On the Trail of the Urban Scout
16 Sep 2008
Urban Scout, aka Peter Bauer, is a fourth-generation native of Portland, Oregon’s largest city. Sarah Wilkinson explores his deep ancestral relationship with the land.
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Urban Scout, aka Peter Bauer, is a fourth-generation native of Portland, Oregon’s largest city. He has a deep ancestral relationship with the land and not just because his great, great grandfather lies buried there.
At 16, he started reading books on the structure, history and future of humankind. It dawned on him that civilisation could never reach a point of sustainability because the planet’s resources were being squandered beyond their rate of replenishment. In short, while the human empire must’ grow in order to survive, it is, by its own nature, an unsustainable practice. From this seed of realisation, he began a life-long journey to rewild ñ a process of dismantling’ that he believes is vital for the continued development of us’.
‘I decided to walk away from this culture and learn to hunt, gather and garden for all of my necessities,’ he says, referring to his previous city-slicker lifestyle. ‘In short, I’m a hunter-gatherer wannabe in search of meaning and tribe in a time of ecological and cultural collapse.’
With the emergence of a new, post-oil age and a ballooning world population in need of more earth’, the future might seem to some as bleak. Urban Scout’s mission is to stay one step ahead of such projections. Those trained and ready to embrace the change might see it instead, as a rather exciting journey ñ a great 360 degree swivel back to grassroots. Very true, the next generation may all have to be subsistence-style urban farmers like Tom and Barbara in the BBC mid-70s classic, The Good Life. Rewilders however, will point out the clue to the question of happiness is surely in the programme’s title.
‘I have a duty to mythologize the process I’m going through and inspire others to join the rewilding renaissance,’ Urban Scout explains. ‘So I write stuff, make videos, take pictures, design things, teach classes and maintain a blog that’s a public exhibition space.’
Now 25, Scout has pioneered an internet community for fellow rewilders or for those who want to learn more worthy living’ skills ñ an online field-guide, gathering and providing valuable information on primitive or sustainable practices. ‘Our elders have long since disappeared,’ he explains, ‘and the information they held and the skills they used, only exist now in pockets ñ a few books, a few schools and practiced by only a few… We need something else to stand in for our elders… This website attempts to do just that.’
Visitors to the forum can learn, for example, how to organise their own rewilding camp, how to seek out water and test for heavy metals before consuming it or find out which native plants are edible and, more importantly, which are not. They can search for courses on subjects such as foraging for wild fruits, nuts and vegetables or how to extract oil from plants.
‘I don’t have the luxury of a one million year old sustainable culture to immerse myself in,’ Scout admits. ‘I don’t believe a person can sit a few lectures on survival or primitive living and then go do it. It takes years of practice, generations in fact. I’ve created, as closely as I can, the safety and security that children in primitive cultures had, while slowly and respectfully learning to survive without the comforts.’
His site catalogues his urban-hunter-gatherer-grower adventure. ‘Part fact, part fiction, part man, part myth, in The Adventures of Urban Scout, I try to use comedic irony as a clever disguise to spread a truly sustainable world view, for a time beyond our own,’ he says.
However, this blend of satire, foresight and political comment has its heart and humour in all the best places. It provides the right measure of comedy, without eroding the more serious underlying message. Site users can find photo-guides on the sort of stuff they might, one day, need to know: how to cure a cold with Douglas Fir needle tea or prepare the food they catch, for example. They can read excerpts from his book-in-progress, become part of the debate on the future of civilisation or keep track of his journal on the trials and tribulations of going against the grain’.
For those who enrol in his camps and workshops, they can master more hands-on rewilding skills, such as tracking, foraging, making fire without matches, finding or building shelter, how to eavesdrop’ on the environment, translate the call of birds and effectively stay safe by taking advantage of nature’s built-in alarm system.
‘Urban Scout’s out there exploring and inventing rewilding and contemporary tribal skills with style,’ says Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture. ‘I admire that he doesn’t claim to know it all. Scout always takes me down an unanticipated path. We civilised folk have forgotten what he’s trying to remember for us.’
‘Civilisation has been a process of making people perceive the world as dead,’ Scout informed Marjorie Skinner for the Portland Mercury. ‘It’s time we create stories that will inspire new cultures and bring the world back to life.’
Urban Scout iChat’s with the forest. Photo: © Melanie Brown
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