Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Survival Trip (Part 1) and a foreword about environmentalism

The first day of our wilderness survival trip (Saturday the 11th of June), we were to meet at the parking lot of the school at 7 AM, whereupon our three instructors would take us by car to an undisclosed location. This would be the location of our 4-night/5 day survival trip, for which we’d undergo “pocket checks” to make sure we weren’t bringing anything but the clothes we were wearing. Yes, this is actually what we signed up for!
Of course, having known “the rules” in advance, we were able to strategize a little bit by wearing several layers, top and bottom, including (hopefully) rain gear. Rain gear—along with the synthetic clothes some of us were wearing—are not admittedly neolithic, but this was at the same time quite a bit closer to that reality than many of us had ever gotten. We were all very, very pumped.
We ended up experiencing one of the wettest and coldest trips that our instructors had sent out (although we were only the third such group) — but in the end, the rewards only multiplied in the face of such adversity. Over the next few posts I’ll try to recount the highlights of the trip — which will tie in to the class of which it was a part, and in turn the larger social movement of re-skilling and stewarding ancient living skills of which that class is a part…
We were incredibly lucky to be a group of 7 very independent, upbeat people who were all really motivated to learn these skills. Together we took a 9 month course in which we learned the foundations of wilderness survival—including but not limited to what was needed for a “successful” 4 night survival trip in June in Vermont (a time of year where Mother Earth would be predictably generous—within a certain range of possibility, of course). Successful here means (true to the genre), simply surviving, not necessarily thriving (but trying to!) We met approximately one weekend a month, with a longer meeting in the beginning, and lots of homework in between, on everything from primitive hunting weapons (throwing mostly) to plant identification, to martial-artist-like perception and awareness training. It was hard to keep up with the homework, especially because of the contrast between the group solidarity and isolation from the civilized world we enjoyed during our weekends—very conducive to focused study and practice—and the clock-and-work driven life that we inevitably led plugged into the grid of the modern world. The latter, I came to realize, introduced its own brand of loneliness and isolation. In the living forest, with a few present and good-hearted people, or even no other humans at all, one can somehow never feel lonely or bored… especially when you have a task at hand, for which out of necessity you must in some way or other merge with your environment.
Over the year we studied, constructed and slept in several different forms of primitive shelter for short-term (or emergency) use, including tight little burrow-like debris huts that slept one person, quincys (snow shelters), and the teepee-style group shelter that would most likely be our home on the survival trip (unless unforeseen circumstances forced us to go with a quicker, less optimal structure). One of the core relationships we cultivated as a group and as individuals was with fire—preparing the way for it, making it, stewarding it and keeping it alive to cook for us and boil us water. In some ways primitive fire seemed to be the backbone of our training, as it is quite literally the hearth that makes a home, however temporary that home may be…
We mainly focused on two methods of firemaking: Bow drill and hand drill. Bow drill consists of five parts, hand drill of only two, but bow drill is significantly easier to get a coal if all the parts are tweaked right; the success of hand drill is more contingent on individual skill. Thus emphasis was placed on the former (although by myself I have been stoked to get a lot of great practice in with hand drill — and there is nothing like starting a fire that will spit roast an animal for your whole family just using your hands and two sticks!), and as a group we graduated through many challenges throughout the class whereupon we would be asked to procure a bow drill kit and make a fire using less and less modern amenities (like a knife or a modern string for the bow), and with more and more parts for the kit sourced on-demand from the woods, where you have to work more with what the forest gives you and things might be wet or partially rotten. Finally, in a few hours we could make an entire kit, get a coal and turn it into a fire using no modern technology at all — just local stone that we knapped into something approximating a blade.
We also learned water-skills — finding springs, making primitive filters with charcoal, moss and sand to eradicate chemical contaminants as well as of course boiling, which for us was done by carefully skinning the bark of young white pines to make origami-like watertight vessels. In these vessels we would boil water by transporting glowing-hot rocks from our fire, using a green branch as tongs (on the survival trip I found a cow or moose scapula that worked like a dream!) If you get enough large rocks that are hot enough, you can boil almost a quart of water in like three minutes. Neolithic technology can literally can beat my MSR backpacking stove!
10,000 years ago getting water would have been as simple as finding a clear-looking stream. Now, because of pollution and animal agriculture, very little surface water is safe to drink, and in a true survival situation the last thing you want is diarrhea. Like, really. Springs that bring water to the surface from deep aquifers are the only reliable sources of clean water, where in some cases the water bubbling up has not seen the sun in a thousand years. That there is one of the most valuable things I know of - ancient water.
Just an aside that is worth mentioning: You won’t see me demonize “civilization” or the like in these pages, or anywhere where I express my experiences as an earthling discovering the possibilities and limits of what it is to be human. I may be an anarcho-primitivist of sorts, but I don’t hate modernity or modern technology, and I don’t blame individual people—historical or living—for “not being connected to nature” or whatever, and I don’t think very highly of deep ecology or any environmentalist philosophy where humans are considered a “cancer” on this planet. I think we are all connected to something and it is our intense propensity for connection—through many modalities both sensuous and subtle—that makes us both experience suffering and joy, separation and oneness. When I’m at school working on a big term paper, my human nature allows me to be almost completely connected within a very tightly-wound ecology consisting of my computer, desk, a stack of books and a word document… so much that for a time my whole world is made up of those things; mantras of academic text flow through my mind at random, and what I sense and perceive is often filtered on some level through the creative work going on within me. The sensory “deprivation” of a white-walled room takes the experience to new, often unexamined heights of mental trance.
It is this same capacity for connection that can connect us to the earth and has evolved to sustain our life and allow us to survive. As humans in today’s world, our environments can be so radically different from one place or culture to another that it is hard to grasp that the manner in which we merge with our surroundings always has the same mechanism. The forest, unlike a classroom, is exceedingly multi-dimensional, extending in all directions; moreover almost everything you look at is alive! The forest sucks your consciousness into it, beckons your awareness to expand into its every crevice, whereas being isolated in a small, geometric man-made chamber can do the opposite: keep your awareness inside of you. This isn’t a bad thing, because sometimes it might be necessary to get a job done. But it behooves us to know about this way of the mind - this respiration of consciousness, so that we may navigate our way on this undulating sea, avoiding storms and making use of winds and waves. The type and quality of the connection merely shifts with our attention and focus — or lack thereof. We have an amazing ability to connect with and synergize with many different types of complex dynamical systems. Whether the yields of such symbioses are “good” or “bad” is not up to me to judge. What I see is evidence of potential.
Hate and cynicism (and most emotions) are not the ways in which I like to approach the world in which I live. Mostly the things I feel about the world are curiosity, and sometimes a kind of sadness that actually feels a lot like love… I’ve thought a lot about that ineffable feeling, in myself, in others and in history, and one way I understand it for myself is that it is the feeling of beauty and harmony imprinting itself on our neural and limbic systems. It is sad because it is very often fleeting, and even the feeling itself quickly becomes indistinguishable from its own shadow. I digress, but to return to my original point: As an anarcho-primitivist (but also a humanist and believer in social ecology) Love for natural ecologies, animals and wildness does not create inversely proportional hate for “civilization”… because “nature” and “culture” are not opposites (and neither are hate and love for that matter). I think that dichotomy, like many we create, is worth deconstructing.
Stay tuned … there’s so much more to tell, and although my wilderness survival class is now over, in the institutional sense, the warrior’s journey has really just begun.

Similar posts:

My Vision Quest and some Notes on the Nature of Anarcho-Primitivist [Trance]endence
Jedi Training in the Hundred-Acre Wood

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Soph, this is so interesting! I want to learn more about your journey!