The Technology of our Ancestors

Another recumbent rider who also blogs on WordPress recently wrote about the pros and cons of using ancient technology in preference to modern.  He makes a good point, and he was careful to moderate it with the phrase “a rule of thumb.”  He wrote, “I have developed a rule of thumb when evaluating if a health claim is true or not; If early humans did it, then it is good, otherwise it is bad.”

I didn’t want to instigate a long, drawn-out argument on his blog about this – mostly because I have no real argument – but I believe the subject does beg discussion, and this blog has been cooking in my mind for a couple of days now.

I have some of the same philosophies about life, though the rules are more complex.  I make every effort to buy local organic produce, for instance, and there are lots of farms here about, but coffee doesn’t grow in northern California, so there’s an exception right there.  And we aren’t giving up our computers.

Some of you know that I’m active in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, and that I have long studied the arts of the sword and the bow.  However, if a crazed rapist were to break into the house, you know I’d reach for the Smith & Wesson.  Even the most enthusiastic SCA-er will remind you that it’s “The middle ages as they should have been.”  Like, no Plague, we wear eye-glasses, and if you try to take away women’s suffrage, we’ll kill you with your own sword.

And, of course, there are some of us who simply wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for 21st Century medicine.

So, can we agree that some modern solutions are better than bronze age ones?

Let’s take a closer look at some ancestral solutions, though.   The first question we have to ask is, “Which ancestors?”  The ones from pre-electric 19th century, or shall we go back as far as Australopithecus?  I’m not running around naked on the African savannah for anybody.  The original blog was about shoes, and the earliest known shoes are from bronze-age Mesopotamia.  That’s still a long ways to go back.

Difficult to pick, huh?

There is a popular television show on NBC called Revolution, and the major premise is that the entire world has been plunged into a permanent black out because all of the electricity has been turned off.  Remember that scene from The Day the Earth Stood Still? (The superb 1951 version, not the bastardized 2008 one.)  Well, it’s not 1951 anymore, and the consequences are even more dire.  Suddenly, we’re back to 19th Century agrarian communities.

Revolution is escapist post-apocalypse fantasy, though certainly not as much so as the book Dies the Fire (one of my absolute fave books, by the way!) Have you ever worked a farm using 19th Century technology?  I have.  It’s fun for about a week.  After that it’s just hard work, and lots of it.  And quite frankly, I don’t believe the current world’s population could be fed that way.

So, where do I stand on this issue?  Well, like almost everything else, it depends on the details.

More musings on this at another time.


The Archers’ Moon

You can find online or in any of several almanacs the names of the moons.  There is nothing official about these, though many authors will make the bold statement, “Native Americans call this the ____ moon.”  As if all the various native American tribes got together at some pre-columbian astronomical conference to give names to the moons.  Other authors will at least give locality to the tribes, saying, “Tribes in the Northwest called this the ___ moon.”  Considering the plethora of languages and cultures of the tribes in the “Northwest” and lack of written history, I take all of this with a grain of salt, but I’m not an anthropologist.

The names of the moons tend to be seasonal – like the Harvest Moon, though many lack a certain coolness.  For instance, I don’t care at all for the Worm Moon.

My beloved and I have created our own set of names for the moons.  For instance, we call the moon in late June the “Strawberry Moon” and celebrate the full moon be coming up with creative ways to eat our favorite summer  fruit.  We borrowed from some of the more standard names, like the aforementioned Harvest Moon.  This year, we are combining it with a cheese making party.

While admiring the full moon in May 2010, which we currently call the Full Flower Moon (borrowed from the Farmers’ Almanac), it occurred to me that any full moon which happens in late May or early June takes place in the constellation Sagittarius.  The celestial archer.


I think this is a great idea for the name of a moon!  The Archers’ Moon!  Anybody who knows me, or has read one or two of my previous posts knows that this is a favorite topic of my blogs.  Specifically, traditional archery. How more traditional than the ancient zodiac?! Here it is, my favorite sport, immortalized in the heavens.  And it’s just as official as any of the other names of the moons.  That is, not at all.  But it’s personally relevant.

Hope everybody enjoys the Strawberry Moon on June 26th!

Popularity of Archery still on the increase after theatrical release of Robin Hood.

Newbie archers at the SF Archers Public Outreach program, June 6, 2010

It was decided yesterday that the San Francisco Archers Public Outreach program needs new equipment.  This topic has been cussed and discussed before, but yesterday was the clincher as we had to turn a dozen people away because we ran out of loaner equipment and arrows.  The photograph shows about 1/3 of the crowd that showed up, even on a cool foggy morning.  Fortunately, is was a crowd of mostly adults who listened to instructions well, because the four of us instructors would have gone running away screaming if it had been an equal number of kids.

I mentioned in a previous post the reasons I think  a poor economy is good for archery.  Basically, it’s a lot cheaper than golf.  We have also noticed a trend in the popularity of the sport which follows the release of any popular movie which features archers.  The recent release of  Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, is an excellent example.  This is a very adult version of Hood, and so we got a lot of adults at outreach.  But you should have seen all the kids who showed up after the release of The Lord of the Rings.

Of course, it’s relatively easy to get a group of strangers to show up to try archery once.  We measure the success of our efforts by the number of people who continue to show up after the novelty of it wears off, and they realize that they can’t become expert archers in a single morning’s practice.  We know we have them hooked when they ask, “So, how much does it cost for a good bow?”  We get as excited as any drug dealer.

There are easily half a dozen very good archery ranges in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I explained to two women from San José that they could probably find one closer to where they live.  They don’t have to drive all the way to Pacifica to enjoy the sport.  They responded, “But you guys take care of us.”  That had me walking on air for several hours.

There tend to be two kinds of potential archers who show up: The technophiles who start drooling at the sight of the latest Matthews hunting compound, and those who are attracted to the sexy lines of the recurve or the earthy simplicity of the longbow.   The second group takes more attention because, quite frankly, it’s easier to become competent with a modern compound than a recurve or longbow.  For the second group, who are probably getting frustrated with their lack of accuracy, we make an effort to complement their form and point out their improvements.  There is very little in the way of instant gratification in traditional archery.

At the end of three hours, we did a thorough search for lost arrows, put the equipment away, and sat down to discuss our successes and failures.  We gotta get more equipment!

Down on the Farm

Beth and I have this fantasy of leaving corporate America behind and buying a hundred acre farm.  We’re going to start off with two milk goats, three chickens, a pair of ducks, a large garden and a small orchard.  Then we’re going to invite some unemployed friends to joins to become an intentional community and increase the livestock.

Like I said, this is a fantasy.  I’m well aware of all the practical problems involved.  But evidently, we are not alone.

According to the people who are in charge of keeping track of these things, the five-year farm census in 2007 indicates almost 300 thousand start-up farms since 2002, most of them small, and a huge proportion of them are owned by women.

It would seem that the United States is backwards from other industrialized nations.  While the populations of other countries is moving from the farm to the cities, the United States is moving back to the farm.


Taking advantage of this trend, Rick and Lora Lea Misterly have started a farm school at their spread in eastern Washington State called Quillisascut Farm.  The class is Intro to Farming and gives an overview of small, organic and sustainable farming, aiming to expose all us urban gardeners who have romanticized farming to the harsh realities of agribusiness.

Learning about grafting

Being the kind of people who eschew vacations spent on cruise ships, ski slopes and haute spots, Beth and I plunked down $695 each for tuition, room and board and traveled by air from San Francisco to Spokane.  We rented a car and drove two hours north along US Hwy 395 (somehow resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to stop in at the archery store in Chewelah) to a place in the world where people are few.  We then spent five days working on the farm and listening to people talk about farming.

We woke up before sunrise, which is really early this time of year that far north.  We milked goats, tended the garden, did morning chores, and sat down for breakfast.  After breakfast, it was cheese making, and more garden chores, and lectures on topics like tools, irrigation and fencing.  The afternoon found us traveling to other farms to learn about orchards, bees and mulching.  Then back to Qullisascut for dinner and a post meal lecture by yet another farmer on the topics of budgets, rabbits (did you know that the American Chinchilla is a rabbit? I had no idea), and botanical herbs.  We finally got to bed by 9:30 and were grateful for it.

The first thing we noticed is that everybody we met started their farm while still working full time for somebody else, and years later, some of them still are.  The second thing we noticed was their passion for this way of life.

Learning about bees

There were 12 students, ten of us from California, one from Hawaii and one from Seattle. There were 11 women.  Working, eating and bunking together, we all became fast friends.  Thus the third thing we noticed was that we were all of a certain socio-economic and racial background — white, middle class, mostly liberal and predominantly middle aged.   The question was finally asked, “Did previous classes have any more diversity?”

“Well, er, no.”

I will leave it as a homework problem for the ready to figure out why not.  I tried some guesses, but there were all just WAG’s.  Certainly poor people can’t afford the class or the travel, and rich people aren’t in the market for small, labor intensive enterprises, especially when the CEO needs to milk goats and tend the garden before breakfast.  Liberal because the focus was on organic, sustainable farming.  But white?  Perhaps because Idaho, a mere long bowshot away, has taken on a reputation as the last bastion of white male supremacists in the United States, though that didn’t stop the four lesbians in the class.  I refuse to openly speculate on the female aspect of the student body, fearing to sound sexist.

For more pictures, go here.

The 31st Annual Great Dickens Christmas Faire

Last weekend, Beth and I decided to continue our annual visit to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party.  I wrote about this last year, too, and won’t spend a lot of time on it here, only to mention that we had a great time in spite of the gate cost.

What amazes me every year is that in an era of mass commercial production of goods, there exists an entire subculture economy of people who still hand-craft their products.  We had a pleasant conversation with a couple who make clothes and sell them not only at the Dickens Fair but all of the Renaissance Faires and SCA events, too.   You can visit their website at

The cost of these goods is considerably more than what you’ll find at retailers like Target and Wal-Mart.  Quality hand-crafted goods will always be more expensive.  But if you’re the kind of person who would rather buy the cheap plastic crap at those stores, then the Dickens Fair/Renaissance Faire/SCA really isn’t for you anyway.

We spent most of our time taking in the stage shows and other presentations, which were free if you don’t count the gate cost.  We splurged and bought some roasted chestnuts and fudge, but for the most part the food was way over priced, and the argument could not be made that it was hand-crafted.

Asylum Improv – Pacifica Spindrift Players

Review: Asylum Improv
Pacifica Spindrift Players
Pacifica, California

I cannot imagine a more challenging social situation than trying to be improvisationally funny. Telling memorized jokes is easy. Reading a comedic script is a snap. Doing a stand-up routine that has been rehearsed and choreographed is a piece of cake compared to what the Asylum Improv does several times a year at the Spindrift Players in Pacifica, California.

It’s because of this that we don’t expect the actors of Asylum, lead by the very brave Roger Genereux, to be as funny as Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, who are comedic geniuses, but they’re already funnier than Drew Carey.

It’s perhaps fortunate for the cast of Asylum that the audience consists primarily of the family and friends, and some die-hard community members, so we aren’t as critical as we could be. Asylum really does try hard to be funny, and one often gets the feeling that they are trying too hard. Sometimes desperately hard, which is evident when the look on an actor’s face plainly says, “Will somebody Please end this scene?” Which is echoed by Roger’s expression which says just as plainly, “Will somebody Please say something funny?”

There are, however, gems which make waiting through the embarrassing moments worthwhile.  We especially liked the efforts of Steve MattesKevin Myer and Lourie (whose last name I couldn’t find, but he’s the bloke with the almost-Irish brogue, softened, I think, by his years in the States).  Lourie can always be counted on for a funny routine involving the alphabet and/or the English language.  Tricia Callero once again wow’d us with her superb vocal skills.  We can’t help but think that if the entertainment industry really was a meritocracy, she’d already be head-lining.

The presentation could be improved if Roger could just relax a little.  We think he’s very smart and talented, but he often comes across as if he believes his entire worth as a human being is riding on the success or failure of the show.  And considering the amount of work he invests at Spindrift, we can’t blame him for feeling that.   But Roger:  We are going to like you anyway.  You have already proven yourself.  So relax.  Also, if you can’t read one of those audience suggestion slips, you should just toss it.  There is no entertainment value in watching you try to decipher somebody’s scribble.  And we know that it’s supposed to be improv, but perhaps a little more structure would help lubricate the show.

And we will be there when you return in March!

Humans as Contraditctions

We humans are a wonderful set of contradictions, don’t you think?

I would like to offer as an example my oldest son, Galen.  When he was about three years old, he and I were watching Sesame Street together when he suddenly turned to me and said, “Real frogs can’t talk.”

We lived, at the time, in a rural area where encounters with wild life and livestock were common, and we ourselves had dogs and sheep.  Galen had no trouble at all separating fact from fiction, life from television.  I remember thinking at the time that he had an advantage over a lot of adults I could name.

On the other hand, Galen, like many three or four or five year olds, sometimes had problems with nightmares and worried about monsters in the closet or under his bed.  No amount of rational explanations about non-existent monsters was going to help.  So we made a game of it.  We concocted magic anti-monster juice (tap water), put it in a spray bottle and put an anti-monster spell on it.  When Galen complained of monsters which lay in wait in his closet, we would spray it with the anti-monster juice with drama and flourish, uttering the ancient incantation, “Out, out, damned Spot!”  Galen always slept better afterward.

Don’t get me wrong.  We never encouraged him to believe in magic or monsters or faeries or dragons or ghosts.  He has grown up to be a healthily skeptical young man who smirks at ghost stories.  Even so, he still enjoys a good story or sword and sorcery and talking frogs.  He’s far more active in the Society for Creative Anachronism than I am.

I am not a psychologist or neurologist, so I don’t know the words, but I believe that our consciousness is dominated by different parts of our brains in the light of rational day and the dark of mystical night.  And each state seems totally foreign to us when we are in the demesne of the other.  And though a child may give more voice to their inner fears, adults are not immune.  A good story teller is one who can transport the audience from one state to the other, sitting around the campfire, bidding the listener to abandon incredulity for just a moment in order to more fully appreciate the punch line. Strong relationships are built by sharing our irrational fears.

But come the dawn, it’s time again for the serious working and rational thinking.  Time to harvest, time to build, while we look forward to the next episode.