04 November 2007


Staying warm and dry

Back in July when I spent the month in hospital, I had several neighbours. The last one, who came in for intestinal surgery while I was on the ward and was still there when I left, was an older guy who'd moved to Canada from the Netherlands after World War II, worked as a machinist in a mill, and now likes to play golf in his retirement.

In the 1960s, he built his own house in Squamish, near the mill where he worked. I don't mean he paid people to build it—from what he said while we shared our hospital room, he constructed most of the house himself, with his own hands. He still lives in it.

I admire that. It's something I don't know how to do. I build ephemeral, non-material things like web pages, but I'd have no idea how to put together a building to shelter my family, and which could last more than 40 years. My grandfather was a carpenter, and helped build houses for a living, though he didn't build the last house he lived in, which is where I live now. My friend and podcast co-host Paul built himself a garage, and could probably pull off a house if need be.

For most of the vast span of human time, for hundreds of thousands of years in Africa and beyond, some of the only things worth knowing were how to create a shelter, and find food, and stay warm. Things many of us, like me, would have great trouble doing if cast out to our own devices in the wild. Today, even those who do know how to one thing, like build a house, might not know how to grow food or hunt an animal. That's a purely modern situation.

At least I was a Boy Scout. I can start a fire if I have to.

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People in other cultures are a lot more aware of and in touch with basic survival skills than us pampered North Americans. For a while I lived on Grant street a few blocks east of Commercial Drive. Almost every house in that neigbourhood had a vegetable garden in the part of their yard where the sun shone the longest.
I think this is a big reason our society has advanced so rapidly recently. We no longer need to concentrate on purely our needs. No reason for me to know how to build my family a shelter when there are thousands and thousands of people out there who can do it (better) for me. Meanwhile I can concentrate on doing the stuff I enjoy and am good at
In the digital age, when almost everything is easily accessible, we feel quite satisfied with what we can achieve. It is when we don't have those facilities, like when the power goes off, we feel lost.

I guess this is our way of creating shelter and finding food. By building the ecosystem. It is no more us individuals. We are a group and together we achieve those same goals that our ancestors used to.

Great thought, Derek!
Well, I was a girl scout for years, and I sure can start a fire... if you give me good matches or a lighter !

Don't try me on the "two pieces of wood" or "just use a mirror" stuff, it just doesn't work ! Spent hours trying at the time...
After spending a month in rural Africa, I can confidently start a fire using elephant dung.

The problem? No elephant dung in Vancouver. If there's an apocalypse, I hope it happens while I'm on vacation...