Archive for the ‘Survival Skills’ Category

tule mat

Tule mat I just made, even though it hurt like hell!

Hi There! You haven’t heard from me in awhile. That is because I’ve been busy getting my Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology . Now I’m done. You may have noticed a change in the subtitle of my blog: I decided to add Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) to the list of topics. Over the years I’ve written about my health here and there, but I’ve recently come to the decision to incorporate more writings about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome into my general repertoire. A lot of this comes as a direct result of my academic studies. One reason is that I feel it is important to advocate for the disease itself, which is grossly misunderstood and something most people simply don’t know much about. Labels can help and labels can harm. The name Chronic Fatigue Symdrome itself is problematic, as it lacks gravity, and comphrensiveness. Fatigue is only one of numerous symptoms.  Nevertheless, for me it has helped tremendously. People categorize things. It is how they communicate. It took me 10 years to accept this label, and my decision to become diagnosed was a deliberate one, and I now bear it with pride.

I’ve spent so much time experimenting with different treatments, that I often thought of creating a second blog, something like trackerofhealth, but decided against it because although it helps to express feelings and organize thoughts, dwelling excessively on the subject can be painful, to make a whole site about it would be a big commitment. So duh, why not combine the two which is a more authentic representation of my life to begin with!

I hope I can be a positive role model  (even though I may sometimes have “dark” thoughts on the subject) for other people with CFS, connecting them with my wildish interests, and for other rewilders suffering invisible, chronic, stigmatized disease who feel alienated from the community at large. The primitive skills scene, and most other DIY scenes, though they pride themselves on providing alternatives to modern society have a long way to go in becoming more accessible to people with disabilities, and I hope to make inroads into changing this. The American ethics of hard work, rugged individualism, and materialism are still very much evident in our attempts to break away.

I envision starting with something simple, support group workshops,  moving up to perhaps a horse packing trip for women with fibromyalgia, up to a whole civilization rehabilitation center for learning and healing (hopefully I will find a healthy, energetic partner to help with this!). Many internships, gatherings, and wilderness programs are  unsuited to people like myself who cannot carry a pack, eat a starvation diet (or a pasta and oatmeal based diet for that matter), or work 10 hour days 7 days a week. Pioneer heros, TV shows, and even Tom Brown Jr. stories can glorify the single-man survival style. For some people this is just not as possible and practical as it is for others. On a philisophical level I believe our culture will continue to create outliers who force us to acknowledge such problems, until a better balance between individualism and communalism can be struck. When marginalized people can’t “pull their own weight”, we must examine what weights they ARE pulling and why. What burdens and wisdom are they holding for the rest of us?


A girl's best friend.

In the field of wilderness therapy most existing programs, though communal, are oriented toward backpacking and short term survival rather than long-term, hedonistically cushy  simple living, which is what many of us rewilding types are all about anyway. While this may be appropriate for rebellious teenagers who thrive on stretching their comfort zone and testing their abilities, it is not neccesarily appropriate for those who have been “broken” by this world, those who have already undergone underworld initiation by any number of difficult and traumatic experiences and need or desire slightly more accomodating accomodations. I already know I can walk 30 miles in a day even with my condition, because I’ve done it, but that doesn’t mean its a good idea. I’ve got nothing to prove to myself.

The world of primitive skills gatherings is also highly communal, but in this craft-based culture a person is often evaluated by what they can produce, or can teach other people to produce. It seems to be less satisfying when, for example, you don’t make a hand drill fire all by yourself. But should it? When friends visit my house, they look at my things and ask, “Did you make this?” And who wouldn’t? That’s what people do. But if I, not even trade for, but just plain buy my hides, or pack basket, or a bow and NEVER make one, am I going to be viewed as less authentic? I don’t know. I hope not. What I do know is that because of my pain, it is difficult for me to complete most crafts, some like hide tanning require physical endurance and a certain measure of strength, but perhaps even worse for me are those that require sitting on the ground and engaging in hours of small repetitive hand motions such as loom weaving, basketry, and beading. I’d rather dig ditches any day. Admittedly, most all of the projects I have ever completed have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

chronic fatigue syndrome

Another reason I am choosing to write about this topic is to give those around me a greater understanding of who I am personally. I am very independent and stubbornly capable of just about everything a normal person is capable of…for a short time. I am tanned, toned, and let’s face it, sexy as hell. I smile and laugh (though I never feel it in my core). I run and dance (though my joints ache, and I get nauseous if I stay up late). I travel alone and lift my 70lb tipi canvas onto its frame. I may come off as shy and skittish, doe-like. I am. People see that, but because of these other things most people don’t know I’m quite ill, and even those who know me well don’t understand the extent of it. You cannot judge the health of a person with chronic disease based on what they do, as this does not take into account the strength of their will, nor can you judge based on what they say, since you have no idea how accurately they are portraying their condition in proportion to the amount of suffering they are experiencing. I would hazard a guess that a good number of people who are accused of negative thinking, actually spend a good deal of time hiding, or skimming over unsavory details as it is not socially appropriate to continually answer the question “How are you?” with “Fucking terrible, and yourself?”

A note to people reading this: You may be tempted to offer helpful medical advice and suggestions. Thank you. Don’t. Almost all people with chronic disease suffer from an overload of “maybe you just need to…”. Most likely they have internalized these messages about what is wrong with them and now feel that they can’t do anything right, can’t eat right, can’t sleep right, can’t exercise right. I have not given up. I am currently undergoing treatment. If you have an herb or supplement I just need to try, I will give you my mailing address and you can send it to me, because I am not buying anything else, nope, not even digging it up. Same with services. You want to come to my house and give me a massage? Sweet. If you want to offer words the best thing to say is something like, “That sucks. I’m sorry to hear you are having such a hard time. Let me know if you want to talk about it more.” If you would genuinely like to help, this is going to take offering real energy, not just ideas. My favorite thing is food and one thing I have a hard time with is feeding myself. Making me food is the number one best thing you can do for me. Contributing energy to helping me finish projects is the next best thing. Cognitive issues like concentration and motivation are huge with this illness so just having someone around helps keep me on task even if I end up doing most of the work myself.

Side effects of chronic fatigue syndrome often include pillow hugging, making frowny faces, and looking hot:

chronic fatigue syndrome chronic fatigue syndromechronic fatigue syndrome


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It seems necessary as of late to define some of the terms I use often on my blog. Although the definitions below may sound judgemental, I have been a member of all of these communities at one time or another. As I teenager, I was drawn to survival skills because I loved the outdoors. At the same time I was into gear intensive sports such as backpacking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting.

As a college student at The University of Vermont I studied with world-renown ecological design pioneer John Todd, sold desktop “living machines”, and designed fancy strawbale houses at Yestermorrow Design/Build School. I also took a course in permaculture, and helped plant a fruit trees as part of a permaculture system at a local community garden.

After leaving UVM I attended green anarchy gatherings, read Species Traitor magazine, and  wore a black T-shirt with the words “Against Civilization” on it. Later I read all of Tom Brown Jr.’s books and attended the Tracker School. And just before joining the rewild forum, and moving to Portland, one of the  few cities in the US to have what might be called a “rewilding community”, I dated a How to Build Your Own Bazooka reading gun nut!

Although it may be considered the father of rewildingGreen anarchy/ anarcho-primitivism seems to be a more politically loaded term. While I do not mind being called a green anarchist as I essentially agree with the philosophy, the word calls to mind a certain type of militancy and idealism. Green anarchists are mostly likely to openly advocate fucking shit up, burning shit down, and unfortunately practice what I call “reverse snobbery” for example attacking someone for watching television, dressing fashionably or writing a blog. To be blatantly stereotypical, they may also practice security culture, quote Derrick Jensen and John Zerzan, wear a lot of black and appear to be what is known as a “crust punk”.

Green Anarchy Magazine

The terms Primitive skills, primitive technology, and wilderness skills on the other hand carry few political connotations. Some people practice these skills as a form of experiential archaeology (see Society for Primitive Technology). Others simply do it for fun, for example as an adjunct to general outdoor recreation such as hiking and camping. Gatherings such as Rabbit Stick and wilderness schools generally fall under this category. However, graduates of Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School (Brownies) do tend to carry some underlying moralistic-survivalist philosophy. Brown writes that if we do not change our destructive ways, “…only the children of the Earth will survive”.

Permaculture, as I hinted in my last post, is limited by its agricultural origins. Although the world permaculture can be and sometimes is used on a broader scope,  to describe a “permanent culture”, the fact remains that at this point in time it most commonly refers to a system of gardening. If you were to sign up for a permaculture course at your local college you would expect to learn first and foremost about bioswales and rain catchement systems, not about the practice of animism, indigenous language, or other contributors to cultural sustainability. “Permies” also tend to be into natural building, such as cob, and ecovillages or intentional communities. Many peak oil proponents see permaculture as possible solution.

Permies love rocket stoves!

Sustainability, associated with the environmental or “green” movement, is a fine word. Sustainability is really what we are all looking for.  Unfortunately sustainability is used by corporations to describe many practices which are most likely not sustainable, such as the importation of bottled water. Most Green technologies still require a global industrial economy to operate. For example the manufacture of photovoltaic panels and the batteries used to store the energy they produce is hardly a DIY project. Also regardless of source, electricity brings its own problems such as light pollution and electro-magnetic field disturbance which can have severe effects on human and animal health.

Survivalists. Then you have your classic libertarian, gun-nut, cache-hiding, government-distrusting, paramilitary survivalist types. These types are somewhat concerned with wilderness skills but mainly in the context of preparing to defend their home territory and/or run and hide in a hostile situation (See Paladin Press). There are also survivalists such as Survivor Man who are concerned with skills and equipment that allow an individual to live long enough in an emergency to get rescued or make their way back to civilization, but do not particularly advocate living off the land long-term.

Ted Nugent–  Straight-edge, Detroit rock star known for conservative political views and feverish promotion of conservation and hunting, esp. bowhunting. Defies categorization.

Ted Nugent

All of this brings me to my favorite word: rewilding. There will be those that disagree, but to me rewilding encompasses all of the above viewpoints and more. While the ultimate goal of rewilding can be described as the return to a hunter-gatherer way of life, or going beyond domestication, as some might say, since we can never truly go back, and the term is somewhat political in that it is implied that this way of life is better for humans and non-humans alike than what we have now, rewilding embraces movement toward a “more wild” way of living.

For some people this might include purchasing solar equipment and getting off the grid (green technology).  They may not envision a glorious solar powered future, but are simply making a compromise between living a life closer to nature and temporarily leveraging the power of electricity to say, stay connected to other rewilders on the internet.  For other’s rewilding might include preventing the construction of condos in a natural area (green anarchy), learning how to weave a willow basket (primitive skills), planting an herb spiral (permaculture), or purchasing a gun (survivalism). No one person is capable of doing everything at once.

While pure wilderness survival may come in handy, rewilding recognizes that even after a monumental disaster, artifacts of civilization such as knives, clothing, cooking vessels, and shelter would be around for a long time and might as well be made useful (see Afterculture). In addition to classic “hard” primitive skills such as flintknapping, braintanning,  and bowmaking, rewilding takes into account the “soft skills” of our ancestors, skills such as story-telling, community ritual,  and child rearing. It is my belief that almost any aspect of civilized life from food to music to fashion to medicine can be rewilded. Where is your passion?

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A selection of crafts made at primitive skills gatherings.

If I had ample  time and money I might spend a year traveling the primitive skills rendezvous circuit as a student and instructor. Primitive skills meets, which generally last 3-7 days, are a fun and cost-effective alternative to primitive skills schools, and a great opportunity to network with other rewilders in your area. Since you get to choose which classes you will attend, they allow you to focus on those particular skills that you are most interested in learning. Many of these events offer work trade opportunities for reduced entry fees and, once you get your foot in the door, teaching opportunities to skilled instructors in exchange for free attendance.

Keep in mind that some classes, such as hide tanning, often have extra materials fees and some meets include daily meals while others do not. Bartering and craft sales are common so bring your craft be it homebrew, leather work, stone tools or jewelry and you just might earn back some of your travel money. I have personally attended and recommend Echoes in Time, the Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills Meet, and Rabbitstick. This year I will also be an instructor at the California Primitive Skills Gathering, which is in its first year.

  • Feb 14-20, Winter Count, $300 ($275 early registration), Near Phoenix, AZ
  • May 2-8, California Primitive Skills Gathering,  near Forestville, CA, more info TBA
  • June 16-19 Wild Food Summit, $100, near Frazee, MN (not a primitive skills meet, but relevant nonetheless)
  • Sept 12-18 Rabbit Stick, $300 ($275 early registration), near Rexburg, ID (the largest primitive skills gathering in the country!)
  • Oct. TBA, Falling Leaves Rendezvous,  near Lafayette, GA

This is just a sampling of some of the better known events. There are many more meets, rendezvous, and knap-ins across the country. For a more comprehensive list check here.

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Surprise Quinzee!!


I once built my friend a legendary surprise birthday quinzee in the middle of the forest complete with a slide down entrance, ice votive holders and a bed of hemlock boughs and animal furs. I carefully constructed a fire outside that would blaze up as we approached with just one touch of a match and carried a thermos of hot spiced cider. Come to think of it, I even drove an hour to the Seneca Antiques Mall to buy an old-fashioned cauldron on chains I had spied there, but it was already gone. I used to live by this ideal which I called the re-enchantment of everyday life, the title of a book I’ve never read. Considering the complete dearth of spirit in our culture, I applied this mostly to seducing guys.

I’m the queen of quinzees. I’ve only slept in one, at the top of Smugglers Notch in Vermont. Tried to sleep in a second over at Wright Rocks, but it was negative degrees and we were like. “Dude, this sucks. Want to get some waffles at Perkins?”
“Yeah let’s jet.”

Despite the fact that I don’t really go in them after the sweaty labor of shoveling the snow into a pile and the ice-in-your-face, bruises-on-your-knees work of hollowing them out, I just can’t stop building! During the big surprise snowstorm in Portland we were able to knock out this child-sized quinzee in about two hours:


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