Post in Pictures from the Family Yearlong–Dental Hygiene Workshop, and Treefalls!

As you can see, we had a very dangerous situation out here. Luckily the tree fell while our seeker wasn’t in his tent. Everyone learned a very valuable lesson about choosing where to camp. The clan then went about pulling down any other dangerous trees in the area, and relocating tents!

 

 

The Feng Shui of the Child

“Gio, these shells need to go into the nutshell basket.”

I glance pointedly at the overturned cast iron lid filled with shards of fire-blackened almond shells.

“Those aren’t mi-ine,” Gio squeaks, somewhere between a bird and a mouse, one of the plethora of voices in his estimable repertoire.

“Gio, I watched you roast the nuts, crack them, eat them, and put your shells in there.” Squatting with his tummy sticking out between his knees as he helps Zander saw off chunks of bearfat into a pot, Gio gives me a serene smirk, and ignores me.

Something hard and sharp starts to rise out of my inner depths. I take a breath and let it go, my waters receding, calm, still. There will be another opportunity.

The children are a culture within our greater camp culture, and for the next eight suns I have been granted a visa into a strange, foreign land. I’m in the children’s food drop. My allotment of the food we don’t forage, which is provided by the support center, is divided with theirs, apportioned by their rules, cooked with theirs, and eaten on an entirely different schedule. A few adults are periodically rotating in to experience the children’s culture and support them around the hearth –help them motivate themselves to gather their firewood and fresh boughs, cook, wash their hands and take out their compost.

Annika, our pioneering predecesor in the children’s food drop, is a vivacious and child-like graduate of the Yearlong Program who has seemingly endless energy to play Pied Piper with the boys to accomplish all their tasks of daily living.

I do not. It’s exhausting, something like herding reluctant statues.
I drop the issue of the nutshells and go back to chewing my squash. I watch Zander’s mat of sunlight hair dangle over the pot as he concentrates on cutting bearfat with what I don’t doubt is a profoundly dull knife.

Finished munching my squash, I eye the chipmunk making furtive forays around the edges of the children’s hearth, and stash the rest of the cooked squash in a pot. Looking around the squalor of withered boughs littered with eggshells and squash seeds, I can’t find the lid– until I realize it’s exactly where we left it, full of nutshells.

“Gio, I need that lid to cover the squash, so I really need you to put your nutshells away.”

Glancing up, Gio stands wordlessly, wipes bear grease off his little hands, and goes to pour his nutshells in the bin.
Watching him, there are no thoughts in my head. Then my eyes narrow faintly. Something is fighting to click into place in my brain, as if I am just on the cusp of understanding.

Miigwetch,” I tell him, puzzled, not at him, but at the jigsaw puzzle within myself. “That was really helpful.”

~~~

“Do you know where the boys are?” I ask Dakota, realizing how quiet camp is.

Rocking back on her bare heels at the intersection of the trail with the log bridge to the drinking spot, her closed face and the slight shake of her head suggest to me harried exasperation.

“I believe Zander and Ishi are across the lake picking berries,” she tells me in her precise diction, hands on hips over baggy pants, “and Jason might be with them.”

I understand her resignation. Berries are one of the few areas where the children have any self-motivation whatsoever. That and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Thing is, if we don’t get firewood, we’re not going to have much to eat.

The gears in the creative chaos fermenting in my mind fracture and shift, reforming a new picture.

“This may work out perfectly,” I inform the world in general.
Dakota cracks a smile, the light back in her hazel eyes.

“What’re you up to?” she asks me, eyebrows quirked quizzically.

“I’m going with the childen’s flow,” I call over my shoulder, already hurrying through the fragrant zhingob corridor toward the canoe canal.

Paddling furiously across the sunlit lake, I start tying the pieces of my idea together, entirely unsure if it’s going to work, and insecure in the face of seven- to eleven-year-old rejection. What if they just think I’m stupid? The boys responded well once before to this tactic when I took them on a camoflaged stealth strike to the armored vessel of the visiting dignitaries (picking up moccasins from the car at the trailhead), and I don’t know if I can score two for two.

I head first for the berry hill directly across the lake from the canoe canal, and as I approach the shore I hear Ishi and Jason’s voices carried across the water a little to the south.

“Guys! Thank Paladine I found you!” I call, hurrying to the tiny landing where they’ve stashed their canoe. “I bring new intelligence!”

“What?” Zander yells back, all three faces appearing at the shore.

“What you haf to tell us?” Jason calls.

“Wait! Our voices may carry over the water. There might be spies.”

“What is it?” Jason insists blankly. I swear, they have no appreciation for suspense.

“I’ll tell you when I’m on shore. We don’t want to be overheard.”

“What is it?” he asks again, same tone, same inflection, same blank face.

“Jason!” I huff as my canoe bumps the shore and I hurriedly climb out. “I told you, there might be spies.”

Bemused, they follow me inland over a thick carpet of umber pine needles. As we sit down in a clear patch amid a tangle of tipups I tell them, “Comrades. Two ravens came to me and told me of a mighty battle between the god of the North Wind–” I glance at the direction the tipups are laying. “–actually, looks like it was the god of the South Wind, and the dryad soldiers of the dragon god of light, Paladine. There are dozens of the slain, and among the bodies of the fallen there are spoils to be had.”

All three children stare at me dumbly.

Shit.

Treasure,” I emphasize.

“What means dryad?” Jason interjects, studying me intently from beneath his tangled bangs.

“Tree people,” I tell him. “And look! You’re already here!” I throw out my arms to encompass the tangle of tipups. A more perfect location I couldn’t have imagined. “Did the ravens already tell you?” I ask incredulously.

“Noooo…” says Zander, dirt-smudged face mystified.

“Then how did you know?

I can see Ishi’s literal mind is already at work decoding my story, the same way he did with the stealth strike scenario.

“Sooo…” His down-turned chocolate eyes regard me seriously. “The fallen trees are the dead dryads.”

“Here lie many of the slain,” I agree solemnly, squashing any frustration that his unraveling might kill the opportunity for Zander and Jason.

“And the treasure is… firewood?”

“The bodies of these dryads are imbued with the power of the god Paladine, who is the god of light and warmth. Right?” I glance at Zander for confirmation.

“He’s the dragon god of light,” he recites from his mental encyclopedia of home-brewed D&D.

Exactly. So we may take back his treasure and release its magic in our hearth.”

“… Fire?” Ishi guesses.

“If we want to eat this sun,” I agree.

Then, to my surprise, “Okay.” They pad over and start snapping off branches.

“This is almost like real life!” Ishi says, half puzzled, half cheerful. I suppress a smile.

“Nooo it’s not!” Zander rebuts, probably just because his brother said it. “I’m gathering these twi-igs!” he giggles, taunting me in his constant quest to follow the letter and not the spirit.

“If you only gather twigs I’m going to serve you two twigs worth of squash,” I threaten, and he giggles again, scraping his mat of sunlight hair out of his dirty face.

Abruptly, Jason hauls a dead pine sapling upright.

“Look! De tree mans are coming back alife!”

Handing Jason a stick Zander squeals, “And this is his sword!” as I exclaim, “A survivor!”

Jason, now a ravening, PTSD-stricken dryad, rumbles threateningly at us, towering high above.

“Faithful servant of Paladine, fear not!” I drop to my knees in front of the sapling, my hands raised in supplication. “We are friends, come to help!” And rob your dead… “I am a healer!” Wilderness EMT surely counts. “Allow me to tend your grave wounds.”

The dryad wavers, torn between smashing us in a beserker frenzy and accepting a little TLC. Jason pokes his lips out, considering, then the dryad slowly sinks to the needle-carpeted forest floor. I lay my hands on the sapling.

“Brave servant, by the power of the dragon god, be healed!” An aside to the boys: “There’s a ring of light expanding from my hands.”
Jason hoists the sapling upright again, rumbling again.

“Please!” I entreat. “We have come for the gifts of your people. Who are the most powerful of your warriors that we might gather from them?” Jason considers again, then the dryad points with its sword at two tipups.

“We thank you!”

“Okay, de tree mans again dead,” Jason announces and drops the sapling.

“Did you make up that story?” Ishi asks me as we scale a mother tipup and I start passing him branches. His round face is full of his unique innocence, framed by his Beatles bob and bangs.

“The ravens told me,” I tell him, watching him process that illusory line between fiction and reality. Jason, to my complete surprise, is even breaking up firewood, and he and Zander start to bicker about who’s going to carry it to the canoe.

“I liked it,” Ishi says after a long silence.

“Would you like to hear more stories like that?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Let’s go cook lunch.”

Lodges–Part 2

Here are some pictures from the new Wabanong wigwam. First the frame went up, which is a lot of work to get saplings and spruce root to join together happily.

The Power of the Sun

Breaking out the bowdrill kit again, I arrange my instruments on a flat patch of grass, fighting myself the whole way. I’ve been complacent about starting to make fires by friction, and now that I’m in a smaller camp to begin the rice harvest and we’re determined to not use matches, if we don’t use bowdrill, we won’t have fire.

I place the fireboard in front of me, settle it under the arch of my bare foot. Tighten the tension of the string on the bow, keep my knife ready to the side. I twist the spindle into the string and meticulously adjust my posture for maximum efficiency.

I don’t want to do this, I want to be able to flick a tiny wooden stick and feel the burn of sulfur in my nose and just know that I’ll be able to have fire and cook–

The resistant chatter ricocheting through my brain fades into the rhythm of the bow, the constant flow of tiny adjustments. More speed here, less pressure there, until I hit the sweet spot, the thrum of friction that my body remembers even after two turns of the seasons, and fragrant smoke drifts into my face.

Consistency, I remind myself. I don’t need to be stronger, I don’t need to be faster, I just need to be smooth, consistent.

I stop, arms trembling, and the smoke holds, winding steadily upward from a tiny pile of black powder, its heart breathing red. Shaky, I sandwich the living ember between two pieces of charcoal and blow, watching the nascent fire spread like lava between my hands. I blow and blow and when she is ready to give birth I hurriedly set her down in the ashes of the hearth and place a bundle of tinder and blow again. A flicker of blue and yellow, then a lick of flame, hungry, reaching, consuming, crackling, fire.

This is solar power at its most basic, most powerful. Solar radiation from a fiery star reaching across the vacuum of space, filtered through a gaseous soup of atmosphere. Drinking light and carbon dioxide and water, the trees in an act of alchemy convert it to carbon, to living wood. The wood dies and ages, and a dance of friction and heat releases the very power of the sun.

I breathe one word of awe and gratitude, a reverence matches never taught me.

Shkode.

Lodge Building – Part 1

The Seekers who stayed at Wabanong during Ricing Camp and Marsh Grass Camp had their own adventure building lodges this green season. Here is the construction (just a few photos). They’ve since completed their lodge, and moved in just as the leaves were falling. More pictures to come!

 

Rice Rains Into the Canoe

It’s the most satisfying sound I’ve ever heard. I can barely describe it, a sweet rain of plops as rice lands in the water, then a musical wooden sound as the rest lands in the canoe.

I push the paddle against the shallow bottom of the lake, finding purchase on rice and lily roots, a wavering gold and green corridor that embraces us under a hot, open sky as Kerstin sweeps the rice over the boat with a cedar stick and give the ripe heads a decisive knock.

I am always amazed at the variation I find when foraging. Why is this rice tall and this rice short? Why do these lush green heads fall so easily and these ripe purple ears cling so tenaciously to the stalk? Why are these burgundy heads empty, and others filled with long, dark grains?

All these questions and more pop into my head and I make no conscious effort to solve their mysteries. I can feel all my conscious and unconscious observations being sorted and filed, amalgamated and reconfigured in the 90% of my brain most of my life hasn’t had a use for. I have this instinct that the knowing will come as I open myself and simply let myself experience, season after season.

It was the same with the blackberries at Hazelnut Camp. Why do these shrubs that come only to my knees give small, hard berries that taste miraculously ripe and sweet, while these swooping vines draped over with huge, plump, juicy berries taste bland and bitter? Why is this patch still white-green blushing red, and this thick with black? Is it the direction of exposure to sunlight? Afternoon or morning sunlight? Relationship with other plants? Soil nutrients?

Some of this I will discover through research, but largely I find myself content to let all the information drop deep into my complex human brain. An ancestral ferment has been passed down to me through thousands of generations, from a time when the average human had the depth of knowledge about their ecosystem that I have about Pern, Arrakis, and Middle Earth.

In an open pocket of lilypads and water I ponderously begin turning the canoe around to start another row in the rice bed. Amid all the vegetation the long, narrow boat has the turning radius of the Queen Mary. My hair is finally long enough to tie back into a high club, and with a Swedish military surplus bandana to guard me from a skin-crisping sun, my silhouette suggests either desert princess or viking warrior.

Swish, knock, rain, as Kerstin twists to the side to gracefully sweep more stalks over the boat. Swish, knock, rain.

On this tiny rice lake I can envision back a thousand turns of the seasons, each wheel of time layered on the other, every one the same and every one unique, a palindrome of the continuum of rice that has lasted for a millenium.

We are movement within the greater movement. And the rice is moving, moving through time. The Mother provides, and she does not wait. It doesn’t matter our preferences, the projects we wanted to do, our mood. The rice is now, and we are ricing.

Poem from Sabrina

Sunrise, sitting on the lake,                                                                                                   silence all around and                                                                                                              the whole picture on the surface.

Sunrise, walking through the woods,                                                                                     awakening in the all things and                                                                                             the amazing beauty of this place.

Sunrise, looking high towards the sky,                                                                                      holding space for all of us and                                                                                             the blessings freedom in my eyes

Sunrise, the covering fog is gone,                                                                                             heating energy now in between                                                                                                 and the day starts–we go on.

From Andrea at Thoroughfare Marsh Grass Camp–Coming to One Voice

It’s not that we have to adapt to the heartbeat of each other.

It’s that we choose to adapt to the heartbeat of the Mother. Listen into yourself. How the rhythm of our/your heartbeat fits to her heartbeat.

I thought we have to adapt to the baseline of another, but if we each adapt to the baseline of the Mother, we get into a flow together.

When we all adapt to the heartbeat of the Mother, we naturally fall into the same flow.

It’s somehow like a big orchestra before the concert. Every instrument finds its own voice by itself first. The tuning before the symphony is not harmonious at all. Much ego can be found there!

But at the point where the conductor lifts his stick, the attention of all players move towards him. And when he puts his hand down, all the different instruments come to one voice. To one rhythm. They pick up the rhythm of the Mother. Then the beauty of the symphony can unfold itself, and all the players are fully aware of the movement of the Mother and give their own very different gift to complete the melody.

This is the beauty that can happen if we come to one voice.

Every part falls into place and it feels just natural to contribute your special instrument and special voice to the circle, because you know who you are.

–Migizki (Andrea)