The long awaited Chesapeake semester has set sail and after a few short weeks I have already learned so much and gained a greater understanding and appreciation of many things in life that are considered commonplace but have long standing historic significance. The major themes and ideas thus far have been how humans interact with the environment and each other, the ramifications of said interactions, and the processes that dictate the future of an area and how these processes are shaped through the looking glass of the past, specifically in the realm of technological advancements. Currently we are traveling up the western shore of Chesapeake bay and going through time to get a sense of the regions historical significance, environmental diversity, and how human influence has altered the region for better and for worse. The focal point of this blog is on the earliest interactions humans had with the region as hunters and gatherers, and how technology paved the way for new ideas and ways of life.
Two weeks of classes at the Center for Environment and Society’s custom house prepared us for the first journey of the 2013 Chesapeake Semester, fittingly titled History and Sense of Place. Before leaving for Jamestown and Williamsburg however, we took a weekend camping trip to Chino Farms, a 5000 acre farm some twenty minutes from WC. The main purpose of this venture was to explore how we get food from the living environment through means of hunting, gathering, foraging, fishing, as well as why these skills are essential to not only survival but also to living sustainably.
Dr. Schindler, a professor of anthropology and archaeology at the college took the lead in teaching us many of the skills necessary for surviving in the wild such as shelter building, distinguishing between edible and non edible plants, using stone tools, food preparation, and how to utilize the most nutrient dense foods available at a given time and place. I enjoyed learning these skills, but was truly intrigued with the overarching theme of the adverse effects human technologies have with the world around us, whether through hunting and gathering or agriculture and domestication. This experience put into perspective the true scope of our influence on the Earth and our growing disconnect with the natural world and the means of sustainable living.
As hunters and gatherers, everyday life is a constant struggle for the necessary food, shelter, warmth, and safety needed to persist. These are some of the staples of survival that today are immediately available in abundance. One major idea I took away from this camping trip is how difficult it is to survive in the wilderness without technology. Without the development of tools and other technologies, humans would be unable to survive out of the necessity to manipulate the environment to meet our needs. This amount of hard work and the sheer will to stay alive through whatever means possible is an ideology that has changed through time because of many ways technological advancements have made living easier to avoid having to struggle everyday to survive.
We explored a diverse stretch of land on Chino farms and learned of the uses of Sassafras root in tea and root beer, Cat Tail root risomes for starch, Prickley Pear Cactus for the high water content and nutrients, squash for nutrients and vitamins, Quinoa and beans for protein and fiber, bone marrow for fat and major caloric intake, and several different types of meat. These meats included Squirrel, Rabbit, and Duck, all of which we prepared in a single pot filled in with water on a smaller fire. Black walnuts and hickory nuts were roasted by the larger main fire along with the Quinoa and bean stew filled pumpkin, the three cow femur bones, and squash vegetables. The variety of food was great because we got to see and do the work involved in processing the food for consumption. What I learned from this experience is that meals would take a lot of effort to prepare after it was hunted, foraged, and gathered.
This trip shed some light on how life was lived in Chesapeake bay before European colonists arrived and drastically altered the landscape through deforestation and the planting of cash crops like tobacco, corn, and and wheat. Our first trip of journey 1 was to Jamestown where we learned of the contact period in which two vastly different cultures collided. On one hand, the Native American’s lived relatively in harmony with the environment, rarely taking more than necessary, and on the other, the English colonists were out of sync in a foreign land that they sought after with the immediate intention of exploitation of natural resources to turn quick profits with little consideration of the welfare of the environment. The introduction of European technology to the “new world” modernized the traditional means of survival that Native Americans had persisted with for centuries.
There were several questions we discussed while sitting around the campfire:
What practices are more sustainable: hunting and gathering or agriculture and domestication?
How have advancements in technology worked to create an environmental crisis? and how does a higher standard of living, population increase, and resource scarcity contribute to this crisis?
After discussing these major questions at length we found that hunting and gathering is more sustainable than agriculture and domestication, and this is because more efficient extraction technologies involve deforestation, degradation, water and air pollution, and nitrogen fixation to name a few. Although hunting, gathering and foraging is less efficient, it is more sustainable because of the fact.
As for the association of these technological advancements on the environmental crisis, we made the connection to higher living standards and population boom that leads to resource scarcity. After a heated discussion about how to live and the incentives or lack there of to be sustainable, we concluded that in order for this slippery slope to plateau there would have to be a major shift in the way people connect with the world around them with the understanding that its not about having what you want, but wanting what you’ve got and living with conservational awareness and consideration of the longevity of the environment.
In short, the health and prosperity of the planet does not happen by showering 5 minutes less or other tic tac means of feeling environmentally aware, it happens when we learn from humans the came before us that lived in harmony with the land and water, and by example living more sustainably. What it comes down to is that you can’t eat dollar bills, and when mankind has played the field and run the bases to the brink of destruction, mother Nature bats last.
Going into journey 1 from this experience has been a transition that would be lost without the background influence of our trip to Chino farms. This camping trip was an eye opening experience that I will continue to reflect on in times that call for a little perspective.