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

Mountain Man Joel!
Mountain Man Joel!
Joel Robinson

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?

Artifact found in the hole of oak tree in Black Star Canyon
Artifact found in the hole of oak tree in Black Star Canyon
Joel Robinson

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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.   Stories provide us with a diverse array of choices. If you are excited by the idea of having choices, then please read the following question and choose either a), b), c), or d).

What do you want to be?

a) A wise and cunning wolf.

b) A helpless and manipulated sheep.

c) A sexy, space-age robot.

d) All of the above.

Don't bother to tell me your choice. This test was purely for your own benefit.

After reading this story, I hope you are convinced that I care about all of us. I want humans to survive. Really, I do. If you paid close attention to my story, you realized that _______ is one of the most effective survival tools humans have ever utilized.

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

By the way, the Walking Stick Storytellers Guild is now recruiting for adventurous storytellers! Do you appreciate the natural and cultural history of Southern California? Do you enjoy telling stories in front of large groups of people in outdoor settings? Do you enjoy guiding people on walks/hikes to interesting places? Do you look forward to dressing up in costume and portraying different characters? If so, we'd like to story swap with you!!!!

The Walking Stick Storytellers Guild provides outdoor storytelling on trails, old roads, and around fire rings. We also provide living history tours and presentations celebrating the lifeways of our ancestors.

Please join us on the third Thursday of every month from 6PM-8PM for an evening of story swapping around the fire ring in a wild and rustic canyon near the historic mining town of Silverado. Be prepared to recite at least one story, which can be memorized or written down. Since it is October, strange and spooky stories are preferred. Costumes and character portrayals are encouraged. If you play a portable acoustic instrument, bring it with you, so we can play together. Pack your favorite meal/dessert/beverage for the potluck. Hot tea and fire will be provided.

Who: Storytellers in costume from ages 9 and up. Minors must be accompanied by parent or legal guardian.

Where: The event is held at a rustic private residence up a dirt road near a wooded creek. Call 714-649-9084 or email for meeting location details.

Difficulty: Must be willing to walk up and down a steep dirt hill and crooked steps in the dark, so bring light of some kind (old fashion lantern, flashlight, headlamp, etc.)

And we lived happily ever after. The end.

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