Final summer time, I made a decision to learn to survive. Nothing too severe. Construct a hearth. Establish toxic vegetation. Perhaps hunt a small animal. I used to be by no means a Boy Scout, however I’ve at all times had an ambient mistrust of the fashionable world. I figured that having some survival expertise would possibly come in useful when issues get unhealthy a few many years from now. So I drove up from South Florida to a 940-acre farm simply exterior of Asheville, NC, to attend the Firefly Gathering, the nation’s largest primitive expertise competition. There, smiling New Age-types promised to show and have fun the religious and technical expertise of our ancestors so as to dwell in concord with the Earth. However beneath all their good vibes I might make out an ominous imaginative and prescient of the longer term.
I didn’t anticipate them to be so proper so quickly.
On the campgrounds, I anticipated numerous woo-woo earnestness. In spite of everything, this was a competition with out electrical energy or operating water, no web and no smartphones. The group was stuffed with hippie varieties, armed with didgeridoos, broad eyes, and unrelenting positivity. However the competition was additionally attended by Christian homesteaders, blue-collar craftsmen, anarcho-primitivists towing round blonde, androgynous-looking youngsters and yoga pants-wearing graduate college students. Well mannered and cheery, they had been like a help group for our dimming world. However they weren’t, within the conventional sense, preppers. The four-day competition was like if Mad Max was set in Canada. They most well-liked teepees to bomb shelters, hand-carved picket spoons to assault rifles. “I’m an empath,” a girl named Tara advised me my first night time, as tears slid down her cheeks. “I can really feel the Earth’s ache.” I used to be fast to dismiss their alarmism. Issues are unhealthy, sure, however, on the time, I discovered their considerations to be exaggerated. Like they had been attempting to justify their quirky hobbies with a fantastical future.
When Firefly launched in 2007, 200 of us confirmed up. However in recent times, it has drawn greater than a thousand folks. Rising misery concerning the local weather helps to clarify the spike, stated Marissa Percoco, Firefly’s government director. “A portion of the persons are motivated by concern,” she stated. “They don’t see trendy society as a viable choice.” She first attended Firefly in 2010, when she was residing off the grid, together with her 4 youngsters, close to Chattanooga, TN. “I taught a fermentation class,” she stated, “and instantly felt like I wasn’t alone.”
In 2019, Percoco’s staff capped the variety of attendees at 800, for a extra intimate studying expertise. The courses coated sensible survival topics, reminiscent of scythe methods and how you can butcher rabbits and make instruments out of deer bone. Others had been a bit extra whimsical: natural contraception, conversing with land spirits, plastic remediation meditation.
I couldn’t resist a few of the extra peculiar courses. Symbiosis and the Ecology of Paradise was taught by a biologist named Lee Golos. Golos, who wore a bohemian poncho and was a useless ringer for pre-Islam Cat Stevens, defined that 150,000 years in the past, people and animals, together with apex predators, lived in a paradise, because of an abundance of berries. We will return to this life, he stated, if we embrace anarchism and permaculture. A lady requested whether or not, on this berry-eating utopia, pleasant grizzly bears can nanny her youngsters. Golos nodded, as if to say, “After all.”
I took one other class with an herbalist who known as himself the Bush Ninja (his actual title was Alex Howe). He led a category on historic well being treatments. For the category, he unfold out an assortment of natural medicines he procured whereas residing in South Africa. They had been all bitter and promised all types of cures. The Bush Ninja advised us we want extra bitter issues in our lives. We’ve saturated our diets with an excessive amount of sweetness. One of many medicines was derived from the petrified piss of a gopher. It wasn’t so unhealthy.
Essentially the most intense class of the competition had me stuffed inside a tiny sweat lodge with 25 different semi-naked women and men. We huddled in darkness round a pit that held a dozen glowing, fire-soaked stones, our sweaty limbs rubbing up in opposition to one another. This class was purported to get us in contact with our ancestors by means of struggling, however I might solely take into consideration how a lot oxygen we had left to breathe. The sweat lodge chief, Uncle Skee Sturdy Wind Pratt of the Pima tribe of Arizona, poured bowl after bowl of water over the rocks and scorching vapor burned our lungs. I knew it was harmful, however I felt I needed to belief Uncle Skee. After 20 minutes, Uncle Skee opened the canvas flap, letting cool air, mild, and reduction flood into the hut. He invited us to hope or sing aloud. Individuals stated issues about feeling the embrace of Mom Nature’s womb and sang concerning the love and presence of our ancestors. After about two hours we exited the hut. Everybody was coated in sweat-caked mud and we lined as much as stare in one another’s eyes after which make a protracted embrace earlier than we washed off in a chilly stream close by. What I wouldn’t give now for the flexibility to hug a bunch of corny, sweaty strangers.
What I wouldn’t give now for the flexibility to hug a bunch of corny, sweaty strangers.
I made certain to be taught a minimum of one sensible talent. I attended a category on how you can make a hearth with a bow drill, an historic technological improve from rubbing two sticks collectively. I failed repeatedly to get a blaze going. The spindle slipped out of the bow, or the embers died, or I burned my hand in opposition to the friction-hot wooden. However the teacher, a big, shirtless boy simply barely out of his teenagers, was affected person. After an hour of rubbing, the coal turned crimson. I rigorously packed it into some tinder and softly blew air into the smoldering matter I held in my palms. Smoke spiraled from the embers and a hearth emerged. I held the flame in entrance of me like an providing and the younger teacher let loose a primal whoop. “You probably did it!” He shouted. It was the very first thing I’ve ever made utilizing solely the Earth. I’ve hated every little thing I’ve ever written, however I used to be happy with that little fireplace.
A woodworker named Marc Kessler led a category on how you can make hand-hewn wooden beams. I missed his class as a result of I used to be too busy sampling rodent pee, however had an opportunity to speak with him over a hearth. He sported a buckskin jacket he made himself. He advised me I might dwell on $4,400 a 12 months. “We pray for the apocalypse day by day,” he advised me. “One thing has acquired to alter. We’re screwing all of it up.”
Once I left Firefly, my skepticism was nonetheless intact. I doubted the practicality or want of many of those expertise in some imagined end-of-world situation. Now, nonetheless, the virus has modified all that. These folks had been forward of the curve. This virus is a comfortable apocalypse. A gown rehearsal for what’s to return. And these festival-goers haven’t simply the technical data wanted to outlive, however one thing much more vital—hope for a form future.
This 12 months’s Firefly Gathering has been cancelled, and it’s a disgrace as a result of I might most definitely attend. I bear in mind there being a category that taught which vegetation are protected to make use of in place of bathroom paper.
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