My faithful reader Bill can probably answer this, since he has taken the time to educate himself in the Old Ways. I know what a snath is because we bought a device that included a snath back in the late 90's. But for the vast, vast majority of people in the western world, a snath means nothing.
But a snath is a critical part of what used to be an essential piece of equipment. It used to be that people could discuss snaths with great knowledge. They recognized how a snath had to confirm to a user's size, they knew how it had to have certain weight and materials properties, and they knew the merits of ash versus hickory snaths.
Okay, okay... I'll stop teasing and answer the question. A snath is the wood handle portion of a scythe.
Needless to say, scythes were used extensively on farms all over the world until the advent of tractors and harvesters and other modern equipment. Now we've reached the point where few people know how to properly use (much less sharpen) a scythe.
The point of this introduction is to illustrate how far our nation has fallen from the days in which people were self-sufficient, or at least healthily dependent on each other in the local sense.
For 5000 years of civilization, mankind has honed hundreds of survival skills. How to build a home from raw materials. How to make a fire without matches. How to hunt animals with only the most primitive of tools. How to make those primitive tools. How to raise crops, harvest them, and preserve them through the upcoming year. The list of skills we've forgotten is endless.
And here's what bugs me: We've forgotten 5000 years' worth of skills in less than three generations.
Three generations ago, many of our forebears still lived on farms without electricity. They knew how to get through a year without depending on (too many) external sources for their everyday needs. If you ever read "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you'll understand how a typical family got through a year and purchased very, very few "boughten" things. They cut their own firewood, provided their own ice (throughout the year), wove their own cloth, butchered their own animals, harvested their own fields and gardens... the list goes on and on.
Can any of us do that any more?
If we consider the possibility of an EMP weapon taking out the power grid in this nation, it's scary to think of how many people - nearly all of us - would be left utterly helpless. We would be helpless because we've gone soft. We've allowed our lives to get too comfortable and too dependent on outside sources - notably electricity - so we no longer have to obtain life's necessities through our own personal efforts. We would be hungry, thirsty, in the dark, and unable to use the toilet without electricity.
And we - meaning, the Lewis family - would be nearly as helpless as the next person despite the fact that we live where we live. We, too, have gone soft. We, too, depend far too much on outside sources for our basic necessities.
If you think nothing earth-shattering could ever interrupt our comfortable lives, think again. If you study history, you'll see that wrenching change has happened over and over and over. Endless great civilizations have been brought to their knees through endless numbers of disruptions - famines, invasions, natural disasters, diseases... Yet we still have the arrogance to think it can't happen again. Indeed, as my husband pointed out, the greatest conceit of mankind is, “It can’t happen to me.”
That's why the notion of recapturing some of the more "primitive" skills of our forebears holds such an appeal for me. That's why I'm determined to can food, make cheese, grow wheat, raise meat, etc. It's why we find ourselves driven to make our little homestead as self-sufficient as possible.
But it's an uphill battle. Oh Lord, it's a struggle all the way. The biggest thing we struggle against is our ignorance. Everything we learn, we have to learn from scratch because there are so few people around to teach us. We have to re-learn things that civilization has known for 5000 years, but has lost in 100. It's a struggle full of heartbreak, frustration, mistakes, and an occasional brilliant success.
One thing we cannot forget is that our ancestors over the past 5000 years had one excellent motivator to make their struggles succeed: Death. If their crops failed, they died. If their weapons failed, they died. If their medical knowledge was insufficient, they died. Those that didn't die might be left maimed and utterly dependent on others. Life was short, brutal, and harsh.
I do not want to return to those conditions. But circumstances beyond our control may not give us any option.