BACK TO THE BA­SICS

Mas­ter­ing lost skills could save your life.

American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Peter Su­ciu

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.”

GOOD EATS

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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