To Be an American
To be an American is not to have a birth certificate and passport saying you are so. It is not to live under a certain political jurisdiction, nor is it to love and adhere to the values of any American country. Being an American has no relation to society or politics whatsoever, but to the land that has been deemed The Americas itself.
The term “American” is of course somewhat irrelevant, given that the name was forced on the continents by a culture completely foreign to the land, who at first glance, deemed one of natures most vast, diverse, beautiful and complex land masses the honor of a cartographer from halfway around the world. A more meaningful title may have been given by a collection of the thousands of indigenous tribes across the 16.4 million square miles of two continents, who were an integral part of the land. Not its exploiters but its children who recognized respectfully how it supported them. However, it is now America, and somewhat reluctantly I’ll refer to it so.
To be an American as truly as possible is to be one with the land that is America. With this being said, a great many citizens of the United States cannot be considered American. They are dwellers of nowhere but their artificial, fantastic wolds of social media and entertainment, thinking they have the entire world at their fingertips but not really living anywhere. To connect to this earth, one must spend time in it, however we do so less and less, living indoors and in cities away from the wilderness that has brought us here, and however difficult it is for us to tear away from our screens and go for a walk in our local park, this is too small a step. To experience real meaningful connection to America, one has to surrender themselves as completely as they are able to the land.
For me, I searched for this connection in the form of a survival trek A four day, three night hike into the Sierra Nevada of Northern California. Starting from a small ranch near the town of Truckee, eight of us walked north, crossing the Little Truckee River with packs made of parachute cords and wool blankets, containing knives water bottles, and small plastic bags of pemmican, a traditional Native American nation of ground jerky in rendered fat we had prepared in the days leading up to our trek. As we climbed dry, rocky knolls dotted with manzanita bushes and pines we began to fall into a new kind of awareness. Without speaking, we crested a steep hill and emerging into a dry alpine meadow running along the path of the sun, we turned east.
After spending the day searching for food and water sources, we climbed up the north facing slope the meadow, bedded with ponderosa needles and small shrubs. We began to build shelters beneath the tall pines, their branches dripping moss and lichen. With low humidity and high altitude, nights in the Sierra Nevada are cold, so we were thankful for the trees and the debris they offered, insulating ourselves with the thick needles. I carved the Juniper I had gathered into a bow drill kit, and created a small coal which we blew into flame, used to purify the muddy water we had found, and cook our lizards, crickets and seeds for the night’s meal. We then crawled into our holes in the earth, we wrapped ourselves in our blankets and shivered to sleep. That first night under my thin blanket and pile of sticks and needles, with a slowed metabolism and clothes chosen for the heat of the day I was cold. Very cold. It took a long time to fall asleep, and when I did it was fitfully, watching the grey dawn creep through the all too common chinks in my insulation. By the third night, after every minute spent foraging snakes and chipmunks and bitter greens, I was the hungriest I had ever been. Fatigued from the lack of calories, I climbed into my slightly larger pile of needles, and felt as if I were climbing back into the shelter of my mother’s womb.
In my hole of needles that night I felt at home, and packed into the very earth it came to me that I was indeed back in the womb of my mother, who had been providing for me over the past days, and selflessly for my entire life. I became aware of how unskilled and ignorant I was, but with only having asked, she had given me her flesh and blood and bone. Perhaps one can survive by plundering and exploiting, but they cannot claim to be at home in the place they exploit. Once you speak to the plants and the water and the stones and they give you the nourishment and shelter you need to live, then you will be a part of that place. Once you surrender and sink into the soil of these continents, you can if you so wish, call yourself an American.
By Scot Woodland
Kids, Spiders and a lesson of observation
One of the joys of hanging out with kids in the woods is opening them up to new things, because when you do, they turn it all around and start to teach you of the things that they see and deduce. As the seasons go around and round there is always something new emerging from the ground or trees. Like mushrooms after the first rains, and nests arriving on branches as spring unfolds. As summer ends from the ground on branches and sailing thru the sky emerges the fall spider web parade. The silver glimmer started to show up 2 weeks ago, and all I had to do was ask the kids to count these webs. The first kid announces 7, 13 the next , two minutes later 54. The attention spans of each kid was beginning to be revealed. There are tightly woven handkerchief sized webs on the ground with an entry hole in each one. I think, “Hey does any one see a place where these spiders go in?” they are down on their knees searching, looking deep around the whole web until yep there it is. All 14 kids have found a web to inspect, ok well 10 of them anyway. The other 4 are gathering sticks, rolling a rock or, almost catching poison oak. Further down the trail another group of spider homes beg the question, “What are they catching.” Back down on our Bellies. Yes, Instructors must do what they ask to keep the respect of the ever-aware child’s mind. When you ask a question backed up by your own action of getting down and looking, it instills a trust that you believe in the information you ask them to inspect.
Hey there is a feather and some leaves in this spider web. Do they eat feathers? The questions and speculations begin.
When a child, or actually any one discovers something thru their own observation, they carry that knowledge for life. In 3 short interactions with spider webs you have hooked them on a life time relationship with the observation of the wonderful world of spiders. As they begin their journey with observing the natural world this is the most important step we can ask them to take. To begin to notice all the different situations in nature. Today it was helping to begin to not fear spiders, but to ask as many questions as they can think up about what do spiders do all day, and begin to find them endlessly fascinating. We didn’t even see any spiders- just webs. When you introduce nature to a child it influences their empathy towards nature and starts to connect them to web of life.
By Rick Berry, Founder and Executive Director
4 Elements Earth Education
TEENS RETURN FROM AN ADVENTURE IN THE ALASKA BUSH
Nevada City, CA
When some kids are asked what they did this summer, seven local fortunate teens will have a tale to tell.
At the start of a remarkable summer journey seven teenagers and six adults packed up minimal gear; blanket pack, extra clothes, rain gear and tarp, water bottle, bag of nuts and dried fruit, hard boiled eggs, and two sandwiches. The group started at the base of the Peters Hills west of Trapper Creek, AK. To the North is the gigantic Alaska Range, with Mount Denali raising out above the clouds. The walk started with a gun safety meeting and if we had to – we learned how to use the shotgun- if needed. In Grizzly Bear country, having a fire arm is really smart. The trail started as an ATV path and we could see fresh brown bear tracks. There is definitely a different awareness when in Grizzly country; the sheer size of the track made everyone perk up as now we were part of the food chain.
We covered just under 20 miles on foot. Some of the land was open tundra and there were Alder thicket jungles speckled with Devils Club (a stabbing plant… quite dangerous and medicinal.) There was a cornucopia of berries for us to graze on! We moved like a heard of slow animals, stopping and grazing on watermelon berries, 3 types of blueberries, and currant berries. The first night was under a tarp and our wool blankets to keep us warm. It was not trying to stay totally dry, but staying warm and wet. We were all happy to have good rain gear, but even with the best, the water still gets in at some point.
On the second day we came to a slough of water without a plan on how to cross. We asked the teens how they could cross it. Then Klaus pulled an inflatable dingy raft out of his pack, (big enough for one person) and we crossed that way… shuttling the dingy back and forth. We finally made it to the Tokositna River in time for the helicopter drops of our gear… 1600 lbs worth.
After a days’ rest in the shadows of Mt. Denali, bathing in the clear glacier waters, we were now in “wilderness mind”… living in the very present. The days are much longer even in August as the sun rises around 5:30 and sets around 10:30, the sun sets seems to go on for hours and it only got dark for a few hours. A sense of timelessness came into our being. This is the very essence of what we strive for in a state of conscious awareness. Our modern clock time begins to vanish and the present moment becomes the eternal now. Stories around the fire about our meal (salmon, moose, caribou) – hunted by our guides tied us even more closely to the land and all she provides.
Next leg of the trek: River rafting the Tokositna for 60 miles. The river was fairly mellow and you could hear the sediment scouring by in the grey glacier silty waters. A beaver wander out and did a clumsy belly flop into the river. The entire area was filled with beavers, the original flood control task force. Camping at what we called “Wolf” Island, were there were many tracks of a wolf pack from the last week. We had brought some plaster of pairs and casted a set of fresh Eagle Tracks.
The next day the River got a bit more squirrely, with many trees down from recent high water and then we came into Ruth River , that combined to create the Sulitna River with its colder glacier water that created a fog off the first 10-15 feet of river. We stopped at a small island to see if it was worthy of camping at and one of the teens brought back a huge Moose antler! We floated silently past a huge family of eagles, about 30 or more all perched in the trees. It was like we were in a painting.
The rain was on and off and folks were getting a bit cold the third day rafting. We still had to find a camp and it was getting late even for Alaska time. We landed and in no time had a raging fire to warm everyone and starting unpacking the gear. We made raft shelters with tarps over them for a kitchen camp and a camp fire camp. It was the first time we cooked our food on the stoves we brought, every meal had been cooked over the fire. Everyone dried out around the fire and ate salmon and salty potatoes.
The last day we rafted straight across the river to witness salmon fins streaking in the river at the mouth of a small creek. They came flopping on the shore as they were scared by one of our rafts. Klaus bent down and picked one up. A beautiful pink salmon with the hump on its back flopped around in his hands. He let it go back to the stream, free to start its journey up the steep mountain creek and spawn.
It was most amazing to see how our little group worked so efficiently together. When we needed fire wood it was there, when we broke camp, everyone pitched in and it got done and at a nice pace with no stress of hurrying. It felt like living as a species of animal that did fit into the landscape, a glimpse of feeling a part of land. I always think of a Yurok term , “Merwerk Surger”, meaning a Beautiful Place that has become a part of you. In this way we are an integral part of the web of life.
As we returned to the town, city, airport to travel home we can still tap into the Wilderness mind. Take time to feel the earth, breath deep, fox walk and let go of all thought and step back into the eternal now.
This trip all came about because 10 years ago I traveled to Alaska to help run a Family Wilderness program with the organization I was directing in New Jersey call Children of the Earth Foundation. I had never been to Alaska and was going to lead an entire week of wilderness skills to a bunch of Alaskans. The skills I had learned from the Tracker School and my “dirt time” was more than enough to successfully run the program. I recall asking one of the parents, a biologist, if willow grew in the area. He was not sure if it was at our site but we found it and it was the wood I used to start a fire with a bow-drill kit.
That trip spurred another trip in 2012 to work with the youth at the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers Gathering in Anchorage. It was then that 4 Elements Earth Education began ongoing programs with the Waldorf Schools in Anchorage which still are active today with our sister organization; Alaska Wilderness Skills, with Klaus Learch and Ryan Ford.