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. This is also the time when the Seekers do research from field notes they have collected while at camp, check in with friends and family, and take care of any obligations back home.

For the Ojibwe people, each moon is named according to the observances of nature and natural phenomenon. January is known as the Great Spirit Moon, or gichi-manidoo-giizis by some Ojibwe. In the North the frozen landscape and shorter days offer a time for reflection and inner searching into this Great Spirit mystery. During the Seekers’ visit to Nadmadiwining during the Great Spirit Moon, they gathered together to answer some questions about what living at Winter Camp has been like.

Can you share some of the highlights and challenges of living at Winter Camp during the white season? How has your experience been sleeping in the lean-to?

Berry Love: When sleeping in a lean-to, you can’t stand up and this makes putting on clothes more difficult. I do really like to see the sky and the sun, though. There is also more air flow and less humidity, which is nice. But it’s cold.

Caretaker: I also really like the lean-to. It’s simple. Like Berry Love said, it’s totally open. You don’t feel like you are sleeping inside, but there is something in between you and everything else. I like to see the stars. I like to see the sky change between the star time and the sun. Of course it’s colder now. I think with the situation with Shkode’e, with her coming just with the guides, I realize that a part is now missing. The cleaning up–now someone else has to do it. We now have to do more on our own. After the second quarter moon with Shkode’e staying at the School, we are now in a routine; life goes on.

Dancing Bear: The benefit of living in the lean-to is that we are as close as possible to the hearth. We can be next to the fire and then turn around and go directly into our sleeping bags. Before, at Green Season Camp, the hearth was away from the lodges. We needed to walk through the forest, sometimes with candles, in order to get to our sleeping bags. This is much better.

Shkode’e: Now that I have been out of camp for almost 3 quarter moons, I feel like I am finally arriving here. I feel like I’m getting stronger, that my emotions and body feel more in balance again. Feeling like this allows me to be more present when I am out at camp. I hope to be able to support my clan mates even more. And I also enjoy life at camp and being outside in a different way than when I was struggling so much with the cold.

Dancing Bear: I think we need to put the hearth even closer to the lean-to.

Berry Love: When it is so cold that our breath freezes, we can feel a difference between inside the lean-to and outside. It’s warmer inside, so sometimes the breath is not frozen on the sleeping bag. Sometimes my feet get cold and this will wake me up. We use stones from the hearth to help keep our feet warm.

Caretaker: The difference between Summer and Winter Camp is that the Winter camp is on the other side of the hill. The prevailing winds from the Northwest are cut off by that hill, which is where the lean-to is built into.

What methods have you discovered to make living in sub-zero temperatures more comfortable?

Shkode’e: I remember that when the green season changed to the white season, I felt cold. But then something changed in my body and I got used to it. We also eat differently – more starch and more fat. Now what used to be cold feels warm.

Berry Love: I made this beautiful nose warmer because I had frostbite on my nose and it helped to have something there to protect it against the cold. But when I would breathe, the flap I initially made sent the warm air into my glasses and they would fog up. After a few changes, the nose warmer turned out well. It helped protect my nose from the cold and caught my warm breath, which helped even more.

Shkode’e: I am always impressed again and again by how much I can warm myself up. If I am cold and then I run, suddenly I am so warm. We have so much heat inside our body already, we just have to keep it going so we don’t lose the warmth.

Caretaker: We had one really cold star time with no fire. Even with just movement, we could eat frozen food and go to sleep and stay warm. Movement is really important before bed.

Shkode’e: I enjoyed when we tried the mittens system (of keeping warmth), when we became like the fingers in the mitten. We put our sleeping bags together and then a blanket over all of us to help keep each other warm.

Berry Love: I can feel the difference after I have washed myself. Keeping clean and clothing clean keeps us warmer.

How do you clean your clothes during the white season?

Berry Love: We put our clothes on a stick, then make a hole in the ice and move it up and down. We make sure we have a warm fire to dry things. It works well.

Caretaker: I have a good method for washing clothes – it works if you just drop to the snow with your clothes on and then dry them by the fire after.

Berry Love: We learned it doesn’t work so well to soak our clothes – we tried it and then had to carry big blocks of ice to the fire to get our clothes out.

[Much laughter by all]

From left to right: Dancing Bear, Shkode’e, Berry Love, and Caretaker

 

Stay tuned for more posts from Winter Camp!

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.

Caretaker

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.

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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

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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. 

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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.

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Leek bulbs can be anywhere

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Seekers’ sleeping area at Leek Camp

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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

joyfulpondlilly

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…