Thursday, October 29, 2015

Deb Burns: From the Cutting-Room Floor — The Skills That Got Away

We love curated lists, but one Storey editor weighs what we lose when we stop counting.

Illustrations © Brian Cronin, excerpted from 100 Skills You’ll Need for the End of the World (as We Know It). All rights reserved.
Authors and editors often like to plan a book around a numbered list. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 30 Things to Know by 30. 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen. The 1001 Dumbest Things Ever Said. But what about that 8th habit, the 102nd Austen fact, the 1,002nd dumbest thing … or in our case, the 101st survival skill?

Our recent book, 100 Skills You’ll Need for the End of the World (as We Know It) by Ana Maria Spagna, could easily have listed 101 skills, or 104, or more. What might we have included if we weren’t limited by our cultural preference for round numbers like 100?  Here are a few that came in too late, or that somehow escaped the final proof.

#101. Recordkeeping

Surviving in a world where the infrastructure is down and the rules have changed requires inventiveness, guts, risk-taking, and persistence. Thriving in that world means you’ve tracked your experiments, learned from your mistakes, built on your successes, and created a database of new knowledge — even if via pencil and pad (see Sharpening).

Which plants are poisonous, which palatable and nutritious? Sketch them, adding when and where foraged. When was a favorite ewe bred, to what ram, and how do the lambs turn out? Make a chart. When is the first frost in fall, and how does it compare to subsequent years? Create a calendar. Keep your records somewhere you’ll always find them, year after year.

Broaden your database to carry and store the history of your community. When did members arrive, depart, get born, die? How does your infrastructure develop? What great events sweep through?

A history gains in weight and usefulness with every entry. Keep yours safe so you can grab it and take it along if you have to leave a place quickly.

One more plus of recordkeeping: the more you can learn from the past, the fewer surprises you’ll encounter in the future.

#102. Creating Your Own Sunblock

During a time of global climate change, average temperatures climb higher, warm seasons last longer, light seems brighter. Falling asleep on a deck chair in the fierce sun of high noon is no longer an option.

Two useful facts: the best sunblock consists of protective headgear and clothing; and some sun exposure is necessary to provide adequate Vitamin D, presuming one is careful to avoid burning. Understanding that, here are some natural ingredients that can be combined to help protect the skin during limited sun exposure: coconut oil, beeswax, shea butter, olive oil (to help mix more smoothly), and zinc oxide. Gently heat the first four ingredients till they melt together, then add the zinc oxide and stir well as the concoction cools. It can keep in a jar for six months — or perhaps for one long hot summer.

#103. Traveling Smart and Safe

At the end of the world as we know it, how might you plan and carry out a multi-day journey?  Without the ubiquitous pit-stop infrastructure, you’ll need to navigate, carry or find sustenance and shelter, protect yourself, and take care of your mode of transport.

Plenty of knowledge has already been gained — and lost again — by our restless, roaming species. You can forage for lessons and tips in the logbooks of sea voyages, diaries of transcontinental wagon-train odysseys, and equipment lists of Everest climbs and NASA flights. Carry protein that travels well (see Making Cheese). Take jerky and a tray of seeds to sprout and snack on as you go. Get familiar with plants and animals along your route, both for sustenance and for self-protection. Consider the terrain and plan some good stopping places.

If you expect to halt overnight or in adverse weather, practice setting up an encampment for your party. In addition to shelter, this would include private latrines, a perimeter fence, and a food cache. If you are using draft animals, they will need a grazing area and protection from predators.

Two make-or-break items are water, whether carried or found (a gallon per person per day should do it), and feet, whether belonging to you or your draft animals. Make sure all feet and hooves are sturdily and appropriately shod, keep them clean, and check them every day.

#104. Prospecting

Beyond foraging for foodstuffs, prospecting is the art of spotting potential in a landscape, a community, the earth beneath your feet.

Different people’s brains and eyes focus on different things during a walk in the woods. Some look inward, wrestling with problems and developing solutions. Some glance about, spotting life and movement where others might perceive only stillness. Some gaze downward, contemplating how the very materials of the ground might solve crushing problems.

Over eons, along with every other species, we have explored and sampled our environment with eyes, ears, noses, fingers, and tongues. But only humans prospect for minerals to make into tools or energy sources, which requires imagining a change to a completely new form and purpose. It’s alchemy, chemistry, politics. Not everyone can envision transformation, but every community benefits from those who can.

Consider your own toolbox of talents. What skills would you deem most essential for surviving and thriving in an unimaginable future? We welcome your comments. And if you figure out the 31st thing to know by age 30, do send that one along, too.

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