Stephen demonstrates making cordage from Maple saplings

We give it a try

Kris makes very nice cordage

Stephen braids the small cordage we make
into a bigger strand

Cody whittles a stick into a spindle for his bow drill

Ashley and Kris getting the spindle on the tight bow

Cody using the bow drill method of fire-making


Stephen tapping the spindle to give oxygen to the coal

Setting the coal in dried grass

Blowing on the coal

The incredible satisfaction
of making fire

Practicing making fire

I trusted the teacher, Stephen Wooley,
and the teacher’s teacher, Tom Brown,
and so when Stephen spoke eloquently
about paying attention to the natural world
and the ways of our ancestors,
we signed him on
to lead a retreat on Primitive Skills.
Last Friday night and Saturday
Stephen and his brother Jonathon
led the retreat.
I’m glad I acted on my hunch
that they would bring
a gift for greater understanding
of our life in the natural world.

I had never thought about
entering the natural world
with nothing
and finding a way to survive.
I know now that,
short of a series of miracles,
I couldn’t do it—
not because the natural world doesn’t provide
what we need; it
I couldn’t survive because
I’m so far removed from understanding
what the natural world does provide,
because survival skills are not in my skill set
and because I clearly don’t have the stamina.
It’s not that I’ll ever need to survive alone
in the natural world (I hope.)
But trying to learn to weave rope from tree sapling bark,
trying to start a fire without a match,
gives us a glimmer of understanding how
human beings thousands of years ago
did survive
and evolve
and prosper
in, with and because of
the natural world.
They learned how to pay attention
and learn from the natural world
to make rope, fire, shelter
and find water and food.
It’s good to get back to basics—
way back –
to learn what our ancestors figured out
and that Earth can provide
and that we’ve lost touch with both.
We probably don’t need to survive in the wilderness,
(for one thing, there’s not much left.)
But we do need to realize
that we have lost touch,
and Earth has answers
for us today.
We just need to get out there
and pay attention
and trust
that the answers are there.