Monday, September 20, 2010

Empowering Ancient Ways Autumn 2010

Six days… how is it possible that we managed to build a community from strangers while simultaneously learning skills and gaining understandings that would enable us to provide for our basic needs in the wilderness?

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

Shelter and Community

After Empowering Ancient Ways, life settled back to its usual swing... arrows started flying, bows were scraped, tracks were studied, journals were scribbled in, leftovers were eaten, and Skeet was bombarded with the usual questions. It was a time for celebration and reflection, which began with a drive to Orangeville for groceries and all-you-can-eat sushi dinner. Bellies full, everybody hunkered down for the evening. The night ended in front of a laptop with San Bushmen dancing across the screen. The Great Dance is an amazing film every man, woman, hunter-gatherer, farmer, and, well... everybody should watch.

The next morning was clear, cool, and a little cloudy. Geese flew by, and most of them went West. The day started with a group interview by James Irwin, a musician/writer, who plans to publish an article on Sticks and Stones. Then, Skeet called for a group meeting and discussed the recent Empowering Ancient Ways course, and future plans. With everything wrapped up like a nice tinder bundle, interns David and Mike tried to set a record for Most Bark Carried By Two Men. Nice try boys... you ain't got nothin' on ancient peoples. Regardless, it was quite a load (maybe 100 lbs?) They carried the heft like Sherpas, with it wrapped in a string that wrapped around their foreheads. Young ladies, if any had been around... would likely have been impressed by their brutishness. Collection of the bark was easy due to Dutch Elm Disease, the bark was already dead on the trees. It would make a nice addition to the waterproofing of Mike's shelter. Meanwhile, Drasko worked feverishly on his tipi. It was a day to start a new cycle, and to recover and internalize the last week.

Since his arrival in May, intern Mike from Toronto has been experimenting with different shelters. He didn't bring a knife when he first came for his internship, and he's a little ambitious about jumping into primitive living. Having done a little stint in the military before, he headed to Sticks and Stones for something different, but equally intense and adventurous. He made two debris huts before upgrading his comfort level to a wigwam, a type of shelter used by the ancient culture of this region. Flexible saplings over and under lap to form a dome shape, which is covered in bark to keep the wind and rain out. Debris, spruce boughs and extra layers of bark on top add extra insulation and waterproofing if the first layer isn't seamless. Mike has chosen a grove naturally sheltered by spruce for his wigwam and although his spot isn't windy, his main worry will be keeping a fire going all winter. Burning hardwood will minimize any fire hazard, and with a well built thatched door he's yet to make, the small area will heat up quickly. He calls his shelter "Little Spruce", and the other interns jokingly call it "Tinder Bundle", reminiscent of the dry fibers you put together to blow life into from a fire by friction coal.

Mike shows off his home with stored choke
cherries, apples, and jam made from the two

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".

Drasko debarks his tipi poles, stakes them into the ground, and puts on the canvas

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.

David reveals himself after camouflaging from students
and later joins Mike to watch a flintknapping demonstration,
both eager to make their own arrowheads for hunting season

Having worked on their shelters in the morning, the interns met up in the afternoon inside Drasko's tipi. It was time for ceremony and a hand drill coal was made by all. The fire was lit. The circle was open. Drasko began by thanking the directions and telling his fellow interns what he appreciated about them. He then told the story of his jam-packed, young life. The others followed suit with what they felt like sharing. It was a hozy, cozy, happy time and the festivities moved to Mike's shelter, a.k.a. the "Tinder Bundle". Another fire was lit, and the talking went on late. Having said what they wanted to say, the interns went their separate ways and back to work.

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.

Trouble via Three Little Interns

Hey, everyone.

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.