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, September 7, 2014

Plant Study: Alfalfa , Lucerne,or Medicago sativa

This is a short video I did of a plant I passed when running every day.   

As my grandfather raised horses and sold feed to the state fairgrounds and the thoroughbred racing circuit at the county fairs for years and years, I knew alfalfa mostly as heavy bales to move into barns once we sold them.  I was a delivery boy, basically, but it was fun doing the work and loading or unloading the trucks.

But alfalfa has been cultivated for fodder for cows, sheep, horses, mules, donkeys and goats, for thousands of years.  The ancient Greeks and Romans used it and wrote about it thousands of years ago.   The root system on this pea family plant can reach 15 meters, (over 40 feet!) so it's good in dry areas.   It is an amazing plant.   It harbors many insects and bees, and is known among agricultural plants as an 'insectory'!  That's good news for bees and lots of other beneficial bugs.   It's best to mow strips in the alfalfa rather than the whole field, because it keeps those insects from being completely without habitat, so that is a great practice that some farmers use to maintain their crops AND keep those helpful insects going on the farm.

The interesting thing about this flower has to do with how it gets pollinated.  The part of the flower that has the pollen is called the 'keel', (like the bottom of a ship) and evidently it hits the bee in the head when it comes inside to sip nectar.  The blow spreads the pollen onto the bee which then carries it flower to flower.  However, the western honey bee doesn't like getting hit in the head, so as it gets older and smarter, it starts to sip nectar on the side, and avoids getting hit.  So in big alfalfa areas, the pollinators are usually the younger bees, or some different bees that don't mind getting hit.   Which is pretty cool.  Many alfalfa farmers offer special habitat for those bees, too, to encourage their presence in their fields...

There is a lot of different things that I have learned about this plant that you can find, but one of the most interesting is about how some Jain Veganism people can't eat any mushrooms, so they use alfalfa sprouts to get their Vitamin D, which they say is present in alfalfa sprouts, although that hasn't been determined yet....

Anyway, the field I run by got cut before I could take a lot of pictures, but I totally love this plant and how it feeds so many animals in our world...  

And I love bees!

Plant Study: Toad Flax or Butter and Eggs or Linaria vulgaris

Some call this Butter and Eggs. Others call it Toadflax.

Linaria vulgaris is found in poor soils around pastures, and is often grown in flower gardens as a sort of 'local snapdragon' flower. It is considered an invasive pasture weed in North American, where it is not native. It is native and widespread throughout Europe, Asia, Russia and beyond... It really gets around!

It's not exactly a huge medicinal plant with a lot of history that I could find, but it could be used as a skin/infection/sores/ulcerous conditions, if you chop up the whole plant and then boil it in lard until you get a green ointment. They say that the flowers, when soaked in milk, makes a great fly poison.

I mean, I think warm milk might just attract and drown flies on it's own, but maybe the flowers help?
(I don't think this was tested on some sort of double blind study! ha ha!)

Evidently the Germans used it for a yellow dye.

Also, it is considered toxic and cows and sheep and horses avoid it, thus it spreads throughout a pasture area and competes with other beneficial or preferred browse, so it creates problems in that respect.

To my, however, by far the coolest thing about this plant is the fact that the bright yellow 'egg yolk' attracts the larger bees, like wood or carpenter bees, or bumblebees, and only they are big enough to push into the flower's inner sanctum to get to the nectar, and the pollen coats the bee's back and sides as it drinks the nectar, thus insuring pollination of all the remaining flowers. Pretty crazy!

Plant Study: Horsetail, or Equisetum arvense

One of the oldest plant families on the planet. Silica based, used in sanding wood by native peoples, also known as 'scouring rush' by settlers because it was great and cleaning pots and pans by the river, and the only plant that reproduces using spores, not seeds.

It is known as a living fossil, as it is the only living species of it's family, which thrived in the Paleozoic Era, where some species grew up to 30 meters tall! Very, very ancient! It was established on all continents except Antarctica, over 400 million years ago! Whoa! Settle down, old fella!

It is drunk as tea and has been known as a bleeding reducer, diuretic, and a few other medicinal uses that are unverified by some sources. It loves acidic and clay soils along damp areas, and can be a big nuisance plant by some countries and states for grazing plant competition.

In Russia, recent research seems to have indicated that drinking the tea seems to help with Lead Removal from the body. Not sure how that works or whatever, but that seems valuable for all those paint chip eating people!

Yep, this is Horsetail, (Equisetum arvense) and it's a cool plant! Also known as Horse Willow, Pewterwort, or Toad Pipes

(I did know this before, but I wanted to research it further and it's also just very beautiful and interesting...)

Plant Study: Pearly Everlasting or Anaphalis margaritacea

Okay, my challenge for today was harder than I thought it was going to be. I guess I actually know a lot more plants than I thought I did! I had to wander quite a bit to find some plants that I didn't know.

Even this plant is one that I have seen and looked up before, and I realized that I remembered the name of it from back in the day when I got home.

It's Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) and I guess it was used medicinally. It is native to North America, so it's not a European import like so many other pasture plants.

It is known as Rabbit Tobacco by many native peoples, and it is said that because it lasted so long after it died, it was a plant that helped people 'walk between the worlds'. People grow it as part of butterfly gardens, and it is used in dried flower arrangements and it's sweet smell is said to be amazing in dried herb mixtures, or in special pillows, etc.

It's also been used in early homeopathic remedies as well as for childhood asthma sufferers, as well as dysentery, colds, sore muscles and even 'cud-substitute' for cows and some of their problems such as mastitis.

Haven't actually used it for anything yet, but I plant to pick some and bring them into the house to see how they look and feel in the house.

They are also said to be very sensitive, and that plants will pick up a very negative energy easily, and so can be 'ruined' in terms of their effect if around the wrong kind of people who are in a negative or highly fearful state.

Not sure what to do with it, but I am glad I learned about this plant!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Plant Study: Velvetleaf. Abutilon theophrasti.

Velvet Leaf:  Abutilon theophrasti
 This is Velvetleaf. Abutilon theophrasti. In the Maldives, it is known as maalbulha, and it's leaves are eaten in vegetable dishes traditionally. It's also known in Asia as China Jute, because of it's very, very strong fibers.

This plant has been growing in my compost pile/manure pile in our yard, and it's really starting to take off. I used velvet leaf in the last challenge to make some great cordage, so I thought I would share this with you all for those of you who aren't familiar with it!

I never knew it was edible, and that it was a fiber plant in China, etc. And it's also considered a very, very noxious weed in the American midwest, because of how it sucks nutrients and moisture from corn crops... It loves rich, loamy, overturned soils.

Anyway, this plant was hanging out and a big thunderstorm was rolling in, and it was really cool to feel like this plant was just waiting for that rain. I really got the distinct feeling it was very thirsty!

Velvet Leaf:  Abutilon theophrasti
I used the fibers from velvetleaf in my cordage display back in June, and it is a coarse fiber, but it's very strong and serviceable!   So, it's good to have around and it makes me happy when I see it growing, even if it is invasive in our gardens or whatever.
Velvet Leaf:  Abutilon theophrasti

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Earth Skills Infusion: Tools for Connection

 Well, the Seven Day Earth Skills Infusion is here and underway, so I thought I would post the video I made to get people excited about it, and also post the first guided meditation I made for anyone who wants to 'infuse' their skills with clarity, purpose, relaxation, centering or just be really, really laid back!

Here is the link:   Ricardo Sierra's Guided Meditation

I made this recording so it can be downloaded, so you should be able to download it to your mobile devices!
For some reason, this picture just
makes me think of deep
I took it last week out my
window on the plane as it was
about to land in Tampa, FL.
(I was changing flights!)

You can also listen to it on my website here:   The Natural Advantage

I will be making another one pretty soon, and I will post it as well.

My study this week is about plants that I have around me that I don't really know all that well, or never identified, so I wanted to learn them better.   So, I will be posting some of the things I have been learning about them, as well as some pictures I took of them too, so you can learn too!

Anyway, hope you are all excited and doing some kind of skill or nature activity when you can!

And join our Facebook group if you want to see what everyone else is practicing and learning!

Have a great week!


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ricardo Sierra's New Seven Day Earth Skills Infusion!

 The new Seven Day Earth Skills Challenge is almost here, and this time, I am giving it a boost with an additional aspect I am calling "The Skills Alignment Infusion".

It's about meditating about your connection to nature, your materials, your skills and your own deep center, and I am providing a series of guided mediations to get you in the groove, if you are so inclined.

Inspired by the success of our Wolverine Survival Camp this summer, I felt like it was time to share this part of our training with you all, and see if this can help you grow your skills as well as your deeper mindset and get more powerful results and earth energy!

I will be posting a video about this on my website here, and you can also join our Facebook Group if you want to be part of the tribe, and see what others are practicing and learning, give and get support for your own work, and just in general get very, very inspired and excited!

It all starts Sunday, August 17th, 2014, and you are warmly invited!

Pick a skill, practice it 15-20 minutes a day, and watch your life change as you begin to get the benefits of a connection close to nature and feel those new skills activate your natural body awareness and inner power source!

It's going to be awesome.

I hope you will join us!

Let's do this thing!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seven Days of Cordage for the Earth Skills Challenge

Swamp Milkweed Fibers
Earth Skills Seven Day Challenge:   Day One
I started my natural fiber cordage project by making short cordage samples, complete with a flemish loop, to use as a teaching example. I started with Swamp Milkweed, which I have gathered last fall, and placed in a bundle in our barn/classroom rafters.   I made a triple wrapped cord, using three strands of reversed wrap, and I used six plant stalks.
Completed Swamp
Milkweed Cord
Dogbane Cordage
I went way over my time limit of 15-20 minutes, because my apprentices were making all kinds of good projects at the same time, such as atlatl darts, bone knife handles, and a throwing stick/sword combo (?) which was more of a carving experiment.  We had a great time, and enjoyed hanging out and making stuff!  It was a great, great time!

Earth Skills Seven Day Challenge Report:   Day Two
Today's challenge was a continuation of cordage samples, for our educational programs.   Today's plant fiber is Dogbane, and we collected it last January in the fields and roadsides near Hawk Circle, and stored it in our barn for our school programs and camps.   It came out pretty great.   I first peeled the fibers from the plant stalk's woody inner core, and then I buffed the fibers to remove the papery outer 'bark' to get the loosely bundled bare fibers.   Then I twisted a loop and triple wrapped a nice cord.
Dogbane Fibers
At this point, I am thinking of using swamp milkweed, common milkweed, dogbane, velvetleaf, nettles, basswood, elm and maybe some fireweed and a few other samples I have in my collection of fibers already.  We will see how it goes!

Earth Skills Seven Day Challenge:   Day Three

Milkweed stalks
Today I continued with Common Milkweed.   It went pretty smooth and I have literally made hundreds of feet of cordage with this plant fiber, and it's one of my favorites.   Three down, and four more to go!   I am going to make a display board for the cord too, so it should be pretty cool!
Milkweed Cord

Anyway, the milkweed is thick, strong and a little silky, too, once the papery outer bark is worn away with washing or buffing.   We had a thunderstorm earlier, so my picnic table was very wet, and when I laid my fibers on them while peeling them, the fibers got just wet enough that the papery bark didn't really flake off when I was buffing it.  But it did twist very easily and it is tight and very round too.   
Triple wrapped cord is awesome!
Earth Skills Seven Day Challenge Report:  Day Four
Velvetleaf Fiber Cordage
Velvetleaf fibers
I found a small American elm sapling down by our pond, hidden amongst some willows, and I harvested (thankfully) a medium sized branch.  I clipped off the leaves and the tiny branches, and gave them to the pigs, who went crazy for them, for some reason.   I then began peeling the bark from the woody branch, and it peeled easily (it's the growing season, so bark comes off easily as there is a slimy layer of minerals and sap that is 'adding wood' to the tree).   I peeled them off and then separated them into evenly sized strands, and then twisted them into a loop and length of cord.  The final product still has some of the dark green bark on it, and it will shrink as it dries, leaving the final piece to be a little loose, but overall, it looks good.   Tomorrow is either basswood or velvetleaf.
Elm Bark Cordage
Earth Skills Seven Day Challenge: Day Five

Today, we had Carving Night, and a barn full of staff and apprentices making all kinds of things! I found a bundle of Velvet Leaf Stalks that grew in our garden one summer, really tall ones, almost six feet, and I peeled it and buffed it up, and then twisted it up. It's not as strong as milkweed or dogbane when it's older, but it is very serviceable, and it is tan and very coarse and uniform fiber that was easy to twist into cord.

I put my different cordage lengths together, too, and they are looking good. The display will be coming along soon. Probably Saturday! We will see how it looks! I need to take better photos in regular sunlight, because the halogen lights in the workshop turn everything a little orange/yellow!
Basswood Fibers in Layers

Earth Skills Seven Day Challenge:  Days Six and Seven Combined

Basswood Bark Fiber Cordage Loop
I missed Day Six because I was working off-site most of the day and then had a date with Trista, so Day Seven was a combined effort of both days.   I found some basswood fibers that had been pounded off of a log, and I buffed them up and then made some nice cordage with it.  It is very rich and pungent smelling fibers, and  it has a lot of dust in it that is very fine, too.   It's a nice smell, very earthy and reminds me of sweet soil and goodness.

From the bottom:
Swamp Milkweed, Common Milkweed
Velvetleaf, Dogbane, Elm Bark
and Basswood
The fibers are fairly coarse and thick and it did require a good amount of strength in my fingers and hands to hold them tight while I wrapped them and twisted them.   It's not a strong fiber, (the ones I was working with) but they would be serviceable, and make good matting, or maybe a thick basket handle woven around some saplings.   Good stuff!

From the left:   Milkweed/Dogbane Combo Rope,
Yucca Leaf, Milkweed, White Cedar, Deer Sinew,
Walnut, Basswood, Elm, Dogbane, Velvetleaf,
Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed
I also found some different cordage samples in my teaching basket, that I unravelled and then retested to have a loop and a triple wrap cord.  I found some Northern White Cedar, some Walnut bark fiber, Yucca and even a sinew bow string from a long ago bow that I was working on...  I added them to the set, along with a nice, very soft and silky milkweed cord, too.   I even found a very thick, very strong milkweed/dogbane combo rope, that is a great way to demonstrate how these natural fibers would work on a large scale, for real weight and all that.

I didn't get my display finished in this challenge, but next time I will get it all set.  I just put one of our timber framing pegs through the loops, and it still works great for now.   I have to make some small identifying tags for each cord, so kids can guess each cord and see if they know what it is...   

More pics to come of that, when I get it done!

If anyone wants to send me some Fireweed stalks, Nettle Fibers or Evening Primrose, please send me a message!  I will trade for ten stalks of each!

Final Thoughts:

My chosen skill was picked by the group through a voting process, as I haven't had a chance to chose, (so many skills to pick!) and while I know cordage very well, it was nice to do something that will provide a teaching example for years to come.

I did work on my skills for about 40 minutes each time, so I went a little over the limit, but it was okay.   I would love to spend all day on each skill, but hey, we gotta keep the classes going, right?  It is really busy here with all kinds of planting, building projects, school groups, writing and other work that I am doing, so I am almost happy to take a few days off after this challenge and not feel the pressure of doing it and then posting it in the group, etc.   But I will miss it after even a few days, so it won't last long!

Super proud of all the people who posted in the Facebook group Ricardo Sierra's Earth Skills Seven Day Challenge, and all the love you all showed each other, supporting, encouraging and connecting, I mean, it was just great to see what you all did and what you learned.

We did it, man, and it feels great!   I hope that you all get out and celebrate these seven days, and all we accomplished!   Woo hoo!    Thanks for everything, Skill-Dogs!   You are the best!

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Three Top Insights I got from Doing The Wolverine Way Summit

I spent a lot of time interviewing these 29 guests for the Wolverine Way Summit on Nature Connection last fall, and every single conversation I had was literally amazing and powerful and deep.   I had all kinds of connections, insights and revelations with pretty much everyone, and I learned a ton every time I got on the phone with someone and they started sharing their experience and wisdom.

But there were some experiences that literally changed the way I saw the vision I have about making a greater difference in this quest to reconnect people to nature.

I won't go into it here, but I will just let you see for yourself what they are.

I am curious if anyone can actually guess which ones were the most powerful for me, if you listened to the interviews????    Can you actually guess???

Once you've seen this video, what do you think?   What were your big 'take-aways' from these interviews?

Would love to know, and in the meantime, I hope you are all well and enjoying the spring!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Origin Story of the Earth Skills Correspondence Course

I made this video last fall and then uploaded it to YouTube, and then got really busy with my summit, so I didn't get a chance to share about it on this blog, so I thought I would post this for you all, just to let you check it out, and hear how we got started with it and all.   

My bottom line is all about helping people gain strong skills in a way that works with their lives.   And with things being the way they are these days, I know a lot of people don't have the time to travel to classes, or when they do take a class, they don't always know what to do afterwards to keep moving forward.   So, this program still can be a huge help.

I also did another video about getting through the resistance that comes up when we try to start working towards our goals, and then we get stuck, and before we know it, a week or a month goes by and we aren't on track again....    

I promise to keep working to make more videos and get their quality up, but in most cases, I just really don't want to take weeks trying to make them perfect and just keep moving forward myself.   Perfectionism is a huge problem for me personally, because I start to want to make everything so good, so that I won't have to worry if people will be critical or dislike what I have written or shared, and I think if it is perfect, it will protect me from their opinions.   But the bottom line is, there are always people out there who have different opinions, and there are always people who will disagree with me, so I had to just ask myself, "Am I going to let this stop me from doing what I want to do?"   

There is nothing that will protect me from critical people.   Or people who just think differently.   I mean, yes, some people can be really mean and say stuff that can come across as pretty hurtful, but I decided that I can't let that stop me.    I used to have people that made fun of me for being into nature and wilderness skills.   I mean, there were people who were merciless, seriously, and I laughed along with them, just because I didn't want to let them see that it bothered me.  But it did make me question myself at times.   I could also see how what I was doing at times could seem pretty weird or funny to others, also, and I could also see how my doing something different could be threatening to them as well.   But either way, I learned a lot about "Other People's Opinions."

However, when I was in the woods, and in a good, centered place, I felt completely different.   I realized that their opinions were just that.   They didn't have that power over me to stop me from doing what I love.   Or doing what I felt in my heart was the right thing to do.   So I just learned to let go of that fear that not everyone is going to love what I am all about.   And that's okay.

I still don't like how I look or sound on video, and I am super critical of myself, but I'm working on letting go of that, and also at the same time, trying to get better.   So, perhaps someday I will be able to look back at these old videos and laugh about it, and enjoy the 'old school' stuff and feel good about how far I have come.  We will see, I guess!

Anyway, I am not sure how this post went from being about the Origin of the ESCC to working through fear, or whatever, but anyway, enjoy the videos and let me know what you think!

The Beneficial Side Effects of Wilderness Survival Training

As modern human beings, we are raised in environments almost completely dominated by humans.   I am talking about the majority of people, raised in our cities and suburban environments.   Artificial light.   Machine made homes, clothing, vehicles, foods, entertainment and medicine surround us.  As this has been happening at an increasing rate for the last five or six generations, our distance from the earth, from nature, continues at an alarming rate.  Society seeks to protect us from wild animals, wild insects, wild weather and the uncontrolled forces that buffeted our lives prior to our civilization.  

I am not stating this to be political.  It is a simple awareness of our natural history and our development, as a fact.   I am not saying it is right or wrong, either.  It is what it is, and human beings are in the process of deciding which of these things, these changes, are beneficial or detrimental to our lives.

At this time in our history and development, the gifts of wilderness survival, our hunter gatherer ancestors, enters the picture.   In these rapidly changing times, we are further from nature and the soil, the earth than ever before, and bringing people back into the wild provides something primal and powerful.

I have taught people wilderness skills for the last 26 years, and studied nature and native ways for over ten years prior to teaching, and I have seen what happens when students, either youth, child or adult, enter the natural world.   Learning to make fire without matches, using stones and sticks and natural fiber rope changes you inside.   Gathering the materials for a snug wild shelter and burrowing in for the night against the rain and cold, changes you.   Cooking food over a campfire and listening to the sounds of the night come alive around you, changes you.   Learning to identify plants, trees and animal tracks so intimately that they are like a part of your extended family, changes you.   This isn't anecdotal.  It is real, with lasting effects on our awareness, and our life skills.

So, this has been a long preamble to getting down to business.   In the study of nature, of tracks, of being a tracker, other things begin to happen beyond just knowing a few latin names or wild foods.   There are four things that I have seen happen.

One: Focus.   This is where you let all distractions slip away, and you begin to build your intent.   This happens when you study and observe tiny details of the coloring and shape of tree bark, of the very tips of the twigs, the scars and marks left when a leaf falls away from a bush or tree.   It occurs when you are focused on the quality and color of dark brown dust that is forming in the notch of your bow and drill fire making apparatus, as you determine if it is ready to form a burning ember.   You start learning about focus when you are alone in your shelter at night, and a shuffling noise outside wakes you out of a deep sleep, and you listen intently for the sounds of the small paws of a skunk.

Focus is a gift that comes as we allow ourselves to be absorbed by our surroundings, as it has meaning and depth, as we begin to live as our ancestors lived, close to the earth.   It gets 'real'.   But it is natural for us to relax and yet have our complete attention held by our awareness, as well as emotionally and intellectually stimulated at the same time.  Focus allows us to transcend our daily cluttered states of being and see what is important.  It is the beginning of the development of our intuitive selves.

Two: Clarity.   It comes as we spend more time in nature.   Our bodies begin to 'naturalize', and we adjust in myriad small ways to the rhythms of the wild.   Clarity is by it's nature subjective, so it is difficult to measure and determine degrees of clarity or it's development, but trust me, it is very true.   It occurs when the chaotic civilization clamor  and din begins to drift away and the sounds of nature help us get into a very deep, relaxed, almost meditative state.   It is in this state that we are deeply receptive and open in a way that is very, very difficult in our modern culture.  

Clarity is the gift that is about certainty.  It's about being sure of what you know, whether it's a feeling of the need to go to the river, or climb a tree, or build a canoe or make a gift for a friend.   Clarity is a true gift that is felt inside, and it leads to direct, powerful action.   Those actions can be internal or external, but it is a strong feeling of relief when we suddenly 'Get It' after searching for it for days, weeks or even months.  

You can't get clarity in a weekend workshop, however.  You actually have to spend time in nature, again and again, and relax, and clear your mind, and just stay in the moment.   It's something that is given when you put in the time.   It can't be rushed.  It can't be bought or sold, either.   It comes when you are ready.   And it's well worth the time you invest.

Three:  Unquenchable Inner Fire.    Why would living in the woods create an unstoppable inner force inside of us?   Well, it's very easy.   Living in the bush is simple yet complicated.  We have to solve lots of different problems on a daily basis to survive.  We have to figure out how to make a fish hook, or a dry warm bed, or how to make fire in the rain, or create snowshoes, or any number of difficult tasks.  And as we begin to solve those problems, it's pretty amazing how your inner world responds to those successes.   The further you go, the more awesome you begin to feel inside.   You begin to trust that no matter what problem is presented, you will be able to find a way to go over, around, under or through it.   And that's a great, awesome feeling that always stays with you.

It's true that the opposite feelings do occur in the wild too.  Depression at our failures, our struggles and our frustration are always with us as we work to figure it all out.   But experiencing our low states makes our successes all that much more sweet when we get that breakthrough.   We learn that it's all part of the process, and we don't have to fight those inner battles so hard or seriously.  Yes, they have their place at times, but we don't need to stay in them or listen to those pesky inner voices with the same volume if we want to solve the problem at hand.  

It's okay to have low times.  It's great to have high feelings too.   But through all this problem solving, we learn to be actual friends with ourselves.  We can enjoy and laugh at the way we learn, make mistakes and then celebrate the win.  

And since it happens almost ten times a day, that's a lot of wins.   It adds up.   It's a good thing.  

Four:  Pattern Recognition.   This might not seem like much at first, but it's really, really major when you think about it.  

In our modern world, apps are designed so we don't have to think.   Our appliances are all 'smart'.  Our cars and our modern tools are throw away models that we can't fix ourselves.   Everything is already 'set up' so we just have to paint between the lines, right?     Our schooling is figured out for us, by people supposedly smarter than us.   Our highways are designed by people smarter than us.  Our health care, our insurance, our government, our bank statements, our Facebook newsfeed, well, everything is all figured out.   We don't need much in the way of awareness to navigate this system, and it's designed for minimal personal input.   We just have to follow the herd and do what everyone else is doing.

Well, in nature, there are no lines, but if there were, they would be drawn by distant tree lines, or the arc of a curving river sand bar.   It's not predetermined where you will spend the night, or even if you will actually survive the night!   We can't just go to sleep and trust the system to take care of us.

Well, you can do that, if you like.   But you might end up dead with a raven pecking at your eyeballs.

Survival training wakes us up.  It makes us take a good long look at the natural world and pay attention, because our next step is close to a rattler, or a napping grizzly.    It makes us pay attention to the sky, because the weather that's coming can't be adjusted by turning up the thermostat.  

This is a crazy gift, when you think about.  Being awake is an amazing feeling.   It feels magical and powerful.   It lets you begin to see patterns in the water, the trees, the flow of sand or snow drifting in the wind, or the way the plants respond to rain.    Once you begin to see patterns in animal tracks, or the clouds, or the lines in your skin, you start to see them everywhere.

Yes, you start to see and recognize patterns not just the woods but in the city and your relationships.  You will see it in the media, or on websites.  You will see it in your inner dialogue, and your emotional triggers.   You will see it in your written words, or your daily habits and actions.

Being able to see these patterns allows you to understand them, if you choose.   When you take on those tasks, you start to see a much bigger pattern that lets you transcend the Matrix, so to speak.   You start to see the world differently than those who are stuck in their slumber, deep in the ruts of civilization.

I have to say that it doesn't make your life perfect if you have these experiences, and you will still have almost all of the same problems that everyone else has too, awake or asleep.   But you will have access to tools that let you overcome many of them so you aren't stuck in the same way.   You have a chance to slip out and be truly free of the pull of the herd.  

This allows you to live life differently.   You see the world differently, too.  And the way others see and experience you is also different.  They won't know what it is, but they will feel your freedom.  You will exude a different vibration, and one that feels really good.   Yes, some people will be afraid of that feeling, and stay asleep, which is fine.    There is no judgement about the life each person chooses to live.   But honestly, I have to admit it:  Being even slightly more free feels really, really, really good.

Come to the wilderness.  The water's fine!   We need you out here.  

I promise, it will be worth the leap ten times over in how you learn to navigate not just the forest but the rest of your life.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Earth Skills Correspondence Course 2.0: Changes, Enhancements and Connections

It's been a busy year for me since my last post, and it hasn't been easy, let me tell you!   I spent most of the year timber framing some amazing structures for both Hawk Circle as well as for clients, which took a lot of my time.  Each frame takes many weeks to design, order the beams and wood, then measure, cut and raise it to make the structure that will support a house or cabin or barn.   We cut it with mostly all hand tools, using saws, heirloom chisels, rawhide mallets, drills and drawknives.   We even carve our own pegs by hand.

I decided to learn timber framing about seven or eight years ago, because I wanted to have really nice, beautiful and strong cabins for my students and staff to live in while they learn wilderness skills, and to do it in a way that was traditional and would last for decades.   I started to build them for other clients when people started asking, and when the economy changed around 2008, too, and we didn't have as many wilderness students for our programs.   It was a way that kept Hawk Circle going, and it was good, honest work that dealt with wood, carving, traditional skills and involved a certain level of artistry and beauty.

Anyway, after doing this for the past several years to pay the bills, and working very hard to make this happen, I found that I was getting depressed a bit.  Even with a lot of jobs and projects, and long days working in the cold, we still couldn't quite get ahead enough for me to be able to get time to write.  Or to do some of the wilderness education projects that are very important to me.   I began to struggle at times, personally, because my heart's desire felt buried under a mountain of work, which, while still amazing and wonderful, was not letting me figure out how to get out from under that long list of stuff that needed to be done.

At the same time as this had been going on, we decided that Hawk Circle needed to begin to reclaim the farm here, so we could grow and raise our own food.   We needed to clear pasture area for our five sheep, and prune back our old heirloom apple trees, and open up the land where the brush and scrub had taken over.  This allowed us to see into the land a bit more, and to have animals that our students can interact with on a daily basis and build a relationship to the land that is a little different than just nature skills, but still vitally important and wonderful.   This is a great, ongoing venture and it is really wonderful to see our place transform every season, and enjoy great food, but it also contributed to that feeling of my own work getting moved further and further down the list.   Ugh.  

It is hard to be in a small community and be unhappy.  I felt like an ogre, you know, like Shrek, just wanting to be left to my own in my swamp and to get away from the busyness and the endless projects, and to work on my own things.   (I did hide this well, for the most part, and I did try to live 'in the moment' and not worry about it.  But my staff knew that I was struggling at times, and it was hard for me/us both.)    I was pretty happy while I was working, and getting into it, and I like to stay positive, but it is tough when you don't see a way out of a maze of your own making.

Then I started to hear about how out of touch today's kids are, and adults too, and I knew I had to do something more.  Something radical.  Something of a leap.   I had to make a bigger impact than just the same old same old here in the mountains at Hawk Circle.    I decided to put together a list of people I could interview about the importance of Nature Connection, and I called it The Wolverine Way.  

It wasn't easy.  I will admit it:   It scared me to ask some of these people for an interview.   What if they said no?  What if they thought it was stupid?   What if I did an interview and I screwed it up?   I have never done anything like this, so my learning curve was steep and I felt I was on very shaky ground a lot of the time I was doing it.   I think some of my nervousness showed on my interviews, even though I tried to relax, but I got through it.   I did it, somehow, and I learned a ton doing it, too.  

I had to put it all together and then launch it, and it went out on December 30th, 2013.   It is just about wrapped up now, but the interviews are replaying for a while online, so you can still get access to them all if you want to check them out.  

Here is a list of the Speakers on my Summit:  John Griffith, of the California Conservation Corps.   Eugene Schwartz of Millennial Child.   Charles Saylan, of the Ocean Conservation Society.   Laura Zerra of the Discovery Channel's Naked and Afraid survival reality show.   Tom Brown, Jr. author and director of the Tracker School.   Joe Lau, former Tracker School Head Instructor and founder of the Phyre Dojo.   Susun Weed, master herbalist and author.   Kristen Schulte, of the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps.   Mike Douglas, of the Maine Primitive Skills School.   Richard Cleveland, of the Earth School, North Carolina.   Cristina Eisenberg, author of The Carnivore Way, and wildlife researcher.   Kiva Rose, herbalist and publisher of the Plant Healers Magazine.   Rees Maxwell and Matthew Bradley, of the Whole Earth Nature School in Eugene, Oregon.   Randall Lewis Eaton, author of Hunting as a Rite of Passage.   Tom Brown III, of the Primitive Arts Collective.   Derrick Jensen, eco-activist and author of Deep Green Resistance.   Doug Peacock, veteran, naturalist and author of In the Shadow of the Sabertooth.   Cheryl Charles, author and director of the Children and Nature Network.   Tony Deis, director and founder of the Trackers Earth program in Oregon and California.   Victor Wooten, director of Wooten's Woods Camps and acclaimed 5 Time Grammy Winning recording artist.   Erik Hoffner of the Orion Network.   Ruth Ann Colby Martin, midwife and former Tracker School Instructor.   Lisa Bonney Berry, former Tracker School Caretaker and instructor in the 4 Elements Earth Education program in Northern California.   Wendolyn Bird, director and founder of Tender Tracks Trails and Tales program in the Bay Area of California.   Tom Elpel, author of Botany in a Day and director of the Green University in Pony, Montana.  Craig Blacklock, acclaimed nature and landscape photographer in the Great Lakes region.   Brandt Morgan, co-author of the Tom Brown Field Guide Series and leader of Sacred Journeys.   And Sean Rowe, musician and songwriter as well as a wild foods forager and survival skills instructor.

However, all this work is just Phase One of my plan.   Phase Two is coming up!   As soon as the summit is complete, I will be putting the next phase out there, and I hope you will consider being part of it.   I will post more about it in my next blog post, so stay tuned!   And check out the interviews if you want, too.  I am getting a lot of people who are saying that they are enjoying them and finding them inspiring and helpful.   So, that's a good thing!

More to come, and it's nice to be back!