Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Nine
This month's Locus Focus theme is settings that make great "unschools." The two we've looked at so far have been "nothing special," in the sense that they were perfectly accessible to the people who already lived on or near them. So much for the idea that the best schools are the hardest ones to get into, aye? Today's setting is another "school" that anyone can walk into and learn in, as long as he has someone who can point out the way.
My Side of the Mountain
by Jean Craighead George
Miss Turner . . . found Gribley's farm in an old book of Delaware County. Then she worked out the roads to it, and drew me maps and everything. Finally she said, "What do you want to know for? Some school project?"
"Oh no, Miss Turner, I want to go live there."
"But, Sam, it is all forest and trees now. The house is probably only a foundation covered with moss."
"That's just what I want. I am going to trap animals and eat nuts and bulbs and berries and make myself a house. You see, I am Sam Gribley, and I thought I would like to live on my great-grandfather's farm."
Let's not underestimate the influence of grandparents, great-grandparents, and all ancestors in general, in education. Not because they often take a direct hand in it, but because just knowing about them is an education in itself. The story of your family's past is your first history lesson--and the best way to teach you that the past is never really the past. Woods and mountains are already some of the best "unclassrooms" there are and don't need much more to improve them . . . but if they also happen to be woods and mountains where your great-grandfather once tried to start a farm, then you've really got something special.
Most of run away from home when we reach our majority, but Sam Gribley is especially lucky: his parents give him their blessing to go before he even hits his teens. Armed with his family's living tradition, his knowledge of edible plants, some basic survival skills, and about about $40 worth of tools, he is confident that he will be able to live off the land for as long as he likes. But while he is ultimately correct, it also takes him a while, and a lot of trial and error, to get there.
There's something about having to make it in nature that shows a person his measure, in an objective way. Or as Alone titled one of his classic blog posts: When Was the Last Time You Got Your Ass Kicked? The good thing about having been in a fight is the same good thing about having tested your ability to survive in nature: you learned something true about yourself. I'm sure we all have a fair guess about how we'd do in either conflict; but only a fortunate few of us really know.
My Side of the Mountain makes the Catskill Mountains seem like the best place in the world for a boy (or girl?) runaway to thrive. Sam is able to cook the roots, stems, leaves, and fruits of more plants than I even knew were edible; to catch fish, frogs and deer for a balanced diet; and to season what he eats with "salt" from burned up hickory wood. He whittles tools from the trees and finds companions among the wild animals. And when he ever finds himself at a loss, he can tramp back to society and get what he needs from the local library. Halfway through rereading it, I longed for an annotated edition that I could take along on a vacation to the Catskills and use to help me live off foraged food for a month. Of course, what I really should have been wishing for was a guide to foraging in a Philippine rainforest. =P
It is a sign of my lack of education that I'd have no idea what to eat in my own natural backyard. Those should have been my first science lessons, rooted in the same soil as my first history lessons. Well, who knew that modern schools can be as effective at separating children from the natural world as they are at separating them from their families? Unschooling seems to be a logical corrective for both.
Question of the Week: What interesting fact can you share about an indigenous plant or animal in the place where you live?
Image Source: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George