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.

Living with the land

Fishing has been plentiful at Woodbury Lake, the place where the old ways dwell. The Seekers take turns on who’s going out in the morning. So far they’ve been mostly using slugs as their bait. That leads to catching small fish. As of recent they discovered that they can use the small fish to catch bigger ones. They are humble with taking lives in order to sustain their own. So they are happy to get bigger fish meaning there is more sustenance from one kill.

Food gathering has been a strong emphasis over the last few moons. Besides the fish the Seekers have gathered all of their greens and fruit from what Nature provides. The Northwoods of Wisconsin are very abundant with berries. Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and bunchberries come into fruit throughout the green season.

The Clan does all their cooking on an open fire without a pot. They have experimented with rock boiling, roasting and burying food in the hot ashes.p1170304

Arriving in the Wild

P1170089 One moon* ago, the Seekers walked the path to Nishnajida (Ojibwe for Camp Where the Old Ways Return), located deep in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. They brought only the bare essentials for what would be needed to begin their 11-month wilderness immersion experience: a tent, matches, tomahawk, craft/wood knife, a bowl for eating as well as changes of clothing and personal care items. Eventually, the matches will be replaced by the bow drill once they learn to make a bow drill fire, their bowls will be exchanged for those they learn to make from the wood in the forest, and their tents will be traded for wigwams that they will be constructing from wood, bark, and cordage gathered from the surrounding forest.

The Seekers are three women and two men. In addition to learning about wilderness survival skills, the Seekers are also choosing to leave behind their old identities during the time they are out in the wilds. This process allows them to learn more about who they truly are apart from the labels they learned to carry back home. It also challenges limiting beliefs they may hold about their potential. To assist with this, the Seekers’ names will change over time, depending on how their fellow Seekers see them, either by their physical characteristics, or their personality traits. When they first began, their names were Braided Woman, Young One, Nut Cracker, Tall One, and Medicine Woman. Medicine Woman is the overseer of the first aid kit. Braided Woman has since become Brave Woman. Young One is now Squirrel, Nut Cracker became Caretaker, and Tall One is now Knowledge Keeper.

The five Seekers are learning about the Three Thresholds to Wilderness Attunement. Oftentimes people associate being in nature as relaxing, as a place to get away and unwind. And it can be. But relaxing and relating to nature can be difficult when we are used to modern day distractions such as email, social media, streaming videos and music, and even background noise. Without these distractions, people encounter the first threshold, the Psychological Threshold. Here, they learn to relate to themselves and others without the buffer of distractions and fast pace of modern living. The second is the Tolerance Threshold, which looms when the discomforts of life in the wilds begin to eat away at their dispositions. Here the rain can seem to go on forever, the ground may be too hard, and the mosquitoes outrank the Seeker’s patience. Once they work through the first two thresholds, they are greeted by the Gifting Threshold. Here they begin to realize the ebb and flow of living in the natural realm: that rain, mosquitoes, and biting flies come and go, that hunger is eventually sated. Tired muscles get rested, low spirits are lifted, and at some point, someone successfully builds a fire.

Discovering Tamarack tree buds

Discovering Tamarack tree buds


Every sun* brings new opportunities for the Seekers to learn how to live comfortably and effectively in the wilds. They are learning how to tell time by the placement of the sun and moon, primitive cooking, wilderness first aid, lostproofing (learning to tell direction without a compass or GPS), edible plants, solo canoeing, just to name a few. One of the biggest lessons is learning to foster a relationship with the land, the trees, plants, water, animals, and insects. Like many of us, the Seekers grew up in a culture where water comes from the tap, heat from a furnace, and food from the grocery store. Getting their drinking water from the lakes, warmth from a wood fire, and food from plants and wild animals puts them in direct relationship with the sources of what sustains them.

First canoe lesson

First canoe lesson

First canoe lesson

First canoe lesson

Stay tuned for updates on their adventures.

*one moon is one month

*one sun is one day



Into the Wild

10353097_771408022916454_8840502468519910695_nWe recently welcomed another group of Guardian Intensive trainees to Nadmadiwining, our support center here at Teaching Drum Outdoor School, for their 80 day wilderness immersion experience in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. They had just completed the two-and-a-half month At-home Training, which included physical conditioning and sensory-awareness exercises to help prepare them for living together in the wilds. The At-home Training required that they come together each day around the virtual hearth (in this case, an e-group forum) where they summarized their experiences and what they gained from the exercises. Each morning when they awoke, a Zen story awaited to walk their day with them. They reflected on it during the day and shared what they gained that evening on the forum. In these ways, they came to know each other and to grow in relationship.

As soon as the six trainees arrived at Nadmadiwining, the guides gave an orientation and introduction for the wilderness segment of their training. Each trainee had his/her weight, blood pressure, pulse, and body fat content taken. These vital signs will be monitored throughout the Training.

Their first exercise in circle consciousness was to choose a pack frame that not only fit them best, but did not deprive someone else of the best-fitting pack frame. The approach to the experience is minimalist: they will carry all their gear on their backs. Essentials include a knife, a tarp, mosquito netting, a couple changes of clothes, sleeping bag, bowl, toothbrush, floss, and comb or brush. The group shares the use of a tomahawk, a small sewing kit, a first-aid kit, and one box of matches. The matches are temporary. Once they leave for the wilderness, they will need to have already learned how to make a friction fire using a bow drill.

The Guardian Intensive Training is built upon the tenets of the Guardian archetype, as found in hunter-gatherer cultures. The Guardian serves his/her people as scout, lookout, message carrier, guide through new territory, hunter, craftsperson, and mentor for youth. Characteristics of the Guardian are high sensitivity, alertness, centeredness, empathy, and moving as quiet as a shadow.

The trainees are asked to come to this next leg of their journey into the wild as an empty bowl: to let go of their preconceived ideas of who they are and who the culture taught them to be. Only then can they reawaken to who they truly are. These 80 days are designed to be physically and mentally challenging—to take them out beyond their edge, where they will face their fears head-on. This is a time for them to learn how to live together in community, to fully understand what it means to be one integral part of the whole. As one graduate of the program said “We did everything as one. We learned how to flow together in sinuous, intuitive movement, like a pack of Wolves. Camaraderie bound everybody together into a finely-honed organism. Everybody was valued as a vital organ—nobody was expendable.

Over these next few months, we will continue to introduce you to the different aspects of the Guardian Intensive Training, so you will have a better understanding of what the trainees are experiencing. We will give you updates on their progP1150807ress, which will include their triumphs as well as their struggles and pitfalls. We welcome you to join them on their life-changing journey, as they make their way into the Northwoods wilderness.

Reflections from Early Bird’s Sister

Guardian Yearlong blog post originally posted on 9/8/13

Visiting the Scouting Camp

Meanwhile my mosquito bites are getting dark red and purple. Time to start writing my post, before the memories are fading.

I’m still struck by the experiences, although the daily routine has started again at home. My family and I visited the Scouting Camp near the Headwater bog, to stay with the guardians for one whole week in August. Curiosity is what I brought with me to Wisconsin and curiosity I kept the whole week.

Tamarack adviGuardian_Yearlong_260813_mittags_4-300x200sed us guests to observe closely. I tried to follow this advice, although I sometimes had difficulties to restrain myself. I’d rather had joined all discussions and processing among the group. As we joined them, the group of guardians had had a hard time. They didn’t ignore any dysfunctional behaviour (according to the group), but pointed it out and were discussing it. In between long phases of silence – with me amongst them full of thirst for action. It took almost all week long until I adopted to my role as being guest.

The three of us participated in everyday life as much as possible: picking apples and walking on a road (absolutely no-go), cooked twice a day at the fire and ate breakfast and dinner, collected firewood and washed ourselves in the bog. Unfortunately we didn’t go scouting. Though we explored the area around us: the bog, the islands, meadows with berries, the bathing-creek and bear traps.

None of my anticipated fears came true, though I got to know other boundaries in me. Physically being in the camp took a lot out of me, although we even weren’t scouting. My positive impression is nurtured by the awareness being only guest for a short visit, for the coping with the conditions in the camp and simultaneously being active – e.g. by exploring the surrounding area – seems to me really hard. And time is always short.

Leaving a lasting impression is the way the guardians deal with each other. The mutual interest, the listening to each other without interrupting; over and over again the attempt to act as a group, not separating. We hardly spoke about our life beforehand or after the yearlong and spent only this short time with each other. Still I feel very close toeveryone. It was so hard to say goodbye. The more I’m interested in the developments and proceedings in the camp.