I Went to a Survivalist Festival and It Prepped Me for Pandemic End-Times

Last summer season, I determined to find out how to survive. Nothing too severe. Build a hearth. Identify toxic crops. Maybe hunt a small animal. I was by no means a Boy Scout, however I’ve all the time had an ambient mistrust of the trendy world. I figured that having some survival abilities may come in useful when issues get dangerous a couple of a long time from now. So I drove up from South Florida to a 940-acre farm simply exterior of Asheville, NC, to attend the Firefly Gathering, the nation’s largest primitive know-how competition. There, smiling New Age-types promised to educate and have a good time the religious and technical abilities of our ancestors so as to reside in concord with the Earth. But beneath all their good vibes I may make out an ominous imaginative and prescient of the long run.

I didn’t count on them to be so proper so quickly.

On the campgrounds, I anticipated a lot of woo-woo earnestness. After all, this was a competition with out electrical energy or operating water, no web and no smartphones. The crowd was stuffed with hippie varieties, armed with didgeridoos, extensive eyes, and unrelenting positivity. But the competition was additionally attended by Christian homesteaders, blue-collar craftsmen, anarcho-primitivists towing round blonde, androgynous-looking youngsters and yoga pants-wearing graduate college students. Polite and cheery, they have been like a assist group for our dimming world. But they weren’t, within the conventional sense, preppers. The four-day competition was like if Mad Max was set in Canada. They most popular teepees to bomb shelters, hand-carved picket spoons to assault rifles. “I’m an empath,” a lady named Tara instructed me my first evening, as tears slid down her cheeks. “I can feel the Earth’s pain.” I was fast to dismiss their alarmism. Things are dangerous, sure, however, on the time, I discovered their issues to be exaggerated. Like they have been making an attempt to justify their quirky hobbies with a fantastical future.

Courtesy Firefly Gathering

When Firefly launched in 2007, 200 people confirmed up. But lately, it has drawn greater than a thousand individuals. Growing misery concerning the local weather helps to clarify the spike, mentioned Marissa Percoco, Firefly’s govt director. “A portion of the people are motivated by fear,” she mentioned. “They don’t see modern society as a viable option.” She first attended Firefly in 2010, when she was dwelling off the grid, together with her 4 youngsters, close to Chattanooga, TN. “I taught a fermentation class,” she mentioned, “and right away felt like I wasn’t alone.”

In 2019, Percoco’s workforce capped the variety of attendees at 800, for a extra intimate studying expertise. The lessons lined sensible survival topics, corresponding to scythe methods and how to butcher rabbits and make instruments out of deer bone. Others have been a bit extra whimsical: natural contraception, conversing with land spirits, plastic remediation meditation.

I couldn’t resist a number of the extra peculiar lessons. Symbiosis and the Ecology of Paradise was taught by a biologist named Lee Golos. Golos, who wore a bohemian poncho and was a useless ringer for pre-Islam Cat Stevens, defined that 150,000 years in the past, people and animals, together with apex predators, lived in a paradise, thanks to an abundance of berries. We can return to this life, he mentioned, if we embrace anarchism and permaculture. A lady requested whether or not, on this berry-eating utopia, pleasant grizzly bears can nanny her youngsters. Golos nodded, as if to say, “Of course.”

I took one other class with an herbalist who referred to as himself the Bush Ninja (his actual identify was Alex Howe). He led a class on historical well being treatments. For the category, he unfold out an assortment of natural medicines he procured whereas dwelling in South Africa. They have been all bitter and promised every kind of cures. The Bush Ninja instructed us we’d like extra bitter issues in our lives. We’ve saturated our diets with an excessive amount of sweetness. One of the medicines was derived from the petrified piss of a gopher. It wasn’t so dangerous.

Firefly GatheringCourtesy Firefly Gathering

The most intense class of the competition had me stuffed inside a tiny sweat lodge with 25 different semi-naked males and ladies. We huddled in darkness round a pit that held a dozen glowing, fire-soaked stones, our sweaty limbs rubbing up towards one another. This class was supposed to get us in contact with our ancestors by struggling, however I may solely take into consideration how a lot oxygen we had left to breathe. The sweat lodge chief, Uncle Skee Strong Wind Pratt of the Pima tribe of Arizona, poured bowl after bowl of water over the rocks and scorching vapor burned our lungs. I knew it was harmful, however I felt I had to belief Uncle Skee. After 20 minutes, Uncle Skee opened the canvas flap, letting cool air, gentle, and reduction flood into the hut. He invited us to pray or sing aloud. People mentioned issues about feeling the embrace of Mother Nature’s womb and sang concerning the love and presence of our ancestors. After about two hours we exited the hut. Everyone was lined in sweat-caked mud and we lined up to stare in one another’s eyes and then make a lengthy embrace earlier than we washed off in a chilly stream close by. What I wouldn’t give now for the flexibility to hug a bunch of corny, sweaty strangers.

What I wouldn’t give now for the flexibility to hug a bunch of corny, sweaty strangers.

I made certain to be taught at the very least one sensible talent. I attended a class on how to make a hearth with a bow drill, an historical technological improve from rubbing two sticks collectively. I failed once more and once more to get a blaze going. The spindle slipped out of the bow, or the embers died, or I burned my hand towards the friction-hot wooden. But the teacher, a massive, shirtless boy simply barely out of his teenagers, was affected person. After an hour of rubbing, the coal turned purple. I rigorously packed it into some tinder and softly blew air into the smoldering matter I held in my arms. Smoke spiraled from the embers and a hearth emerged. I held the flame in entrance of me like an providing and the younger teacher let loose a primal whoop. “You did it!” He shouted. It was the very first thing I’ve ever made utilizing solely the Earth. I’ve hated every thing I’ve ever written, however I was happy with that little hearth.

Firefly GatheringCourtesy Firefly Gathering

A woodworker named Marc Kessler led a class on how to make hand-hewn wooden beams. I missed his class as a result of I was too busy sampling rodent pee, however had a probability to chat with him over a hearth. He sported a buckskin jacket he made himself. He instructed me I may reside on $four,400 a 12 months. “We pray for the apocalypse every day,” he instructed me. “Something has got to change. We’re screwing it all up.”

When I left Firefly, my skepticism was nonetheless intact. I doubted the practicality or want of many of those abilities in some imagined end-of-world situation. Now, nevertheless, the virus has modified all that. These individuals have been forward of the curve. This virus is a delicate apocalypse. A gown rehearsal for what’s to come. And these festival-goers haven’t simply the technical information wanted to survive, however one thing much more necessary—hope for a form future.

This 12 months’s Firefly Gathering has been cancelled, and it’s a disgrace as a result of I would most actually attend. I keep in mind there being a class that taught which crops are secure to use in place of bathroom paper.


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