Mittwoch, 16. Mai 2012

The wild man of the woods and the bear;-) - musings on neo-traditionalism in bushcraft

Karl has done it again. Inspiring me, that is. Thanks, dude, for that! I began to think about what I do, what many of my readers do, and, more so, what many of those strange and wonderful people don´t do.

I recently rummaged through the pages of "gear", a German magazine by the makers of Messer Magazin, targeted to the survival-minded readers, a very great mag no less, with good reads all over the place. Now, survival is an instinct, but bushcraft is a way of living to me. And there is a difference. If you go prepared, chance is, you will never have to say "survival". But, in my opinion, there is a lot more to it. There is nothing we can do about the fact that we are modern individuals, however hard we try. Neo-traditionalism is a matter of escapism - or a means of escape. It is a lifestyle that my even incorporate poetry. It is not just about the gear to me. It´s not what money can buy at all. Many things you have to manufacture yourself, for they are not available any more. And there are more important things to carry than a loaded pack. "The more you know, the less you carry". Bushcraft to me is a way of learning how to carry less, in a society that carries a huge loaded pack full of rubbish on its back. In a way, it is escapism, for I will not change a bit about the world with it, and chance is, we all are doomed by global warming, by nuclear fallout, by dwindling resources or global conflicts about oil and water and whatever. I try my best to live my modern-day life. I work in a marketing job, and it would grind me down keeping "my nose to the grindstone", if I could not -fortunately- do it my way and change this local society a tiny bit. I have done more for society in general than it has ever done for me, and I do not complain about that too much. That´s how it should be. But then I realize I cannot win. You cannot fight those processes that might lead to the rout of mankind, not successfully, not even do something against incompetent bosses or colleagues or even you own incompetence. But, for the most part, I think it is a conflict we like to call the conflict between dream and reality.

So, on the weekends, we go forsaking our day job and dress code in favor of some scrawny army pants or historical attire to sleep with our ear in a cold puddle and eat strange food;-) instead. We walk through the woods barefoot or in army boots and find it makes perfect sense to us. Then it is we find our childhood dreams come back to life again. And life is drastic, but simple out there. A toxic plant is a toxic plant, and hypothermia is hypothermia. Eat, sleep, drink, get warm, those are the necessities of life in the woods, and they are simple as life and death. Our society is complex, the woods are simple.

The pages of "Gear" are full of exactly that: gear. Expensive gear, the most recent updates on Goretex and whatever, the latest bushcraft knives, the latest barbecueing kit, the best boots money can buy. Now I have nothing at all against good equipment, but this "movement" misses the mark entirely in my book, as far as "bushcraft" is concerned. It is immanent to the system, not the woods.

And this system drives people mad. Every third person in Germany suffers from depression or hysteria. Some, and those few are those who stand a better chance of becoming happy again, find a way into the woods.

Like so:

 "Thereafter, when both battle-hosts had met, the vast army on both sides roared in the manner of a herd of stags so that they raised on high three mighty shouts. Now, when Suibhne heard these great cries together with their sounds and reverberations in the clouds of Heaven and in the vault of the firmament, he looked up, whereupon turbulence (?), and darkness, and fury, and giddiness, and frenzy, and flight, unsteadiness, restlessness, and unquiet filled him, likewise disgust with every place in which he uséd to be and desire for every place which he had not reached. His fingers were palsied, his feet trembled, his heart beat quick, his senses were overcome, his sight was distorted, his weapons fell naked from his hands, so that through Ronan's curse he went, like any bird of the air, in madness and imbecility.
Now, however, when he arrived out of the battle, it was seldom that his feet would touch the ground because of the swiftness of his course, and when he did touch it he would not shake the dew from the top of the grass for the lightness and the nimbleness of his step. He halted not from that headlong course until he left neither plain, nor field, nor bare mountain, nor bog, nor thicket, nor marsh, nor hill, nor hollow, nor dense-sheltering wood in Ireland that he did not travel that day, until he reached Ros Bearaigh, in Glenn Earcain, where he went into the yew-tree that was in the glen.
 Now when Suibhne heard the shout of the multitude and the tumult of the great army, he ascended from the tree towards the rain-clouds of the firmament, over the summits of every place and over the ridge-pole of every land. For a long time thereafter he was (faring) throughout Ireland, visiting and searching in hard, rocky clefts and in bushy J branches of tall ivy-trees, in narrow cavities of stones, from estuary to estuary, from peak to peak, and from glen to glen, till he reached ever-delightful Glen Bolcain. It is there the madmen of Ireland used to go when their year in madness was complete, that glen being ever a place of great delight for madmen. For it is thus Glen Bolcain is: it has four gaps to the wind, likewise a wood very beautiful, very pleasant, and clean-banked wells and cool springs, and sandy, clear-water streams, and green-topped watercress and brooklime bent and long on their surface. Many likewise are its sorrels, its wood-sorrels, its lus-bian and its biorragan, its berries, and its wild garlic, its melle, and its miodhbhun its black sloes and its brown acorns. The madmen moreover used to smite each other for the pick of watercress of that glen and for the choice of its couches."

Buile Suibhne (Author: [unknown])
WOULD that the yellow dirt, the glittering yellow dirt,
For which men peril their lives and brave the hinges of hell,
Were sunk in the devil’s pit where neither profit or hurt
Could come of the heavy dross they love so well.
I am sick of the garrulous cry, the chattering, parrot cry
Of bonds, money, and stock, gold, bonds and exchange,
Meeting the ocean’s roar, beaten back by the sky,
It creaks and rattles throughout a continent’s range.
Honor is but a myth, integrity goes for naught.
Wisdom is knowing how a man may gather the fruit
While his neighbor shakes the tree: the noblest use for thought,
To know when talking is gain and when to be mute.
Doctors from colleges prate, clergymen talk against time,
Big with oracular words, cunning with Hebraic lore,
Believing labor a curse, the penalty placed on crime,
As the grand old Hierarchs held in the days of yore.
Better the hodden gray that is weft by a virtuous hand;
Better the calm, still man who lives by the plow and spade;
Better the Sabine farm with its seven acres of land,
Than streets that are built by the dirty channels of trade.
Wherein is a nation’s wealth? In what is a nation great?
Does a world-wide history prove that gold is the highest good?
Could riches, and pomp, and show save Rome from her well earned fate?
Are the old time failures of nations understood?
Did ever a people fail who only strove for the right,
Who taught the nation’s youth to be virtuous, brave and wise?
Did ever a nation’s sun sink down to a moral, night,
Till a nation’s counsels were filled with the devil’s lies?
Once, when my soul was weary of wading in tangled thought,
I slept by an attic window that looked to the bleak northeast
And a dream came over my spirit, so clearly, vividly wrought,
That it warned like the mystic hand at the Tyrant’s feast.
A week of scorching fever, when the hours
Seemed stretched to days of torture, and the days
Spun slowly out to months of groping pain.
A sick man’s oft told horrors: moping shapes
That crawled and glared about with fishy eyes;
Mouthing and threatening heads, that grew or shrank
From out the dusky corners of the room;
Chattering tiresome forms of bird or ape
That perched themselves familiarly upon
The hideous posts which sentineled the bed,
Each post a mocking face. And one came there
More dreadful than the rest;—a sleepless fiend;
Whose office was to crouch at the bed’s foot,
And see to’t, that no wink of sleep should cross
The burning eyelids or the hot, tired brain,
By night or day. In vain they freely gave
The opiates that crazed but could not lull.
For, even as there came a drowsy sense
Of lessening pain, and the tired brow began
To reel and stagger toward forgetfulness,
Would rise that loathsome form with reptile eyes,
Mumming and mouthing at my white, scared face,
Till sleep was changed to deathless vigilance.
And so at last I came to understand
That ’twas my fate to die; and that or rest,
Or sleep, for me on earth was none. Ah God,
I do believe that he who has not felt
The rasping fire of fever in his veins,
When the hot blood becomes as molten lead,
And every nerve a lightning heated wire
To telegraph the pain in every part
Knows not what torture means.
There is a bound
Beyond whose limit pain is merged in death,
Most mercifully;—And, ’twill chance at times
That he who has his hand upon the latch
Which opens his own tomb, shall find himself
Gifted with such a wondrous speed of thought,
Such apprehension, and electric power
Of intuition, as the man in health
May never know or feel. And thus it was,
That at the last I lay, helpless and mute,
Drawing with feeble care the failing breath,
That flickered doubtfully. But with a mind
So clear, so active, quick to comprehend,
So strong in grasp and sudden to conceive,
That a whole life seemed mirrored in a thought
Naught in the room escaped me as I lay,
Free from all pain, and conscious that my life
Hung by the merest thread. The snuffy nurse,
Cat-footed, restless, moving to and fro,
As if impatient for the closing scene.
The sickening forces, standing in array
Of phial, pill and powder, with the dire
Medicinal chieftain—potent calomel.
The three wise men, for consultation met,
And holding conversation half aside,
Wisely debating on this drug or that;
Arguing if such and such might be
Allowed in dire extremity, and if
It could be proven from the books that Mott,
Or Abernethy had been known to give
Some certain tonic to a man, reduced
By fever to death’s door. And one who seemed
The leader of the trio, rose and stood,
With wooden face and spectacles on nose,
Beside the bed, and raised the thin white hand,
Placing a practised finger on the wrist,
Timing the scarce-felt pulses for, perchance,
Some two short minutes. Then he turned away,
With something of the reverence and awe
That men will feel while standing by the dead,
And said, “the man is gone.”
 Ev’n as he spoke,
I smiled to think that one so learned and wise
Should err so simply in the question that
Affects our mortal breath How could I die,
Yet lose no consciousness? Where was the pane,
The mortal throe, the stoppage of the heart
And panting lungs? The fearful struggle which
Should wait on dissolution? None of these.
And yet the man was right. The dying smile
Froze on the thin wan face; the labored breath
Grew free, the weary senses fresh and strong.
The panting heart and brain awoke to life.
Buoyant and vigorous as when I climbed
Thy pine clad hills, O Mendon, in the flush
Of youth and health and hope, a joyous lad.
And this was death! This waking into life
With freshened strength and new born energy
Of soul; this casting off the earthly clog
That pains, and tires, and binds us to the earth.
Already the freed soul had turned and gazed
Half pityingly, half loathingly upon
Its wasted prison house of earthly clay,
Almost amused to see the snuffy nurse
Close ostentatiously the glazing eyes,
While weeping friends gathered about the bed,
Pitying the thin cold form that had become
But as the merest clod.
And I became
Conscious of other forms within the room:
Old friends; who had been freed long before
By this same dreaded death. Two radiant forms
Were these, that I had known in early youth,
When poverty and sickness pressed and clung
About them, till they rested in the earth,
Gladly, as doth a wearied infant seek
Its mother’s breast. The one, an aged man,
A grandsire; who on earth had drank the dregs
And lees of poverty; but kept his faith
And stern integrity for eighty years,
Then sank into a nameless grave unknown,
But with God’s noblest stamp upon his brow,—
An honest man. And, as he yielded not
To dire temptation in his earthly needs,
So had he double honor in the land
Of disembodied souls.
And there was one
Whom I had known in childhood, and who might
Have blessed my later life, but that she passed
Beneath the bitter waters in her bloom
Of maiden loveliness, and was forgot
By all save him who loved her, and who kept
Her memory as a sacred thing apart.
These two, the maiden in her locks of gold
And aged grandsire, were as when on earth,
Inseparable; and ’twas theirs to see
That the freed soul, unused to roam in space,
Had proper guidance to the outer realms
Of the earth’s influence, and be shown the way
Among the stars.
I would have lingered where
Old sympathies and recollections clung,
Sorrowing still awhile with those who mourned,
Of the earth, earthy. But the radiant guides,
With sweet low voices, such as well might haunt
A poet lover in his dreams, said “No:
Earth and earth’s atmosphere are meet for man.
The soul, freed from its clay, may not abide
The rank, foul air, the sordid sins that grieve,
And bind, and slay. The earth and all therein
Is giv’n to man. We have no power to lift
A feather’s weight from off his world of woe;
Nor may we dwell for more than a brief space
Within his realm, where the foul air corrupts
With sickness, sin and death. Come thou with us.”
And we arose and passed away from earth
By the mere act of will, and with a speed
That set at naught the dull imperfect modes
Of earthly computation. Naught to us
Was time, with its divisions and delays,
Nor any mode of reckoning by hours,
Or days, or years. Being beyond the earth,
Alternate light and darkness were no more,
Nor day, nor night, nor the earth’s atmosphere,
Nor any cloud nor shadow. And I came
To know the golden mysteries that lie
Among the stars, in circumambient space.
There was a rapture in the new born life
That human language has no power to tell,—
A wealth of happiness and sweet content
That earth-bound souls may never understand.
The murky earth swung far away in space,
Hugged in a misty atmosphere, wherein
Were seething life, unceasing death, and all
Unwholesome things: and bearing on her face
The blotched and bloody record of her crimes,
We saw her reel on her allotted round,
Dimly and distantly, and only said,
Who in this better life would be so mad
As yield one year’s existence in the skies
To have the fee in simple of yon world,
With all her land and gold, her petty strifes,
Her crimes and sins, with suffering interwrought—
* * * * * * * *
I woke. The northeast wind beat at the pane,
The village clock the hour of midnight tolled.
I heard the patter of the winter rain,
And felt the dullness of the damp and cold.
Ah God, how mean appeared my dwelling place
On earth; how small and poor all earthly things.
I felt the poverty and deep disgrace
That pauper princes feel, or throneless kings.
I said, ’Twas but a dream: and strove to keep
A living interest in the life affairs
Of busy men, who work, and eat, and sleep
Beneath a weary load of petty cares.
In vain. All that had power to please before,
Had lost the power of pleasing. I was one
Fated to love his fellows nevermore,
Nor join the headlong, greedy race they run.
I saw the emmets on this ragged earth
Each struggling for his grain of yellow sand;
I heard the hollow lie, and saw the dearth
Of justice, truth, and honor in the land.
How could I mingle in the selfish throng
That grasped and struggled, bit, and stung, and lied.
I, who had heard the morning stars in song,—
What needs were mine that this had satisfied?
And so we fell apart—the world and I.
“A half mad poet”—so their prattle ran.
“One who cares not to thrive, or sell, or buy,
And has small liking for his fellow man.
“He had a fever once; and in a dream,
Went far beyond the limits of this earth;
At least he says so. And since then ’twould seem,
Cares naught for money or for money’s worth.”
And so I came at last, by slow degrees,
To shun the meeting of a human face,
To seek the beetling crag where gnarly trees,
Root-anchored in the rock, have dwelling place.
Losing desire for human speech, I found
A runic language in the song of birds.
I learned to understand each woodland sound,—
The sybil trees and all their mystic words.
I dwelt with nature in her solitudes,
And learned to love her in her wildest dress.
A mother to me in her milder moods,
And in her savage moments scarcely less.
I climbed the mountain when the early dew
Glistened on balm-flowers where the wild bee hummed.
For me the woodcook whirred; the goshawk flew
Low o’er the thicket where the partridge drummed.
The round-topped pines sighed far beneath my feet,
The mountain stream shone through the morning mist
I watched the valley where bright waters meet
From icy springs the sun has never kissed.
Cleaving the pool the gleaming fish-hawk shot,
With aim unerring on his finny prey.
The wild-cat stole from briar sheltered grot,
The pert kingfisher chattered from his spray.
I loved the deep, dark forest, where no foot
Of all-polluting man had left a trace.
I loved the pine tree with its rock-bound root,
And low, sweet whispers of a holier place.
And thus, half hermit and half misanthrope,
I dragged the listless years of a decade.
Dreamily musing, without wish or hope,
Watching the seasons blossom, fill and fade.
Men called me Infidel—God save the mark—
For that I went not in their fanes to hear
A blind man rustling parchment in the dark,
A creed-clock ticking on the drowsy ear.
Nessmuk: From the Misanthrope, in: Forest Runes, N.Y 1887
The wild man of the woods

I have experienced something strange and wonderful myself. I went into the woods, not as deep as many of you have ventured, but deep enough to notice a world quite different to that of modern man. And it has no names, no religion, no philosophy. It just is. We experience something that lulls us into a sleep of enlightment. If we are sensitive enough, we are changed by it forever. It has nothing to do with what pants you wear or what pack you carry. If you go stark naked, it could not care less. In fact, you are no more than a stag or a boar. You have to deal with that, and to make your deals with it, to realize that it is contained in the law of the universe. Things do not fall into the sky, and if rivers flow upside down, there is a reason for it. It is not the mask of the Gods (or God or whatever you chose to call it). Gods and ancestors are but parts in it, and all you see is the mask, but when in the deeper woods, you see the truth, and the wonder in life and death. It does not make you stronger, but it makes you learn that you can never be strong. And, by accepting this, you may survive... or not, but at least you get a hint on the way fate´s humour works. ;-)It is a very different approach to everything in society where we strive to explain everything to clear everything ambiguous or arbitrary in an omnipotent ontology. Where we buy and sell and live on a loan from nature. There, in that strange and wonderful place (that is no place at all), nature rules, and there can be no discussion. If you fall down a cliff, you fall down a cliff, and if you eat a toxic plant, you eat a toxic plant. If you are not happy, it´s all your fault, and if you commit any sins, they will fall back upon yourself. It is a hard world, but, in contrast to the so-called "real world", a honest one. A rainbow is a rainbow, and the awe belongs to you to be treasured in your heart.

I went mad, to become a poet. I do not care about financial profit, as long as I can survive, I do not care so much about gear any more. Do not get me wrong, I still cherish a nice blade or a well-made jack, or fancy boots, or a backpack. I am a geardo that can get quite enthusiastic about equipment myself, and if I can afford it, I still buy.

But  all that happens in my brain, in my mind. What has happened is, that my soul has been changed. I know that I will die, but all things must die. And I love to live in a sense of wonder, different from the wonders I experienced as a child, but immune to intellectual droning. When I cry, I cry, when I love, I love, when I giggle, I giggle. This is what the forest has given me. And it has given me something more: I can tell what plants to eat, how to make tools and clothing and gear myself, and with a spirit to it modern products can never offer. They transport this experience that I do not belong at all anymore, at least in this part of myself I prefer calling a soul. And I guess it is that spirit we cherish in neo-traditionalism. leaving an imprint of the things we have encountered, and lived and fought through, our tears and giggles.

I am no more than any stag. And this post is part of the deal. I want to become what I really am, at the end of my life. And this means so much more than buscrafting or wrestling the almighty Bear...;-)

This post might be start of a series of posts dedicated to Suibhne Geilt, Lailoken and Myrddin, the forefathers of bushcraft*ggg*.

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