The Earth Skills Correspondence Course is a ten block course that leads students through the skills of wilderness survival, in your own bioregion. It emphasizes the mastery of shelter, water, fire, camp skills, plants and trees, cooking, safety & hazards, attitude & philosophy and instructor training. Ricardo Sierra mentors the course through e-mail, this blog and a private Facebook Group, and students are self-guided. The course provides a wealth of skills and a powerful foundation from which to build and grow in any personal or wilderness study direction.
Get more information about this learning tool here: The Earth Skills Correspondence Course

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Correspondence Course Weekend Retreats 2009

It's almost 2009, and as the year winds down, I am already planning the coming year and beyond. I got the deer processed and hide fleshed and salted, and the skull and horns are being cleaned to be used in councils for Red Deer Camp or men's lodges here at Hawk Circle in the Earth Skills Trainings. It feels good to have meat to offer to my students to share by the fire, or have Trista make an awesome stew or chili. Thank you, deer.

Which brings me to this post. I am thinking of planning three Earth Skills Correspondence Course Weekend Retreats, where students of the course can come here for a weekend, bring their own food, set up a tent or stay in a cabin, and study the skills, have me look over their coursework and give hands-on instruction during the weekend for a few hours on Saturday and a few hours on Sunday. No charge. What do you all think of that?

We get really busy in the spring, because of the Tracking Expedition, the Advanced Bird Language Intensive, the Spring Survival Trek, all kinds of school groups and then camp preparation, staff training and the camps themselves start rolling in June-August. However, I would love to find a way to schedule something in for you all to attend and get some attention and move further in your course. Would something in July work for any of you? How about October or September? I don't like to get too into the late fall because of deer season (archery) but we could also plan something for the last week of November or something too. April might work, if you can make it.

What works for you, people? I can throw out some dates, and see what sticks, but I really don't want to tie up my weekends if no one is actually going to show up. So I need to hear from you! Otherwise, I will work on my timberframing, or cutting firewood, or helping gather wild foods, or plant the garden or any number of gathering, teaching, or building chores that need to get done around here.

The weekends are pretty laid back, with use of our barn room, heated with a wood stove, as well as the tipi, for teaching and practicing skills, and the whole property for gathering and making grass mats, or making stone tools, or gathering wood and making fire from scratch, to cooking, or building a shelter or rock boiling or any number of other cool things that we can work on. And we can hang out, carve by the fire, tell stories and I can share whatever it is you need help with, from mentoring to professional marketing to earth philosophy and more. Basically, it is up to you, in a lot of ways. If there is a way for me to do it, I will teach and share what I can to help you get better.

If you haven't gotten the course yet, this might be a good time, too. It's $450 if you pay in full, until January 15th, and you get the full course, open ended, with no time limit to finish, plus mentoring support, as well as access to me for questions and troubleshooting, and you even get three weekend retreats here at Hawk Circle, to pick my brain and get hands-on skills teaching and advice. How can you go wrong?

Anyway, make a comment on this blog and let me know if you have a preference for a weekend or time of year, and we will move forward on getting the dates rolling!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My First Buck

I got my first large buck yesterday evening. It was something really significant for me, not because it was about killing anything, but it was about taking a large step closer towards mastery in hunting that has been a long journey in the last six years. It started with Frank Sherwood's Red Deer Hunting Camp class that we offered for two years, and then continued on my own learning....

I've been away for a while, mostly dealing with some health issues with my son, Javier, which you can read about in my Journal, so please excuse the long absence from the Trailhead. But I will post more as soon as I can. I am off to do a sweatlodge of thanksgiving, and will write more as soon as I can.

Okay, I am back. That was a good lodge, very hot, and it is freezing here, about 12 degrees F with 25-40 mile an hour winds blasting across the hills, with light blowing powder snow.... Winter is here! Our hair froze as we left the lodge, and it was refreshing...

So, about the hunt. The first thing I can say is that Hawk Circle is an old farm, where most of the old orchards and fields are overgrown, with all kinds of brush, hawthorne, alders, honeysuckle bushes and dead and dying pines, elms, aspens and poplars. There aren't a lot of clear, open areas that deer avoid, with easy to find transition trails in the brush, that the deer love, (lots of cover). So it is actually hard to know where they are moving through, and where they aren't, and when, too. It is part guesswork, part luck and part detailed observation and tracking.....

I had to wait until I knew the wind was coming from a clear south direction. It had to be a real wind, not just a breezy, shifting wind that changed direction every chance it gets... I found a thicket of tall pines, and lots of brush, and crept up through the crusty snow, step after step, waiting for the wind to pick up, and pausing between each for a few minutes, then moving quickly for ten steps, and waiting longer.

I stalked up the hill, and pulled my collar up, to ward off the wind. It was strong and cold. It was about 3:30 pm and I figured I had about an hour to wait before the deer came down the hill, through the brush, to nibble on fallen apples, small browse and head towards the alfalfa fields a half mile away. The deer on our hill love to spend their days on the ledges above our old orchards, in thick brush where they can see someone coming for a long distance. I leaned back against a young white pine and scanned the woods.

I checked below my spot, too, having been stalked by big deer before, and surprised many times. I didn't think they would come up the hill towards me, but I have grown tired of having them snort twenty yards from me, so I kept my eyes open. Mostly, though, I tried to listen, because the snow was thin and crusty, and I figured I would hear them long before I would see them.

I shifted positions several times, careful to be very quiet. I focused on my breathing, at times, and practiced shifting into wide angle vision. A chickadee hopped around in the brush, picking off tiny insects that were too cold to move, and searched the snow underneath some witch hazel for small seeds shaken out of their hulls. Twice I saw large flocks of Canada geese, winging their way south in a hurry. The flocks must have been about a hundred birds or more, and they were moving fast. I am pretty sure they could sense the oncoming Arctic air moving south.

When the first deer came down the hill, I could hear it very clearly in the cold air. The crunch was unmistakable, and intermittent, which is pretty normal for deer. They are usually a walk, stop, smell, nibble, turn, look around, smell, scratch my ear with my hoof, then step again, stop kind of animal. It was a huge doe, and she stopped under a large apple tree to browse on the branches and bark. I saw her go up on her hind legs to get the higher branches, and while I had a good shot, I knew she wasn't the right deer. It just didn't feel right, so I didn't even lift the gun.

Another deer came a few moments later, also a doe, and also fairly large. I still didn't get that feeling, so I waited, all senses alert. I knew I would have several chances as the deer moved down the hill, because there were several open lanes where I could find a clear path through the brush and pines.

I was surprised a little, because usually, the first deer I see when I am hunkered down in brushy areas are little ones, and they hang around, just giving me ample opportunity with their inexperienced wandering. Bowhunting is usually filled with seeing lots of these little guys, and hoping the larger bucks or does would come instead. Bucks I have seen, but in most cases I screwed something up in the process, scaring them off and missing my chance....

I was waiting patiently, content to let all of the deer walk by if they were all just does. Then I saw the antlers. I am always surprised when I see the antlers, because they seem so white, so obvious, and startlingly distinctive in the woods. Well, I saw these antlers moving like a white flag above the honeysuckle, and my heart raced fast. He stepped behind brush, then bent down and under some low apple trees. Then behind a fallen branch. Then into the open, right along the trail where I sat. Clear path. One shot. He dropped instantly, and the sound of it all sent the other two does scattering down the hill. One of them came very close to where I sat, looking up the hill toward her 'mate'. (Deer don't mate for life. It's more like for a few hours to a few days, until the estrus passes and the does are pregnant. Then, they are on their own. See you later. Good luck raising the kids. That kind of thing. It's not mean or bad. Just the way of the deer.)

Anyway, I flicked the safety back on and put my forehead to the ground in thanksgiving. As I sat there, my heart was racing and then I felt something move into me, or around me. I got up and walked slowly to the deer. He was still, and he looked peaceful, but so strong. So beautiful. I was just in awe. I was talking the whole time, thanking him, explaining how much I appreciated his gift of life, how much his gift meant to me and to my family and to our community and to me as a man. As a hunter.

I touched his shoulder and felt warmth flow up my arms. I could feel something, some sort of energy, flow into me, which sounds weird and lame, but it affected me deeply anyhow. English isn't the sort of languauge that is really good at describing this sort of stuff, so it always comes out cheesy, you know?

I took in everything about him, how he lay, his hooves, his shoulders, his wet nose and his ears lying softly in the snow. I was whispering to him and to the deer people the whole time, and I can't really remember what I said... (actually, I do, but some things are best kept between me and the deer), and then began the process of gutting and carrying him back to the barn. He was big and yet, it seemed to be easier than some deer I remember.

Noah helped me get him back, and we estimated his dressed weight at about 150-175 lbs. Of course, we aren't experts at this, so I couldn't be sure. But he was very good sized, and strong, healthy and well fed, too.

I feel so blessed to have been able to participate in this process, and sad that his days of walking these woods are over. He will become a part of me, and my family and all who share in his gift. He will walk with me each time, and see the woods through my eyes, ears and nose. I hope he will help guide my steps, not just in the woods but in my life, chosing a path of honor and wisdom, stealth and power....

Maybe I am just hoping, but I feel different inside. I am a hunter and I have been accepted into the company of bucks and earned something. I have the rest of my life to figure out what it is. And continue to be worthy of their company.

Thank you, deer.