Resourcefulness: A Lifelong Journey Into Community
This next contribution in our new Resilience Spotlight series, featuring stories from Peak Prosperity readers, comes from reader clebener. It’s an inspiring example of how passing along time-honored resilience skills to the next generation strengthens and bonds a community.
Our local historical society, spear-headed by some of the most interesting women in our community, established a Schoolhouse program years ago for 4th grade children to come and experience what a one room schoolhouse would have been like. Several of the leaders actually taught in one room schools when they first began their teaching careers. The groups of children come from numerous local communities within a 30 mile radius of the museum. They include public and private school classes, and most recently groups of home schooled children. The leaders chose 4th graders because they have the attention span necessary for the experience but also because they have not lost their sense of wonder. In order to augment the “school house” experience, the program leaders invite local artisans to demonstrate their crafts to the children. We have had blacksmiths, potters, quilters, folk singers, wood workers, weavers and spinners. I am their weaver/spinner.
Let me back up and share a little of my own personal story. My mother was a teacher and among many other things a seamstress and a hand quilter. She grew up during the Depression and learned to do many things for herself which she gladly shared with me through the years. She was one of the most resourceful people I’ve ever known. My Mother taught me at age 5 how to hand-sew doll clothes and later machine-sew my own. Additionally, I was blessed to grow up in a time when sewing was still part of our grade school curriculum. As time went on I tried my hand at many textile crafts from lacemaking, netting, and crochet to more advanced sewing, knitting and weaving. One day a young woman visited our community with her hand spindle and inkle belt loom and she shared them with me. It changed my life. At age 18, I purchased my spinning wheel for $35.00 (same wheel today retails for $650.00). Learning to hand spin was the catalyst for my lifetime of interest in the textile arts. It was part of my youthful dream of self-reliance. At the time self-reliance implied that if I learned to do it all then I wouldn’t need help from anyone else. I am much older now, and maturity has altered my perspective on self-reliance. Today, I have replaced my concept of “self-reliance” with “resourcefulness” and implicit in that concept is the need for service to my greater community. The most significant result of my journey into community life and resilient living began with my love of textile crafts. It has been joyous and not just because I love textiles but because I love people. I was invited 12 years ago by the local historical society and museum leadership (mostly volunteer) to join the Schoolhouse Program as a demonstrator.
For my part in this exceptional program I demonstrate how to take unprocessed wool, sort it, clean it, card it (brushing) and then spin it. But more importantly I tell the children a story of how pioneers would create clothing from raw fiber. I always have on hand sheep and alpaca wool, raw flax and cotton for them to handle. They get to touch my tools, hand carders, spindles and the wheel. My story includes the old process of making soap from animal fat and lye in order to wash the handspun fiber. I explain how the pioneers had to butcher their animals and render the fat. I describe the process of creating lye from hardwood ashes. I impress upon them that nothing was wasted. They then get to handle my handmade soap and smell fresh lemon balm, peppermint and lavender from my garden that I use to scent it. We also talk about using plants to dye their handspun yarn and garments. They then get to handle and wear my handmade shawls, scarves, and sweaters. They get to feel the softness of natural flax woven into linen dish towels. I encourage them to ask their grandmothers for old linens that might be stowed away in some forgotten drawer or old attic chest. I tell the children these people from simpler (not easier) times were many things. They were mothers, fathers, and children not unlike them. They were hunters, ranchers and farmers. They were brave members of small communities. They were survivors. They knew animals both wild and domestic; they knew plants and many of their uses (culinary, medicinal, and for their color and scent). Then I ask the children, “How many sets of clothes do you think the pioneers might have had?” Someone always responds quickly, “maybe two”. They recognize the long hours and hard work that had to be done to have something to wear.
Then we talk about them. The children enthusiastically share what crafts they have learned in their short lives. No craft, no matter how small or simple is overlooked as insignificant. Everything is an accomplishment. When they share that a grandmother or grandfather has taken time to teach them to fish or make bread, to whittle a stick or grow a tomato, their eyes light up. They realize they know things, they can do things and they have many years to learn more. They may not all go out and buy a spinning wheel although I have had some interested over the years. But that’s not the real lesson. It is never too early or late to learn a skill. I continue to hone existing skills and learn new ones. I use new technology to learn these things then I unplug and do them. The best part is when I have the opportunity to share my skills and ideas with anyone who is interested.
Resilient living means many things. Resourcefulness I believe is the cornerstone. The children get it! They go away thinking and sometimes openly chatting about their own resourcefulness and without fail they remind me to do the same.
Local museums can be a treasure trove of artifacts, stories and most importantly people of significance to local life, history and landscape. At my local museum I found a community of mentors and work that I treasure. Above all I found a community of friends.
I couldn't help identifying with you post as I just finished up a pair of slippers for the coming winter season. The slippers, made from wool, hand sheared(by me), carded and spooled locally that will keep my toes toasty as the temps fall as I hunker down for the coming eventuality. Sharing some similar thoughts with a friend who has the same outlook and lifestyle, she related that, given their age, it was time to consider downsizing and have decided to put their place on the market. The property, which is solar powered, has fruit trees, raised beds, chicken coop and run, small fish pond and a gorgeous house is a turn key operation for any aspiring young self reliant family. Unfortunately, it isn't selling. Although priced competitively and with many interested, no confirmed buyers as of yet. She observed, when I asked why she thought it wasn't selling, she replied, "Many said it looks like too much work!"
After pondering this, I came away wondering if our society has become so "catered too" that the only time we break a sweat is at the gym or when the temps go above 30 C. Are the X-er's, millennials, and Z-er's so adverse to physical labor that meeting our physical needs independently of the big box stores, manufactured food and Google voice shopping has faded into the recent past? With 1.2% of the population actively employed in agriculture, it is apparent that the vast majority of North Americans have lost the connection between reality and the virtual world. Oh well, I have to go sharpen the scythe and cut some weeds as I watch my neighbor harvest peas in his $500,000 combine harvester. Go ahead; call me an old fashion oddball! I've been called worse.