The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
The WildeBeat edition 141: First Skills
This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.
You always see cavemen portrayed as stupid and comical. But what do you suppose they knew that you don't? This week on The WildeBeat; First Skills
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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
This is program number one forty one.
I'm Steve Sergeant.
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STEVE: Imagine living in the wilderness, without any of the products and technologies we take for granted: Metals, plastics, and high-tech fabrics. That's not to mention electronics and information like maps and guide books. How would you survive? The thing is, for many times longer than humankind has had those things, we got along without them.
STEVE: Before I continue with this week's show, I've got a favor to ask.
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NORM KIDDER: Modern man is roughly fifty thousand years old, maybe sixty.
STEVE: This is Norm Kidder. He's the vice president of the Society of Primitive Technology.
NORM KIDDER: Our cut-off for primitive is the beginning of the Iron Age, for the most part. Although that's a bit flexible... It's a lot of speculation as to the timelines on those things but we know that the two basic tools that allowed people to... move up from being more or less scavengers and at the mercy of their environment to being able to start controlling their environment and becoming human were probably the cutting edges... and fire.
STEVE: Since all of these skills are pre-historic, Norm says it's hard to tell when our distant ancestors first learned them.
NORM KIDDER: One thing you learn in getting into stone age technology is that the answer to virtually every question is, "it all depends." Because it depends on where you are. Every place has a different set of resources, and what early people had was a set of basic concepts that they then adapted ot the local resources... Basic things like cordage and basketry, fire making and all of the soft stuff, unlike the stone stuff, is very hard to find records for. So we don't really know at what point our ancestors started making fire as opposed to using fires that occurred naturally from lightning, or volcanos, or that sort of thing... The homo erectus, you know, wandered off into Europe and Asia, apparently able to make fire, and so we're talking a fair time ago. Maybe as much as a million years ago.
STEVE: The Society of Primitive Technologies is a group of teachers, students, and hobbyists interested in learning and practicing the first skills and technologies of humanity.
NORM KIDDER: It's an effort to document, record, experiment with, and that sort of thing, so that we can get a record for people who want to learn it, just for their own curiosity or if the worst should happen and we're forced back into that kind of a lifestyle that we still have that information. We also have people that re-teach it to aboriginal groups who have lost the skills and wish to go back and learn some of their own history. So there's a variety of people. It's kind of an eclectic group, ranging from what they call bush hippies, you know, out in the wilderness, hunting and gathering and wearing buckskins, to archeology professors in universities, and everybody in-between. One thing to know about this society is that we don't propose any culture, we don't espouse any politics or religion. You know, we deal with the technological side of how people lived.
STEVE: So why would a modern human, someone who thinks a rotary-dial phone is a primitive technology, want to learn about the first human technologies?
NORM KIDDER: There's several reasons. The first is if you go out backpacking into the wilderness and something happens to your gear, as a friend of mine says, you're out there in a bubble of gear and if the bubble pops and you're out there just to yourself, you want to know these things so that you can survive until somebody can get to you. So there's that safety aspect. But beyond that ...if you're a nature lover, and you're out there with a bubble of gear, that bubble separates you from nature. So you want to get outside your bubble. You want to start participating in the environment, not just walking through it... It's not just something of curiosity or something pretty, it becomes something that you're involved with.
STEVE: You don't need to go back to the stone age to start learning these skills.
NORM KIDDER: A lot of people use power tools to replicate parts of a project. If you're studying arrow speed in bows and arrows, you, you know, it's faster to make a whle lot of bows using power tools and then test them, than it is to make bows with all primitive tools. Now making a bow with all primitive tools is another experiment that somebody else might want to do. So we have people who do things at the power tool level, at the modern hand tool, pocket knives and axes and that sort of thing level, and then other people who do it with all stone-age materials... In some cases I find that the primitive tools are just as good if not better than the power tools, and so I've surprised myself a few times. One example of that would be in basketry. I always would take my little hand-pruners to go harvest basketry material... And then one day I started eliminating the clippers, and I just held on to the tree and found that the branches popped right off if I pulled the right way. And so I could harvest my material actually faster without the clippers... but I really got a kick out of making baskets with no tools at all.
STEVE: Building fires, making tools and goods out of wild plants and animal parts, and building primitive shelters, will certainly leave a trace on the place you do these things. Humans have always had a significant impact on their environment. Because of this, some people in the Society for Primitive Technology are at odds with the Leave No Trace priciples.
NORM KIDDER: Well, the concept of Leave No Trace implies that humans aren't part of nature. That's what I object to... And so the goal of people shouldn't be leave no trace, but leave positive trace. You know, participate in a positive way in the environment. Don't attempt not to be part of it, because then your whole mental concept is, "I'm separate." Everything I do is damaging and I have to tip-toe around and if you push that on kids they become resentful, and don't see any reason to preserve it. Because they're not allowed to participate in it. And so they're not supposed to climb the trees, they're not supposed to wade in the creek. And that's the fun. And if the kids don't have fun, they're not going to love it. And if they don't love it, they're not going to vote to protect it.
STEVE: But Norm admits that people going out for casual recreation are going to find it difficult to tell the difference between leave no trace, and leave a positive trace.
NORM KIDDER: Most of them aren't going to be doing things that are going to be involved in leaving a positive trace. And so if you have to do one or the other, if you're focusing on Leave No Trace, that's OK too. It's better than going out there and not caring. As you are out there leaving no trace, you want to slowly acquire knowledge that allows you to understand that some people are out there doing things leaving a trace but that that's not bad... and so if you start with the attitude of Leave No Trace, cool, but try to learn more over time.
STEVE: Learning these first skills can have a profound effect on you.
NORM KIDDER: But I do find that once you start making fire, it's like magic. When you take a plant and turn it into rope, that is a form of magic. You're taking one thing and turing it into something else. And so there is a deep connection that builds up in people who get involved in these activities beyond just the technical.
STEVE: We'll hear more from Norm Kidder in a future edition. We'd like to hear your questions for the primitive technologies experts, or about your experience in learning about primitive skills. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can find links to recources for learning primitive technologies on our web site.
STEVE: WildeBeat members can download my complete interview with Norm Kidder from our WildeBeat Insider web pages.
STEVE: As a free, listener-supported service, we depend on you to help support our work. We ask you to do that by making a tax-deductible annual membership donation to our project. Membership levels start at sixteen dollars a year, and full membership is forty eight. For a limited time, become a WildeBeat member and get a weekend's worth of meals from Alpine Aire foods, books from Wilderness Press, access to bonus audio content, and more, as thank you gifts.
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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.
This has been The WildeBeat, program number one forty one. Thank you for listening.
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Next time -- modern rain gear.