Someday, it's all gonna come crashing down. Play a sick little guessing game: Will it be the bird flu? Nuclear world war? Global warming? Bioterrorism? Economic collapse? Whatever's in the cards, the people behind the upcoming Preemptive Post-Apocalyptic Summer Camp want YOU to be prepared.
The camp is headed up by Tony Deis, founder of the local TrackersNW—a program for youths and adults that provides a gamut of classes, from wilderness skills to street theater—and Mythmedia, a nonprofit that fuses a vision for sustainable living with hipster media and events like the annual "Nuclear Winter Formal." The central figure for the week-plus long camp is Urban Scout, a flesh-and-blood superhero who walks the concrete streets in a loincloth and mud camouflage, a living example of preparedness for the collapse of civilization, one who will be able to "watch it like a spectacle, but not be affected by it."
By teaching skills like bicycle repair, tracking, foraging, and skinning roadkill squirrels, Urban Scout and his posse of instructors aim "in good humor and all sincerity" to educate others to be able to watch the apocalypse alongside them—rather than perish in ignorance and panic. How do you think you'll do when the lights go out for good, the last drop of gas exits the engine of your car, and the faucets cut off your easy supply of clean water? Spend some time with these guys and you just might have a shot. I, along with some of my more esteemed colleagues, took a day to explore some of the camp's curriculum, because even though I vastly prefer a penthouse to a DIY debris shelter, I don't want to go out like a prissy little bitch. No way, no how.THIS IS THE ENDIt is a widely held conviction among environmentalists that within the next 100 years we will be forced to live in a much different environment. However you slice it, the impact that human civilization has inflicted on this planet is like the balance on a high-interest credit card about to max out—the only good news is that some fucking "collection agency" will be the least of your problems. And while "apocalypse" is perhaps an overdramatic, cultish way of putting it, the fact remains: If you're smart, you'll be ready to change. If you're even smarter, you're starting to make changes now.
Our day of Preemptive Post-Apocalyptic Camp started in Oaks Bottom. A nature reserve, it's about the closest you can get to a natural environment within Portland city limits—even if that means it has a concrete bike path running through it.
The philosophy is that in a post-apocalyptic society, you're better off in the wilderness. As Urban Scout explains, "People have the false perception that cities are where the resources are. Not true. Resources are imported into cities, and cities only have three to seven days' worth of food. People [will] flock to cities only to find a starving and diseased populace. In order to successfully survive collapse, you must seek shelter in the furthest reaches of wilderness."
So while in the long term, wilderness survival skills are probably key, scavenging from civilization is part of the camp's curriculum as well. After all, it's unlikely (though not impossible) that the 'lypse will go down overnight, and you'll have to be savvy about making the transition from a ruined urban environment to what will be, at best, a communally agrarian lifestyle.SURVIVING THE CITYCampers who enroll in the Preemptive Post-Apocalyptic Camp can expect to actively learn and experience "urban camping" (kind of like being a bum, but better and smarter), break-in/foraging expeditions (such as to Urban Scout's own home), siphoning gas, dumpster diving, and other Mad Max urban scavenge techniques.
My favorite of these end-time self-sufficiency tactics is eating fresh roadkill—the key word being "fresh." And as long as it hasn't been infested with bugs or frying in the sun for too long, it's really not that gross when you stop being a pansy and really think about it. I watched in fascination the process of skinning a squirrel that had been found that morning (hint: First you must "release the anus"), which we then cooked and ate (I hate to say it, but it really did just taste like chicken), along with beaver (legally trapped, prepared in a crock pot, and delicious), and venison (also a victim of the road, and good, but a little tough).
Asked to explain its benefits, Urban Scout says, "First off, roadkill is free. Second, it's 'free range' (although probably not so organic). Third, you have to skin it and gut it yourself. Most people today don't know how to do these things. They don't even know that what they're eating had a face. If you want to survive collapse, you better get used to meeting your meat face to face. I'm not opposed to hunting. Roadkill is just easy." While some food will be bought, dumpster dived, or otherwise foraged over the course of the camp, be prepared to eat like this and appreciate it.JUST THE ESSENTIALSYou'll recall our basic needs from your earliest grade-school anthropology lessons: food, shelter, water, fire. In addition to our roadkill and native plant potluck, we were taught to make a quick-and-dirty shelter—an important skill to have in emergency situations, even without an apocalypse looming. We boiled and drank disgusting, dirty water from Oaks Bottom, from the bog where we camouflaged ourselves by smearing mud all over our bodies, faces, clothes, and hair. We were shown how to make fire without matches. All are essential. But perhaps the most important lesson you can learn from these Preemptive Post-Apocalypticists is about awareness that's deeply ingrained within us—although obscured by our accustomedness to modernity.
"We don't teach 'skills,'" explains Scout, "We teach how and when to take opportunities. For example, a wolf could be engaged in a nap, when suddenly a bird or such animal hops by who didn't see the wolf. Wolves can, like lightning, awake, kill the animal, eat it, and fall back to sleep. That is the quickness of the wolf. That is what we want [to teach]. It seems to me, that any camp teaching about the future, about adaptation, should really form its curriculum around this concept of seizing opportunities. You never know when opportunity knocks, but you have to learn to listen for it. Then and only then will you be prepared for unknown situations."
Part of the training is learning to adapt and blend into the environment. We camouflaged ourselves, learned to walk silently, to fade into the scenery, and become invisible. This culminated in an exercise in which we crossed the Bottom from one end to the other, trying not to be seen by anyone, even if that meant crawling across a field of hay fever-inducing grass weed on our bellies like silent snakes.They also teach tracking, and the importance of being aware of who and what else is in your environment—both in the wilderness (such as following animal tracks) and in an urban setting (using things such as cigarette butts). Additionally, Deis taught us to use birds to gauge what's going on in the environment—explaining that if you familiarize yourself with their calls and behaviors, you can tell from miles away when something threatening has entered the area. That's why a hunting animal has such trouble with alert prey; there's an entire network of wildlife observing their environment then blabbing about it to the rest of the forest, and the attentive would-be victim only has to eavesdrop to take advantage of nature's built-in alarm system.
And while tracking and bird language have practical purposes, they are also tools to achieving a martial arts-like consciousness, which is ultimately of greater import.
Says Scout, "[Tracking] is a way of perceiving the world. Humans evolved by linking information together, and stringing it into a story. The better the storytellers, the better the chance they had for survival. Our mission is to link information together to help us find shelter, water, fire, and food in any environment—urban or wilderness."THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (AND THEY FEEL FINE)
While few can claim to look forward to the demise of civilization (Scout says all he cares about is "the sooner, the softer"), if you're going to have any kind of joy post-apocalyptically, you'd better sidle up to Scout, Deis, and their crew.
The invention of Urban Scout (yes, he has a Clark Kent-like alter ego named Peter Bauer, who wears normal clothes and has a normal job) is playful, yet considerately designed to save you, and teach you to save yourself. Bauer explains the purpose of his alter ego thusly: "Indigenous stories giving animate life to all things—trees, animals, rocks, clouds, stars—stemmed from peoples' understanding that you must give back to your environment. Civilization has been a process of making people perceive the world as dead. It is time we create stories that will inspire new cultures and bring the world back to life. Time for a hero to rise up from the ashes of a diseased world and light the way to a sustainable future, where humans once again give back more than they take. Urban Scout is that hero."The crew is also currently working on a feature film about the character. They may be artists, but the idea behind the Preemptive Post-Apocalyptic Camp is always to be genuinely communal, respectful, knowledgeable, and entertaining. They are not paranoid conspiracy theorists who hide in basements stockpiling guns, radios, and canned food. They'd rather stockpile beers in the cool embankments of bogs from which they good-naturedly bean you in the head with fetid gobs of mud.
Just don't try calling them hippies.
"Ha, ha. Fuck you," replied Scout when I broached the topic. "I fucking hate hippies. Hippies are pot smoking, peace- and love- and sustainability-begging pacifists with no understanding of the power structure of civilization, or even a shred of understanding of the laws that govern the natural world. Hippies claim to love the earth, but most I've spoken with do not even know five native plants to their own bioregion. Preemptive Post-Apocalypticism is not about peace™ and love™ and sustainability™. It's about survival. It's about adaptation. It's about deep knowledge of place."
Preemptive Post-Apocalyptic Summer Camp takes place from August 28-September 1 for ages 16 and up; cost is $149 plus $50 for food supplies, and includes overnight "lodging" (to be taken loosely). Register by contacting TrackersNW at 453-3038 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see trackersnw.com for more information on the camp and other TrackersNW programs.
Go check out the Urban Scout video over on our Pod-N-Vod page, simply by clicking here!