Canyon Story Swap with Walking Stick Storytellers Guild, Silverado, Santa Ana Mountains

Mountain Man Joel
Joel Robinson
Mountain Man Joel!
Storytelling is one of the most effective survival tools humans have ever utilized. Thousands of years before the invention of written language, humans were able to perfect and pass down survival strategies from one generation to the next by the simple act of speaking to each other. Thanks to storytelling, complex cultural traditions, hunting and farming methods, shelter building techniques, communication skills, child rearing, and many other basic necessities have persevered into the modern era.

Today, we have many new tools that can help or hinder our ability to survive. Computers, cell phones, movies, TV, cars, automatic heating and air conditioning, sewage treatment plants, water filtration systems, waste management facilities, power plants, robots, and many other technological conveniences can make our lives easier or extremely difficult depending on our socioeconomic status in the world.

Here in OC, the younger generations have almost lost their ability to survive without the aid of an electronic device. For example, a few years ago, I lived in an apartment complex in Santa Ana where most of the residents were college students. Occasionally, when I wandered along the narrow, curving pathways in between apartment units, I encountered another resident heading towards me. The individual was usually about 20-something, grasping a cell phone, and dressed like some beatnik from the 1950s. As we stepped ever closer, there was a simultaneous realization that we had to brush just inches from each other to get by. I, being the friendly neighborhood tour guide, put on a smile, made eye contact, and greeted the individual with an enthusiastic "Hello, how are doing today?" Instantly, fear and anxiety spread across the oncoming pedestrian's face. Rather than respond, the dysfunctional human lurched over into a caveman pose, avoided eye contact, leaped off the narrow pathway, and grunted before hurrying beyond my field of vision. Apparently, this disturbed individual lacked the basic ability to handle regular encounters with random strangers.

These types of occurrences increased year after year until I realized that most folks can no longer converse at social gatherings (without being ridiculously inebriated), drive responsibly, prepare food, manage their own children, clean up after themselves, or even walk erect with their eyes focused on any given destination.

Are we losing our ability to survive? Are the stories that we receive from marketing firms and corporations preventing us from exhibiting rational behavior in our daily lives? Will "progress" bring us to the point where an encounter with a stranger causes us to shit our pants and run away like sheep running away from a wolf?

Walking Stick Storytellers Guild artifact
Joel Robinson
Artifact found in the hole of oak tree in Black Star Canyon

This dismal situation reminds me of The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, two classic stories with lessons about human survival. These and other tales still exist, yet somehow, the stories of our ancestors have been twisted to sell us products instead of help us survive. Not only are there infinite volumes of human wisdom stored in the underappreciated places known as libraries, in addition, we have stories to tell within ourselves. Our everyday experiences, extensive family histories, and constant struggles are chapters within an endless story known as the ecosystem. Our stories can be shared for all to benefit. They can be passed down from generation to generation, so we can learn to avoid the pitfalls of short-term thinking. We can venture down the dark aisles of libraries, past the DVDs and magazines, and borrow stories from the great storytellers of the past.

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