damaging tendencies.

All this means that agriculture is fundamentally unsustainable.

The damage done by agriculture is social and political as well. A surplus, rare and ephemeral for foragers, is a principal goal of agriculture. A surplus must be stored, which requires technology and materials to build storage, people to guard it, and a hierarchical organization to centralize the storage and decide how it will be distributed. It also offers a target for local power struggles and theft by neighboring groups, increasing the scale of wars. With agriculture, power thus begins its concentration into fewer and fewer hands. He who controls the surplus controls the group. Personal freedom erodes naturally under agriculture.

The endpoint of Cohen’s cultural continuum is industrial society. Industrialism is really a gloss on agriculture, since industry is dependent on farming to provide low-cost raw materials that can be “value-added,” a place to externalize pollution and other costs, and a source of cheap labor. Industrial cultures have enormous ecological footprints, low birth rates, and high labor costs, the result of lavishing huge quantities of resources—education, complex infrastructure, layers of government and legal structures, and so on—upon each person. This level of complexity cannot be maintained from within itself. The energy and resources for it must be siphoned from outlying agricultural regions. Out there lie the simpler cultures, high birth rates, and resulting low labor costs that must subsidize the complexity of industry.

An industrial culture must also externalize costs upon rural places via pollution and export of wastes. Cities ship their waste to rural areas. Industrial cultures subsidize and back tyrannical regimes to keep resource prices and labor costs low. These tendencies explain why, now that the US has shifted from an agrarian base to an industrial one, Americans can no longer afford to consume products made at home and must turn to agrarian countries, such as China and Mexico, or despotic regimes, such as Saudi Arabia’s, for low-cost inputs. The Third World is where the First World externalizes the overwhelming burden of maintaining the complexity of industrialism. But at some point there will be no place left to externalize to.

Horticulture to the Rescue

As I mentioned, Cohen locates another form of culture between foraging and agriculture. These are the horticulturists, who use simple methods to raise useful plants and animals. Horticulture in this sense is difficult to define precisely, because most foragers tend plants to some degree, most horticulturists gather wild food, and at some point between digging stick and plow a people must be called agriculturists. Many anthropologists agree that horticulture usually involves a fallow period, while agriculture overcomes this need through crop rotation, external fertilizers, or other techniques. Agriculture is also on a larger scale. Simply put, horticulturists are gardeners rather than farmers.

Horticulturists rarely organize above the tribe or small village level. Although they are sometimes influenced by the monotheism, sky gods, and messianic messages of their agricultural neighbors, horticulturists usually retain a belief in earth spirits and regard the Earth as a living being. Most horticultural societies are far more egalitarian than agriculturists, lacking despots, armies, and centralized control hierarchies.

Horticulture is the most efficient method known for obtaining food, measured by return on energy invested. Agriculture can be thought of as an intensification of horticulture, using more labor, land, capital, and technology. This means that agriculture, as noted, usually consumes more calories of work and resources than can be produced in food, and so is on the wrong side of the point of diminishing returns. That’s a good definition of unsustainability, while horticulture is probably on the positive side of the curve. Godesky (10) believes this is how horticulture can be distinguished from agriculture. It may take several millennia, as we are learning, but agriculture will eventually deplete planetary ecosystems, and horticulture might not.

Horticulturists use polycultures, tree crops, perennials, and limited tillage, and have an intimate relationship with diverse species of plants and animals. This sounds like permaculture, doesn’t it? Permaculture, in its promotion of horticultural ideals over those of agriculture, may offer a road back to sustainability. Horticulture has structural constraints against large population, hoarding of surplus, and centralized command and control structures. Agriculture inevitably leads to all of those.

A Steep Price

We gave up inherently good health as well as immense personal freedoms when we embraced agriculture. I once thought of achievements such as the Hammurabic Code, Magna Carta, and Bill of Rights as mileposts on humanity’s road to a just and free society. But I’m beginning to view them as ever larger and more desperate dams to hold back the swelling flood of abuses of human rights and the centralization of power that are inherent in agricultural and industrial societies. Agriculture results, always, in concentration of power by the elite. That is the inevitable result of the large storable surplus that is at the heart of agriculture.

It is no accident that permaculture’s third ethic wrestles with the problem of surplus. Many permaculturists have come to understand that Mollison’s simple injunction to share the surplus barely scratches the surface of the difficulty. This is why his early formulation has often been modified into a slightly less problematic “return the surplus” or “reinvest the surplus,” but the fact that these versions have not yet stabilized into a commonly held phrasing as have the other two ethics, “Care for the Earth” and “Care for People,” tells me that permaculturists have not truly come to grips with the problem of surplus.

The issue may not be to figure out how to deal with surplus. We may need to create a culture in which surplus, and the fear and greed that make it desirable, are no longer the structural results of our cultural practices. Jared Diamond may be right, and agriculture and the abuses it fosters may turn out to be a ten-millennium-long misstep on the path to a mature humanity. Permaculture may be more than just a tool for sustainability. The horticultural way of life that it embraces may offer the road to human freedom, health, and a just society.

Acknowledgement

I am deeply indebted to Jason Godesky and the Anthropik Tribe for first making me aware of the connection between permaculture and horticultural societies, and for formulating several of the other ideas expressed in this article.

References

  1. Diamond, Jared. The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. Discover, May 1987.
  2. Mollison, Bill. (1988). Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. Tagari.
  3. Cohen, Yehudi. (1971). Man in Adaptation: The Institutional Framework. De Gruyter.
  4. Lee, R. and I. Devore (eds.) 1968. Man the Hunter. Aldine.
  5. Harris, David R. An Evolutionary Continuum of People-Plant Interactions. In Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation. Harris, D. R. and G.C. Hillman (eds.) 1989.
  6. Milton, K. 1984. Protein and Carbohydrate Resources of the Maku Indians of Northwestern Amazonia. American Anthropologist86, 7-27.
  7. Harlan, Jack R. Wild-Grass Seed Harvesting in the Sahara and Sub-Sahara of Africa. In Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation. Harris, D. R. and G.C. Hillman (eds.) 1989.
  8. Goodman, Alan H., John Lallo, George J. Armelagos and Jerome C. Rose. (1984) Health Changes at Dickson Mounds (A.D. 950–1300). In Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture, M. Cohen and G. Armelagos, eds. Academic.
  9. Braudel, Fernand (1979). Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century: The Structures of Everyday Life. Harper and Row.
  10. Godesky, Jason (2005). Human Societies are Defined by Their Food. http://rewild.info/anthropik/2005/10/thesis-8-human-societies-are-defined-by-their-food/index.html

On the Path Toward Living Wild

Off the keyboard of Peter Michael Bauer

Published on Urban Scout on October 10, 2012

The 2012 Posse
 
Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

Thoughts on Lynx Vilden’s Stone Age Immersion Program

Since I dropped out of high school in 1998 and dedicated my life to returning to a more indigenous lifestyle, to rewilding, I spend my time divided between working odd jobs, reading, writing, learning, teaching, community organizing and wild-crafting. Early on I realized that primitive technology is a bi-product of a sustainable culture, but a sustainable culture is not the by-product of primitive technology; primitive skills are the superficial layer of indigenous people. I prefer the cultural, social, mental and permacultural aspects of rewilding because they are more foundational to creating culture. This is not to say that there are not important aspects of learning primitive technology that can aid in the creation of a sustainable culture. The superficial layer is still an important layer of culture. In order to fully understand this, I decided to dedicate the summer of 2012 to focusing purely on the crafting of primitive technology.

One of the most inspiring people teaching these crafts is Lynx Vilden and her school the Living Wild School. I have known about her for years and always wanted to attend her program. I signed up for her summer immersion program, a three month long program that culminates with living in the wilds for the final month, with only “stone age” gear; no metal, no plastic. I had an amazing and challenging time and I learned a great deal. These are my thoughts about my experience.

This is a fantastic program for gaining proficiency in primitive skills. Even before the classes started, I was already gaining proficiency in skills. The list of required items to bring this year made it clear that this was not a class for beginners. I had to show up with a minimum of 6 large brain-tanned deer skins. While I had tanned a couple deer skins before, I did not have proficiency. I spent about two months of preparation working on all the things that I needed to bring with me. Each week of the program had a different theme: buckskin clothes, containers, felted blankets, fishing kits, etc. Every day we would get up and begin working on crafts together or on our own when we needed space. After weeks of working on projects and crafting with our hands we became much more proficient in crafting skills.

Eating out of my clay pot. Delicious!

Practical application of primitive technology is what makes the Living Wild School unique. Learning how to craft primitive technology is only half the experience: you must learn to use the crafts in practical ways. Lynx Vilden is doing something that not many others in this country are doing: teaching and experimenting with using primitive technology on a day to day basis, deep in the woods. We learned nuances of using primitive tools that you could only learn through real world application. Things like how to make arrows for target practice, how to lift a clay pot from the coals, how to fix rawhide sandals with a bone awl under the moonlight, and how to adjust a tumpline on a pack basket. One morning after a cold night I spent the day stitching up my wool blanket to create a draft-free sleeping bag. Another day I stitched ties onto my fur hat to keep it from falling off during the night. Everyday we would spend a little time tweaking our tools to better match our needs and the demands of the environment. Crafting primitive skills is fun and great, but gaining experience in real life application completes the knowledge base. In my mind, this is the most important aspect of what Lynx teaches.

Living in close quarters with others who are enthusiastic about and experienced with primitive technology felt priceless. I consider myself an out-going recluse. I like social engagement, but often feel too much anxiety to leave the house. Meeting new people, putting myself in someone else’s program, these are things I rarely do. It was worth it. I made a lot of friends, and even when there was drama it almost felt like it was created just to change up the monotony of our lives. Having people to share knowledge with, to experiment and learn with, helped to maximize my goal of proficiency. This is the amazing power of collective knowledge and experience; you can learn a lot more from a group than from a single person. This bridged the gap between classes when Lynx was off taking care of other business.

Living outdoors for the summer changed me. There were many things that I learned that were not directly related to crafting primitive skills, but from making a transition from living on the grid, to living off the grid. For the first two and a half months we were camped in the woods. Meals were cooked over fires, food was kept cool in holes that we dug in the ground, we hauled water from the spring and from the faucet across a large meadow. This was challenging for me, particularly because of my diet and bowel problems. At first I wanted to leave, feeling very stressed from not having a system and routines that kept my body comfortable and my IBS symptoms in check. By the middle of the summer I felt like I was flying. I never wanted to live indoors or cook on a regular stove again. There was no revelation, no powerful transformation. This change was gradual, as my comforts expanded and routines strengthened and became easier. It also didn’t turn my into a fundamentalist about it. I really love living outdoors, but I’m not a missionary now. It just feels good and I’m going to figure out how I can continue to live in a similar way here at my home.

On the trail to paradise.

In reality, we weren’t living wild. We were simply camping, with modern-made primitive tools. There wasn’t much that separated us from other mountain back-packers other than our clothes and tools. Our stone age human ancestors lived sustainably on the planet for hundreds of thousands of years, tending the wild through regenerative methods of food production. Their myths, culture and traditions passed on this knowledge and kept the land and people healthy and happy. This is what “living wild” looks like to me: people living in cooperative groups, managing the land in a regenerative manner. We did not learn cooperative group dynamics. We did not learn regenerative land management. Sure, we were hunting and gathering, but not like hunter-gatherers. This was my one caveat with the program: looking wild is not the same thing as living wild.

Looking wild has deeply subconscious benefits to rewilding. There is a reason people say “Appearances are everything.” In a recent study, volunteer participants were asked to take a test. Half of them wore white coats that they were told was a doctor’s jacket, while the other half wore white coats they were told was a painter’s jacket. The results showed that people, when wearing the doctor’s lab coat, scored higher on the tests than those wearing the painter’s coat. These were, in reality, the same coat. Their perception of themselves changed depending on what they were wearing, and how those clothes are perceived. Image is perception and perception carries the ability to alter how you think. People often act as though “superficial” things like a persons image do not effect us. In reality, it does and on a very deep level.

What Lynx has done with her programs is create inspirational imagery of white people–who have no real life record of indigenous imagery–looking indigenous, without stealing from native cultures. Beyond what Lynx’s program does for creating proficiency in her students, the imagery she creates does an amazing job of giving us back a modern, visual, indigenous identity. Lynx is an artist and her students become her models. The images strike a cord deep in people, of ancestral remembrance. They seem to say, “It is possible for us to reclaim this identity.” The photographs of the programs she runs have much more reach than the limits of her class size; viewers on her website can pour over the iconic images that sit on every page. Everyone I know who has gone to her website has felt a spark of inspiration. The dream for many, becomes actualized in these images. These images are altering the way we think about ourselves and about our indigenousity. This is huge. These benefits need to be studied and examined in depth.

My few criticisms come with an expiration date. As the rewilding movement continues to grow, it is absorbing the primitive skills community. Primitive skills are becoming a gateway to rewilding. As this happens, the principles of indigenous land management and social organization models are becoming more foundational to understanding and practicing primitive skills. As Lynx’s program grows and changes, these principles with undoubtably become rooted in the experience. The goal, after all, is living wild and living wild can only be accomplished through adapting traditions of tending the wild.

More than a teacher, a leader, or a guide, Lynx is a catalyst. Lynx is pushing the edge of primitive skills further towards rewilding, by making it about actually using the technology to live. Through the people she teaches, inspires and brings together, through re-creating indigenous identity, she plays a major role in the rewilding renaissance and I am glad to have met her and got to know her over the summer. I look forward to seeing her continue to give people the experience that I had this summer, and to watch how the larger community benefits and grows together.

I highly recommend this program. Check it out here: www.lynxvilden.com

The Long-Term Tie Between Energy Supply, Population, and the Economy

Off the Keyboard of Gail Tverberg

Published originally on Our Finite World on August 29th, 2012

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord of the Diner

The tie between energy supply, population, and the economy goes back to the hunter-gatherer period. Hunter-gatherers managed to multiply their population at least 4-fold, and perhaps by as much as 25-fold, by using energy techniques which allowed them to expand their territory from central Africa to virtually the whole world, including the Americas and Australia.

The agricultural revolution starting about 7,000 or 8,000 BCE was next big change, multiplying population more than 50-fold. The big breakthrough here was the domestication of grains, which allowed food to be stored for winter, and transported more easily.

The next major breakthrough was the industrial revolution using coal. Even before this, there were major energy advances, particularly using peat in Netherlands and early use of coal in England. These advances allowed the world’s population to grow more than four-fold between the year 1 CE and 1820 CE. Between 1820 and the present, population has grown approximately seven-fold.

Table 1. Population growth rate prior to the year 1 C. E. based on McEvedy & Jones, “Atlas of World Population History”, 1978; later population as well as GDP based on Angus Madison estimates; energy growth estimates are based on estimates by Vaclav Smil in Energy Transitions: HIstory Requirements, and Prospects, adjusted by recent information from BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

When we look at the situation on a year-by-year basis (Table 1), we see that on a yearly average basis, growth has been by far the greatest since 1820, which is the time since the widespread use of fossil fuels. We also see that economic growth seems to proceed only slightly faster than population growth up until 1820. After 1820, there is a much wider “gap” between energy growth and GDP growth, suggesting that the widespread use of fossil fuels has allowed a rising standard of living.

The rise in population growth and GDP growth is significantly higher in the period since World War II than it was in the period prior to that time. This is the period during which growth in which oil consumption had a significant impact on the economy. Oil greatly improved transportation and also enabled much greater agricultural output. An indirect result was more world trade, which enabled production of goods needing inputs around the world, such as computers.

When a person looks back over history, the impression one gets is that the economy is a system that transforms resources, especially energy, into food and other goods that people need. As these goods become available, population grows. The more energy is consumed, the more the economy grows, and the faster world population grows. When little energy is added, economic growth proceeds slowly, and population growth is low.

Economists seem to be of the view that GDP growth gives rise to growth in energy products, and not the other way around. This is a rather strange view, in light of the long tie between energy and the economy, and in light of the apparent causal relationship. With a sufficiently narrow, short-term view, perhaps the view of economists can be supported, but over the longer run it is hard to see how this view can be maintained.

Energy and the Hunter-Gatherer Period

Humans, (or more accurately, predecessor species to humans), first arose in central Africa, a place where energy from the sun is greatest, water is abundant, and biological diversity is among the greatest. This setting allowed predecessor species a wide range of food supplies, easy access to water, and little worry about being cold. Originally, predecessor species most likely had fur, lived in trees, and ate a primarily vegetarian diet, like most primates today. The total population varied, but with the limited area in which pre-humans lived, probably did not exceed 1,000,000, and may have been as little as 70,000 (McEvedy).

Man’s main source of energy is of course food. In order to expand man’s range, it was necessary to find ways to obtain adequate food supply in less hospitable environments. These same techniques would also be helpful in countering changing climate and in mitigating deficiencies of man’s evolution, such as lack of hair to keep warm, limited transportation possibilities, and poor ability to attack large predators. The way man seems to have tackled all of these other issues is by figuring out ways to harness outside energy for his own use. See also my previous post, Humans Seem to Need External Energy.

The earliest breakthrough seems to be the development of man’s ability to control fire, at least 1 million years ago (Berna). The ability to cook food came a very long time ago as well, although the exact date remains uncertain. A diet that includes cook food has a number of advantages: it reduces chewing time from roughly half of daily activities to as  little as 5% of daily activities, freeing up time for other activities (Organ); it allows a wider range of foods, since some foods must be cooked; it allows better absorption of nutrients of food that is eaten; it allows smaller tooth and gut sizes, freeing up energy that could be used for brain development (Wrangham).

There were other advantages of fire besides the ability to cook: it also allowed early humans to keep warm, expanding their range in that way; it gave them an advantage in warding off predators, since humans could hurl fiery logs at them; and it extended day into night, since fire brought with it light. The wood or leaves with which early man made fire could be considered man’s first external source of energy.

As man began to have additional time available that was not devoted to gathering food and eating, he could put more of his own energy into other projects, such as hunting animals for food, making more advanced tools, and creating clothing. We talk about objects such as tools and clothing that are created using energy (any type of energy, from humans or from fuel), as having embedded energy in them, since the energy used to make them has long-term benefit. One surprising early use of embedded energy appears to have been making seaworthy boats that allowed humans to populate Australia over 40,000 years ago (Diamond).

The use of dogs for hunting in Europe at least 32,000 years ago was another way early humans were able to extend their range (Shipman). Neanderthal populations, living in the same area in close to the same time-period did not use dogs, and died out.

With the expanded territory, the number of humans increased to 4 million (McEvedy) by the beginning of agriculture (about 7,000 or 8,000 BCE). If population reached 4 million, this would represent roughly a 25-fold increase, assuming a base population of 150,000. Such an increase might be expected simply based on the expanded habitat of humans. This growth likely took place over more than 500,000 years, so was less than 0.01% per year.

Beginning of Agriculture – 7,000 BCE to 1 CE

Relative to the slow growth in the hunter-gatherer period, populations grew much more quickly (0.06% per year according to Table 1) during the Beginning of Agriculture.

One key problem that was solved with the beginning of the agricultural was, How can you store food until you need it? This was partly solved by the domestication of grains, which stored very well, and was “energy dense” so it could be transported well. If food were limited to green produce, like cabbage and spinach, it would not keep well, and a huge volume would be required if it were to be transported.

The domestication of animals was another way that food could be stored until it was needed, this time “on the hoof”. With the storage issue solved, it was possible to live in settled communities, rather than needing to keep moving to locations where food happened to be available, season by season. The domestication of animals had other benefits, including being able to use animals to transport goods, and being able to use them to plow fields.

The ability to grow animals and crops of one’s own choosing permitted a vast increase the amount of food (and thus energy for people) that would grow on a given plot of land.   According to David Montgomery in Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization, the amount of land needed to feed one person was

  • Hunting and gathering: 20 to 100 hectares (50 to 250 acres) per person
  • Slash and burn agriculture: 2 to 10 hectares (5 to 25 acres) per person
  • Mesopotamian floodplain farming: 0.5 to 1.5 hectares (1.2 to 3.7 acres) per person

Thus, a shift to agriculture would seem to allow a something like a 50-fold increase in population, and would pretty much explain the 56-fold increase that took place between from 4 million in 7,000 BCE, to 226 million at 1 CE.

Other energy advances during this period included the use of irrigation, wind-powered ships, metal coins, and the early use of iron of tools (Diamond) (Ponting). With these advances, trade was possible, and this trade enabled the creation of goods that could not be made without trade. For example, copper and tin are not generally mined in the same location, but with the use of trade, they could be combined to form bronze.

In spite of these advances, the standard of living declined when man moved to agriculture. Hunter-gatherers were already running into limits because they had killed off some of the game species (McGlone) (Diamond). While agriculture allowed a larger population, the health of individual members was much worse. The average height of men dropped by 6.2 inches, and the median life span of men dropped from 35.4 years to 33.1 years, according to Spencer Wells in Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization.

Deforestation rapidly became a common occurrence, as population expanded. Chew lists 40 areas around the world showing deforestation before the year 1, many as early as 4000 BCE. Montgomery notes that when the Israelites reached the promised land, the better cropland in the valleys was already occupied. In Joshua 17:14-18, Joshua instructs descendants of Joseph to clear as much of the forested land in the hill country as they wish, so they will have a place for their families to live.

Energy, Population, and GDP: Year 1 to 1820

Table 1 shows that during the period 1 to 1000, both population and economic output were very low (population, 0.02% per year; GDP, 0.01% per year). During this period, and as well as in the early agricultural period (between 7,000 BCE and 1 CE), there was a tendency of civilizations that had been expanding to collapse, holding the world’s overall population growth level down. There were several reasons for collapses of well-established societies, including (1) soil erosion and other loss of soil fertility, as people cut down trees for agriculture and for use in metal-making, tilled soil, and used irrigation (Montgomery) (Chew), (2) increasingly complex societies needed increasing energy to support themselves, but such energy tended not to be available (Tainter), (3) contagious diseases, often caught from farm animals, passed from person to person because to population density (Diamond), and (4) there were repeated instances of climate change and natural disturbances, such as volcanoes (Chew).

Even after 1000 CE, growth was limited, due to continued influence of the above types of factors. In most countries, the vast majority of the population continued to live on the edge of starvation up until the last two centuries (Ponting). Most growth came from expanded acreage for farming.

There were exceptions, however, and these were where growth of population and GDP was greatest.

Netherlands. Kris De Decker writes about the growing use of peat for energy in Netherlands starting in the 1100s and continuing until 1700. Peat is partially carbonized plant material that forms in bogs over hundreds of years. It can be mined and burned for processes that require heat energy, such as making glass or ceramics and for baking bread. Because it takes hundreds of years to be formed, mining exhausts it. Mining also causes ecological damage. The availability of peat for fuel was important, however, because there was a serious shortage of wood at that time, because of deforestation due to the pressures of agriculture and the making of metals.

Wind was also important in Holland during the same period. It produced primarily a different kind of energy than peat; it produced kinetic (or mechanical) energy. This energy was used for a variety of processes, including polishing glass, sawing wood, and paper production (De Decker).  Measured as heat energy (which is the way energy comparisons are usually made), wind output would have been considerably less than the heat energy from peat during this time period.

Maddison shows population in Netherlands growing from 300,000 in the year 1000 to 950,000 in 1500; 1,500,000 in 1600 and 1,900,000 in 1700, implying average annual population growth rates of 0.23%, 0.46%, and 0.24% during the three periods, compared to world average annual increases of 0.10%, 0.24%, and 0.08% during the same three periods. Netherlands’ GDP increased at more than double the world rates during these three periods (Netherlands: 0.35%, 1.06%, and 0.67%; world: 0.14%, 0.29%, and 0.11%.)

England. We also have information on early fuel use in England (Wigley).

Figure 1. Annual energy consumption per head (megajoules) in England and Wales 1561-70 to 1850-9 and in Italy 1861-70. Figure by Wrigley.

Here, we see that coal use began as early as 1561.  To a significant extent coal replaced fire wood, since wood was in short supply due to deforestation. Coal was used to provide heat energy, until after the invention of the first commercially successful steam engine in 1712 (Wikipedia), after which it could provide either heat or mechanical energy.  Wind and water were also used to provide mechanical energy, but their quantities remain very small compared to coal energy, draft animal energy, and even energy consumed in the form of food by humans.

Maddison shows population and GDP statistics for the United Kingdom (not England by itself). Again, we see a pattern similar to Netherlands, with UK population and GDP growth surpassing world population and GDP growth, since it was a world leader in adopting coal technology. (For the three periods 1500-1600, 1600-1700, and 1700-1820, the corresponding numbers are Population UK: 0.45%, 0.33%, 0.76%; Population World: 0.24%, 0.08%, 0.46%; GDP UK: 0.76%, 0.58%, 1.02%; GDP World: 0.29%, 0.11%, 0.52%.)

Growth “Lull” during 1600s. Table 1 shows that both population growth and GDP growth were lower during the 1600s. This period matches up with some views of when the Little Ice Age (a period with colder weather) had the greatest impact.

Figure 2. Winter Severity in Europe, 1000 to 1900. Note period of cold weather in 1600s. Figure from Environmental History Resources. Figure based on Lamb 1969 / Schneider and Mass 1975.

If the weather was colder, crops would likely not have grown as well. More wood would be needed for fuel, leaving less for other purposes, such as making metals. Countries might even been more vulnerable to outside invaders, if they were poorer and could not properly pay and feed a large army.

Coal Age for the World – 1820 to 1920 (and continuing)

When the age of coal arrived, the world had two major needs:

  1. A heat-producing fuel, so that there would not be such a problem with deforestation, if people wanted to keep warm, create metal products,  and make other products that required heat, such as glass.
  2. As a transportation fuel, so that walking, using horses, and boats would not be the major choices. This severely limited trade.

When coal arrived, it was rapidly accepted, because it helped greatly with the first of these–the need for a heat-producing fuel. People were willing to put up with the fact that it was polluting, especially in the highly populated parts of the world where wood shortages were a problem. With the availability of coal, it became possible to greatly increase the amount of metal produced, making possible the production of consumer goods of many kinds.

Figure 3. World Energy Consumption by Source, based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects and together with BP Statistical Data on 01965 and subsequent

Between 1820 and 1920, which is the period when coal came into widespread use, the world’s use of energy approximately tripled (Figure 3). The large increases in other fuels later dwarf this increase, but the use of coal was very significant for the economy. Table 1 at the top of this post shows a fairly consistent rise in GDP growth as coal was added to the energy mix in the 1820 to 1920 period.

With the invention of first commercially successful steam engine in 1712 (Wikipedia), coal could also be used for processes that required mechanical energy, such as milling grain, running a cotton gin, or weaving cloth. It also helped as a transportation fuel, in that it could power a railroad train or steam boat. Thus, it did help with the second major energy need noted above. It was not very suitable for airplanes or for private passenger cars, though.

One invention that was made possible by the availability of coal was the widespread use of electricity. Without coal (or oil), it would never have been possible to make all of the transmission lines. Hydroelectric power of the type we use today was also made possible by the availability of coal, since it was possible to create and transport the metal parts needed. It was also possible to heat limestone to make Portland cement in large quantity. The first meaningful amounts of hydroelectric power appeared between 1870 and 1880, according to the data used in Figure 3.

Agriculture was helped by the availability of coal, mostly through the indirect impacts of more/better metal being available, more ease in working with metals, improved transportation, and later, the availability of electricity. According to a document of the US Department of Census,  changes were made which allowed more work to be done by horses instead of humans. New devices such as steel plows and reapers and hay rakes were manufactured, which could be pulled by horses. Later, many devices run by electricity were added, such as milking machines. Barbed-wire fence allowed the West to become cropland, instead one large unfenced range.

Between 1850 and 1930, the percentage of workers in agriculture in the US dropped from about 65% of the workforce to about 22%. With such a large drop in agricultural workers, rising employment in other parts of the economy became possible, assuming there were enough jobs available. If not, it is easy to see how the Depression might have originated.

If we look at the coal data included in Figure 3 by itself, we see that the use of coal use has never stopped growing. In fact, its use has been growing more rapidly in recent years:

Figure 4. World annual coal consumption, based on same data used in Figure 3. (Vaclav Smil /BP Statistical Review of World Energy)

The big reason for the growth is coal consumption is that it is cheap, especially compared to oil and in most countries, natural gas. China and other developing countries have been using coal for electricity production, to smelt iron, and to make fertilizer and other chemicals. Coal is very polluting, both from a carbon dioxide perspective, and from the point of view of pollutants mixed with the coal. For many buyers, however, “cheap” trumps “good for the environment”.

A look at detail underlying China’s coal consumption makes it look as though the recent big increase in coal consumption began immediately after China was admitted to the World Trade Organization, in December 2001. With more trade with the rest of the world, China had more need for coal to manufacture goods for export, and to build up its own internal infrastructure. The ultimate consumers, in the US and Europe, didn’t realize that it was their demand for cheap products from abroad that was fueling the rise in world coal consumption.

Addition of Oil to World Energy Mix

Oil was added to the energy mix in very small amounts, starting in the 1860s and 1870s. The amount added gradually increased though the years, with the really big increases coming after World War II. Oil filled several niches:

  1. It was the first really good transportation fuel. It could be poured, so it was easy to put into a gas tank. It enabled door-to-door transportation, with automobiles, trucks, tractors for the farm, aircraft, and much construction equipment.
  2. It (and the natural gas often associated with it) provided chemical fertilizer which could be used to cover up the huge soil deficiencies that had developed over the years. Hydrocarbons from oil also provide herbicides and insecticides.  Oil also enabled the door-to-door transport of mineral additions to the soil mix, enhancing fertility.
  3. Oil is very easy to transport in a can or truck, so it works well with devices like portable electric generators and irrigation pumps. It can be used where other fuels are hard to transport, such as small islands, with minimal equipment to make it usable.
  4. With the huge change in transport enabled by oil, much greater international trade became possible. It became possible to regularly make complex goods, such as computers, with imports from many nations. It also became possible to import necessities, rather than using trade primarily for a few high-value goods.
  5. Hydrocarbons could be made into medicines, enabling defeat of many of the germs that had in the past caused epidemics.
  6. Hydrocarbons could be used to make plastics and fabrics, so that wood and crops grown to make fabrics (such as cotton and flax) would not be in such huge demand, allowing land to be used for other purposes.
  7. Hydrocarbons could provide asphalt for roads, lubrication for machines, and many other hard-to-replace specialty products.
  8. The labor-saving nature of machines powered by oil freed up time for workers to work elsewhere (or viewed less positively, sometimes left them unemployed).
  9. The fact that tractors and other farm equipment took over the role of horses and mules after 1920 meant that more land was available for human food, since feed no longer needed to be grown for horses.

If we look at oil by itself (Figure 5, below), we see much more of a curved figure than for coal (Figure 4, above).

Figure 5. World annual oil consumption, based on the same data as in Figure 3 above. (Vaclav Smil /BP Statistical Review of World Energy)

My interpretation of this is that oil supply is more constrained than coal supply. Coal is cheap, and demand keeps growing. Oil has been rising in price in recent years, and the higher prices mean that consumers cut back on their purchases, to keep their budgets close to balanced. They can’t afford as many vacations and can’t afford to pave as many roads with asphalt. Oil is still the largest source of energy in the world, but coal is working on surpassing it. In a year or two, coal will likely be the world’s largest source of energy. Together, they comprise about 60 percent of today’s energy use.

If we look at per capita fuel consumption based on the same data as in Figure 3, this is what we see:

Figure 6. Per capita world energy consumption, calculated by dividing world energy consumption (based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent) by population estimates, based on Angus Maddison data.

Figure 6 indicates that there was a real increase in total per capita energy consumption after World War II, about the time that oil consumption was being added in significant quantity. What happened was that coal consumption did not decrease (except to some extent on a per capita basis); oil was added on top of it.

If we look at world population growth for the same time period, we see a very distinct bend in the line immediately after World War II, as population rose as the same time as oil consumption.

Figure 7. World Population, based on Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.

Clearly, the arrival of oil had a huge impact on agriculture. Unfortunately, the chemical fix for our long-standing soil problems is not a permanent ones. Soils need to be viewed as part of an ecological system, with biological organisms aiding in fertility. Soils also need an adequate amount of humus, if they are to hold water well in droughts. There are natural things that can be done to maintain soil fertility (add manure, terrace land, use perennial crops rather than annual crops, don’t till the land). Unfortunately, using big machines dependent on oil, plus lots of chemical sprays, tends to operate in the opposite direction of building up the natural soil systems.

Our Energy Niche Problem

There are other fuels as well, including nuclear, wind energy, solar PV, solar thermal, biofuels, and natural gas. The production of all of these are enabled by the production of oil and coal, because of the large amount of metals involved in their production, and because of the need transport the new devices to a final location.

All of these other fuels tend have their own niches; it is hard for them to fill the big coal-oil niche on the current landscape. Solar thermal and natural gas are both directly heat-producing, and play a role that way. But it is hard to see how adequate metals production would continue with these fuels alone. Of course, with enough electricity, we could create the heat needed for metal production. The catch would be creating enough electricity.

“Cheap” is a very important characteristic of fuels to buyers. Coal is clearly beating out oil now in the area of “cheap”. Natural gas is the only one of the other energy sources that is close to cheap, at least in the United States. The catch with US natural gas is that producers can’t really produce it cheaply, so its long-run prospects as a cheap fuel aren’t good. Perhaps if the pricing issues can be worked out, US natural gas production can increase somewhat, but it is not likely to be the cheapest fuel.

One of the issues related to finding a replacement for oil and coal is that we already have a great deal of equipment (cars, trains, airplanes, farm equipment, construction equipment) that use oil, and we have many chemical processes that use oil or coal as an input.  It would be very costly to make a change to another fuel, before the end of the normal lives of the equipment.

Wrapping Up

Over the long haul, energy sources have played a very large and varied role in the economy. In general, increases in the energy supply seem to correspond to increases in GDP and population.  Necessary characteristics of energy supply are not always obvious. We don’t think of low-cost as an important characteristic of energy products, but in the real world, this becomes an important issue.

As we move forward, we face challenges of many types. The world’s population is still growing, and needs to be housed, clothed, and fed.  None of the energy sources that is available is perfect. Our long history of using the land to produce annual crops has left the world with much degraded soil. The way forward is not entirely clear.

I will look at some related issues in upcoming posts.

Rewilding: Take it to the Hoop!

Doomstead Diner is happy to welcome Peter Michael Bauer, Urban Scout as one of our Cross Posting Authors on the Diner.  The Urban Scout is devoted to the concepts of Rewilding and Primitive Living.

RE

Discuss this article at the Rewilding Table in the Diner 

Rewilding: Take it to the Hoop!

May 24th, 2012 | Posted originally on Urban Scout by Peter Bauer

Me and Grandma Fin and our Root Sisters

In preparation for Lynx Vilden’s Stone Age Immersion program, I need to gather 5lbs of dehydrated wild plants. I know I could gather and dry wild greens (most berries are not ripe yet), but they won’t give me the calories I need out there in the woods. I wanted to get some roots and pound them into flour for a starch. For years now I have known and interacted with Finisia Medrano (aka Tranny Granny) over the web. So much so that when I hear the words “roots” I think of them synonymously with her and “the hoop”. This was a great excuse for me to stop “suckling the teet of babylon” long enough to get a glimpse of life of the hoop, as she has always emphatically encouraged all rewilders to do. After spending a few days on the hoop, I am finally starting to understand why she carries such a passion for this life.

For thousands and thousands of years, traditional “hunter-gatherer” people lived and worked in specific nomadic circuits across the land known as “hoops”. These hoops are routes on the earth with various camp sites along the way in which the people have tended the wild to create an abundance of food at each stop. Grandma Fin, as people affectionately call her, is someone who discovered remnants of the old hoops and… never left. She has catalyzed the rewilding movement to reclaim the spirit and root gardening techniques of the hoop. Her enthusiasm, passion, sense of humor and light-hearted fierceness have inspired and continue to inspire more and more people to get on the various hoops and return to a life of tending the wild gardens of native plants.

On the Table, food is always Underfoot

 

I drove six hours down from Portland, out to the desert where Grandma currently resides. As we got closer, I noticed that nearly every house we passed is abandoned. There is no industry out there but a few cattle ranches. It is too spread out to be a “ghost town”–it’s much more a post-apocalyptic runway. We arrive at dusk. Half of the camp is heading out to set rat traps in the bushes of this wasteland. Everyone in our culture hates rats. You don’t need special permits to trap and eat them. Grandma says there are too many of them and they eat the seeds and roots of the plants we want to tend. The first part of tending our garden is thinning the over-run animal population of rats. Rats which they will skin, cook and eat if and when they catch them.

In the morning we get up early to head up to “the table”. Tables are a geological phenomenon where a hill or mountain has a flat top, giving it the appearance of a tabletop. I am familiar with most plants of the west side of the cascades. Out in the desert, up on the table, everything but the sagebrush looks foreign. Our first stop to dig is not far from camp. I learn my first plant: yampa. The peanut-sized root bulbs are sweet, nutty and delicious. We lazily gather yamba for thirty minutes, stopping to chat and make jokes. My pockets are over-flowing with them. I am begining to notice that yampa is like a ground cover up there: you can’t take a step without walking on it. Grandma says this table is around seventeen square miles.

Old School

Old School

We move on to digging Luskh (pronounced looksh), a lomatium known commonly as “breadroot” or “biscuitroot”. Then coush (pronounced cow-sh) another lomatium. Then frittilaria, various greens, and a teeny-tiny potato-like root that I can’t remember the name of. In a just a few lazy hours of digging, we had gathered enough starch for days of eating. Grandma fin is sitting by me and my friend Thor. My friend Potlatch is a few feet away, digging down deep for a luskh. The rest of the gang, the real root diggers or “hoopsters” as they are jokingly called, are scattered around with some digging, some laying on the earth and staring up into the sky. Grandma cracks jokes here and there, then lays down some heavy shit: this is a garden that is thousands of years old. The only reason it exists is because it’s too rocky to farm, graze cattle on, or build. The rocks are considered worthless. The river valley just several feet below the table is a grassy, cattle grazing field now. The whole valley was an easy to dig garden just a hundred or so years ago. Civilization’s settlers released pigs onto the land, and those pigs destroyed this indigenous garden. Grandma looks at Potlatch. He’s begun to peel the inedible bark layers off the roots. Her eyes fill with tears. She says that this is what she lives for: seeing those little piles of root scraps scattered across the Table. My eyes fill with tears of grief and gratitude. In this seeming desert wasteland of apocalyptic abandonments, we’re literally sitting on top of something more valuable than a gold mine. It’s breath-takingly beautiful, hopeful and so very sad, all at the same time. It’s lonely out here she says. Where are the women and the children?

The roots are dug with a digging stick known as a Capun. In the old days, people would make these sticks from carefully fire-hardened wood. These days, in order to dig out these hard-to-get-at roots, we’re using titanium. We live in an interesting time where modern tech is sometimes needed just to live a more simple life. If we could replant the valley, we would not need titanium capuns. As civilization collapses, as gas gets too expensive, the cattle ranches will dwindle and the root diggers will move down to replant, to rewild those valleys. At some point the titanium capuns will be buried and forgotten in an easy to dig, river of abundance. For now, we find a balance in using new tools to bridge us back to the old ways.

Here is Grandma Fin demonstrating how the titanium capuns are used:

After taking a midday nap (life on the hoop is a crepuscular existence) we head out in the SUV to scout for more locations. We stop and get out at a possible camas patch, but there is nothing. The land has been trampled by cattle. At the end of the field a single tiger lily is just starting to bud out. “Kill it!” They shout. My heart stops. Are they really going to kill a rare species like this? The tiger lily was once much more populated than it is now. It was a food source for humans, which means it grew in many places. Now, it is very rare. How could they do that? As they pull up the root bulb I feel like I should say something but I hold back. Then I see it: tiny rootlets stuck to the main bulb. Dozens of them. We dig a dozen or so holes and drop in a few rootlets in each one. Next year, there will be more than just one Tiger Lily, there will be many. At that moment, things clicked and I started to understand on a fundamental level what I already have read and know. Tiger Lillies are endangered because they are no longer eaten. If there is no one there to tend the plant, to help it along, it will die out. Just as we humans will die out without the plants to help us along. It’s not the killing that is destructive, it’s how you go about killing that matters.

The best example of this is the harvest season for most of these roots. Once the flower has gone to seed, and the seeds begin to fall, it’s the best time to harvest the root. When you pull the root out, you plant the seeds at the same time. Grandma calls this “the reach around”. Life on these hoops is defined and maintained by the reach around. This was a principle that I have read many times in modern books on sustainable hunter-gatherer land management, but reading about it wasn’t enough. There is a mindset and experience of tending the wild that needs cultivation. After over a decade of rewilding, I haven’t felt that anywhere other than on the hoop. Not at a permaculture class, not at a skill-share, not even with my friends playing out in the woods. Perhaps it’s because, on the hoop, you are not starting from scratch. You’re building on what the wild has already provided, and what the Native cultures left in the land as their legacy. On the hoop, I felt an immense support already there from the earth. You don’t find that when you’re planning your permaculture garden. The hoop is a permaculture garden. One that has been there for thousands of years and survived the encroachment of civilization by living up on the tables – the fringes, where civilization doesn’t deem important. Out on the hoop I tasted freedom, and like the roots we dig, it was bittersweet.

Click to Purchase

You really haven’t even begun to rewild until you’ve gone out on the hoop and spent some time with Grandma Fin. This story is really just one big plea for you to join up with Tranny Granny and get your asses on the hoop! My only regret was that I couldn’t stay longer. I promised Grandma that I would return, with reinforcements.

Read Finisia’s autobiography to learn more about her story: “Growing up in Occupied America.” Friend her on Facebook and send her a message.

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Of Warnings and their Ripple Effects"We need wooden ships, char-crete buildings, bamboo bicycles, moringa furniture, and hemp cloth [...]

"Restoring normal whale activity to the oceans would capture the CO2 equivalent of 2 billion tr [...]

Ukrainian Rhapsody"Our future will be more about artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and non-state actors tha [...]

LeBron’s Chinese Troll Mobs"In the 36 hours after James’ delete, a troll mob with bot support sent a flame tsunami at the [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

What extinction crisis? Believe it or not, there are still climate science deniers out there. And th [...]

My new book, Abolish Oil Now, will talk about why the climate movement has failed and what we can do [...]

A new climate protest movement out of the UK has taken Europe by storm and made governments sit down [...]

The success of Apollo 11 flipped the American public from skeptics to fans. The climate movement nee [...]

Today's movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British an [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

Trump must like the unofficial QE that is being done now. [...]

Trump discussed "negative interest" with Powell: https://www.zerohedge.com/markets/fed-say [...]

I know that you put "get better" into quotation marks for a reason. Is it because you thin [...]

the USA refines 5-7 M barrels a day of imported oil, and refines about 12M+ barrels a day produced d [...]

the battle of Waterloo lasted a day I imagine future European conflicts will be much the same, and f [...]

Here's an article: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-imo-shipping-factbox/factbox-imo-2020-a-m [...]

What is the shift away from bunker fuels? [...]

Yeah, when the water heater goes out the day after you just put new tires on one of the cars, etc... [...]

I join the chorus in welcoming you back. Any thoughts on how the shift away from bunker fuel on Janu [...]

@Front Range Mike "Most everyone I know is trying to figure out how to cut back and sell their [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

The effect of urbanization on microclimatic conditions is known as “urban heat islands”. [...]

Forecasting extreme precipitations is one of the main priorities of hydrology in Latin America and t [...]

The objective of this work is the development of an automated and objective identification scheme of [...]