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Learning to Love Roadkill

Interest is surging in so-called ancestral skills, in which people learn about making and using Stone Age technology.



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Today, like Nutt, Snyder teaches survival skills to youths. He recognizes in them the same impulse to have a violent relationship with animals. It comes from what he believes is a natural instinct to hunt animals and gather fruit that would have been ingrained in someone born 500 or more years ago in a Berkeley forest. "It's not facilitated in our culture, so the kids go out and they recreate it," he said. Snyder helps them try to channel it. "By touching a gopher that's sticking its head out of a hole, you can get the same pleasure as if you killed it."

By teaching kids, Snyder and his fellow instructors are keeping alive a spirit and skills that are disappearing around the world. Many of these skills have a lineage that goes back to the indigenous people of the Americas. When Native Americans were relocated into reservations, much of their ancestral knowledge was lost. But some held on to the skills and passed them on. In the 1960s, Tom Brown Jr. met an Apache elder named Stalking Wolf who mentored him in the ways of old. Brown later passed this knowledge to his promising pupil John Young, and since then the two have disseminated the knowledge to thousands of aspiring survivalists.

In Snyder's Shasta County hometown, he knows a Native American elder who is a storehouse of ancestral knowledge. "He was making a basket and I said, 'Isn't that women's work?'" The elder replied, "I'm the only one that knows how to do it now." He went on to explain that the basket was made using roots from the eastern side of the tree, which are straighter than others because the prevailing winds in the valley blow from the west. This was new information to Snyder. "I've read all sorts of manuals and field guides and things, and he gave me more useful information in that thirty-second time period than I probably would have found out."

Snyder laments that much of the elder's knowledge may be lost when he eventually passes on. But he and his cohorts are trying to keep such knowledge alive for generations to come.

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