Friday, December 10, 2010
It was not your usual corporate gathering. Lunch was served before the city staff received their real treat. It was a cold day, with some flurries... most were shocked to learn that they would be spending it outside, learning survival skills. Skeet's introductory talk definitely sparked excitement. The students would be rotated through four stations, learning fire by friction, archery, tracking, and the basics of outdoor clothing (shelter) and water purification. It was a team building exercise, and a competition to see who could learn the most. And all did learn!
The most important lesson of the day was that life in the wild isn't all that different from life in the city. The deer spend their days foraging, hanging out in social spots, mating, looking for good shelter for the winter and keeping track of the health of their community. We spend our days working in departments like that of York Region to pay the bills for food, clothing, and entertainment. We make city plans and developments so that our community may be strong for the future generations. As living creatures, we're not so different than the deer, engaged in our own circle of life that provides for ourselves and those who will follow and continue the cycle. Survival is really just life, and we're all in it together.
Friday, December 3, 2010
The term started with Mike's arrival in May. From the get go, it was an experiential learning experience for the interns and Skeet. The Residential Program will be in full swing in 2011 -- the interns of 2010 all signed up early to act as guinea pigs for the program, and in return were provided with the opportunity ahead of time.
After taking the Empowering Ancient Ways course at the school in April, Mike was passionate enough about what he'd learned to make Skeet the offer of helping to establish a baseline for future interns, in return for his mentoring. And so arrived the first intern, full of excitement and ready for the challenges that would come.
Mike came to the school with a military background, and was eager to expand his worldview. He began his internship with a passion for all things primitive, and "Back-to-the-Earth" living, learning about wild edibles, sleeping outside in debris huts, making bow drill fires, and studying the animals that lived in the forest with him. He made his own bow and arrows, helped harvest a local steer, and pushed his outdoor living skills from the get go in May up until the end of November.
The depth of growth that would come from Mike's experience was past what he had expected. In living simply, in touch with all the realities of life, he developed a sense of everyday meaning and focus. He began to understand the complexities of the modern world that had so troubled him. He's since realized that you do not have to sleep in a debris hut to attune yourself to the natural world, as everything is, in essence, natural. He plans to apply his learned, wilderness work ethic to studies at the University of Toronto in Environmental Studies. He dreams of making sustainability in the city a serious reality by localizing everything he can and limiting our energy consumption.
Drasko arrived as an intern in August, after having already been to school, freshly graduated from the University of Western Ontario with an undergraduate degree in psychology. He has taken courses at the Tracker School in New Jersey, taught by Tom Brown Jr., who was also Skeet's mentor.
Drasko's internship began with more experience under his belt, and upon showing up with a tipi to camp out in, he was ready to test himself. His internship differed from Mike's by nature of having already had some of the experiences he had had, and Drasko made it his personal goal to cook during the classes and help out as much as he could with the school. He came to the school to connect with like-minds, and to receive mentoring he was longing for through Skeet.
He began by diving into the "core routines" of nature connection, focusing on journaling and going to a sit spot, with the Kamana Naturalist Training Program (http://kamana.org/) as a guide. He experienced outdoor life in his tipi right up until the colder months, but began to experience unexpected challenges with eczema, and joined the other interns to sleep by the wood stove in the barn. He's learned that there will always be obstacles to overcome in life, and that the only way to get to the other side is by jumping the hurdle, no matter how big. He plans to continue his routines at home in London, Ontario, studying with a tested zest and running workshops through his organization, Track My Back. Future plans include travel, and playing in a local band.
Dave came to the school from Algonquin park, and isn't a musician -- yet. Learning to play the guitar was one of the many pastimes he picked up during his internship. Dave showed up in August, and was already used to the outdoors, having worked as an Interior Ranger for several seasons. Like Drasko, Dave's passion for primitive skills comes with experience, and perhaps the best kind. As a youngster, he struggled to teach himself how to make a bow drill fire in his basement for months. Now, he "pops coals" in 20 seconds or less. He's taken courses with Outward Bound, and at Sticks and Stones before his internship, and knows Skeet as a friend. He couldn't say no to the opportunity to practice his naturalist skills and help out around the school.
Having been tempered by the wilderness already, Dave's challenges were different from the other interns. He has learned about mentoring and community, and was pushed from the beginning of his time at the school when he signed up for the Art of Mentoring class run through the P.I.N.E. Project of Toronto. Expressing himself openly and participating in a culture of growth is something that he's come to appreciate, as he gets older and thinks about settling down.
As well as being mentored by Skeet, Dave had the chance to practice his own mentoring skills with Mike and Drasko, constantly quizzing them both on their knowledge of birds, something he is continually passionate about. He has honed those skills even further, having had the chance to be surrounded by a group interested in learning from him. He has done much the same thing by teaching Mike how to handle tools and split wood, and they are both the better for it.
Individual growth is a stepping stone to community growth, but it's definitely a two-way street. As the interns have poured themselves into their own goals, they have also poured themselves into the school. After six months of focus, the program is it a point where there is little difference between the growth of the interns and the the growth of the school, for they are truly two roots of the same tree. All interns contribute community hours throughout the week and have more than enough free time to pursue their own goals. A healthy trunk has given way to young branches, and there is little doubt that more will grow, thanks to the thriving network of life that is working hard to make it so.
The "official" Residential Program is in the works for next season. Babies are soon to be born in this one. What has been accomplished is testament to the miracle of life itself, and there is deep gratitude all around. Who knows what growth will continue, but it is for certain that the seeds of life and energy have been planted deeply and firmly in the foundations of the school (and in Kate's belly). Thank you to all the students who have joined us on our journey so far, and we look forward to making new tracks with old and new friends in the future.
Students began the course practicing the ancient skill of the sit spot. Finding a spot to sit in the woods, to watch, listen and observe the life around you, is a core routine for not only hunting, but for practicing awareness as well.
The start of the week was focused on sitting in its purest form. Students were taught to slow down with no other motive, and to pay attention to the details of their surroundings, and when they came back in, to relive their experiences in the form of stories and journals.
The quest for deer would take the class to several properties in the Orangeville area. Many of the landowners are members of the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Plan, and provide the school with the opportunity to explore their healthy forests.
Students learned that the areas most populated by deer always have cover (evergreens, valleys, corn fields), food (apples, acorns, beech nuts, shrubs), good hiding spots for socializing, and water. Upon arriving at a new property, it was the job of the students to discover, map and examine how these four ingredients fit together, and to choose a sit spot based on their own predictions.
Most hunters go out before sunrise so the birds and squirrels aren't put on edge, return midday for lunch and siesta time, and head out again late afternoon. For traditional bow hunters, siesta time is a bit of a misnomer. There are always arrows to make and targets to shoot.
Doug Getgood, a student this year, used his siesta time to train his arm to shoot without his compound bow. He decided to switch to his traditional recurve halfway through the week. Intern Mike used his time to finish his self-made hickory longbow, and to learn how to shoot it. There is something about traditional archery that honours the hunt, perhaps simply because of the hard work that goes into it.
But the biggest lesson of the week was in learning how to be invisible. It is one thing to be a successful deer hunter or photographer. It is quite another to do so without the deer knowing, using stealth, camouflage, and awareness.
It is a great pleasure to observe wild deer. Being invisible in the woods returns that honour by disturbing them as little as possible -- much as we take our shoes off and leave our noisy voices outside our own homes, we can do the same in the forest by slowing down and being grateful for all the gifts the deer give us, and by respecting their space.
Thank you to the white-tailed deer for the wonder and lessons that you have given us.
Friday, November 26, 2010
The day began early and ended late. A steer from a local ranch was harvested in a good way. At the end of the day tears were shed, prayers were said as gratitude was expressed to the animal that was offered.
Later that evening, students were brought out to field dress the animal which was a visceral experience. A fire kept everyone warm as the work carried on well into the night.
The following day was spent studying the anatomy of the animal in a very hands-on manner. Harvesting your own animal is a long, but satisfying process. Students put their minds, hearts, and knives to the test and were gifted with choice cuts of beef as they left for home. There is something about the intimacy of local food that leaves you with a sense of deep appreciation and involvement in the cycle of life.
Friday, November 19, 2010
The past few days we held the Cordage, Fiber and Traditional Containers class which was quite the success. Using all sorts of natural fibers we learned about and made baskets, cordage, berry pouches, knife sheathes, bowls and more! This was done around the wood stove as the chillier weather returned. It was quite the social event. The newly installed hay door kept the heat in the barn and the Westerly wind out.
Friday, November 5, 2010
For us, hunting goes hand in hand with compassion. When you rely on an animal for sustenance, there is a natural gratitude that comes from taking its life with your own hands to fuel your own.
There is recognition that another being has sacrificed itself so that you may grow. It is an intimate aspect of life that can't be viewed at the grocery store. The way we are learning to hunt breeds compassion, and an appreciation for life and all its beauty. Randall L. Eaton talks about the transformation young men go through when they hunt, in his book From Boys to Men of Heart, Hunting as Rite of Passage, with excerpts from Jon Young. It's well worth a read.
For those with self-sufficiency in mind, hunting is a great way to put meat in your diet. Wild animals eat wild plants, meaning that no cultivation or energy-intensive labour is required to feed them. With the environmental problems we are facing today, hunting is a good option for the planet and for us.
Traditional bow hunting is not only a way to pay respect to the animal, but a way to test your naturalist, tracking and stalking skills. Having to get close to an animal as aware as the white-tailed deer, a master of stealth and camouflage, is not easy. Working hard for something will make you ever more grateful.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Deer blinds were set up before the trip so that when everyone was gone the
Internships for this year finish up here at Sticks and Stones at end of November. It’s the final stretch of a very educational term and the interns are still going strong! It’s the kind of month that would be celebrated well with a feast. Hopefully and thankfully with venison.
Monday, October 4, 2010
The gathering started Friday but the keenest member of the group showed up Thursday, camping out with a makeshift tent in the form of a tarp stretched and tied over a pine log. He helped with splitting wood, arranging the barn, and general prep. The next batch showed up Friday morning. From there, things became community-based and all the routine tasks of organization fell into place with volunteer efforts. Kudos to community! The first fire of the weekend was lit by a group friction fire effort. It blazed strongly for the rest of the weekend to keep the October chill out of everyone's bones as well as to welcome newcomers.
The crowd was made up of families with children, hardcore barefooters who didn't seem to mind the brisk weather, couples of all ages, dogs, kittens, interns from Sticks and Stones, and community organizers like Skeet Sutherland, Alexis Burnett of Earth Tracks, Darian Bacon, and Andrew McMartin of The P.I.N.E. Project. A lot of first timers joined the fun, and the crowd numbered about 60. The workshops were led by many members of this community who wanted to share their skills and knowledge. Topics included fire by friction and coal-burned bowls, how to make your own bucksaws and knives (led by Doug Getgood who runs the Toronto Survivalism meetup group), a plant walk, an edible mushroom walk, archery and arrow making, casual flintknapping, and a children's program led by The P.I.N.E. Project. Everything flowed very smoothly and it's amazing how much easier things are with efforts evenly divided.
Mm, mm... campfire cooking
Friday, October 1, 2010
With hunting season fast approaching, Skeet and the residential students are in a hurry to get things ready. Arrowheads need to be knapped, greenwood shafts straightened, bows finished and hundreds of practice shots fired. Camouflage-compatible clothes, that are warm and quiet, need to be made or bought, properly de-scented and packed away. Tracking skills need to be practiced, and books read. On top of hunting, shelters need extra work for the rain and approaching cold. Then there was the Headwaters Gathering to get ready for, and all of the fall courses still to come. It’s a busy time, but a happy time.
Interns Mike and David prepare thunderboxes for the fall Headwaters Gathering
The interns have grown more comfortable with one another in the time they’ve been around, and a routine of productiveness has been engrained. Skeet won’t admit it but the interns are sure that the cows sneaking onto the property from the adjacent fields are a team building exercises in disguise. There is something beautifully bonding about chasing cows back over a fence while trying to avoid all their scat.
David has also built Drasko a shelf out of pine for his tipi while the weather was dry. Skeet is putting a woodstove in the house, as well as in the workshop, and plenty of wood needs to be cut. Everybody spent some time caretaking the woods, cutting down dead elm trees and overcrowded pines, making room for the growing apple, maple, elderberry, dogwood and cherry trees. Most of the pines will be given to a neighbour and some will stay on the forest floor to turn into nutrients. The elms, which are a hardwood, will be good firewood. We had many hands to help harvest the wood. On top of the interns and other on site members of the Sticks and Stones community, other helpers included Stu, who is a friend of the school, as well as Skeet's Dad. The community looked like a hive of busy bees. The rain seemed to hit in the middle of busy times but we all managed to work through it in good humour.
The last day of summer started with a midnight thunderstorm, but through the day the sun poked her head out. It was a great day to enjoy. Sue went to the local Collingwood Market and bought vegetables from Bobby, who gardens on the property and sells at the local market. A nearby farm called the New Farm put on a Harvest Festival that evening. Drasko and Sue went to dance the night away with friendly strangers. Sticks and Stones isn’t the only community to be working and celebrating the seasonal shift and its bounty.
Meanwhile, the animals are arranging their own affairs. The Canadian geese and blue jays are flying south. Drasko, after choosing his sit spot, saw a big, old raccoon he nicknamed Grandpa Raccoon going about his hunting and gathering. A barred owl blessed Mike with his presence swooping over his head to look for shrews while Mike gathered debris for his shelter. Sue, Phil (both friends of the school) and Mike, visited the plants for some autumn harvesting, which took them on an adventure and allowed them to gather some wild ginger, golden rod, cranberry, yarrow, birch and cedar bark. Tucker tagged along and gathered porcupine quills in his paws which were later extracted.
Tucker, the Sticks and Stones mascot, retires after a long day
Monday, September 20, 2010
From friction fire and water purification, to wild edible/medicinal plants and tracking. This is only the tip of the ice burg! The past week was so rich in knowledge, practical experience and sharing in community. We came away from the time feeling empowered to practice and use a variety of primitive skills that have served cultures around the world for thousands of years. All our senses were coaxed out of hiding as we were invited to see, feel, hear, taste, and sense the world around us in a new way. There is an excitement to go back to our homes and to practice these skills and routines to deepen our connection with the natural world for the well being of ourselves, communities and the entirety of the natural world.
Woven through the week was an understanding that we all make tracks on this earth regardless of how lightly we tread. The question that remained was will we leave tracks of degradation or regeneration? Quite simply put, “Our tracks echo our intention into the future.” After this week I feel even more inspired to leave tracks of regeneration.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Intern Drasko, also from Toronto, arrived mid August, and brought with him some serious preparation. He's taken courses at the Tracker School in New Jersey, and freshly graduated from Western University with a degree in psychology. Among his luggage was a beautifully painted canvas tipi cover. With Mike's help, he quickly harvested 20 sixteen foot poles of white pine for the structure. They had to be meticulously debarked and after about a week they were stripped and seasoned. The next week, the tipi was put up on top of a nearby hill surrounded by pines and facing the setting sun. The canvas was the perfect fit for the poles, and the drawings on the side of it seem to glow in the sun. Since its erection, Drasko has added an ozone (a piece of material that catches any leaks that get through the smoke hole), carpets, and a shelf that fellow intern and handyman David made. Drasko doesn't have to worry about flammability, but has to fill up some gaps in the bottom of the tipi with logs rolled in blankets to keep the draft out for the winter. He's got more than enough room for a good supply of firewood inside the tipi, and Mike and David call his shelter "Hotel Drasko".
David arrived with tons of outdoor experience having recently worked in Algonquin Park as an interior ranger and having taken courses with Outward Bound before that. His shelter is in the works and his hardiness shows in the fact that he doesn't even plan to have a fire inside. He made his own design for his shelter, which is turning into a sort of debris tipi. Located in the pines, his shelter doesn't yet have a name but with the lack of light that will be getting in, something like the "Batcave" might be appropriate. Pine logs form the tipi structure and box style entrance. Tons of spruce boughs and debris piled on top will hopefully provide enough insulation for the winter and lots of blankets inside will make up the difference.
and later joins Mike to watch a flintknapping demonstration,
both eager to make their own arrowheads for hunting season
Community is one of the most important "primitive" skills. The ceremony taught the Three Little Interns about one another, and the importance of their bonding... they could feel the weight of it without being told. Community comes in many forms with shelter as the backbone of life, but not the whole of it. There is as much to learn about nature in one another as there is living in the woods all fall with the deer, coyotes, raccoons and skunks. The fire and passion to work is something that needs to be supported by a sound structure and it's worth spending time to build. It was a time to celebrate the work that's been put into physical shelter and to begin building the warmth of community that will last through the winter, regardless of the cold.
It's very exciting to tell you that this site is going to be Spruced (haha) up a bit. Sticks and Stones has grown, and old man Skeet has been joined by three young, rambunctious interns. David, Drasko and Mike are the Three Little Interns (like Bob Marley's Three Little Birds... don't worry, be happy now). Lovely Sue has also joined the team in an administrative role. We're all here to learn until November, and now that Skeet's got a few extra hands, there's going to be a new approach for this here blog. Stay tuned for the wild adventures of Sticks and Stones and the Three Little Interns.