This week on Live Like the World is Dying, Burdock and Margaret talk about the overlap between Earth Skills and preparedness as well as going over the basics of how to preserve animal hides, how to process road kill for food, and why you probably don’t want to eat roadkill. Trust your nose on that one
Burdock (she/they) can be found on Instagram @Scragetywocket
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
- Live Like the World is Dying: Burdock on Earth Skills and Road Kills
Hello and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m today’s host, Margaret Killjoy. And I’m really excited to be talking about this stuff that we’re gonna be talking about today because it’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about since I first started the show. We’re going to be talking about the primitive skills scene. And in specific, we’re going to talk a bit about roadkill and we’re going to talk about tanning hides of animals that have been destroyed by the mechanisms of industrial civilization. And I’m excited to get into that. But first, this podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show on the network da da duh duh da daa. [Singing a melody]
Okay, we’re back. Okay. So if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns. And then I guess a little bit about how you got into the stuff that we’re going to be talking about today?
Yes, Hi. I’m Burdock. And I use she/they pronouns interchangeably. No preference. And I got into this stuff about 10-11 years ago, living in a city my whole life and being like, "This is not working for me at all. And I want to live in a completely different way." And I went to crazy intense primitive skills school because that was like, the thing I found that resonated the most with me, and it was really traumatizing. But I also learned a lot. And since then, I’ve been continuing to explore communities and practice those things on my own largely.
Okay. What’s primitive skills? To start at the like, super basic, right? This the thing where YouTube influencers get money out of people to fake build things in the woods? [Said with dry sarcasm]
[Laughing] Totally. That is definitely one of the things. That is one of the many ways that it manifests in the world. And also, like, a lot of people hate the term "primitive skills." I think it’s not great. [Margaret makes an affirmative sound] But it is like, the most known term for this realm I’m talking about. And so I usually use it just so people understand what I’m talking about, that I don’t have to be like, "Earth skills, ancestral skills, primitive skills," and I don’t know, I think "earth skills," is like, the best in a way. But yeah, acknowledging right now that this whole thing is like rife with cultural appropriation. And there’s definitely like conversations happening around that in parts of the primitive skill scene, earth skills scene.
No, it’s called Earth skills. [Said jokingly, but seriously]
Yeah, I’m gonna go with Earth skills from here forward. It feels it feels better. Anyway. So, Earth skills broadly refers to all of the ways that humans lived for most of our time here on Earth. Like pre pretty much pre….I don’t know there’s even metal smithing included in a lot of like Earth skills gatherings and stuff…So, but like, usually very, still very, like, land-based, like wood forges and stuff, but pre-agriculture, pre industrial revolution. But, there is some agriculture stuff because like, I think it’s a bit of a myth that like, agriculture equals industrial society equals capitalism equals bad, right?
Yeah, no. Okay. So that is like, kind of my question is like, what skills are included in this kind of place? Like so Earth skills, I assume it’s like hunting, gardening–I mean, in my mind, I’m so used to like survival stuff, so I’m like building emergency shelters filtering your water–but I assume it’s also like, building more permanent structure and making your own clothes? Like like what? What kind of different stuff are people doing?
Yeah, I’d say the standbys are fire by friction, like ways of making fire from only materials you’re harvesting from the land, foraging for food and medicine and other useful plant materials, animal processing, so, you know, post post hunting, what do you do with the body of the animal that you killed? Hunting is definitely there. And weapon making as well, making weapons just from what’s on the landscape around you, just from what you can find. Shelter building. And I think the theme, the theme that runs throughout all of these is "Just from the land around you and maybe you have a knife." But I teach friction fire with no knife, so that varies a lot. There’s pottery with local wild clay and how to process that clay so you can actually make pots with it. Basket making–which is also something I do–with materials you’re foraging and how to forage for those materials or how to propagate them, how to process them. Totally different from, you know, the materials being prepared for you and you’re just going for it. Yeah. Yeah. And I’m sure I’m forgetting tons of stuff.
Yeah, no, I’m, I’m sure, too. And I…it’s been a while since I’ve been around people who are particularly into this, but I it’s been interesting to be around. Okay, I have a bunch of questions about it, though. So one of them is, what role does this have in the modern world? Like, what? And I’m sure that’s something that people talk about within this, you know, scene or community and stuff, but like, what…or like, sell me or the listener on getting into this kind of stuff? Like, what’s it about?
I think it’s about different things to different people. And what it’s about, to me is resilience and becoming a more resourceful kind of creative person, having more options of ways to live. I get to disengage from a lot of the kind of modern society stuff when I choose to engage in those skills, which for my life has been important because I have like sensory processing stuff. And so being able to, like, escape from the barrage has been really important. And I think different people have different reasons for needing to get away from that. Even just traveling, like it’s making my traveling life easier. Even stuff, like being able to pee stealthily or find like spots in the woods to like, have an anxiety attack. Like, all of these skills are really practical in just surviving the modern world the way it is now. Like, even if things stay exactly how they are. And, you know, there is this idea of, "Oh, if stuff gets worse I’m going to be prepared in all these ways. And I can like, share these…I can teach the skills that I know to other people so that they can deal with whatever’s happening." And, you know, including just stuff like blackouts that are short or natural disasters. Like that’s definitely part of it, too. But a huge part of it for me is just the selfishness needed to protect my senses.
That makes a lot of sense to me. And one of the things that’s kind of come up more recently on this show as I interview different people is realizing there’s all of these different means by which people engage in nature, right? And I know that…I kind of at some point, I don’t know if I have the brainwidth to do it, the brain space to do it right now, I want to problematize the idea of nature, problematize the idea that nature is this separate thing that is distinct from humans, and even–if you want to piss off people–it’s even a separate thing that it’s not separate from industrial society, right? Like anything that humans make. But there’s all of these different ways that people interact with nature. And it’s like really interesting to see which ones are useful for people now in the world to learn how to disengage and which ones are useful for people in different kinds of collapse scenarios, different disasters and things and so it’s like…You know, I haven’t had on someone to talk specifically about bushcraft, but It seems like bushcraft is almost the like step more modern than like what you do, right? Like, because like bushcraft would be like, "Well, you have your saw on your axe and you can build your log cabin, right?" Which is in some ways, I think the least sustainable way for modern people to go interact with nature. But maybe I’m only saying that because I haven’t interviewed a bushcraft person who’s gonna sell me on it really well. And then you have Earth skills, which is like the least–not necessarily the least impactful–but the least, requires the least resources, right? Versus you have the ways that outdoor athletes, like hikers, and skiers, and snowboarders–I don’t know, I don’t know anything about winter–interact with it, versus the way that like hunters interact with it, right? And there’s like all of these different ways that people interact with and I’m really interested about it. So that’s like…what you’re talking about, like, here’s how to go… Like, I don’t know how to start a fire by friction. I’ve seen people do it. I still don’t really believe it. It doesn’t seem real because I’ve tried. But it’s really, really hard, I think. I don’t know,
It’s really hard because these skills need to be passed down from person to person. And in a lot of cultures it’s like cultural information. It’s encoded in the songs, and in the stories, and it’s encoded in everything. And so even as a child, if no one’s showing you how to do it, you know from the stories and the songs maybe what plants on the landscape are useful for that. And you’ve seen people around you do it. Most people when they’re trying to start friction fire they maybe have never even seen people do it before. They just have this concept in their mind of like rubbing sticks together, or like they saw it a little bit in a video, or they even watched a tutorial on how to do it. But, that’s not enough because you learn these things through the senses. You have to be able to see and touch and hear. And when you can’t do that, it’s really hard to learn them.
Ya, no. That makes sense. Also, usually I here now make a joke about how everything that I don’t understand is fake. But, I actually don’t want to here. I do it about fishing usually. Usually my joke is that fishing is fake. But, I’ve seen people start friction fires and it’s cool. So, one of the main reasons to learn this is for the here and now, is like ways to disconnect, and ways to you know, go out and engage in nature, again, the loaded word, "nature." Okay, so one of the things I think that we talked about wanting to talk about now is where earth skills fit within the sort of subset of prepping. Like, I am under the impression that the Earth skills scene, for example, is like kind of a prepping scene in some ways, just not the same as the one that most people know about.
Yeah, it’s a lot like bushcraft, and it’s a lot like even like backpacking, and it’s a lot like homesteading, and it’s a lot like all these things. And then the core difference is like basically starting from scratch-scratch. Like you’re making all the tools that you’re using to do all these projects. You’re…If you have a backpack, you’re like making that backpack and you have to make the material that the backpack is made out of like…
You have to make nylon. [Laughing].
Right, you have to make the nylon. You have to go harvest the oil and process it. [Probably said jokingly]
[Incredulously] Do people do that?
I recently went to a gathering where you had to drive past this like oil well thing that was just like actually actively pumping oil from the Earth.
Oh my God.
It was actually a great reality check, though. Because it’s like, "Oh, we’re going to this gathering. We’re all pretending that we live in this like beautiful, ideal community where everybody wears natural clothes and stuff." And it’s like, yeah, this is…We’re all driving here. Like we’re all involved in this.
Well, and it gets into this–I want to come back to the prepping thing, but I want to follow on this tangent really quick–It gets into this thing that I think about a lot. I’ve been like camping and hiking more a lot recently–mostly because I realized I can because I work on a computer on my own schedule for living. And like mostly I read history books for a living and I’m like, "I can do that in a hammock in the woods." And so I’ve been trying to do that. And one of the things that’s like been really striking me is this reminder that there like is no outside. And I mean that–like I mean there’s like outside the house–but there’s like no outside of society, like there’s no…Like the closest we have are like wilderness areas, at least in continental US you know is where I hang out, right, but there’s like…You’re not…Like, we’re like choosing to not bring Fritos with us, right? It’s not that the Fritos aren’t available to us, you know. And like…And at least the way I do it, I’m like driving there and stuff, but also it’s like, even when I go find like the free dispersed camping and stuff, there’s like tons of other people around, which is actually fine. It helps break–So I kind of wonder whether Earth skills falls into this a little more than it should–it helps break the like frontiersman mentality, the like, "I’m going to go tame nature," and that’s like something that’s always kind of…Not rubbed me the wrong way about all Earth skills, but like seemed like a danger available to the Earth skills community. But maybe I’m completely off base. I don’t know how people handle that or talk about it.
No, that’s really on point. I think there’s a lot of like…There’s a lot of bizarre ways…I feel like within the Earth skills community, what I see the most is people having this like reverential, like, "I have this spiritual connection with the Earth and with these plants." And there’s this kind of disconnect, in a way, with like..Yeah, I don’t know how they’re actually living their lives, how they’re actually behaving. Like, I feel like people don’t acknowledge enough, like, "I regard the world and the earth in this way, but I also am exploiting it in the way that I live, too. And I’m playing a part in…" You know, like, some of these people are rich. Some of the people who do this stuff, they have land and that’s why they have enough time to learn how to tan hides, like as a hobby, you know? And there’s no acknowledgment there of like, that’s contributing to this, like, apocalypse thing that’s being foretold in like Tom Brown’s–he’s a primitive skills teacher guy–prophecy, doomsday stuff, like…
No, that makes sense. Because it’s like most people…Most people who are making money through Capitalism or whatever like at large scale–not like people who work at Starbucks or whatever because they have to–the people that like own Starbucks. The person who owns Starbucks might be able to have like, a million acres somewhere that they can keep pristine so they can go around and build huts or whatever, but they’re doing that by like, destroying the shit out of Central America or whatever, you know?
It’s interesting. And, okay. I’m actually really interested in Earth skills stuff and so it sounds like I’m talking shit, but I really don’t mean it this way.
No, you gotta talk shit about it. I talk shit about it because I love it and I want it to be good.
Yeah, no, it makes sense. I wonder whether how much–at least again, in the continental US–settler people, like white people in the United States, how much there’s like this, like…I kind of hate framing things….I hate publicly framing things this way because I don’t know how to do it better. But, like, I feel like there’s this curse, where people like want to have a certain type of connection and almost just like can’t because it’s just cursed to them. Because…Not because of blood or something, but because of being a settler of a culture that has come and destroyed this place. You know? And so it feels like trying to…It’s not…It’s still worth trying to engage in stuff. But it feels like there’s this like insurmountable or very hard to surmount curse that disconnects us. And when I’m using us, I–I actually don’t know anything about you–it disconnects me and other white people from connecting in certain ways with this specific land. And I…I don’t know how to say it better than that because I’m not trying to make this like…Well, I mean, I believe in the decolonization of the US, like, on a political level, right, I believe that the United States is an empire that should not exist and occupies stolen land that should be, you know, returned. But, I’m still not trying to make a like permanent proclamation about something on a spiritual level. But I just I feel like there’s like this thing that has to be overcome. And I don’t know whether it’s possible. I think I gave you a really easy question there. [Jokingly]
I love it, because this is what I think about all the time. And I agree with all of those…like everything you said about this country, basically. Like, I’m on the same page. And it’s been something I’ve been thinking about a lot because when I started doing this 11 years ago, that stuff wasn’t on my mind. Like, I was just like, "I’m 19. I don’t like living in a city." And as I’ve…You know, and the school, I went to appropriated a lot. And I’ve been to gatherings where there’s a lot of appropriation and it wasn’t on my radar. And then it’s been thanks to a lot of the work that indigenous people are doing and black people are doing in that I’ve like, come into this awareness like…But, it’s also been through the plants and the land themselves.
It had to come over time. Like when I was at that school 10 years ago, we harvested wild rice. And that…that’s like a real…it’s the cornerstone of the traditions of all of the people who live where wild rice lives. And then I moved, and I was trying to continue harvesting wild rice and there were a lot of layers about it. Like, it kept not working out for me. And then it was like…I like…It kept not working out until in one way or another I accidentally gave tobacco to the water. And then it would be like, "Oh, now it’s working." And so I figured that out. And then after I figured that out, I was really hearing from the land, like, for the first couple of years, it was like, "It’s great that someone’s here. It’s great that someone’s like, seeing us and acknowledging us. Like, we’re the wild rice and we missed people." And the longer I listened, the more I was like, "Oh, you don’t miss like me. You miss "the" people. Like, you miss "your" people and the songs and the stories and the way that those people live and the way that those people live with you. You miss them and I will never be able to be that for you." All I can do is hear that. And that doesn’t really answer your question. But, it takes time and a lot of listening and moving at the speed of relationship.
No, that makes sense.
Okay, that makes sense. And I, you know, and I don’t want to like specifically call out this community more than any other community, right? Like, I think that people engaging in a lot of this kind of stuff…Well, I don’t know, I’m not in a place to make any kind of judgment about that. I’m not part of either the things that I’m talking about, but to people…Okay, so let’s go back a step. We were talking about how Earth skills are a subset of prepping or of the prepping world. And I’m wondering if you want to talk more about that. Like, how does it engage with your own preparedness? How can communities use this kind of knowledge to become more resilient is like one of the big questions I have.
Yeah, I think most of the people who engage in Earth’s skills aren’t thinking very hard about how it actually applies to prepping, but they do believe in some kind of like, apocalyptic future. And that’s one of the reasons that they do it. But they’re like not thinking about it that hard. They’re not thinking about it in real terms.
It’s just a utopian thing for them. They’re like, "Industrial civilization will collapse. And we’ll all be free"?
There like, yeah there will be a lot of suffering, but like, you know, and then we’ll be free and it’ll be fine. Well, I’ll live in huts in the woods. And nothing will be problematic anymore.
Yeah. Because there’s…Then you get to have an outside once everyone’s dead. That’s one of my problems with it.
It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense. And like, I used to kind of think that way before I really thought about it. And I’m like, I have too much like, compassion for human beings to wish for anything like that. Like some people want this, like doomsday type thing to happen. But yeah, natural disasters happen. Things happen all the time that we want to be prepared for. And, I just feel like me existing and having like this little library of skills in my brain and my body, it makes it so that anywhere that I am, all the people around me have that skill. And so if we’re stuck in a situation where like, we don’t have matches, we don’t have a lighter. All this stuff happens spontaneously. Like, I know of more than one way to start fire without those things. And so yeah, just having any one person knowing any of those skills, it makes you more prepared for things…Like you can only prepare for so many things.
Like you cannot like, "Oh yeah, I brought matches, but I didn’t think about water filtration, or I dropped my water filtration device and it’s never to be found again or." And also just like even if you have all those things, if you’re in a long term situation, like you’re gonna run out of matches. You’re gonna run out a lighter fuel. Your clothing is gonna deteriorate. Like you do need to…Even if you even if you like have access to warehouses of this modern stuff, it’s important to be passing down these skills person to person. And I think it changes the way that you engage with the world as it is presently, which I think needs to happen.
That It makes a lot of sense that. So, teaching these skills and learning these skills both makes you more prepared in the sense that you know how to start a fire if shit goes bad for a couple days and you know how to repair clothes or fix clothes or make clothes from scratch if shit does stays bad, but that also–I’m just saying back what I think what I think you’re saying–but also, people learning these skills also teaches people like, nicer ways to engage with the environment that they’re in and like more useful ways to…like less destructive ways of being. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
It’s having a different mindset, like…
A grind-set kind of deal.
I process a lot of roadkill.
The road kill grind set.
Yes, I process a lot of roadkill deer, the roadkill grind set next, and it’s just changed the way I’ve thought about them a lot. Like, and how I think about all animals but particularly deer, like they’re no longer just this, like, being I see in the distance in the land or like a see their dead bodies around, I’m just like, they, each one of them has a unique personality. Each one of them has led a life of like, that we cannot comprehend as humans, you know? And, and each one of them holds in their bodies, like the things that can keep us alive. And I mean that both on this like strictly physical level where it’s like, there’s bone tools, and there’s meat to eat, and fat to eat, and there’s connective tissue for bag making. And, like, there’s that but it’s also…it’s also on an emotional level. It’s also on a, on a spiritual level, if you’re into that.
Okay, well, let’s talk about roadkill because that’s probably what’s going to be the title of the episode. Maybe not. Maybe you all are listening to "Earth skills with Burdock," instead of "Roadkill with Burdock." I’m not sure. But yeah, okay, so like, so I see a dead thing. How rough should we start here? Like, cause some of the questions that people have about roadkill. right, one of the main questions is, "Can you eat that? Is that safe?" Right? That’s like…And then there’s like "How to?" Right? There’s the like, "Can you?" and then "How to." And I guess there’s two different things, there’s the eating and then there’s….
Oh, okay. Oh, I was gonna say, well, there’s the eating the animal and then there’s the making stuff with the animal.
First there’s the assessing of the animal.
Okay, so let’s hear how to assess. I got really embarrassed once. I was…There was a roadkill deer on my property and my neighbor…
Oh, on your property.
Yeah. I live rurally. Or, I don’t know if you’re just taking us a jab at the fact that I’m referring to it as "my property."
No, no, I just mean that that happened. Like right there.
Oh, yeah. No, I, there’s deer all around where I live. And. And, you know, all I know is that there’s a dead deer intact on my property. And we’re like, I don’t know how this thing died. And I was like, "Hey, neighbor, do you want this?" And my neighbor was like, "That’s no good." And I’m like, "How do you know?" And they just like, look at me and they’re like, "Well, it’s just no good." And I’m like, "Oh, you grew up knowing how to assess a deer." Because in my mind, well, it’s not it’s not rotting. I don’t know anything about this besides that it’s not rotting, you know?
Yeah, well, and I think different people also have different ideas of what is and isn’t good, even people who have experience with processing roadkill, with picking up and working with roadkill. Some people think all roadkill is just not good to eat. And there is something in that because the impact does damage the tissues and sometimes even a fresh deer is just…it’s just pulverized on the inside in a way that like even if it’s not their stomach contents in the meat–that’s something people worry about–but like the muscle tissue itself has just kind of exploded interiorly and it does…Injured tissue doesn’t taste good. And so if you’ve assessed the deer and you’ve said "This deer. I’m going to continue processing this deer. I think there might be food for me inside of this deer," having a framework in your mind for what is and isn’t normal tissue is important. And a huge way of how you learn that is just doing it a lot. But, I think the main way that you’re going to assess a deer, and the way I assess them, is smell. And, like, if an animal smells really bad, they’re rotting and you shouldn’t eat them. And if but if you can, like getting them off the road a little farther, so scavengers aren’t putting themselves at risk when they’re going to eat the deer is nice. It’s really nice to do. But yeah, another thing that I do, if I come upon a roadkill deer or other roadkill animal, is you can, super simple test, just pull on the hair of the belly. And if it comes out, just like with no effort at all, that rotting is really set in. And you don’t want to use the hide. You don’t want to eat the meat.
You don’t want to use to hide if it’s rotten?
Yeah, I mean, particularly for first because the fur is all going to slip, but at that point, like if the hair is slipping, there’s enough bacteria present in even the hide that it’s a health risk to move forward with processing them, especially like you know, bacteria from a rotting hide getting into any kind of open wound on the hand. I get cuts on my hands a lot because I do lots of my hands. People you can get infections and they’re really bad.
What if I have Earth skilled myself like a nitrile hazmat suit?
Then you’re fine. Or I mean, even, if you really wanted to tan that deer skin, you could like wear some gloves and get the hide and flush it and get it into like a alkaline solution, like a wood ash solution. And that would actually neutralize things. And from that point forward, the hide would be fine to work with. But you know, until then, you gotta you gotta put on your earth skills latex gloves.
Yeah. Well, and it’s probably worth pointing out that if you are learning how to do this from a podcast, do not try the expert level thing.
No. Even putting a hide in wood ash has just taken me years to figure out, like, "How much water to mix with the wood ash," and "How much…How to assess like when do you even want to do that?" And yeah, yeah, most of the information about that out there is really bad. And the way I learned it was my friend just being like, "Here, this is how it should feel," and me being like, "Oh, okay, it should feel slippery like this. And that, that means it’s the right amount of wood ash and the right amount of water" Like dammit, yeah.
Yeah, that makes sense. That’s the kind of thing that you can’t get from YouTube or a podcast, you know?
No, you can’t.
Okay, okay, so, you’ve done the initial assessment.
No, you’ve done the actual assessment.
It’s, it smells fine, the hair on the belly doesn’t slip, and you’ve…so then you cut into it. And I’m so grossed out by it, but I’m going to do this for out listeners. I think everyone who listens knows that I’m vegan, but also have no ethical qualms with roadkill or hunting, personally. But, so I’m going to try my best. So then you like cut it up, right? And you’re like, "Oh, there’s meat in here?" Is that the?
It’s like a video game, right?
Usually you have to–unless they die on the road right outside of your house and even then–you need to move their body to where it’s safe for you to process them. And so there have been times in Maine where all I’ve had to do is move the deer off the road because it’s wooded and there’s not going to be some person coming over and being like, "This is my land. What are you doing here with this dead deer?" But sometimes you have to put the deer in your car. That’s a whole thing. But after you’re at a place where it’s safe to do that process…Yeah, I mean, do you want me to really get into…the details of it?
Yeah, I mean, like maybe not like totally blow-by-blow but like…Okay, like how much am I willing to disassociate for this? Maybe don’t tell me how to like…You know what, let’s let’s cut to the…I’m sorry everyone you’re gonna need a different teacher…We’ll cut to once you’ve got the meat and the skin and they are separate things. I don’t need to know about the organs as much, but maybe there’s like big, like, "Don’t rupture the such and such." I think there’s like some organ that if you rupture, it’s like all over. Everything smells awful.
It’s really, it’s not hard to not do that. I think people make a really big deal about the gallbladder. Yeah, I feel like if you’re just starting out, like if you’re just starting out, if you’re picking up a deer, they should smell neutral. Like if they smell a little bit like a horse to you or like like grass, like that’s what you want. Sometimes I pick up deer who smell different, but it’s because I’ve had time to figure that out. And you want to just, for roadkill, remove all guts. Just don’t deal with that. And then you’re dealing with a clean body and a skin. There’s lots of skinning videos on YouTube. And there’s lots of different ways to do it. You know, like, you know, the different ways to…
Not allowed to how a 30 round magazine.
Yeah. [Laughing a little confused]
YouTube, you’re not allowed to do a 30 round magazine, but you can watch some animal get removed from its skin. It’s bad.
Totally and it’s, it’s not considered violent or anything.
Yeah. I mean, whatever, I’m completely fine with it. But anyway,
It’s just different standards. But yeah, and I like to just quarter the animals and just what that means is having a back leg, and another back leg, and a front leg, and another front leg, and then the torso and you can break that down however much you want. But you just have these kind of large chunks. And from that point, if it’s good, if it’s the right weather for it, you can just hang the meat. And the meat is okay just hanging outside. And I have to do that a lot because I often am not living with refrigerators and freezers. Some people, when they get a roadkill deer, they either choose to or they need to process all the meat right then and there and like wrap it in plastic or paper and put it in the freezer and it takes like all day. Yeah, but it’s…I think it’s more ideal if you just get to hang up some legs and a torso.
What’s the legality of taking roadkill?
It varies from state to state.
So, you got to look up what your state says about that.
Don’t break and then point to us about it.
Don’t break the law. But also different cops have different feelings about it. Like some of them secretly think that you’re really cool for doing that. And so even if they like see you doing it there, they ignore it.
Yeah, fair. Okay. Okay, so. And for anyone who’s listening, the reason that there’s…Like a slight lag. And so that’s like, why my dumb interjections aren’t always working. Otherwise, they would be incredibly funny and everyone would be laughing all the time. It’d be a laugh track. [Joking] And so, okay, so you’ve got your drawn and quartered animal where you’ve tied it between four horses and pulled it all four directions and then…Sorry, wait, that’s the medieval torture. So, we’ve quartered the animal. Alright, so the meat. We don’t talk about cooking meat and stuff. Right? That’s meat. Alright. So yeah, but you want to talk hide, right?
Yeah. Hiiiiides. [Excitedly inflected upwards like singing] I love having the honor and privilege to work with animal skins. And I think that it’s a huge thing to do because like with the meat you’re eating, it’s gonna be back in the earth pretty soon, but with the skin, you’re suspending a part of the animal away from the Earth where they normally go when they die for like a long time. And that requires this huge effort. And it takes a long time to learn. And it takes a lot of infrastructure, especially for larger skins like deer skins, if you’re making brain tanned leather or bark tanned leather–and we can get into all the different kinds of tanning if we want–but yeah, you need physical infrastructure. And, you can make all that stuff pretty easily. But then that also takes time. So…Uhhh…I’ve gotten to a place where I can improvise a lot, but there’s also…it’s, way easier to work with a skin when I just have like, the physical infrastructure already there. Like if I’m traveling and I show up at a friend’s place and they have all that stuff ready to go, I don’t have to think about it. Like a scraping beam. That’s the first thing you need because when you remove the skin from the animal, they usually have some muscle tissue and maybe fat still on the skin, and you need to remove that because that’s what’s gonna be starting to rot the soonest. And you do that by…I mean there’s other ways to do it, but I do it by draping the skin over like a log and pinning the skin between my body–which I have like an apron of some sort on–and the log and I use a metal scraping tool. It’s quite dull–you don’t want it to be sharp because you don’t want to puncture the skin–to push the muscle and fat tissue off of the skin. You got to do that for every skin you’re working on. A lot of it…From there, there’s a plethora of options, but every skin needs to at least be fleshed, as they call it, just the process of removing muscle and fat tissue.
Okay, so where does the skill tree build up from there if you’re playing a video game? I don’t know. So, you said there’s a bunch of different options. So there’s like–I’m going to make them up–so there’s like rawhide, and there’s brain tan–there’s natural tannins–and then there’s vegetable…Wait no, and then there’s mineral tanning, which means chemical tanning. And which means it’ll never rot into the Earth and therefore is unholy by the standards that I personally hold. In a similar way as plastic, which I totally use, and so I’m not actually casting judgment here. Okay, those are the only three I know of.
I love that you said rawhide first.
Well, that seems like the most…It’s the one where you do the least…I don’t know.
Yes, I love rawhide. And I think that people don’t give rawhide enough credit. Because you can use rawhide in a lot of ways. And people use tanned skins for a lot of things you can just use rawhide for. Like, please save yourself the effort. Like, it’s a great place to start if you want to work with skins. And it’s a great place to start. It’s just making rawhide and using it.
Okay, but what are people using it for that…What are people using a tanned leather that they could be using rawhide for?
Like hides that you’re going to sleep on, or sit on the ground with, or even put on a chair, like they don’t need to be softened the way that hides that you’re going to put on your body and wear as clothing needs to be.
So it’s about softening them not about preserving them?
Well, it’s also about preservation because…I’ll use the example of using a hide to sit on the ground. I prefer rawhide for sitting on the ground,because it takes rawhide a lot longer to absorb moisture from the grounds. At least in the places where I live, the ground has moisture in it. And if you’re putting pressure on a hide you’re sitting on it’s going to be sucking up that moisture. And a tanned hide, like a brain can hide especially, it is more like a towel. It will it will take in moisture faster and more easily. Even on a really humid day, if it’s like foggy or it’s really humid, a brain tanned buckskin, for example, is just going to pull moisture in from the air and just become wet.
This sounds awful. You’re describing a nightmare. You are trapped in another creature’s moist skin.
And that’s and that’s why like I lament, for a lot of reasons, but with you know, with the genocide of so many people, you lose these, like finer details. Like if people who lived in the territory of the Penobscot, for example, wore buckskins, how did they deal with it when they absorbed moisture from the air? Like what? Yeah, did they? How did they prevent that from happening? Or like, how did they deal with that? Or did they just…was it not a big deal and they dealt with it? I don’t know. And it’s…it’s hard. It’s hard to even like mentally process how much of that finer detail, more land specifics information, is if not lost, unmoored and difficult to to find. Yeah.
Okay, so the three methods…Am I wrong that it’s the three methods? There’s rawhide, vegetable tanning, which is brain and bark, any natural tannin–I’m literally making this up–and mineral tanning which is chemical stuff.
Yeah, so your your close.
Rawhide. And then I categorize brain tanning and vegetable tanning differently, but I consider those both natural tanning methods. And a lot of people just say naturally tanned, though, and then they don’t go into details. And when they can’t tell you more information it’s usually chemically tanned anyways.
Oh, I thought you could tell by like cutting the leather. I was like in the leather working for this brief moment. Like, I wasn’t very good at it. I thought you could like tell by like cutting the leather and it was like darker if it was…I’m expecting I’m wrong. I thought was like darker if had been mineral tanned inside.
Honestly, I think it’s hard for me to tell even now as a tanner, sometimes, like, what, in what manner hide was tanned. It’s usually pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s a little unclear. Yeah, those are kind of the two natural tannings and then there’s alum tanning, which I know nothing about it, but it does seem kind of in between natural and mineral tanning. Or maybe it’s…You know, some people would say, "That’s a natural method." And some people will say, "That’s not natural." But I don’t know anything about it so I’m not gonna talk about it. And then yeah, there’s all the more industrial methods of tanning where they’re constantly using new chemicals to do it because either the old ones got outlawed or they can’t find those chemicals anymore. Or, you know, they have to like put everything…they have to put the whole tanning station on a boat and put that boat into waters where there aren’t regulations about these things so that they can dump the caustic stuff that they’re using, just you know, into the ocean, like it’s that…It’s that level. So yeah, commercial tanning is is bad, y’all.
Well, no. Okay, so this makes me feel better about…the weakest part–I don’t really proselytize veganism, people will do whatever they want–but the weakest part of veganism in general is when people are like "Use vegan leather instead," because what they mean is use plastic instead. Right? Yeah. And like using plastic instead of leather is like not actually doing anyone except possibly the factory farmed animal any favors, right? But if the way that commercial leather is treated is also fucking evil then it like moves a point back over. Anyway….
Over to the vegan side.
Yeah, I totally…
I mean, watch out. Someday they’re gonna figure out cactus leather, or mushroom leather, or kombucha scobi leather.
They’re working on mushroom leather.
I don’t think that any of those leathers are ever going to be able to do animal-based leather can do.
I have no counter argument. Okay, so I’m guessing that you’re a proponent of vegetable tanned leather, or naturally tanned leather and not chemically tanned leather. Is that an accurate assessment?
Yeah, yeah. But there are…you can get vegetable tanned leather commercially, too. And it’s different from the home tanned stuff. It is often still done in pretty shitty and unsustainable ways. But at least there’s less like chemicals involved. Some of the barks that are used in the commercial vegetable tanning are like from the Amazon rainforest and they’re byproducts or products of like deforestation that shouldn’t be happening. So there’s that too. I like the home tanned stuff because you know what’s going into it? You don’t have to ask those questions. "Where did this come from?" "Oh, I found this deer on the road." "Where did the bark come from?" "I found the bark that had just fallen up the street,that just fallen. I took the bark. I boiled the bark, I put the hide in the bark. I waited a long time. I kept changing the water and then I took the hide out and I put oil in it and I softened it while it was drying and now, now it’s my shoes."
I really liked the speed run of tanning and you just did.
Well that but that’s just vegetable tanning. Brain tanning is a little different.
Okay, so is brain tanning and vegetable tanning both using something called tannin, which is some kind of chemical thingy that naturally occurs in a bunch of different stuff including acorns and some bark and apparently brains to do stuff to the leather? Is that the big idea?
Vaguely Yes. So brain tanning involves no tannins. At that point…And pretty much at any point tanning is like a colloquialism. It’s a word that we say that doesn’t necessarily have an association with tannins anymore. And what people mean when they say tanning is they just mean that the hide has been softened and preserved.
But the only method in which that’s happening with tannins is the vegetable tanning method. And vegetable just means plant matter in that context. So it can be leaves, it can be bark. I don’t want to get into the acorns thing because I’ve never successfully like boiled acorns or acorn shells and gotten tannins that I’m happy with. I think it’s a myth. But maybe other people have other experiences with that. And if you have, tell me how you do it.
Okay, but why would someone pick brain tanning? Because in my mind, I’d be like, "Oh, well, the thing you got comes with the thing you need," like so it seems like brains are gross as shit but like a natural–I mean you’re already doing something gross as shit–so whatever. It seems like a natural thing. Like why? Why do you fuck around with leaves and bark when the brains right there? Or like what are the…how do you decide how you’re going to tan your shoes?
Yeah, different leathers for different purposes. And they behave differently as well. Brain tanning…And it really shouldn’t be gross. Like, if there’s bad smells going on, something’s wrong and you need to figure that out. It shouldn’t. It shouldn’t smell bad even though the concept of like, "I’m touching a skin. I’m touching a brain," might be…uncomfortable
Yeah, yeah. It’s not gross because of the smell. It’s gross because you’re inside something. It’s gross. Yeah, but this is my own…I don’t like the inside of my own body. Like this is fine.
Yeah, yeah, outside it’s fine.
Yeah, well like half the reason I’m vegans is I’m like, "Well, that’s just gross so I just don’t fuck with it." I don’t know. Anyway,
Um, yeah. So I like brain tanned leather for clothing that’s going to be against my skin, for example.
Makes you smart.
Yeah. It’s always going to be softer and more supple in general, more flexible. But, it absorbs water, it absorbs moisture the most quickly from out of all of the leathers. So, it’s not great for for instance, shoes in a climate where the ground is wet a lot. Right. Even though buckskin moccasins are incredible footwear, it’s really nice to be able to feel the Earth while your feet are protected. But, if they got wet, it feels really gross. And it just like it deteriorates quickly. Like if you wear your buckskin moccasins and they get wet and you continue wearing them, they are going to get holes and wear out very soon. You know? Vegetable tanned leather doesn’t absorb moisture as quickly. And it’s it’s generally a little tougher. And I think rawhide doesn’t absorb moisture…It takes the longest to absorb moisture. It’s the toughest. Okay, yeah, yeah. And what brains do to the hide is it’s just it’s just a softening agent. It does the same thing. Oil for vegetable tanned leather is also just a softening agent. The preservative agent and brain tanning is smoke. It’s the woods smoke. After the softening process, you can stitch the whole hide up like a balloon and fill it with wood smoke by making a super smoky fire and like funneling all the smoke into it. I’m oversimplifying a lot. And you turn it inside out and smoke the other side. And it’s the aldehydes in the smoke that are acting as the preserving agent.
Okay, that…Yeah, that makes sense. You can smoke meat. So yeah, to preserve it. Okay, okay, I know about meat. [Said skeptically. Then laughs]
Yeah, whereas with vegetable tanning, the preservatives, the actual tannins that are in the plants, you’re boiling or cold leaching them so that they come into the water and then from the water they go into the hide and they bind with the fibers of the hide. But tannins, the way that you know something is tannin right, is like tasting it. You put in your mouth and it’s like, it feels horrible. It has this drying quality. It’s more astringent than bitter. It’s more about the astringent action. And the astringency, it’s like…it’s like this drying, puckering thing. And so when you put a hide and tannins, it’s stripping it of moisture, it’s very drying. And it actually causes the whole hide to kind of pucker up a little bit so it gets a little smaller and it gets thicker.
Everyone who’s listening, I’m very sad that you didn’t get to see Burdock enact what happens to the hide. You’re just gonna have to imagine at home.
The little dance.
I have to get my brain back into science mode. So yeah, once you’ve…once all the tannins have bound all the fibers in the hide, and it can’t absorb any more tannins, you need to replace all of the like glubons and stuff that have been stripped out with oil. If you don’t oil a vegetable tanned hide…like if you don’t oil a hide that’s full of tannins, it’s really brittle because of the drying astringent quality of tannins.
Are you getting that oil from animal fats? Because, I’m under the impression that oil is like one of the harder things to source in the wild.
It can be. It can be any kind of fat. It could even be, yeah, egg yolks or brains. It can be…but it can be like plant fats, you know, olive oil. Some people use olive oil. Some people use Neatsfoot oil, it’s like this really specific thing. I still don’t really fully understand what it is. You can use coconut oil. You could use…but I use bear fat. That’s really abundant in the places I’ve been living. And a lot of it is discarded every year during bear hunting season. And I try to…I keep in connection with the local game processor. So he gives me the fat and I render the fat and I gift a lot of that fat to the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot and pretty much any local indigenous folks who want it. And then the stuff that’s like not quality enough to gift. I keep for myself and use for hide and other stuff. And because that’s like the abundant fat of the landscape I’ve been living on.
Yeah, as compared to like something like olive oil, which is basically people being like, here’s the thing that I think is cool that applies to a very different climate than…
I mean if you dumpster dived that olive oil, you know, good on you.
Okay, well, we’re almost out of time. But actually, one of the things I find so interesting about this is that like, rather than replicating, like just what was done before civilization or whatever…What was done before civilization was using available resources. And so we have such different available resources now. And so that’s why I love the inclusion of something like dumpster diving, or even like roadkill, right? Roadkill is not a very natural process. And again, it’s complicated, "natural," but whenever I’m using it. Yeah, you know, like things getting hit by the fact that I drive a giant fucking truck, like, I hate that but whatever. And, and so that’s actually one of things that’s really interesting to me. I really liked this thing that you’re talking about, like, "Okay, we find what is discarded and work with it." That’s like the part that really appeals to me the most, besides a preparedness point of view, the idea of working with refuse in a society that throws too much away, has always appealed to me. I no longer subsist off of dumpster diving, but I did for a very long time. And I really liked the idea of like dumpster diving the roads, you know? It’s interesting to me.
That’s some major raccoon energy right there.
Yeah, totally. Um, okay, well, what is the…Okay do you have any like final thoughts either about Earth skills, or about tannins, or why tannins are overrated, or anything like that?
I love tannins and I love vegetable tanning, but it is definitely the highest effort kind of tanning because you need so much plant matter. So so so so so much. And it takes a lot of physical labor to process all of that. So if you can use rawhide, use rawhide, and if you can’t use rawhide, use buckskin, and if you can’t…or brain tan, and if you can’t use brain tan leather, then vegetable tan leather is is a good option. That’s kind of how I tried to approach it. And my other note is just that it takes way, way, way, way, way longer than you think it’s gonna take. And that’s a good thing. Learning any of these skills and doing any of these things.
Because one of the things that…I was gonna leave the last word and then I keep thinking about things. I’m sorry. One of things I was thinking about I remember, because there’s this whole argument about like, did vikings wear leather. If you want to like fall down a weird rabbit hole, look at the fucking Norweeboos and arguing about that.
[Squealing] The Viking discourse is so weird.
Yeah. And when I try and…I really like writing Dark Age fantasy, right? I know [incoherent] Dark Ages, but I don’t like high medieval, I like low medieval. So I like writing early Middle Ages fantasy as…That is my sweet spot, right, Because they have the cooler helmets and swords barely exists. Anyway, whatever. Yeah. And arguments about leather and like leather clothing. Right? And. And there’s not a lot of historical record of people wearing leather clothing in Norweeboo land. What is that called? Norway, Sweden? And some of my listeners are there. I’m sorry. I’m a terrible person. So and, and so there’s all these arguments about it. But then I learned how much work was involved in making a yard of linen. Like to sew into clothes. And you’re talking about–I’m gonna get this number wrong because it’s been a while since I looked this up–it was like a week’s worth of work for someone to make a square yard of linen fabric. And so when I look at that, I’m like, "Yeah, of course they fucking wore leather. What the fuck? Why wouldn’t you?" But and then, I mean, you’ve gone over some reasons why you might not want it for some of your clothing. But, um, yeah. But that is an interesting thing that you’re bringing up about it takes way longer than you think. That was my train of thought. Sorry.
Yeah, I mean, what if I told you that it also takes a week to manufacture a square foot of leather. I mean, that’s, that’s not necessarily true. For vegetable tanned leather, though, it takes longer than that. And that’s why I’m saying that’s a way bigger investment. And that’s something you don’t want to make every single thing out of. But, for like brain tanned leather, yeah. I guess in a week, you could produce six square feet. I mean, depending on who you are. Some people are fast, some people are slow. And if you’ve been doing it for a longer time, you can do it faster. And the weather conditions. And what the hide is doing. There’s so many factors.
Fine. Back to linen I go. I mean, that’s more what I like wearing anyway. But anyway, okay, okay. Well, if people want to…I don’t even know whether, I can’t remember whether you do like…Should people try to find you on the internet? Would you prefer to not be found? What…Do you have anything that you want to plug here at the end of all things?
[In a low and ornate voice] I don’t want anybody to find me? I just live secluded in the forest. [Switches to normal] No, I have an Instagram. My handle @scragetywocket and it’s all one word. Great. But if you can’t find me, that means I’ve changed my instagram handle to @huge_racc. [said like "Huge Rack"] And that’s RACC. I did a poll and everybody thinks I should change it to that. So I’m considering it. Which is referencing raccoons by the way.
Yeah, of course. Totally.
Okay, yeah. You can cut that out if you want.
No, no, it’s staying in. Alright. Well, thank you so much for coming on. And explaining all of these things that I’m both incredibly interested in and incredibly terrified of learning. So thank you.
Thank you. It’s been great to chat about all this stuff. Thanks for being open to it.
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoy this episode, then you should go live like a raccoon. That was the one takeaway that you should have had from this. Or, you should tell people about this episode and other episodes of Live Like the World is Dying. And you can also support us, you can support us by telling people about it, which is already covered, and you can support us on Patreon. Our Patreon is patreon.com/liveliketheworldisdying. And no, that’s not true. Our Patreon is patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness because I have to give everything long, complicated names. And Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness is an anarchist publishing collective that publishes a ton of stuff, including this podcast and including some other podcasts that you might like. If you back us, we will send you a zine in the mail. If you back us enough. I’ll read your name out right now. I want to thank Princess Miranda, BenBen, Anonymous–hell yeah, Anonymous–Funder. Also a good choice. Jans, Oxalis, Janice & O’dell, Paige, Aly, paparouna, Milica, Boise Mutual Aid, theo, Hunter, Shawn, S.J., Paige, Mikki, Nicole, David, Dana, Chelsea, Cat J., Staro, Jenipher, Eleanor, Kirk, Sam, Chris, Michaiah, and of course, Hoss the Dog. And that’s pretty much it. Everyone should take care as best as they can and don’t fall into an apocalyptic cult. Even though you listen to an apocalyptic podcast I run.
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