The Origin of Hobbies and Pastimes: An Essay
When we hunt, fish, quilt, weave, hike, boat and practice other forms of recreation, how do these mimic survival behavior of our prehistoric ancestors? What aspect of their lives am I re-creating?
I hefted my backpack onto one shoulder and fished around for the other strap until I had the heavy bag hanging on my back. I buckled the waist belt which placed most of the weight on my hips, and I was ready to go.
The trail I had chosen for this trek was Bass Creek Canyon between the Bitterroot river and the eastern side of the Bitterroot Mountains. I would hike the eight miles and then set up camp on the shore of Bass Lake. From what I’d learned, I was in for a strenuous, uphill journey.
Four hours later I collapsed on the solid stone of a small peninsula which jutted out into Bass Lake. The hike had completely exhausted me so that I could do nothing more than lie on the ground with my head propped up against my backpack.
I fell asleep in spite of jagged rocks stabbing into my back and woke half an hour later looking up into a vast, blue, Montana sky. I slowly sat up and took in the scenery. Mountain peaks towered over me on three sides with pockets of snow still remaining even this far into summer. The lake was bluer even than the sky, reflecting the few clouds that were drifting lazily eastward.
A trout broke the surface sending ripples outward until they were swallowed up by the still water. No sound could be heard save the splash of the one fish and the faint whisper of a light breeze filtering through pines on steep slopes.
The trout had my attention. Tired as I was, I pulled my six piece Redington fly rod from its pocket on the side of my pack. Moments later I was easing a thirteen inch cutthroat to the rock ledge on which I was standing.
Backpacking and fly fishing are two of my passions. I also enjoy kayaking and canoeing on rivers and lakes. Most of us have activities which we have come to love and enjoy. We are willing to invest time, energy and money into them because of the satisfaction they bring.
Some crave physical challenges. Others enjoy creating something with their hands. Some relish the challenge of the hunt while still others find great satisfaction in growing edible plants. There are bee keepers and those who raise one or two cows, pigs or sheep. Mushroom hunters scour wooded hillsides in search of various kinds of fungi. Why do these activities have such a grasp on us?
Ancient man, as is true with all wild animals, spent every waking moment in the pursuit of food. No matter what your opinion is concerning the origin of man, most of us agree that our ancestors spent a good deal of time and energy engaged in activities that would keep them alive. We call them hunters and gatherers, but they were more than that.These ancient people also crafted tools and other things useful for sustaining their lives. Everything was related to survival and food.
We have invented short cuts to the food supply. We simply go to the grocery store or farm market. The result is that we have a great deal of time on our hands that our ancestors did not have. What do we do with at least a portion of these salvaged minutes? We adopt hobbies.
I find it fascinating that our hobbies today are similar to the life sustaining activities of our ancestors. Some are quite obvious, such as hunting and fishing. Gathering mushrooms and other edible, wild plants also is plain to see. Quilting, crafts and woodworking mimic the creative acts of our relatives who lived before the first civilizations were built.
It seems to me that these activities we call hobbies, pastimes, sports or recreation are actually expressions of our raw humanness. They are vestigial survival behaviors. When we participate in many, if not most, of the common recreational activities of our day, it is a glimpse at how our ancestors spent every moment of their lives.
There is one hobby that is a little more difficult to correlate with this concept. A lot of people, especially youth, are wrapped up in playing video games. Is it possible that the content of these games matches up with how ancient people lived? Wars and battles dominate the world of video games just as they have dominated human history as far back as can be seen in writings and archeology. People who pass the day and night with a video controller in their hands are participating digitally in a very ancient, life and death activity. I suppose in this regard, even paintball wars are an expression of this same idea.
My hike out into the Bitterroot wilderness was for the pleasure of the hike and the enjoyment of peaceful surroundings...and the fish. But it was also a not-quite-dormant, primal behavior that at one time lead a man to cross rugged terrain in order to catch fish from a trustworthy lake and return with food for his family.
When we hunt, fish, quilt, weave, hike, boat and participate in many other forms of modern recreation, we might ask ourselves this question: How does this activity mimic the survival behavior of those men and women who lived long ago? What aspect of their lives am I re-creating?
We seem to have lost sight of the fact that these pastimes are really survival skills which are hard wired into humanity. As we each practice our hobby of choice, let’s take a moment to consider how this may be more than simple recreation. It is a link to ancestors who lived so long ago that no genealogical research will ever find them. But there you are, fishing as he fished, knitting just as she fashioned rough clothing from skins, harvesting your garden just as she harvested. You paddle your kayak or canoe down a river, while long ago another paddled as a means of travel and trade.
We consider ourselves to be modern, sophisticated, educated human beings, yet we are not altogether different from our prehistoric ancestors. This thinking might add a new dimension to our favorite pastimes so that they seem more real, more purposeful, more vital.