This morning I got up and drank coffee. I used sorghum from my friend’s sorghum mill to sweeten it and fresh goat’s milk from my own flock that I pasteurized on the stovetop last night. For breakfast I ate rice with greens from our garden cooked in home made chicken broth with a side of our pears preserved from our tree. I then sat down on the couch and snuggled with cat who was laying on the hand woven cover I made myself with wool from our sheep. I then donned an apron sewn years ago from an old hand drafted pattern before cleaning up.
In an hour I utilized goods from sixteen traditional skills. Many people think of these as survival skills. However, I don’t think of these skills as survival or prepping skills. I think of them as traditional life skills.
What skills were used? My friend grew sorghum from seeds she’s saved and cultivated for over forty years. Her husband and sons then cut the sorghum, pressed it, and along with their neighbors boiled it. Both family’s daughters then jarred it for future use. Six skills were utilized just for the sorghum. I raise my own goats. Those skills are breeding, husbandry, milking, and pasteurizing to ensure safety. Add in those four skills, and we are at ten skills needed for a cup of coffee. My breakfast required knowing how to cook from scratch, grow a garden, tend fruit trees, pick and then preserve the fruit. We are now up to nineteen skills. My couch cover then took the ability to tend sheep, hand shear, hand process, spin the yarn, and finally weave the cloth. That’s twenty five skills total if you’re still counting. With pattern drafting and hand sewing we are now to twenty seven skill needed for an ordinary morning moment.
Until the 1920’s the majority of people in North America lived in rural areas and utilized the same skills in their daily lives. These skills are becoming lost as our society changes. However, there are those who want to learn these skills today and continue our rural heritage. Others want to return to a more natural life. For me, my spiritual, ecological, and moral convictions is that we cannot truly embrace our divinity nor fully experience the full range of human instincts without direct, consistent interactions with nature. I was blessed with a childhood that embrace that ideal and traditional skills everyday.
Traditional skills range from the most mundane task such as washing laundry by hand to hewing logs into planks with nothing more than a wedge, a knife, and mallet to create custom furniture. These are the skills that have ensured the survival of families for centuries and human being for millennium. As our we face a climate crisis, another world war, major supply chain issues, inflation, drought, diseases, uncertain harvests, and mounting civil unrest these skills are critical to learn more than ever. We are moving from an era where the old ways are a novelty preserved by eccentrics to where they may again become essential for many people to simply survive or those skills will be lost due to loosing the people who use them. Either way it is important to preserve these skills for future generations.
We don’t need a major shift in the world or lofty ideals though to embrace a traditional skills life style. We don’t have to move into the country, give up electricity, or be Amish. We can embrace the traditional skills, and our human heritage living anywhere.
Embracing a traditional skills life can be as simple as growing a few vegetables or flowers on your patio, learning to make fruit preserves, sewing cloths, woodworking, wildcrafting, hand sewing, raising a couple of backyard chickens, cooking over an open fire, and the list goes on.
You don’t have to be a homesteader or a farmer to embrace a life of exploration and discovery of our humanity through the skills our ancestors learned. They are for everyone because they are the skills that have shaped and created human history. They are here for EVERYONE. I sincerely encourage you to investigate the richness our human heritage has to offer.
Make a list of skills you want to learn or explore and start learning just one or two. They are your heritage because you are a human being, and we humans are made to connect with the earth and seasons and nature and flow and each other in a way that transcends time and space. That connection is what living a traditional skills life has given me personally. And what a difference that connection has made.
My goal for the coming year is to explore these skills. I truly hope you join me.