Tag Archive for: old ways

In Praise of Electricity and Internet and Some Much Older Things

We’ve had an ice storm followed a couple of days later by a
blizzard in Kansas City, one that shut the city down for two days—and we’re a
city that’s used to ice and snow in winter. Our neighborhood has lots of old
trees, and we lost power, phone, and internet, as often happens to us. Once the
snow stopped falling, the temperatures plummeted to -15°.
Fortunately, we live in an old house with a fireplace and stuffed
to the rafters with yarn, wool and other fibers, sweaters, afghans, handmade blankets,
and quilts. (My quilting fabric stash, knitting/weaving yarn stash, and
spinning fiber/fleece stash probably goes a long way to insulate our interior
against the polar temps.) With our wool socks, alpaca scarves and hats, and
cashmere/silk shawls, no one was going to freeze to death in this house, except
possibly the dog, who is a short-haired Southern breed but refuses to allow
anything on his body besides his collar, even just a blanket.

Cooking was an issue since we have an electric stove. But
fortunately, we had sandwich makings and potato chips, fresh fruits and vegetables,
dried fruits and cookies, so we didn’t starve, either. (Though for my
ultra-picky son, it may have felt like it.) Late today, everything came back
on, a blessing because it’s dropping way below zero again tonight—and because
we really wanted a hot meal and a hot cup of tea. It left me thinking about the
past and the future.
I’m hardly some kind of survivalist with five years of food
stashed in my underground bunker—witness our pathetic diet during this time—but
I like to know how to do the things our grandparents and great-grandparents had
to do to stay alive. 
I’ve never sheared a sheep, but I can take that sheared
fleece, skirt it, wash it, card or comb it, dye it, and spin it into yarn and
thread that I can weave, knit, sew into items to keep us warm and covered—and I
can do the same process with cotton straight off the boll. I can (and have)
made bread and yeast, yogurt and a variety of cheeses, butter, soap, candles,
and baskets from vines outside. I’ve raised chickens, collected eggs, killed
and cleaned roosters, milked cows, picked cotton, and threshed and winnowed
wheat. And I collect books on how to do other basic survival skills that I’ve
never had a chance to put into practice, like how to build a log cabin, an
outhouse, a barn, a chicken coop, a horse-drawn plow or wagon, how to slaughter
and butcher hogs, how to raise milk goats and honeybees, and many other skills
that have been forgotten by most people in the United States today. I always
tell my friends that, if one of those dystopian disasters takes place, they
want to be close to me.

It’s not that I expect doomsday at any point in my lifetime,
but I don’t think those important skills should be so quickly forgotten. It
took humanity millennia to learn to do these things to make life easier, even
possible, and more millennia to refine them. We’ve forgotten them in less than
a century—at least, in the United States. No one needs to be able to do these
things any longer, but the day may well come when these old skills are
necessary once again, only no one will know how to do them any longer. I don’t
expect to see that day in my lifetime, but I collect the skills and teach them
to everyone I can. I think it’s important to keep them alive so someone knows
how to do these things if the time comes that they’re needed again.
We only lost power for two and a half days, so I didn’t have
to dig out my cast-iron Dutch oven and start cooking meals in the fireplace—but
I could have if I’d needed to. I can feel my grandmothers watching and nodding
in satisfaction from the spirit world. They were survivors and taught me many
of the skills I have. They knew the value of having skills that help you keep
your family fed and clothed and warm and sheltered. Don’t get me wrong. I
missed the internet almost as much as electricity. I’m not someone who scorns
the conveniences of the modern world. I’d rather not kill and clean my own
chickens or make my own soap. But if I had to, I could, and my friends and
family would benefit from that knowledge.
Do you have some old skills that used to be necessary to
decent daily life? Do you wish you did, or do you think they’re all better off