Fire Challenges by Sunny Fox

Hello, this is Sunny Fox talking about relationship with fire-making. Right now, we are making our fires with a bow drill set, one of the most typical methods to create fire the primitive way. We’ve been doing this now for 4 to 5 moons (months) already. I can still remember how I struggled in the beginning when I built my first bow drill set. First of all, finding the right material is essential, and a challenge, especially when you are just starting to learn. Once we made had our first bow drill sets, we had to create our first embers (coal), which was the second challenge.

I was the last person to get an ember. I thought for sure that I would never get a fire going with the bow drill. When I finally made my first ember…super proud and ready to go, I was so nervous that I accidentally dropped the ember and it fell on the ground and burnt out so…I couldn’t make a fire. I continued to make embers…and after one whole moon, I got my first fire. It was a lot of work. But that was just in the beginning. Then we learned to look more at the quality of our bow drill sets: How soft is our spindle? How soft is our fire board? What is good as a hand hold? Which kinds of trees work nice for creating a bow drill set? The more we did this, the easier it got for us to get embers going.

Then the wilderness guides gave us a new fire challenge – to make embers without the spindle squeaking. So we had to find out why it was squeaking in order to stop the squeaking. It felt like we were fire making from the beginning again. It took us a long time to find out why it squeaks…. Sometimes it still squeaks, and then we have to stop making the ember and create a new one.

Well, we try to create a new one.

Once we have the ember, we put it in the tinder and get the tinder burning, which is a challenge on its own!  Sometimes if the tinder is too wet, it’s hard to get it burning.  When we finally have the tinder burning, it’s only like half of the battle because then we have to get the actual fire started… and we’ve discovered that the key for getting the fire started is to be prepared for everything.

We have to be prepared for everything so it can ignite as soon as possible, which is why we have dried needles laying around the fire hearth and small twigs. Once we have the tinder burning, we put the tinder in our fire hearth then the dry needles over it, then the twigs, and so on and so on. Right now we’ve got a new challenge, which is that we are not allowed to blow on the tinder anymore once we have the ember inside.  This is one of the biggest challenges we’ve had. It’s hard if the tinder is wet, but when the tinder is really dried out, it works pretty nice.

There is probably no other skill that is more frustrating than fire-making because every time when we feel like, “Oh yeah! Now I’ve got it! Now I understand it! This is how you make the fire!”  Then suddenly the bow drill set starts squeaking, or we can’t get an ember or we don’t get the heat built up, and then we sit there sometimes for one or two meal times just trying to get an ember. But fire making is also the most useful skill that we will keep for the rest of our lives.


Here’s to all the new challenges!

~Sunny Fox

Basket Lessons by Skylily

Skylily and one of her beautiful baskets

Hi everyone out there,

I would like to tell you about the wonderful world of baskets and the magic that keeps me engaged. Up until now I made baskets out of hazelnut and spruce root. I quickly learned that the quality of the material has a major impact on how well the basket turns out. It can be very frustrating when we have a new idea for a basket, but the weavers break constantly. I learned that beautiful, long, straight hazelnut switches work best for weaving. But for carrying baskets – I prefer spruce root.

I got the idea for my first basket when I saw two different baskets over by the Moon Lodge. I took a look and thought, yes, that’s simple, I can do that. When I made the bottom, I noticed quickly that it was not as simple as I thought. It was quite frustrating, to  be honest, and I would have loved to just burn it. Yet somehow, I was quite compelled and thought that maybe, just like with painting, that there may be a phase where it looks stupid, and that is true. When I continued and moved out of my frustration, a beautiful basket turned out.

Now there are three baskets and the fourth is in the making. I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with that, making as many mistakes as possible, because from those I learn the most. And one wonderful thing that I’ve learned is that everything is a basket*.

~ Skylily


* Lodges are big baskets. Woven clothing, blankets, bowls, anything that holds something or is woven is a basket. 🙂




Wild Nutrition

Living in the wilderness for 11 months offers many rewards. But as with many things worth having, it takes some work and dedication to reap the benefits of living wild. Those who enter the Wilderness Guide Program are asked to prepare in advance by weaning themselves off of caffeine, starch, sugars, and processed foods. This helps them avoid having to acclimate to living in the wild while going through withdrawal from sugar or other substances, which is not a pleasant experience. By the time the seekers arrive at Teaching Drum, they are expected to have fully embraced a Paleo based diet. The following post was written by Sunny Fox regarding his experience with this new diet and way of living.

Back in Germany, I always thought that I was a very healthy person. I never broke a bone and only became sick maybe 2-3 times in a year. Living immersed in the forest has taught me some surprising things about my health. I knew that participating in the Wilderness Guide Program would include a diet without sugar, milk, and almost no starch, so I was very worried that my body would lose too much energy and that I would get sick or have other problems.

It’s been over a few months since the start of the program and I feel even healthier than before. My skin has cleared, my digestion is better than before, and my sleep is more restful. My energy level is completely different. I no longer feel like a “civilized zombie” who needs to keep myself alive and awake by giving my body sugar, starch, or one caffeine shock after another. Now, whenever I’m working on a project, I have all this energy and I can complete my tasks without any problem.


New Names Under a New Sun

After the Seekers finished their week-long trial on May 10, they made the 5-hour trek from Mashkodens (Ojibwe for Little Prairie), to Nishnajida (Ojibwe for Camp Where the Old Ways Return), which is located deep in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. They carried everything they will use while living immersed in the wilds on pack frames that were crafted from sturdy forked branches found in the nearby forest.

Gear includes a tent, sleeping bag, matches, tomahawk, knife, a bowl for eating, as well as three changes of clothing and personal care items. Matches will eventually be replaced by a wooden friction fire making kit, their bowls will be exchanged with those they learn to make by burning out a split section of a log, and they will abandon their tents for wigwams they build from the saplings, bark, and roots gathered from the surrounding woods.

To help the Seekers stay grounded in the present moment, common words for time, distance and direction have been replaced with terms that reflect their immediate environment. For example, time is now measured by how long it takes to cook an egg on the fire or paddle across the lake. A year is now a full turn of the seasons, a day is a sun, a yard could be an arm’s length, and the left side may be called the heart side. This blog will be using these terms as well. To prevent reader confusion, we created a handy page for your reference. You can visit the Glossary of Terms page here.

Before arriving, the Seekers are encouraged to come to this experience as an empty bowl, with curiosity, so they can embrace all the teachings and gifts the forest has to offer. To immerse oneself in the wild with new people and new experiences is a gift, one that offers them an opportunity to let go of the labels and assumptions they’ve been carrying. It is in this space that the Seekers will have an opportunity to see themselves differently, to uncover the gifts and talents that have always been part of them, waiting to be discovered.

To fully embrace this path of discovery, the Seekers drop their given names and receive another from their clan mates, a name that represents a new beginning and a fresh perspective regarding who they currently are within the clan. These names often include physical characteristics or personality traits and strengths. As they get to know themselves and one other better, these names will likely change to reflect their evolving role within their circle.


We would like to invite you to accompany Blooming Flower, Sky Lilly, Sunny Fox, Silent Wolf, and Woodpecker on their adventures in the wild as they grow in the ways of honor, respect, and Balance with the Elder Relations (furred, leafed, winged…) of the Northern Woodlands.


Living Wild: 6 New Participants begin their Nature Immersion Experience

The 2017/18 Wilderness Guide Program (WGP) began May 1st with 6 participants (Seekers) arriving for their trial week. Acceptance into the WGP is a carefully deliberated process. To be accepted, both the Seeker and the wilderness guides must agree that the program would be a good fit for them. To help determine this, those who are considering participating must live fully immersed in an ongoing program for seven full days (a trial week), in order to determine whether the experience is for them. However, given the expense, especially for those who are coming from overseas, not everyone is able to do this.

This particular year, all 6 Seekers still needed to complete their trial week. After they were fitted for gear, they walked out to a transitional wilderness camp for their one-week trial where they were also introduced to functional tarp shelter set-up, pack-frame remodeling, wilderness first aid, tool safety, lost proofing, weather forecasting, wilderness hygiene, and fire tending.

We are happy to announce that all 6 of the Seekers successfully completed their trial week and are now officially enrolled in Unit One of the program, which lasts until October 15th. Successful completion of Unit One qualifies them to participate in Unit Two, the second half of the Wilderness Guide Program.

Five days ago, full of curiosity, excitement, and energy, they set off on the morning-long trek to their remote green season camp. They are poised to learn from the Ancient Voices of the Elder Trees, Rocks, Furred, Feathered, Finned, and all in the great Circle of Life, who have lived in balance for time immemorial.


Stay tuned to hear stories of their adventures in the wild!