Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Jerry is no ordinary guy. Don’t be fooled by his rather gruff exterior. Laughing eyes, and a twitch at the corner of his mouth, quickly verify that humor lies within! He carries his well upholstered body with a slight limp, clearly in pain with each step – a hangover (or consequence) of a youth spent jumping out of planes, off cliffs, dare devil motor cross, and generally pushing his thrill seeking body to the limit. A metal detector will definitely sound if Jerry tries to pass through. His body clinks with metal body parts, and his shoulders have been dislocated so many times that now, if he dislocates his shoulder, he saves himself a trip to the hospital by using a tree (and a couple of swigs of beer), to pop it back in. Jerry’s 20-year-old son scoffs at him as only a 20-year-old son can, calling him “the bionic man without the superpowers”. While he may not have superpowers per se, he is an extraordinary person.
Jerry is the head custodian at the local elementary school, and whilst he does this job with regard for the school, the staff, the children and the environment, it is what he does when he is “not working”, that make Jerry so exceptional.
“I like to call myself an urban scavenger” explains the ever surprising Jerry, after he has proudly told me the story of the time he made several thousand dollars on eBay after selling goods retrieved from a large hobby store dumpster. Other items destined for landfill are reclaimed from the streets, and sold on eBay.
A call at midnight to remove an unwanted racoon from someone’s house is not considered unusual at Jerry’s house. He is a registered animal trapper, and is also used by the DNR to trap, tag and release animals. He has animal traps in a variety of sizes, always at the ready, should they be required. At the sight of fresh road kill, Jerry rubs his hands together. He knows money can be made from animal pelts. Nothing is wasted in Jerry’s world.
Northern Indiana was where Jerry learned all about “wild food “. Jerry becomes animated as he reminisces about going hunting with his dad “I had shot my first deer by the time I was 9 years old. We used to eat pheasant, quail, squirrel, doves and rabbit.” It appears that anything was fair game. “I have even eaten turtle. It’s really good.” Crawdads and fish were also often on the menu.
To augment this carnivorous diet, Jerry’s dad also taught him about foraging for herbs, fruits, vegetables and fungi, in the wild. As the wild asparagus season approaches in May and June, Jerry knows exactly where to find this rare wild delicacy. “ Once you find a ‘honey pot’, you keep it to yourself” reports Jerry when I enquire as to the whereabouts of the wild asparagus.
Likewise, wild morel mushrooms are collected and enjoyed during the spring mushrooming season, along with a variety of berries, pinecone nuts, wild horse radish (used to make wasabi), even the roots and shoots of the wetland weed “narrow leaved cattail” are incorporated into Jerry’s diet.
I inquire as to what Jerry’s family think of all this wild food, assuming that they too are as excited about it as Jerry. “OH, they can’t stand it. I used to try and encourage them to try squirrel meat, but they just tell me I’m weird!” I guess in suburban Carmel Indiana, where, if it doesn’t come in a box, it’s not worth eating; Jerry is a bit of an anomaly.
On the weekends, and some nights, Jerry works at the local butcher shop, plying one of his alternative trades, learned during his youth spent on the family farm.
While Jerry is not exactly a “Doomsday Prepper”, he is always formulating ideas for becoming more self -sufficient. He has set up rain barrels, and has access to well water in his yard. He is collecting solar panels; drawing up plans for a windmill, and has built a generator out of an old Briggs and Stratton motor, an alternator and a few other bits and pieces. ”I run a saw and drill from that generator.”
“You should write a book on all this self-sufficiency/urban foraging/ urban scavenging stuff” I encourage. “ or these sorts of skills will be lost.”
“Yea”, he muses,” I have often thought about that. Maybe I will!”
Jerry has a logical mind that can see uses and solutions mechanically speaking. Jerry was the Manufacturing Manager for 25 years at a motor vehicle parts factory. He was part of the team that helped close the plant down and relocated machinery out of the country. Jerry invented a simple solution to keep a metal shaving machine from getting clogged. This solution saved the company thousands of dollars. The company had been trying to have this problem fixed by “specialists”. Jerry went to his boss and announced that he could fix the problem easily and cheaply. All he needed was some time and space to make a prototype. “The solutions is always simple”, maintains Jerry.
As an after thought, I ask Jerry, half jokingly if there is anything else he has done. Those laughing eyes light up, and Jerry breaks into a grin. “Well, actually, I used to do stand up comedy!” Naturally, I am not surprised by the revelation from this multifaceted character.