Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our Apprenticeship, Mentoring, and Community at Maine Primitive Skills

We are winding down the first Apprenticeship experience here at the school. It was amazing. I wanted to plug our community in to eager learners from all walks of life for the type of long term mentoring experience I always wanted as a kid practicing outdoor skills. Imagine a place you could go to learn primitive skills in a nurturing environment surrounding by folks passionate bout all the skills and each of those people having overlapping areas of specialty. Our apprenticeship is centered on the needs of each individual who registers. Folks come from various backgrounds with many interests or concentrations. Through interviews and class time we get to know their learning styles, preferences, comfort zones, edge areas, and help them better define their own vision for skills development. The Mentoring and Community models, as well as the flexibility and distance learning strategies, allow folks the freedom to grow in the skills they are interested in by formatting their experience to suit their learning styles and obligations back at home. You may plan on staying on site, visiting often, or coming during the classes where you can “check in” with instructors on your journaling and/or the field work you are doing at home (with phone and internet contact). Not only is the cost of the Apprenticeship less than the minimum required courses, you can come to any course you’ve taken in the past and volunteer. Many folk stay for weeks at a time to work on skills between the courses they have chosen. The experience culminates in a Potluck at the end of the Mentoring weekend in the fall.. a closing potluck at the end of the “Mentoring Weekend” in the fall. But the community bonds that are formed make it more likely you will be back to volunteer, gain support as you start your own programs, even use the schools facilities and name to provide a venue for skills you want to share.

March 21, 2012 will mark the start of the second Apprenticeship Program at the Maine Primitive Skills School. The Apprenticeship includes the opportunity to stay on site between April 30th & October 15th and will concentrate on building Earth Living, Awareness, Tracking, Philosophy, and Mentoring skills. The program requires attendance of at least five of our 5 day programs (Tracking, Awareness, Earth Living, and Philosophy, Plant Intensive), as well as one winter skills program and one of the mentoring programs. Three weekend courses will be used as instructional labs. Weekly person to person or phone interviews regarding practice components and dirt time are also a part of the program. Cost includes these elements and is $2, 300.00. That’s $960.00 less than the cost of taking the minimum required courses together outside of the program. There is a 12 person limit.


With folks already registering for the 2012 year starting in the Spring, it promises to be an exciting journey! The kick off is a pot- luck dinner at the Maine Primitive Skills School Augusta campus on Saturday, March 24th at 6pm. From there we’ll meet each other and map out personal interests and what you would like to emphasize during the experience. Recognize that your interests may change as you go through the courses and get a better understanding of what each discipline has to offer. The 5 five day courses and the dates you plan to attend will also be worked on, and we will schedule your monthly one on one and weekly phone interviews as well. Each participant is invited to stay in the dorms during and between classes provided there is room. Due to the limited infrastructure, only four can stay for more than a week at a time between classes , and we’ll attempt to fill that calendar as well during the pot-luck. Tenting space is available the entire time. Apprentices will be able to come early and participate in acorn meetings before classes and also share in the debrief after classes end. This is valuable experience in mentoring technologies and the invisible school will prepare you for your own instructional time in the late summer and fall when you can apply the technologies you’ve been working on in front of a “live” class. This experience was designed to preserve the intensity of successful Tracking based programs found in the East while implementing the community building models so successful on the West Coast. The goal is a “best practices” forum where you are challenged, involved, and allowed to develop your own passions in primitive skills. Your journals and sit spots will represent stark growth rings as you awaken connections to the landscape and increase your proficiency in the “hard” and “soft” skills of our ancestors. There are parts that are tough. We believe without the struggle of getting your first coal with a hand drill, or the experience of sleeping COMFORTABLY in a debris hut for the first time, your voice as someone who shares these skills will lack the strength of your experience. You will, however, be supported by a community of fellow learners just as dedicated as you are.






Q: Is there a lot of physical labor involved?

A: Some. Each persons experience will manifest differently. Learning by doing is an important aspect of the school. In the beginning garden prep and later, wood for heat are things that need to get done. This will be a part of the program, and will not interfere with the rest of your experiences. Yes, the tuition will cover the classes and the on site option is available between the sap running time, as that is the only time there would be water available. The garden piece would be a small part of it as the apprentices will become delegators of weeding and wood splitting, stacking, etc. for the work-study and volunteer folks. Most of the concentration would be on learning the skills and the methods of sharing them.

Check out the testimonials of last years apprentices at


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Urban Survival

In any survival scenario, and every scenario is a survival scenario on some level, one of the key factors to success is defining and recognizing the risks. Once you are made aware of the risks, you can focus on risk avoidance, assessment, management, and resolution. The Urban Landscape has more risks to deal with than any naturally occurring environment. The variable that skews this perception is our level of familiarity with that environment. We learn from an early age to stick our fingers in outlets or walk blindly across a busy street. In contrast, the numbers of our species are few who know how to prevent hypothermia without a thermostat or lighter. Fewer still are the number of folks who can accurately identify f the relatively few harmful plant species in their environment and the treatment for accidental exposure to them.

We'll start with recognizing some of the more common hazards on the Urban landscape. Once these are identified, we can explore methods of avoidance, risk assessment, and management.

In an Urban Survival scenario the first and most common risk will be human beings. Human beings, as a collective species are very adaptable. They rely on their intellect, opposable thumbs, and varied diet for success. However, on an individual level they have become so specialized, that if we were to categorize them on perceptions and behaviors, they would warrant further division in to separate sub-species. The most specialized sub-species and the one that presents the highest degree of risk to your personal safety is "Homo sapien urbanis". This particular breed of human has been cultivated in an overpopulated state where competition, aggression, a fast pace, and a genuine disregard for the well-being of others have been cultivated for generations. These attributes have been honed in a culture of fierce competition for a perceived limit on time, opportunities, and materials. In this environment, Homo sapien urbanis have evolved in to the veloci-raptor of the umbrella species. Field marks include quick, darting eyes, a pace faster than the surrounding landscape, and short bursts of activity and communication done in rapid succession. Behaviors include an efficient and interrogative style of exchanges designed to profile any new member of its species for weakness or possible value. While meat is the preferred diet of this sub-species, it will consume anything that is quick and easy to procure. It has an expectation of immediate gratification, and has refined its awareness and cunning to satiate this expectation. It's ability to plan and set long rage goals focus nearly exclusively on self and offspring. The reptilian portion of this sub-species' brain is highly developed. As a result of its high stress and fast paced life, this apex species has become overwhelmingly dependent upon the urban infrastructure. In a survival situation where that infrastructure begins to fail, this highly specialized predator will be quick to attack any perceived asset or keeper of said asset. Homo sapien urbanis projects intense predatory energy where ever it goes and is easily detected upon the landscape. While its peripheral vision is poor, it's capable of detecting the faintest hint of weakness and is quick to notice movement.

Contamination of water is the second most imposing threat in an urban survival situation. The collapse of supporting infrastructure means pumps will stop and pressure will diminish in many of the water and sewer lines. Depending on the specific disaster, raw sewage or air may be all that comes out of the faucets in our homes and businesses. Life sustaining water will become a priceless commodity. Urban environments have no available ground water supply due to pavement, concrete and vast networks of underground electrical, transportation, and service networks. If the disaster is in the form of a viral or bacterial epidemic, or if the devastation creates a situation where bodies are left decomposing for long periods of time, finding potable standing water may be nearly impossible. Run off water from city roof tops and other sources will also be contaminated due to pollutants that have accumulated for decades on roofs and the droppings and chemicals the water will make contact with.

Death by dehydration is only a few days away. The symptoms of this condition are a lack of judgment, apathy, and combativeness. Add to this the stress of a system in collapse and millions of people in a small area vying for a limited water supply and the results are predictable.

A third risk to survival in an urban environment is starvation and disease. Malnutrition, combined with stress lowers the bodies immune system. In an overpopulated environment without adequate sanitation or plumbing, disease and malnutrition go hand in hand. Many models exist regarding this relationship in countries where western ideas of societal structure have been applied and have floundered due to lack of infrastructure or a rich enough environment to support the existing populations. These examples can be found in Africa, South America, and in some areas in The United States.

The first threat, people, may seem the toughest. Luckily we happen to be people, so we blend in and are well versed in their behaviors, body language cues, and motivations. The issue is failure to predict behaviors, being unaware during potential risky situations, and lack of avoidance strategies. Folks should focus on bounty, health, and balance all the way up until the point of system failure. After that, it’s time to bring out the warrior mind. Keep this part of your psyche available as an advisor. As a tracker, or even a wildlife program aficionado, we know what happens when large amounts of biomass (crowds) accumulate. They attract predators. Thus, the avoidance procedures are easy; avoid crowds and be cautious around larders. Furthermore, hide and disguise your own larders of food and water. This may also mean masking you good health. Inevitably you will have to choose between the environment you are most familiar with and moving to an uncertain rural area with fewer support systems. You will also be entering the territorial range of an entrenched local population of Homo sapien ruralis. Not only do they have a more developed sense of awareness about their landscape, they tend to rely on community bonds more than the predatory reptilian packs of Homo sapien urbanis. Some pre-scouting before these decisions become necessary is heavily advised.

Fresh water procurement and storage are essential to survival. Ownership of water, as discussed before, can attract predators. Hiding caches of potable water should be done early and often. Remember that water weighs roughly 9lbs. per gallon. Plastic containers outgas and degrade over time and are not recommended. Glass and metal containers, in that order are preferred. Cisterns, if feasible are a good idea. Water filtration straws and a means to boil water, such as a hobo stove, or other device that doesn’t rely on power supplied by an infrastructure that may not be there is also advisable. If you are under-prepared or your stash of water is compromised, raid the water storage tanks behind most toilets as fast as you can before the masses realize they are out. You have about a six to eight hour window before folks will come out of their initial “shock behaviors” of looting, or fumbling through the rubble and they begin to realize what you are up to. Again, in most cases, shelter and fire are easier to come by in a city reduced to rubble. Water will be the new commodity and, as a survival necessity, it will be worth killing for.

If you’ve seen our recent youtube videos, you already know how malnourished we are as a species and the resulting chronic diseases. In a collapse of infrastructure this is particularly devastating to the concentrated populations of people who rely on shelves of food at grocery stores. Avoid these areas at all costs. A years worth of dried goods and canned food is a wise investment. It doesn’t have to be done all at once either. One shouldn’t ignore the wild foods either. While toxins accumulate in all mammals in city environments, we are the apex species. As such, toxins accumulate in their highest concentrations in us. That rock dove (pigeon) may seem too dirty to eat now with a belly full of calories, but go without for a week and that banded birdy will seem like a turkey dinner with an anklet.

This should start your wheels turning. Out here we believe it’s too late for most of you. But those who start walking around their 9-5 routine with the idea of shelter, water, fire, food, escape routes, and networking may make it out. If not, you might see other people through whatever disaster might befall you. Just remember that the most common tragedy is living in fear of something that may never come. This is often done at the expense of missing out on the excitement and joy of this amazing and temporal existence. How do you live a joy filled life where preparation is the byproduct of living fully? Well, that’s the question. If I answer it, than I take it away from you, if I don’t answer it, than I’m being selfish. Truth is, we each have to come to that one on our own. Until then, be the hero of your own journey, not the victim of someone else’s.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Economic Collapse - A Survival Guide

With destabilization in the Middle East and a convergence of man made and natural disasters many folks are feeling an urge to do "something" to prepare. Preparation for an unseen Economic Collapse is as personal as dieting. Each person approaches the task on their own terms and each gets a certain, often predictable, series of results from their approach. In order to fully grasp what you are up against with survival preparation and economic collapse, check the stats on your dieting strategies and success rates. Before you get too depressed, look at the strategies and success rates of those who have been successful. The cycle is easy to recite, but a little more difficult to apply, especially to survival. Motivation, action, commitment, self discipline, and consistency until it becomes an effortless lifestyle change. To work through this predictable series of events, most people have to fail multiple times before getting it right. Ask any smoker or ex-smoker with regards to quitting, it ain't easy. The kicker is that refined sugar and flour is more addicting than cigarettes. First, if you are only now thinking about creating an independent life style apart from the support system that has fed you, transported you, and provided you with Supersized Happy Meals and plasma screens, step out of the aisle so that those who can fit through the door and slide down the inflatable raft can make it. Don't worry, you'll be help enough....on a spit. For those of you who have had a gnawing feeling that you should do something but couldn't find the time or opportunity and trust that the first responders are gonna come and help if things really do go bad, keep watching those survival you tube videos put out by "primitiveskills". You won't really know how to do the skills, but you'll believe you can and, apparently, your comfortable with that. The majority of you folks will be responsible for clogging the major routes of transportation well enough to protect the rural areas for a few extra weeks from the shiftless predatory "survivalists". These are the folks who plan on "just headin' out to the country, woods, oz, who knows where. Due to their limited or lack of in depth training, they find themselves dependent on processed foods, manufactured ammunition, even machinery. They are so addicted to these luxury items that they will break in to homes and even kill folks to have them. The rioting and looting will eventually spill out in to the rural areas. The government crack down or other forms of mob rule will impose restrictions on travel, curfews, and impose martial law in the larger urban areas. Rioting and looting will still occur. This scene has played ad nauseam in the Baltic States, South America, Haiti and the revolving country names of the political jigsaw puzzle collectively known as Africa. Closer to home it's happened in Louisiana after Katrina. We have documentation of societal economic collapse and the predictable patterns of cultural fall out in our current news stretching back to when Nero played his fiddle. Luckily, we also have examples of how folks made it through these hard times and don't have to re-invent the wheel. Victory Gardens, local bartering, strong community, a work ethic that ties hard and smart labor with ones own personal freedom, not a government hand out or hand in (your pocket). are a good foundation. Missing is the realization that we are intimately tied to our landscape. The health of our soil and our land is a direct correlation to our own health. It's long past time to bring back a sense of stewardship. instead, those who work the land to promote health all around are going to see this one through. Those who rely on tokens and public transportation have simply become too specialized a subspecies and share their fate with other species that become too specialized in a changing environment. Say hello to the Saber Toothed Cats for me, okay? So what's the plan? First, address immediate action, then intermediate action, and then you'll be able to address long term action. Immediate action: Remember that Attitude, Shelter, Water, Fire, and Food are the order of the day when it comes to securing your immediate survival needs. Do you have a secure shelter and a weeks supply of water, firewood, and food set aside? If not, there is your first course of action. Be smart and acquire items that will last for years and require not electricity to prepare or store.

Next, your intermediate plans: Extend your Immediate Plans to last for a year or more. Add to that an assumption that you cannot rely on government agencies for help or support. Even now, first responders will normally take well over five minutes to get to your house once called. That means a person shooting you has five extra minutes to keep shooting after you calmly dial the police and, ignoring all those fascinating exit wounds, you inform the dispatcher of your situation. If you thing the response time is going to get better when the infrastructure is strained...then you either never met a state worker or you are one (denial is NOT a river in Africa). Your fire arms and ammunition should be used to acquire meat as well as defend your family. A shotgun and knife are the two best home defense weapons. Handguns are fun, easy to negotiate around corners and a blast to accessorize, but they usually leave survivors who either need to then be treated or who turn around and press charges. Your gardens should be well established and diverse. Communication equipment and procedures for you, your family, and your close community members should include escape routes, rally points, and emergency procedures.

Long Term Plans: Caches in five gallon buckets buried through out your landscape or your escape routes should include shelter, water, fire, and food or the equipment to acquire them. You are studying and practicing herbal medicine and seed propagation for a "medicinals" garden. You have planted your orchards and have coordinated with others in your intentional "sustainability community". You are aware of what they will grow and raise and how you intend to barter with them. First aid training up to and including Wilderness EMT is important. Learning how to make acorn flour and how to can, dehydrate and pickle are important as you work toward being able to grow your food nearly year round and store food to get through the winter. All of this can be done in the guise of a trendy movement, like "permaculture", or "hobby gardening".

If you develop a healthy work ethic and cultivate an attitude of connection to the landscape, stewardship, and a sense of adventure, then a coming Economic Collapse will just seem like another growing season, hunting season, tree tapping season, ice fishing....ahhhhh, you get the point.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Survival and The Zombie Apocalypse

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse has become the hot theme over the last two years. It is a thinly veiled metaphor for folks of all walks of life to be able to express their growing uneasiness with the way they see things are going. In expressing our uncertainties through zombies we can cross all manner of political and social boundaries. The big plus is that they resemble humans and are already dead. So, in the spirit of taking advantage of this . . . movement, it seemed important to share some topics that might be worth exploring on your own. Our school doesn’t officially cover most of these topics. We do however practice a great deal of them as a matter of fun and “entertainment purposes”.

For those of you who have been through a survival skills course, you have probably heard of attitude, shelter, water, fire, and food as important topics to be covered. Firearms, lock picking, psychological warfare, escape from restraints, hotwiring, improvised munitions, and small group movement aren’t necessarily included in the basic survival package. They are, however, things to consider in an Apocalypse of the Zombie persuasion.

Just to be clear, we don’t condone any of the above training for folks unless being pursued by zombies. Some founding father type apparently said something about the government being afraid of the people as being freedom and the people being afraid of the government as tyranny. I suppose that would make being afraid of zombies perfectly healthy, maybe even sane in today’s current climate. So train wisely.

Remember that cell phones and televisions are transmitters that there is currently no real “Right to Privacy”, and only you are responsible for your own safety before embarking on such liberties. Be also aware that time is a real issue. Jobs, sleep, family and other obligations limit what you can learn. Make a list of skill sets you want to master, another list you want to be decent at, and a third list of skills you want to be familiar with. There is only so many hours before the brain sucking hordes come out of the ground. In short, prioritize and don’t advertise.

Your essentials list should be relatively short and have some aspect of escape and evasion included on it. This list is where you will be spending most of your training time and energy. It should also include some sort of defense training or strategies. Don’t be so self absorbed that you forget to network with valuable community assets on some level with regard to this list. This could be something as low maintenance as establishing safe houses along escape routes, or as involved as cross training team members and practicing reactionary drills. Remember that “one is none and two is one” when it comes to high intensity zombie interaction.

On the decent proficiency list, a transferrable/barter-able skill is important. Something you can do that few others can gives you value in high stress group dynamics. They won’t sacrifice you to the zombies if you’re the only one who knows field expedient short wave radio, or can repair firearms. Blacksmithing, EMT skills, a cross trained person in two or three of these areas is important. Strive to be that person.

Lastly, the list of skills you are lightly familiar with should be your largest. You train in these to gain a working knowledge of how things operate. Just don’t get fooled in to believing you know something just because you saw it on you tube or read it in a cheesy blog like this one. As an example, lock picking should not be on this list unless you popped open a pair of cuffs and a master lock a few times with improvised rakes, wrenches, and picks.

Zombies are arrogant and lack creativity, but they are well trained and their ego’s give them the illusion of command and control. It is only through your training and networking that you will prevent having your brains sucked out. If you already believe you know all this “stuff”, than you are exhibiting zombie behavior. Being hungry for more ways to increase your survival and the survival of your loved ones may be the only way to prevent the spread of the scourge and allow you to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Choosing Sides

I write this as more than just a motivated former Marine. I’ve run a survival school since 1989 and I consider myself an eager student of the subject (translated: I don’t mind how you choose to feel, I don’t have any money, and I willingly subject myself to black flies, mosquitoes, and self proclaimed “experts” who will tell you all they know without ever leaving the comfort of their living room chair). I do this because it makes me feel like the wealthiest man on earth. That brings me to the point of this article. I’m looking across the landscape and seeing a whole lot of people preparing for something. Their skill sets are impressive and many of them overlap. There are old school Red Scare types prepping with bunkers, caches, shelters, and firepower. There are back-to-the-landers with permaculture and the homesteading arts. There’s the New World Order types, the overpopulation groups, the folks with specific dates, etc. Heck, for the folks who can’t find the one ideal group to call home, there are zombies.

Well, with all of you folks choosing sides, joining up with co-ops, spec-ops, psy-ops, and the pyramids with the psy-clops, I figured I should choose a side too. Now, whomever I joined up with would have to be powerful. I’m a sore loser when it comes to living, at least when it concerns my family and me. So I needed some entity more powerful than zombies and the entire Red Army combined. I needed something that could provide food, security, and stability for me and the future of my folk; some entity that was tactically sound, reliable, and proven during the long haul. I didn’t want to be tied up with unnecessary logistics and unreliable communications. After running trough the short list and going over all the candidates, in the end, I chose the Earth.

For one, she’s bigger than all of the other groups…combined! She’s been sorting through species like folks go through cheap ballpoint pens. In a real “man versus wild” scenario, history demonstrates pretty conclusively who the winner is…every time. Now you folks of a conservative nature, don’t go tuning me out just yet (Teddy Roosevelt is still one of my favorite Presidents). You can’t expect to “Live off the Land” if you don’t have enough meat to feed your family. Besides, where do you go to “get away from it all”? The city? Really? Even if it came to cannibalism, do you think that the meat there is safe to eat? Toxins accumulate in the apex species of any environment. Think about it. Besides, even if you were able to stick to wild game, have you seen the size of the deer in New Jersey? They’re the size of Greyhounds (the dogs, not the busses).

So what do I mean?

Well, my grandfather was a farmer. In WWII he threw potatoes at the German torpedo bombers. He was a merchant marine on one of the supply ships to Europe (the kind they referred to as “Kaisers Coffin’s). He was a hard speaking, levelheaded man who taught me the importance of good soil and a sharp aim. He shared that it’s okay to kill a groundhog to protect your blackberries as long as you eat it (the groundhog . . . and the blackberries). He raised nine kids, and an assortment of fruits, vegetables, and livestock, and stayed married to the same wife his entire life. He also taught me the lessons his parents learned during the depression about calorie investment versus calorie expenditure, and the importance of keeping a productive landscape. We hunted deer because we planted and took care of the plants, shrubs, and trees that the deer ate. We always had fresh eggs, a source for meat, milk, and veggies. It was hard work that benefited his kids and their children. Heck, I suppose it’s benefiting my kids now, as I see them enjoying their lives amid a landscape of people too busy worrying about a mythical future to do something in the present to change it. I’m not talking about pretending to kill zombies or starting a small garden. Those things are nice and all. I’m just talking about getting back in touch with what worked. Assume for a minute that your great-grandparents were really good at living a healthy and productive life without things like electricity. Imagine it takes more problem solving to get your food and heat sources every day, and that a healthier diet and more active lifestyle make you sharper and more robust (individually and as a species) than the diet and activity level in today’s world. Now couple that with a wild sense of stewarding the landscape. Lets get totally crazy and assume that there was this scientifically founded and religiously supported idea that the landscape’s health is directly related to the health and prosperity of your tribe, or “nation”. One last thing, and pardon me if this will make your brain explode at the absurdity of it all, but let's add the idea that we have today’s technologies, and that these technologies allow us to increase individual backyard productivity to allow for year round backyard food production in the contiguous United States.

Hmmmmm . . . with these wacky elements as part of the package, do you see where preparing for some futuristic event could get you into some really cool projects that will increase your survivability, and decrease your dependency? Beyond that, it will build a community of folks who support each other with complimentary skill sets, gardening, foraging, livestock, and hunting diversity. There will be an increase in bartering potential, and an increase in security. Before you know it, we will increase the quality of our lives, building something that used to be called “neighborhoods”, where folks talk to each other, share news, get in arguments, watch each others kids and yell for them all to get home when the street light came on. We would begin to build a real community of folks who plant with an eye toward what their neighbor might be planting so there would be good garden trades in the fall. We’d plant apples for pies and for the turkey and venison that come after them.

This stuff isn’t that old. Granted, the folks that still do it are few, and many don’t want to share what they know with strangers, but it hasn’t been forgotten. I’m siding with the Earth because the landscape is a direct reflection of my own health. The way this land is worked depends on whether I view it as a “resource” or an “investment”. More, it shows folks how near-sighted or far-sighted I’ve been; how selfishly or selflessly I’ve spent my days.

So, I can fire a rifle a bit, still learning how to pickle, and make soap, even getting a forge up and running. All that’s good. I'm learning and teaching wild edible plants, how to make bows with stone tools, listening to bird alarms and tracking indicator species to be a better hunter. More than that though, I’m having fun. Lets face it, we have this big looming event that’s coming (or not) and we get into all of this excitement about skills, and plants, and gardens and guns because in the end, it’s fun. Imagine if it were as simple as that. You work hard at something you enjoy doing to ensure the health and survival of your kind, and as a result you're rewarded with a deep sense of satisfaction and fun, and a sense of competence. It doesn’t take a survival expert to give you the importance of that vehicle. You already have it. It’s parked in your brain right next to the self-doubt and distraction cars. Which on do you plan on piloting when it comes to surviving the coming apocalypse? Maybe your apocalypse is already here. Either way, I’m having fun. Let me know how it turns out. Oh yeah, and watch out for those zombies.

For videos, "how to" articles, and information on classes visit

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Survival Teaching Story on Attitude and Perspective

“I need a rattle.”

The thought came to the snake faster than the warming rays of first light. Thus, it was sluggish and didn’t quite stick at first. It wasn’t until the energy of the new day soaked though her scales and stirred her blood that the idea compelled her unblinking eye toward her once magnificent tail. The sight brought the drama of the hawk and the drop, the scramble to find cover and the pain, all rushing in. She even shook her tail, but the expectant buzz was replaced by a dull thudding noise. No thankfulness entered her heart this morning. She did not feel a sense of gratefulness for surviving the attack. Any feelings of appreciation were now muffled by the feeling of remorse at the loss of her beautiful tail. The grief was just too all encompassing. It was hunger that drove her from her shelter.

She saw the other snakes stare and turn to each other. She kept to the low places and the corners, wanting to remain unseen, unnoticed. Her imagination built conversations between the snakes she passed, each one mocking her for her lost tail, her lack of awareness. She found a pocket gopher; it’s heat guiding her to the den. A coyote passed by and all of her attempts at rattling did nothing to break its stride. She remembered the respect her beautiful tale commanded. Again, snakes are staring, whispering. Entering the den she found her mark and feasted. While her belly was full, her heart remained empty. She fell asleep in the den. The scraping of claws startled her from her mournful sleep. A badger, taking advantage of the cool shade the hole provided, or looking for food, started to burrow toward her. He used his razor sharp claws to widen the entrance. She rattled, and nothing. She coiled, and nothing. The darkness and lack of noise left no other option. Badgers eat snakes. She struck at the center of the darkness and hit. She did it again, and again. The wall of fur paused, then stuttered before shuffling backwards. Hope faded as the mass stopped at the opening, the only avenue of escape.

The life giving sun was leaving. She had to get out or she would never survive the cold night of the desert. Slowly she inched near the badger. Not until she was close did she realize it was dead. As she crawled over the body, more snakes were whispering and staring from the rock. The burden of this was too much. Seeking counsel with the matriarch, she headed toward the sandstone ledge that housed the elders.

She was careful to hide her tail when other snakes came with in sight, but her arrival was not unnoticed. The clan mothers seemed unusually happy to see her. The elders greeted her warmly. When at last she saw the matriarch, the voice of the wisdom keeper startled her. “Why do you hide that amazing tail”, she asked. Sliding closer to examine the young snake, the Matriarch continued. “Your scars are the stuff of legend. For the last two days your story has been shared. Your encounter with the hawk, how you survived the fall to Earth, your standing up to the coyote with out flinching, and most amazing of all, your battle with the badger. Your tail holds the story of all of these things louder than any words. You should hold that tail with pride.”

Of course, snakes cannot really speak. And, even if they could, they would rarely find the energy to share this sort of thing with each other. However, the story is too important not to be told. Therefore it is up to us to find the story within ourselves when we find that our scars are holding us back, or that our tails have been nipped. These things that we believe are being told of us should be heard in a way that frees us, empowers us, becomes our badge of wisdom borne of hardship, not a prison of shame, grief, or inaction rooted in a story of shortcomings.

Folks come to our school to learn survival and we give them a list of priorities. At the top of that list is “Attitude”. After coming to classes for a year or so, they find that the list of priorities applies to more than just survival. It applies to a full and empowering life regardless of what is thrown your way.

This story was given to me after a Cherokee Elder made a statement at one of our classes. All he said was, “I need a rattle”. By the time I walked from the winter classroom to the office, the story rushed in. I typed it out as fast as I could before it left me. Now it is yours.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Primitive Skills as foundational to Permaculture

Primitive Skills-The foundation for Permaculture

Go to the window and look at your landscape. Can you identify each plant, shrub, and tree along with their edible, medicinal, and utilitarian uses? Can you name each bird and animal, their behaviors relationships and current location? Are you aware, based on the evidence provided by plant species and conditions, animal tracks and sign, elevation, and drainage, of the soil quality and characteristics? If this sounds too far fetched, it’s because you’ve been raised in an artificial landscape superimposed on the real and natural one. Our ancestors knew all of these things as a matter of survival. More so, their diet was healthier, their craniums larger, and their concern for the environment based on a direct correlation and relationship with the health of their community. At a glance our “primitive” ancestors could predict the weather, locate water, read the tracks and sign of insects, and animals, interpret the language of the birds, and read the forested landscape to determine what plants, medicine, cordage, dyes, and tools could be gathered. They could also tell the health of the ecology of the area. Can you?

Imagine you did know the answers to the above questions. How would that change your behaviors? Would you eradicate all of the mint for one year of tea? Would you harvest all the sweet fern in a rush to stock up on diarrhea medication? Of course not! Saving seeds, drying herbs, and cultivated the land for more diversity has been going on since long before the bronze age. The “care taker attitude” has been expressed and well documented in the history of this land and every continent by it’s indigenous cultures.

This in depth “native” knowledge of the landscape has had important historical ramifications for our success as a species. Arguably, whether you are a “back to the lander”, “prepper”, in to “nature education”, or just want to get in touch with something real and important, there is nothing as effective at addressing the foundational skill sets to all of these approaches as primitive skills.

Our ancestors refined their relationship with the landscape over countless generations. Motivated to be efficient and successful by their own mortality, hunter-gatherer nomadic tribes were a far cry from the club toting dolts portrayed in cartoons and insurance commercials.

So, lets get to the nitty-gritty details. How does this look? What are the ways that would make our landscape a biodiverse wild “garden” that would sustain multiple layers of life for generations to come?

First, start with the people. We use the “Thanksgiving Address” as a structure to build awareness and community from. Caretaking your landscape is no exception. What talent can you tap in to in your community? What would they feel motivated to do and how would they feel most valued? Our programs rely heavily on work-study and apprenticeships so that the people are learning as they share their skills and hard work. The key to make sure they are valued, because all hands are certainly needed.

The soil, our unspoken wealth, needs to be addressed next. Test your soils in different locations and map out what you need to do. In most cases it makes sense to adjust what you grow than to adjust the soil. Exceptions include things like high bush blueberries or other high yield or important species that you just can’t do without.

Map the understory, but include the tracks and sign as well as the important herbaceous plants. Garden pests equal meat on the table. Finding the balance will help you optimize populations of plants to attract mammals as well as provide your community with food and medicine.

Pay special attention to shade loving plants and their relatives. A healthy tree that is allowed to grow increases in value over time. Be sure to make the most out of the trees you do have to remove. Milling or using raw timbers to make out buildings, raised beds, fire wood, charcoal for your forge, ash for soap making. Like the natural world and our native ancestors, the key is maximizing a return on energy investment.

Weather, the sun, the moon and our intuition also play a role. Just like the “thanksgiving Address” we expand our awareness across the landscape with the intent to create bounty and leave more for the future generations than we found.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Just added three more courses to the 2011 calendar...
Primitive Cooking

16 July 2011 (rain date: 17 July)

Humans have been cooking food for a long time, possibly 200,000 years or more. Aboriginal people learned to use the heat of cooking to detoxify food, break down molecules our bodies can't digest, and increase the pleasure of eating by enhancing flavors. Primitive cooks around the world created hearty, nutritious meals without the use of metal pots and pans, stove tops, ovens, crock pots, and the like. They had many different methods of cooking food that maximized nutrition while, when necessary, reducing toxins and antinutrients that may be present in the food. This day-long class will examine several methods of cooking that do not require modern kitchenware, including the aboriginal equivalents of the crock pot, grill, boiling pot, and baking pan. This class is a perfect companion to any wild food classes you may have participated in and furthers your "bushcraft" skills. A lot of organic, wildcrafted, and/or free-range foods will be consumed as part of the class and the day will culminate with dinner cooked entirely with aboriginal technology. Given the need to make and tend fires throughout the day for this workshop, a rain date needs to be kept open (the following day) for inclement weather. Price is $125.00 (which includes the price of food) and class is limited to 10 students. Class begins at 9:00 am and ends at 6:00 pm or whenever the evening meal is completed. If you are interested in enrolling for this class, please contact the Maine Primitive Skills School (207-623-7298) or visit

Healing with Plants, Fungi, and Lichens

29‒31 July 2011

Coping with and recovering from illness, injury, and debility has always been part of being human. And for these complaints, plants have served as the major source of medicine. This class will examine the use of wild plants, fungi, and lichens for healing injury and supporting the body. Students will learn a suite of species that grow in New England that can be used for many common ailments, such as colds, infections, gastrointestinal upset, headaches, dermatitis, insomnia, etc. Methods of collecting will be discussed, as well as directions for making infusions, decoctions, poultices, salves, tinctures, and smoking mixtures. Throughout the weekend, various stories and examples will be shared demonstrating how plant-based medicines have preserved life and influenced aboriginal and contemporary people. Healing with plants provides people and families with another avenue of self-sufficiency and furthers connection to the landscape. The class will be taught by Arthur Haines (who personally uses plants, fungi, and lichens for all medicinal needs). Class will be offered at the Delta Institute of Natural History in Bowdoin, ME (click here if you need directions). Price is $180.00 and class is limited to 10 students. Class begins at 7:00 pm on Friday and ends at 12:00 pm on Sunday. If you are interested in enrolling for this class, please contact the Maine Primitive Skills School (207-623-7298) or visit

Fall Foraging

30 September to 2 October 2011

This hands-on class is designed for those with with an interest in self-sufficiency, human health, and a deeper relationship with plants. Foraging provides many avenues of connection with nature and fosters a greater appreciation of the many things that local landscapes can provide for us. It has become increasingly clear through many independent studies that diets rich in wild foods promote health and defend the body from many of the debilitating ailments that plague modern societies (e.g., obesity, diabetes, arthritis, coronary disease, periodontal disease). Students should expect to spend much of the weekend outside identifying, collecting, and preparing wild plants for food (so be prepared for weather and uneven terrain). Class will focus on gathering plant foods and medicines that are appropriate for the season (nuts, legumes, fall roots and tubers, and wild rice--as available). Throughout the class, simple tools will be used and reference will be made to primitive and contemporary methods of processing plants. As well, wildcrafted medicine and utilitarian plants will be discussed to provide a more holistic understanding of how plants can positively affect our lives. Wild nutrition is both a link to the past and a gateway to a sustainable future. This class will be taught by Arthur Haines and will be offered at the Delta Institute of Natural History in Bowdoin, ME (click here if you need directions). Some locations will be visited off site so please be prepared to carpool short distances from the property. Price is $180.00 and class is limited to 10