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!

Interview with Wilderness Guide Program Participant ~ Joyful Pond Lily


Joyful Pond Lily is a participant of the 2016/17 Wilderness Guide Program where she is living in community with other program participants in a native-modeled encampment located in the Northwoods wilderness of Wisconsin. For 11 months, participants learn communication, cooperation, and essential outdoor survival skills. This includes: first aid, weather forecasting, nutrition, personal hygiene, food procurement, natural shelter and lodge building, how to tan hides and sew clothing, which plants to use for wounds and other medicinal uses, and how to forage, trap, and fish. For more information, please visit the program page here

When you think back to before the program began, did you have any expectations of what it would be like living in the wilderness?
I had no idea actually. I didn’t read anything about it and didn’t know anyone who had done the program. From my experience at home in nature where I feel so connected, happy, and free with being myself, I imagined that for one turn of the seasons, this would be great. I expected a lot of inner growth for me. In a way, I thought it would make me stronger, as well as learning a lot of wilderness skills like making fire, making bowls and clothes and shelter building.

I expected that we would be living with the guides together in the camp and I was surprised to learn we would not. But it was alright. I knew I had to do this no matter how it would be. It worked out. It feels right.

It is also different regarding our connection with nature. This relationship is different now – harder – because of our inside process regarding relationships with each other. Our egos suddenly come up and we all fall so deeply into ourselves and our patterns. That takes up a lot of space.

It’s good because I now realize how deeply rooted this is. When I’m alone in nature, it’s easy to feel this connection because you’re not in relationship with other humans. Being in relationship with humans while in nature is a real challenge. But when I can get over this, then I feel it won’t matter where I am or who I am with.

Did you have any previous experience with long-term camping or living in the wilderness?
No. But I did live in Indonesia for over a year. There we live much closer to nature – almost like living outside – we did everything outside – including cooking.

What did your friends and family think about your decision to do this program?
Some said they couldn’t imagine this for themselves, but it was great for me. They understood that this was the right thing for me to do. It fits.

What are three main things you’ve learned so far since beginning the program?
One thing is that I really understand that I am responsible for myself, for not feeling cold, for being happy, for everything I do. I knew it before, but the feeling is now different. It feels good.

What helped you get to this place?
My experience with nature. How I handle the weather, that I know I need to take care of myself, get enough sleep. With the group and daily activities that we have to do, they don’t rule my life. I decide how I’m going to deal with it and do it.

And it’s good to see how the others do it. It’s not the task; it’s about how they deal with the task. I have this decision every moment. What can I do with what is given to me now?

What else have you learned?
I am more in touch with the connection that I am part of Mother Earth. I am just one part of the bigger circle, the circle of life and death, that I can kill and eat animals, and it has nothing to do with good or bad; I am just one part of this hoop of life. I take and give. Someday I will die and someone will also eat me. I am much more connected to this feeling. I have gained this greater understanding.

Can you think of anything else you’d like to share?
Acceptance of self. I can see my real natural self and the self I am not allowed to show. And only when I can accept this part – the ego – then this other part of me, the me I feel that I am, that can be set free. Full acceptance.

Have you had any interesting interactions with wild animals?
When I met the porcupine, and of course, the loons and the swans, when they are so close – on the lake. One morning, I went out fishing, the lake was like a mirror and there was so much fog I couldn’t see the shore. Then the sun rose, and directly opposite where I was, there was an Eagle watching me. Then he slowly opened his wings and I could hear his wings as he took off.

What would be one of the things you want to work on going into the white season?
I hope we do some craftsmanship – like basketry and hide tanning. I hope we find more time for this when we are not so busy with gathering. I hope we explore more about dreams and dream work.

Anything else you would like to share?
Everyone should do this! I am thankful for this experience. I think it will really help me to come to the point where I want to be, to help build my future life.

What’s in a Name?

dscf0910Back in May, as the five seekers were preparing to begin their 11-month journey living in the wilds, the wilderness guides made a suggestion for them to leave behind their names.

From the time we are born, we are trained and expected to live according to a certain set of cultural and familial guidelines. Some of these are helpful and others stifling. Most of us have taken on expectations which have distanced us from our true nature. The question asked by many who are on the path of self discovery is “who am I apart from who I was told to be?”

The Wilderness Guide Program offers a unique set of circumstances to aid those who are on the path of finding self. For this year’s group, the seekers had never met each other in person and they all came together on equal terms. No one was a supervisor, an elder, a former professor, a best friend, an ex lover, or a family member. There were no predetermined or prescribed roles or expectations for them to fill. They are simply five individuals who need one another in order to successfully live in the wilds. Without being told what roles they are to carry, they have the incredible opportunity to learn more about who they are and what gifts they have to offer the Circle. 

The seekers agreed to let go of their names. Because they needed to call each other something, they decided that the group would come together and choose a name for each, one that reflected how the group saw them.

When they first began, their names were chosen based on physical or other obvious characteristics. These names were: Braided Woman, Young One, Nut Cracker, Tall One, and Medicine Woman. Since then, their names have changed a few times. Braided Woman became Brave Woman, Young One became Squirrel, Nut Cracker became Caretaker, and Tall One became Knowledge Keeper. Medicine Woman remained Medicine Woman.

Recently, they decided to change their names again. This time they chose names that affirmed how the group saw them and/or a positive trait she or he possess to encourage personal growth.

We asked them to share why each person’s name was chosen.

Squirrel is now Dancing Bear
The Circle: If Dancing Bear really wants something, then he really wants it, and if he doesn’t want to do something, then he won’t do it – we picture that a bear would do this. Also, when we walk through the woods, we were taught to walk lightly (Deerstepping), and to not walk on logs. But when Dancing Bear walks through the forest, he walks like a Bear – heavy footed, he steps on logs – and tries to break them. [Everyone laughs] We gave him the name Dancing Bear because he loves to dance, and as an encouragement to dance with life.

Caretaker remains Caretaker
The Circle: We initially gave the name Caretaker as a reminder to take care of himself – he cut himself earlier in the season. We thought he should keep his name because he sees what needs to be done and takes care of it. He fits the guardian role for the group. A Guardian is the caretaker for the clan. And he likes his name. Caretaker: It’s an honor.

Brave Woman is now Shining Dragon Fly
The Circle: We chose Shining Dragon Fly because Caretaker saw her at the Lake one sun when she was really frustrated. She was dealing with a recurring issue that was going to prevent her from swimming and getting sun – and she really loves to swim and be out in the sunshine. She was angry. Then, in the middle of it – a dragonfly landed on her hand and she just stopped being angry and noticed its beauty. We see this as a strength and we’d like to encourage her in this. Shining Dragon Fly says she feels good when she hears it.

Medicine Woman is now One Who Receives the Love of the Berries (Berry Love for short)
The Circle: We see that Berry Love is learning to receive. When she receives from plants and nature, she is so grateful and so connected with them. When she picks a lot of berries, she can feel them so strongly, and she is so thankful for what they give. In this moment, she can feel the shining happiness and oneness.

Keeper of the Knowledge is now Joyful Pond Lilly
The Circle: Caretaker says he recommended this name because she is special like a Pond Lilly, really awake. This yellow flower pops out of its surroundings. She sees the beauty in all things and is joyful. This flower has strong roots. When you want to have a discussion with Joyful Pond Lilly, she is strong and grounded.

Stay tuned for more stories and adventures!

From left to right: Shining Dragonfly, Caretaker, Dancing Bear, Berry Love, and Joyful Pond Lilly.

From left to right: Shining Dragonfly, Caretaker, Dancing Bear, Berry Love, and Joyful Pond Lilly.

Living Wild: How the Sun Rises and Sets in the Lives of the Seekers

forestfloorTo get to the seekers’ camp in Nishnajida (Ojibwe for Camp Where the Old Ways Return), the wilderness guides need to hike about a mile into the forest through thick undergrowth, rooted pathways, and then carefully make their way across a bog by crossing a makeshift log bridge. The camp is found in the heart of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. There are no roads or sign posts to help with navigation; one simply learns to read the landscape to follow the barely noticeable trail among the trees. The only way in or out of camp is by foot or canoe. The guides make the trek out to see the seekers to give guidance on wilderness survival skills, direction for projects, assist with group discussions and dynamics, and to drop off supplies when needed.

img_6614The seekers visit Nadmadiwining (Ojibwe for Support Camp) one sun each new moon to give them opportunity to conduct field guide research at the Teaching Drum library and to check in with friends and family. Having already lived immersed in the wilds for over 4 moons means the seekers’ senses are now heightened and acclimated to natural sounds, making them more vulnerable to becoming overwhelmed by modern day noises that most of us might not notice. When they visit Nadmadiwining, a buffer is maintained between the seekers and the busy projects happening at the School to help them transition between Nadmadiwining and camp more easily.

At camp, a typical sun for the seekers begins at sunrise with the first one up giving a Wolf howl, letting the others know it’s time to greet the morning. After about a quarter meal time, they gather together to divide up the morning tasks. On most suns, they fish, gather greens, and collect firewood, all before breakfast. Within the next two moons, their morning routine will change to adapt to the fall season with its cooler temperatures and shorter suns.


Breakfast is leftovers from the night before, supplemented by whatever food they gathered that morning or is left over from the food drop. Food drops occur as needed and contain fat, vegetables, and fruit which have steadily decreased as the seekers have learned to forage for greens and fish. All meals are prepared and eaten together. About two moons ago they turned in their cooking pot in order to learn and practice primitive cooking methods such as rock boiling, roasting, and burying food in the hot ashes. They also gave up their matches over a moon ago, so fire is made at the hearth with a bow drill. Each seeker has crafted a fire kit and continues to hone her/his fire-making skills so that she/he can summon the gift of fire in any type of weather or situation. So far, each sun someone has managed to make fire for cooking.


The Hearth at the Seekers’ Camp

After breakfast, they work on a specific project or task. Their current project entails dismantling and rebuilding a few of the wigwams at camp, those they will be living in during the fall season. To prepare for this, they are foraging for building materials, such as flexible Saplings and Spruce Root.


Wigwam in the process of being rebuilt

The seekers tend to be ambitious when it comes to the number of tasks they want to complete each sun. At the beginning of the Wilderness Guide Program, their to-do lists were optimistically extensive. But after a while, they realized that outside factors such as weather or the guides visiting camp kept interfering with their plans. At first, this frustrated them. But they soon learned that it was better to adapt and go with the flow. If the weather is sunny, they may choose to bathe and wash clothes in the lake. If it’s raining, they stay inside their tents and write letters or sew. If the guides come just before they are planning to forage for Spruce Root or process hides, they practice staying relaxed about the change in plans, telling themselves that they’ll do it the next sun, or the next sun, or the next…

Stay tuned for more adventures from the wild…

An Interview about Living Immersed in the Wild

Family VisitA family (mother, father, and three children) considering the Wilderness Family Guide Program recently contacted Teaching Drum Outdoor School to learn more about what it’s like to live immersed in the wild. We invited them to meet the current Wilderness Guide Participants to spend some time asking them questions about their experience with the program so far. Though the Wilderness Guide Program and the Family Wilderness Guide Programs are slightly different from one another, as the latter focuses on natural child rearing, the programs are still similar in that they both offer an 11-month community immersion experience in the wild.

This is an excerpt from of their discussion. 

For those who are new to this blog, there are five participants in the Wilderness Guide Program, an 11-month nature immersion program that began May 1st, 2016. They have been living in a primitive camp in the heart of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest of Northern Wisconsin. 

Family: You’ve been here for 3 months now, please tell us some of the things you’ve learned.

The experience of living out in the wilds is interesting, especially having guides to teach us. It’s a different kind of teaching. When I think back to what they’ve taught us, it was more in the showing and then having us learn more deeply on our own. Learning this way has been a much deeper experience, one that helps us truly understand what we’re doing.

Brave Woman
I remember the first time we butchered a deer. I had never done this before. The first one was also our first night out here. We heard loons in the distance. Because we don’t have loons in my home country, I wondered if they were wolves.

Knowledge Keeper
That night was so mystical. I felt so welcomed. And then I met the porcupine, who is also an amazing creature.

We learned to butcher the deer by doing it. The guides brought in a fresh roadkill deer, told us how to do it and then said “take your knives and start!”
That’s how we’ve been learning – just do it.
And if it’s not working one way, you find out the other way. But there is no real right or wrong, only what works, or what doesn’t work.

Family: What would be the most important piece of advice that you would give to someone who wanted to have this kind of experience?

Knowledge Keeper
I would say that one really important thing is that when you live in a circle, that you realize that your own needs are also especially important for the circle. You have to cover your own needs, because otherwise you cannot give what you have. And that’s what we are here to learn. We learned that we needed to take into account our own comfort points. I think we spent the first moon here learning how to make more comfortable bough beds, to sleep better.

Medicine Woman
For me, my advice would be to stay open, to give yourself to this experience. There’s so much you get out of here, it’s abundant…it’s wow. And every second I close myself, I think – ahh! You missed the opportunity to get more! So practice, practice being in the moment to grow.

Everything is more intense. Like every up is more up, and every down also is. There’s also being homesick. But then you realize – okay, how much in these three moons have I and my awarenesses changed? How much will it be after a whole turn of the seasons? And this is the motivation. It was also a dream come true from childhood. After my father told me the story about Robinson Crusoe, I thought “I have to do that!”

The family asked about their sense of community, how they’ve built community, especially not knowing each other before the program.

Medicine Woman
We’re still working on this. It feels like we’re still at the beginning of our circle consciousness. It think it takes a while to change our patterns. We are used to being individuals and egoistic. This is not what works, and we are still there, still working on it.

Brave Woman
I think we’re at the point we should be in this experience. But it’s different than outside (back home), because we stopped being only friendly (laughter). This is also the funny thing with truthspeaking – it’s not always easy to really say what you’re meaning. But you realize that truthspeaking makes it much easier, there are fewer secrets…

Knowledge Keeper
I think we were all so happy at the end of the first moon when some of us were getting annoyed and started speaking up. Finally – we let it out and the things are all out in the open. I think it’s quite good that things can be communicated right then and there.”

Medicine Woman
Yes, we’re working a lot on this.

Knowledge Keeper
I think this is true with ourselves, so that we in the circle get this feeling of flowing. Until recently, it was seldom. But it suddenly happened that we are all really in this flow…

Challenge Brings Opportunity

For now my name is Medicine Woman, but only because I carry the first-aid bag most of the time. I’m happy to be here…it’s challenging, but with every challenge there is also an opportunity, and that is a great chance for change.

We all bring ourselves wherever we gomedicinewoman, and here ourselves are recognized, and then there is the question: “Does myself, or whatever I bring work in this particular situation? What needs to be done or changed to adjust to the situation so everybody is comfortable?” Comfort is a big point out here. For example, I don’t live in a small house anymore, but in a very big one, at least as big as a castle. The kitchen is huge! I can even watch frogs while I’m doing the dishes.

I watch the sun set over the lake while I’m brushing my teeth. For my toilet, I chose a very beautiful part of the woods so I really enjoy going there, even if it takes some time to go there. Everyone has more space here. On the other hand, individuals move closer together. Privacy is getting less and less as we open ourselves more and more to each other. We don’t have a mirror to look at and see our own faces. We really need the others as a mirror. We get to know ourselves much better if we share with the others.