This winter I’ve had the opportunity to find my own edges and build up my connections with the natural world. I followed through on the long-time wish to take a class or workshop with Kevin Glenn and Monique Philpot of the WILD Nature Project. My husband and I signed up for their three-weekend Winter W.I.L.D. program. Over each of the weekends, we planned to learn new skills and practice some familiar ones.
The first weekend, the group was very nervous about an overnight camp. We were all people experienced with the outdoors, but facing a nighttime low of 17 degrees was a bit scary. It turns out, with a little group work and good planning with our gear, we were all pretty comfortable.
The first weekend, we worked on awareness of nature. I loved it. I’ve been doing a sit spot (where a person sits very still and relaxed in one place over and over again) periodically in my own yard and out in some of my favorite haunts. It’s become something I encourage my permaculture students to do, too. It sharpens the powers of observation and fosters the connection we feel with the world around us. I find that I am more aware of the influences and forces coming into the landscape (think sector analysis all you permies). I’m more aware of the growth and change going on.
There were a lot of games and lots of questions and mysteries in the forest. I was humbled by how very little I knew about even the most common animals around. How many of you have ever explored an early-successional field on hands and knees to watch the movement of mice–or were those voles? Or seen the places where coyotes and raccoons have stopped over something interesting? One of the amazing things we came across was a feeding site up in a red cedar tree. Something had gotten a blue jay, though we never knew exactly what happened.The second weekend, we focused on basic skills–creating a bowdrill kit and making fire, shelter, making bowls and spoons, working with rawhide, cooking over fires… I realized again how very little I know. I haven’t done much carving in my life. I know some plants and trees, but not as many as I should. I don’t know when to harvest them, or what many of their uses are. I made a decent bowdrill kit and came close to getting a coal for a fire. But I realized how these physical skills don’t come easy to me. That was an edge.
I’m a person that has been able to get most things I wanted to try first go. I’m not good at practicing. I found myself getting angry and frustrated with myself. And that is something that just won’t help. So, here I am at that edge. Mastery will always elude me if I don’t practice. And, in my opinion, these things are too important to not keep practicing, not find success in. Mastering these skills means greater freedom and self-reliance. Bill Mollison said, “Take responsibility now.” So, here I am learning how to keep myself warm and dry and how to work with fire and the forest in a new way. I’m developing a new relationship to cold. I’m taking responsibility for my well-being in a new way. Along this journey of exploration, I get to make new connections to great people.
In the time since that weekend, I’ve been continuing to practice. I had a coal for the fire yesterday–but didn’t get it to the tinder bundle to create the fire in time. I’ll try again today.
Another edge was being cold. It was 9 degrees the second night we were out. Even though we were in a better shelter, I forgot to bring a wool blanket for my sleeping bag. I was cold all night. Every couple of hours I would wake up and build up the fire. Even though it was cold when I lay back down, while I was building the fire up I felt warm. I heard things others didn’t, too. Coyotes, owls… I learned that I can be cold and tired and still be okay.
I’ll miss the final weekend with my husband and new friends, because I’ll be at the Standard Class offered by the Tracker School in California–practicing these very things for a week. I’m looking forward to the challenges–some given by instructors, some by my self.