| Past Moons
John Large from the Falling Leaves Moon September/October 2009
So as y'all know I spent September 18th - October 17th participating in a Wild Moon, courtesy of Teaching Drum Outdoor School, in the northwoods of Wisconsin. I went in to the experience highly domesticated, with a deep conviction to go feral, but little to no experience in that. I wanted to describe this experience in writing weeks ago but I have struggled to do so. The experience, the adventure, I feel eludes lingual description, it exists beyond representation and symbolism. Nevertheless, I will try to portray the spirit of it.
Basically, I lived for the majority of the suns at a camp, Mashkodens, in the wilderness for a moon, with two residents and one other guest, living in the lifeway of the camp. I slept in a wigwam. We learned through the interests and activities of the residents and the rhythms of nature. At one point we went to a clan sweatlodge ceremony led by the school's founder, Tamarack Song, but for the most part we stayed the four of us in Mashkodens.
Seasonally, during my stay the summer waned and the winter approached. Autumn danced in between. The seasonal aspect of the journey entailed lots of preparation for the white season; we crossed a bog nearly every day for weeks to gather oak wood, carried it on primitive pack-frames, and stored it. The weather shifted from sunny to stormy to snowy and everywhere in between and around, and my dressing and activities shifted accordingly.
I gained knowledge relating to many physical skills from the experience: awareness through observing and attuning, how to make bow drills and traps of all sorts, woodworking and toolmaking, bow-making, primitive knife sharpening, cordage making, fire-making & tending, primitive and stew cooking, weather forecasting, direction sensing, timing by sun and moon, semi-permanent shelter-making, keeping comfortable living outside in the elements, water foraging, wood/plant/rock/bird/mammal identification, firewood gathering, edible and medicinal uses of plants, hide-tanning (I have a hide that I will finish the last stages of hopefully sometime soon), hygiene and sanitation, how to skin/gut/process/use/store animals respectfully, how to dress for warmth, and my favorite: how to poop in the woods! And many others, often so subtle that they fade beyond recollection until jarred by some random impulse or stimulus.
Teaching Drum offered profound cultural insights as well. One we call the Circle Way, which in my experience involves creating a healthy, functional small group with mutually-supporting members that value the input and needs of each other, while balancing this with their own. Another we call Truthspeaking, which entails expressing one's feelings, one's truths, at all times without fearing, rather than repressing the urge and building tension towards greater conflict. In this way we stayed constantly connected and aware of each other and minimized behavioral/personality clashes. This flourishes at Daysharing, a nightly ceremony of expressing one's feelings and activities of the day. I also learned important lessons in dream interpretation, and additionally, very important lessons of how to empower rather than victimize, lessons of inspiring rather than rescuing.
I also learned in the aspect of health. I learned many useful lessons about indigenous nutrition, as well as how to integrate exercising into everyday living. I learned how to listen to my body and respect myself. I learned how to prepare and eat and store delicious organic and wild foods – foods we evolved eating – and how to relate to my food in a respectful manner, engaging in a relationship with it.
Beyond physical skills, I also learned social and psychological skills – how to interact with people in ways that build connection, sharing and support, respect and accountability, how to balance the needs of individuals with smalls groups and utilize informal consensus decision-making, how to share stories and give gifts and remove emotional barriers, how to persevere in spite of setbacks and missing my loved ones.
Teaching Drum brought me lessons of how to empower myself to overcome struggles, such as pooping in the woods by moonlight or during storms, multi-day fasting to settle diarrhea, sharing my feelings without fear of judgment, the real challenges of living outside during rain, wind, frost and snow, and occasionally having to immerse myself in reaaaaally cold water, and embarrassing moments mostly stemming from my lack of experience.
I learned a deep appreciation for water and fire, shelter and sun/moonlight, appreciation for the amazing web of creatures and minerals and natural processes that enable my existence, thankfulness for the friends sharing the journey, thankfulness for social diversity. I really loved the time of year: chaotic weather, leaves falling, changing color.
During the moon I connected to the natural world with deeper resonance than I have ever before had the fortune to experience. I had a level of awareness of my surroundings, of sensing, beyond the pulse of electricity and hum of machines and artificial constructs (material and psychological) of the culture I had left. Living constantly surrounded by other creatures and plants, wild creatures and plants, instilled in me a perpetual sense of wonder, a constant source of energy, and an incentive to use the energy for purposes that resonated with my beliefs and desires.
To an extent that I had not before thought possible, I quite effortlessly escaped the components of the synthesized world that I felt dependent upon. I saw how they acted as barriers. Electricity disappeared, and so I connected to sun, moon and fire, and the people around me. Clocks and calendars disappeared, and so I followed the rhythms of nature. Plumbing disappeared, and so I connected to the woods. Recorded music disappeared, and so I listened to windsongs and birdsongs, rainsongs and woodsongs, and shared stories. The internet disappeared, and so I worked things out for myself, or asked others to help. Writing faded, and so I worked on my memory. I barely noticed until three weeks in that I had not eaten any spices or chocolate in so many suns. Every food tasted better; it no longer had to compare (but if it did, deer and bear tasted most amazing, and by eating these wild animals I felt connected rather than distanced.)
I had input in every major decision that affected me, and I decided upon my own path each day. I connected to the wilderness, learning trust and appreciation. I feel more liberated than ever before. Coming back, I have experienced a tremendous culture shock. I hope it stays with me as a reminder.
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We sit around our hearth, circling ourselves. Friction and smoke – sacred flames awaken. Everyone sees everyone else. We relate to each other through real sensory experience – sight and sound, touch and smell, unmediated except by speech. And now we share taste with each other at this evening meal. We hold hands, close our eyes. A moment of silence, and then we cooperate for warmth and food and light; sharing possessions, materials, provisions freely. And I understand where these all come from – the conditions of their making and movement, at what costs, and to whom. Some of us offer thanks to the flora and fauna and materials and elements for their gifts, and promise their own gifts in return. For others, appreciation comes through instinct, through everyday action and relation. We share and laugh and eat. Everyone eats what they need. We tell stories and jokes and learn lessons. We listen to each other, recognizing patterns and memories, recognizing ambitions and dreams, struggles and sorrows. No one bottles up their frustrations; we express ourselves, our truths, without fear of judgment or reprisal. We take responsibility for our own behaviors. I directly experience consequences from my every action. We divide up tasks amongst ourselves, as we see fit, each doing what we desire or sharing the burdens together. We each share the lessons of our journey so that we all may grow together as a circle. We can all relate to each other, linked by sympathy or empathy, by community. We recognize facades and pretending. We have no bosses or rules, only each other and our hearts. All around me I see living and non-living elements of wildness, and I see that wildness as a part of myself; all around me I see beauty and inspiration, and within myself I see it too. I see respectfulness, expressiveness, playfulness, generosity, focus. And this all perpetually re-creates itself all around me, each day, dying with the passage of each sun, resurrected with the next. The Old Ways still live
Teaching Drum Outdoor School
7124 Military Road, Three Lakes, WI 54563