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

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One Month In

I haven’t posted since starting the program because I just haven’t had the space or energy to sit down long enough to do so. Please forgive this ultra long post, but I have so much to share with you! I hope to get into the rhythm of posting regularly so future additions should be shorter.

If you’d like to start this blog from the beginning, go to my first post here.

What This Program Is

I am now one month into this amazing adventure, otherwise known as Anake Outdoor School, and it has been the best month of my life! Since beginning the program with an intensive weeklong campout on the school property and the subsequent 3 day per week classes, I have come to understand this program and why I was drawn to it with deeper clarity.

The Anake program is designed to guide students as deeply as possible into nature connection, primitive skills, and tribal living, based on common practices and teachings found in indigenous cultures from around the world. Why is this all important, you ask? Well I’ll tell you.

Nature connection is important because through a deeper understanding and relationship to our natural world, we come to appreciate and experience our sameness and interrelationship with everyone and everything on this planet. Learning about trees, medicinal plants, bird language, and animal behavior teaches us the knowledge that our indigenous ancestors passed down from generation to generation. Learning skills like creating friction fire, tracking animals, creating medicines and food from local and natural resources all give us practices that guide our bodies and minds towards the ancient motions through which humans have followed for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of years.

The best way I can summarize the program for you is to say that the Anake program is a training and education in being a human animal on this planet that can exist in harmony within this amazing ecosystem.

What We’ve Done So Far

Opening Week

Opening week was a Monday through Friday campout on the school’s 40 acre forested “campus”. The week was kind of like a sampler plate of the program. Each activity we participated in gave us a taste of what we’d be learning and doing in the following 9 months. We did a baseline test of our knowledge of local animals and plants, which I failed miserably, but was amazed to confront how little I know about the natural world around me. We did a little tracking, a little bird listening, a little mindfulness training in a practice called “Sit Spot” which I will talk much more about in the future, and a handful of transformational ceremonies around a sacred fire. Laurie and I came out of the week with an entirely new perspective on the world and our place in it. We also were absolutely floored by the life changing opportunity we have stepped into with this program.

Weeks 2 and 3

In the two weeks following opening week we sunk into the normal class rhythm of 3 class day weeks, Tuesday through Thursday.

One of the first things we studied were Birds and Bird Language. We did a pre dawn bird sit, where we went into the woods near the pond and sat down before the sun had risen. We then listened to and looked for the birds as they awoke to greet the new day. What we were listening and looking for were patterns in their behavior. We identified different species and what each bird was saying based on what we had learned of their different vocalizations. After about an hour of listening and taking notes, we all got together and drew group maps of the area. We then plotted out the different birds and what they were saying/doing over time. Each map was compared to the others so we could begin to build the story of the morning. We could piece together when a hawk had flown over, or when a ground predator, like a bobcat, likely walked along the pond’s edge. I used to make fun of people who got overly excited about birds, but my eyes have now been opened to the role birds play in the wild. They are the messengers and alarm system of the wild. Understanding their language gives us an opportunity to extend our awareness, and more deeply connect with the happenings around us.

Later that second week we built our first bow drill kit (pictured below), and learned to make fire by the process of friction.

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I was actually able to make my first “coal” and start a fire! Let me tell you, there is no feeling in this world quite like the sense of power and magic you experience when you create your first fire by primitive means. It’s simply amazing. Here are a couple pics of my friend Deborah making her first coal

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In the third week we dug into the world of plants, specifically for edible and medicinal uses. We spent a day foraging for these kinds of plants, and learning a TON about the uses for each plant we found. The following day we took our bounty to an amazing place called Hawthorne Farm, an 8 acre farm in Suburban Woodinville. There, we learned what to do with everything we had harvested. We learned to smoke fish in the primitive way (pictured below)

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We learned to make dehydrated fruits, medicinal honeys, and press apples for cider (my friends Deborah and Tom pictured below)

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And we learned to gut, clean, filet and skin a fish (pictured below)

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All in all it was a pretty incredible homesteading kind of day.

Oregon Dune Trip

This past week, we travelled to the Oregon Dunes near Lakeview, Oregon to study and practice animal tracking. All I can say is WOW! If you’ve never been to the Oregon Dunes, you should make it a priority. It’s like visiting another planet and is also an incredible place to learn the art of tracking because there are miles of undisturbed animal tracks all over the place. While we were there we saw tracks for everything from Raccoon to Bobcat, Red and Grey Fox to Coyote, and River Otter to Black Bear. We learned how to identify which animal left the track, and we learned all about gait to discern how the animal was moving. Was it walking slowly, or trotting quickly, or running at full speed? Amazingly, all of this can be gleaned just by a few prints in the sand! We also had a lot of fun with our fellow classmates, apprentices and instructors playing some incredible nighttime games and participating in some moving ceremonies.

One major highlight of the trip was on the first day out on the dunes when we visited what’s called a Tree Island. These are dense, ancient forests seemingly poking out of the sand, but in reality are the high points of the ancient forest that is now under all that sand. A group of us took the opportunity to explore one by following the game trails through the dense foliage. Before long the game trails turned into small game tunnels which we crawled through on our hands, knees, butts and bellies. It was an amazing opportunity to get into the spirit of the animals that call the tree island home and navigate around the forest.

Here’s a great pic to give you an idea of the landscape:

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Here are the peeps from my clan checking out some awesome tracks:

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This is a cool pic of some Common Raven tracks, I love how they drag their feet which makes their prints look much longer than their feet actually are. The best part of this pic though, is that you can see a spot where the Raven’s Primary feathers left marks in the sand as they took off. Look to either side of the tracks for perpendicular claw mark looking prints:

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This is a picture of a little mystery we found while tracking a Grey Fox. At the bottom center of the pic you’ll see the Fox’s prints leading up to what looks like a giant swipe mark moving forward and to the left, with no paw prints near it, and then the paw prints continue on after the swipe. What was that crazy fox doing? Belly slide?

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Too Much Stuff, But I Still Want More!

I love this bit by George Carlin. It so eloquently describes our obsession with our stuff. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, do yourself a favor and watch it now.

Laurie and I have been dealing with a lot of our stuff for the past couple of weeks in preparation for our move to a 16 foot diameter yurt in Duvall, WA. It’s barely over 200 square feet, which is about 100 less than our Tiny House was.

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We’ve been selling off things, giving others away to friends and family and dumping lots of stuff at Salvation Army. As we’ve been going through these things we’ve reflected on how attached to our stuff we get, whether through sentimentality or the illusion of usefulness. One of the interesting things we’ve been noticing is how much we buy stuff in preparation for a need, and how often that need never actually arises in reality. In our case, most of that was because we were really planning on living in the Tiny House for a long time and had purchased lots of things to make it functional and comfortable. Our lives just had other plans.

The most interesting phenomena I’ve been going through recently is the desire to buy new stuff to replace the old stuff. My ego cleverly disguises these desires as newer, better, smaller, more efficient and effective versions of what I’ve had before, but at the end of the day it’s still more stuff I don’t need. Some of the stuff we do actually need though. We recently bought a ton of outdoor gear like backpacking stuff, and warmer clothing which are necessary for our new lives in the wilderness. On the other hand, I was able to sufficiently justify to myself (and to Laurie) that I needed a new guitar (because I need a cheaper/smaller one that’s more suitable to life in the wild) and a new bike (also more suitable to the climate and conditions of Washington). See? Perfectly justified!

I think at the heart of it all, my ego does this as a sort of safety blanket. We humans have extended our sense of identity to our stuff. Be honest, if someone compliments or ridicules a piece of your stuff, you take it personally. I know for myself this is especially true when it comes to bikes and guitars. These are my favorite things, so I put a lot of thought and personality into my choices. If someone compliments my bike or guitar, I instantly like them. If they dislike either, I instantly assume they have horrible taste. Aren’t we humans funny?

So it makes sense that when we give up some of our stuff, that it feels like a piece of our self is going along with it. This perceived threat triggers the ego to obsess about new, bigger and better stuff (or in our case, new, smaller, more minimal and rugged stuff).

This is why we are happy to be moving into smaller and smaller spaces. It forces us to do a series of reality checks and ask the important questions like, “have I used this in the last 6-12 months?” or “do I really see myself using this in the future?”

So what’s the benefit of releasing all of this stuff? Peace of mind. It’s amazing how much mental clutter our stuff causes. Last weekend Laurie and I cleaned out a bunch of junk we had stored in the hull of our houseboat in Sausalito. We’ve had the place rented out for awhile now, but hadn’t gotten around to clearing all the storage stuff out. We wanted to deal with it because we could actually feel the weight it placed in our minds. This is junk we have had for years and just kept moving from place to place. A bunch of it was left over storage from my parents after they sold the family home, as well as old audio gear I stopped using a very long time ago. After spending the weekend pulling it out, going through it, and organizing into piles (keep, trash, thrift), I felt like I had actually lost weight. It was like all that stuff was an anchor, slowing me down.

So now, we are feeling trim and light, looking forward to our adventure up north. Lots still to do. We’re still selling and cleaning out the last remnants, but are very close to our optimal amount of “stuff”… for now.

We have really been enjoying your comments, keep them coming! Feel free to ask questions, share your own experiences, or just root us on! Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already, and share with your friends! Thank you so much for taking the time to read, we love you thiiiiiiiiiiiis much!

JnL

Tiny House Too Big, Moving to the Forest!

I am writing this blog entry to share with you a recent breakthrough I have had in discovering the next step on my life’s path. Before I launch into all of that, I want to take a moment to share with you where I am currently and the work I’ve been doing which has provided the fertile soil for this next stage of life to sprout.

Past to Present

This past year has been full of transition, as my wife, Laurie, and I settled into a new chapter of life in Santa Rosa, living on a 12 acre plot of wild land with my sister and her family. We created this family “compound” with the commitment to live off the land as much as possible and to do so in community with our “tribe.”

Last August we purchased a Tiny House, bought a compost toilet and learned the ropes to use it effectively, added an off-grid solar system and did the groundwork for building a rainwater harvesting system. I’ve been living in the Tiny House nearly full time since February, and Laurie joined me full time in May after completing her job in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, I spent the last year transitioning my Natural Movement business, Wild Play Fitness, to the Santa Rosa area. As I adapted the business model to the unique culture and community of Sonoma County’s Wine Country, I spent a lot of time examining what it was exactly that I wanted to provide my clients and how I wanted to live my life as a demonstration of what was possible and available for them.

At the beginning of summer some thoughts and ideas started falling into place. I had been considering enrolling in a highly respected Permaculture program, but as I listened to my intuition and felt for guidance for which direction to head in, it became clear this wasn’t my path.

The overwhelming feeling I had when considering permaculture, or gardening in general, was one of laziness. It all just seemed like so much work!

You should know, I am a lazy person by nature, but as I’ve matured I’ve come to realize that when I experience laziness when confronted by an opportunity, that it’s actually a subtle bump from my intuition to look in a new direction. The reason I believe this to be the case is that nature never works hard. Nature always follows the path of least resistance, requiring the least amount of effort to achieve what is required.

I have been enthralled by what some call “Ancestral Health” for years now. The guiding principal of Ancestral Health is that we humans, as a species, evolved in a natural environment, moving our body in certain ways, eating certain foods, communing with our people in certain ways, and regularly participating in certain activities. This is an important field of inquiry because today’s modern world is so far removed from the environment in which we evolved to live in, until a comparably short time ago, that our bodies, minds, and spirit can’t catch up and it’s causing all manner of disease and detrimental behaviors with ourselves and our world.

As I considered what my intuition was trying to tell me, I thought more about the practice of gardening, which is basically farming on a smaller scale.

Many experts agree that the seeds of modern civilization were planted along with those first crops by the original farmers. It was during this transition period about 10,000 years ago that life changed dramatically for the human species. Rather than foraging and hunting for the food provided by nature, we planted, tended and harvested crops. We domesticated animals for eventual slaughter. Rather than live a nomadic lifestyle, following the herds of animals and the blooming, ripe foods of the landscape, we put down roots and stayed put to tend our domesticated crops and animals. We built permanent structures which grew into towns and cities.

It is my honest belief that the closer we can model our lives on our hunter-gatherer ancestor’s, the more healthy, happy and fulfilling life we can enjoy. I don’t expect everyone to quit their job and abandon all of their earthly possessions to wander the forest eating bugs and sleeping in makeshift lean-to’s. However, I think the more we can incorporate nature and natural living practices into our lives, the more harmony we can discover and enjoy.

I realized, rather than study farming practices (despite the fact that permaculture is a brilliant model of farming which mimics the processes of nature, thereby cutting down on the amount of work required, it is still essentially farming) I should be studying hunter-gatherer practices! That wonderful spark of insight and intuitive guidance was lit!

Creating the Future

I immediately got on my laptop and started Googling wilderness survival schools. I found a few great schools, but only one had what I was looking for. Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, Washington (outside of Seattle) has an amazing curriculum by the name of the Anake Outdoor School, which spans a full school year. The more research I did the more I recognized what a perfect fit this program was for me. The curriculum includes everything from tracking, stalking, trapping and hunting animals, which plants are edible and which are useful for medicinal purposes, how to build shelter out of natural materials, building fire with only what the forest provides, and so much more. The intention of the program is not just to learn these primal skills, but to learn how to mentor and teach the invaluable lessons inherent in this kind of education to others.

As fate would have it, Laurie and I were just about to take a trip to none other than Seattle Washington for a friend’s wedding. I scheduled a tour of the school while we were there and within 10 minutes of stepping foot on the 40 acre campus of lush forest, I knew I had found my place.

To my pleasant surprise after the tour, Laurie found the program calling to her as well. She is less interested in the primal living aspect of it, but is very interested in the native american roots of the teachings, as well as the leadership, communication and group facilitation training available.

After a lot of discussion and soul searching we made the choice to move forward and apply for the program. We were accepted last week. The program begins September 11th and we will move up on September 1st.

In preparation for the move, we sold the Tiny House and are minimizing life even more than we already have.

We’re not really sure what we’re going to do after the program completes in June of next year. We both expect the program to be highly transformative, and don’t think the version of us that exists today can properly plan the future for the June 2016 versions of ourselves. We may stay close to the school and pursue further education or employment. I may come back to the Bay Area to start a Survival Transformation School, or we may become nomadic and travel the world leading programs, who knows!?!?

In Closing…

Please consider this as your formal invitation to join me in this adventure and read along! I will be blogging along the way to share the amazing experiences we go through on this new path.

This post is the first entry of a new blog I will be updating throughout this life changing time, so that I can share the experience with you. I have titled the blog Thrive Tribe. This is a name I’ve been kicking around for awhile and really like. I picture this blog sparking a community of people (Tribe), interested in and committed to living an amazingly abundant, happy and healthy life (Thrive).

Please comment with questions, suggestions or encouragements so the Tribe can hear your unique contribution. I would also be incredibly grateful if you’d share the blog with your friends so we can grow our new tribe!

I want to leave you with my deepest gratitude for who you have been for Laurie and myself. You may be a family member or friend, former coworker, client or complete stranger that we’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting. It doesn’t matter. If you’ve read this far, you are my kind of people and I am so thankful for what you provide in the world!