Drawing Fire from Wood

The Seekers’ 11-month immersion adventure in the Northern Wisconsin wilderness ended just two weeks ago. Despite the Equinox informing us that it was spring, the ground remained frozen with snow and the Seekers’ need for fire persisted until the very last sun. Berry Love wrote about her relationship with fire while she was still at Snow Camp, sharing the lessons she learned that she planned to take with her when she returned home.


Written by Berry Love:

Berry Love

Before coming to do the Wilderness Guide Program, I never thought about what fire needs in order to burn well. If fire doesn’t have enough heat, the wood starts smoking. With more air, it can burn hotter and the smoking stops. Ultimately, I learned that whether the wood smokes is about heat and not air. I learned to place the wood closest to where the heat is.

We learned from the wilderness guides that fire needs to burn efficiently, using air, fuel, and heat.

When the fire pit is elevated, it gives the fire the air it needs. In the beginning, I didn’t believe this would make much difference until we were introduced to the elevated fireplace. We had less smoke than usual. I’ve learned that the size and dryness of the wood are the factors I have to look at so the fire can burn efficiently.

Berry Love with one of her bow drill kits. The seekers were challenged to create a new kit after three successful fires with that kit.


To start a fire, I have to give energy to the fuel (the wood), to enliven the first coal. In my relationship with fire, I am the one to make the fire visible, to draw out the fire that is in the wood.

To make the fire with a bow and drill constantly challenges me. I’ve learned that it is essential to carefully choose the materials for my fire kit. Every new kit is a new challenge. Before I arrived in this program, I had been able to make a coal. But it took me several weeks of practice until I made my first coal here.

I had to be patient with myself and overcome many moments of frustration. Even now, it is difficult to produce a coal every time.

Unlike with electricity where I can rely on the convenience of a switch, fire requires a constant awareness. The fire provides us with warmth, cooks our food, dries our clothes, and gives us light, all in one. In civilization, these tasks are performed by different machines. Fire making teaches me to be aware of everything I am doing. And the teaching continues even after the fire is burning. To be the most comfortable living outdoors, constant awareness is needed because the fire is constantly changing. Nothing in life stays the same shape. If I want the fire to constantly be burning, I have to constantly take care of the needs of fire.

When I burn the wood, the energy is released again and will take form in another place and another time. I like the idea that I play a role in the creation of new things just by burning wood; I am part of the endless circle of life and I give what I can give.





Up Next:  In the next post we’ll take an in depth look at how the guides help prepare the Seekers to transition from living in the wild back to modern culture. 


Two Worlds

The following post was written by Shkode’e, a participant of the 2016/17 Wilderness Guide Program.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

What is it like to live out in the forest, in communion with and surrounded by all of nature? It differs in so many ways from life in modern society that it seems to be another world. In our modern way of living, whether we go to work or stay at home, there are doors, windows, and walls; everything closes us in. Our modern cities and villages are like human-created islands, standing isolated in the middle of this huge ocean of nature. But out here in the natural realm, we are learning what it is to be a part of the greater community covering the rest of our planet. Since the start of the Wilderness Guide Program last May, we have been walking this path, practicing following the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

The experience of living immersed in nature has affected us all. There is a sense of belonging. One easily feels cared for and connected. We understand that we are joining a web of relations, already existing for millions of years. They welcome us with open arms. We are accepted and respected as we are. The lake gives us water to drink and to wash. Plants, animals and minerals give food and medicine, clothing, tools, and shelter. We learn to coax the fire (sunlight) out of the wood and we have warmth and something to cook our food with. There is nothing missing. All is taken care of. Our Mother provided for us everything we need to survive; we can feel safe.

The wind touches my face, the cold freezes my breath, and the sun warms my back. The voice of the chickadees and squirrels rings in my ears, the cedar tree spreads her scent and I taste the freshly caught fish. Night and day provide the rhythm of light and dark, and the seasons offer me a different perspective and tasks to focus on in order to live well. All of my senses and actions are connected with the natural surroundings. With this greater community constantly speaking, I don’t need to feel alone. All of this affects us deeply, influencing our ability to live in peace with both ourselves and each other. Trust in life emerges.

Living in the wild requires us to be curious in order to understand what is needed to take care of our needs. Being aware and spontaneous helps us to adapt to living with the continuous changes that arise with nature and the turn of the seasons. Out here, it is easy to live with an awareness of the Hoop of Life, the feeling of interconnection to the diversity of life in our area. At camp I find myself living the way of giving and receiving. It is obvious that everything is connected. I cannot help but appreciate our greater circle!

Shkode’e at Winter Camp

The other side of this is that in order to function and survive, one must learn to flow with the Hoop of Life. Where I place my feet and how I act are determined by what is going on in my surroundings. This is not the same in modern society where I can decide freely what I want to do and when. In the city I can just take care of myself. But out in the wild, I need my clan and I need to know how to be in relationship with all things.





Stay tuned for more stories from Snow Camp!



Making a Bow Drill Fire From a Kit Made Without Tools

Watch as Caretaker makes a bow drill fire and explains how he made his kit without tools. 

A Winter Camp Moment with Dancing Bear

Written by Dancing Bear 

Dancing Bear

Right now I’m sitting on a fallen tree at the north shore of Woodbury Lake. I like to sit here and listen to the sounds of the trees. Caretaker is a little bit further west from me. Caretaker and I are out finding firewood to bring back home (Camp). Berry Love stayed back to prepare her bow drill so she can make a fire.

It is the hottest sun in a long time and there are no clouds. I don’t even need mittens for writing.

On my way here, I saw some interesting deer tracks on the frozen lake. The tracks made many circles, then back and forth, and jumps further than one body length. I also saw four spots where the deer were lying down. Last sun, I saw something similar, but I haven’t figured out yet what they were doing. I want to show this to my camp mates and maybe the guides to hear their opinions. My interest in tracking was pretty low when I first came here, but now my interest is growing.

And now it’s time to get some firewood and ramble back to Camp.

Stay tuned for more adventures!



An Interview with the Seekers During the Great Spirit Moon

Each moon, the Seekers spend one sun at Nadmadiwining (Ojibwe for Support Camp), where the School’s main campus is located. It is there that the guides do a thorough check of the Seekers’ health status by taking their weights, measurements, and vital statistics. T read more

Finding an Opportunity in Every Situation

This blog post was written by Caretaker while at Winter Camp. 

A lot has happened here in the past few quarter moons. I originally wanted to write about my relationship with fire, but after the first few lines, I realized it is more fitting to write about the recent events and changes that have happened here at Winter Camp.

About a moon ago, an emergency in Shining Dragonfly’s family required her to leave our camp here in the forest and fly home.  Right now, we don’t know when or if she will come back to us during our time here.

Saying “goodbye” to Shining Dragonfly

A quarter moon ago, the Guides and Seekers agreed that it would be best for the health of Shkode’e (which means Heart of Fire. She was formerly Yellow Pond Lily) if she spent part of the white season at Nadmadiwining (Ojibwe for Support Camp), where the School’s main campus is located.  She had lost too much weight and has been struggling to regain it, which greatly impacted her ability to generate sufficient inner heat to stay warm in the colder temperatures. For now, Shkode’e comes to camp with the Guides and supports us from Nadmadiwining while she works to regain her strength.

This means that instead of 5 persons, there are only 3 of us left around the fire here in the woods. When you live in such a small clan and so close together like we do, the loss of a clan-mate changes the dynamics of the clan quite strongly. Often I have the feeling there is something missing. There are special energies that are just not here anymore, like losing a leg or an arm. This situation is showing me that life is change, and every change brings the opportunity to learn something new. Or I can spend the next suns sitting under a tree and being victimized by this. Life will go on anyway. It is in my hands to change the situation and empower myself.


What I am realizing is that I really need to use the time that I have with the people next to me to give them and me the chance to get to really know each other. In the past, I often judged people by my first impression of them and distinguished them as either interesting or uninteresting. I think that I missed out on getting to know a lot of worthy humans, which I now regret. I hope I can change this pattern and give myself the opportunity to see the true value of every human and situation. 



Stay tuned for more posts from Winter Camp. 


Living Wild in the White Season

Snowshoe Hare

The White Season has finally settled upon the Northern Wisconsin woods, with snow blanketing everything as far as the eye can see. Young White Pines bend low under the weight of the most recent snowfall. Snowshoe Hares, now garbed in their white coats, hop and forage for twigs, bark, and needles. Cloudless skies tend to usher colder temperatures that have so far reached -16 Fahrenheit (-26.67 Celsius). Cloudy skies, while making snowfall more likely, can be an insulating factor, and offer temporary reprieve from subzero temperatures.

Despite the colder temperatures, the seekers extended their stay in the Green Season Camp in order to replace the support poles on the lean-to shelter, and to fully ready Winter Camp for their move. They also took down the winter wigwam that was built almost two decades ago, and worked diligently to store the birch bark panels and woven mats for future use, and for safekeeping throughout the winter.

Lean-to shelter at Winter Camp

Caretaker making fire

Berry Love, Dancing Bear, Pond Lily, and Caretaker* moved into the lean-to at Winter Camp during the last moon where fire is kept only at the hearth outside. Those without experience living outdoors during winter might have a difficult time understanding how anyone could live, eat, and sleep out in the wild amid wind, snow, and temperatures well below freezing.

Animals, plants, and humans go through a physiological change when exposed to prolonged cold temperatures, and thus are able to acclimate as needed in surprisingly short order. Sitting in front of an outdoor fire all Sun long to keep warm is not how the seekers wish to experience their White Season. However, they do live outdoors in frigid temperatures, so they are learning the vital importance of feeding and maintaining their inner furnace: their core body temperature. They rely on quality fats as their prime fuel, on being physically active to keep the internal fire burning, and on wool’s insulating and somewhat impermeable qualities to retain that warmth.

Indigenous people understood how to live as part of nature because they needed to. Progress has ushered in such inventions as the light bulb and central heat, among other things. With these added conveniences, it was unnecessary to retain the knowledge possessed by natives. The seekers are returning to what many of us have lost by cultivating their relationship with nature, and by learning and integrating the skills necessary to live well in the wild in all seasons.

In the next few posts, we’ll be exploring the differences between the Green Season and Winter Camps. We’ll look at the skills and practices that need honing, not just to survive, but to be comfortable in the northern hemisphere’s White Season.

*Shining Dragon Fly is currently not at camp because she needed to attend to a family matter. 

Lodges, Leeks, and Comfort Zones

Drying Marsh Grass before the rebuild

The seekers have been busy this fall season with lodge rebuilding, long-distance hiking to forage for greens, and challenging themselves to move beyond their comfort zones.

A few months ago they began the process of lodge reconstruction by taking apart a wigwam that had been built by former seekers a few turn of the seasons ago. A wigwam is a round, domed hut made with a sapling frame, insulated with Marsh grass, and covered with Birch bark or skins. Wigwams were used as shelter by different Native American and First Nations tribes such as the Ojibwe, who are the traditional caretakers of this northern region. Wigwams are still used today, especially for ceremonial purposes.


Bird’s eye view of Wigwam frame

The seekers were asked to deconstruct the wigwam down to the sapling frame so it could be transported to Mashkodens (Ojibwe for Little Prairie), a native encampment about a 1/2 mile from the School’s main campus. After deconstructing the wigwam, they needed to find a way to carry it out of camp and to the wilderness guides who would would be transporting it to its next home. The shortest and clearest path was across the lake. The seekers used their creativity, canoeing skills, and teamwork to transport the wigwam frame across the water safely and without too much trouble.

Transporting wigwam across lake by canoe


A safe landing


Rebuilding a Wigwam

Adding a cone extension to an existing wigwam

The seekers also reconstructed another wigwam, this time making it into a cone shaped lodge. Once they were finished, they began the process of moving their things from their tents into the remodeled lodge and another wigwam that had been built a few turn of the seasons ago.

Moving out of their individual tents meant they had to give up their privacy and also face their personal bias regarding who to share a lodge with. They decided to forgo their preferences and came up with a solution that would push them beyond their comfort levels. Since then, they have changed their sleeping arrangement a couple more times as a pattern breaking exercise and to increase the cohesiveness of the group.

Soon after they were settled into their new lodges, the seekers packed up supplies for a two sun trek into the wild in search of greens for the white season. They found an area rich in leeks, where they spent several suns digging up bulbs to store back at camp. Leeks are known scientifically as Allium porrum, and are related to garlic, onions, shallots, and scallions. 


Taking a break from Leek bulb gathering to practice their bow drill fire-making skills

During their time at Leek Camp, they discovered new features in the landscape and were inspired to do more exploring before beginning their two-sun trek back to camp.


Leek bulbs can be anywhere


Seekers’ sleeping area at Leek Camp


Meeting at Leek Camp around the hearth

From left to right: Abel, Shining Dragon Fly, Caretaker, Dancing Bear, Berry Love, and Joyful Pond Lily


Stay tuned for more adventures!