I have too many hobbies. I used to struggle with that fact. But in recent years, rather than fight against it, I’ve come to embrace it. To most people observing from the outside my life probably seems tumultuous and unfocused. At least when it comes to life outside of work. Let’s be real. I range from bread baking to a newly found interest in crossbows. So, I get it.
Here’s the thing, though. My brain will not slow down. In fact it’s only continued to speed up the older I’ve gotten. Some researcher somewhere would probably try to tie it into being a part of the “Nintendo” generation, or the fact that I work in front of a computer most days. That’s bullshit. It’s just who I am. If I’m not learning something new on a regular interval I start to go bonkers. There are some things I pick up that hang with me for a good while, like bread. And gardening. And comics. And Neil Gaiman.
Honestly, though, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t recognize the effects of television, social media and ready access to the interwebs has on my psyche. Which is how I landed in my summer obsession, and also why I haven’t been as regular with the writing and the blogging.
I set a goal for myself at the new year (not a resolution, just a goal) to be outdoors as much as possible. I’m an Eagle Scout, so I’ve done my fair share of time outside. A lot of those skills were rusty, and I needed to polish up. So I started reading up on gear, watching YouTube videos, and the like. Y’know, using the internet for good things, like researching. One thing led to another and I found this video.
It’s made it around the social media circuit a few times now and I was immediately captivated. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t want to build a fort in the woods with their kid as a great father/son project? If you go back through the videos that document the process, you’ll notice they use only hand tools. I think I watched all the videos several times. Finally I decided that while it was very unlikely I could ever produce anything of this caliber or quality, it would still be a hell of a lot of fun to try. Challenge accepted!
As the Amazon packages with new tools began to arrive, my wife started telling our friends and family I’d turned into a “prepper,” getting ready for a doomsday scenario. I can tell you right now that while I think I could make it in that situation for a while, I’m not nearly in the same arena as so many others. I do not have stashes of five gallon buckets full of dry goods or “bugout” caches. However, learning skills like felling a tree and knot tying are not totally useless. Plus, it fills my need to gain new information, as well as teach my son that crafting a torch in Minecraft is not the same as building a fire to cook the fish you caught earlier in the day.
Long story short, my son has not had the opportunity to get into this project, due to some unforeseen circumstances. So for now, it’s my baby. But I’m cool with it because it’s been a lot of fun, even though I’m doing it by myself right now. It feels great to have time away from an artificial world and be immersed in something real. And, I might add, it’s doing labor with a purpose. I’m not going to a gym and constantly comparing myself to people who have been lifting weights since they were eighteen. But I am answering questions like, how long does it take me to cut down a dead maple tree that’s about 60 feet tall and over two feet in diameter? The answer is half an hour. Give or take. I don’t really look at my watch.
No, the logs I’ve cut are not perfectly straight. They’re not cut to lay on top of one another like fabricated Lincoln Logs. That’s not the point, I’m not out to make a viral video. I’m learning something new about what it takes to even think about taking a project like this on, as well as testing my own mental and physical limits. I’m dusting off knowledge, like identifying trees, that I haven’t accessed in years. I’m collecting cuts and bruises the way I collect comics. Each with its own value.
The greatest value of all, is being able to disconnect. It’s true, the way we interact now is so superficial, and artificial. I think there is something troubling about it. Forget about connecting with other people, I think we are forgetting how to connect with ourselves. Everything is an Instagram pose. Not only is it good to step out of the digital world for the sake of our sanity, it’s an opportunity to appreciate the amenities we take for granted. Sleep on the ground for a few nights in the dead of summer; you probably won’t complain about your one year old mattress after that. The hustle and bustle of “normal” life is exhausting. It wears me out. Mostly because that’s not real.
Having to forage, or even kill your own food is hard. People all over the world live like that every day. I think that’s what I wanted to impart on myself and my son. A reminder that at any time it could all be different. All of a sudden that sweet art I have on my office wall won’t mean a thing. Because the most important task would be to find potable water. (Oh shit, maybe I am getting a little doomsday-ish.) But it’s true! If not for the survival factor, then for the appreciation factor.