To Be An American. An Account of a Summer Survival Trek. By Intern Jason DiMartino
To Be an American
To be an American is not to have a birth certificate and passport saying you are so. It is not to live under a certain political jurisdiction, nor is it to love and adhere to the values of any American country. Being an American has no relation to society or politics whatsoever, but to the land that has been deemed The Americas itself.
The term “American” is of course somewhat irrelevant, given that the name was forced on the continents by a culture completely foreign to the land, who at first glance, deemed one of natures most vast, diverse, beautiful and complex land masses the honor of a cartographer from halfway around the world. A more meaningful title may have been given by a collection of the thousands of indigenous tribes across the 16.4 million square miles of two continents, who were an integral part of the land. Not its exploiters but its children who recognized respectfully how it supported them. However, it is now America, and somewhat reluctantly I’ll refer to it so.
To be an American as truly as possible is to be one with the land that is America. With this being said, a great many citizens of the United States cannot be considered American. They are dwellers of nowhere but their artificial, fantastic wolds of social media and entertainment, thinking they have the entire world at their fingertips but not really living anywhere. To connect to this earth, one must spend time in it, however we do so less and less, living indoors and in cities away from the wilderness that has brought us here, and however difficult it is for us to tear away from our screens and go for a walk in our local park, this is too small a step. To experience real meaningful connection to America, one has to surrender themselves as completely as they are able to the land.
For me, I searched for this connection in the form of a survival trek A four day, three night hike into the Sierra Nevada of Northern California. Starting from a small ranch near the town of Truckee, eight of us walked north, crossing the Little Truckee River with packs made of parachute cords and wool blankets, containing knives water bottles, and small plastic bags of pemmican, a traditional Native American nation of ground jerky in rendered fat we had prepared in the days leading up to our trek. As we climbed dry, rocky knolls dotted with manzanita bushes and pines we began to fall into a new kind of awareness. Without speaking, we crested a steep hill and emerging into a dry alpine meadow running along the path of the sun, we turned east.
After spending the day searching for food and water sources, we climbed up the north facing slope the meadow, bedded with ponderosa needles and small shrubs. We began to build shelters beneath the tall pines, their branches dripping moss and lichen. With low humidity and high altitude, nights in the Sierra Nevada are cold, so we were thankful for the trees and the debris they offered, insulating ourselves with the thick needles. I carved the Juniper I had gathered into a bow drill kit, and created a small coal which we blew into flame, used to purify the muddy water we had found, and cook our lizards, crickets and seeds for the night’s meal. We then crawled into our holes in the earth, we wrapped ourselves in our blankets and shivered to sleep. That first night under my thin blanket and pile of sticks and needles, with a slowed metabolism and clothes chosen for the heat of the day I was cold. Very cold. It took a long time to fall asleep, and when I did it was fitfully, watching the grey dawn creep through the all too common chinks in my insulation. By the third night, after every minute spent foraging snakes and chipmunks and bitter greens, I was the hungriest I had ever been. Fatigued from the lack of calories, I climbed into my slightly larger pile of needles, and felt as if I were climbing back into the shelter of my mother’s womb.
In my hole of needles that night I felt at home, and packed into the very earth it came to me that I was indeed back in the womb of my mother, who had been providing for me over the past days, and selflessly for my entire life. I became aware of how unskilled and ignorant I was, but with only having asked, she had given me her flesh and blood and bone. Perhaps one can survive by plundering and exploiting, but they cannot claim to be at home in the place they exploit. Once you speak to the plants and the water and the stones and they give you the nourishment and shelter you need to live, then you will be a part of that place. Once you surrender and sink into the soil of these continents, you can if you so wish, call yourself an American.
4 Elements Earth Education (4EEE) is a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit.