On March 10, 1998 Larry Dean Olsen and Tom Brown, Jr. met for the first time in nearly 20 years. That meeting, planned for over a year, occurred at a Boy Scout camp near Boulder Creek, California. The meeting was requested by Larry and quickly agreed to by Tom as an effort to try to bring some peace to a divided primitive skills family. Their conversation during the day covered some of the contentious issues that trouble the movement, but much of the talk was the stuff of becoming reacquainted - shared stories, techniques and humor. At one point several of Tom's instructors demonstrated what may be the world's largest bow/drill set, with a drill that was six inches wide and five feet long. Toward the end of the day both men agreed to an interview conducted by David Purviance of Missoula, Montana. The complete transcript of that hour-long interview follows.
Interview with Tom Brown, Jr. and Larry Dean Olsen
Question: There will be several thousand people who will be interested in the fact that the two of you have met. Many will be pleased with the news, some will be puzzled, and even a few annoyed. But all, I think, will be greatly interested in what you talked about. Will you please summarize your discussions today.
Larry: Well, let me lead out on that maybe. I've been interested for a long time to lay to rest any thought or idea that I might be involved in a big controversy or vendetta of any kind that has to do with Tom Brown and myself. There has been contention, there have been things said that were unverifiable, in my mind, and as I attended the Rabbitstick rendezvous and heard some of those things it just clicked in my mind that this needs to be put to rest. So I came here for several reasons, first of all, to bury the hatchet, which we did. And secondly to verify in my own mind who Tom Brown is, who he really is. And the stories I've heard and even the books he has written are not material to that judgment, in my mind. What's material to me is the character of the man that you are looking at. I feel a good spirit here, and I go by that pretty heavy. That's better to me than evidence of any kind that he can write about.
So whatever else there may be or whatever else anyone has said is now immaterial to me. I see a good man here who is doing good work and a good thing for the community that he works with. And that's what really counts.
Another reason I came was to learn a little bit about how Tom does what he does, what it is about the man that keeps people coming back and the charismatic way that he presents himself, and I've been impressed with that too.
Tom: That's saying something since I'm sick as a dog today.
Larry: Well, you can look through all of that. So that's why I came.
Tom: I have to echo the same thing, but to me I want to take it a step further in that, as you know, I've been seriously concerned with the route the Earth is taking. Things falling apart, frogs disappearing, as we've talked about, and I believe that everybody in the environmental movement and especially people who are so very close to the Earth such as abo people. People who are interested in aboriginal skills and going back to the Earth on a one to one basis like a child. We've got to set our petty differences and everything aside and look for a greater vision-something we can all work for instead of working against each other. A common theme, a common focus, which I think is staring us right in the face -- the total destruction of our planet, one way or the other. It has to stop with getting rid of all the rumor and innuendo and all the other crap that floats around. It hurts. No matter how much we pretend we are callous to it, and I know Larry has had some in his life, it hurts. And it takes away energy and your focus. We've got better places to put that energy and focus.
I learned more about Larry today. I am just in awe of his program. I have been since the first time I heard about it and the depths he's taken it to. I see a man who is very, very committed and very spiritual in his beliefs. It's not just a superficial approach to the wilderness, it's a much deeper approach.
Question: What do each of you hope ultimately will be gained from this meeting?
Larry: I would hope that the spirit of contention will die and that people will begin to look at the things that we are both doing in the true light that it should be. Which is that we are committed to helping people learn. Though there may be different styles of doing it and may be different directions that it goes over the years, it's still the same thing. It's a heartfelt interest in people and as Tom says, the Earth itself. I would hope that (the contention) would disappear now. And that even the most angry person, whoever that person may be, will reconsider and at least quit belly aching about it.
Tom: Yeah, get on to the battle. But I think that you look at the whole movement of people back to the Earth, it's so fragmented right now. Hopefully this kind of meeting and union here will pull a lot of people in to one mind and one heart, and one battle.
Larry: Yeah, you've got to get that story into the article about the two battle lines coming together and they stop and fight each other. That is really poignant.
Tom: How the old man put it to me was like a mess of people running to battle and on the way they're taking swings at each other and they're kicking each other and they're throwing each other down. They're still going to battle but they ain't ever making it there. Their energy is so spent, pointing fingers, and pushing and kicking and biting. They lose sight of the goal.
Question: The two of you made some plans today for the future. Can you talk about what plans you've laid that involve each other?
Larry: Well I'll tell you what I'd like Tom to do. I would like to extend the invitation to him to come to Anasazi and see what we're doing and spend some time out on the trail with me at that place and also to come to a future Rabbitstick or Wintercount. And encourage some of his people to attend. Because I do think that we have a lot to offer and I think that if people can see Tom and get acquainted with him and feel the spirit that I feel that they will be ashamed of a lot of stuff they were thinking in the past. Regardless of what experiences they may have had in the past, that's no longer relevant. And it just needs to be put to rest and that's one way we can do that.
Tom: I'd like Larry to come out and see how we run things, different, of course, than he's done it in the past because each person has their own teaching method. And to understand me, my instructors, my teaching methods and the people that come to see me and realize in the final analysis that we're all doing the same thing. But just to realize we go about it a little bit differently. We want to stay in touch. We want to keep involved with each other, I think that's the bottom line. (Larry: I think so.) We want to keep a friendship that should have been going 20 years ago until today (Larry: Yeah) we've lost 20 years. I think we could be good for each other. I mean he's the only person I've been able to talk to about burn out and how to raise your kids the right way. Who else am I going to go to? I think we can both help each other that way.
Question: Primitive skills practitioners have sometimes been criticized by environmentalists and those who espouse "leave no trace" philosophy as despoilers rather than protectors of the Earth. Is there any validity to these accusations or concerns?
Tom: Let me answer that one first. I love this one. There's the old survival philosophy which is, I think, the European way of thinking that the land is put here for our abuse and use, to do with as we wish. But I believe that a true survivalist is a caretaker of the Earth. Things must be harvested. Things must be adjusted and balanced. A survivalist put into a forest like this that is ailing, overgrown with trees killing each other off could actually be a positive effect, knowing what to take and when to take it. They are not just a caretaker, they're a healer. We're not a mistake from the Creator. We belong here and if we do this correctly as a survivalist, we are as important as the wolf is to the deer herd or the fox is to the rabbit population. And I know that Larry teaches that same thing, whenever you gather a plant, whenever you use a material, the Earth is put back as we found it but better. I believe that this attitude of "leave no trace" is like passing somebody wounded in the woods, saying hello and leaving. I look at the Earth as dying and it needs survivalists as healers. Instead of passing that person by, bandage the wounds. Fix what ails them and then go on.
Larry: I think if we lock up the Earth in the name of environmentalism, we've taken ourselves away from the Earth. And there's no hope for us. I had a little story I wanted to illustrate that with. I've often said to people who have challenged me on that when they say: "What are you doing to the land out there when you take these groups of people out on the land?" And I say, "Well the entire group, probably does less damage than one cow does in the same amount of time." Cattle, although they keep the grass down and keep things cleared out and everything, they can still be very destructive to water holes and that kind of thing, and we don't do that.
The good illustration of that is when I was teaching at Brigham Young University I used to take my classes out to a place called West Mountain and there was a hillside out there that was just lush with biscuit root and sego lilies and fritillary bulbs. There were seven or eight different bulbs you could dig out there. And I would take a class of 30-40 people at a time, and sometimes three or four sections of those and have a hundred people out there, all with their digging sticks, digging on that hillside. I pretty well let them randomly go through but always with the caution that if you are digging a little patch here, always leave two or three. Don't dig all of them, leave some of them. They were pretty respectful for that. Then I began to notice after the third year of doing this using this same area that every year they'd come up just as thick or thicker. And by the third year we began to notice that the bulbs were bigger and better. And after eight years of working that same ground every spring, we were getting that little thing they call the Indian potato that was usually about as big around as the joint in your little finger, they were now as big as onion bulbs.
Then an environmentalist group contacted me and wanted to send somebody over to interview me, and they challenged me on the destruction of wild plants in the environment. Well the sego lily is a state flower of Utah so they didn't want us to dig any of those and I just had to say, well come with me. And I took them out there and showed them what had happened. Then I took them over to another place where that hadn't been done and showed them how they were there. And in fact as stewards of that piece of ground, we had actually improved, not only the ground itself by loosening it up, but we'd improved the size of the bulbs, we had improved the habitat that was there in many ways. And I really believe that man is the steward of the Earth and that we have that veritable command from the Almighty to take care of it and to, what did he tell Adam and Eve, till it, you know? Make it fruitful and improve it and I think that's just what we are doing. We tend it.
And primitive people generally do that, although we have to admit that sometimes they ran whole herds of buffalo over a cliff just to get enough to eat that day. There were lots of abuses even back then. But I think the Spirit of the whole thing is that things work in their natural process and that man is part of that natural process and we need to take up that.
Tom: We're finding now that the Native Americans used to set fires all through Yosemite and all the way back out to Yellowstone. So as soon as we got this idea that we know better what to do, no fires. Now it's a big tinder bundle waiting to happen. And we lose everything in a horrible burn. I believe firmly that a better name for a survivalistst is a healer or a caretaker, a steward.
Question: Each of you has dedicated your whole life to the study and teaching of primitive skills, why are you so attracted to this field?
Tom: For me it's freedom. The best time I remember in my life was when I was 19 or 20. I was out in my parents' back yard in a pair of jeans, cut-offs, no shoes, no shirt. My mom yelled out the back window because she knew I had my nose on the ground, "Be back for dinner by six." I was -- the following June. To me survival is the ultimate freedom. This society can't offer it to you. To pull your car off the side of the road, and say to hell with you, I'm going back to Mother Earth and live there. And know you can take care of yourself or your family. Beyond that you are no longer an alien to your own planet- the backpack is some kind of a breathing device like a ball and chain. You can't go very far. You run out of provisions, you're back to society. And that's breaking that chain. I'm not saying, hey, go out all the time in survival. No, go camping and everything else, but when you've got the survival skills and you are no longer afraid of Earth Mother or the wilderness, then it's not a wilderness anymore, it's home. That's the lure, the mystery of those skills. Plus for me, it gets me in contact with something real in my life. Hey, I made this bow and arrow. I made that fire. I didn't go to a store and buy the damn thing. I don't need to. That self-sufficiency is something that is kind of lost in this country -- the mystery, the magic.
Larry: You just said it. It's the same for me. Other ways of saying that might be that as I grew up, I had this incredible thirst for discovery. And then I found that first arrowhead. I was telling some people last night I never learned to read until I was 12. And I couldn't get through Dick and Jane. I was social promotion all the way through the sixth grade. I sat on the back row and Miss Romaine just left me alone. But I found that arrowhead, digging a ditch for my uncle, and I just was so fascinated by that, I had it in my pocket, I'd stick my hand in there and I'd just touch it all day long and all weekend. I had memorized every little facet of it and when I got to school I got really brave for the first time in my life and I took it up and showed it to my teacher. And she just picked it up and handed it back to me and she says, "Class, class, Larry has something to show you, he found an arrowhead." And there I was in front of the class speaking. I didn't intend that. And I was so angry at her, I mumbled something and went back to my seat.
At 4 o'clock when school got out she was standing at the door when I came through to go home. She handed me a book and she said, "This is about the Indians that made that arrowhead." I took it home, threw it on the bed, went out and did my chores, came back, still angry, and picked it up and thought, well, it's about that arrowhead. And I got to the first page and struggled through the first sentence and then it grabbed me. And by morning I'd finished the book and I could read anything from that point on.
I went up to the Idaho State University a few months later and stole a book out of the library because I wasn't old enough to check one out. The name of it was Basin Plateau Aboriginal Sociopolitical Groups by Steward. It was an anthropological work on the Paiute Indians and I absorbed that into my system immediately, practically memorized the whole thing. So there wasn't anything I couldn't read after that. My teacher finally caught me reading that book inside my other book and she chewed me out, snatched the book up, started to walk up to her desk and started thumbing through it. She got this big surprised look on her face and turned around and looked at me, and walked back and handed me the book and said, "well you can read this one."
For me, that act of discovery just hooked me and I was no longer interested in ball games, cars, I couldn't tell a Ford from a Chevy. I probably still can't. None of that meant anything to me.
Tom: See the beauty of that is you integrate that into your teaching. You integrate that same thing, that same discovery, and you develop it in your students and make them thirst for more.
Larry: Yeah. I just wanted to spend all my time out in the desert. That's all I lived and breathed for and I did. Consequently I didn't graduate from high school until a year late. And by that time the teachers and my counselor had told me that I should get a good job down at the coal yards and keep it. That was my best hope. That's true. That made me mad enough to go to college and become a teacher. I became a school principal, teacher, school bus driver, and part-time janitor all at the same time.
Tom: I hope you brought it back to the attention of that teacher.
Larry: You bet I did. That whole sense of discovery is pretty important to people. We think the world has been explored completely and I suppose people have walked just about everywhere now. They haven't discovered anything to speak of and it's all still there. It's to be found by every individual.
And survival, living off the land just accentuates your awareness of all of that. You have to know every twig and every boulder and rock and what it can be used for and you see things differently. You never look at a grove of trees in the same way again. And that's what I hope that my students pick up, is that it's not just scenery anymore. It's a livelihood and it's something that can really help you.
Question: I want to talk about the application of primitive skills. Do you see the possibility that in the future people might have to use primitive skills for their survival? Is that in fact the purpose of learning primitive skills?
Larry: A couple times a year I associate with a group of people whose sole purpose in life seems to be to become as proficient in primitive technology as they can get. And I've taken the opportunity to interview them. These are people who do this by choice, not because they were born to it. And in interviewing these people the reasons for them doing it are pretty similar but there seems to be several different branches of it. One of them is the idea that the world is going to pot, literally pot, and that nobody can think anymore. And that the day is going to come when all of our technology is going to fail us. And that they will have to go back to the primitive skills. I personally have a problem with that because we know too much now already. If we lost all of our technology, it wouldn't even be a year before the minds of the people would gather together and recreate essential technological things. Even from the rubble that was left could be created a lot of things that would enrich our lives and not necessarily be Stone Age in doing it. So I think that's pretty impractical to think that way.
The other branch is the people who do it because it gives them a sense of security, just like Tom was talking about today. Just to know that without all of that packed-in finery, that you become dependent on, you could still exist. You are not dependent. You are an independent agent on the Earth with the free will to use the technology of the day to benefit us as we will, but not being afraid of being without it. And there's a lot of people who think that way.
The third (reason to study primitive skills) that strikes me is that people really enjoy it. They're just doing it for the fun of it. And it is fun. It's great.
Tom: I think Larry hit the reasons (for learning primitive skills). The principles of survival carry out into everyday life. You've heard me say, in survival you're sitting on a stump someplace, you're freezing to death, you're blaming the weather, you're blaming the time of year, you're blaming the instructor, it ain't going to do anything about it. You've got to make the choice to make it a heaven or a hell. You realize that in survival if you are freezing, you have two choices, build a fire or build a shelter or both. So when you bring this out into society, this survivalist attitude, you stop blaming society for your misfortune. If you don't like it, change it. There are a lot of little things in survival that teach you how to live in everyday life. Like right now, we're here sitting in semi-comfortable chairs. If we had to we could sit on the ground. Yeah, it's a little less comfortable sitting on these rocks but it ain't going to bother us if that's all we have. But we have the skills to make it better. You can go up and get some debris and sit on the debris, that kind of thing. Survival starts on a primitive level but it is an ingenuity that carries through every facet of society. What's an automobile leaf spring to one man is a hide scrapper to another. It's just the way of looking at things. It's applicable right now, that whole attitude. I can survive, I can make the best of things, I can make things better for myself. It's my choice.
Larry: And you don't have to be downtrodden and dirt poor and destitute in order to do it. (Tom: Exactly.) There's one other comment I wanted to make to the question are we going to have to survive with these primitive skills in society at some point in time. I don't think that we will, but that doesn't mean that we aren't going to reach a point in society at some near time when people are destitute and the thing does collapse on us and we've got tremendous problems. What I'm saying is that I think we now have the enlightenment and the ability that when that happens we'll solve those problems with a lot more technology than the Stone Age had. Although those of us who know the Stone Age skills will really treasure those and put them to use when it's appropriate. That's a safe feeling.
Just to add to that a little bit, the state of Washington hired me to come to Seattle one year to be part of a think tank. And the challenge for that year was to find ways to evacuate the people of Seattle if there was an atomic bomb threat on the shipping yards and the military base that's there. They were trying to figure out how to get the people across those bridges off the sound and up over the mountains into those valleys beyond the mountains where they would be safe from fall-out. We had three days to sit and think and talk and there were four or five other men there that were brought from around the country. I mostly listened. I didn't have a whole lot to say about it.
But we came up with an evacuation plan. (After the civil defense people read our evacuation plan) they decided that the people in Seattle had reached such a state of helplessness that there would be no point in rescuing them. Their conclusion was, and there's official documentation on it even to this very day, seal the bridges and leave them there. They wouldn't know what to do when they got them to safety. So they said, tell everybody to just stay in your homes. That's the answer, trust us.
Question: To Native Americans before the coming of white people, their lifestyle and their religious beliefs were seamless; each based on a deep respect for the Earth. Today the practice of primitive skills or primitive technology is sometimes divorced from a spiritual grounding similar to what the Native Peoples had. What is the proper role today of these two? Should they be tied or should they be divorced? Or is that a decision that each person has to make?
Tom: Yeah, I think it's a decision that each person has to make. I believe the more time that people spend out (in wilderness), even people who have no faith at all, don't even believe that there's a God, put them out there for a couple of weeks, they'll suddenly realize there is a Creator. They have this whole spiritual contact.
Larry: They'll know that something is going on.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. I believe instead of finding out the hard way by putting yourself out there and realizing, wow there is something, to just get on with it and understand that it's part of everything and approach it that way. I don't believe you can separate one from the other, but that's my personal beliefs.
Larry: I feel the same way. I was brought up in a culture that is very sensitive and very spiritual and I've always had that and felt it, not that everybody lives it. And I think in aboriginal times it was the same way. The aboriginal ideal that we see the Indians today were that they were close to the Earth and they were very in-tune with things and that they had this spiritual connection. I think all of that is true in concept and precept. In practice, probably not as true. Because many of them were very vicious people and you don't learn to be vicious out there. That's not what you learn, you decide that yourself.
And the same with the white people that came out here. Some of them melted into the land, had their little farms, minded their business, tended things, made friends with the Indians and were just fine. Others came out wanting to destroy all the Indians so they'd be out of the way and they wouldn't have to worry about them. It's a matter of where you come from. But I do believe that it's very difficult for a person to be out there for very long without realizing that something is going on. That all of this explanation, that it's all phenomenon of nature and it's all evolved over eons is just not a lot of hope in that. And it doesn't really make as much sense as they try to make it sound like. I think evolution is a process. I think it's really there, but it's not without guidance.
So being spiritual in the wilderness and using these skills-I see the skills as being a tool that builds confidence. It's not that the skill itself is so important. They're really pretty simple. And they're really something that anybody can figure a better way if they think about it long enough. But it's what it gives you inside that is spiritual that ties me to the tools. I guess it's an old Mormon concept that says that all things are spiritual. The Earth itself has its own Spirit and the people who are on it were sent here to work out something while we're here in this sphere, to have this experience for something really greater beyond. Not just to float around on a cloud and play a harp or anything but to really have an influence on eternity and eons of Earths. So the survival skills, living off the land, being close to Mother Earth and feeling of that Spirit is as much a part of my religion and my spiritual upbringing as anything I can think of. But I don't pretend to believe that everybody feels that way even though they're brought up with it, in any society. There are those who will exploit.
Tom: Larry's right. To me I look at the wilderness as God's temple, the Great Spirit's temple. We're always attached to the Earth. The umbilical cord is always there. To me it is also a gift, not only a place of worship but a gift. Anytime we do bad things to the Earth it's like spitting on that gift, showing absolute disrespect. And it's not only the Native American culture and many people that think like Larry and I do about this Spirit and skill and survival connection but it goes all around the Earth. Any culture that lives close to the Earth gets that same reverence, I think. But again, people are individuals, they make their own choices. I just think a non-spiritual approach is barely subsistence level survival because you are missing the bigger picture. You're missing a big part of yourself.
Larry: Well it's the Hollywood version. You look at the primitive caveman movies that have come out over the years and they are just brutes. They have no spirituality to them. And that's the way the world sees it. I don't think it was ever that way.
Question: How large would you estimate the Primitive Skills movement, if we can call it that, is? Maybe we can arrive at some kind of a figure by telling how many students each of you has had go through your schools or maybe you'd even hazard a guess to how many people are out there today that have gone through any school that teaches primitive skills.
Tom: Over 20 years, 25,000. Throw the military in there, probable 30,000.
Larry: I don't think I've had that many.
Tom: But then you've got to say, well each person reaches how many other people, it's an atomic reaction.
Larry: On the rehab trips that we've taken, I personally have had over 10,000. With Anasazi and the work we're doing now that I don't get directly involved in, there's been another 3,000 or so. So on that end of it there's that many people. And I'll guarantee you that 95% of those are in tune with what was taught to them then. They had a life-changing experience. Of the people that I have taken out because they wanted to learn the skills and they wanted to have the experience, maybe another 10,000. But that wouldn't be counting all the branches of it that are now in operation and they're all doing thousands. It would be impossible to come up with a number.
Larry: You know Tom, I decided that I really wanted to find the truth one time and I was bound and determined that I was going to learn the truth. So I went to a high mountain there in Idaho and found a cave and I sat in that cave for weeks. And I finally learned the truth.
Tom: What's that?
Larry: There ain't no bathrooms in a cave. (Laughter) That's a joke.
Question: The two of you are generally recognized as the fathers of primitive skills.
Tom: I think Larry more than me. I was still kicking around in the woods when Larry's book was out.
Larry: It doesn't mean you weren't learning.
Tom: I did the other route. I didn't go to college or anything. When I left Grandfather, I went and wandered for a decade, better than college. Yeah, it was learning, but still you started the whole thing at Brigham Young.
Larry: Probably as a movement is concerned, that's true. But I personally don't like the idea of being the father of a movement, for two reasons. Number one, I don't have any say about where it goes. And I am reluctant to have other people look at me in a way that would cause them to feel that I have some power over them or the worship thing. It's nice. It feels good to be in a position where people look up to you, but it doesn't feel good to be in a position where all of a sudden they think that you are the answer to their lives somehow. Because I am who I am and that will never be what a lot of people think they see. So I don't want the job.
Question: Are you encouraged by the interest that you have spawned over the past few decades?
Tom: In a nut shell, yeah.
Larry: Yeah, that feels good. And I think it feels so good that I'm hoping it will get me where I hope I go. I hope I make it. I've had a lot of really heartfelt good feelings from people when you realize you really have touched their life. I don't think there's anything that could compare to that.
Larry: And I've had that experience, or I've had that blessing just many, many times over and over. That feels good. It's almost like not having a job or a profession, it's like being something with someone. It's not work. I think that's what has kept me young all these years.
Tom: I see people that use the primitive skills whether it's the survival, tracking, or awareness, whatever the primitive skill, gets them closer to the Earth. That kind of environmentalist is real. It's a real child of the Earth. It isn't someone who jumped on the big green bandwagon and is going to ride out the latest fade. This is part of their lives now. What does my heart good is that this has been just a vehicle to get them there. I've been like a signpost or a stepping stone along their Sacred Path whatever it might be in life. And their environmental motives are a lot stronger, a lot deeper. They know themselves a lot better.
Question: Well let me pop that balloon with the next question. The two of you probably have taught 50,000 people and through your teachers many, many more. Still I'm sure you will have to admit that's a drop in the bucket of humankind. And today there are people, just go into a city and you will see them, who are totally unfamiliar with wilderness and are afraid of the dangers, real or imagined, of wild places. They never come in contact with the natural world. Is there any hope in trying to reach these people?
Tom: There's always got to be hope. And there's always an interest. I don't care how deeply it might be buried in somebody. You could pull out a bow drill in the middle of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street and you will attract attention. There is something in a primitive skill that is magic. You got to have hope. Without hope you don't have the fuel for your vision. I think people are eager to get back in touch with something that is real after being surrounded, especially a deep city dweller, where everything is plastic and cement and games and smoke and God knows what. There's almost a hunger for reality, a hunger to get back to the Earth. Look how abused Central Park is on a nice sunny day, people just swarming to it like it's some kind of a medication. Yeah, it dwells, I think, in everybody. Johnny Muir even says it in his writing about how people hunger for it. Go ahead Larry, bail me out, or disagree with me.
Larry: Not much to disagree on. I just think what Tom said is it. The people you see in an inner city where they have no contact with nature, what's the hope of getting these people in tune with it? I think in reality there's not going to be a whole lot of that happen. But everybody that I've ever met has had some thoughts on it. If you ask them what they think about it they don't have to pause and say, well I'm not familiar with that. They've already thought about it. Everyone wants to be quote self-sufficient, at least to the point of being able to take care of themselves if they needed to. Everyone desires that and I think everyone thinks about it. But they have nothing to base it on and that's the problem. Without the reality of the experience I don't see that a lot of them are going to actually get it, although it's still a desire as Tom says that they have. Everybody wants it. So I don't know.
Tom: Our role, Lar, is to get them out. In other words, entice them in and show them that there is a way.
Tom: That's why, I know Larry feels the same way, when you are tired from a trip and all of a sudden you remember, oh my God I've got to go give this lecture. It's not going to be a day off or two days off or whatever. But you got to do it because you may reach even five people in an audience of 200 that you'll motivate. And then they'll come out and get into the wilderness if not through me or Larry through someone else. And then they will go out and motivate more. It's that kind of consciousness that's got to run through the global society.
Larry: Umhum. You know, while you're on that. I think there's an even bigger group of people in the world who are not what we would think of as the New Yorker. They're generally third world poor survivalists. But they are living in societies that are so narrow in their traditions and their culture having such a grip, having such an influence in their lives that they really don't know how to take care of themselves except in that narrow way. And when disasters come, they seem to be the most helpless people.
And I think when these things do come down, it's not going to be modern society that suffers as much as all the third world poor. You look at the famine we had over in Africa a while back, that was just so pathetic.
I have had such a little taste of it, I really want to explore it more by going into a group of people who are really third world and show them some of the primitive skills that could actually improve their lives. It isn't something the white man is fostering on them that is made of plastic; it is something real that they can get out of their own back yard. (Tom: Right, yeah.) It isn't something that they have to save a lifetime to get enough pennies together to go buy somewhere. And I think they look for that. At BYU there's a thing called the Benson Institute. And their whole focus is to provide those kinds of things to the world. And they go into these third world countries, teach those people how to raise better tomatoes and better gardens and they do it without shipping in a lot of goods to them. They find ways to make compost on their own place to do it, ways to identify the native plants that are around them that they can cultivate and put to use instead of selling them seed corn from the United States.
Tom: That's one of the dangers that hit so firmly on the head with survival. You get too narrow in survival, and any variation and you are in trouble. That's why you and I both teach a broad spectrum of survival, not just one fire-making device or one shelter or one trap, but several alternatives. So if this happened, okay, we've got this (other technology) to go with, and if that happens we've got this to go with. We have a broader understanding, the whole picture of survival. And that's why third worlders will tend to have these disasters.
Larry: Yeah. The Chinese are an example of that. I knew a man, a friend of mine, who was the head of the Oak Ridge Laboratories' Experimental Survival for World Problems in Tennessee. He was in China during the revolution. He was there as kind of an anthropologist helper to a village of people and he got caught in the uprooting when the Communists came in and said okay, all of you out of your homes, get on the road and start walking. And they walked them a couple of hundred miles to kill off everybody that wasn't fit. And then those that were left they took them out into the wilderness and plopped them down and said build a town. And that's how they dispersed the people and got control. He walked nearly a thousand miles across China. He nearly died of starvation himself and came back and was just the most interesting guy. But part of what he taught was that when aid finally came to those people that got outside of the Communist influence, the aid that came from the United States was in the form of wheat. They wouldn't use it because it wasn't rice. They wouldn't use it. They threw it away.
On the other hand I go to places like Peru and talk with people who are living pretty close to the Stone Age. Those people are there in desperation or they're there by birth and not by choice. And some of them would welcome the opportunity to step out of it and have some technology in their lives. But that's only a few. Most of the people that I've ever met that were true primitive people, were living that way by choice, just the same as we do. It's exactly the same thing. It's a way of life, they understand it, it feels good and they don't want to change it.
I met one guy who works for a big bus company. He's a business executive. We met him in a little town in Peru and he invited us to walk up to this little farm that my son owns there now and see the corn fields. And on the way back down, the rain started pouring, it was very steep mountainous country and he says, "let's stop by my mother's house." It was just a doorway in the street with these adobe walls. We went in there and here was this courtyard with little buildings built off of it. And there was the mother sitting under a shelter built in the middle of that courtyard cooking her food on a fire on the ground in a clay pot. Even though she was in a town, you stepped in there and you were right in the Stone Age. He introduced us and we sat there for over two hours and I just soaked up that woman's life. And I realized that she had at her fingertips outside that door all the technology that Peru has to offer and a son who has a college education who could have taken her and put her up in a nice apartment, you know. But she refused to live that style because she grew up that way and that was her choice to stay there. And I thought that was pretty cool.
So there's just a lot of that. I think that maybe in the future I would hope that a lot of the people, in fact I know a lot of the people, in their interest to learn primitive skills, will also get into third world situations and begin to see what contribution they can make there. Some of them are doing that.
Tom: Yeah, definitely.
Question: Larry, through your Anasazi School that works with troubled teens, you've seen almost miraculous transformations through immersion in a primitive skills experience. Tom, I'm sure you, through the Tracker School, have seen the same. What is it about primitive skills that can reach to the very core of somebody and help to change their life?
Tom: I think it goes back to choice. Things people learn in survival they bring out into everyday life, (and they tend to make) intelligent choices, not following the gang or blaming their predicament on their alcoholic father and their drug-addicted mother and their street gangs, but make a choice to do something different, to be happy in life. That self-sufficiency, that independence, that power inside a person so changes them. The intimacy with something greater in life, the greater mystery changes them. There's not just one thing. It's getting them back to the purity, the simplicity that starts that seed, that plants that seed. But Larry would know better than I how the mechanism works because you've got kids that are pretty well beaten up.
Larry: Maybe I could best answer that by not answering it. I could tell a story instead. Probably most teenagers have in their top five reasons for living the concept that they have to have their friends. All teenagers have to have their friends. And those friends become far more important than the family. They become more important than their school. They become more important than living under the law. Those friends are it and they'll do anything those friends want to do.
When they get to us, they are suddenly without those friends. They're in a wilderness situation where their livelihood is dependent on their ability to learn the skills and their comfort is dependent upon their ability to really perfect those skills and improve on them. And that becomes the focus of life and there's no time for the casual friendships or the silly kind of friendships that they were so dependent upon before. And the friendships that do develop out there are built around saving each other's lives, meaningful kinds of things, and long periods of silence which teenagers do not have today. They get up in the morning and on goes the radio, earphones or whatever, and then they get to school and it's yak, yak, yak for five and a half or six hours. Lunchtime is a big clanking noise and then on goes the earphones at home and then TV at night and then they're in bed and they haven't had any silence.
So what happens after they've been out on the trail and then the kids go home? I can call them up six months later and interview them or a year later and interview them. And one of the questions I always ask is have you changed your friends or what friends do you hang around with now? And it surprises me how many of them say, well, I don't particularly have any certain friends anymore, I just kind of hang around with everybody. They are no longer dependent on those friends. They are independent people and they can make the choices based on who they are and not what the crowd wants them to do. So I don't know if that helps answer that question or not. But that's what I see.
Question: Let me finish the interview with one last question. If you had the ear of the world today, if you were giving the state of the world address and everybody was tuned in, what would you want to say?
Tom: Oh boy. Simply, we've got to stop being a society of people that kill our grandchildren to feed our children. We've got to have people realize that we are at war and it isn't just in the neighborhood, it isn't just in one city, it isn't just in the United States, it's across the world. The Earth is a living entity, a spiritual entity, a gift. We might be on borrowed time. It's time to go to war. It's time to stop fighting with each other and go to war.
Larry: A good analogy. To the world, huh? I don't know if any of you ever heard of Dr. Hugh Nibley, he's a great environmentalist, but he's more than that, he's one of the great thinkers of the world. He went to Berkeley and as a young boy, he went to the furthest corner of the library and pulled off the first book and he never left the university until he was at the other end pulling off the last book. That kind of a mind. He could read a book in 15 minutes. He knows 42 languages. He's an Egyptologist. He can read the hieroglyphics in Egypt just like you can read a book. Just one of the really great minds and he just happens to reside at BYU. They've got him locked away in some basement somewhere and all he does is write. I'll never forget, one time I came in all grubby and dirty and I stripped off there at the college at the PE department and went into the showers. I was standing in the showers and here comes this ancient old man walking in there, and got into the shower. The shower was just a circular thing with showerheads coming off of it. And he stood on the other side of the post and was showering and we got to talking and he introduced himself as Hugh Nibley. So we got to talking and I asked him that same question you just asked.
I said of all the studying and all the brilliance that you have and the volumes of it--the guy has written a whole library of books. What is the cut of it all? What would you have to say if it was your last words? And he said, well, after everything else we can do there's really only two things that we can do. We can repent and we can forgive. And that was all he'd say. I've tried to live by that and figure it out all these years. But when you really get down to it, we have to repent of how we treat people and the Earth and we have to forgive anybody that's involved in it from any level. Because until we do that, we can't reach their hearts. (Tom: Right.) I really believe that people are not all that bad. And if we can be pure ourselves, we can touch their heart and then the Earth will change.
Also be sure to see these related pages:
Awareness Books, Tapes, Resources and Perspective
Outdoor Survival Skills by Larry Dean Olsen.
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