Bay City Books: ‘Why We Need to Be Wild’

When Jessica Carew Kraft goes to sign her new book, Why We Need to Be Wild: One Woman’s Quest for Ancient Human Answers to 21st Century Problems, she won’t be using an ordinary pen.

Instead, Kraft will use a tail feather she found in Berkeley’s Tilden Park that probably came from a turkey killed by a fox. She will fill it with dark black ink made from oak galls, an abnormal plant growth on an oak tree caused by wasps.

Relying on ancient traditions from the time when humans were hunter-gatherers, rather than a species hooked on small electronic devices, has become a way of life for Kraft. She has spent the last few years learning how to forage for food for herself and her two daughters. She picks fruit from trees and bushes, harvests wild roots, culls seaweed to dry, makes salad from wild greens, and hunts in the damp for wild mushrooms. She relies on roadkill that she skins herself as a major source of protein.

“I try to take principles from our ancestral lifestyle and apply them to now,” Kraft said in a Zoom interview from the porch of her home in the Sierra foothills. “I get a lot of my food in the wild, which is really fun and means I have to spend a lot of time outside,” said Kraft.

Why We Need to Be Wild: One Woman’s Quest for Ancient Human Answers to 21st Century Problem

Jessica Carew Kraft (Camino)

Source Books (Aug. 22, 2023)

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About the Author

About seven years ago, Kraft didn’t know how to tan a hide, make a basket from tule grass, turn bones into tools, or build a shelter with materials found in the woods. She was living in Berkeley and commuting two hours a day to a high-powered tech communications job. She found herself racing to work and then racing home to spend time with her husband and children. Life was a rush and the only time Kraft got to spend outside was during her 15-minute office breaks. And those weren’t satisfying either as the garden of her tech company was so carefully tended it seemed artificial. Kraft felt constrained.

So, Kraft quit her job and went on a quest to “rewild” herself and became part of a movement of people trying to live like our ancestors did before there was agriculture and civilization. Why We Need to Be Wild, which comes out Aug. 22, is the story of that journey.

We see Kraft travel around the West to attend “ancestral skills gatherings,” where she learns to make baskets, tools from stone, and bows to hunt for food. She learns to track wildlife and start a fire with just friction. She makes moccasins for her daughters from deer hides she has tanned.

Kraft also delves deeply into the world of “extreme rewilders” people who are exploring what is possible using Paleolithic technology. There is Peter Michael Bauer, the founder of Rewild Portland, which imparts wild skills to children and adults. There is the group the “Meat Mamas,” expert female meat processors who work with the Native hunters who cull buffalo from Yellowstone National Park. There is the forager extraordinaire, Alexis Nikole, and many others.

The journey upended Kraft’s life, but ultimately in a good way. She split from her husband (they are still close) and now goes back and forth between Berkeley, where her children live during the school year, and the foothills. Kraft says she has technically taken a “half step” into the rewilding world, constrained by her need to be with her children and function in the world as a writer. But her heart is in it, full-stop.

“I’m on my journey still and I wouldn’t say I’m any kind of posterchild,” she said.

One way Kraft “rewilds’ is to spend as much time as she can outdoors soaking up the healing benefits of Vitamin D from the sun and staying closer to the day’s rhythms. She has rigged up her house with an outdoor kitchen complete with a refrigerator, microwave, sink, grill, and dehydrating racks to dry out the foods she has foraged. Her outdoor bathroom has a compost toilet and an outdoor sink.

“I’m always thinking how it could be done simpler, how a hunter-gatherer would accomplish these tasks,” she said.

Kraft even applies the concept of rewilding to childcare. When her kids were young, they accompanied Kraft to gatherings around the Northwest, where they loved to live free and bond with other kids in the woods. Now that they are 10 and 13, they, like most kids, love their computers. Kraft would prefer they spend time outside rather than hunched over their laptops, so she set up a space outside with a solar battery.

“So, if they are going to be online, they have to do it out in the woods,” she said.

Kraft plans to share some of the tips she has gathered on the best places to forage and easy ways to “rewild” one’s life at her upcoming book talks.

“I want to open people’s eyes to the fact that we as humans evolved to be outside looking for where food is,” said Kraft. “There are huge dopamine rewards if you can retrain yourself to be outside.”

More new books from Bay Area and Northern California authors, listed by release date

The Home for Unwed Husbands

Molly Giles (Woodacre)
Leapfrog Press (Aug. 1, 2023)

Kay Sorenson, 44, has straightened out her life. She has an 11-year-old son, divorced his father, and leads a clean life with no smoking, drinking or overeating. But she still can’t say no. When her aging father asks her to caretake the family home in Marin County, Kay and her son move in. But they are soon joined by a motley collection of Kay’s old flames and family members. Will Kay ever learn to put herself first?

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About the Author

The Peach Seed

Anita Gail Jones
Henry Holt & Company (Aug. 1, 2023)

A finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Anita Gail Jones’ The Peach Seed is a story of love reunited, secrets, and the legacy of family. The saga of a Black family in the south brings together the slave trade, the 1960s Civil Rights movement, and a love rekindled between two people who were separated decades earlier.

Hamlet’s Children

Richard Kluger (Berkeley)
Scarlet Tanager Press

Pulitzer-Prize winning nonfiction author Richard Kluger has long wanted to write about World War II. He found a way to do it in this children’s novel set in Denmark during the war. When 13-year-old Terry Sayre’s American family can no longer take care of him in 1939, he moves to Denmark to live with relatives. Within months of arriving, Nazi troops occupy Denmark, and Terry and his relatives must navigate their rule — and find ways to protect their Jewish neighbors from deportation.

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About the Author

Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed

Dashka Slater (Oakland)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Aug 22, 2023)

Dashka Slater has been reporting on and writing about the East Bay for decades, with articles in the East Bay Express and numerous books, including the bestselling The 57 Bus. Her new young adult nonfiction book examines an incident in Albany when a high school student made a racist and sexist Instagram account. He thought it would make his friends laugh, but word about the account spread, leading to consequences he never imagined. 

Accountable grapples with the question: where does accountability end for online speech that harms?

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About the Author

San Francisco’s Forgotten Cemeteries: A Buried History

Beth Winegarner (San Francisco)
History Press (Aug. 28, 2023)

In the early 20th century, San Francisco relocated 150,000 graves to the nearby town of Colma so the city could expand. So does that mean there aren’t any graves in the city? Not at all, according to author Beth Winegarner. In fact, there are 50,000-60,000 forgotten burial sites scattered about, including some underneath some of the city’s most notable landmarks such as the Legion of Honor and the Asian Art Museum. A fun history of a little-known detail of San Francisco.

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About the Author

Leaning Toward Light: Poems for Gardens & the Hands That Tend Them

Tess Taylor (El Cerrito) 
Storey Publishing (Aug. 29, 2023)

Tess Taylor, an avid gardener and acclaimed poet, lives in El Cerrito, where she tends to fruit trees and backyard chickens. As editor of “Leaning toward Light”, Taylor has brought together a diverse range of voices to celebrate the natural world and the human connection to it.

Some of the contributors include Ross Gay, Jericho Brown, Mark Doty, Jane Hirshfield, Ada Limón, Danusha Laméris, Naomi Shihab Nye, Garrett Hongo, Ellen Bass, and James Crews.

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About the Author

The Scandal of Cal: Land Grabs, White Supremacy and Miseducation at UC Berkeley

Tony Platt (Berkeley)
Heyday Books, (Aug. 29, 2023)

Tony Platt, who in his 80 years has been a student, faculty member, and researcher at UC Berkeley, takes a critical look at his alma mater and does not like what he sees. Despite Cal’s reputation as a progressive and enlightened institution, Platt argues that its dark past includes desecration of graves, support for the racist pseudoscience of eugenics, complicity with the military-industrial complex, and large-scale holdings of Indigenous remains.

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