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Does your kid have autism, ADD, ADHD? Nope. Modern society is what’s off, not your kid

For about 70,000 years (or 5,780 years for literal Bible believers) our species Homo Sapiens Sapiens has been on Planet Earth. In that time we have proven ourselves to be not only the dominant life form capable of killing everything else, but so good at killing that we are capable of killing ourselves, as well.

Over this long period of time, humans evolved as hunter-gatherers. We spent all our time hunting and gathering food, and we spent most of our time sitting around a camp fire eating meat we had hunted and fruits and herbs we had gathered. It is a lifestyle perfected by the American Indians and known to us today because we largely ended it through mass migration into their pristine Eden.

During the European conquering of America, very few Indians became European, most resisted to the death. The few who willingly adopted European clothing and religion can almost be counted on two hands. Indian schools like the one in Carlisle were renowned for runaways and coercive methods to convince little Indian children to adopt European ways.

On the other hand, many, many, really countless numbers of European Americans “went native.” They willingly sought out and joined with Indian tribes across the continent, wore their tribes’ clothing, spoke their language, adopted their habits and customs. This happened because something innately natural about the hunter-gatherer lifestyle powerfully speaks to the hunter-gatherer that is inside every human.

Even when it is covered by the thin veneer of “civilization” like today.

This is why people today still hunt, camp, hike, fish, seek wilderness etc. Our species evolved in these natural environments doing these exact activities, and these are the activities that are most natural to us humans today.

Look at it mathematically: For 65,000 of our 70,000 years on Planet Earth we humans were only hunters and gatherers; subsequently for 4,500 years we learned to farm and grow our food; then for 150 years following we became industrialized; for 125 years after that we have been eating out of a tin can and driving motorized vehicles; then for 100 years we have lived in the Information Age. Only in the past few decades have we lived as we currently do, in a massive consumer society driven by high sedentary living and complete materialism.

So 30 years divided by 70,000 years equals only 0.00042857% of human time on Planet Earth spent as we live today. This is to point out that our technology-heavy western lifestyle today, which we take for granted, is in fact not even a blip on the radar screen of human existence on the planet.

Which is to say, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is most natural to us, it is hard-wired into us, and the iPhone-heavy digital lifestyle is totally new to our species. Our current lifestyle has a lot of costs that we do not yet understand, and yet we have embraced it in a death grip.

So when your beautiful child is “diagnosed” with autism, ADD, ADHD, etc., be skeptical. It is unlikely that there is anything actually wrong with your kid. What has happened is that our modern industrial, sedentary, virtual, digitized society has developed new standards for living and behavior, and for measuring success, that are completely at odds with how we evolved, how we are hard-wired, how we have lived most of our time on this globe, and how we need to be in order to be our most natural, most happy, most successful.

In a hunter-gatherer society, those young people who notice movement the quickest are not easily distracted. Rather, they are going to be the most successful hunters and warriors on a landscape where movement equals either food or danger, and those who see movement the fastest either live the longest or eat the most food. In that hunter gatherer environment, what we today call ADD is actually an important adaptive skill needed to survive.

So an “autistic” kid today who is obviously bright and technically gifted but socially quirky, was, five thousand years ago, probably the best flint knapping spear head maker in the tribe.

It is today’s Western society that is living at odds with our most human traits, long adapted and refined over tens of thousands of years, and only now considered to be liabilities in a physically weak, feminized, pacific, diabetes-riven technologically-based culture where food is served up by the unhealthy bucket-full with no effort required by the eater.

Got an autistic kid? Put him or her into a more natural setting, away from dominant society where they are mis-judged by unhealthy, unnatural material and behavioral standards, and watch them flourish. Even better, withdraw from it yourself!

Friends in low places

Several years ago several ambitious construction projects were begun, where the building material would come from our own oak trees on our property. Oak may not be the best or easiest building wood, because when it dries it is heavy and as hard as iron, and thus tough on tools and shoulders alike, but it is what we have there.

So oaks were cut, skidded, piled, and then milled in situ over about a five year period. An injury and subsequent surgery prevented me from continuing this remote effort, which then moved forward in fits and starts over several years. When we finally got around to completing the actual projects, much of that beautiful oak had been sitting out for a long time, and in some cases too long. After using up much of that oak lumber, a large amount yet remained in piles, where it had air dried.

Last week was my final drive to get under roof thousands of board feet of two-inch-thick oak boards, heavy beams, and smaller posts, before they started to rot. It was a lot of work. The unusual heat and blazing sun made the work go slower. One thing that surprised me was the absence of mice living in these outdoor piles. Normally mice run and scurry as the wood is moved, having nested among the boards in perfect little hidey holes.

The last pile of drying lumber was finally put away, with just a few boards remaining at the very end, butted up against a huge boulder that makes up part of a stone wall around the yard. As I dismounted the tractor, stepped over to the board ends, and reached down to grab them, a sound caught my attention.

It was a sound that set off primitive alarm bells in my brain.

At first it sounded like a cricket, and then a grasshopper, and then a second later my mind concluded it was a timber rattlesnake. After stepping back, well, let’s say it was an inelegant, well, ugly (it’s a big fat man jumping, after all) leap, minus my usual little girl scream that seems to accompany most of my unplanned and close-up rattlesnake encounters, I looked down.

A long black snake with a yellow diamond pattern was stretched out next to the boulder, about six inches from where my boot heel had settled moments before. The long grass against the boulder had concealed the snake from my eyes, which, frankly, had not looked there, but had rather been focused on the heavy boards, and how I was going to pick them up and manhandle them to their destination across the yard.

The snake’s angular head and erect tail with rattles confirmed it as a timber rattlesnake.

While it was not a huge male rattler, the likes of which I have caught and moved to safety off of roads and trails a number of times since I was a kid, it was nonetheless big enough to permanently remove a chunk of leg muscle. So I admired it for a minute, and then went on to other work elsewhere. When I returned an hour later, it was gone, though I thought I could see it coiled up right under the boulder’s edge. Instead of reaching down with my hands, I used the pallet forks on the tractor to pull out those last boards.

Over the course of the next two days, my mind kept replaying the encounter. In July 2001, when we had owned the property for seven months, DCNR forester Jim Hyland and I had scoured our property, as well as the adjoining State Forest and part of the adjoining private land, looking for rattlesnakes. That day we found a corn snake, a garter snake, a ring neck snake, and two green snakes. No sign of rattlesnakes among the rock and old slate quarries up high. Not even a shed skin.

So for sixteen years we had enjoyed our property without being mindful of rattlers. Our children had been born and raised around the cabin, running freely around the property. Sure, I spent a lot of time in our woods, a certified Tree Farm, and I have always been on the lookout for rattlesnakes, as well as other snakes, but I had seen few snakes at all, and never a rattler.

Snakes are awesome, they are awesomely cool creatures. I bear them no animosity whatsoever. In high school and college a pet boa constrictor kept me company, until she had grown so large that she was regularly breaking out of her cage and hunting our house cats. When I last saw her, she filled up one side of the man’s living room, and he regularly fed her rabbits and squirrels he trapped in his yard. She weighed about 150 pounds then, and was ten years old. I hugged her, but she just laid there, limp and dozing. Snakes…what can you do? Love em the best ya can.

And so now I am confronted with the fact that a potentially dangerous animal shares our camp with us. All around us we have seen rattlesnakes over the years, mostly run over by cars down on the highway, and increasingly I see them all over central and Northcentral Pennsylvania while cruising timber and looking at land. At some point I did expect them to join us as tenants of one sort at the cabin. Under the front porch is where I thought they would first show up, because it’s good cover and the mice like it there. Struggling emotionally to adjust to this new arrangement has not been painful, but it has been harder than I thought it would be.

The absence of mice under the wood piles reminded me why I accept and even welcome the presence of timber rattlesnakes, intellectually if not emotionally. Mice are a major pest, and they are destructive little bastards. Hearing them chirp and run inside the walls of the cabin at night, right next to my bed, is a source of aggravation. When they eat porch and barn furniture for nesting material, it is infuriating. They pee everywhere, and it stinks. We regularly trap them around the buildings and poison them inside the barn. Help reducing their numbers is most welcome, and anyone or anything that helps achieve that goal is a friend of mine.

Timber rattlers are beautiful to look at, and they are normally pretty docile, requiring a lot of pestering and rough handling to elicit a strike. But like all wild animals they are unpredictable, and the risk they pose to little kids playing outside is significant. Fortunately, our kids have reached ages where they can think carefully for themselves, consciously avoiding areas where rattlers would naturally congregate. And we now infrequently host families with little kids as guests, as most of our friends have kids the same ages as our own children, able to take guidance, if they are with their parents at all.

So the risks versus the benefits works out in our favor. The benefits of rattlers sharing our property are high, because they eat the hell out of mice. Rattlesnakes are my new friends, in low places, where they are needed most.

Welcome, friends.

 

Central PA is a fantastic place to live, work, play

Today the Dauphin County Planning Commission held its second annual awards ceremony for outstanding development projects around the county.

Held at the historic Fort Hunter barn, and funded in large part by engineering firm HRG and other private donors, the spartan but hard-hitting event showcased how advanced central PA really is, and why it is that way.

At one point in my life, I lived in the Washington DC area. Few people there actually liked living there, and the few pockets of satisfied residents were limited to historic areas with parkland and small downtowns with attractive antique homes. Northern Virginia and some of the old, well-planned communities along the major roads into Washington come to mind. I myself hated the heck out of the area, because its dominant feature was suburban sprawl, a sterile hybrid of city and country.

Happy was the day when I returned to my beloved Central Pennsylvania, and for many good reasons: Little to no real traffic, nice people, beautiful landscapes, lots of protected open space to hunt, fish, camp and hike in, low-cost housing and low cost-of-living, and many other amenities.

At today’s award ceremony, the audience was reminded again and again by speakers just how great a place this area is to live in, raise a family, work, and play, as in camp, canoe, hunt, fish, picnic, hike, etc. That is true. Having traveled extensively, my heart and mind always return to central PA. It’s a great place to live.

On that note, a personal note to new Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse: Good luck. Our city has been in trouble. Signs are everywhere that a lot of hard work lies ahead to get it out of the rut it is stuck in. But early signs of Papenfuse’s administration are positive; not so much statements, but actions, like hiring competent staff to serve the citizens.

Harrisburg is PA’s capital city and the regional hub. Ten years ago, everyone wanted to move into the city. I hope that the awards handed out today for hard work, exciting vision, and high standards are an indication of Harrisburg’s new-found success.

Ode to bear camp

Not too long ago, just a few years, actually, a couple hundred thousand Pennsylvania hunters would gather together for the three days before Thanksgiving.

They’d meet under old tar paper shacks, new half-round log cabins, and “camps” both fancier and more rustic. Wherever they gathered was “bear camp,” the place from which they would sally forth in the state’s most rugged topography in search of a lifetime trophy, one of Pennsylvania’s big black bears.

This 100-year tradition that spawned many long Thanksgiving holidays and peaceful family gatherings among the quiet outer fringes of civilization was inadvertently destroyed by the introduction of a Saturday opener for bear hunting.

Now, pressed for time, bear hunters can get out on one day and say they tried. Lacking Sunday hunting for bears, these hunters might hang out, cut some firewood, and then return home to watch a football game Sunday evening. Fewer hunters make camp together for the remaining Monday through Wednesday season. Sure, hunters are out there, and some camps have tagged incredible numbers of bears in recent years, but the momentum of camp itself is gone, fragmented by the introduction of Saturday hunting and the absence of Sunday hunting.

To say that bear camp was a unique amalgamation of individuals is a gross understatement. Used to be that only the crazy die hard bear hunters would be so driven as to take off of work. Now, so many guys come and go on Saturday that the flavor and chemistry of bear camp is changed, and for the poorer.

I’m an advocate for Sunday hunting. Lots of reasons why, but the loss of that bear camp feeling is a good one by itself. If bear season opened Saturday and continued through Sunday, the old experience would be resurrected. I miss it, because I miss the guys who come up now to only hunt Saturday, and by the time I arrive Sunday, they’re packing up or already gone. Gone are the easy times catching up about our kids, families, and work.

Now, bear camp has evolved two “shifts,” the Saturday hunters, and the oddball crew made of guys who can think of no better way to spend time than out in steep, remote areas, hanging off cliffs, falling down steep ravines, and sitting around with buddies back at camp at night to laugh about it. Two shifts, same camp. Same roof, different people.

Sad. I want that old feeling back. Gimme Sunday hunting for bears, please, so I can reconnect with the old friends I hunted bears with for over a decade before the advent of a Saturday opener.

UPDATE: Well, plenty of people have weighed in on this essay. Seems that Saturday has opened up bear hunting to more kids than ever before, and more hunters in general. Concentrating most of the hunters on one day is a fact of lacking Sunday hunting. And no one disagreed that the momentum has now been lost on the week days.

Last day of summer…so sad

It is tough to know who enjoys summer time more, me or my kids. Every summer we emphasize time together camping, on day trips to historic sites, beach trips and saltwater fishing, and both day camp and sleepover camp. We spend lots of time together, and by the end of each summer I feel like a big kid.

I admit that it’s hard to say goodbye. But it’s necessary.

Northcentral PA: More Bears than Deer

Although our gang got no bears today, many camps around us did. Just one camp, Camp Orlando got five …five! That’s like deer season, except it’s actually bears. I think bear season is the new deer season in Northcentral Pennsylvania.