Historical Reenactment: How Far Can You Go?

Some folks think what we’re doing out here is really out there, so I thought I could put things into some perspective. Extremes exist even among the extremists – the hardcore homesteaders, the survivalists, the simplicity freaks – but the bar is moving even lower these days. Restaurant chefs in big cities are buying into the trend to go low big time, some of them even planting their own kitchen gardens and requiring their menus come from within 30 miles. Now that lowering our carbon footprint is an international movement (being manipulated of course by advertisers to sell new products), I’ll bet within a few years even the craziest of the crazy won’t be considered that crazy anymore.

So I’d like to share some stories of folks who have led the pack in low, even when they might not have meant to do that. My first fascination with self-reliance was observing the Czechs and their various skills during my Peace Corps service, talk about a low carbon footprint, they hardly even produced any garbage in the home! But it was not until a few years later, when I was interviewing a young Czech man for my first novel, that I really witnessed low. His name was Petr, a buff and handsome 20-something who was into historical reenactment.

Maybe you don’t know what that is. It’s a troupe of amateur actors and history buffs who sometimes travel and work at castles recreating scenes and skills for tourists. Most of the time they do it for free, much of the time they don’t even have an audience.

He took us to his “camp,” a few acres among lovely rolling fields and meadows where he and a dozen others practiced their various trades: pottery, metal work, old school carpentry, savory dishes cooked underground or over fire, and of course the crowd-pleasing skills of swordsmanship and archery. It was one of the most far-out things I’d ever witnessed first-hand and relatively sober. This small group of folks, who had full-time day jobs as bank clerks and secretaries, and school teachers, chose to spend their entire weekends and vacations there, way out in the sticks, doing everything exactly as it would have been done in pre-Medieval times. There were no motors or electricity or plumbing, all the structures were built by them with tools replicated from the period. It was as authentic as could ever be imagined by an American – the needle to mend their boots was carved from bone, the thread was home-spun, the boots themselves were cut from leather tanned and fashioned themselves. They bragged that one pair of boots had taken months to produce, and they had only the one pair to show for it, several others having been total failures. I have never seen such pride in achievements in my life, not before or since, nor have I been among a happier group of 20-somethings. They had no clue about carbon, these guys were doing it just for kicks!

There are also the hardcore homesteaders and survivalists I read about and DO NOT envy one little bit. The ones who refuse fridge and freezer top the list (Hello, how do you keep your vodka and paté chilled?!). There are others out there who live without electricity altogether (so how on earth do you connect to the web?!), NO thanks! I will never be one of these hard core types.

But there are other ideas out there that sound crazy that I am dying to try, like the composting toilet. I’ve been researching this one and can’t wait to share all that crap with you here (hehheh). I’m willing to try just about anything, but I know myself pretty well, the only kind of homesteader I can really aspire to becoming would be of the somewhat spoiled diva variety, except I think I might be the only one. I would love no motors, but how would the work get done? I would love handmade tools, but who the hell would make them? We will try milling our own lumber and growing and grinding our own heirloom wheat someday, but for now, it’s still baby steps. Thank heavens.

Published on Jun 1, 2010

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