As a kid, I loved to know how things worked. I would take gadgets apart and loved to push the buttons, work the levers and trace the wires, trying my best to understand how they worked, or why they had stopped working. My skills in putting those same gadgets back together, however, were not nearly as good. As the oldest of six kids who all shared the same curiosity, I soon learned not to tinker with things that weren’t already broken, so that I didn’t attract the eyeball-peeling wrath of my exasperated parents. I learned that there were several good reasons for my Dad saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
I also learned that you have to be a whole lot smarter to build something than to take it apart. There is a big difference between a “shade-tree mechanic” who may (or may not) be able to fix a car and the many hundreds of highly skilled automotive engineers that designed and built the car in the first place. The mechanic has just enough know-how to be dangerous. And destroying that same car? Heck, that can be accomplished with no real brains at all - ask any teenager!
As I got older, I also became fascinated with history. One thing that puzzled me was the vast number of things we used to know, but somehow don’t know anymore. We used to know how to build pyramids, obelisks, Greek temples, and Peruvian cities, but somehow, the knowledge of exactly how we did those things has disappeared. How were the monoliths transported and arranged at Stonehenge? How did the statues of Easter Island get to their places? Or how did the ancient Greeks design the Antikythera mechanism, a precisely-geared brass clockwork instrument that could predict the relative positions of the five known planets, our moon and sun, and even predict solar and lunar eclipses with astonishing accuracy? This knowledge has become lost.
In the 1970s, some Georgia scholars began to document the backwoods knowledge and lifestyle of the Appalachian mountain pioneers, which was slowly going extinct. Basic skills like how to build a cabin, make your own tools, butcher and cure your own meat, and a thousand other things that used to be commonplace were slowly disappearing as the older generations passed away. The result was an amazing D.I.Y. reference called the Foxfire Book (Vols. 1-5), which can provide some really interesting reading for a rainy afternoon.
Utah has always had a really strong do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) tradition. Because of its early isolation and hard winters, Utah pioneers had to learn to make things themselves or to do without. Perhaps the first prominent Utah inventor was William Clayton, who invented the “roadometer” to measure the distance traveled by his wagon wheels while on his way to Utah in 1847. His invention, now called an “odometer” is built into every car nowadays. As time went on, that early D.I.Y. culture became pretty deeply ingrained, and Utah has produced some amazing inventors, including Philo Farnsworth (television), Lester Wire (traffic lights), Nolan Bushnell (video games), Hervey Fletcher (hearing aids), Robert Jarvik (artificial hearts), Alan Ashton (WYSIWYG word processing), and Frank Zamboni (ice resurfacing).
A lot of Utah folks still like to do their own thing, and that may explain why there are so many entrepreneurs here on the “Silicon Slopes.” I volunteer with VentureCapital.org, a non-profit organization that helps entrepreneurs raise capital to make their business dreams happen. It is fun to see entrepreneurs come in with an idea, build a business plan, and make a presentation that can actually attract and keep the interest of potential investors.
But the D.I.Y. trend isn’t limited to inventors and entrepreneurs. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from making something yourself, and everyone can get excited about that. Recently, while visiting my sister (a financial planner), she showed off her new stainless steel kitchen island that she had made from a recycled dresser and some galvanized pipe. It looked (and worked) great! My brother-in-law, who is a doctor and part-time musician, had made some of his own acoustic sound-deadening panels for the room where he keeps his drum kit. Today, finding your own D.I.Y. ideas is easy. Whether it’s fixing your car or building an experimental aircraft in your garage, Google is your friend. Social media like Facebook and Pinterest are also full of ideas and success stories, so there really is no excuse - go get your D.I.Y. on!
Last, but certainly not least, a lot of people are thinking more about D.I.Y. health. After all, if you don’t take care of your health, who will? Herbal medicine is an area of ancient knowledge that is at risk of loss in our modern society if we don’t take active steps to use and preserve it. For thousands of years, our ancestors treated many of their common physical complaints and injuries with common herbs that grew in their gardens, or in the nearby forests, fields, and waste spaces. How much of their herbal wisdom has today been lost because it wasn’t written down or the writings were not preserved?
Today, modern medicine is very much in the “shade-tree mechanic” stage. Yes, we can take things (and people) apart, and, sometimes, we can even put them back together in some semblance of working order. But design them? Not a chance. That takes a power much higher than ours, and we can’t even begin to know what we don’t know. While modern medicine may look down its nose at the ancients and sneer at their limited medical knowledge, future generations may well look back at us and think many of the same things. In the meantime, what once worked for your pioneer grandmother may still work today. Here at RidgeCrest Herbals, we believe in eclectic approaches. The more tools that you have in your wellness toolbox, the better equipped you’ll be for whatever life throws at you!