May 7, 2013
Park Record columnist
I guess what first hooked me about Orion Magazine was its somewhat succinct values statement: "It is Orion’s fundamental conviction that humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature."
So, in essence, it’s a "green" rag. But it’s not just that. Although much of its editorial content deals with planetary issues that are dire in nature, it is quite literate and flaunts a sense of humor that bivouacs high up on the "hip" food chain. Not to mention that one of my favorite authors, Luis Alberto Urrea, is also one of its regular columnists. So, as you can tell, I’m smitten.
Which brings us to the current issue and a piece by wilderness writer Ana Maria Spagna, which she christened "10 Skills to Hone for a Post-Oil Future." It stopped me dead in my tracks. Even before I got to my Urrea fix, I found myself immersed in a rather concise survival guide for what will more than likely be a humongous worldwide downsizing.
"Blacksmithing" tops this list of skills one should acquire and then hone before the oil runs out. "To learn how to live in a post-petroleum world, recall the pre-petroleum world where blacksmiths made everything," says Spagna. "With a barrel and some fire, a blacksmith could turn rusted car panels into cookware. Think of all the scrap metal we’ll have when the oil’s all gone."
Then comes "knot tying." "Find a shoelace and a copy of The Shipping News," she says. "Knots can weave rugs, fashion snowshoes, repair almost anything. A diamond hitch holds a load on a mule or a sled. A bowline to cinch a tarp, a Prusik to climb a tree. While fighting a forest fire, a friend once fixed a shovel with parachute cord, half-hitches, and pine pitch." Impressive stuff!
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"Crosscut saw sharpening" is next. "Crosscuts are remarkably effective. Not chainsaw fast, not ax slow either. Good ones haven’t been made for seventy years, so this lost art may be in high demand. Pick up a file, spider set, and how-to manual on eBay for about twenty bucks."
The plot thickens with "grafting." "The Homestead Act required settlers to prove-up by planting fruit trees. Nothing symbolized self-sufficiency more. But plant an apple seed and as anyone who’s read Michael Pollan knows you get sour apples. To get sizable, recognizable fruit, you graft."
"Navigating by the stars" follows. "If the Polynesians could crisscross the Pacific without a GPS, we can too. Read Thor Heyerdahl’s ‘Kon-Tiki’ for inspiration and Chet Raymo’s ‘365 Starry Nights’ for elucidation. Less light pollution will certainly help us find our way."
Even "handwriting" makes the list. "In seventh grade the nuns forced me to practice cursive for three weeks straight, which seemed pointless and cruel in the Apple II era. But maybe the nuns were on to something. How will we communicate without LED screens? Smoke signals?"
"Hoarding" certainly opens up a can of worms. "Hoarding gets a bad rap when there’s a Home Depot on every corner, but not reducing might actually be the key to recycling and reusing." Oh, just check out my vinyl record collection. I can definitely hoard!
Not only is "rigging" a cool endeavor, but it could give retired ski-lift mechanics a way to while away their golden years. "Mechanical advantage doesn’t require fuel. A pulley or block and tackle magnifies force, so you can lift heavier loads with less effort. No crane or excavator needed."
"Houseguest hosting" is certainly an acquired skill. "Ask people in the developing world or anyone who travels by foot, and they’ll tell you: if it takes a long time to get somewhere, you’re going to stay a while. So we need to be prepared. Keep clean sheets on hand. Save up on food. And patience."
And that brings us to "sleeping," the ultimate skill-set and one in which I have continually proved worthy. "Early to bed, late to rise, saves on lamp oil and firewood. Plus, sleeping saves energy, mostly your own. It also keeps you healthy. Start now and get a jump on the future."
Now I must admit that the erudite Ms. Spagna has given us Orion readers plenty to chew on with her preparation list for our post-oil future, but there does seem to be a void or two in her compilation.
What about improving our chops in bidding strategies for the card game bridge? Or in wine selection, or in performing Bach’s "Goldberg Variations," or in translating poetry from the original Sanskrit? We’re not going to have to do without essentials once the fossil-fuel paradigm shifts, are we? I would shudder to think so!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.