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Anake California Trip Part 5: Adventures in the Redwoods

The Anake California Trip was coming to a close as we left Quail Springs and headed north towards home. We had one last major stop, The Humboldt Redwoods.IMG_1264

After almost 12 long hours of driving and traveling over 500 miles, We found ourselves surrounded by tall, dark towering giants you can barely make out, so late into the night. Everyone pretty much just ate dinner and went straight to bed, hoping to get an early start for the adventures that awaited us on the landscape.

I woke up the next day to discover I was surround by these magnificent ancient giants. I quickly rolled out of my sleeping bag and prepared for the day. We had only a few hours to explore this land so efficiency was crucial. I synced up with one of the other students, Colin, and we set off into the woods.IMG_1292

We first found ourselves in deep conversation reflecting on the journey so far. Then we were both mesmerized and by the stark contrast of the open desert we left the day before and the dense forest of the Rredwoods. We then found ourselves drawn off trail by a fallen tree that made a lovely path towards the river.

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As we explored the thickets along the river our attention turned to the animal trails that skirted the river’s edge. We very clearly saw raccoon trails and grey fox trails going in opposite directions. But there was another much larger track that drew our attention. It had 4 toes with claws showing and an “M” shaped heel pad.

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We looked at several tracks and asked ourselves lots of questions, trying to refrain from jumping to conclusions of what we both thought and, hoped it was. We surveyed our surroundings following the tracks up river and back tracking down river for a few hours to confirm what we thought it was. Finally we came to the conclusion that it was in fact, a Mountain Lion!!

We came back to camp with pictures to confirm with Marcus, our lead instructor, that it was indeed a Mountain Lion. He too, found the tracks of this animal and added that you can see the sexual dimorphism in the tracks and not only was it a Mountain Lion but a Female. We were both blow away.

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It is so amazing to see how just a little knowledge of animal tracks can turn a short wander in the forest into an epic Sherlock Holmes mystery, interpreting the stories of the landscape.

Check out other stories from our California Adventure. Check out our Website for more information or Apply Today!

 

 

 

 


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Anake California Trip Part 4: Village Life

Village Life

by Kyle Koch

Excepts from my journal during the Anake Outdoor School’s California Expedition in February;

“I’ve just been informed it has been 5 days since we’ve entered this desert oasis and will be leaving in the early morning…”

“I found myself and others feeling a great sadness to leave this place, but at the same time filled with so much gratitude that a place like this exists in the word…”

“We now travel North for 3 days before we arrive to Linne Doran, the place we call home. Our first stop will be to visit the towering ancestor Redwoods.IMG_1269

 

Then to greet the ocean to rejuvenate our bodies and spirit before traveling through the Willamette Valley up into the Klamath Mountains. and finally home, in the forests below the Cascade Mountains. We ask for safe travels as our kindred spirits sing us off into the Sunrise…”

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Living life as an intentional nomadic village was such a powerful experience.IMG_0946
There was no need to keep track of time. You knew it wastime to get up when you heard the voices of your peers gently singing you awake, Lunch and Dinner were marked by the ringing of the bell, and you could sleep or nap whenever your body called for it. There were always people ready and willing to support your needs.

During the day work was done joyously with laughter, silliness, gratitude, intention, and play. Or you could wander the land with friends and strangers. Then every evening we would all gather together to share food and our stories of the day. The dinners were made with so much heart felt love that nourished my body and soul. At night we would retire under the stars for restful sleep. The timeless and connection to people and place on this trip was profound.

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When I returned home I had trouble readjusting to my modern schedule. My phone and the clock became foreign objects I had to relearn how to use. Grocery shopping, traffic, and laundry became new priorities in my life. I am now back and readapted to technology and responsibilities of my life. But I still leave those all behind when I head into the woods or wander off to my sit spot.

I feel this trip really taps into an ancestral part of ourselves. Living in a village, telling stories around a fire, wandering the land in searchIMG_1234 of animal tracks, tending the plants, building homes for family and so much more. This is an experience I feel we can all benefit from. I am really grateful for being a part of our California Adventure and will carry these lessons with me wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out other stories from our California Adventure. Check out our Website for more information or Apply Today!


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Anake California Trip Part 3: The Village in the Van

The Village in the Van

by Rachel Shopper

A reflection of our trip from to California by Anake Student Rachel Shopper…

In mid-February the Anake Outdoor School Class of 2014-2015 packed up all of our crafting supplies, sleeping bags, and costumes, and drove down to southern California to visit Quail Springs permaculture farm.

Along the way, we listened to podcasts, told our life stories, played “dingo” [naturalist bingo] and word games, and stopped for frisbee and parkour breaks at probably every rest stop on the west coast.IMG_1313

It was magical to see the landscape change as we drove south.  The terrain was drier and the plants and trees were different.  By the time we reached our destination, we were in the high desert, among sagebrush, yerba santa, juniper, and lupine.

Quail Springs is a settlement of about fifteen people.  Their land receives water from a spring flowing down through the canyon in which the people’s gorgeous earthen homes are nestled.  We were blessed to have come on a year when rain has graced the landscape more than usual: when we went tracking, it was the first year in three that the same tracks that had been locked into the dry sand were gone, with new ones in their place.  For the six days that we were there, the weather was sunny and warm in the daytime, and cool at night, with a sky sprayed with an array of stars only available in the ruralest places.IMG_1224

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Our hosts gave us a tour of their homestead.  We learned about how grazing animals on a landscape can increase soil fertility, how to establish a forest garden in the desert, how to apply principles of fluvial geomorphology (try saying that ten times fast!) to waterways for watershed restoration, and the benefits of  safely returning human waste to the landscape through composting toilets instead of contaminating our drinking water.  All forty-something of us squeezed into a beautiful cobb house, the first coded natural building in the county.  The owners worked with the city officials to legalize the house, an endeavor that required diplomacy and some education of the officials about earthen buildings.  Cobb buildings can last for centuries, whereas a house built by conventional means nowadays is guaranteed to last thirty-five years: five years beyond the mortgage payments.

IMG_1072While away from our computers, cell phones, and normal schedules, we entered into a timeless experience governed by the sun, and life felt more like a village.  We ate together.  We built cobb benches and rock retaining walls.  We rerouted the water in the river to increase the flood plane and prevent erosion. We made bread and cheese from scratch.  We exchanged stories and songs from Washington, California, New Mexico, Tajikistan, and Bosnia, among other places.

What struck me most about Quail Springs was the respect people had for the land.  There was a profound ethic of giving as much–or more–as you were taking.  People were invested in this one place, in watching the land change from season to season and year to year.  They asked her what she needed, and with her they co-created something beautiful.

When we returned home, many of us felt a nagging unease, or even an anger, about the lives we have been living.  It can be painful to taste community and then return to the scattered independence so characteristic of modern life.  Marcus, our lead instructor, told us something that stuck with me.  He told us, “What you were feeling at Quail Springs, they wait all year to feel that, too.  That sense of community that you felt there, it wasn’t just the ecovillage.  It was the community of the Anake class.  The magic that you were feeling: that was you.”

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If you want to apply or need  more information please check out our website: Anake Outdoor School:Connect with Nature change your life


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Anake California Trip Part 2: Returning Water to the Desert

Returning Water to the Desert

David Wolbrecht

We milked the goats and collected chicken eggs. We made (and ate) fresh goat cheese and sourdough bread. We dug ditches and built cob benches. We gave gifts and shared stories. We laughed and ate and stargazed and sang. And then we left for home.

The Anake class recently returned from a road trip down to Quail Springs, a permaculture community in the high desert mountains near Santa Barbara. For six days, our class worked alongside the twelve residents, assisting with daily chores and special projects. Living and working together amidst a tight-knit community enriched our identity as a class, as it evoked a deep recognition of what it could mean to live as a village.

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Our time there was focused on four main threads that the community at Quail Springs is weaving together: holistic food production, natural building experimentation, watershed regeneration, and doing all the above in a functional and thriving community. Although the entire trip meant a great deal to me, the work they’re doing on regenerating the watershed struck me the most profoundly.

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The main hands-on work is being done by an inspiring human named Brenton, and the passion and dedication by which he undertakes his work as a fluvial geomorphologist was palpable and contagious. I was lucky enough to spend our second-to-last morning working in a group alongside this giant-hearted landhealer as he used the patient flow of the thin creek to slowly reform the valley’s watershed. We were, in his words, “playing in the mud.” I remember as a child playing legos in the backyard with the hose on, and how the erosion slowly created a new microlandscape for all my figures to interact with. This is exactly what Brenton is doing, except he’s working at a scale an order of magnitude larger. And the figures aren’t legos; they’re bobcat, western toad, sage. And he’s not doing it for fun, he’s doing it to heal the land in which they are in relationship.

Like many of us, I’ve felt in my bones that something is terribly wrong with how Western civilized humans have interacted with other humans and more-than-humans for generations. I’ve desired a fundamental and profound change and have been stumbling towards a way to intervene in the complex human systems that aren’t serving all of life. It’s an overwhelming prospect that I regularly struggled with.

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I can’t say that I’ve yet come to terms with this longing and calling to work for regenerative justice, but, as I stood in that deep creek bed watching Brenton flinging mud, listening to him speak about the geophysical and social theory behind his actions, the fire of my hope was rekindled. I was witnessing change happening, literally in front of my eyes. Brenton, this healer working in the field of Earth-massage, was sweating alongside the others in the Quail Springs community to bring back a year-round creek in their desert landscape. Slow and steady work, this watershed regeneration has already helped, as the spring at the source of the creek has been running continuously for the last few years, despite single-digits of rainfall inches per year. Year-round running of the spring is something that hadn’t been seen in the decades since over-grazed cattle ranching altered the valley.

As I stood ankle-deep in cool spring water, something shifted in my outlook and worldview. The best way I can describe it is that I had an experiential realization that altering humanity’s course is not only possible, but it’s in progress. I realized that I had undermined my search for how to make a difference by unconsciously ascribing to the popular myth of the Lone Heroine, the Singular Hero. It’s a myth that permeates mainstream culture. I was stuck thinking about how I can affect change, instead of realizing that my “I”-ness needs, and is amplified by, joining a “we”. Further, I realized that all movement towards regenerative justice is healing, not just the big and glamorous. Indeed, the work I’m doing in Anake, to reconnect with the land, my self, and my communities, is healing for the Earth.IMG_1189

As Paul Hawken describes in his book, Blessed Unrest, millions of human are responding to environmental, social, political, and economic injustices in small pockets around the world. Similar to filling ecological niches, humans are responding to the needs of all life in as many ways as there are needs. Whether moved to action by empathy, rationality, or both, these legions of humans are Earth’s immune system: decentralized, adaptable, and dedicated to the health of the larger entity. One cell can do little to combat systemic disease, but, en masse, we can change the world.

Like many of my classmates, I left Quail Springs with a longing in my heart to live, work, and play in a community like theirs. They are doing work that needs to be done and are doing so in a soulful, integrated way. As my life continues to unfold, I do not yet know in which community I will add my sweat, tears, and laughter, but I feel hopeful knowing in my bones that my work is enjoined to that of millions. This healing is not my burden to bear alone, and together we are returning water to the desert.

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Anake California Trip Part 1: Our Journey South

Our Journey South
by Kyle Koch

Every year the Anake class takes a pilgrimage down to the Cuyama Valley of southern California to study permaculture and natural building with the Quail Springs community. Students and Staff, totaling 45 amazing humans, pack into 4 vans with 2 trailers ready to embark on this incredible 11 day journey. This post is the first in a series about the trip–if these stories resonate, click on Anake Outdoor School to learn about joining us for our 2015/16 school year.  Meanwhile, here was my experience during the first leg of our adventure…IMG_0726

(February 11, 2015) We’ve been traveling south now for 2 days, through treacherous rain and traffic in the I-5 corridor. The feeling of the people in my van (osprey) is a mixture between laughter, tension, and a bit of craziness. At every rest stop the tribe piles out for the opportunity to stretch their limbs, relieve their bladders, and interact with folks in the other vans. The Frisbee and the rat hack comes out for play in the parking lot. At the same time the students in the grassy areas are moving on all fours, doing acro-yoga, handstands and imitating all forms of animal life. I was actually asked by an older couple if we were Cirque du Soleil performers. Finally we arrived at our first destination. The feeling of joy and freedom is expressed through movement as we sprawl out across the landscape.

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Tucked in a bowl of rolling green hills, next to a beautiful body of water surround by oaks and gray pines is where we will make our camp. As we settled into this place the sun sets and the blue sky is replaced by bright stars lighting the night sky. We gather around a fire, started by a bow-drill, to fill our bellies and share stories of our adventure so far. We gave thanks for safe travel, and the abundance of our lives and set intentions as we retired for the evening. As the sky turned from night to a wispy pink we were sung awake by the angelic voices of our classmates. We wiped the crust from our eyes and are greeted by the warming of the morning sun. We ate our breakfast and packed our packs for a day of wandering adventures. But before we set out on the land, one of our apprentices, Quinn, shared with us his experiences of what it is like to walk through a land with intentions and questions in our heart. What does this places have to teach us?

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Today I felt truly what it was like to be a wild free human. Spending the early afternoon hours stretching and moving my body in ways that felt animalistic and enlivening after being crammed in a hot, stinky van for 847 miles. We took turns, running, flipping, and rolling in the grass and climbing trees and jumping over picnic tables. The feeling and sensations I experienced were something ancient and primal. Thoughts of the modern world, my life and responsibilities back home were no longer with me. I was fully immersed in my senses and aware of my surroundings as I journeyed into the open forest. After only a few steps I noticed tracks of wild and domestic animals, saw a great abundance of beautiful birds, milling about the tree tops. We spent the rest of the day exploring all the neatness nature had to offer; Cooper’s hawks hunting through the tree’s, ground squirrels fighting over territories, cubbies of quails flushing into the brush and countless other stories of this land happening before us.IMG_0875

 

We gathered around the fire, again in the evening to hear the stories of the other tribe members sharing the incredible experiences they encountered that day as well. I am truly grateful for this place, these people, and the Anake experience. It continues to remind me that I to, at any moment, can tap into what it might have been like to experience the wildness and freedom of my ancient ancestors.

Tomorrow we continue our journey south, destination Quail Springs.AOS_CA Trip 2015_001c

 

Look for new posts on Wednesdays…

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The Kenya Expedition

The Kenya Expedition

 

By Marcus Reynerson –

Anake Outdoor School Coordinator, Anake Grad ’06, and Way Leads to Way Instructor

 

As I sat in the high desert of southern California wrapping up the Anake Outdoor School California expedition in February, I was struck by the beautiful relationship that has developed between two villages over 8 years with our sister organization, Quail Springs Permaculture Farm, north of Santa Barbara. I have seen connection created – and culture build – over time as the way in which our two communities engage deepens. Thankfully, reciprocal connection with people and place is no longer a fringe thing – communities are building it across the continent now. What would happen if more communities connected in this way?

10352292_10153021715448943_7658595653076002777_nLast July, these questions lead Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) from arid lands of California to arid lands across the globe. WAS pursued this cultural exchange in Ingwe’s childhood homeland in the Rift Valley of Kenya. What’s more, WAS saw a long-desired opportunity to support Anake graduates’ work in these efforts by partnering with Kirkland-based Way Leads to Way Expeditions (WL2W). Founded by Brent Coyle (Anake Graduate ’04) and co-staffed by Casey McFarland (Anake ’02) and myself (Anake ’06), WL2W has strong friendship with a community of Maasai people in southern Kenya. Musa Seno, WL2W Kenya coordinator, was born and raised in a small Maasai village called Suswa, located in the Rift Valley, and comes from a long line of traditional leaders. Ingwe was raised outside of Nairobi in and around the Rift Valley where his deep love for the African wilderness and the tribal spirit he encountered there guided Wilderness Awareness School’s vision. With this in mind, the trajectory of this trip was guided by two main intentions: 1) to explore the natural and cultural history of an amazing country and, 2) to build authentic connection to a wonderful community of people.

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Upon driving away from arrivals at Nairobi Airport, our group was immediately welcomed by a small herd of Giraffes in adjacent Nairobi National Park. Amazing and epic wildlife encounters only increased from there as we made our way to Amboseli National Park where we had the fortune to spend some amazing dirt time following the tracks and trails of numerous species: Giraffe, Mongoose, Hyena (Spotted and Striped), Zebra, and Baboon to name a few. The birding was off the hook with ridiculously colored and feathered jewels flitting passed us constantly (so many different Kingfishers! and Bee Eaters!). With Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background we measured the strides of Elephant, we watched Cape Buffalo and Wildebeest roam, and we tracked myriad species of Antelope.

After a potent naturalist introduction to the land, we then we landed in Suswa located in the Great Rift Valley. While this country was nothing short of heaven for the curious naturalist and tracker, both WAS and WL2W place high value on not simply “consuming an experience”, but creating an opportunity to give as well. Students certainly walked away from this trip with new knowledge and insight, but the true gold in this experience was found in cultural exchange and reciprocity. During last summer’s expedition, we started the groundwork for a project aiming to reduce air pollution in Maasai houses, or Inkajijiks. Our hosts have long noticed that cooking fires – a staple of Maasai tradition – along with poor ventilation, contributes to intense indoor air pollution and chronic respiratory ailments. With the Suswa community’s oversight, we are hoping to make stoves available in the future that will reduce pollution while also maintaining the customs and traditions in which the Maasai cook. If the reflections from our hosts and from our students were any indication, this truly was an exchange between two villages. After a day of helping herd livestock, learning how to cook Ugali, learning about edible and medicinal plants, or getting a first hand look at how HIV is affecting the Maasai, I’ll forever remember sitting around a fire in the evenings and trading stories with an amazing group of people that we’ve come to call friends.

 

Our last evening in Suswa

Our last evening in Suswa

Ending our 16-day trip, there was a feeling that any Anake graduate might recognize. We stood in a circle. Appreciations were shared.  Reflections were spoken. The Elders spoke last. They sent us on our way with blessings for health and safety. We were 10,000 miles away from Duvall, taking part in a simple ritual – one that these Maasai still value as a universal human experience. Upon leaving, the village elder, Joshua Seno – a man whom killed a lion with a spear identical to the one hanging on the Cedar Lodge hearth – spoke to us in Kimaasai with a salutation. His son translated: “Thank you for coming here.  Know that this place is always your home now, and we hope that you return soon. You are family now.” Just like the fires of village we are tending here at home, we are kindling another flame with a village across an ocean.  While WAS will not officially be running the expedition with WL2W this summer, we are excited to support our graduates’ work into the future and see connections that build from this.

WL2W Participants checking out a Hippo dust bath

WL2W Participants checking out a Hippo dust bath

Stay connected to the work that Way Leads to Way is doing in Kenya - www.wayleadstoway.com

 

Registration for the 2015 Kenya Expedition this July is now open!


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More than a Certification

More than a Certification

By: Luke Kantola

It’s been nearly nine months since I finished the Anake Outdoor School program. The dust has continued to settle and my perspective on the experience has broadened a lot. I’ve had some pretty wild encounters with the natural world since finishing the program that I never would have had access to had it not been for my time spent at the Wilderness Awareness School.

Growing up I spent every summer playing in my grandmother’s backyard in Idaho. I had no idea that I could track wolves just by walking out her backdoor until this winter when I trailed a pack of wolves for miles across the snowy hills behind her home. My connection to that place where I have so many cherished childhood memories has amplified greatly since returning with a new lens to view the landscape through. I spent countless hours this winter trailing deer, elk, raccoon and fox. Their stories and the answers to countless mysteries have literally been written on the ground by their tracks and sign my whole life. I just needed to learn how to see it.

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It was bird language that originally got me to apply to the Wilderness Awareness School over other programs, and since graduating I’ve been able to seek out predatory animals just by what the birds are saying. I was sitting in the woods early this fall and heard a mob of Stellar’s Jays off in the canopy. They sounded distressed and I decided that their anxiety was enough to get me out of my comfy seat. I followed their cries right to a Barred owl who was actively hunting the squirrels in the maple trees. It was so beautiful to watch the squirrels seemingly play hide-and-seek with this menacing predator, and I never would have seen this dance with death without being tuned in to what the birds were saying!

 

 

I think it is fair to say that someone applying to Anake can expect to be able to do things like this upon graduating. Anake teaches primitive skills and the arts of tracking, bird language and plant medicine. This much is true, but this is not all that Anake has to offer. By drawing on the individual strengths of the students, staff and apprentices.

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 When next years Anake class arrives for the first day of class next year there will be people from all over the world who have come to the same place for a nine-month journey. The people will have stories, and past experiences. They will have gifts and they will have wounds. They will have enlivening and difficult lessons to teach each other, and Anake knows how to hold that. It will be wild and the unexpected will occur. All the time. It will be painful and difficult. It will be exhilarating and maybe a little boring at times. But the people who show up will be in it together, and they will be expected to hold one another up when times are tough and to allow themselves to be held in turn

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I came to Anake to learn about the natural world and I got those experiences. I’ve followed bird alarms to animals I have never seen before. Multiple times. I’ve unraveled mysteries by reading the tracks on the ground. I’ve felt what it is like to make a fire from the land when my friends are cold and we need to boil water. These are amazing experiences and capabilities that can’t be quantified or have a monetary value placed upon them, but I think the threads of Anake that are most alive in me today are the ones that I didn’t even know were waiting for me in Duvall. Those threads came from all over the world and they were people.


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My Little Friend With The Little Teeth

My Little Friend With The Little Teeth

by Rachel Shopper

Oh, I really hope it will be there.  Fingers crossed.  I am walking home from class, rounding the edge of the house.  My feet crunch on the gravel driveway, which, dry for most of this past week, is now saturated with winter rain.  My eyes scan the gravel as I hold my breath, hoping to find…a squashed, desiccated rodent body!

Hallelujah!  It’s still there.  It’s been dead for about a week and a half, and today it is a shadow of its former corpse.  Though not totally rotting, its jaw is broken and it has obviously been run over by a car at least once.  I’ve probably stepped on it in the dark.

I grab a stick, squat down, and carefully pry open its jaw.  I dig around until I reveal several small, gleaming white teeth.  “Aha!” I cry out, victorious at last.

What was it, exactly, that led me to this driveway, squatting in the rain, gleefully inspecting a torn-up animal body as though I had just discovered the Rosetta Stone?

Maybe it began one day a week and a half ago, as I was walking across the driveway.  I noticed the creature, and bent down to inspect it.  It was a tiny rodent about the size of a baby’s foot, with dark grey fur and little white hands with little white claws.  It had a rounded, rather long snout, and a tail that was thinly spiked with more dark grey fur.

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I told a friend about it that afternoon.  “I think it’s a mole”, I said.  I opened up a guidebook and found a picture of it.  “Yes, that’s just what it looked like!  I knew it was a mole!”  And then I read the caption underneath the picture, which read, “Shrew Mole”.  The shrew mole looks much like a shrew, except for its mole-like hands.  It lives in the forest and burrows shallow tunnels through leaf debris and forest loam.  Unlike the solitary mole, shrew-moles live in loosely associate groups of up to a dozen.

The first few days of having found the shrew mole, I was careful to step around it, and even found myself saying, why, hello little shrew mole! in my head as I walked past it.  You see, one of the maddening things about studying mammals is that it is rare to actually see them in real life.  This shrew mole was an enormous gift to me in that it allowed me to get a much more real sense of the animal than a guidebook ever can.

After a few days, I began to pretty much ignore my shrew mole friend.  Eventually I didn’t even try to avoid stepping on it, seeing as it was now flattened to the driveway.  Life moves on and our sense of novelty can fade so easily.

And then, today, we studied animal skulls in class.  We got to inspect and handle a large variety of skulls, examining different bones and what the morphology might tell us about how a creature lives its life.  The largest skull we saw was a black bear’s.  If I held it up to my face, sideways like a telephone, it was almost as big as my own head.  The tiniest skull had a brain case that was so thin it was translucent.  There were small spaces for the eyes, and a crooked snout with funny reddish brown-stained teeth.  This was a shrew, and I learned that shrews have venomous saliva, and it is this saliva which stains the teeth.  This is one of the ways a person might distinguish a shrew skull from a mole skull.skuls

So does a shrew-mole have venomous saliva, I wondered?  Fortunately, I had a way to discover the answer first-hand!  It would appear, from the lovely white teeth in my shrew-mole’s jaw, that there is no venom.  This makes sense, as the shrew-mole is classified within the mole family and not the shrew family.

Squatting down in the driveway, poking stick in hand, I think how you might trace the inspiration for this moment back to the day I found the shrew mole, but I believe it began much, much earlier.  And anyway, it doesn’t matter when or from where our passions spring up, but just that we keep them alive, poking into the world and digging around with big goofy grins on our faces.

 

Sources:

Moskowitz, David. Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest: Tracking and Identifying Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2010. Print.

CC Image courtesy of hradcanska on Flckr

 

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Looking Back

Looking Back

by David Wolbrecht
The Fall term of Anake has ended. As I draft this, winter solstice just past and the New Year is quickly approaching. There is a dying back of many plants and a slowing of activity on the landscape. It requires more effort to be outside, and it seems there is less to be done. I take cold hikes in solitude, finding the occasional frozen bobcat or coyote track. I nestle in my yurt, savoring the warmth of wool and tea, crafting and reading through the hours of this winter break.

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Recognized in many cultures, this time of year seems fit for focus on introspection, of looking inwards towards one’s inner landscape, and I turn and reflect back on the last three months that consist of the first third of my Anake year. Skills and songs, projects and observations, stories and explorations – it is hard for me to sum up my experience thus far. I am changed, and I have grown, but how? Does the cedar recognize the formation of each ring within itself? Or does it take the tempering quench of time to allow it to see it’s own growth?

I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine back in August. She was curious about my interest in attending this program. Very curious, she asked earnestly, “what’s the point, why learn this?” We’d been talking about friction fires, but I believe her question extends to primitive water purification, survival shelter making, tracking. It’s a fair question, and she genuinely wanted to understand.

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rock bacon

I tried to describe this desire in me to connect with nature, with the ancestral human experience, and to be prepared for some sort of emergency scenario. Although true and real for me to some extent, these answers felt hollow to my friend, and to me. Yet I didn’t know how else to speak of this subtle and powerful draw I had to shift my pattern of living and learn some of the skills and practices that Anake covers.

A belted kingfisher screeches across the pond, and I’m brought back to the present. I look over what I’ve learned, done, and made these past few months, and, if I were to answer my friend again, I’d say that I wanted to seek out a bit of humility about how vulnerable contemporary Western humans are when we’re taken out of our industrial systems. I wanted to understand on an experiential level that there is much of our basic survival and day to day living that we take utterly for granted. I flip a switch, and there is light and heat. I open the fridge, and there is unspoilt food. I turn on the faucet, and there is clean water. Before coming to Anake, I didn’t truly respect the ease with which the majority of us live in Western society. Now I have an appreciation for these marvels of the mundane that comes from living the effort involved in replacing them with handmade versions, if only for a day.

Beyond deep gratitude to the complex conveniences of contemporary society, there is still more to my revised answer to my friend. The fact is, I might never build a debris shelter as my only way to stay dry and warm at night. I might never forage for food as my only sustenance. I might never purify my own water by heating rocks in a fire that I built by hand by rubbing sticks together, that are then dropped into a large bowl made of a log of a tree I chopped down with stone tools I made by smashing rocks together that was then slowly burned out to make a container for my water. My hope is that I won’t need to use these skills in a situation in which my life literally depends on it. But simply knowing that I am able to do so, and that I have done so before, provides me with a little deeper of an internal reservoir of resilience, of resolve.I now know, experientially, that I can take care of my most basic needs (at least on a short-term basis).

Shelter Before

Shelter Before

It’s hard to put into words, but this knowing has shifted the way I trust myself. It’s changed the way I face the daily challenges and struggles that life brings. I feel deeper and breath slower. I see more and walk softer. I feel more patient, more caring, more curious. Becoming acquainted with the extent of my own vulnerability has allowed me to be more vulnerable with friends, family, and strangers.

In short, I’ve become more courageously me.

For this, and the kingfisher who brings me back to the present again and again, I am grateful.

Photos by Rachel Tomczek


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Tending the wild, tending ourselves

Tending the wild, tending ourselves


by David Wolbrecht

Despite an unseasonal cold snap, I was excited to get my bundled hands dirty. It was land stewardship day, and, not quite knowing what to expect, our Anake class huddled around a roaring fire listening to a poetic story by the school’s land manager, Andy Franjevic. I was eager to get going and sweat, but Andy started his talk by inviting us to slow down to the speed of the land, to imagine the geologic and glacial influences that literally shaped Linne Doran, the name for Wilderness Awareness School’s campus. Not what I was expecting, but… (deep breath)

Eyes closed and envisioning the near-mile of ice that once covered the spot where I sat, I felt my mood and energy shift. With Andy’s invitation, I immediately became more relaxed, more contemplative, more connected, and I sensed a similar shift in the rest of my Anake class. For a subsequent two hours, whose duration simultaneously felt shorter yet fuller than two hours could contain, Andy recounted a portion of the natural and cultural history of the Snoqualmie Valley, Duvall, and Linne Doran. We learned how the native peoples of this land, the Snoqualmie and Skykomish, among others, had actively cared for the land upon which we now stood, had been doing so for countless generations, and, indeed, still do to this day.

During his sharing, Andy demonstrated that he was the holder of the two hundred year vision for the school’s land, a vision that resides only in the dynamic forms of ideas and speech. To look ahead two hundred years with appropriate respect and humility requires a thorough grasp of the previous two hundred, and it was this period of time that Andy emphasized in his story that morning. Sprinkling in anecdotes from historians and anthropologists, Andy shared a sliver of the complex wild-tending that the first peoples had enacted repeatedly during each seasonal rounding. This gave us a glimpse of how humans had lived in productive reciprocity with the land for thousands of years.

I admit, I was enraptured by Andy’s story of this place. I figured it was because I am a Pacific Northwest local and have a keen interest in the cultural and natural history of this place in which I grew up. However, after reflecting on the story with some classmates, it seemed that most were similarly captivated.

It was with this sense of historically contextualized humility that we transitioned into actively caring for Linne Doran. We split up into our learning groups, and each were led to their group’s site on the land. Throughout the cold and clear day, my group selected specific locations a few serviceberry shrubs, dug their holes, and transplanted them from the school’s plant nursery. Our group was led by one of our apprentices, Brock, who shared that his learning group had tended this same clearing during his time in Anake. And Brock’s learning group, two years prior, was led by an apprentice who had also tended the same clearing. In this way, my group became part of a tradition within the Anake program.

Surrounded by towering big leaf maple, western hemlock, douglas fir, and western red cedar trees, I couldn’t help but feel humbled and honored to be a part of a developing lineage of wild-tending naturalists. Although my part in this land’s care is as of yet quite small, I nonetheless feel gladdened that my hard work will undoubtedly feed the resident deer, perhaps some towhee, and, hopefully, a budding naturalist who, like me, grew up relatively disconnected from the natural world. If, in picking that wild serviceberry, tasting its sweetness, and wondering about the plant that produced it, that human’s relationship to the natural world has even a slight shift towards connectedness, then my work on stewardship day will have served the noble purpose of helping rekindle the awareness of humanity’s intimate reliance upon more-than-human nature.

In reflecting on that day of land tending, in which we helped shape the future experience of human and non-human animals for (hopefully) generations, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. I’ve included an excerpt from her poem, In Blackwater Woods, which I feel captures some of what I learned that day:

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.