There are no mistakes in the track laid out before us. It is a precise and perfect declaration of what has happened. Any detour from the stark naked truth occurs only in our own perception and interpretation.
Aaniin Family and Friends,
The white season is fully upon us … ice on the lake is thicker than the length of my forearm. We carry on with our life: frightful, amazing, glorious and daunting… even occasionally mundane. We have passed midwinter, passed the ‘apocalypse’. As are many things here, the apocalypse was a clear and personal process for me. I was left with the awareness: Before apocalypse, chop wood, carry water. After apocalypse, chop wood, carry water.
Our numbers continue to grow less as the process grows deeper… we are now 24. All those who have left have been families with children. At this point, our family yearlong contains only 4 blood families (and 13 other individual seekers). With each departure, I find myself even more committed to this process, though there is certainly still struggle. Last night, pitch dark inside the lodge, a confused child wet his bed and mine. The morning before, two woke up puking. The children don’t drink enough (sucking it in through an ice hole is unappealing to them) and have problems related to dehydration. One child got a bad case of frost nip on his feet… none of us has yet perfected human relations and there are the usual temper tantrums, even amongst the children. Surely, we are far from flowing as the tribal culture we strive to become… and yet, each sun brings us closer, learning and growing in sync with each other, and I know the distance we have already traveled together is great.
We continue to tomahawk away with a fury at unhealthy habit patterns and mental constructs… most recently by ‘flagging’ each other and ourselves when we notice externalizations, victimization, defensiveness, enabling or other facets of co-dependence. It was pretty clumsy at first and played out a bit like a bad psychotherapy flick… but as in all things, our commitment and perseverance are paying off.
…Pause to listen to a distant coyote jam and the rodent that lives in the wall next to me…
A few suns ago, the clan enacted a ‘banishment’ and we are still reeling at the raw profundity of this process. I have previously read stories of banishment, and realize that I had only the most superficial glimpse of the “why’, ‘how’, and ‘what’ behind such an action. It is clear that the tribal cultures who practiced banishment were coming from a very different mindset than our ‘western’ culture today. Also clear, is that this clan is only starting to unify to a point that such a tool can be used (as a last resort) for healing the human circle. I expect to write more for the blog in the next few moons regarding banishment and its effects… it will certainly be unfolding for us for a long time.
A half-moon ago we feasted and celebrated this season of the cold, darkness, snow and ice, as well as the reflecting changes in ourselves. I have backed off a bit from the wild, glorious, cutting edge of the honed guardian and moved into ‘mama bear’ role to accommodate my natural tendencies and family/circle needs. A moon ago we were offered the advice: “train like a cat, move like a bear”, and I have found much insight in considering those words. One of the trickiest and most vital skills we are developing here is to know what type of effort or response will best serve a given situation. It is time now for me to “move like a bear”.
One of the other progressions advented by the cold season is our moving more deeply into dream work, which I am excited and inspired by. We are told that some cultures view the dreaming state as more real than the waking state, and I have come to appreciate and share this perspective. It is in the dreamtime that we experience our non-linear, unlimited selves. It is an opportunity rich with healing and awareness building. It is also what we do with the majority of our time here, during these long northern nights. Chris, our ‘guide in residence’ has been leading us in a series of workshops and exercises for recalling, relating and utilizing our dreamtime experiences. I appreciate being present for all of life, as a flow of various states of consciousness… all rich with guidance and healing symbolism.
Regularly, I imagine that I have learned so very much here that I’ve finally ‘got it’….only to find that it just keeps coming. Obviously, awareness is growing exponentially and the ‘year-long’ program is really a misnomer. Even calling it the family life-long program seems poignantly limiting.
After this sun I intend to stay out at winter camp in our somewhat cozy winter lodge and at snow camps (if it snows again) until the program ends. I wish to make the most of these few remaining moons by completely submersing myself. I will send in more blog entries as they surface and, as always, delight in receiving and responding to your written correspondence. My final email from this experience will be “12 moons out”, as the snow and ice melt. It will be sent as we pack our things to move into the next dream sequence, beyond the shore of Woodbury Lake.
This last 1/4 moon was outrageously warm… practically tropical! Rain in the North Woods in January! Must be global warming… oops!… ‘outside’ flag. Correction: The gods must be crazy!
Migwech again for all your thoughts, dreams, prayers and many levels of support. Much love and light to you all as we welcome back the sun!
First quarter of Snow Falling Moon
The Move to Winter Camp
The night was long; the stars mirrored the clear dreams of the people in Waabanong. The first light brings movement into the sleeping bags—long johns…jackets are put onto the shivering skin. The snowflakes sink down gently to cover Mother Earth. The spirits bring clear silence in this dark time.
The fire tells the story of how a seed developed into a proud Maple Tree that was rocked to sleep by the Moon. The story tells of how the tree was uprooted by strong winds long ago.
But this sun, a pack of humans run synchronized in the footprints left by the leader in the snow. While the birds sing their winter songs in the depths of the woods they collect blown down branches and stack them onto their pack frames (self-built wood carrying devices). On the walk back some of the many tracks left by birds and animals reveal their stories and leave questions that beg to be explored. It may take some time until the wood finally arrives at the hearth to warm our bodies, the full pots and dry our clothes.
The sounds of the crackling moist fire wood, the cracking of walnuts and the smacking lips of the inhabitants who are enjoying juicy apples and the left-overs from the night before, create a feeling of home.
Many things are still to do before we can move into the winter lodges. Behind the trees rises a big cloud from smoking the tanned hides in order to make them weather proof for our lodge doors. The last trees are being cut by Rab, Scott and Jeff with the tomahawk until they kneel down and crash onto the ground. That will let more light into our hearth area and every ray of sunlight will bring warmth, joy, and happiness into our everyday life.
Alexandros, Migizi, and Susan prepare the venison, bear fat, and vegetables into a delicious dinner.
The children slide down the hill in the snow. Canto and Diindiis come back into the village each loaded with a bundle of wood on their backs. Ishi and the rest of the kids prepare their own meal. Vegetables, rice, fat, and wild leek bulbs are boiling in their pot. Adults passing by their hearth are not convinced of their cleanliness standards. Therefore we have a buddy system to support them with their hygiene. The children become more and more self-confident and it is beautiful to see and guide them on their way. They also have buddies for carrying water, gathering firewood and cooking.
Dakota and Susan lay out the floors of the winter lodges with birch bark and fir boughs in preparation for comfortable evenings and nights.
In order to support our motivation to make fire, half of the Guardians create a flame primitively each morning. After three days it’s the other half’s turn. No Guardian eats anything until every designated fire-maker has gotten a flame. Sometimes that can take a while-just like today ;o)
The sun goes down and the last wood gatherers and trackers return home to enjoy dinner in the Circle around the fire.
More and more I get a feeling for the spirit of community. To be with other people is maybe more connected with being happy, than I expected it to be! Now I see the word “community” with different eyes.
As soon as I come together with my partner, my children, family, friends, plants, and animals, as well as natural spirits, I live in community. And yet I am not able to feel a sense of joyful communion all the time, why?
Why is there sometimes a feeling of ‘non-connectedness’ and the need to escape from relationship? Perhaps community is more of a general attitude, a recognition that we are already connected in the heart. Some Indians say MITAKUYE OYASIN for ‘all my Relations’ and ‘we are all connected.’
My personal answer to the ‘why’ for my feelings of disconnection is that I close up. Because of my woundedness I find myself unable to trust. When I am able to open up to the people and to my environment, it no longer matters where or with whom I am because then I feel, and live, and am community!
Recently, the youngest member of our clan, Julia, received a card in the mail. We all marveled at how clearly the picture on front depicted our life here:
There was a girl (Julia) witnessing the arrival of Tamarack, who was delivering a mountainous food drop in his sleigh (apparently, there hasn’t been enough snow here yet to pull out the sleigh). Tamarack was wearing a bright red coat and hat, so it was obviously hunting season…and he had even rounded up eight waawaashkeshi himself and tied them to his sleigh to bring us at a later date! (yum!).
Who knew Hallmark was so in touch to portray our funny life so clearly!
Epiphany #577: Tracking/Dreaming/Multi-dimensional vision.
Looks like snow is here to stay now and it’s hard to remember that it ever wasn’t freezing. Some of our most entertaining (and humbling) moments find us whittling at frozen carcasses or jumping around a fire half naked (one half at a time) with a washcloth full of snow. I’m still wondering how I had the idea that we would have access to showers on occasion.
Daylight is short and the long nights are filled with moonlight and insight. Dreams, visions, and epiphanies are rampant as the line between worlds becomes increasingly obscure.
One of the many blessings that came with the advent of snow is the enormous expansion of tracking opportunities.
I am quite a beginner when it comes to tracking. I have always considered it just a cool hobby for anyone whose livelihood didn’t depend on it. Two experiences this sun have completely changed my mind.
At breakfast we were discussing how to cultivate telepathy – a skill that native cultures tend to far surpass our own in. I realized that this ability is exercised by repeatedly challenging oneself to decipher ‘what is happening?’ without the use of speech. Tracking is one of the best ways I know of to transcend space by developing this awareness. When we are telepathic we give up the belief that thought happens inside our brains, or that our perception is limited by the confines of our personal, physical bodies.
…So, all that was kind of a headfull already…Then, I went out in the snow to gather firewood. I left off wolf-walking a clanmate for a moment to discover a simple scene, my awareness of it slowly unfolding into story:
“A deer came by this morning. It lay down in the snow for a time. Then it got up, pooped, and walked back in the same basic direction that it had come.
Now, I have always imagined that deer lay down in the snow…of course, they must…but I have never seen a deer lying down at all…it was just an assumption. However, there it was, right in front of me, clear as day. I was able to see that scene as though standing there! Deer comes, lies down, poops, leaves. Suddenly, I realized that a tracker transcends both space and time. This is alchemy. This is cultural evolution. This is a ‘hobby’ to wrap my life around.
2nd quarter of the too cold, too soon moon
Rumor has it that some of our blog readers have expressed dissatisfaction with the suspiciously upbeat reports of our experience here. I hear that the entries have been romantic and poetic, omitting the obvious sufferings that our lives must contain.
This is an understandable perception coming from the world that we do… The world of black and white, good and bad… but here we live in a different world.
We are told that the mindset of the Ojibwa is embodied so fully in their language that becoming fluent in the language will shift one into an entirely different view of the world.
I have witnessed many struggles here, but I can honestly say that amongst the adults, I don’t know of one difficulty that did not evolve into a welcome teacher. Truly, the members of this clan are that committed to creating healthy culture. Likely, the riffles don’t become blog entries until after their gift is recognized.
Also, being immersed in nature, the experience goes far beyond the limitations of the English language. This life is poetry. We simply write down as we can.
I am reminded of two songs I have heard the Seekers compose. This by Alexandros, this green season, was 2 revision of another song: Humbly and with gratitude
Hungry we walk here, hungry we sing here
Hungry we walk this ground
Hungry, and in bad mood
Hungry and in bad mood we walk this ground.
…And Rose’s composition of this morning as she prepared to start a bow drill fire in the cold with an unfamiliar Kit:
“Threshold, threshold, threshold
I don’t have to do this,
I just want to have it done”
…On a further contemplation I have uncovered a pocket of unresolved angst. This is with the Seekers who have left the program. So far, we have lost 15 due to inability to work through these challenges. Fortunately or unfortunately, they bring these teachers with them to surface and guide them another sun.
“I need more time with the elders,” I complain “ or time in the wild, alone.”.
They are one and the same, I am reminded.
Here I sit with the elders: trees, wind, stars… The ancestors of all life. Here, the relentless ego chatter stops; resting, reflecting, listening. What I see in this mirror is not physical form, nor the actions, reactions and interactions of fledgling humans (humans practicing/remembering to be God). This reflection of the elders is deep – the center of the center – the heart of the heart. They sing the song of circle consciousness; the wordless voice of the world.
The Buddhist tenant “life is suffering” needs modification (or likely, it has already been modified from its original intention). Life is changing, and adjusting to that change. “Suffering” is the result of resisting adjustment. If we live with open hearts/minds, we experience: thought, shooting out from center – creation – imbalance – and immediately, life attempts to restore balance.
Simple natural science I learned in grade school – the principle of homeostasis.
Long I wondered about this…funny email for a school/business. I don’t wonder about it anymore. The intention that moves this school is as far as one gets from “business.” It is an egoless immersion in restoring natural balance.
In the world where I come from, much is exerted into preventing adjustment (creating suffering) – light to prevent darkness, shade to prevent light, heat to prevent cold, cold to prevent heat, walls built to keep out dust, weather, trespassers, and to define and contain what is “ours.”
Here in this life without walls we learn balance. Mosquito comes; we adjust; come to balance. Reaction/insult comes; we adjust; come to balance. Food comes in different flavors, textures, quantities; we adjust, come to balance. This is what the elders have called to me to hear this dawn. I am grateful to receive it and happy to pass it on. May it continue to move, serve and restore balance in us all.
Continued reflections from Tammy, Chris Lemying’s mom from her visit in the Falling Leaves Moon…
Breakfast is a nut roast with fruit. Each clan member gets 16 walnuts each day (protein). We all sat around 3 different hearths (round camp fires) and roasted a few nuts at a time. Chris taught me how to do this. I then used a rock to crack the nuts and ate them. They really were wonderful! I had a small apple and a small banana, and that was breakfast. I didn’t think this would fill me up…but it did and there wasn’t any other food until late
- time references – a day is a sun, a half hour is roughly a nut roast, an hour is roughly a meal time, a week is a quarter moon, two weeks is a half moon or 2 quarter moons, and a month is a moon, a year is a turn. I found this lack of precision to be frustrating and wonderful at the same time. When I wanted a good estimation of time, I
couldn’t get it, but on the other hand everyone was so much more relaxed about making plans. Plans were made, but if we had to wait for others to be ready or to join us, it was not seen as a problem.
- calling people together was done by howling. One person would start the howl and everyone else would join in. It is quite a joyous sound. So when dinner was getting close to being ready to be served there was the first howl that let folks know. When it was ready, there was a second howl.
-Chris and I spent much of Friday walking all along the many paths at Teaching Drum. The school owns 50 acres and sits adjacent to a national forest that they can use for hunting and foraging. We walked in the beautiful forest and he told me many things about his clan mates, his personal journey, and the traditional ways they are learning. He is gaining a vast amount of knowledge about traditional ways and is able to apply what he
is learning in such a gentle way. One example: when we were gathering more pine boughs for my bedding, I pointed out the fuller soft pine needles on the spruce bough and asked if that would be better. He said, “You can try anything you like, but most things have been found to be tried and true for many years.” I went with the boughs he suggested.
-Chris showed me the winter lodges that are all being rebuilt before winter. Three of these lodges have an underground ventilation system that allows them to have a fire going when needed for warmth. The winter lodges are wigwams that have a wooden frame, birch tree bark on the inside, about a 1/2 foot coating of peat for insulation, and then an outer shell of birch bark on the outside. Standing inside, I again felt so much like I
was back in time. I could imagine the people sleeping on their animal hides, telling stories, and making food around the hearth. The winter lodge poles are tied together using Spruce sprout roots.
I got to join 5 others for a lesson on how to gather the sprout roots. We walked about a mile to a Spruce forest and the Guide showed us how to use a long stick digging tool to start digging a shallow trench a couple feet from the base of a Spruce. We were to look for roots that were around as thick as a finger. Once one is found, you work
to follow that route and keep it in tack as long as possible going over and other roots. The Guide made this seem very easy. He told us he generally sets goal for himself of gathering 50 sprouts before he quits. Chris and I worked together for about an hour digging, found maybe 6 good sprouts that we dug out, about 15 not so good ones, and called it a day!! It was very, very cool to look up and see the others spread across this area digging in
One mother was there with her son named Gio (short for Giovanni). He chatted and chatted with her during the whole walk out about dragons and “what if’s”, he worked along side her and kept up his imaginative talk the whole time. She never seemed to bore of his chatter and kept walking and working. I was amazed by both the son’s willingness to walk through the woods for this distance without slowing down or complaining,
and by the mother’s loving way of being with her son while contributing to the work of the clan. I know that learning how to dig for Spruce sprouts was a skill she was happy to learn.
-Chris and I had been asked if we would cook the fish for dinner. Someone else took on the task of cleaning and scaling the 15 large fish. While that was being done, Chris set about making a fire that would produce a large, hot bed of coals. Again, he worked so effortlessly. He gathered a bit of twigs and sticks from the arbor, a coal
from the other hearth, and started the fire. When the fish arrived, he laid 4 long, straight, thicker sticks (about 4ft) across the hearth stones to form a natural grill. He then proceeded to cook the fish, using a bowl with some water to sprinkle out the flames that would arise. Two deer scapulas were used as cooking tongs to remove the
fish when they were cooked and placed upon a large flat piece of birch bark. We used a second piece of bark to cover the fish in an attempt to keep them warm. While we were doing this, others were steaming vegetables and heating rice. The squash was already prepared and the bear fat was being heated, too.
-I was again very interested in watching how the adults and the children interacted. The children got attention, they liked to tease and play around, but none of them were demanding.
-the wind was very cold that early evening. We decided to make our way back to our wigwam and spend time there out of the wind. Clair wrote letters, Chris finished one letter and then joined me snuggled on a sleeping bag and we talked for quite a while. We lit a candle that evening using matches they aren’t supposed to have at
this point. But neither Clair nor Chris has learned how to start fire yet using a spindle and bow.
I am now adding to this Teaching Drum journal 6 days after returning. Already my vivid memories are fading.
But I have a few more things I want to add.
One morning as we were walking I commented to Chris that I was surprised at the lack of plain talk about the spiritual ways of native people. He replied that they were living the ways, and there was not the need to talk about it. When he said that, I think I mostly disagreed. Now, I think I have a better understanding of what he was telling me. Spirit/God connects us to everything else in the universe. On a physical, close level this
means learning to see ourselves not as individuals but as integral parts of the Whole. This group of Seekers is learning how to honor each person’s thoughts and contributions to the whole clan. They practice giving thanks to the Creator for the trees, water, fish, insect larvae, etc… They are able to live more in the moment and are not
distracted by all of the gadgets we have in our modern lives.
The clan was experiencing a challenge around food (one of their major challenges). Fruit was being stolen from the earthen storage pits. In order to be fair, the clan decided that it wants to count out the amount of nuts and fruit each person gets each day. Rose, one of the Guardians, called a Talking Circle on the spot on Saturday morning. Talking Circles are mandatory meetings that the clan had already decided everyone would honor when one was called. The children were asked to attend and speak at this one as well. Everyone is expected to speak their Truth on the topic. They are to state they opinions and desires on the topic. No one makes comments on each other’s statements until everyone has spoken. Rose started and about 30 minutes later everyone had had a
chance to share. Some people wanted to stop counting the food out and to work together to support each other through better interpersonal connections…..sharing their needs, understanding each other, and loving each other more. Some wanted to try to help the hoarders to get in touch with their feelings about food, the emotional scars
that might be at the root of their fear around not getting enough food. It was a very interesting process to watch.
Chris shared with me that they had had many Talking Circles. Each person is learning how to communicate honestly with themselves and others. They work to stop tendencies to be co-dependent. Again, I was fascinated by the presence of the children and their in-put. They wanted people to stop taking fruit. Interestingly, some shared the belief that the children were the ones taking the food. I wonder if they feel they are getting enough to
The temps were most likely in the low 30’s at night and 30’s-40’s during days while I was there. We had some snow on the ground Saturday morning and some rain. The wind was very strong half of the time I was there. This was the first cold to deal with that is on the front end of winter. When clan members talked about their days, many of them expressed anxiety about the upcoming 5 months of cold weather. This came across
as fear by some of the mothers of the young children. I can understand their anxiety about braving a northern Wisconsin winter living outside. I heard one of the Guides telling a mother that the children were going to be able to spend their days/nights in one of the large winter lodges where a fire will be kept burning. But think about the about of firewood this will take for so many people! Keeping clean in the winter season will be a big
After spending 2 ½ days at Teaching Drum, I feel a bit like my everyday life is fake. I am so out of touch with our natural world on a day to day basis. I do not have a desire to go live at TD for a year; I value the work that I am doing too much to leave it. But I do want to find ways to simplify my life, to not be some distracted from myself by our culture
Congratulations if you have made it to the end of this five page reflection/journal!! Please keep your letters going to Chris. Keeping in touch and knowing that he is thought of and loved is of great comfort to him. This is a very difficult lifestyle he has chosen. I continue to be so proud of him!!!
Love to all-
Things to Remember from Teaching Drum Visit Falling Leaves Moon
- written by Tammy Day, mother of Chris Lemying, known at camp as Lemying.
-Walking through a cranberry bog
-Chris surprising me by walking behind me for a while on the trail before I realized he was there
-Chris with beard and beautiful smile, his welcome hug
-the autumn beauty of Wisconsin woods
-the Wigwams, as we came to a clearing there were 4 wigwams, small hearths (campfires), and children and
adults milling around. I felt like I was on a movie set….in another time period.
-the warmth of the other Seekers/clan members
-how dirty their clothes, hands and faces were
-How their eyes shown
-how tangled and unkempt their hair was, especially the children
-The children- So free, so independent to play and explore the woods from sun up to bedtime. There is a group of about 5-6 boys between the ages of six to ten. The spirits are unlike that of any children I’ve ever known. They have energy to be engaged, curious, creative, playful, and quite often helpful members of the clan all day. How different from most American children.
I have no memory of these boys ever seeking their parents (mostly mothers) attention. They would sometimes say, “Mom, have your seen my gloves, tomahawk, jacket.” But never, “I’m bored” or “Can you do something with me?”
I saw a group of adults that were available to easily offer a child a helping hand, a bit of conversation and acknowledgment. When work groups went out to dig out the new lean-to, any child that came along was allowed to work alongside the adults. Sunday a.m. the whole clan walked to the trailhead for the bi-weekly food drop. ALL of the children, even the 3 yr olds, joyously participated in carrying the food back to camp. No
complaints, no whining, no directions were given by the adults! It was amazing to watch beautiful, 3 yr old Julia and her parents. Julia was given the freedom to roam around
the hearth (3 first pit) areas. She would speak in very clear English—she is Swedish and also speaks Swedish.
Many people in camp are whittling different projects—adult and children. Saturday evening, Julia was also holding a knife and stick and was trying to whittle. The only direction from her father was, you must be still and not walk around with the knife. Early Sunday morning she was holding a dead mouse and petting it like a pet. She had the ability to roam around, interact with children and adults alike. At 3 years she had the self-direction
and confidence of a child 2 times her age. She was a delight to watch.
-There was a feast Thursday evening to celebrate the completion of digging up a peat bog. The peat will be used to insulate the winter lodges. As a guest I was asked to be the first served. The menu was Basswood tree leaves and raspberry leaves,
kombocha squash, mixed cooked kale, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, wild rice they had harvested weeks earlier, and Cisco fish. I chose the tail end half of the fish. (Chris choose the head and offered me one of his fish eyes…I declined.) Bear fat was drizzled over the whole bowl. Since I was new it was advised I only take 1 scoop of bear fat to start off with. Most adults were having between 4-7 scoops of bear fat each evening
meal…and wishing for more. They say the bear fat helps them keep warm and gives them energy. I did not really like the taste of the bear fat….an acquired taste I think. I was surprised by the amount of food everyone ate during the evening meals—then I learned how important this meal is.
-Before we started eating the entire clan -42 counting me and 3 support staff that were there for the feast, sat in a large oval, cross-legged, held hands and offered an Ojibwa prayer.
-Then guests, elders, mothers, men, children, and lastly the Guardians got to be served in that order. Chris and 6 other young adults are Guardians (also known as scouts).
-We all ate everything. The clan members even ate the fish spines after roasting them on stones in the fire.
-There is no drinking during the meals. It is believed this helps with digestion.
-Clan members drink directly with their mouths from the lake. I bought a filtered straw to drink the clear, crisp water from the lake.
-After everyone had their 1st serving of food, the members of the clan started telling everyone about their day (or sun). One by one, kids included, everyone listened respectfully as they stated what they had done that day and how they felt. If they needed support they asked for it. They could also make announcements. Ex: I had
a really good day. I woke early at first light, after my morning meal I worked on helping to dig out the new lean-to, I am feeling good about how people are coming together to work on the building projects. I have lost my knife, please be on the look-out for me. Aho (an Ojibwa word that means-”I have spoken”). The whole clan then replies, “Aho” which now means “I have heard” And it is the next person’s time to share.
-Everyone has their own bowl and spoon or chop sticks. People are encouraged to carve their own bowls. They get every speck of food and bear fat out of the bowls. After the meals the bowls are stored in tree boughs or on the top of the wood arbor—nothing was washed.
-There is a type of conifer tree here that is very important to the clan for its antiseptic properties. I do not remember the name of the tree. Pine needles are rubbed on hands after eliminating, boughs are used for bedding in wigwams for warmth, the boughs are also placed around the hearth for cleanliness and comfort, the trunks of
these trees have sap/pitch sacks in them that easily pop and the liquid runs out like an ointment to be applied to cuts and sores.
-When Chris greeted me he had a large amount of these tree boughs attached to a rope around his shoulder.These had been lovingly gathered to add to my bedding in the wigwam. This was very attentive and indicative of how he would tend to my every need during my whole visit.
-The Guardians camp is about a half mile away from the main camp. We walked out there after dinner with Clair. She is a sweet, quiet woman that shares a wigwam with Chris and Rob. Rob slept somewhere else during my stay giving me his spot. Being inside the wigwam was so cozy and comforting. One feels as if they are being held by Mother Earth.
-It turned cold the day I arrived to TD and sleeping warmly was difficult, even with the extra pine tree boughs Chris collected for me. I was uncomfortable and cold. The following sun (day) we put my ground cloth from my tent under my sleeping bag, more pine boughs, and a warm wool cape from Chris. I was warm the following 2 nights.
-We rose before sunrise, near first light, bundled up (First Chris went outside the wigwam and did 16 burpee exercises. He and another guardian are trying to add one a day to reach 100 burpee’s each morning). Chris showed me where his di’yai area (where to take a dump in the woods). Like Chris has written to us, the Ojibwa people think of this as a time to “give back” to the Mother. We walked a good distance down a path in the
woods, Chris showed me a couple landmarks, waved his arm and said, “This area here is mine. Mark you poop with a stick pointing straight up!”
-walking along this trail that morning I came within 4 feet of a porcupine on the trail. I wondered if I was about to be shot with quills. The porcupine looked at me and slowly moved off the trail.
-every morning there is a brief meeting around the hearth before breakfast. All of the adults would go around and state what they hoped to accomplish that day. If they wanted help they could ask for support. One couple would ask for someone to take their 3 yr old for a couple hours in the afternoon to let the parents do other things
-after the morning meeting Chris and 3 other Guardians steal away into the forest for some hard physical training. They have decided amongst themselves that they want to do this training to get stronger. Chris has built an outdoor area for pull-ups, dips, and other exercises. They each did over 200 push-ups, then many other exercises.
-This first morning Chris and I took a small canoe down a canoe canal to the lake to get water. This canal was so cool. The black dirt walls were about 3
feet, there were poles about every 3 feet sticking up on both sides so one can reach and pull themselves and the canoe out to the water. One of the times I felt like I had stepped back in time. The wind was howling and cold, the water was choppy so we quickly got out water and went back to shore. This was one of my favorite parts of
my visit. Chris was so confident and capable.
Last spring I started on an 11 month wilderness immersion
program in northern Wisconsin near the Nicolet National Forest.
I embarked on this adventure with my two children, ages 5 and
12, but without their father—my life partner Chuck. My older son
returned home after 2 months and I thought I would also return
then, but have been learning so much, I have stayed on. After 5
months in the woods away from computers, cars, time pressures
and all the other conveniences and demands of modern life, I am
finally ready to try and make a dead-line and write an update
about my time.
First I want to say: Riverwest, I miss you!!
Being away has helped me see even more clearly what a wonderful,
beautiful and vibrant neighborhood we have!
So what am I learning?
I helped build a wigwam I now live in! And I am now part
of a team building a lean-to: all with knives and tomahawks as
our only tools. It is true beyond a shadow of a doubt that we
can live without our modern conveniences and be comfortable,
healthy, and happy.
I have also learned:
• to see each moment as an opportunity,
• to go slow and to act with care,
• to make sure I am listening.
• that natural living (sitting without chairs, walking,
canoeing…) is the best physical fitness program there
is. I have not been so fit or flexible since I was a 24
year old dancer.
As an urban gardener and practitioner of permaculture, I
am excited to be growing a deeper relationship with the trees,
plants, and natural systems.
My list of lessons could go on, but today I feel an even
deeper lesson. Many nights we have story telling around a fire
or in a lodge around a candle. Last night a story was shared by
one of the more experienced participants in the program. It was
about his first time “hiking” at night. The story was about
fear; fumbling through the woods carrying a canoe that banged
into trees making an enormous racket, getting lost, a heart
racing with fear because he was imagining that a huge man
carrying an ax was chasing him; scaring an animal that screamed
like fighting cats, falling down hills, more fear, owls
screeching from above, a bear running by breaking down trees,
exhaustion, and in the end a task that was not completed. As the
story closed many of us were rolling with laughter. Then one of
the children asked how big the man with the ax was and if he was
real. Chris, the story teller, said yes, he was real: real in his mind.
Once a month we walk into our support center to use the
phones and computer. This morning was one of those mornings so I
woke up before the first light was showing in the sky and walked
with four other participants (including a 6 and a 9 year old)
through the dark woods and miles down a dark road. We started by
holding hands and laughing as we went down a path we could only
feel but not see in the cloudy night with no moon. We talked
about how we felt like we were part of a ten-legged organism. If
the head of our chain went off the path the back of our chain
was still on it and could feel the path underfoot. In this way
the rear could help the leader come back to the path with little
Near our support center we saw our first houses, many
which had lights that appeared to have been on all night and I
thought about the story of the night before. I also thought
about the electrical “energy drip,” a constant slow loss of
electricity that no one is really using but that is flowing
through our energy grid and being wasted—such as all the little
red lights on appliances that are on 24 hours a day all year. I
realized that we as a nation are cutting down whole mountains to
mine coal to power lights that are on simply because many of us
are scared of the dark. I know I have left the lights on when I
was alone and scared.
Just thinking of all the houses in the United States with
lights on because most of us are scared of the dark is mind
boggling. And as I walked I realized the fear goes beyond the
literal fear of the dark to fear of our vulnerability, the
unknown, and fear of death. I thought about how fun the dark
could be when you did not fear it, when you shared it with
Upon my arrival at the support center I learned that a
friend passed away from breast cancer. And as I cried for her,
missing my own family; I realized I could feel my pain and not
be scared of it. I suddenly knew that the pain and fear, the
dark inside me, could be felt and embraced and I would be fine.
Living away from my son and partner for most of a year to
be out in the woods with no running water does sound crazy to me
and yet we are all living in a crazy world. The fact that I have
helped destroy mountains because I have been scared of the dark
is also crazy. The news I read as I arrive here seems crazy.
Today, in honor of Alisa and her family and all in my Riverwest
community whom I have not seen in so long, I recommit myself to
being in the moment, and to releasing fear. I will live as
simply as I can. I will not harm our planet or any of the other
people and creatures I share it with because of fears. I commit
to sharing the dark and to loving unconditionally those around me—knowing that is the way to work with the dark.
Let us all remember the dark is always there. If we let
our fear of the dark overcome us, then we go out of balance, but
if we live in the moment and support one another in the
darkness, then we can handle it.