Final summer season, I made a decision to learn to survive. Nothing too critical. Construct a hearth. Determine 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 trendy world. I figured that having some survival expertise may turn out to be useful when issues get unhealthy a few a long time 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 know-how competition. There, smiling New Age-types promised to show and rejoice the religious and technical expertise of our ancestors with a purpose to stay in concord with the Earth. However beneath all their good vibes I may 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 lots of woo-woo earnestness. In any case, this was a competition with out electrical energy or working water, no web and no smartphones. The gang was full of hippie varieties, armed with didgeridoos, extensive eyes, and unrelenting positivity. However the competition was additionally attended by Christian homesteaders, blue-collar craftsmen, anarcho-primitivists towing round blonde, androgynous-looking kids 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 wood spoons to assault rifles. “I’m an empath,” a lady named Tara instructed me my first evening, 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 people confirmed up. However lately, it has drawn greater than a thousand individuals. Rising misery concerning the local weather helps to elucidate the spike, stated Marissa Percoco, Firefly’s govt director. “A portion of the persons are motivated by concern,” she stated. “They don’t see trendy society as a viable possibility.” She first attended Firefly in 2010, when she was residing off the grid, together with her 4 kids, close to Chattanooga, TN. “I taught a fermentation class,” she stated, “and instantly felt like I wasn’t alone.”
In 2019, Percoco’s crew capped the variety of attendees at 800, for a extra intimate studying expertise. The lessons coated sensible survival topics, similar to scythe strategies and the best way to 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 lessons. 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 girl requested whether or not, on this berry-eating utopia, pleasant grizzly bears can nanny her kids. 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 instructed us we’d like 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 towards one another. This class was alleged to get us in contact with our ancestors via struggling, however I may 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, gentle, and aid flood into the hut. He invited us to wish 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 positive to be taught not less than one sensible ability. I attended a category on the best way to 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 towards 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 pink. 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 part I’ve ever written, however I used to be happy with that little hearth.
A woodworker named Marc Kessler led a category on the best way to 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 instructed me I may stay on $4,400 a 12 months. “We pray for the apocalypse day-after-day,” he instructed 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 state of affairs. Now, nonetheless, the virus has modified all that. These individuals had been forward of the curve. This virus is a delicate 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 essential—hope for a sort future.
This 12 months’s Firefly Gathering has been cancelled, and it’s a disgrace as a result of I’d most definitely attend. I bear in mind there being a category that taught which vegetation are secure to make use of in place of bathroom paper.
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