How Owl Helped Brum Find His Way

The following is a story from Brum.

One early sun, when the Birds had just started singing, Brum got out of his tent to go exploring. This was in the beginning of the Family Yearlong, before the circle had started with meetings around sunrise, so Brum thought he would have some time. Later in the sun the women were going to have a women’s circle, so he wanted to be back for that, so that Kerstin, the mother of his daughter, would be able to join on her own.

There was a light rain this early sun and no notable wind. If Brum had paid more attention he would have noticed that the compact cloud blanket was moving slowly towards the Northeast. He heard some thunder far away in the southwest. Brum wanted to go exploring out east, in an area he did not know almost at all. He walked through Maple forest, Balsam Fir forest, and ended up in beautiful Hemlock groves. Beyond that was a fairly big bog. Brum had thought he walked east more or less, at the same time as he was following the contours of the landscape and the boundary zones of different forest types. The rain kept drizzling down and Brum started thinking about what kind of a shelter he could build in case it started to rain more.

He had a bit of an inner conflict as a part of him wanted to keep exploring and another part wanted to be back for the women’s circle. He decided that the need for him to be with his daughter was more important, so he headed in the direction he thought was to camp. He went by feeling as the Maple forest looked the same to him all around, and he hoped that his feel was correct and that he would come to a place he recognized soon.

After a while of walking around and only seeing forest that he couldn’t recognize, he started to feel some stress around making it back in time.

Right then a fairly big Bird flew over his head from behind and landed in a tree in front of him. It was an owl. Brum did not know which kind, but she looked similar to the one on the Teaching Drum logo.

The Owl was looking at Brum going “hoo-hoo” and leaning her head towards the tree she sat in. “She is trying to tell me something” was the first thought and intuitive feeling that came to Brum. The Owl flew to another tree a bit away and Brum followed her there. The Owl once again went “hoo-hoo” and leaned her head towards the tree she sat in. While Brum was standing there trying to see something that made sense to him, the Owl flew to a third tree. Then Brum realized something–all the trees the Owl had sat on were Pine trees. And then something clicked in him: the Pine trees normally lean towards the northeast due to the prevailing southwesterly winds in this area!

Brum looked at the three Pines that the Owl had sat in and saw that the tops of them were all leaning in the same direction. As the likelihood of them leaning towards the northeast seemed very high, Brum decided to head straight in the direction that should be west, based on the Pines, where he knew camp was.

He spotted three trees standing in a row towards what should be west and followed that direction by keeping an eye on the three trees along that direction. After a short walk he hit a Deer trail he had been walking on earlier that sun and knew where he was again!

He felt very grateful for the help of the Owl and grateful that he had listened to his intuition that Owl was trying to tell him something. He returned to camp and his clan just in time for breakfast, and could be of support during the women’s circle.


Dead Moon – The Beginning of Turtle Egg Laying Moon

The Seekers continue to enjoy the beautiful early green season weather here in the Northwoods. The waters are warming rapidly, which makes swimming comfortable, and the biting insects have barely begun to emerge, which no one is complaining about.

A few suns (days) ago, we had a particularly special visit from Native Elder Maani Assinewe and her daughter Linda from the Sagamok Ojibwe Band on the north shore of Canada’s Georgian Bay.  They traveled here to take part in a Naming Commemoration Feast for Diindiis, one of the children at camp, and share their support of the school’s mission of remembering the Old Ways. Maani has been coming here for many turns of the seasons (years) to celebrate Diindiis’ name, which she gave him when he was three winters old. Both Maani and Linda are fluent Ojibwe speakers, which gave Lety, an aspiring Ojibwe language teacher, an opportunity to practice.

Everyone gathered at the Wabanong Family Camp feasting hearth adorned with fresh balsam fir boughs collected that morning by the Seekers. A ceremonial fire was started by Chris with his bow drill. Sunny skies and a warm breeze gave us weather that couldn’t have been better for the occasion. After each guest was smudged with cedar, they were given asema (tobacco) to offer to the fire, after which the story of Diindiis’ naming was told by Maanii, Lety, Tamarack, Chris, Susan, and Rabin, who were present at his original Naming Feast.

The Naming Commemoration Feast for Diindiis is held twice every turn of the seasons:  when the leaves are budding and when the leaves are dropping. The feast is a time of remembrance for the meaning of Diindiis’ name and the special life journey it reflects. At the same time, Maanii is honored as the Receiver of the Name, and the whole circle celebrates the unique contribution Diindiis brings to it.

During the course of the ceremony, many of Diindiis’ old and new friends added to his shkipdagen, a sacred buckskin bag that holds gifts he will carry with him his whole life and eventually be buried with. Everyone was given a chance to speak to Diindiis, to express their thoughts, memories, and wishes for the future, along with gratitude for him being a part of their life.  After the ceremony, everyone feasted on wawashkeshi (deer), giigoon (fish), minomin (wild rice), and wild greens (collected by the Seekers in the surrounding forest).

After the feast, there was still plenty of time left in the long green season day. The children went swimming, the men went to work on food storage pits, and Maani and Linda lead the women on a hike  along the ridge to a sacred clearing on the edge of the bog for the opening ceremony of the women’s Moon Lodge. The lodge and surrounding area were smudged and blessed. Afterwards, the women discussed traditions around women’s circles and ask Maanii for her experiences as a young Native woman. The long and full day ended with everyone sharing feelings of gratitude.

For nearly two decades, Maanii has been an invaluable support to the Teaching Drum, and her and Linda’s recent visit was a wonderful gift. We cherish the fact that we have Native Elders from our area giving first-hand guidance on local traditional knowledge. Maanii grew up on the reserve, trapping and snaring, skinning animals with her father, and making medicines with her mother. Both she and Linda grew up speaking the Ojibwe language. Maanii says it is the language of the land, in which the culture of our indigenous ancestors resides. Both she and Linda are dedicated to keeping the language alive.

The Seekers are learning some Ojibwe—the language of the land—as they grow in kinship with their circle of relations. If you’d like more information about traditional naming, you can check out Tamarack’s booklet Your Sacred Name: The Native Within.

Flower Blossoming Moon — Waning Crescent

The Northwoods is coming alive with spring greenery, and the Seekers are taking full advantage. They went on a 20 mile hike to gather wild leeks, which tastes like a cross between onion and garlic and is one of the first to appear after the snowmelt. We were nearing the end of the leek season, so the very next day they were ready to go on their second edible plant walk, where they learned about spring beauties, ferns, violets, cleavers (bedstraw), and tamarack needles. The Seekers are collecting these plants every day now, to add to their evening fireside meals.

Learning plants in the Wilderness Guide Program is not just being able to identify a specific plant and gather it. Immersing themselves in an ecosystem,  this yearlong’s adults and children learn about respectful foraging guidelines based on forming relationships with the individual plants and through them to the entire environment the plants are part of. It begins with honoring the plants by acknowledging them as living beings and communicating with them, then making an offering and listening to what they have to say. Perhaps a big harvest is intended, or maybe a good share of the plants are needed by the other creatures of the forest.  As Seekers learn about the broader implications of gathering, they build an internal knowledge of larger ecosystems, which enables them to know where and when a particular plant will grow by surveying the surrounding forest–even from a distance.

Their final plant walk took them across Woodbury Lake to rich meadows, where they learned about nettles and basswood. Nettles prefer open, sunny, wet areas, while basswood prefers rich deciduous forests.

This year, the Seekers are divided into two groups: the Guardian camp and the Family Camp. A guardian is a person who devotes his or her life to the service of their people as provider, protector, emissary, scout, and guide to the young. The Guardians are situated at the top of a hill at a camp called Zhawanong (Warm-Breeze-Bringer coming from the south). The Family Camp is at Wabanong (the camp to the East, name meaning Morning-Light). The Guardians are busy building a new log bridge to allow clear access to the lake, and at the same time it will protect the sensitive bog it traverses.

Amidst all of the settling in activity, the Seekers are enjoying the beautiful weather: clear blue skies, temperatures in the 70s, and low humidity. They just got their canoes, and they have had swimming and canoeing safety workshops, lost-proofing training, and instruction in several other core skills. The children are learning everything the adults are learning in their own way, and more, as they develop their children’s culture.

Evenings are usually spent around the fire, where a new (old!) storytelling ritual is taking place. An adult begins, and the children quickly take over, continuing the storyline as each child takes on a character’s voice and develops the scenes. It’s beautiful to watch them hanging on each other’s words. Their storytelling is a way for them to reflect and express what is happening in their lives, and it gives us adults a window to view them as they view themselves. Rich relationship grows from here.

The First Week

The Family Yearlong has officially begun and they have completed their first quarter moon (week) together in their new wilderness home. Seven days ago, 42 people (including 17 children), arrived here in the Northwoods from Austria, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, and across the United States. They began their yearlong with a day of settling in and organizing their gear.

Meeting and greeting their clanmates for the year, the seekers showed right away their intention to join in and support each other. They prepared their first dinner together over the open fire, greeted new arrivals, helped get them settled in, organized gear, and rested from their travels.

On their second day, they sat in a circle for an orientation on their first days of this adventure. Topics included camp routine, the hike out to camp, hygiene, food, how to handle bodily waste, circle consciousness, and the importance of using a common language. They then readied their packs for their trek out to Nishnajida, their new wilderness home. Even though it was over half a sun’s hike (one sun=one day), much of it through roadless wilderness, everyone went, including children of all ages (which ranged from 18 months to 14 years). The adults and older children fasted on this day, to give their digestive systems a needed rest before settling into a new environment.

The clan split into thirds, to create more manageable units, with each one making the trek on a succeeding day. Everyone did well, including our filmmaker Michel, who went on all three hikes! Marcus, Brum, and Scott, who acted as guides, did double mileage times three: they hiked back to the support center (Nad’mad’ewening) from camp, only to turn around and lead each group back into the wilderness.

Their first few days were taken up with settling in to the new surroundings and getting to know clanmates. Tent sites were chosen, hearth tasks were arranged and divided, a place in the bog to store food was chosen, and firewood gathering–an essential matter–has begun in earnest. Each  day the Seekers walk nearly a mile to the trailhead to pick up their food drop. Only they agreed that they would start the experience with no containers for transport. Need stimulates inventiveness, so right away they are motivated to make baskets and pack frames.

We are pleased to see that the children’s culture is thriving. Even though the kids speak different languages, they got together immediately and played from dawn until dusk. They invented a game where a child who speaks one language repeats with the child who speaks another language, and it’s amazing how quickly they are learning.

Already the seekers have so many stories to tell of what they have learned about group process, drinking wild water, and the variety of skills they are learning to thrive in the wilderness. Much of what they’re learning is from experience, such as the Seeker who gave himself a good knife cut just a day after the tool safety workshop. Necessity is the mother of invention—it was an excellent time to begin learning about wilderness first aid. The cut was well tended using what the Earth provided, which included treating it with antiseptic balsam fir pitch after allowing it to bleed—a natural cleansing process.

We’ll be posting again next week, so stay tuned to see how their second week goes, what they’re learning, and what new challenges they will face. Just a day ago, two of them wandered off separately and got lost. They each made it back, much relieved, and with great lessons to share with their campmates. We’ll be giving them a lostproofing workshop very soon!