A Visitor’s View–Reflection from Chris Lemying’s Mom

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 lakes
-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
at camp.
-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.

…more soon!


Post from Sarah

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.


Last of the Pictures from Green Season at Wabanong – A finished lodge

Here are the last few pictures from Wabanong this green season–the lodge was finished! Get ready for more updates from the Seekers and Guides coming soon!



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.


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?”


“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.


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.