Any of us can make what we need to survive. But we can’t do it alone.

Bartering by Brian Cronin

Illustration © Brian Cronin, excerpted from 100 Skills You’ll Need for the End of the World (as We Know It)

I have friends who seem to be able to do almost anything. They might, say, build houses and weld machinery by day, care for chickens and horses and bees in the evening, and sit down at night to knit hats or practice the violin. Everybody knows people like this, I think, and there’s a tendency to glorify them as super-human or to sentimentalize them as quaint or old-fashioned — but the truth is they are regular people who took the time to learn skills, a lot of them, and to master a few.

In the so-called real world, the real things we rely on are almost always made somewhere else, by people we don’t know, in places we’ve never been, who likely speak a language we don’t understand. Our clothes, our food, our tools, our toys, our appliances. Everything.

No wonder we sometimes feel disconnected. We are disconnected.

We’ve grown specialized and dependent in ways that make us worry. What if things change? What if a meteor crashes down or climate change takes hold or our human-made weapons wreak havoc? There’ve always been survivalists, a hardcore fringe, who ready themselves full-time for such an event. (And who knows? Someday we may be at their mercy; they expect as much.) But to believe in impending apocalypse — to place bets on when or how or where or to whom it will happen — is to inhabit an abstract future. To make things is to be immersed in a very practical present.

Any of us can make what we need to survive. We can build our own shelter from logs or lumber, hay bales or tarps, palm fronds or discarded steel. We can gather our own food: hunt or fish, plant vegetables, forage mushrooms, or glean what’s left in an orchard. We can clothe ourselves, too: spin wool, weave fabric, quilt blankets, stitch and tailor and mend. We can invent ways to capture water and energy.

But even those über-makers we all admire can’t do everything. There’s not enough time in the world, for one thing, to learn all you need to know; and besides, not everyone has every talent. (Someday I may coax my fumbling fingers to knit properly, but for now, I’d rather trade homebrew for socks.)

The best makers know that you have to make friends and allies, make deals and compromises, swap and barter and share, make music, make up stories, make time for children and the elderly, and make room in your home for travelers.

In the meantime, we’ll hone our skills and live by our wits and come around, eventually, to the biggest lesson of all:

You’ll never make it by yourself.

Ana Maria Spagna

Ana Maria Spagna lives and writes in Stehekin, Washington, a remote community in the North Cascades. She’s the author of 100 Skills You'll Need for… See Bio

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