Friday, October 17, 2014

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

We watched Happy People: A Year in the Taiga today.

Mrs ERJ had been cleaning all day.  Belladonna is planning a bonfire in the near future and we are spiffing up the place.

Kubota popped in about half way through.  He was enchanted by the dogs and the action.


The principal subject commented that a man can lose his wealth, he can lose his health, but he will always have his "skills".  He goes on to make a set of skis using an axe, wooden wedges and a hand plane.  A point that he makes over and over again is that the craftsman must know his material, he must select it with care...and he must work with the grain.


The principal subject commented that he had thought he was a master trapper before he was dropped into the taiga for his first season.  He was wrong.  Food and winter clothing drops were missed.  His human partner bailed out.  He should have died.  But his dog knew what she was doing.  She was a master hunter.  She kept them both alive.

He had very strong opinions and emotions about dogs, including one that died distracting a bear that was about to maul him.  That dog died in his arms.


I admire any culture that can thrive in places where the temperatures regularly drop below -40 for extended periods of time.  However....

The central proposition of Thomas Homer-Dixon's book The Upside of Down is that civilization is subsidized by vast amounts of energy, nearly all of it in the form of oil/natural gas.  He draws parallels between the Roman Empire importing vast amounts of grain/wood/wine/olive oil from the periphery of the empire to support the center.  Depletion of the resource base and population overshoot of the center doomed the system.  The implosion started slowly and it was possible to stall the implosion.  But the pressures increased and the final collapse proceeded from the periphery (frontiers ceded) and accelerated inward.

The spoiler in me wants to point out that those hand crafted wooden barges and dugouts are being pushed along by modern, two-stroke gasoline powered engines.  The hunters/trappers would not be able to push out to their territories 180 miles upstream without those gasoline powered outboard motors.

Their territories are approximately the size of four mid-Western counties.  They set about one thousand traps.  It would be impossible to service those traps without the use of modern snowmobiles.

The traps were masterpieces of field engineering.  Two trees were cut with an axe to form two clevises that aligned.  A crossbar was run between them.  A second crossbar was poised above the first with an exquisitely simple, yet sensitive trigger comprised of three pieces of wood.  One was shaped like a "4".  One was shaped like an "h".  The other was a tickler that held the bait.

"What about sled dogs?"  you might ask.  They feed them fish.  They catch the fish using gill nets made of synthetic fiber.  The men who were too old to go out trapping continued to maintain a run of fish net, under the ice, all winter long.  Without inexpensive, synthetic fibers nets would be fragile luxury items.

Additional subsidies result from the fact that people in urban economies juiced up with fossil fuels can pay high prices for furs.  The economy of the taiga village would collapse without high fur prices.

Finally, a politician visits the village.  He travels on an enormous river boat. He gives the obligatory speachs.  The children pay attention because of the novelty.  He off loads many hundreds of kilos of grain to show his appreciation.

Secondary food sources

Even though  the summer is short they were hard core gardeners.  They make fairly extensive use of poly film to extend their growing season.

They also kept dairy cows.

They collected pine nuts by hitting tree trunks with enormous mallets.  They then ran the cones through a machine that resembled a corn sheller to shatter the cones.  The ground up cones were then winnowed using baskets and the breeze.


The principal said that the taiga demanded industry yet he also noted that greed was despised.  Trappers who would do anything for a few more coins destroyed much.  They might start trapping before the furs were prime to have a few more the price of the catch in the neighboring trapper's territory.  Or they would keep trapping into the month of March when all they were catching were pregnant animals.

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