BACK TO THE BASICS
Mastering lost skills could save your life.
In the year 642, the city of Alexandria was captured by the Muslim army of ‘Amr ibn al-’as, and its Great Library—which had been considered one of the largest and most significant centers of learning—was destroyed. This was not the first time the library had been sacked or had its books and scrolls burned, but this event has since symbolized the loss of knowledge and attendant cultural destruction. Yet, this event is hardly the only example of a loss of knowledge. The fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the fall of Constantinople in the East, the Crusades, the Spanish sacking of the Inca Empire and many other historic episodes mark significant destruction that resulted in the loss of past knowledge. However, in most cases, the knowledge was more historical in nature, and life went on. Today, the knowledge of how to do basic things that were once crucial to daily life has been slowly disappearing, thanks to modern conveniences. While urban hipsters and rural hippies, alike, might know how to raise a garden for fresh veggies, few people today know how to raise enough food to actually survive; and while there are plenty of people who can “upcycle” used items to make clothing, furniture and office equipment, most of us today couldn’t build an adequate shelter. This is really the dangerous lost knowledge, and what you don’t know how to do could truly hurt you.
BUILD A LIBRARY
There are many skills that can be easily learned. If you know how to read, you can follow the instructions—which are more readily available to the common man than at any time in history.
However, people increasingly rely too much on the Internet for advice on basically everything from considering tax credits to medical insight to the plethora of “how-to” sites that give step-by-step directions on virtually anything you could possibly want to build, repair or do. If it exists, the Internet can show how it can be made and how it can be fixed.
But one thing the Internet doesn’t do a very good of job is helping one prepare for a world without the Internet.
There might be sites devoted to honing skills, but the truth is that unless you’re printing out every document online and maintaining a physical copy of every site you regularly reference for this help, the Internet is going to be pretty useless, even in a minor power outage. Without access to the virtual “cloud,” you might as well seek guidance from the clouds in the sky, because that will end up being just as effective.
Fortunately, there are plenty of books that can provide the basics for carpentry, plumbing and most forms of mechanical repair. A few tools are often all that is needed to maintain a house and do basic repairs. Stockpiling these books should be a top priority, so think of these as your own “Great Library”—because, in a world without the Internet, books will, once again, be the way knowledge is preserved and shared.
BE ONE WITH THE ANIMALS
The bigger problem the world faces with lost knowledge is that some skills simply can’t be learned via reading alone. One of the most notable is horseback riding, a skill that was common among humans for eons but has become increasingly rare over the past two centuries.
Even 100 years ago, most soldiers knew how to ride a horse. By World War II, few soldiers had ever been on one. Today, many American soldiers have likely never even seen a horse. Yet, in a world without access to crude oil and the facilities to refine gasoline, cars won’t be rolling down the roads for long.
TODAY, THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOW TO DO BASIC THINGS THAT WERE ONCE CRUCIAL TO DAILY LIFE HAS BEEN SLOWLY DISAPPEARING, THANKS TO MODERN CONVENIENCES.
THE BIGGER PROBLEM THE WORLD FACES WITH LOST KNOWLEDGE IS THAT SOME SKILLS SIMPLY CAN’T BE LEARNED VIA READING ALONE.
More importantly, it isn’t just learning to ride; it is also the care involved in the health and well-being of horses and other useful animals. Apart from today’s small farmers, most people have little idea how to care for an animal. The skill of “animal husbandry” has all but disappeared.
“People can relearn this skill, and do so on a large scale, although strictly for recreation and competition,” said Dr. Ginger Henderson, chair of the Equestrian Department at Averett University.
“Knowledge about how to care for horses has really increased dramatically in terms of what we now know,” Henderson added. “But, like with riding, that knowledge is in the hands of a small number of people, not the masses, as it once was. Our perception of the horse has changed in the last 100 years from being viewed primarily as livestock, to today where most owners see their horses as companion animals. That has made a big impact on the type of care horses receive today as compared to many years ago.”
The good news is that there are programs—both at the university level, as well as via private classes—that can teach people today how to ride and care for horses.
“Some people are afraid of horses since they are large animals, but with the proper training they can learn to overcome their fear,” said Dr. Jenifer Nadeau, Equine Extension specialist at the University of Connecticut.
“Horses can teach valuable life skills like confidence, patience, responsibility, consistency and good communication, including improved ability in reading body language,” explained Nadeau.” As far as care of horses, at UCONN we like to teach even beginners how to get their horses ready to ride and how to take care of [them] after the ride. This is called ‘horsemanship’ and we are big believers in that.”
Books can’t teach riding skills, but Nadeau suggested that, as with other skills, reading can go a long way in understanding these former beasts of burden.
“When I was a kid, I read every book about horses I could get my hands on, which led to the variety and depth of knowledge I have today,” she added. “I am saddened that reading about horse care is declining.”
Thanks to grocery stores and fast-food restaurants, many people are losing the skills to even cook dinner, let alone the ability to grow enough food to sustain themselves. Hunting and fishing can provide much-needed protein, and while the hungriest person can learn to butcher an animal, the skills to actually grow food are a bit more complex.
As noted, there is a trend in “micro-gardens,” in which urban dwellers plant a few items to spice up their diet, but that is unlikely to keep anyone fed for long.
Fortunately, growing vegetables isn’t that hard, and anyone who can manage even a small garden can easily upgrade it to something much bigger. One key is choosing the right plants to grow. Spring onion and silverbeet are hardy and can be grown in a range of conditions, while kale is a leafy green that grows quickly and is one of the most nutritious foods.
The downside to kale, lettuce and tomatoes is that all can be attacked by pests and need a fair amount of water. These plants need more care than, for instance, peas, cucumbers and potatoes (in fact, potatoes are so easy to maintain, they can even be grown in buckets and bags). Even on a large scale, potatoes are a good crop, because they don’t up take a lot of room.
“Commercial potato farms in Michigan can produce 20 tons—40,000 pounds—per acre,” said Dr. David S. Douches, director of the Potato Breeding and Genetics Program at Michigan State University. “That can feed a lot of people. [But] you have to be able to store the potatoes well so you can eat them until the next year’s harvest. Potatoes also offer good nutritional balance but not fat … It should be eaten with other foods to have balance in your diet.”
Balancing out that diet isn’t hard, because other easily grown foods include peppers and carrots, which can also provide a lot of food for little work. Carrots grow quickly in the ground, and, despite what cartoons may suggest, rabbits and other pests tend to shy away from carrots.
THANKS TO GROCERY STORES AND FASTFOOD RESTAURANTS, MANY PEOPLE ARE LOSING THE SKILLS TO EVEN COOK DINNER, LET ALONE THE ABILITY TO GROW ENOUGH FOOD TO SUSTAIN THEMSELVES.
… ONE THING THE INTERNET DOESN’T DO A VERY GOOD OF JOB IS HELPING ONE PREPARE FOR A WORLD WITHOUT THE INTERNET.
However, carrots are a biennial plant, which means that the life cycle of the plant takes two years to complete. In the first year of the life cycle, the embryo within a seed develops into a mature plant. While maturing, the plant grows foliage and stores sugars in an enlarged root. During the second flowering year, you should allow the seed heads to fully ripen on the plant. When the flower heads begin to brown and become dry, you carefully cut the heads and store them until the drying is complete. These are then planted for the carrots that can be eaten.
To add some protein to this otherwise vegetarian diet, nothing beats the mushroom, which is very easy to grow, even indoors—in the dark—during winter months. The key, of course, is making sure that the mushrooms aren’t poisonous. One easy way to inspect mushrooms is to look for those with white gills, a skirt or ring on the stem; those indicators can quickly tell you these mushrooms should be avoided, because they are poisonous. In addition, mushrooms with red on the caps or stems should be avoided.
However, because mushrooms are porous, they can absorb pesticides and fungicides. A way to avoid these is to utilize a growing tray about 8 inches deep that will hold compost, peat moss and the mushroom spores. The ideal temperature should be between 65 and 70 degrees (F). After a few weeks of growing, the mushrooms will be ready to be harvested to add flavor to the rest of your home-grown foods.
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