A mountain storm ill-prepares one for its sublime power. Within hours, the power flicks on and off and is out. Night has long fallen, and the mountain–a Iago–shows another, more fearsome side of itself.
Its power exposes our powerlessness. Days without power and without adequate supplies reveal how little one who has acquired an excellent formal education in the analysis of grand ideas has learned to survive. The folly of what goes under the label of higher education is evident when one cannot use a computer or credit card to secure one’s material needs. Technologists such as Google’s Larry Page who assert that Google is working at only 0.1% of innovation miss, in their fancies, the essential facts of existence. Can one start a fire with the loose materials on hand? Can one make food so that it lasts for days? Purify water? Get a car down a mountainside once covered with snow under which lie layers of ice, water, and loose sediment?
This (lest it go undeclared) is an argument against the identification of education with research or formalized skills acquisition; against, therefore, industrial civilization. It is also written in celebration–not unqualifiedly so but vigorously to be sure–of the homespun practical arts. It is, that is to say, a none-too-delicate case for the starting of fires, the cooking of available food, the building and repairing of fences and sputtering cars, the mending of clothes, the securing and maintenance of fresh water. The essentials for a good human life can, in the coming decades, no longer be taken for granted. The mountain is an omen of another way of being.
Our neighbors grin when they ask us why we moved to rural Appalachia at the height of winter. To live deliberately. To front only the essentials. To learn how to die… For mountain life, words and worlds apart from the draws of civilization, teaches one to be humble in the face of one’s frailties and, as the snow melts under the thankful noonday sun, as the sun shines solemnly upon the distant trees, to stand momentarily in awe–spade biting into snow, back close to spasming–of its glorious beauties. Then, another exhausted breath before the spade is thrust again.