(Top) Every tool and
material O’Shea used
to produce a telegraph
in the wilderness.
(Below, left) The
a powered momentary
switch built entirely
without modern tools
or materials. The lever
is a sapling switch, and
the battery is made
from copper and iron
between slices of
potato held in a clay
cup. (Below, right)
A multimeter measures
the telegraph produc-
ing 0.36 volts.
dust and heat it to 800°F.
The tiny ember produced in this way represented
a crucial step, releasing energy on its own, so
I wouldn’t have to do all the work anymore. Before
this, for every chipped stone, gouged log, and dug
hole, the energy had to come through my own
muscles. It’s quite humbling to realize how little
impact a human with no tools can have — the
activities of beavers seemed like impossible feats
to me after a few days, let alone the roads and
houses I would return to at the end of the day.
Finally, once I conceded to using a nylon rope for
my bow drill, I was able to whoop for joy as I created
a campfire. Given more time and less rainy weather,
I’m confident I could have made it work with plant
fiber rope, but I had to move on. For now, the nylon
persists in my process like an umbilical cord to
Google provided enough information to teach me
the bow drill — which types of wood to use, what
the ashy dust should look like, and how to bring an
ember to a fire once I had kindled it. But a campfire
didn’t prove anything yet; it would be a long time
before I got this fire to the transformative temperatures of the Metal Ages.
Collecting metal ores wasn’t too difficult in my
location. Dozens of out-of-use mines pockmark the
mountains in Mineral County. Copper ores often
look metallic, or show vibrant greens and blues.
Iron ore can look like chunks of rust.
If I had relied only on internet information to find
these locations, I would have ended up on the tops
of mountains for no reason. I found precise coordinates that were precisely a mile off. Some mines
had no record at all, merely piles of leftover rocks at
the collapsed entrances. Once again I needed local
advice, as well as paper maps, to find them.
The task of constructing a metal smelting furnace
exceeded the information I found freely available
online. My first furnace was hopelessly naive; I was
wasting my energy pumping bellows for hours and
sucking poisonous gases.
In retrospect, it’s possible I got mild arsenic
poisoning twice, from roasting ores containing the
heavy metal in open air and breathing it. This blunder illustrated that more-natural technologies are
not automatically more environmentally sound: my