My curiosity was piqued when I read a review of Miles Olson’s Unlearn, Rewild: Earth skills, ideas and inspiration for the future primitive in Richard Reese’s Sustainable or Bust.
For nearly a decade this young man lived with friends at the edge of civilization in the forests of British Columbia. They squatted on forested land, living in shelter constructed of salvaged materials. He hunted, trapped, foraged, and gardened.
No longer squatting on the land at this time, Miles is teaching workshops on survival skills. I sought him out when we came to Vancouver Island early in October 2013.
We agreed to meet where the ferry crosses to Denman Island. Robin and I drove for several hours, arriving within minutes of the appointed time. We did not find him. Had we missed connections? Neither he nor we had a cell phone. What to do?
We waited. Shortly he appeared from out of the foggy mists, a fair-haired man with piercing blue eyes, holding a cup of tea and an apple. We three scrambled down a berry-bramble path to the Salish Sea shore, and settled in to converse on video.
Miles spoke about both aspects of his book title. Unlearning is the philosophical treatise: unlearning what civilization has programmed into us about how to live life. Rewilding includes reconnecting to place, and re-learning what he calls “Endangered Skills.” As he writes in the book introduction:
“This book is part philosophical treatise, part survival guide, part post-industrial living manual, part invitation to connect in a deep, meaningful way with the land. An invitation to heal ourselves and the Earth and bridge the gap between wildness and human existence…[F]or the human animal to be sane, we need to have deep connections to the Earth.”
His years of living on the land came “from a time and place where we’ve had to start from scratch, with no roots, no elders, no intact culture or teachers to guide us.” Among the endangered skills hard-won by experience are hunting and trapping, preserving feral foods, cultivating wild plant allies and nuts, discovering bugs for food, “giving back” to the land in our pooping, and even birth control that doesn’t depend on industrial civilization.
In parting, we eased our car onto the roadway as he disappeared into the foggy edges of the forest. Back to the edge between civilization and wildness. Home.