|This is a horned rattlesnake, such as one might find in the California or|
Arizona deserts. If you see one, do not stop to pet it. Nasty disposition.
Not cuddly. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons user Tigerhawkvok.)
It was a very warm day in Los Angeles up on the fire roads—those are dirt and gravel service roads that wind through the mountains between the San Fernando Valley and L.A. As it happens, we were actually out looking for rattlesnakes. (See? Stupid. But we got 30 cents a foot for them at a time when gas was 35 cents per gallon and a movie wasn't a whole lot more.) Even back then I was pudgy and out of shape, so I was hot and tired and about to throw myself down on the ground in the shade of a small water tower when George tackled me, pushing me out of the way. Coiled in the shade—right where I had intended to sit—was a rattlesnake. It was simply minding its own business, trying, as were we, to get out of the heat. Nonetheless, I don't think it would have taken too kindly to being sat on, on account of, you know—it was a damned snake! A species of pit viper, in fact; they're not known for being all warm and fuzzy and sweet-tempered. (There's a reason you never see cute little girls in front of the supermarket giving away young snakes from a basket of newborn reptiles. Kittens, yes. Puppies, maybe. Snakes, no.)
I bring this up because George was (and is) good at . . . well, stuff. I mean, saving lives, yeah, but he could also skin a rattlesnake, fix a sink, tune a car, repair a guitar amplifier, or build a barn. He could find his way by looking at the stars, he knew what plants were safe to eat, and he could tell the height of a tree by measuring the shadow of a pencil. Somehow. It apparently involves math and ratios and such. (I never quite understood the point of it, mind you. Seemingly, the Boy Scouts—an organization of which we were both members, George being an Eagle Scout, of course—felt that it was important for us little scoutlets to know just how tall the tree was. Maybe there was a tree-height-measuring merit badge or something, I don't know.) Anyway, without George, I surely would have perished, bitten by a snake, poisoned by some plant I had thought was safe to consume, or possibly crushed by a too-tall tree. (George: "Well, officer, I know it's not much help now, but it might be useful to know that the tree that killed Rod was exactly 48 feet, 7 1/2 inches tall. Also, it fell pointing north-by-northeast, and as it fell, it uprooted a number of delicious milk thistle plants. Here, try one!")
George was adept at the technology of the day, and—here's the important part—he knew what to do when the technology failed, because he knew how the technology worked and he knew what had preceded the technology of the day. George is simply a handy guy, whereas I . . . well, I'm good at Scrabble and that's about it.
Unlike George, most of us are so reliant upon our technology that we would have no idea what to do in the absence of that technology. When our fancy tools fail, we're lost. I mean, if I come down in the morning and no one has set the timer on the coffeepot, I'm helpless; all I can do is stare at it and whimper softly until Lesley comes to save me. God only knows how I would cope with a real emergency, like if Netflix went away.
But not George; he would know exactly what to do.
And so would the guy who runs the Primitive Technology YouTube channel. This is a young man who wanders around the bush in Far North Queensland, Australia, creating tools using no tools other than the ones he created. Seriously. He's awesome. Watching his videos, you can learn how to build a shelter (complete with a tile roof and a built-in fireplace), weapons (like a shepherd's sling, a bow and arrow, or a spear thrower), or a fire for a forge, complete with bellows. (Keep in mind that he's doing this in the wilds of Australia, an entire continent where everything tries to kill you, including the beer. He seems unconcerned about this, and says that the only real danger is from snakes, so he takes care ". . . when walking about and lifting things from the ground." That's it. He "takes care." He is made of sterner stuff than most of us. I have to "take care" just getting out of bed.)
It's an amazing set of (so far, 22) videos, and it's educational and even inspiring to see how indigenous people learned to live off of (and live with) the land. Admittedly, this young man is strong, fit, and healthy, so he has some advantages over us old, pudgy has-beens. (Or, in my case, a never-was.)
But mostly what he has is a brain and an impressive skillset. He uses both to show that it is possible to fashion from nature's raw materials everything one needs to survive—and even thrive—in the wild. As Duke University’s Henry Petroski has said, “Tools build tools.” And our Australian friend builds technology by creating the tools he needs in order to build still more tools.
He makes the rest of us look pretty helpless. Except for George, of course.