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…

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

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.

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



The Beginning of a Family Wilderness Adventure

Written in 2012 by one of the participants of the 2012/13 Family Wilderness Guide Program:

The lake wears a new face each morning.dscn8102

Neon pink and lavender kissing the mist rising from the water, or the bowl of the lake capped by a rippling, iron gray sky, ten thousand cloudscapes. I used to take hundreds of pictures of the sky, trying to preserve each stunning, sensual instant, and I was so busy taking pictures I had no time to see. The the lines of the overhanging branches of a cedar, a pine, and a wave-worn log frame the swim area, for all the world like a landscaped natural picture window.

I will never see this face of the lake again, and I treasure the gift as I treasure the loss.

“High definition reality,” Marcus calls it.

“I’m stealing that,” I tell him.

The camp is waking up.

We’re crazy.

Twenty-five adults, seventeen kids, three generations, four languages, and all our different beliefs, opinions, biases, experiences, triggers, wounds, living in the woods together for eleven moons. There is only one explanation: We’re all insane.

It’s amazing and fantastic and terP1080054rifying and uncomfortable.

We sit around the fire cracking nuts and roasting eggs. A mother translates her delicate toddler’s exuberant outbursts, like closed captioning for the Swedish impaired. Her little girl plays chase with one of the boys and she scrambles over mom, screaming in one part hysteria, one part triumph.

A few of the boys are playing something they call “Dungeons and Dragons,” and I have no idea if it means the same thing to them as it does to me. We have no dice, no books, and not much paper. I smile to myself as I overhear a five-year-old from my tent, “And I told him I was a god and he didn’t want to fight me anymore.”

In our ranks we boast three people who know Thai massage, three who know myofascial release, a smattering of energy workers, and a lot of people who just know how to give with their hands. Almost every sun there’s one or two peofyl4ple in the quiet, sunny spots by the wigwams giving and receiving some kind of massage.

Everyone is basking in novelty and gratitude as the whole camp comes together to help
level ground and erect tents and tarps. This is the honeymoon phase, when everyone loves each other and I wonder what it will be like when all our idiosyncrasies and habits start to snag each other like thorns.

But this is the Now. I decide to enjoy it while I can.

Teaching Drum Outdoor School is currently accepting applications for the 2016/2017 Family Wilderness Guide Program and the Guardian Way. Both programs are 11 month immersion experiences living in the wilds of the Northwoods and promise to be  a life changing adventure for anyone willing to take on the challenge of living close to earth in a balanced way with others. Everyone is welcome.  Both program begin May 1st, 2016. There is an online forum for prospective participants to learn more about these programs and what they entail. This e-group is free and open to anyone who is interested in the Family Wilderness Guide Program or the Guardian Way. To learn more, check out the links in the sidebar, or email Odemakwa@teachingdrum.org.

8 Days in the Wild

Julia Creek

Everyone who signed up for the Wilderness Canoe Immersion did so to deepen their knowledge of wilderness survival skills. But for most of us, it seemed we were there for other reasons as well. Some of us came to prove something to ourselves and some to those back home. Regardless of our differing reasons, we all had one thing in common—we knew very little about what we were about to learn:

  • Basic and advanced canoe maneuvering techniques
  • Efficient paddling methods
  • Stealth canoeing
  • Scouting for the best campsites
  • Making fire by friction and advanced fire tending
  • Navigating the wilderness without the help of a compass or GPS (lostproofing)
  • Predicting the weather without instruments
  • Primitive cooking (without the help of pots, pans, or utensils)
  • Setting up a cordless tarp for shelter
  • Wildlife tracking

Canoe Basics with Abel

This wasn’t going to be a normal camping trip with well-worn hiking trails, tents with poles, bonfires, and smores. This experience was meant to take us to our edge, to teach us how to survive in the wilds with very little. Our gear list included nothing more than a solo canoe, paddle, tarp, sleeping bag, clothing, towel, knife and sheath, water filter, tooth and hair brushes, and the optional pencil and journal.


Primitive Cooking

The first day was a whirlwind of activity as the wilderness guides taught us the essentials we would need for setting up camp once we were out in the wilds. Our training camp was Mashkodens (Ojibwe for Little Prairie), which is located in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest about a mile’s hike from Teaching Drum. There we learned wilderness first aid and how to set up a tarp without cordage of any kind, which would serve as our tent. Abel, the senior guide for this trip, taught us basic solo canoe maneuvering techniques, so that we would be ready to navigate down Julia Creek into Julia Lake the next day to meet our transport to the Pine River. Later that night, we had our first bow-drill firemaking lesson, and we learned how to cook food primitively—and I mean primitively! We didn’t use any containers or utensils to prepare the whole delicious meal.

The next day, we woke at dawn and shared our dreams from the night. We learned that dream messages can help us to see ourselves and our circumstances in a different light, often helping us navigate through the difficult terrain of life goals and relationships. Sharing dreams helped us deepen our understanding of our own dream messages.

Snapseed (3)

Pine River

Each day began with dream sharing. Then we were off in our canoes down the Pine River, weaving through many Beaver dams and taking in the fall colors of Birch, Aspen, Maple, and Oak while learning more advanced stealth canoe paddling techniques.

When the sun began to set, we’d start scouting for our next campsite. The right spot had to include a good place for a hearth and nearby areas where we could each set up our tarps for the night. This was difficult for all of us at first, as our untrained eyes couldn’t see any feasible places, only a forest thick with trees and underbrush, and the ground covered with lichen-draped logs and squishy moss. The open areas were mostly bog.

Abel needed to guide our attention to potential areas. Oftentimes the hearth was far enough away from our tarps that, since we didn’t have flashlights, it was quite the adventure to find our way back and forth after dark. But the challenge was good, and we learned how to feel our way with our feet.

fall zone2

Kimball Creek

We also learned to navigate without a compass (called lostproofing), as well as how to predict the weather by observing which direction the wind came from, the height and speed of the clouds, and by maintaining an awareness of the changes in temperature and humidity. Wherever we paddled or hiked, we were called upon to remain focused on our surroundings, to maintain an awareness of which direction we were headed, and to be observant for signs of animal tracks.

One particular day, we were hiking in the woods and came upon a big section of leveled forest. Abel explained that once every 10 to 20 years, a severe thunderstorm will create a downdraft that levels nearly everything in its path. Hiking through such a fall zone was both mesmerizing and time consuming, as the tangle of logs and new growth made for many places to get your feet caught.


Gathering around the Hearth

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Indeed, there were no paths on this trip. We created our own, and adventure and a deeper level of self-knowing met us there. We learned to work together through forest thicket, beaver dams, fall zones—and even through interpersonal friction, which occurred a few times. We emerged from the program with new skills for surviving in the wilds on very little, and the knowledge that we had proven something to ourselves and those we cared for.

To read about another participant’s experience on the 8 Day Wilderness canoe Immersion, check out Michael Jason Fox’s blog.