Monday, October 4, 2010

Headwaters Gathering Fall 2010

This weekend, the Greater Headwaters community hosted the biannual Headwaters Gathering, which happens every spring and fall. The gathering is a community event where families and friends from Southern Ontario and beyond come together to celebrate the seasons, share skills, stories, as well as goods and services at the renowned trading blanket. The gathering started out as a group of friends getting together to practice traditional, earth-based skills. As those friends have grown to create organizations that teach those skills (like Sticks and Stones Wilderness School, Earth Tracks, The P.I.N.E. Project and Earth Mentorship Programs), the event has evolved into a regional festivity where members of the greater community and travelers from even further connect to expand their earth wisdom. An important emphasis of the gathering is that it's community-run, with everyone participating as a volunteer to look after the group's needs. There's a goal of stewardship and the group takes it upon themselves to leave the land better than when they got there through individual acts of care taking and a project for the land. If you're interested in community and nature connection it's an event you don't want to miss.

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.

It was a scramble Saturday afternoon to secure a cooking spot at the fire for the evening's delicious weekend event, the potluck. With bellies full, the trading blanket opened by the fire, with organizer Darian as host. The trading was moved inside the barn with the rain. Some memorable trades included; certificates for stays at Wolf Den Nature Retreat and Hostel in Algonquin Park, traps from the indigenous Sami people of Scandinavia, a turkey oven, arrowheads, high quality stone for flintknapping, a hula hoop made out of plumbing tubing for body massage, books, and even live performances and songs. It was an enjoyable ceremony.

Mm, mm... campfire cooking

The results of campfire cooking, the weekend potluck

The Headwaters Gathering is an adventure. Participants never know what they're going to learn, what old friends they're going to bump into, or how many new friends they'll make. The location moves across Southern Ontario's beautifully diverse scenery, accommodations change, and the workshops and opportunities at the trading blanket are always different. In the past the stewardship project has involved tree planting, helping out local farmers, and making habitat for wildlife. It's a very dynamic, camp-like atmosphere. What is sure, is that there is a like-minded community for people of Ontario to be part of, and that twice a year there's a time and a space to celebrate it. It's an honour to host the Headwaters Gathering and Sticks and Stones is deeply grateful for the community effort it took to pull things together. Things have come a long way since the very first gathering of just a few friends.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ready for Harvest

Fall is a busy time. It’s the time for harvest when apples fall, salmon spawn, deer feast, and bears get fat for winter. The Sticks and Stones interns seem to act similarly, but their priorities are a bit different.

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

Intern Drasko takes a break to enjoy the hard work he's put into his bow, made of Osage Orange

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

The buzz of the current schedule seems to be just the beginning. About a month ago, a fire in Drasko’s tipi was lit by the interns, and it seems it was built well. The passionate youngins are still on fire and ready to go. The learning that has come with community and rewarding work has been potent. It seems like the animals are rubbing off on everyone as a sphere of productivity has come to the school. Though it feels like the link between the busy schedule of the animals and the School has been subconscious, the community of Sticks and Stones is intent on making that connection very conscious. Everyone is fine tuning their awareness to make that happen. When it comes to mimicking the satisfying labour of harvest that the animals are so good at, the interns and school are learning a great deal.