I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
—Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau’s enouragement is high-minded, but how does one set off on a journey to learn the skills one needs to create and sustain a more satisfying world? Who can teach us?
Growing numbers of people realize the next 20 years will be very different from the last, as energy sources become more scarce and more costly, as climate change transforms the landscape, as corporate and community cultures continue to clash. And these people have begun to reach out, to form invigorating networks, to share their skills, to build a gentle descent from from oil dependence in a warming world.
“These groups will allow people to share their excitement, their skills and resources and their energy for making practical change,” Rob Hopkins wrote in The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. Hoskins coined the term “Transition Towns” to describe this movement.
Bellingham is one such town, with a wider community building a shared vision of resilient and more self-reliant life, with access to a local food supply, sustainable energy sources, a healthy local economy and a growing sense of vitality and community well-being.
These interlocking goals are showcased in the Whatcom Skillshare Faire, a fun festival about teaching and learning all kinds of useful, handy and practical skills. Years ago, lots of people knew how to repair and sharpen tools, make a braided rug, raise chickens, make soap, build a fence, make simple toys and much more. The goal of Skillshare is to help revive some of those skills, and showcase some new ones.
“Our goal is to create a greater opportunity for people to come together, to share what they know,” said Tom Anderson, one of the event organizers and a member of Transition Whatcom. “If people are really passionate about solar dehydrators or want to build a greenhouse or learn about methane digesters or whatever they’re passionate about, we’re creating a venue where we can put those items on display and talk about them, teach people, and have a big party and share.”
Anderson—an engineer, solar energy entrepreneur, and former manager of the county’s Public Utility District—will demonstrate a methane digester that can be built from plans to produce biogas to heat a homestead. Others will demonstrate the fine arts of beekeeping, grain threshing, milling and firemaking. More than 50 exhibitors and a score of musicians will round out the day at the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds.
“Don’t just talk about it,” Anderson said, “do it.
“But don’t take that as an insistence that you have to do it, take it as fun,” he said. “It’s fun to learn, it is fun to try things, it is fun to share. That is the energy we are trying to create.”
The Faire serves in one sense as a distillation of the skills one can learn through the Whatcom Folk School, a revival of the old Northwest Freedom Univesity, Anderson explained. Folk schools are meant to inspire people and encourage new ways of responding to the changing needs of people in a changing world.
The Faire meshes with the goals of Transition Whatcom in that Transition is committed to doing something on the level of the individual about energy and climate issues in our community.
“In this culture, we need to get out of the mindset that somebody else is going to change the world,” Anderson said.”We need to get into the mindset that, ‘If I want this result, I can do this to achieve it.’
“Beyond individual effort,” he said, “the other question is, how do we create a sustainable community? “We know through experience we can’t expect the government to adequately address energy or climate issues, or expect corporate American to do it. If we’re going to do something, we need to do it. Let’s figure out what needs to be done and support one another to do it. And have fun.”
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