Stories

DANIELLA'S STORY 2013
Sep16

Toward the lake

singing our prayers

 walking with the changes of the land

after the storm

God’s tracks.

like the claw marks of the mountain lion

sweeping the debris and remains

of a once quiet land

The air, warm and welcoming

as we descend toward the lake

leaving the rugged cold mountains

the low lands call us

kin we haven’t seen in so long,

Saskatoon, elderberry, alder, and maple

Open dry lands

greeting us again...

 bodies tired

as heavy woven packs press against us

The lake pulls us forward,

clouds begin to thicken

on the horizon

and the rains fill the lake.

Storm approaching.

Fear tightening stomach and chest

like the silent rattlesnakes who lay quiet across our path,

delicate lives,

held in the hands of this creation..


We carry a coal held in the clay pot

that we have been tending like

the most beautiful baby bird

and looking up into this ancient place

in the rocky hillside

our eyes meet the sacred womb of our mother

and we place the fire we’ve been holding

 in her rocky center.

We let this place hold us-
rest on sheepskins,

eat pemmican,

watch the sun’s light

and the rain falling gently around us..

 we ask, did the skies and rocks feel our tired exhaustion,

and whisper to each other,

giving us a gift

so we could rest our weary bones

we sing our thanksgiving

gently held by creation

trust growing

communing with God.

Peter's story: 2012

The 2012 Posse

Thoughts on Lynx Vilden’s Stone Age Immersion Program

Since I dropped out of high school in 1998 and dedicated my life to returning to a more indigenous lifestyle, to rewilding, I spend my time divided between working odd jobs, reading, writing, learning, teaching, community organizing and wild-crafting. Early on I realized that primitive technology is a bi-product of a sustainable culture, but a sustainable culture is not the by-product of primitive technology; primitive skills are the superficial layer of indigenous people. I prefer the cultural, social, mental and permacultural aspects of rewilding because they are more foundational to creating culture. This is not to say that there are not important aspects of learning primitive technology that can aid in the creation of a sustainable culture. The superficial layer is still an important layer of culture. In order to fully understand this, I decided to dedicate the summer of 2012 to focusing purely on the crafting of primitive technology.
One of the most inspiring people teaching these crafts is Lynx Vilden and her school the Living Wild School. I have known about her for years and always wanted to attend her program. I signed up for her summer immersion program, a three month long program that culminates with living in the wilds for the final month, with only “stone age” gear; no metal, no plastic. I had an amazing and challenging time and I learned a great deal. These are my thoughts about my experience.
This is a fantastic program for gaining proficiency in primitive skills. Even before the classes started, I was already gaining proficiency in skills. The list of required items to bring this year made it clear that this was not a class for beginners. I had to show up with a minimum of 6 large brain-tanned deer skins. While I had tanned a couple deer skins before, I did not have proficiency. I spent about two months of preparation working on all the things that I needed to bring with me. Each week of the program had a different theme: buckskin clothes, containers, felted blankets, fishing kits, etc. Every day we would get up and begin working on crafts together or on our own when we needed space. After weeks of working on projects and crafting with our hands we became much more proficient in crafting skills.

Eating out of my clay pot. Delicious!
Practical application of primitive technology is what makes the Living Wild School unique. Learning how to craft primitive technology is only half the experience: you must learn to use the crafts in practical ways. Lynx Vilden is doing something that not many others in this country are doing: teaching and experimenting with using primitive technology on a day to day basis, deep in the woods. We learned nuances of using primitive tools that you could only learn through real world application. Things like how to make arrows for target practice, how to lift a clay pot from the coals, how to fix rawhide sandals with a bone awl under the moonlight, and how to adjust a tumpline on a pack basket. One morning after a cold night I spent the day stitching up my wool blanket to create a draft-free sleeping bag. Another day I stitched ties onto my fur hat to keep it from falling off during the night. Everyday we would spend a little time tweaking our tools to better match our needs and the demands of the environment. Crafting primitive skills is fun and great, but gaining experience in real life application completes the knowledge base. In my mind, this is the most important aspect of what Lynx teaches.
Living in close quarters with others who are enthusiastic about and experienced with primitive technology felt priceless. I consider myself an out-going recluse. I like social engagement, but often feel too much anxiety to leave the house. Meeting new people, putting myself in someone else’s program, these are things I rarely do. It was worth it. I made a lot of friends, and even when there was drama it almost felt like it was created just to change up the monotony of our lives. Having people to share knowledge with, to experiment and learn with, helped to maximize my goal of proficiency. This is the amazing power of collective knowledge and experience; you can learn a lot more from a group than from a single person. This bridged the gap between classes when Lynx was off taking care of other business.
Living outdoors for the summer changed me. There were many things that I learned that were not directly related to crafting primitive skills, but from making a transition from living on the grid, to living off the grid. For the first two and a half months we were camped in the woods. Meals were cooked over fires, food was kept cool in holes that we dug in the ground, we hauled water from the spring and from the faucet across a large meadow. This was challenging for me, particularly because of my diet and bowel problems. At first I wanted to leave, feeling very stressed from not having a system and routine that kept my body comfortable and my IBS symptoms in check. By the middle of the summer I felt like I was flying. I never wanted to live indoors or cook on a regular stove again. There was no revelation, no powerful transformation. This change was gradual, as my comforts expanded and routines strengthened and became easier. It also didn’t turn me into a must-live-outdoors fundamentalist. I really love living outdoors, but I’m not a missionary now. It just feels good and I’m going to figure out how I can continue to live in a similar way here at my home.

On the trail to paradise.
In reality, we weren’t living wild. We were simply camping, with modern-made primitive tools. There wasn’t much that separated us from other mountain back-packers other than our clothes and tools. Our stone age human ancestors lived sustainably on the planet for hundreds of thousands of years, tending the wild through regenerative methods of food production. Their myths, culture and traditions passed on this knowledge and kept the land and people healthy and happy. This is what “living wild” looks like to me: people living in cooperative groups, managing the land in a regenerative manner. We did not learn cooperative group dynamics. We did not learn regenerative land management. Sure, we were hunting and gathering, but not like hunter-gatherers. This was my one caveat with the program: looking wild is not the same thing as living wild.
Looking wild has deeply subconscious benefits to rewilding. There is a reason people say “Appearances are everything.” In a recent study, volunteer participants were asked to take a test. Half of them wore white coats that they were told was a doctor’s jacket, while the other half wore white coats they were told was a painter’s jacket. The results showed that people, when wearing the doctor’s lab coat, scored higher on the tests than those wearing the painter’s coat. These were, in reality, the same coat. Their perception of themselves changed depending on what they were wearing, and how those clothes are perceived. Image is perception and perception carries the ability to alter how you think. People often act as though “superficial” things like a persons image do not effect us. In reality, it does and on a very deep level.
What Lynx has done with her programs is create inspirational imagery of white people–who have no real life record of indigenous imagery–looking indigenous, without stealing from native cultures. Beyond what Lynx’s program does for creating proficiency in her students, the imagery she creates does an amazing job of giving us back a modern, visual, indigenous identity. Lynx is an artist and her students become her models. The images strike a cord deep in people, of ancestral remembrance. They seem to say, “It is possible for us to reclaim this identity.” The photographs of the programs she runs have much more reach than the limits of her class size; viewers on her website can pour over the iconic images that sit on every page. Everyone I know who has gone to her website has felt a spark of inspiration. The dream for many, becomes actualized in these images. These images are altering the way we think about ourselves and about our indigenousity. This is huge. These benefits need to be studied and examined in depth.
My few criticisms come with an expiration date. As the rewilding movement continues to grow, it is absorbing the primitive skills community. Primitive skills are becoming a gateway to rewilding. As this happens, the principles of indigenous land management and social organization models are becoming more foundational to understanding and practicing primitive skills. As Lynx’s program grows and changes, these principles with undoubtably become rooted in the experience. The goal, after all, is living wild and living wild can only be accomplished through adapting traditions of tending the wild.
More than a teacher, a leader, or a guide, Lynx is a catalyst. Lynx is pushing the edge of primitive skills further towards rewilding, by making it about actually using the technology to live. Through the people she teaches, inspires and brings together, through re-creating indigenous identity, she plays a major role in the rewilding renaissance and I am glad to have met her and got to know her over the summer. I look forward to seeing her continue to give people the experience that I had this summer, and to watch how the larger community benefits and grows together.
I highly recommend this program. 


LYNX'S STORY 2010

*A LOVE SONG FOR THE EARTH*

With thanks to:
Dan, Naomi, John Micheal, JT and Eric


I greet the day, I greet the day, I greet the first day.
Sunrise. The air is warm, it caresses me. Huddled forms of my companions surround me. A few slow mosquitoes search for blood. Soft sounds of water flowing downward, downward pulled by the inevitable forces of gravity.
Slowly the mountains crumble.

I have been reveling in my body, the comfort of movement, stretch and gentle friction. A handful of soft ripe huckleberries, sensation after sensation as the sun rises higher and the ants grow active.

Slow hike toward the pass. Sweat dampened brow and back, weight shifted from shoulder straps to head tump line and back again, lessons from the Old Ones.

Whose voice wrestled through my consciousness last night by the dying embers? Mesmerizing in it’s foreigness, it’s truth, it’s power.

One by one the familiar patterns appeared in the darkening sky: Delphinius, Corona Borealis, the Dipper pointing North and there, yes, my seven sisters, Pleiades filling me with that wonder at the unspeakable grandness of infinity.

High mountain lake, pristine purity. Snow melts in from the edges and I gasp at the shock of immersion.

Roving up the trail, bow in hand, light as air I float, drift, dance across lupine filled meadows. I am alive, I am pure perfection, moment by moment, utterly taken by the beauty.

Stillness and silence broken by voices singing first deep and low, harmonies layering one upon the other, jumbled as the jagged rocks.

Stories unfold thick as mosquitoes of distant lands and perilous adventures.

Paradise basin. I am in love with the land. Amongst the rocks and larches I am filled with shameless joy.

The sun touches my cheeks, it wrinkles the skin into stories of the past and the ancestors smile at my human folly.

I do not hunger for anything. I eat sparsely and yet the sense of overflow is nearly overwhelming. I am full, so full with energy, life force, appreciation.
I have no boundaries, I am limitless.
Endless cycles of darkness and moon rise. In the absolute stillness of the night air the fire spits amongst the boulders. How many times and in how many ways can I express my gratitude?

Lazy, tea in bed.
Warm wrapped in buffalo robes I sing a love song to the Earth. Light clouds lace the morning sky bringing with them the possibility of rain.

Young grouse receives an arrow. The clouds build and the small cave is filled with duff.

Crash back to reality and nature's impartiality. Too sudden a wake up I crawl into the cave to arise more slowly.
We talked of death and after-life and mysterious, inexplicable things.

I break through a thin layer of ice to bathe my dusty body. My breath streams forth in clouds of vapor.
Stark, geometric tracks mark the trail. Our soft, padded moccasins gentle the edges and fade amidst needles and stone.

Fat grasshoppers tied to a bone fish hook slung into the lake. The fish bite once, twice then too savvy to try again.

Frozen toes warmed by a hasty fire.

Songs float on the evening breeze and the sky clears to a frosty night.

They step their last days into the Stone Age.

New names flutter amongst them: Ursa, Orn, Papillion, Idden, Gabion, Dragonfly.

Two return to the "Other World" to appease the great powers. The rest hike with them to the pass where they separate.

Golden wings and compound eyes, a dragonfly alights on a woman's finger.
She smiles.

The woman, I remember is myself.

Sticky pine cones high in pitchy branches. The tree swings wildly in warm morning sun.
A nameless lake. Rocks tumble echoing through the basin. A splendid white mountain goat takes careful steps up the scree slopes.

Impossibly blue and icy water races up to meet me as I dive from a pointed rock.
The fish scatter and I am reminded what it means to be right here in this absolute moment.
Sun warms tingling skin as I lie upon strewn larch needles.

Delicious sense of well earned fatigue. Soft clouds illuminated by an unseen moon drift over the ridge. What is that noise? I listen with rapt attention. Slowly the dawning realization, it is the thrum of the Earth. The Earth softly sings it's lullaby and I am led to dreamless sleep.

In the light of the full moon's face I am awoken by shuffling. The handsome mountain goat is foraging close by. I watch him, minutes pass. He is the Spirit of the mountain, his hooves clatter on the rocks as he leaves.

A day of sunshine and water. I feed on these elements, I thirst for both.
I gaze at the fish all day, they are curious, clever, individual and oh so beautiful.

There image imprinted like negatives on my eyes they dart amongst the stars at night.

South-East breeze. The sky loads the horizon with heavy gray and white clouds. A hasty return to the camp to protect the food.
Low clouds and spits of rain we load everything into the small cave and wonder if we ourselves will fit in.

So full. Everything larger than life. All senses magnified. I feel that I am swirling in something so gigantic, separate and yet connected to the entire Universe.

Tension arising with the cold wind and heavy sky. Restlessness, discomfort.
Laughter and singing still reach my ears in the peace and sanctity of the cave. Sleep. Rest. More grandeur awaits us all.

Such elemental existence: the sky, the earth, fire, water....  all else fades away.  All else appears trivial and meaningless except the hearts of my enduring and loving companions.

We enter the burn. Sick forest cleansed by wildfire. Needles cover the ground, buckskin colored, we blend.

Deeper. Ankle deep ash billows to our knees obscuring the trail.

Thunder rolls down the canyon and cautious drops of rain. Weary we make camp preparing for the worst but we are rewarded by a clearing night sky.

I awake predawn, waning moon illuminating the burnt forest, black and gray. I dream our next move, reluctant leader I assume my position.

Charred moonscape, blackened towers loom above and around us. There amongst the ashes the brittle bones of a casualty of flames and smoke.

The trail widens.....
transforms into a wide strip of pavement.

My callused bare feet and our dusty weathered buckskins draw stares and questions from both locals and gaping tourists.

We make up lies to amuse ourselves; 26 years in the hills, come looking for mates for our children.

Lake shore. Again dark clouds threaten. Memories flooding back from half my lifetime ago when I first loved these torn and craggy peaks.
Low elevation, warm night.
Funny dreams wake me up laughing, sad dreams wake me up crying. The richness of my experience fills my being.

Young black bear scampers away through an old burn as we toil up toward the ridge.

No shelter in sight, I am tested. "Leadership is never offered, it must be taken." The words of my friend rebound in my head until finally I assert myself.

We make camp close to one of the few unburned trees. Buried deep in bear scat we dry wet clothes and moccasins beside a raging fire. Fire both gives and takes away.

The feather is passed. Communication is the key. The race for home, pain and discomfort threaten my fantasy.

The sky holds out. The Thunder Gods let us sleep in peace close to glowing embers.

They do not however let us walk in peace. The rain comes down in gentle showers and droplets quickly transfer from bushes to buckskins.
We make the ridge, damp and cold but as a new fire burns brightly beside the canopy of a sheltering spruce,

we eat and eat, ladling huge spoonfuls of fat into every clay pot

and pasting it upon dried meat and berry cakes.

The rain persists. Dampened buckskins cling coldly. The giant spruce does her best to keep us dry through the night but still the rain seeps down between the spreading needles as we curl tighter toward the girth or the great tree.

A breeze blows in a gray dawn and temporary lull. I know we must cross the pass today. The possibility of snow and the promise of Winter seem right now merely a breath away.
I ask the Spirits for power. They constantly oblige me.
The sky clears, cloud remnants hurtle past from the West.

We walk. We walk forward in time, out of the Stone Age, into a time that I both dread and fear. I walk last.

Give me the power to keep walking.
Give me the power to know the Truth.
Give me the power to offer Love.
Give me the power to keep Peace.
Give me the power to open hearts.
Give me the power to see beauty.
Give me the power to know Grace.
Give me the power to keep walking.
The mantra repeats itself over and over as I stumble into a future I resist.
Only when the vessel has been full and over flowing can it also know emptiness and depletion.

Re-entry. My thoughts scatter like beasts fleeing into unknown territory. I try to round them back into single minded focus but I fail.
In the dreamy transition between my dual realities I shift back into linear thought process governed by time and space concepts. My wholeness is fractured.

This is not home.



My heart, tender beyond belief for the Emerald Planet.




JOHN MICHAEL'S STORY 2010

The great white mountain god stirs in its nest of jagged talus.  Full moon glints off the lake with no name, screaming in cold silence that it is time to get up…it is time to feed.  The mountain god takes its time, but wastes none, steady in its every move, every thought.  Soon, black feet beat across titanic boulders, a rhythm so in tune with this place it is invisible to the sleeping ear.  

Dreams seem to slow within their anxious sleep, falling together into an ancient harmonic dance.  The dying fire shifts itself into a matching polyphonic trance.  All are held deep in this mountain’s magic, unable to laugh, cry or scream.

One pair of eyes, deep blue and wild, snap open: unaware of anything but the movement of shadow within shadow.  So close it weaves between trees outside the circle of resting guests.  Who are these creatures who borrow the fur and skins of others? and lay so soundly alongside the Fire’s hunger?  They must be mad.  Possibly gods themselves?  No… some of Loki’s lot perhaps, but not of him…

The one with blue eyes and yellow hair watches as though it can see the mountain god.  Not just see it, but truly see it.  The eyes of one who dreams deep dreams.  They tell a tale of their people: beautiful and insane. 

The mountain god seeks for more…and finds it: a rock whispering to itself in confusion.  And beneath its whispers a dark rich secret.  Yes.  So salty and rich.  The mountain god indulges itself, drinking deeply of this treasure and the knowledge it holds.  Not a breath taken until all has been devoured. 

Looking up with a glance at the fire, the mountain god licks its lips and slips back into the night.  Contented.  The blue-eyed one staring after it, twitching ever so lightly behind thin lids, aglow in fire’s light
 





IRA'S STORY 2011
Here I sit once again in the Twisp library, the sun high in the sky and the apples ripening on the trees here in the beautiful Methow valley.  As I write this my friends Eric, Laurent, and Denis are jumping around the place with their camera and sound equipment staging shots of Lynx and I typing away, our reentry to the modern world. 

 So, we drove to central Idaho exactly a month ago, spent a few days exploring the country that was available to us according to the permits we had, and finally began our walk up into the White Cloud peaks on the 24th of August.  As we hiked barefoot up the trail with our packs laden down to 70 pounds with all our warm gear and dried food, the film crew kept asking us to stop, to wait, to walk back and pass by a certain bit of scenery again, and finally to walk back and forth across a big wet meadow just as we were almost at our base camp.  It became apparent that as much as we we were there to experiment with stone age living skills, we were also there to make a film.  So the tone was set for our three weeks in the mountains.  We made camp in a large meadow a few miles walk from a series of high mountain lakes.  Elk and deer trails crisscrossed the forest all around, herds passing by our camp in the night bugling and making enough noise to keep me awake a few nights.  The first week was spent exploring the land and settling into our camp.  With the second week hunting season began, and our attention shifted towards hunting.  Roaming the land following fresh trails, setting up blinds along well-used trails and sitting morning and evenings waiting for someone to pass by.  With the third week, hunting season continued but our enthusiasm and determination waned, there was a fishing trip up to the high country lakes, and we began our preparations to leave. 

I don't quite know where to begin, or what to tell.  No one in our group created any garbage the entire time we were out, a fact that slipped by unnoticed until somewhere in the second week. I wasn't very aware of which day it was, or how long we had been out, until the last few days of our trip.  During the first few days I didn't even notice the transition; the fact we were living with no modern gear didn't seem extraordinary or strange at all.  I noticed that all summer we had slowly incorporated each new tool or project as we completed them.   Once we got there, it seemed perfectly natural to be wearing buckskins, cooking in clay pots over coals, sleeping on sheepskins and under buffalo robes, using stone knives and living outdoors.  Which it was, I suppose.  The valley we camped in was beautiful, surrounded by  steep slopes to the north and south and an array of bare rock peaks and alpine lakes to the west.  The first night we were visited with rain.  I took shelter beneath a pine, covering our food with my blanket and curling up in my newly made detachable sleeves and sheepskin vest.  The next day I set up a little living space by clearing out all the dead brush beneath a thick bunch of spruce, and began exploring.  Most days break fast was re-hydrated serviceberries and jerky in buffalo fat broth.  I would grab a handful of berry patties and jerky for the day's snacks, and return to camp in the evening for a dinner.  Most of the time I would bring my bow as I went wandering, always on the lookout for some small game animal to bring back to camp.  

There was great anticipation of hunting an elk, and during the first few days we saw lots of tracks and sign.  But without seeing the creatures themselves and having no real experience with them, it was easy to feel like the animals were mythical.  After a few days I went out on a wander, following trails and beautiful places until I found a great rock  in a flat bit of woodland.  I was feeling a bit uncomfortable, noticing that I still felt a bit lost and overwhelmed by a new place and what felt like the endless expanse of new places.  I sat for a half hour or so, and set off back towards camp feeling a bit more grounded.  The forest was open, full of lodgepole pine, spruce and fir. There was not a lot of ground cover, and half the pines were dead as a result of a beetle infestation in the region.  While the valley was nestled in a mountain range whose ridges were covered in sagebrush and surrounded by dry lands, every 100 yards a spring, stream or seep arose from the mountain slope and cut a path downhill.  Big boggy patches glowed green in the afternoon sun, my feet squishing into the grass and mud, and I would stop to stoop and cup my hands, drinking from the clear streams.  Tiny purple berries called whortleberries were scattered about in patches, their diminutive size made up for by their incredibly sweet and tangy flavor.  A common suggestion was that they tasted just like the candy called nerds.  Elsewhere there were currants and gooseberries in abundance, the gooseberries tart and bitter, "mountain tomatoes" my friend Robin liked to call them.  There always seemed to appear a patch of the low growing green plants, dotted with bright red berries, whenever we were out for a long hike and getting hungry and thirsty.   

Anyways, on this day I was wandering down through this forested wonderland towards camp, when I came upon a beautiful pool and wetland.  I danced a bit with a squirrel, I with my bow and arrows and it with its reflexes and fast dodges, before discovering some very fresh elk scat.  This was the freshest sign I had seen so far, and I was excited.  I noted where I was, and began downhill, when I thought I  heard a noise in the forest to the west, up valley.  I turned, curious, and began stalking slowly in the direction of the sound, which continued.  I began to hear the same heavy sound on the hillock 30 yards to the north, and in the brush to the south.  I was standing in the open, one foot in the air and bow in hand, when a cow elk walked into the open not more than 8 yards from myself, face to face.  I froze, and she froze, unsure if I was there, or if I was dangerous, I imagine.  When I noticed the massive size of the animal my first instinct was to leave, quickly.  I didn't, and she walked a few more feet, turned, and peed, before catching my scent and jumping away the way she had come.  As she moved away the rest of the herd came into view.  I counted 10 more animals and heard even more before they all disappeared back the way they had come.  I returned to the  campfire brimming with excitement and adrenalin, my energy stores having been massively recharged by the encounter.  All of the sudden the forest felt alive, and the prospect of taking big game felt much more possible.
 
We ate pretty well the whole time, but even still everyone's belts were soon too big and the drawstrings were tied tighter.  Most nights were spent tossing and turning in a big pile of bodies, sleeping together for warmth.  When one person rolled over, we all would roll over.  I woke up most mornings a bit tired and stiff, cold in the frost that lay on the grass in the mornings.  At first this made me want to stay close to camp.  At the very beginning of the hunting season I had an intense experience when I  went up to a neighboring meadow where we had placed a blind on an elk trail.  This blind was basically a low wall of brush which I sat behind with my bow, waiting for a creature to pass by.  

Our friend Matt Graham, who was the most experienced hunter in the group and joined us for the first 10 days of the project, helped us set up the blinds and explained that something like 95% of game killed is taken while sitting in wait.  I sat out into the dark and cold, and scarcely had light to make a fire by when I got to my camp(no flashlights!).  Fire by friction is infinitely more gratifying when there is a real need for the warmth, and no light or backup to make it with!  I slept by the fire and woke up at first light to sit in the blind again, sitting there still in the cool canyon wind with visions of winter dancing through my mind.  When I finally stumbled down to my camp around midmorning I had taken  a severe chill, and even after sleeping two hours in the sun by the fire under my blanket with all my warm gear on, I still woke up cold.  I drank water, and carried my things the half mile back to our base camp, where I spent the day sleeping, sitting by the fire, eating and recovering.  It was a scary experience, to be that cold, and it definitely diminished my enthusiasm about sitting in blinds and hunting.  The next day I felt tired and considered sitting around camp again, but I felt called to get exercise.   I ended up on a long ramble with Robin on to some sagebrush ridges with vast vistas of distant peaks and ridges, wandering past elk wallows, through aspen groves and willow thickets.  This long day was full of beauty and warmth, and the open views brought a light feeling to my heart.  For the next week, no matter the soreness or tiredness I awoke with, I set out with friends around mid morning on long journeys through the land, snacking on wild foods and looking for small game, exploring and getting the lay of the land. 


A month has now passed since we walked down from the home we made in Big Boulder Meadow.  Near the trail head was a ghost town of what used to be a silver mining community.  We were met there by its lifelong and only remaining resident, a 58 year old man named Ron.  He ushered us back to modern foods with two huge pots of stew served up in his corrugated metal tipi; we played music and celebrated, ogling ourselves with fascination and confusion in the mirror that he had leaning against an old shed.  We parted ways with the film crew and drove to the beautiful Goldbug hot springs near Salmon, Idaho to soak, relax, and wash.  I spent the next two weeks in the northwest at two different primitives skills gatherings.  This was a wonderful transition back into wilderness of civilization, surrounded by a community of people who were doing similar things, some of whom had done Lynx' project specifically.  Just yesterday I've finally returned to the land that feels like home here in the Ukiah valley of Northern California.


 TOM'S STORY 2009
MYSTIC MOUNTAIN- STONE AGE IMMERSION


      My bow drew smoothly back; the arrow seemed remarkably straight and neatly fletched as I sighted along it towards the golden-mantled ground squirrel. Somehow, everything felt just right. I let the arrow fly; it hit the ground squirrel in the head, killing it instantly.

     Only a few days before I was still doing the math-how many days were we out? How many were left? The first two weeks dragged on and on. I was restless and ready to move on and explore new country. I questioned Lynx's decision to stay in one place for so long. But then I realized I was no longer counting down to the end. This wilderness was now my home, and I felt comfortable here.

     On my way down from the mountain meadow, I took off my buckskin pants and shirt and tied them around my waist. I was otherwise barefoot and naked, but felt completely at ease, carrying my bow and wandering slowly back towards camp, picking huckleberries and enjoying the traces of sunlight streaming down through the dense spruce forest. I felt much like the natives that are depicted in pictures wandering through the jungle, naked except for their bow and arrows. I felt like one of them. I felt like I belonged, like "one of the Real People" as Lynx would say.


     The focus of Lynx Vilden's Four Seasons Prehistoric Projects, in Twisp Washington, is not so much about primitive survival skills as Stone Age living skills. Over the span of several months, Lynx systematically takes her students back in time, teaching them how to butcher animals with stone tools, make jerky, render the fat, tan the hides, and make clothing. Students learn how to collect suitable clay, make pottery, and cook in it. They gather and dry all kinds of edible wild plants, roots, and berries, as well as medicinal herbs. Lynx teaches them how make primitive traps for rodents. They also make primitive fishing gear, using hooks made from bone and thorn, with horsehair fishing line. Students also make a carrying basket and stone tools.

      The skills Lynx teaches are not limited to a particular culture or region. More than 95% of human history was lived in the Stone Age, and she incorporates skills from all over the world. For example, she uses gourds for containers and canteens, which were native to the southwest. She also teaches her students to felt clothing and blankets from wool, a skill that originated in Mongolia thousands of years ago. By the end of her programs, Lynx's students have outfitted themselves from head to toe with Stone Age gear and tools for anything they may need to do.

      Graduates from Four Seasons, as well as friends or applicants with sufficient gear and skills, are invited on a free extended Stone Age living project into the wilderness to fully immerse into the lifestyle of our ancestors. The 2009 project spanned the entire month of August, and I joined as a guest, excited about the adventure and eager to advance my skills to the next level. The gear I was required to bring included:

  • 10 lbs dried wild harvested foods (including plant and animal foods and one pint of rendered fat)
  • bow and 6+ arrows OR
  • fishing line and 4+ bone hooks and 4+ snare and deadfall trigger systems
  • pack basket or hide backpack
  • medium-sized clay cooking pot
  • full set of buckskin clothing, including long-sleeved over garment
  • moccasins
  • buffalo robe, fur blanket, or felt blanket
  • basic primitive tool kit, including a stone knife, bone awl, pitch glue, sinew, quick blades or chert/obsidian core

     Fortunately, I had most of the gear on hand already. Preparation included making a whole deer into jerky (approx 6.5 lbs), plus collecting onion tops for spice and rendering bear fat. I was especially excited to improve my archery skills, so I fine-tuned my bow, and made a new quiver. In my exuberance to go hunting, I made a batch of fifty willow arrows.

WEEK ONE: TRIAL PERIOD
     Our tribe began with eight people: Kambria (20), Nate (32), Rebecca (31), Xavier (32), Katie (25), Andrew (27), Lynx (43), and myself (41). In the predawn darkness on August 1st we all shouldered fifty pound packs and quietly disappeared into the wilderness on the east slope of the Cascades, thirty miles south of the Canadian border. We made camp in the shadow of an otherwise unnamed peak that Lynx has dubbed "Mystic Mountain."

     The first week of the project is a trial period to ease the transition into full wilderness living. We were allowed to bring metal knives, needles, and other modern gear to finish projects and assist with the transition to full Stone Age living. We were also allowed to bring some non-primitive foods such as whole grains, meats, and fat to aid the transition from refined carbohydrates to a "Paleo diet" of wild meat, fat, greens, and berries. It was also a chance for each person to confirm their commitment before the fully stone-age portion began.

     For me, the transition to wilderness living is never easy. Between family and business, my life at home is a blur of activity, commitments, e-mails, and phone calls.

     It is like stepping off a train traveling at ninety miles an hour. That first step is a jolt and I struggle to even imagine being able to survive in the wilderness until I am actually doing it. This trip seemed especially daunting, due to the extended duration and the Stone Age emphasis.

      My usual survival trips are typically fairly short; we go out with regular clothes and some basic gear. We hike from point A to point B, building shelters, foraging, and trying not to freeze or starve. My skills are best described as "post-industrial aboriginal." I like using a metal knife and saw. My favorite footwear consists of moccasins combined with sandals made from truck tires, and I recycle frayed baling twine into cordage. This post-industrial survival is my comfort zone and I have never attempted anything on this scale before, casting aside all things modern for a month of Stone Age living.

     Arriving at our destination, we built a small village in the woods. I found a natural hollow and put a debris-covered roof over it to make a "bear cave" shelter. The rest of the group made lean-to's or debris-hut style frames covered with fir boughs and debris to keep out the rain and wind. Warmth was not a primary concern, however, since we all had felt blankets or buffalo robes to sleep in. From my perspective it was pretty cushy, like deluxe wilderness survival.

     In spite of my initial concerns, I quickly fell into my comfort zone, tramping around in my tire sandals through woodlands similar to those at home. We foraged familiar plants, fished a similar stream, and used metal knives, saws, scissors, and glover's needles for projects. I wore out the soles of my moccasins in a matter of days and sewed on another layer. I used tools to make a bark berry basket to collect huckleberries.

     I speculated that Lynx might let me keep some of my neo-primitive gear, such as my tire sandals and a few arrows with nail points. But Lynx demands a high standard; if it isn't Stone Age, it has to go. Only cameras, journals, and prescribed eyeglasses or medicines are allowed. This is what makes her such an incredible teacher. It encourages her students to toil away for months making the necessary gear. As we cached our non-primitive gear at the end of trial week I felt myself stepping beyond my comfort zone and recognized that Lynx was truly taking us back into the Stone Age.

     For this phase of the journey, Lynx prefers to cut off all contact with the outside world. Anyone who is unsure about their commitment to the remainder of the project is asked to leave during trial week, rather than disrupt the group by leaving during the Stone Age portion.

     Most of the group lived and worked together for three months prior to the trip. Katie participated on a previous project and joined this group with her partner Andrew two weeks before this project started. I was the latecomer, arriving a day and a half before it began, yet felt like part of the tribe after a week of working, cooking, talking, and singing together. We were all saddened when Katie and Andrew opted out of the trip due to conflicting obligations. We acknowledged the hard choices, wished them well and then we were a tribe of six.

WEEK TWO: STONE AGE IMMERSION
     Although I have used stone tools frequently, I never before depended on them to this extent. Andrew gave me a nice stone blade before he left. I wrapped it in buffalo hide to cushion my hand while using it. With the stone knife, I peeled a strip of spruce bark off a tree to make strap-on soles to protect my worn moccasins. I was pleased with how well the blade worked, and my confidence began to grow. The spruce bark soles lasted only two or three miles per pair, but gave me great traction and saved my moccasins from sharp sticks and rocks. Most importantly, the bark soles protected my moccasins from the damp ground, which would have rapidly disintegrated them.

      I walked barefoot as much as I could, gaining confidence along the way, until I was comfortable going barefoot for miles every day. Although my range was not as great as before, I quickly felt like I was in my comfort zone again. Sleeping in a buffalo robe and living off pre-harvested foods made the experience seem a little too easy. This wasn't survival; it was Stone Age living.

     We were on our own for breakfast and lunch, but dinner was a group meal. Two people worked together each evening to prepare a stew for the whole tribe, cooking in clay pots on hot coals. The cooks contributed goodies from their private stashes, such as deer or buffalo jerky, wild onions, bitterroots, spring beauty roots, morel mushrooms, puffball mushrooms, dried cattails, seaweed, wild rice, wild salt, and lots of bear, deer, or buffalo fat. We also picked wild greens for salads, stir-fried mushrooms on a hot rock, and caught numerous fish with bone hooks.

Cooking in the pottery required copious amounts of firewood. Open flame can heat the pottery too quickly, cracking it, so we kept a large fire going to make hot coals, then nestled the pots into the coals to do the cooking.

     I especially enjoyed the challenge of coming up with interesting new menu items from the local available foods. One of my favorite recipes was "Rubus Wraps." It consisted of coral mushrooms and thistle leaves stir-fried on a rock and wrapped in a thimbleberry leaf (Rubus parviflorus), tied shut with grass and fried again. Huckleberry juice cooked with animal fat made a great salad dressing. Trout stuffed with wild onions and cooked on the coals was delicious. Kambria cooked grasshoppers for everyone, which were surprisingly good.

     I brought less food with me than other members of the group to begin with, and in trying to conserve it, I ate more wild foods (especially huckleberries) and ate less overall than everyone else. I transitioned from my normal 5,000 calorie, non-stop grazing diet at home to approximately 1,000 calories a day for the first two weeks of the project. I ate huckleberries or jerky whenever I felt weak, really hungry, or before I engaged in physical activities. I enjoyed getting by on survival rations, felt surprisingly energetic, and was delighted for the opportunity to lose a few pounds.

     On the down side, we spent most of two weeks camped in a dark hole deep in the woods at the bottom of a ravine. We were ready to move out and explore the area when the weather changed. A storm front moved in, bringing clouds and intermittent, drizzling rain that lasted for days. In desperation, we finally hoisted our packs during a lull in the storm and climbed the mountain, hoping for a view of the surrounding area. We made camp under a giant spruce tree just as the clouds settled back in to rain for the night. By dawn, the rain turned to snow, although it didn't stick. We retreated to our camp in the ravine to dry our gear and wait out the storm.

     Although our situation was cushy by survival standards, there are nevertheless, stresses that are difficult to handle on extended trips, including persistent biting flies, nights that are almost warm enough, foods that are good but really unfamiliar, lack of contact with family and friends, lethargy, restlessness, and in this case, too much time camped in the same dark hole without enough stimulation each day. On day 15, Kambria packed up her gear and walked out. Lynx struggles with these disruptions and feared that the whole tribe might disband. "It doesn't matter whether it is a two-week trip or a three-month trip, the tribe almost always disbands halfway through." Lynx said. She is always trying new approaches to build group unity through the preparation classes to get a group that will stick together until the end. I understood Kambria's need to walk out. That happens a lot on these kinds of trips. We wished her well and then we were a tribe of five.

WEEK THREE: STONE AGE VACATION
     My biggest concerns about the Stone Age experience were initially survival-oriented. In addition to worrying about my feet and moccasins, I assumed we would all run out of food before the end of the trip. I operated with a survival mindset, rationing my food and foraging every day to make the food supply last as long as possible. But, Katie, Andrew, and Kambria each contributed some of their remaining food and fat to the group when they departed, leaving us with more rations and fewer mouths to feed. After eating very little during the first two weeks, I finally increased my daily rations. I also continued foraging every day.

     I have been on survival trips where we had little or no food, with the reasoning that hunger should be a good motivator to go hunting and foraging, but the reality is that it is hard to do anything constructive when you are too emaciated to stand up. I have also been on trips with ample food supplies, with the reasoning that we would practice our hunting and foraging skills more if we had the energy to do so. But the reality is that there is little incentive to hunt or forage for anything wild when there is a backpack full of modern food to be used up. Too me, the ideal combination is to bring about one-third of the food supply, hunt and forage for about one-third of the food supply, and if necessary, go hungry for the other third. That is sustainable, at least for a while. The fact that our rations consisted entirely of dried, wild foods made foraging that much more appealing. We had the necessary calories to go foraging, along with the incentive to find some fresh food and diversity.

     I have known for at least ten years that tree ear mushrooms (Auricularia auricula) are edible, but this was the first time I ever tried them. I also experimented with harvesting and processing thistle seeds and sunflower seeds. I even cooked up a bunch of willow-leaf insect galls. Mostly, I liked stir-frying various combinations of greens and coral mushrooms.

     The singular disappointment was that I had hoped to spend most of every day out hunting rabbits and ground squirrels with my bow and arrows, but there was astonishingly little wildlife in the spruce forest and there were not many meadows. Instead, I spent a lot of time writing.

     This was definitely not a survival trip in any conventional sense, and Lynx often referred to it as "Stone Age vacation." We were fully prepared with the tools and gear and most of the food we needed to live comfortably. Being on vacation turned out to be the greatest challenge of the trip. I am a very active person; I know of no greater torture than lying around doing nothing.

     Like a tourist, I felt like we had been there and done that. We came, we explored the area, sampled the local cuisine, and it was time to move on to see what lay over the horizon. It wasn't until day sixteen that I stopped doing the math. By day eighteen I felt completely immersed in the Stone Age experience. I was no longer a tourist. The spruce forest had become my home. Unfortunately, the feeling didn't last long.

WEEK FOUR: DISRUPTIONS
     The biggest challenge for Lynx on these projects is to hold the tribe together. It is very difficult to make the mental transition, walking away from family and commitments to do an extended trip. Nate was very concerned about his dying grandmother, and with the group's consent, hiked out to make a phone call when Kambria left. He returned the following day. Then Rebecca fell sick with severe diarrhea, unable to keep anything in her for the next four days. We tried curing her with concoctions of wormwood, osha, and Oregon grape root, but found no magic bullet. We decided to take her out before she became too weak to walk safely, and I volunteered to be her escort. Fortunately, Rebecca was clearly recovering by the time we reached Lynx's place, but still needed time to rebuild her strength. And then we were a tribe of four.

     Naturally, I tried calling home while in civilization. It is difficult for me to walk away from my wife and kids and businesses to disappear off the map for a month, and it seemed sensible to check in while I had the opportunity.

     I don't know if it would have been better or worse if I had actually reached someone, but I tried six phone numbers and got nobody. Returning to camp, I was restless with thoughts about family and work and unable to re-engage in the experience. It took me two weeks to make the mental transition into Stone Age living, and only one day to bring me back to the modern world. Lynx and I hiked up to nearby Mystic Lake a couple days later for an overnight fishing trip, but I was uninspired.

     On the positive side, I ate at least four gallons of huckleberries during the trip and lost about fifteen pounds. I wrote a list of all the new skills and tips that I learned, filling an entire page in my notebook. But now it felt like time to go. Besides, we had already eaten most of the huckleberries for miles around, and we could not ethically catch any more fish out of the local streams.

     Even Lynx is not immune to the outside world. She suddenly felt needed by her partner, Rico, and ran the eight miles back to her house to make sure everything was okay. Along the way, she crossed paths with Rebecca, who felt good enough to return to the group. Shoe tracks appeared in our camp the following day, and I assumed that Rico hiked in to get us, due to some kind of emergency. By the time Lynx walked back into camp, I was all packed up and ready to leave. The tracks, she said, were actually left by bear hunters who were checking out the area and stumbled into our private sanctuary. I hiked out on day twenty-three, followed by everyone else over the next couple days.

      Lynx has a dream of one day doing a Stone Age Year, and she hopes someone will offer her a couple thousand acres of land suitable for a long-term project. Lynx is one of only a few people in this country with the necessary skills to lead such an endeavor. However, the greatest challenge she faces will not be subsistence or survival skills, but merely to hold the tribe together against the disruptions and pull of the outside world. In the meantime, she plans to lead the 2010 Stone Age Living Project during archery season, so that the group will be able to hunt deer. She is especially seeking people with archery experience to participate in the project. For more information about upcoming classes and Stone Age living projects, please visit Four Seasons Prehistoric Projects

      Thomas J. Elpel is the author of Participating in Nature and producer of the Art of Nothing Wilderness Survival Video Series.




LYNX'S STORY 2007 - Peace Creek Project

A Day in the Stone Age
It's late summer and I lie awake, warm wrapped in buffalo robes, staring up at the poles of the shelter that are covered in green boughs to keep out the light rain.

Besides the prescription lenses of some of the participants, our group has been out in the North American wilderness for weeks now with only the clothes we have made, the food we have gathered, the shelter we have built.

After a nine day weaning period we are living in a way similar in material culture to how a small group of native Americans may have lived here in a temporary hunting group before Europeans ever set foot on their continent.

And yet here we were the Europeans: no plastic, no glass, no cloth, no metal.

We subsist using the less modified elements of nature: stone, bone, wood, bark, clay, fire, hide, and fur.

We made the decision to allow hand felted wool blankets for some participants to speed and simplify the preparation period.

The fire is probably still alive buried in the ash from last night’s embers but if it has gone out, one of us must get our wooden fire kits and twirl up a new coal: no matches, no lighters, no flint and steel.

I don't put on my deer hide moccasins when I get up because they will get wet on the damp forest floor. I don't need them anyway, my feet are tough from being bare all summer, they will warm up by the fire.

I look under the deadfall traps that we have set up that keep the mice from getting at our food stores, its amazing how quickly they discover our camps. Two traps are triggered, but there is only one mouse. I’ll have it for breakfast while I'm heating up the tea water.

Making my way down to the central fire hearth I notice how quiet my footsteps are on the damp needles. It would be a good morning to go hunting.

The fire is already going and one of us brings an armload of sticks and dumps them on the pile of firewood beside the creek.

It's stopped raining so we set the fish racks up in the warmth and smoke of the fire and while she goes to fetch more water from the spring nearby I settle two large clay pots for tea into the coals. They won't take long to boil with stone lids on but I don't want the flames to lick at the rims or they might break. We are fiercely protective of our precious cooking pots.

I gut the mouse quickly with a small razor sharp sliver of obsidian (a type of glassy volcanic rock that has cooled slowly under the Earth’s surface) it’s actually sharper than a razor. Then toss the mouse into the coals head, tail and all. I turn it a few times then rub off the charred fur and pull off the feet and jaws so I don’t chip my teeth on their hard teeth and claws. Crunch, munch, munch – three bites to a mouse, the head is crunchy and creamy, the middle is chewy and the last bite is the best, we call it the rump roast.

Two more sleepy-eyed tribeswomen join me and we laugh and joke as we wait for the tea water.

By the time the tea is ready there are five of us gathered round chatting and planning for the day. We divide the days allowance of dried meat that is kept wrapped in a large rawhide envelope and some wander off to pick berries or work on personal projects.

The clouds clear and like lizards we seek the warmth of the morning sun.

We have been successful with fishing. It's taken some changes in technique to figure out how to catch these high mountain lake trout. We started off using grasshoppers for bait that is pretty fun hunting in itself and one can always eat the grasshoppers instead. Our line was made from corded horse hair or dogbane fiber and our hooks from bone or thorns. We tried weighted abalone lures then switched to a fly fishing style with a bone hook and shred of feather that floated on the surface.

Success.

I’ve been making new arrows and I practice for a while shooting with the blunted tips at a soft tree stump.

I think about how women deliver and nurture life with their bodies and how men have traditionally been the ones who take life in order to sustain it.

I don’t enjoy killing but it is a necessary skill that I keep working on and there is something magical about gliding soundlessly through the forest, all senses tuned with a hand made weapon poised for that moment of expectation. Sublime.

We are going on a group expedition today up to a high basin where we’ve discovered a good crop of pine nuts. They don’t grow down along the creek beds so we are all taking our baskets to gather them together.
We found some several days ago as we were out exploring this rugged country. We gathered as many as we could and headed back down to Home Meadow as we had come to call our camp.Roasting the whole cones in the fire we could break into them revealing the large calorie-rich nuts.

The energy return for the arduous climb was considered positive and subsequently some of our women set out the following day returning with baskets of them.

Besides the promise of more nuts, we know that there will be a full lunar eclipse tonight too so we decided to experience it from a high alpine meadow.

Some of us gather up our gear and head out.

The rest of the group will follow later.
We mark the faint trail for them with arrows made with sticks.

It takes several hours to climb.

It will be cold tonight at this elevation and even though the buffalo robes are heavy we will be glad for them when darkness falls.

A new fire must be built. Our group works together smoothly and efficiently after the many months of preparation for this time.  Most of us gather and break firewood for the long cold night, we will need a lot, while two set about preparing to drill a fire: kindling, tinder bundle, adjusting the bow drill kit and finally when everything is in place the ember is produced. This also is like magic.

Far in the distance we think we hear a call, we have a system of hoots that we recognize between us and three of us head down toward the other group whom we fear may have gotten off the trail.
Just as dusk begins to stir night shadows we find the women who came up behind and had indeed lost our trail.

All relieved we return to our evening meal that is being prepared by two of our group. Every night we rotate cooks and each new meal has something of a different flavor.

Our food generally consists of: dried or fresh fish, dried buffalo meat, fresh small game, bear fat (the richest and most coveted of food supplies), fresh corral mushrooms, dried morel mushrooms, dried nettles, dried cattail roots and flour, dried saskatoon berries, fresh gooseberries or huckleberries, dried bitterroots, fresh thistle roots, fresh pine nuts, fresh greens, toasted balsam seeds and dried seaweeds - another much sought after commodity for its salt content.

As we wait for our meal we enjoy the camaraderie and re-tell the stories of our day.

Dinner is always appreciated even when there are too many bitterroots for some people's tastes. Everyone is ready for a good cooked meal.

We give thanks for the bounty of the day and each waiting expectantly as the food gets served.

We watch every ladle full with hungry eyes.

The big pots and each of our bowls are always scoured for the last morsels before they are rinsed and stored upside-down to stop the nighttime visitors from leaving their calling cards. There's almost nothing so unpleasant than to find mouse poop in your bowl or spoon next morning.
My mate and I are tired and we carefully make our way in the darkness that consumes us as we leave the ring of firelight with promises to be awoken when the moon eclipses.
We hear the soothing sounds of singing and chanting as we drift off for a couple of hours and are then awoken by the wake-up call.

The full moon shows the first tiny bite that the Earth’s shadow has cast over it as we join the hearth fire again. We watch with awe despite our understanding of this natural phenomenon. What would the Ancient Ones have thought or said? We cannot know. With its reddish hue in full eclipse the moon disappears behind the ridge and we wonder and hope she returns.

Dawn comes, crisp with sparkling frost and a new sun rises strong and clear. This is aliveness in all its raw and sensual being.

My mate and I seek the peaks to witness the glory of the morning.

There we find another glory seeker and we revel in the shadows that creep up the ridges and spill into the valleys stirring the day awake.

Did the Ancient Ones come to the high places to greet the dawn or was this just a modern frivolity?

No matter.

Back at camp there are some that still lay huddled close to the warm embers to catch more sleep.

Weary from the short sleep and the long hike we head back down to Home Meadow.

Just another day, living in the Stone Age.

No comments:

Post a Comment