Stories of my study and practice of Wilderness Awareness and Indigenous culture.

Walkabout

This past week I had the opportunity to join a small group of my classmates on a voluntary, 3-day walkabout. A walkabout is a semi-survival situation in which the group is traveling, hopefully towards rescue, as opposed to setting up camp in one location and waiting for rescue to come to you.

While this wasn’t meant to be a full survival situation, is was set up as more of a day hike gone wrong kind of scenario. We were told to bring only a day pack, with no sleeping gear, and a maximum 1 liter container of food. We would attempt to eat off the land as much as possible.

 

Day 1

It all began on Tuesday morning, when our group of 12 (3 instructors and 9 students) were driven about an hour away from the school and dropped at the end of a forest service road.

As we walked, the instructors would point out different wild edible plants, which we would pick and either eat on the spot or put in our “gathering bags” for a communal dinner later that evening. We soon left the trail and headed off into the heavy brush, bushwalking our way across the landscape. After a few hours of the hairiest hiking I’d ever encountered we made it to a beautiful canyon with a small river. We took a break there to gather some more food, nap, and a few of us tried our hand at fishing with just a line and a lure.

We spent the rest of the afternoon bushwalking across creeks, over fallen trees, through Devil’s Club, Blackberry, and Salmonberry with intermittent rain. We continued learning about and picking wild greens, and were treated to animal sign like a River Otter scent mind by a creek, deer bed sites, a Bear cambium feeding site, and fresh Mountain Lion tracks! We finally made camp near a bog and its outflowing creek in late afternoon as a wet, exhausted and sore bunch.

We chose to build a group shelter for all of us, rather than individually. The bed was made up of layers of hemlock branches, moss and sword fern fronds. The roof was a patchwork of small tarps we brought, and used paracord to string them up to nearby trees. We were lucky to have a large fallen tree which we could use as a windbreak, and attached the low side of our tarp roof to it.

As we built the shelter other students worked on getting a fire going, and stringing some tarps over so we could enjoy it without being rained on. We all emptied our gather bags of edible greens into a pot, added some yummy dressing, salt and pepper and feasted on the bounty of the abundant land we had crossed. The salad included yummy greens like Stinging Nettle, Daisy greens, Dandelion greens and flowers, Salmonberry flowers, Siberian Miner’s Lettuce, Plantain, Fiddle heads of Lady Fern, Dock, and Weavers. We also made up a broth of Nettle to give us something to warm our bellies for bed.

We slept that night in a relatively dry manner. Some of us colder than others depending on how much we decided to push ourselves. A few students even foregoing the acceptable wool blanket we were aloud to bring. I was warm and dry enough, but the bed was lumpy and uncomfortable, so I didn’t sleep much.

 

Day 2

The morning brought us together again around the fire, enjoying a break in the weather and some sunshine, sharing stories of our night, which apparently included one student’s account of watching a large Mountain Lion stalk through our camp, not 7 feet from him!

While enjoying the warmth of the morning fire, our instructor’s let us know we would stay at this camp another night, and that we could spend the day doing whatever called to us, whether that be improving on our shelter, gather edible plants, fishing in the bog, or catching up on some sleep. I chose to try my hand at fishing, eager to provide and enjoy some meat with my little tribe.

We hiked over to the bog, which was absolutely spectacular! Made up of vegetation that seemingly floats over the top of the water, with a large area of surface water in the middle, it was quite a marvel to walk about its squishy shore. A few of us broke out our fishing line and lures and practiced the finer points of hand line fishing, eager to catch a Trout. A couple of the instructors were with us and gave great instruction and coaching to help us improve and increase our success rate. After some frustrating attempts, I finally started to find my groove and actually caught a fish! I cast a few more times and caught a few more fish, 4 in total! I hadn’t caught a fish since I was a kid, and here I am, in a semi-survival situation, and I discover I can actually harvest meat for my tribe!

I then collected all of the fish our group had caught and headed back to camp to clean and prepare them for dinner. After settling down by the fire with a flat rock to process the fish on, I was joined by Leah, a fellow student, who had spent the day collecting a ton of Cattails. We worked side by side, each preparing our offering for the evening’s meal.

Once done with food prep, I joined a group of students in upgrading our shelter and bed. Personally, I added more hemlock boughs and armloads of moss to the uneven spots of our bed, giving it more spring and a nice flat place to lay our weary bodies. We also chose to build a small fire near the opening of our shelter, and built a heat reflector (wall of branches) to reflect as much of the heat as possible into our shelter.

As the sun dropped lower in the sky we filled a pot with water, fish, cattails, and some greens to create a delicious and filling stew, which we all enjoyed around the fire as we told our stories.

Telling stories around the fire has always been one of my favorite ways to spend my evenings, and these opportunities on this trip where no different. I loved getting to know my small tribe better, and sharing myself in ways I hadn’t previously. We laughed quite a bit, enjoying the boost of energy and spirits a full belly of stew gave us.

I went to bed considerably warmer than the previous night, with the toasty fire keeping my feet and legs heated. My bed was flat, and had a little cushion to it. It wasn’t plush, but it wasn’t far from it. The rain returned early in the morning, still a few hours before dawn. Our group kept the fire going through the night, and kept it from being drowned out by the rain.

 

Day 3

I awoke just after the first glimpse of light peeked into the sky, and the birds were singing their new day song. Taking my place by the fire to keep it fed and putting out heat for my slumbering compatriots.

After we were all awake, our instructors asked us to break down camp and scout our beds and fires, so no one would know we had been there. We packed our things, said goodbye to this wonderful place that had held us for a time, and were hiking across the bog within 30 minutes. The instructors had prepared us that this day would involve a lot of hiking. We had a long way to go to get back to the school land.

We alternated between forest roads, hiking trails, and bushwhacking, for hours upon hours. Around midday we stopped for rest at Cherry Falls, a stunningly beautiful waterfall that many locals enjoy hiking to. Some of us explored the area, others just sat and took in the beauty of the falls, and many of us took an opportunity to nap in the sunshine. Finally, our instructors called us back and we set off for the final leg of our journey. The literal home stretch.

After another couple hours winding through the thick forest and its underbrush, we finally made it back to the school and a warm reception from the rest of our class. They had even gone as far to cook a feast for us to welcome us home. We sat around eating delicious, calorie rich food we didn’t have to harvest ourselves, and told our stories of the week.

Looking back on the experience, I feel like I’ve deepened my connection to the land further. I’ve gone into the woods, asking to be sustained by its literal fruits, and found myself in a beautiful flow-like experience. I felt closer to my ancestors and how they lived. Basically, I just felt closer, to the land, to my fellow tribespeople, and to myself. I learned a ton about edible plants. Amazing how much information you can retain when your dinner relies on it! One of the main reasons I went on this trip was to push my limits a bit, and get uncomfortable for awhile, so I can expand that comfort zone. I was successful, and that expanded level of comfort has brought me a new level of intimacy with the world.

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Deepening Relationship with Fire

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I began this program with a relationship to fire similar to others who have grown up camping and enjoying the occasional winter night by the living room fire. I loved playing music with friends and family around a fire pit at the campsite. I loved making a fire in the fireplace on a chilly December night. It’s always been more than just warmth or ambiance. It just felt right, and until this program, I never explored why that was.

There were a couple of things that attributed to this deepening. The first is simply the sheer amount of time we spend working on and sitting around a fire in the Anake program. Nearly every class day is spent in the presence of fire. This increased face time has given me a lot of opportunities to stare into the flames and be hypnotized by the flickering dance of this magical being.

The second thing that has deepened my connection to fire is the ceremony of bringing fire forth. Before this program I would have called this process, “lighting a fire.” Now I know it as a much more intimate and connected processes, that doesn’t always succeed in bringing fire.

By learning and practicing friction fire with a bow drill or hand drill kit, I have created a relationship that occurs for me as one of calling forth a deity through a ceremony of gratitude and sacrifice.

Think about it, I start by selecting the proper natural materials and then shaping them to my needs with rapt attention and intention. I practice my technique for utilizing this kit made of my own hands, so that I may better know the proper way to address and call to this Fire deity. Before I begin the ceremony, I prepare the ceremonial space to call forth and welcome the Fire, making sure each piece is in its proper place. Then I give gratitude to the Fire, fixing in my mind’s eye and sharing with my words, what Fire means to me and my desire to be in its presence this day.

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I then begin the action of spinning the spindle, either by bow or by hand. I breath, and feel my body warm up through its movement. If the deity is smiling on me this day, a tendril of smoke begins to emanate from the friction point. My body seems to rise in temperature along with the tip of the spindle and the socket of the Fireboard. As the smoke increases, a drop of sweat leaves my forehead and falls to the earth. This is my offering to the deity. I offer my sweat, my words of gratitude, and my devotion to the practice of calling it forth. I continue to breath and to move, increasing the temperature and creating the conditions for Fire to join me on the physical plane.

The smoke is billowing now, the dark brown/black dust is filling the socket’s notch… and then it happens. A tiny glowing coal emerges, as if through some magical portal. Fire has come to visit! The ceremony is not over though, it is now time for the second part, encouraging Fire to stay and be comfortable. If I do not succeed, Fire will leave me, and I will have to begin the ceremony again.

I grab my fist sized bundle of tinder, made of scraped cedar bark. I tap the coal into the bundle of cedar, and begin to give it air. It glows brighter as I blow. I feed more of the cedar fibers close so it has plenty to eat and grow strong. I continue this process until the the second magical moment of Fire’s visit occurs… flame bursts forth.

All I need to do now is continue to feed the Fire, making sure it has plenty of food to eat, air to breath, and heat to stay warm. I have prepared a small structure of kindling and usher the flaming cedar bundle into its center so that it may feed on the dry wood now surrounding it. I begin to feel Fire’s warmth as I feed more and more wood to sustain its voracious appetite. I breath a sigh of contentment and gratitude. Fire has come to visit, and will stay a while with me.

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I am grateful this day, because I am to be joined by my friends, to share in the warmth of this Fire. We will come together to share. Food, stories, songs, dance, love and gratitude. Fire brings us together and holds the space for us to grow closer.

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For many indigenous cultures, Fire is a connection to one’s ancestors. I like to imagine generations of my ancestors gathered around this same energy, telling their stories and singing their songs. Through Fire, I experience this deep connection with my lineage. No matter how modern my life has become, and how foreign it may seem to those bygone generations, I will always have this time to share my words and song with the Fire, just as they did. The content may be different, but not by much.

Through Anake I have to come to know, not just intellectually, but spiritually, that Fire is the source of all life on this planet. Without the big Fire (the sun), life on this planet, and possibly elsewhere would be possible.

Now when I look into those dancing flames of a warm fire, I feel all of this connection. That feeling I used to experience around a fire, before being in this program, is so much clearer to me now. I can understand and celebrate this new depth every time I kneel on the earth and begin the ceremony anew, every time I add a log to the Fire and smile at my friends sharing its warmth with me.

 

California Trip

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On the day that marks our half way point through the Anake program, we load up into 4 passenger vans and embark on our journey south, to culminate in Southern California at the Quail Springs Permaculture Farm, an annual Anake trip for the past 9 years.
As we set out, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this journey reminded me of our ancestral roots, when tribes were nomadic and would travel to warmer lands during the cold season. I speak for my fellow classmates when I say we were more than ready to enjoy some sunshine and warmer temperatures after a long, cold and rainy winter thus far.
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We stopped a few times on the way south. Our first night was spent at a campground outside of Ashland, Oregon, where we were surprised by a snow storm at 2 a.m. which was immediately followed by a mad dash for cover since most of us were sleeping out under the stars. Our second and third nights were at Henry Coe State Park, just south and east of San Jose, California. Our time in Henry Coe was magical as we explored the beautiful Oak Savannah ecology, which was a new landscape for many of my fellow classmates, but for me was a familiar treat, reminding me of my home in Santa Rosa, CA.
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After setting out from Henry Coe, with a brief lunch stop at Pismo Beach to enjoy some sun and sand, we finally made our destination; Quail Springs Permaculture Farm.
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Quail Springs was founded by Warren and his wife Cyndi after having founded another organization by the name of The Wilderness Youth Project in Santa Barbara, CA. Warren has attended some trainings at Wilderness Awareness School, and is an accomplished tracker and naturalist with ties to many of the same teachers as Wilderness Awareness School. I sensed our shared lineage immediately, and it felt like visiting extended family members. Our two organizations have further cross pollinated over the years as some Quail Springs folks have attended Anake, and some Anake’s have gone to live and work at Quail Springs. We were greeted by two such Anake family members; Marilee and Paul.
We spent a total of 6 days in their high desert, sub-alpine canyon, among the Pinyon Pine, Sagebrush and Yucca. Our days were filled with hands on permaculture experience, from goat milking and herding to rabbitry, bee keeping to natural building with cob. Spending time learning from the incredible people that live and work on that farm was such an inspiration. It’s one thing to buy a hybrid car and use reusable grocery bags to be “green,” it’s a whole other realm to live and work in a way that actually feeds the earth and her people.
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There were lots of fantastic opportunities for naturalist fun too. Most mornings a group of us would rise and head up the tallest canyon slopes we could find to watch the sunrise on a ridge. The sandy canyon floor made for spectacular tracking which we took advantage of on our midday wanderings.
The things that will stick with me most from my time in that magical canyon, are the people and their songs, stories and laughter, the stunning landscape, and my fellow tribe members of Anake. I got to see relationships flower and deepen, and passions for new ways of living ignite.
We waved goodbye to our new cousins as our vans pulled away on the dusty road. Our drivers plotted the course north through the central valley, and off we went. I had an opportunity to enjoy a very special treat for our lunch stop in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. My family lives just 45 minutes north of the Whole Foods we stopped at, so I invited my Mom, Sister and Niece and Nephew down to join me, and they accepted! It was incredibly soul nourishing to visit with them all.
Back in the vans for the next stretch to the Coastal Redwoods and Sequoia’s of The Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt State Redwoods Park. We pulled in after dark and made camp, feeling blessed to fall asleep staring up at a few stars peeking through the canopy hundreds of feet in the air. It truly was like resting at the feet of giants. Many of us woke early the next morning to maximize our time with these amazing trees and the stunning Eel River. We sang them songs and played among the forest.
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After a wonderful morning, it was time to head out again. As a group, we collectively decided that we wanted to push hard on this day and make it home late that night, rather than break it up into two days. It was a long day of travel, but we finally pulled into school at around 1:30 A.M.
I will never forget this 11 day trip and how it brought me closer to my tribe, and how it has molded me. I was rather anxious about spending so much time cooped up with a lot of people, but in the end it helped me move past some things that have kept me from being closer to people.

Scouting Guild Week

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This past week I had the awesome opportunity to participate in 3 amazing days of training in the ways of the scout. The scout is a member of any tribe who acts as a protector for their people. Not through direct physical confrontation, but through reconnaissance, awareness, and stealth.

In modern times, we might try to compare the scout to a CIA spy, or sniper. The true task of the scout is to gather information about the surrounding area and it’s inhabitants. The scout does this by developing the skills of camouflage, stealthy movement, and awareness.

After some instruction in camouflage basics and stealthy movement, we played some games to develop our sensory and movement skills, which included a giant game of 4 way Scout Capture the Flag.

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For our final day, we were given a mission that would test our skills to the max. We broke up into 2 teams, and were given maps and orders to get to a house marked on the map, without being seen, and collect as much information about what was going on there as possible, then report back.

We applied our camouflage, and headed out. Moving quickly at first, and slower and lower to the ground as we approached the intended house. Fanning out to collect as much information as possible, we each belly crawled into position and dug in for the day.

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I won’t give away too much of the mission, for those of you who may participate in this event in the future. I will say that the exercise evoked emotions from exhilaration to utter boredom, sensations of damp cold to the tickling of insects, and an overall experience of the kind of fun and excitement that can only come from a day spent pushing your comfort zone and testing your abilities.

By the time we made it back to camp to debrief the exercise and complete the week, our group was buzzing as we shared our individual stories, trials and triumphs.

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When I look back at the week and what I am walking away with, I am present to the increased level of self confidence and trust I have in my expanded abilities to focus all of my senses for long stretches of time. I was able to stay on task without becoming distracted for hours on end. My mind was quiet and alert. My body was able to be comfortable enough in damp, cold, and dirty conditions. I surprised myself in my ability to move through a dense forest

undetected, and to pick up on very subtle sights, sounds, and intuition to evade others, or to find them.

I think one of the greatest abilities that we as human animals have lost through the process of our own modernization, is our awareness. The amount of time we spend zoned out or going through the motions of life on auto pilot is extreme. So to take 3 days and sink into the mindset and skills of the scout. Where our survival, as well as the survival of our people relies on catching extremely subtle clues at unexpected times.

When we are that present and aware, we feel truly alive. If I could share only one thing with you from my week, it would be my overwhelming experience of aliveness. I endeavor to continue my practice of these skills and expand my comfort zone, so that I may continue to experience my aliveness.

Anake Week 11

We learned all about tracking and trailing this week. Tuesday we practiced aging tracks and trailing a fellow classmate through the woods by tracks alone. Wednesday we played in the forest enjoying some time together and indulging our curiosities in nature. Thursday we learned about sketching and plastering tracks, and got to go out and plaster our own!

Anake Week 8

I’ve been posting some videos on what I’ve been up to in my Anake program, but wanted to write up some of my recent experiences as well.

Natural Movement

Those of you who know me, know that I am a movement nut and have worked professionally as a natural movement trainer for the last 3 years. As you can imagine, the natural movement portion of the curriculum is right up my alley!

The core of the Anake natural movement teachings are called Animal Forms, which are essentially mimicking animals movements. We started with a mobility series imitating about 10 different animal movements to open up our joints and warm our bodies up.

Next we mimicked a handful of different animal walks and crawls, from deer to raccoon, coyote to panther. What a workout!!! Especially the forms that get us down on all fours.

Later in the day we learned some Earth Gym staff techniques, Brazilian Ju Jitsu rolling techniques, some basic Tai Chi mobility movements and some parkour vaults, all in a sample platter type format. It was so cool to experience the breadth of techniques and approaches to natural movement available today.

There was a very visceral connection I experienced when moving my body in these different ways around the landscape. I really found myself connecting with the natural world around me in new ways, and connecting to the animal spirits that I was mimicking.

Aidless Navigation

We did a day on learning how to navigate around a landscape without a map or compass, and definitely not a GPS! One activity we did was to mark our spot on the trail, then head straight out into the brush at a 90 degree angle for 150 paces. Next we were to turn around and head back. Once back to the trail, we noted how far away we were from our starting point on the trail. Some of us were very close or dead on, others found themselves 50 feet or more away from their starting point. This posed an excellent demonstration of how far off we can get from the direction we think we’re traveling in.

We then discussed different techniques for navigation. Things like using landmarks, creating a trail as you go so you can follow it back, or a really fun technique called storylines or songlines.

This involved creating characters out of distinct landmarks along your path, like a unique tree or log. Then create a story or song about that landmark and how it relates to the next landmark/character. We then had fun splitting up into groups and creating a storyline for another group so that they could follow a route just by reading the story and following along.

At first, I had some reservations about navigating without modern tools. Its scary just thinking about it. But after learning the techniques, I feel more comfortable with the idea, should I need to rely on them in a situation without my trusty modern tools. I particularly liked the songline technique, it really allowed me to interact with my environment in a new way. Instead of seeing “the forest” I was able to see interesting and unique characters in colorful and engaging stories.

Many native cultures utilize songlines to help connect younger generations to their land, and to help them stay oriented.

Stone Tools

We spent a day down by the Tolt River in Carnation to learn some techniques in making stone tools. We mainly focused on techniques to help us create sharp edges for knives or hatchets.

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Practicing these techniques was a TON of fun! It mostly consisted of banging rocks together or throwing one at another. An excellent way to release some tension!

The second half of the day was about hafting the blades to a stick or branch and lashing with thin, flexible vines and branches.

Learning these techniques has some special significance for us, because we will need to be able to fashion tools from stone on our survival week at the end of the year in order to build our shelters and fire kits. Without these skills it will be a very wet and cold go of it.

It was also really great to imagine our waaaaaaaay back ancestors fashioning and utilizing tools of stone millenia ago, as I sat by the river, chipping away on my rock.